Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Those 127 years of Sarah's life, interpreted by Rashi

If I'd have had the time, this post would have appeared last week in honor of חיי שרה.

The first verse reads

וַיִּהְיוּ חַיֵּי שָׂרָה מֵאָה שָׁנָה וְעֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה וְשֶׁבַע שָׁנִים שְׁנֵי חַיֵּי שָׂרָה
And the life of Sarah was a hundred and seven and twenty years; these were the years of the life of Sarah (Gen. xxiii.i).

The very well known comment on this verse appears in Rashi's commentary:

ויהיו חיי שרה מאה שנה ועשרים שנה ושבע שנים - לכך נכתב שנה בכל כלל וכלל, לומר לך שכל אחד נדרש לעצמו, בת מאה כבת עשרים לחטא, מה בת עשרים לא חטאה, שהרי אינה בת עונשין, אף בת מאה בלא חטא, ובת עשרים כבת שבע ליופי

And the life of Sarah was one hundred years and twenty years and seven years The reason that the word “years” was written after every digit is to tell you that every digit is to be expounded upon individually: when she was one hundred years old, she was like a twenty-year-old regarding sin. Just as a twenty-year-old has not sinned, because she is not liable to punishment, so too when she was one hundred years old, she was without sin. And when she was twenty, she was like a seven-year-old as regards to beauty. — from Gen. Rabbah 58:1]

(Judaica Press translation from here).

Indeed, Genesis Rabbah reads

ויהיו חיי שרה מאה שנה (תהלים לז) יודע ה' ימי תמימים ונחלתם לעולם תהיה כשם שהן תמימים כך שנותם תמימים, בת כ' כבת ז' לנוי, בת ק' כבת עשרים שנה לחטא

Modern Orthodoxers and children of little faith have wondered, for decades at least, at this exegesis. It would seem to them that beauty is the more noticeable characteristic of twenty year old women than seven year old girls, while innocence most properly characterizes seven year olds over twenty year olds. A lot can happen in thirteen years.

Shadal commented:

כלל שאתר הפרט (נתיבות השלום) ; ונ"ל כי טעות נפלה בלשון המדרש שהביא רש"י וצריך לומר בת ק' כבת כ' לנוי בת כ' כבת ז' לחטא, ומפני שמצא רש"י הנוסחא הפוכה (כבת כ' לחטא כבת ז' לנוי) נדחק לפרש שאינה בת עונשין והמילות הללו אינן במדרש. ואח"כ מצאתי כדברי בפירוש קדמון כ"י על בראשית רבא הנמצא בקובץ היקר הכולל פי' סי יצירה לר"י ברצלוני, אחוזת הגבירים היקרים בני המנוח משה אריה טריאסטי ז"ל, וכן כתוב בו : היה לו לומר מאה ועשרים ושבע שנה, אלא כך הוא אומר בת מאה כבת עשרים לנו

In my opinion, an error fell into the language of the midrash that Rashi cited [Bereshit Rabbah 58], and it ought to say, "When she was a hundred, she was like twenty in regard to beauty; when she was twenty, she was like seven in regard to sin." But since Rashi found the text reversed ("like twenty in regard to sin, like seven in regard to beauty"), he was forced to explain that [at age twenty] she had not yet reached the age of responsibility, and these words are not in the midrash.

I have since found an explanation similar to mine in an ancient commentary in manuscript on Bereshit Rabbah, which is found in the precious collection that also includes a commentary on the Sefer Yetsirah by Rabbi Y. Barceloni, in the possession of those beloved masters, the sons of the late Moses Aryeh Trieste. This is what it says: "The text should have said me'ah ve-esrim ve-sheva shanah ["one hundred twenty-seven years"], but this is how it says it: [me'ah shanah ve-esrim shanah ve-shevah shanim, lit. "one hundred years and twenty years and seven years," meaning] when she was a hundred, she was like twenty in regards to beauty."
(elegant and accurate trans. by the intrepid Shadal scholar Dan Klein.)

In his critical edition of Rashi on the Torah, R. Abraham Berliner is inclined to agree that the the emended version is preferable--or at least he cites it in his footnote (link). He refers the reader to Shadal, but also Yalkut Tehillim 37, which actually reads this way:

ודע ה' ימי תמימים כשם שהם תמימים כך שנותיהם תמימים, בת ק' כבת כ' לנוי, בת עשרים כבת שבע לחטא

Note that Genesis Rabbah is an exegesis of Psalm 37 as well. Thus, we have two conflicting readings. Assuming one is an error (as opposed to these being two independent exegeses), might it not be the one that raises questions?

Rabbi Hertz has "the rabbis" interpreting the verse according to the emended version (well, the Yalkut's version, which is not emended. He simply doesn't mention Rashi here.). It then informs the reader that 'This, according to Luzzatto and Berliner, was the original form of the saying.' Thus, two kinds of readers are addressed. Those who are unfamiliar with Gen. Rabbah or even Rashi's comment are given the smoother reading. Those who would be thinking "That's not what Rashi said!" are informed the yichus of the version presented in this commentary.

An ass walks into a bar and orders a glass of wine

I spent many hours of my childhood learning with my grandfather. He was a very precise person , and did everything he could to counter my childish tendency to accept generality and 'basically getting the gist,' whether in terms of pronunciation, phrasing or translation. All three were very much neglected in my formal education, and he posed a frustrating but valuable counterweight. He always used to say that you have to pay attention to where the חמר is. Is it in the barn or in a barrel?*

Midrash Kohelles Rabbah i. iv

חנינא בן אחי ר' יהושע אזל להדיה כפר נחום ועבדון ליה מינאי מלה ועלון יתיה רכיב חמרא בשבתא, אזל לגביה יהושע חביביה ויהב עלוי משח ואיתסי, א"ל כיון דאיתער בך חמרא דההוא רשיעא לית את יכיל שרי בארעא דישראל, נחת ליה מן תמן לבבל ודמך תמן בשלמיה

As another illustration we quote the following from Midrash Koheleth on Ecclesiastes i 8 Rabbi Hanina nephew of Rabbi Joshua went to Capernaum and the Christians bewitched him and made him ride into the town on an ass upon the Sabbath When he returned to his uncle Rabbi Joshua gave him an unguent which healed him from the bewitchment But Joshua said to him Since you have heard the braying of the ass of that wicked one you can no longer remain on the soil of Israel Hanina went down to Babylon and there died in peace Farrar who quotes this story in Expositor Vol VI 1877 p

I found this footnote here, a publication from 1910 called The Monist, a Quarterly Magazine Devoted to the Philosophy of Science, Vol. XX..

The footnote continues, and it's amazing:

peace quotes story p 423 says The expression the ass of the wicked one is only too plainly and sadly an illusion to the ass ridden by our Lord in his triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the suppression of the name Jesus is in accordance with the practice of only mentioning Him in an oblique and cryptographic manner Lowe Fragment of the Talmud Babli Cambridge 1879 p 71 translated for ass wine in the Talmud both words are expressed the same and thinks that the Christians intoxicated him with the wine of the agapai which they seem to have celebrated on Friday night More probable perhaps is the meaning of Delitzsch Em Tag in Capernaum Leipsic 1873 p 25 who says that the ass of that wicked refers to the foolish preaching of the crucified

In other words, Lowe saw the חמרא--which חנינא was riding, no less (רכיב חמרא)--and put it in the barrel, or in the wine goblet as the case may be. Wow!

Unfortunately not every dusty old tome is online in digital form (yet) and I don't have any scheduled appearances in a great library for a little while, so I did not get the chance to see what exactly William Henry Lowe's The Fragment of Talmud Babli Pesachim: Of the Ninth Or Tenth Century in the University Library, Cambridge says. So I'm taking the Monist's word for it (for now).

What of W.H. Lowe? He is quoted in this very book in JQR vol. xiii, 1901 The Talmud in History by Abram Isaacs of NYU:

one of a number of Christian scholars in England can exclaim in editing a fragment of the Talmud The Talmud is a closed book to those who are content to skim the scum which rises to the surface of its troubled water Closed doubly closed is it to those who come
with a blind hatred of Judaism and whose chief delight it is to cry impious Jew I foolish rabbi when its

That is, he was a friend of the Talmud. Just not necessarily one who allowed his love of חידוש to get in the way of common sense.

* Thinking about it, this doesn't sound like the sort of quip that is original. I wonder, if it is not original, when and from whom did he hear it?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Rabbi Hertz on the Mesilas Yesharim, the emerging mussar movement, and Rabbi Leone da Modena

I came upon this interesting passage in an appendix to the Proceedings of the Sixth Biennial Convention of the Jewish Theological (1898) by Rabbi J. H. Hertz (1872-1946). Hertz, as you'll recall, would go on to become the Chief Rabbi of the British Empire, but at the time he was the first rabbinical graduate of the JTS and about to begin a position as rabbi in Johannesburg.

The appendix is called "Bachya, the Jewish Thomas À Kempis." (All spelling a formatting preserved accurately.)
מסלת ישרים (Mesillath Yesharim), a short ethico-ascetic book of rare beauty. It is more interesting to-day than it ever was, as it is fast assuming a semi-canonical character in the eyes of the "Men of Morals," (בעלי מוסר) Baale Mussar, a sect-in-the-making in Russia, founded twenty years ago by R. Israel Salanter.
From pg. 31, n. 20.

Note 21 is not nearly so interesting, but worth quoting as well:
"Geographical Judaism" is more or less a reality. It would, however, require a great deal of scholarship, coupled with ethnic psychological training, to explain why Spanish Judaism has found its ethical expression in the Chaboth Ha-lebaboth, German Judaism in the Sefer Chassidim and Italian Judaism in the Messilath Yesharim (or would Leo Modena's Tzemach Tzaddik better typify a synagog which two hundred years ago allowed a rabbi to speak of the "divine Diana" in the pulpit?). We doubt not but some day it will be done.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

English lo'azim, qerobatz or qerovos?

An interesting book called שטרות Hebrew Deeds of English Jews Before 1290 was published in 1888 in conjunction with the Anglo-Jewish Historical Exhibition. (Read or browse through it here.)

The introduction contains a useful table of what amounts to English lo'azim:

3 w j i y g X с z ch ЗХ abbey 290 NT J K église 311BX attorney 232 KYX13B11BK e B13B ilBX 114 ВВЧЗВ11ВХ 250 or НПЗВ ПВ 97 appurtenances SBPS done 175 tm WK КЗЗ ВПХ КУЗВК Stephen В Э ЛПВ К 223 or 03 ЧвВ К sterling 54 BW3Ï3 Bovates 307 B BK3 James ЮВ113 Cautio 99 T BU or 1 вЬа Walter 245 B M 245 о 3 ГТО Э William DWtnVll Guie d Août 232 КВ1ПМ Gersuma KTBVl J 84 or N Bn Girofle ЛК1П Hugh Ш &от 114 В Ч 1В 2i6 by mistake in the text St Mathias All Saints N3 1B B Epiphany 78 КПибпЬ or bowlmaker 12 67 TIMWB Le Paumer 162 Michaelmas Pp V perhaps misspelling or mispronouncing of bp B КП ЗХО manor 169 В 1
שמיץ for "smith" strikes me as interesting. It appears to me that the reason why צ was used for "th" - however it was pronounced, either as /t/ or /th/ (thorn, theta) was because the צ sounded very much like an /s/ in the pronunciation, at least of the writer of that particular deed. This dovetails with my pet theory as to why the tav without dagesh is pronounced as an /s/ among Ashkenazim - /s/ being a Germanic form of /th/. In addition, this dovetails with a theory of R. Elijah Levita regarding the traditional - yet certainly mistaken - name for a type of liturgy, namely the kind that are traditionally called קרובץ. According to a traditional explanation, this word is a notarikon for קול רינה וישועה באהלי צדיקים (Psalm 118.15). Not convinced by this (as Artscroll machzorim are), Levita noted that the correct term ought to be קרובות. Where then did the spelling with the צ, which is no word, become traditional, and then the explanation? He theorized that it occurred under the influence of French Jews who had been expelled, winding up in German Ashkenazic lands. According to him, their pronunciation of the צ was very much like their pronunciation of the ת. This led to the confusion as to what the word proper was, and so on. Incidentally, in traditional German Ashkenazic, the צ does sound very much like an /s/.

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Sefer Tishbi, Pg. 215, Isny edition (thanks hebr.books.)

Also of interest: Richard is (of course) transliterated as ריקרד, instead of what one might erroneously expect based on how this name is now pronounced: רישרד.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

About the Collectio Davidis

The library of Prague's Chief Rabbi David Oppenheim (1664-1736) is famous. He is regarded as the first real collector of Jewish books, amassing about 6000 seforim and 100 manuscripts. His collection was so complete and so impressive that it formed the basis for one of the landmark books in the history of Jewish bibliography, Johannes Christoff Wolf's 4-volume, 5000 page Bibliotheca Hebraea (1715-1733). Incidentally, if it seems odd for an אב"ד to allow his seforim to be examined and cataloged by a Christian Hebraist for a major bibliography written in Latin and aimed at the wider scholarly world, one considers that the oddity is with thinking it odd.

The details regarding this library, the fact that R. Oppenheim was unable to keep it in Prague with him due to fear for the safety of his most valuable collection, can be read elsewhere. However, where it ended up and how it got there is most interesting. After he died, his library was kept in crates, in the home of a relative. It was offered for sale, with a catalog created for that purpose in 1764, but for decades no interested buyer purchased it. It's value was presumed to be high. Moses Mendelssohn estimated it should fetch 60,000 Thaler. Later, it was estimated to be worth over twice that. Ultimately, the Bodleian Library at Oxford made what has to be considered one of the best deals of all time (at least for a bibliophile) and bought it for 9000 Thaler, in 1829. This was the equivalent of £1350 (a rough search on the internet reveals that this was equivalent to about £95,000 pounds in 2007. A very, very good price. Ultimately, this library formed the core of the Bodleian's great Hebrew collection.

Solomon Schechter reminisced about the rumors surrounding this famed collection of Hebrew books in his native country:

THE HEBREW COLLECTION OF THE BRITISH MUSEUM THE Hebrew collection in the British Museum forms one of the greatest centres of Jewish thought It is only surpassed by the treasures which are contained in the Bodleian Library at Oxford The fame of these magnificent collections has spread far and wide It has penetrated into the remotest countries and even the Bachurim alumni of some obscure place in Poland who otherwise neither care nor know anything about British civilisation have a dim notion of the nature of these mines of Jewish learning All sorts of legends circulate amongst them about the millions of books which belong to the Queen of England They speak mysteriously of an autograph copy of the Book of Proverbs presented to the Queen of Sheba on the occasion of her visit to Jerusalem and brought by the English troops as a trophy from their visit to Abyssinia which is
script of the book Light is Sown 1 which is so large that no shelf can hold it and which therefore hangs on iron chains How they long to have a glance at these precious things Would not a man get wiser only by looking at the autograph of the wisest of men BRITISH MUSEUM HEBREW COLLECTION 253

Prior to the sale, it was cataloged once again (in 1826, by Isaac Metz) and printed as Collectio Davidis, or קהלת דוד. This fascinating book is now available online (link). You can also view a digital version of one of Oppenheim's manuscripts here (Ms. Opp. 154; a 15th century work called by its author משל הקדמוני.)


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