Sunday, October 23, 2011

Yated Ne'eman on R. Solomon Judah Rapoport (Shir) and Wissenschaft des Judentums.

This is what appeared in the Jewish History page in a recent Yated Ne'eman. The column is basically arranged by Yahrzeit:

The missing final words are "a camouflaged attempt to empty Judaism of its kedusha and eternal relevance."

The entry in this column is a little strange. After all, one doubts that they'd acknowledge Zunz's yahrzeit. What gives? The best guess is that Shir was an Orthodox rabbi, however much whomever wrote this can't bear to call him that, even putting quotes around "rabbi," and whatever books are the source of this column's yahrzeit listed Shir. It's unclear what is so terrible about the biographies of Rav Saadiah, Natan Ba'al Ha-aruch, etc. The reference to Gans is out of place, and the charge that Prague's "authentic Judaism" declined under him in the 1850s is a cheap shot, and factually wrong - as if Orthodox Judaism in Prague hadn't declined in the first half of the century, before he came on the scene.

The reference to Hirsch exposing, or not exposing as the case may be, "Rapoport's scientific scholarship as a camouflaged attempt to empty Judaism of its kedusha and eternal relevance" is to the critical review essay of Shir's דברי שלום ואמת (Prague 1861) in defense of R. Zecharia Frankel, from attacks by R. Hirsch and R. Gottlieb Fischer in Jeschurun. The essay was translated into English in Volume 5 of the Collected Writings of Rabbi Hirsch, "On Chief Rabbi Rapoport's דברי שלום ואמת" (pp. 315 - 330; link to the original). The essay is not, in fact, an expose on Rapoport's scientific scholarship, but a critique of this particular essay, although it does contain some scholarly points.

On a happier note, here's an image of Shir that I only saw recently (from here:


  1. On that note, allow me to bring this recent article to your attention: Read the full article in the magazine for their treatment of Shadal.

  2. Someone should tell the Yated people that if they can't say anything nice on a person's yahrzeit, they shouldn't say anything at all.

    At least the picture assures us that Shir was not only crowned by a malach but also kept company with such distinguished figures as James A. Garfield and Zachary Taylor.

  3. Funny and sad.

    Also, 1571 is the end of the eighteenth century?

  4. What strikes me about this snipit is that it's author seems intent on presenting the issue as all black with no white or grey areas, but in doing so highlights the obvious fact that shir simply wasn't a black or white clone, but an individual of depth and complexity. Ironic.

  5. Further irony is that R. Hirsch clearly considered Shir a Rabbi, not a "rabbi." There's a letter to Shir in Shemesh Marpe. Granted, it's dated 1851, but the only thing which changed after that is that Shir defended Frankel, which for obvious reasons was unpardonable to Hirsch, who in any case does not get to rule on who is or isn't a rabbi. However, he certainly had more credentials to do so than the yahrzeit column in the Yated.

  6. Isn't it ironic that R. Boruch Epstein in his Mekor Boruch (reproduced, I believe, in My uncle the Netziv) has the exact opposite perspective. Namely, that in order to win the rabbinical seat in Prague, R. Shir had to change his 'maskillic' stripes and portray more of a Rabbinic demeanor, which, according to R. Epstein, he did for the remainder of his life, actually becoming quite conservative. (As I recall, in the original Mekor Boruch, he goes on to attribute what he considers Zunz' religeous awakening to similar circumstances)

  7. In this book, Rabbenu Chananel on Pesachim (Paris 1868) we see that a society was formed by Yechiel Brill, publisher of Halevanon, which was considered the Chareidi newspaper of the day. (May God forgive me, but Yechiel Brill was the Pinny Lipshitz of his day, by way of illustration, my apologies to Brill.)

    The society, called Chevras Shomrei Torah, was to publish seforim from manuscript, a worthy cause, probably meant to directly compete with the Mekitze Nirdamim, which had been founded by Eliezer Lipmann Silvermann, publisher of Hamaggid (the premier conservative Haskalah newspaper).

    Turn to the beginning, and we see who the board consists of.

    Dov Ber Meisels, ab"d of Warsaw.
    Meir Leibush Malbim of Lunschitz. Yekusiel Zusia Hakohen Rapoport of Minsk.
    Matisyahu Strashun of Vilna.
    Eliezer Isidor, Chief Rabbi of France.
    Albert Cohen of Paris.
    And Eliyahu Benamozegh, teacher in the Rabbinical Seminary of Livorno, described in Artscroll's book on the Syrian Jews as basically a heretic, because his Em Lemikra was banned by the Bes Din of Aleppo.

    Below this list is a "Mazkeres Olam," of "two gedolei yeshurun, sarei Torah, otrei yisrael," who had recently passed away. Who are they? Shir, and R. S.Z. Klein of Colmar!

    But Yated yahrzeit guy knows more about the period than Brill, or tha Malbim, who somehow found himself on the board of a society which could refer to Shir as a Rabbi rather than a "rabbi."

    Maimon, the mention in Mekor Baruch is a good example of the kind of reasonableness which is missing lately. You don't like this aspect of the guy, fine, say so. But to also essentially falsify the other aspect, which he is blameless? That's wrong. In their defense, I doubt that anyone there really knows anything about him other than that he is associated with the W word.

  8. See the article in Hakira about the controversy between Shir and R' Hirsch. The author quotes some very incriminating evidence against Shirt. Though he defended R' Zichariya Frankle he ironically didn't believe that Davarim was written by the same person that wrote the first four books.

  9. The article says no such thing. It talks about Deutero-Isaiah, which Shir did accept, not Devarim.

  10. "On that note, allow me to bring this recent article to your attention: Read the full article in the magazine for their treatment of Shadal. "

    Wow, I'd sure love to see that. If you or someone else can scan and send it to me, I'd be grateful.

  11. "The article says no such thing. It talks about Deutero-Isaiah, which Shir did accept, not Devarim"

    Yes, you are right, I mixed up the theories. But honestly how different are they? Aren't they both based on stylistic differences?

  12. Steg (dos iz nit der šteg)5:09 PM, October 24, 2011

    The Deutero-Isaiah theory is fundamentally founded on the observation that prophecies make a lot more sense when they're addressed to people who would understand and appreciate them because they're living in the time period soon before they're supposed to occur, rather than generations previously in a very different world. No matter what Shadal says.

  13. Anon

    "Yes, you are right, I mixed up the theories. But honestly how different are they? Aren't they both based on stylistic differences?"

    I don't understand what you mean. To give a parable, if I accept literary criticism of Shakespeare then I'm guilty of denying that Moshe received the Torah?

    The point is that the Torah is not other books, and other books are not the Torah. Whether or not Deutero-Isaiah is "acceptable," and who gets to decide it and why, is another question, as is the question of whether or not it is logical or consistent to see one set of books as off-limits and another book not off-limits and so forth.

    "No matter what Shadal says."

    Steg, touche!

  14. "The best guess is that Shir was an Orthodox rabbi"

    Isn't that an anachronism? More like "a traditional rabbi".

  15. No, it's not an anachronism.

  16. What makes him Orthodox in the cca 1850 (German lands) meaning of the word? In that sense, he was anti-Orthodox.

  17. "if I accept literary criticism of Shakespeare then I'm guilty of denying that Moshe received the Torah? .... Whether or not Deutero-Isaiah is "acceptable," and who gets to decide it and why, is another question"

    The questions the bible critics pose are indeed things to be dealt with (some would argue otherwise). How one does so has a direct impact in his inclusion in orthodoxy. If ones approach is that it is acceptable to say Chazal were mistaken on issues which they claim tradition as divine; then I think most would agree that such an individual would not be classified as orthodox. The reason is that when you relegate their authority on issues such as the above it will effect similar instances, as in my suggestion to the Torah itself. It makes no difference if the individual cognizes the implications or not, since the criteria is what Rambam calls mak'chesh magi'de'ha. (Seems like Luis Jacobs was aware of this, as he chooses to claim that even the text of Torah was never claimed by Chazal to be divine!)
    Even if for what ever reason Shir decided that some books were off limits he surely realized the immediate affect in Isaiah itself. If Deutero-Isaiah is a separate work written by an anonymous author in Babylon then all the exegesis of the rabbis on those verses should be invalid, since divine authorship is a prerequisite to halachik exegesis. I think even you would agree that one that denied the validity of halacha expounded on in the Gemara would be branded as unorthodox.

    I always got the feeling from Shir that he harbored such ideas in his heart. Before the first Reform Conference he pleads with them not to break away from the jewish people because jewish unity is important. He does not rebuke them about their halachik invalidity, nor does he defend the common halacha. That is even when discussing the actual issue such as Yom Tov Sheini, he makes not mention of other arguments. When a resident of Prague refuses to give his son a Bris, he defends him because a punishment would just bring about more division among the town residents. Indeed one wonders how at time that the slightest deviation from halachik norm was damned heretical, Shir could be comfortable associating himself with so many blatant heretics.

  18. I think you're simply making a big leap and not really supporting it. What you're saying is that any controversial kind of idea that has wider implications, which we can squeeze heresy out of, is not Orthodox. As it happens he didn't "surely realize" that if there was a Deutero-Isaiah that it was invalid prophecies. Actually, in their polemic Shadal maintained that this was the case. But Shir emphatically denied that this is a necessary position, and in fact held that all prophecy and those prophecies are real and valid.

    As for what's in anyone's heart - come on. All we know is what we know. I don't know that the fire and brimstone approach to Reform was the only valid approach, or that it even worked.

    Associating with heretics? Why single him out for that sin? Was R. Yechiel Weinberg not Orthodox because he published two papers in the Hebrew Union College Annual? Was Rav Gifter not Orthodox because he exchanged letters on Torah topics with Louis Ginzberg? I agree that associating with heretics is a big divisive issue, and maybe this is one of the chief criterion which divides maskilim, frum or not, from anti-maskilim.

  19. I didn't realize that you already wrote about orthodox classification with Deutero-Isaiah as the point of contention ( You don't list my argument as one of those put forth by Shadal. I was surprised that you didn't suggest that Shir's view was influenced by his adoption of the maimonidian theory of prophecy. According to Rambam all prophecies except that of Moshe are the product of perfection of the intellect and imagination with the symbiosis of the Active Intellect. Accordingly Rambam writes that the prophet will see things as he understands them even though in essence they may be different. Since prophetic revelation is the product of the intellect and imagination it cannot contain things that the prophet cannot fathom himself. Shir might have thought that a prophecy with so much detail of the far future including the kings name could not be possible according to Rambam.

    The reason I singled out Shir for associating with heretics is because of the time he lived. Your analogy to R' Yechiel Y. Weinberg is not comparabale. He lived much later after Reform Judaism was well established and Haskalah was the stronger force. He was a product of the Hilldihemer seminary and was already on the left in the orthodox world. His association wasn't a big stretch and wouldn't arouse much commotion. At the time one could justify association as an attempt to refute it. Not so when Shir lived, then reform was not yet popular. Exchanging letters with Louis Ginzberg I don't see as a big deal. I should have expressed it clearer before but what meant by association was Shir's preoccupation with many many questionable figures. It wan't just a couple of guys here and there, it was numerous episodes with many figures through out his life.

    In regards to the criteria for orthodoxy; it isn't my chiddush and I wasn't trying to support it , I was just plainly stating it as fact. You are welcome to debate it with me, but I think it is more then evident that according to the Talmud such a person would definitely be considered a apikores. If you want to say the Talmud's pretense is wrong and we need to redefine it based modern scholarship thats another argument entirely.

  20. Actually, I think he really adopted it wholesale from Krochmal and Ibn Ezra and the compelling logic of non-Jewish interpreters of the time. You raise a good point about the Rambam, but I don't think it rests or falls on the Rambam's understanding of prophecy.

    While you are right that in Galicia associating with heretics in the mid-19th century was a bigger deal than for a lefty Orthodox Jew in the 20th century, don't forget that Shir was - definitely had been - considered one of the heretics himself in Galicia, especially in his earlier years. He was one of the leading figures in the Galician Haskalah, possibly overshadowed only by Krochmal. That's what the maskilim did. They didn't refuse to associate with one another over de'os (usually). In fact not only maskilim did this. You find exchanges of letters between rabbis and people whom some would say were heretics. Maybe this was less common in Galicia, but you find that all over. Anyway, his associations were scholarly. I can see why someone would say, Gosh, you shouldn't talk about piyutim with Geiger because he's a heretic, but if you're a "kabel es haemes" kind of guy that doesn't enter the equation.

    I don't know what you mean that Reform was not popular when he lived. Of course it was. It was, and contrary to the way you presented it he was a strong opponent of Reform. The fact that the way this manifested itself was different from others doesn't mean that he secretly must have been a Reformer in his heart.

    I don't think it's self-evident, or even evident, that the Talmud considers someone heretical for ascribing biblical books (other than the Torah) to people whom the Talmud itself doesn't ascribe. Besides, Ibn Ezra pretty likely believed in Deutero-Isaiah. Who gives you the right to say he wasn't "Orthodox" or acceptable, if you'd prefer? It is self-evident to me that an *Orthodox* Jew can say what Ibn Ezra said, not to mention can say what the Talmud didn't say he can't say.

    The whole thing reminds me of the absurd lengths heresy-seeking can go. When R. Zalman Hanau castigated Abarnanel for saying that Nevi'im weren't experts in grammar, Hanau was chastised for daring to say that Abarnanel was wrong.

    In any case, all of this was utterly unknown to the contemporaries of Shir, except for his Chassidic opponents, including the Chasam Sofer, who supported his appointment as rabbi of Tarnopol.

  21. I am sorry if I wasn't clear, but the issue isn't ascribing books to persons other then those the Talmud says authored them. It is the more general denying of the sages authentic tradition. Again can one say that they erred in their halachik exegesis (homiletics is a different story) of a verse which all the sages agree upon. Just because it seems to you to be objectively true doesn't mean that the Talmud wouldn't consider it heresy. The issue is not so much the repercussions as much the actual denial of their tradition. The reason for stringency for the denier is undoubtedly the possible implications.

  22. Thanks for clearing it up. Now I know what you mean.

    I'm not sure what "authentic tradition" means in this context. Not infrequently you have two opinions about a single matter (whether halacha or not) and it is clear that they are not both true. Let's say for example, whether or not Iyov was a real person. He wasn't a real person and also not a real person. If you mean that the man de'amar received it from someone, as opposed to reaching such a conclusion from his own thinking, you still get to a link in the chain where someone originated the idea.

    In any case, the meforshim (notably Abarbanel) disagrees with some of the Talmud's list of authors. Presumably he is acceptable? What about Ibn Ezra and Deutero-Isaiah?

    "Just because it seems to you to be objectively true doesn't mean that the Talmud wouldn't consider it heresy. "

    As far as I'm concerned things don't work that way. Not that you're wrong about the statement, but you can't just say that such and such is considered heresy by the Talmud when the Talmud didn't think to mention it. You're arguing by implication, but that only works if someone else agrees that this is the implication. I just don't see how the concept of mesorah implies that that list of authors cannot be questioned. Again, apart for the Torah which seems clear, or at least more clear.

    The same thing even goes for halachic exegesis to an extent, but not practice. The Rashbam interprets tefillin metaphorically. Was the Rashbam not Orthodox or a denier of tradition? I realize that this may be something worth erecting a syag around for practical reasons, but that doesn't mean that the Rashbam is a heretic or anyone else for interpreting a verse differently from Chazal.

    You do realize that Shir's writings on Isaiah were very public? I guess the Chasam Sofer forgot that he was obviously a heretic. This does not, by the way, mean that the views were not repugnant to the Chasam Sofer (as well as others, including R. Hirsch, who considered him a rabbi). For all I know they were. But apparently it wasn't self-evident to him that to say such things is to deny the authenticity of tradition.

  23. So Rashbam was also Orthodox? And that's also not an anachronism? Or do you mean (lower case) orthodox (as understood today)?

  24. My comments were based on the assumption that claiming anonymous authorship would make the book undivine, thereby negating all halachik exegesis. I also assumed that claiming talmudic interpretation is wrong would effect practice. You challenge me on both points. You suggest that practice is what is important, not what you preach.

    The whole thing is very interesting, and has been recently discussed in a few books printed by Littman Press (Shapiro and Kellner). But what I find lacking in those books is that they play a name game and don't even try to prove the Talmud's criteria for required beliefs. But maybe they are right. When dealing with radical figures why should we try to superimpose our conjecture of their talmudic proof. Why should we assume that they felt themselves governed by talmudic law? True it seems almost unanimous among medieval scholars that the babylonian talmud is binding on every jew, but would you expect those that dissent to express this in writing. The palestinian geonim didn't feel so. My point is that for the conventional jew, the opinions of great scholars do not necessarily have any barring on their own theology if they are trying to base themselves of the Bavli. Also we need to take into account that some of these sages simply may have erred. There were many talmudist in France that were "bigger and greater" then the Rambam that believed in anthropomorphic god (I am not implying that they had no talmudic prooftext; rather that they are ultimately wrong).

    With that said, I don't think the Rashbam (him in particular) thought that his "perush lfi peshutoh" left no room for talmudic exegesis. Though I think there are many that would argue that halachik exegesis only operates on the pshat level.

    The issue of authorship was always felt to be open to individual opinion. This is evinced with the expressed of opinion of Amoraic sages which run contrary to their Tanatic predecessors. But I should note that it is limited to what is termed 'ksuvim'. Why is the canon divided into neviem and ksuvim? I haven't really checked into this but it seems that most real halachik exegesis occurs in them. The exegesis in ksuvim is limited to the asmachta and giluy milsa type.

    "I just don't see how the concept of mesorah implies that that list of authors cannot be questioned"
    That is not what I was suggesting. I said that the if the claim for anonymous authorship devoided the book from divinity then it was problematic. I don't know how Shir understood Deutero-Isaiah, I just assumed that he wouldn't ascribe divinity to something he thinks was conspicuously added to a real navi. I fair assumption I think.

    So if you could come up with some proof from the Talmud that creed but practice is the determining factor, that would be great.

  25. >>"With that said, I don't think the Rashbam (him in particular) thought that his "perush lfi peshutoh" left no room for talmudic exegesis."

    The Rashbam actually is very clear and unambiguous on this point. He writes מה שלמדונו רבתנו שאין מקרא יוצא מידי פשוטו, אף כי עיקרה של תורה באה ללמדנו ולהודיענו על ידי רמיזת הפשט ההגדות וההלכות והדינין על ידי אריכות הלשון וע"י ל"ב מדות של ר"א בנו של ריה"ג וע"י י"ג מדות של ר"י

  26. בהקשר זה של שי"ר ושד"ל מעניין להביא את דברי הנצי"ב במכתבו לפרופ' הרכבי: '[ ...] הגעיני ע"י הרב המוכ"ז נ"י ס' זכרון לאחרונים אשר הדפיס מע"כ נ"י מכתבי עט סופר מהיר הה"ג שי"ר ז"ל ונכבדות מדבר בם. אכן אז עוד ילדות היתה בו והתרפס הרבה לפני המשתדל. ורוח אחרת היתה בו בימי זקנה כאשר זכה לעלות על מרומי הרבנות בפראג. והדברים עתיקים אין זה המקום לבוא בהרחבה' (התפרסם בספר שנות דור ודור [א ירושלים תש"ס] עמ' קצג)



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