Thursday, April 16, 2015

A troubling minhag

I have heard reports of a troubling minhag this coming Shabbos, one with seeming pagan origins -- a minhag which has become widespread in recent years -- to bake or eat challah.

To explain, etymologically, to call the braided Shabbos bread bchallah is a bit confusing. Chazal referred to Challah, but as the portion which was removed from the dough and given as a present to the kohen. (See Bamidbar 15:20 -- maybe it refers Biblically to a type of bread itself, as Philologos wrote.) It is only some time later (in a 15th century German work) that the Shabbos bread itself was called "Challah". (See also here for Otzar Ta'amei Haminhagim's explanation.)

To cite Menachem Mendel, who cites others:
I mentioned this to my colleague Rabbi Jill Hammer, and she suggested that I look into the connection between ḥallah and goddess worship. Not really knowing what to expect, I found the following in The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects (p. 482):
The braided bread loaves of Germanic tradition were invented by the women of Teutonic tribes, who used to make offerings of their own hair to their Goddess. Eventually they learned to preserve their braids by substituting the imitative loaf, which was called Berchisbrod or Perchisbrod, bread offered to the Goddess Berchta, or Perchta. The name of the braided Sabbath loaf among German Jews, Berches or Barches, was copied from this tradition.

Could it be that those nice braids that my wife makes when she bakes ḥallah really have their source in pagan goddess worship? The linguist Paul Wexler thinks that the original name was actually the German Holle which was
the name of a pagan Germanic goddess to whom braided bread was once given in offering. [The German] Holle was replaced at a later date-under the pressure of Judaization-by the [Hebrew] ḥallah, which bore formal and semantic similarity. (See his book The Non-Jewish Origins of the Sephardic Jews, pp. 68-69 and numerous other places in his writings.)

If so, we must protest this perversion of Judaism and introduction of pagan rites into our Shabbos festivities.

Yes, I am kidding. (Though given history, people will likely not read this far and assume I am speaking in all seriousness.)

What I wrote above wasn't made up. And it seems at the very least plausible that braided loaves for the pagan Germanic goddess Holle is the basis of both the name and form of the bread.

But some people are up in arms this week about shlissel challah, because of its similarity to hot cross buns. Perhaps. As I wrote in the past about this:
In the minds of the hamon am who practice this, there certainly are no such idolatrous intentions. Instead, they regard it as a holy segulah, and maybe associate all sorts of Torah-based justifications for the practice. So I would not condemn it as the worst thing in the universe.
My primary objection to shlissel challah -- besides of course poisoning yourself with lead leeching from the keys -- has to do with the adoption of the minhag by people for whom it was never a family minhag. As I wrote (same post):
What I find more problematic is what the widespread acceptance of this minhag means.

A) Initially, people's practice was more or less mimetic.
B) Then, people turned to texts and away from their mimetic traditions.
C) Then, with the advent of the Internet, each group's personal mimetic traditions become text (or become memes?) and become the expectation for the global Jewish community.
When you combine this chain-mail type of spread with the minhag's questionable background and somewhat negative messaging (of segulah-ism), there is what to oppose.

Anyway, it feels good to "oppose" something. It gives people something to do and something to talk about, heatedly. It is a fun way of channeling one's religious beliefs into a public statement.

Just realize that not just shlissel challah, but regular challah is well, can be subject to many of the same attacks.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

The 2000 year old prophecy in Yalkut Shimoni

With recent nerve-wracking events involving Iran and their quest for nuclear weapons, Shirat Devorah reposts a post from JewFacts, about a 2000 year old prophecy. The post reads in part:

A piece of rabbinic literature [written 2000 years ago] known as the Yalkut Shimoni touches on many future scenarios both for the nation of Israel and for the world. In its section on the biblical Book of Isaiah and the prophecies contained therein, a rabbi cited by the Yalkut Shimoni states:

“That the year the Messiah will arrive when all the nations of the world will antagonize each other and threaten with war. The king of Persia (Iran) antagonizes the King of Arabia (Saudi Arabia) with war. The King of Arabia goes to Edom (The Western Countries, headed by USA) for advice. Then the King of Persia destroys the world (and since that cannot be done with conventional weapons it must mean nuclear which can destroy most of the world). And all the nations of the world begin to panic and are afraid, and Israel too is afraid as to how to defend from this. G-d then says to them “Do not fear for everything that I have done is for your benefit, to destroy the evil kingdom of Edom and eradicate evil from this world so that the Messiah can come, your time of redemption is now.”

1) I don't know if I would call this "prophecy". This is a midrash, and so is presumably an interpretation by the midrashic author (Rabbi Yizchak) of pesukim, perhaps from Sefer Yeshaya. The prophet was Yeshaya, and the rabbis took it upon themselves to carefully analyze the words to come to some concrete meaning. And that is how different rabbis might argue with one another about the meaning, without calling one another false prophets. The rabbis of the Talmud themselves said that prophecy was removed, and that the last prophets were Chagai, Zecharia, and Malachi.

2) It is not "2000 years old". Yalkut Shimoni is a Yalkut, a collection. While many of the sources are old (though they may be processed versions of the older material), some of the material is more recent. Yalkut Shimoni was composed either in the 11th century or (more likely) the 13th century. Even though this is attributed to a "Rabbi Yitzchak", I would not jump to say that this is older material, nor 2000 year old material, from the time of the earliest Tannaim.

3) The actual text of the midrash in Yalkut Shimoni is this:
א"ר יצחק שנה שמלך המשיח נגלה בו כל מלכי אומות העולם מתגרים זה בזה, מלך פרס מתגרה במלך ערבי והולך מלך ערבי לארס ליטול עצה מהם וחוזר מלך פרס ומחריב את כל העולם וכל אומות העולם מתרעשים ומתבהלים ונופלים על פניהם ויאחוז אותם צירים כצירי יולדה, וישראל מתרעשים ומתבהלים ואומר להיכן נבוא ונלך להיכן נבוא ונלך להיכן נבוא ונלך, וואומר להם בני אל לתתיראו כל מה שעשיתי לא עשיתי אלא בשבילכם מפני מה אתם מתיראים אל תיראו הגיע זמן גאולתכם, ולא כגאולה ראשונה גאולה אחרונה כי גאולה ראשונה היה לכם צער ושעבוד מלכייות אחריה אבל גאולה אחרונה אין לכם צער ושעבוד מלכיות אחריה:
The identifications of the melech aravi with Saudi Arabia and melech Paras with Iran, and ארם (censored for אדום or רומי) for the US represents the guesswork of the author.

So too, the statement that
destroys the world (and since that cannot be done with conventional weapons it must mean nuclear which can destroy most of the world)
is a presumption of the author. I think those countries conquered in the Muslim Conquests would beg to differ. I think those countries conquered in the Mongol invasions would beg to differ.

4) We are dealing with a 13th century midrash. And the midrash makes reference to empires, rather than countries. From Talmudic times, these were understood as empires rather than countries.

Paras is the Persian empire. Edom is the Roman empire. Aravi is the Arabian empire. These each, in their time, conquered and ruled over wide swaths of the settled world.

While Paras is modern-day Iran, and that country is a potential threat, it is a nothing compared with the Persian empire.

If this is early 13th century, this might refer to the Ilkhanate.
The Ilkhanate, also spelled Il-khanate (Persianایلخانان‎, IlkhananMongolian: Хүлэгийн улс, Hulagu-yn Ulus), was a breakaway state of the Mongol Empire, which was ruled by the Mongol House of Hulagu. It was established in the 13th century and was based primarily in Iran as well as neighboring territories, such as present-day Azerbaijan, and the central and eastern parts of present-day Turkey. The Ilkhanate was based, originally, on Genghis Khan's campaigns in the Khwarazmian Empire in 1219–1224 and was founded by Genghis's grandson, Hulagu Khan. In its fullest extent, the state expanded into territories which today comprise most of IranIraq,TurkmenistanArmeniaAzerbaijanGeorgiaTurkey, western Afghanistanand southwestern Pakistan. Later Ilkhanate rulers, beginning with Ghazan in 1295, would convert to Islam.
This strikes me as a plausible interpretation of the midrash (rather than "prophecy"), of applying pesukim to contemporary events and predicting the resurgence of a mighty empire rooted in Persia.

But it depends on the actual composition date of this midrash. Find the date of composition, and find the people engaged in empire-building and conquest in its proximity, and then see if it fits.

4) If Iran got nuclear weapons, and used them, they would be wiped out instantly. There are other countries (such as the US) who would automatically retaliate. If there were worldwide nuclear war, then even in Israel it would not be a good place to live. None of this corresponds nicely to the events described in the midrash. My explanation (IMHO) besides being rooted historically works better with the scenario described in the midrash.

5) All this "ancient prophecy" gets mixed in with other nonsense such as this:
Another interesting fact recently published in the world press is that astrologers see this winter as the “Nuclear Winter” in which the Western world will be destroyed by Iran with Nuclear weapons [which matches up with ancient prophecy].

Monday, April 06, 2015

A Haggadah from 1527

This year, I printed out a Haggadah from JNUL from 1527 to use for the seder.

1527הגדה של פסח. רפ"ז. פרג
[הגדה של פסח : עם ציורים].
(פראג : גרשם בן שלמה הכהן, כו טבת רפ"ז).

Here are a few interesting things I found in it.

1) The rabbit hunt.

It has kiddush three times. The first for a regular seder. The second for a seder on Friday night. The third for a seder on motzei Shabbos. The illustration for that third type of kaddesh has a picture of a rabbit hunt (bottom of page):

The reason is that the order of brachos is Yakzehaz (yayin kiddush ner havdalah zeman). And the German "jag den haz" means "hunt the hare". (Recall that German j is pronounced /y/.)

2) Early Photoshop:

By Chacham mah hu omer, the pasuk ends אתכם, just as in our Masoretic text. Meanwhile, the Mechilta on this derasha has אותנו, as does the Septuagint and (I think) the Dead Sea Scrolls.

But wait a minute! Look carefully at that word in this Haggadah. I'll zoom in:

Look at how long the ת is. Look at the roof of the ת and how it used to be split. Look in the middle of the ת and see the rubbed out initial leg.

They took ות and changed it into a ת.

Look also at the rubbed out kamatz. And look at the end of the word, how squeezed the כם. They have overwritten נו with כם!

This seems to be based on an earlier version (woodcut?) where it had אותנו but because they believed this to be an error, they corrected it to match our masoretic text. (Unless this was done after printing...)

And here is the unedited version, from another Haggadah printing (I think from later) without the correction. For this section, it is a match, even unto the placement of the letters, except for this correction.

With אותנו:

With אתכם, in our Haggadah:

3) But they missed v'atzum:

Yet a bit later, they missed correcting ועצום, which is found in both the Samaritan text and in the basic midrash in the Sifrei, though not in our Masoretic texts (I discuss this point here.)

(To look at the other Haggadah we used for comparison above, see this:)

4) Illustrated Revava Ketzemach Hasadeh:

This is the sort of thing that would be unlikely to be included in many modern Haggadot.

(As to the propriety of including this in a Haggadah, consider the justification found in Pesachim 116a.)

Look at that wild growing hair. This is presumably as a demonstration of ושעריך נכונו. However, considering the context of שדים נכונו, it seems likely that simple peshat in the pasuk is that it is referring to pubic hair.

5) Point to one's wife

They mention a custom of pointing to one's wife (or a woman) when reaching maror zeh, as a pasuk states isha raa mar mimaves. See this post at the Seforim blog for a greater discussion of this "custom".

6) The Shefoch Chamascha is missing a bit

in the middle. I checked though and R' Shmuly wasn't behind this.

7) Beis Hamikdash instead of Beis Habechira in Dayenu:

But in the following, sum-up paragraph, it is what we expect, namely Beis Habechira.

Friday, April 03, 2015

The Haggadah of the Ri m'Josh

Bumped to top. This was originally published in 2012. I haven't had the time to update it since as I wanted, but it is still good stuff.

To download, click here. (If that does not work, try visiting this Google site.)

Author's note:

I present here the first edition of my running commentary on the Haggadah shel Pesach. It can certainly use extensive editing. I composed it over the course of about three years as a series of blogposts. But as a result, I may be repetitious or inconsistent. And there may be many typographical and formatting errors. Likewise, I cannot guarantee that the ideas presented in here are correct, but at the least, I hope that they are thought-provoking.

My focus here is on issues of girsa and its implications; close reading of pesukim and the Haggadah text to try to better understand the details of the derasha; the composition of the Haggadah; and differing approaches of Chazal to the obligations on the seder night.

חֲסַל סִדּוּר פֶּסַח כְּהִלְכָתוֹ, כְּכָל מִשְׁפָּטוֹ וְחֻקָתוֹ. כַּאֲשֶׁר זָכִינוּ לְסַדֵּר אוֹתוֹ כֵּן נִזְכֶּה לַעֲשׂוֹתוֹ.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

The Absolut Haggadah, updated for 2015

Once again, The Absolut Haggadah is out. It is downloadable from this website.

It has been thoroughly updated for 2015, with both changes to the text and some professional typesetting. I discussed an idea from it in 2007, reviewed it and its general approach in 2009. discussed an excerpt in 2010.

But there have been many updates since I mentioned it last.

Here is an excerpt from this year's edition, to give you a sense of its flavor and style.

בָּרוּךְ שׁוֹמֵר הַבְטָחָתוֹ לְיִשְׂרָאֵל, בָּרוּךְ הוּא
שֶׁהַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא חִשַּׁב אֶת הַקֵּץ,
לַעֲשׂוֹת כְּמַה שֶּׁאָמַר לְאַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ בִּבְרִית
בֵּין הַבְּתָרִים, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וַיֹּאמֶר לְאַבְרָם, יָדֹע
תֵּדַע כִּי גֵר יִהְיֶה זַרְעֲךָ בְּאֶרֶץ לֹא לָהֶם,
וַעֲבָדוּם וְעִנּוּ אֹתָם אַרְבַּע מֵאוֹת שָׁנָה. וְגַם
אֶת הַגּוֹי אֲשֶׁר יַעֲבֹדוּ דָּן אָנֹכִי וְאַחֲרֵי כֵן
יֵצְאוּ בִּרְכֻשׁ גָּדוֹל.

"Blessed is He who keeps His promise to Israel, blessed be He!
For the Holy One, blessed be He, calculated the end [of
the bondage], in order to do as He had said to our father
Abraham at the “Covenant between the Portions,” as it is
said: “And He said to Abraham, `You shall know that your
seed will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and they
will enslave them and make them suffer, for four hundred
years. But I shall also judge the nation whom they shall
serve, and after that they will come out with great wealth.’
How many years were the Jews in slavery in Egypt? Most calculations have it at around
210 years.[6]6 Based on the promise God made to Abraham, the Jewish people should have been in Egypt for 400 years. What happened to the missing years?  
Many commentators feel that since Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were considered aliens while they lived in Canaan, the calculation of the 400 years begins right after the ,ברית בין הבתרים (the covenant between the pieces), with the birth of Isaac.[67]
We still find it difficult to explain the verse (Exodus 12:40) that clearly states that the
Jewish people lived in Egypt (and not Canaan) for 430 [68] years. One explanation offered is that Canaan was considered a part of Egypt in the time of Abraham. Truth be told, this problem is internal to the verses in Genesis which predict 400 years of servitude and then say “and the fourth generation shall return here.” How could they only be up to the fourth generation after 400 years! We are forced to conclude that since this verse is dramatizing years of suffering, it counts the overlapping years of ancestor and descendant. In other words, when we calculate the years of servitude spent in Egypt, we sum the years of each member of a lineal genealogy who lived in Egypt, even though the ages of the generations overlap; a type of concurrent sentence.[69] [70]
65 The Comics Passover Haggadah: Shay Charka. This tradition continues, as is evident from the hotel towels that are ubiquitous in Israeli homes.
66 Kehas, one of the group that went down to Egypt, lived 133 years, his son Amram lived 137 and his son Moses was 80 at the time of the Exodus. Thus, we have 350 years, before reducing the sum for years when the lives of these three individuals overlapped.
Clearly, according to the biblical genealogies, the Israelites were in Egypt for fewer than 400 years!
הגדה של ר’ אברהם חדידה ד’’ה מתחלה 67
68 We are not bothered by the difference of 30 years between verses. Many times the Torah will round off a number to the nearest 100.
69 The Brody Family Haggadah.
70 Rav Amnon Bazak suggests a variation on this approach: If we add the years of Kehas, Amram and of Moses, we get 390 (and this number is easily rounded to 400). If we add the 40 years in the desert, we reach 430. The prophet Ezekiel is told to lie on one side for 390 days and the other for 40 (in expiation of Israel’s sins). The way the 40 days are described in Ezekiel (“a day for each year”), they are clearly a reference to the desert period, it would therefore follow that the 390 relates to the period in Egypt.
What are they doing here?

Because the basic text of the Haggadah discusses the brit bein habesarim, and of the ketz of 400 years, and that Hashem was chishev et hakeitz, the authors of this Haggadah give a scholarly analysis of how the 400 years are reckoned, and how it accords with the actual 210 years. How was this havtacha fulfilled?

The authors of this Haggadah chose to be brief in their presentation here, in order to keep the discussion moving and to for space considerations on the page. But they bring the issue to the reader's attention and choose one of the several resolutions which works well with their approach -- that the purpose is dramatizing the suffering.

Here are some further ideas about the issue they raised:

1) Note that the Septuagint and Samaritan Pentateuch changes the text of one pasuk to explicitly split the 430 between Egypt and Canaan. And that this is an emendation in the interest of solving a problem, and so is not original.

2) Among the various resolutions to this issue, there is a nice one mentioned by Shadal, that these names (Kehat, Amram, etc.) are the names of families at the time of split-offs rather than individuals, such that it really is 210.

3) Once they have brought this up, we can contemplate how this is related to chishev et hakeitz. Recall that the basic Haggadah text is written by a midrashist, and he is citing midrashim. When he writes "chishev et hakeitz", what does that mean? Does it perhaps mean that Hashem used a quicker method of calculating the keitz, as some explanations have it? Such that it was a nice thing Hashem 400did to transform the 430 into a mere 210?

Or is Shomer Havtachato mean that Hashem kept careful watch, that he was anticipating the time he would be able to redeem them. Just as we see in the gemara, אמר ר' יונתן תיפח עצמן של מחשבי קיצין, where it means people who are predicting (or by extension, watching) the end-time.

Or is it just that He kept His word, and this entire discussion (of 400 vs 210) is tangential to what the Baal HaHaggadah meant?

4) We can tie this in in to Arami Oved Avi. Are we really saying about יָדֹע תֵּדַע כִּי גֵר יִהְיֶה זַרְעֲךָ בְּאֶרֶץ לֹא לָהֶם that at about half of those 400 years was when they were in Canaan? If so, we can understand how Avraham, Yizchak and Yaakov were truly wandering Arameans.


I'll close by reposting the praise from other people from years past:

They did not do any good marketing, so I will do it for them. Here is what some people are saying about the Absolut Haggadah:

Abacaxi Mamao wrote:
Absolut Haggadah [PDF]. I know nothing about it. Maybe you'll find it interesting. Josh Waxman, about whom I also know nothing, introduced it and gave a short review here. I liked what he said, though, so I downloaded it. I haven't had a chance to look at it in depth yet, though. Who has time? Pesach is coming!
Rabbi David Sedley wrote:
I found this excellent Haggadah. It deals with many of the same issues that I spoke about in the shiur (which is in the previous post) and answers some of the outstanding questions, such as when the Haggadah was put into its present form (some time in the Gaonic period, though we have fragments from the Cairo Geniza which are pretty similar to todays Haggadah). They also have a nifty chart which shows the parallels and differences between Rav and Shmuel in the way that the Haggadah is set out (and how we do both). They have also given the verses which we will spend most of the Seder explaining, and discuss why the authors of the Haggadah chose those verses (from Devarim) instead of the story itself which is in Shemot. There is then a commentary on the Haggadah which will serve you well on the Seder night (if you so desire). I think it is an excellent piece of work, but don't just take my word for it. Have a look yourself.

And Elsewhere:
Fantastic Hagadah. Just the right mix of seriousness and comedy. Well done.
larryv wrote:
Searching for a Haggadah to use for my own first Seder I came across this. I was very amused.

A blogger, unsure whowrote:
a refreshing blend of humor and commentary trying to uncover the pshat (basic meaning) of the Haggadah.
Neil Harris wrote:
Great Haggadah…and you used my favorite Far Side!! Thanks!
Josh M. of HaProzdor wrote:
I downloaded it ... and started reading through it - it has some very interesting stuff on the structure of the haggadah. Kol HaKavod to the authors!
ADDeRabbi wrote:
very nice.
Steg wrote:
i agree... the only problem is the expense of printing it out in full color :-P

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Why the size of a kezayis matters -- a transformative chumra

Rabbi Slifkin recently wrote on his blog:
Pesach is rapidly approaching, which means that it's nearly time for people to obsess over the size of a kezayis. The monograph that I wrote on the evolution of the kezayis is by far the most popular piece that I have ever published - if you haven't seen it, you can download it at this link. Here are some follow-up posts on the topic:
See there for the links to his follow-up posts.

In the comment section, some people were discussing why this really matters. Is posting about this anti-chareidi? Or, what is the big deal with being machmir? Why should we care?

Besides the answers offered there, here is my own reason - why this draws my attention. This particular chumra of a large, and measured, kezayis is Transformative Chumra. That is, the chumra is not just a stringency to eat more of a particular food at a particular time. Rather, it changes the nature, character, and feel of the seder.

Here is how. Please pardon the kvetch.

1) There is a separate chumra regarding karpas, to eat less than a kezayis -- driven by a question of whether to make a haadama on the maror and how one might have to make a borei nefashos if one ate more than a kezayis.

The result is that people starve through maggid and don't pay attention.

2) After the long period of starvation, we move to a period of intense gluttony. It is not just ONE kezayis of matzah. The practice has developed developed to eat TWO kezeisim, for reasons that need not concern us.

This is an easy chumra if a kezayis is the size of an olive. Eating the equivalent of the volume of two actual olives is relatively easy. Eating two Chazon Ish shiurim is hard. (Note the Chazon Ish maintained only one kezayis was necessary.) This is hard even if it is a standard shiur for kezayis, but not an actual olive's measure.

3) This is meant to be eaten in a rather short period of time, kdei achilas pras, and this length of time does not vary based on what one is eating. This is defined as how long it takes to eat half of a standard loaf of wheat bread, dipped in relish, while he is reclining. See here for a discussion of how long this is. It might be anywhere from 2 minutes to 9 minutes.

4) But matzah today is not standard wheat bread, or even a soft matzah, but a hard cracker. And the practice is not to dip it in relish. This is a harder task. Especially if the kezeisim are gigantic.

5) And according to some, this eating of two dray kezeisim should be done in the following bizarre manner: Both kezeisim should be thoroughly chewed in the mouth without any swallowing, and then it should all be gulped down in a single swallow. Or according to a modification, after the thorough chewing of both kezeisim, one kezayis should be swallowed, followed by the other.

If the kezayis is an actual olive's measure of soft matzah, I wouldn't even mind performing the mitzvah in this manner. If the kezayis is enormous, then I don't know if what is described here would be considered achilah, and wonder if someone would be yotzei.

6) Then, before the meal, one must a kezayis of maror. Which might be horseradish, painful to eat.

7) Then, one must eat A THIRD kezayis of matzah, and together with another kezayis of maror.  If it is enormous kezayis, we are approaching achilah gasah.

8) At long last, we reach the meal - Shulchan Orech. Nobody is in the mood to eat the meal, because (a) it is so late already, and people are tired, because of maggid and the eating of various kezeisim, and (b) because they are stuffed full of matzah. And (c), they know what is to come, namely more kezeisim of matzah to eat. So this part of the seder is a loss.

9) Then, we get to the Afikoman. This is a FOURTH kezayis. And some have a practice of eating two kezeisim here as well, so that makes is also a FIFTH kezayis.

10) And there is yet another time-pressure here, in that people rush to finish it before chatzos halaylah.

11) And because the Afikoman is supposed to be the last taste, we don't eat it with any relish. So we stuff ourselves with these last two dry kezeisim, quite against our will. And for most people, this is not eating it al hasovah, but rather achilah gasah.



If we didn't have the context of items (1) through (11), it would be no big deal to eat an enormous kezayis. It is a chiyuv, an obligation, and sometimes an obligation is hard. One could perhaps consider the halachic propriety of relaxing some of these items (1) through (11). But since this context does exist, a larger size of a kezayis is transformative.

Eating the matzah could be an enjoyable experience. We recline, as a sign of cheirus. But the compulsion involved in eating so much matzah is not cheirus. See Ester 1:8:

ח  וְהַשְּׁתִיָּה כַדָּת, אֵין אֹנֵס:  כִּי-כֵן יִסַּד הַמֶּלֶךְ, עַל כָּל-רַב בֵּיתוֹ--לַעֲשׂוֹת, כִּרְצוֹן אִישׁ-וָאִישׁ.  {ס}8 And the drinking was according to the law; none did compel; for so the king had appointed to all the officers of his house, that they should do according to every man's pleasure. {S}

For the idea that compulsion to consume is the opposite of cherus. Starving yourself, then acting like a glutton to repeatedly force-feed yourself tons of matzah under time-pressure is not cheirus.

Which is part of why I find the idea of a kezayis the size of an olive so compelling. Besides making sense, and appealing to my rationalist and historical instincts, there are the practical repercussion, in which eating matzah becomes a natural part of the seder rather than something which encumbers it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Pesach related posts

The Haggadah of the Ri M'Josh. (Unfortunately, I did not have time to complete the edits for this year.)

1. Why burn siur (partially fermented dough) before Pesach?
2. A segulah I can (sort of) support.
3. Matzah constipated Chazal
4. Why I am in favor of selling chametz


1. The chacham's desire to learn Greek wisdomAnd that is why he wants to learn all Torah -- so that he may then study Greek wisdom. However, the response to this is אין מפטירין אחר הפסח אפיקומן.

Why does ואת עמלני refers to sons specifically? Rav Chaim Kanievsky explains, based on a gemara that רוצה לעשות כל בניו זכרים יבעול וישנה, which entails greater tircha. And this is related to the beginning of parashat Tazria, and the famous derasha about how to have male children.

My analysis of the Haggada (starting in 2010)

In order of the haggadah, some thoughts on:

  1. An interesting peshat in the importance of Nissan
  2. A review of the 2011 Absolut Haggada
  3. YU Pesach to Go
  4. From YU Torah, Last Minute Seder Preparation

    1. Why eat marorIt is to remind of the bitterness, or from some medical reason? Can we ascribe it to practical cause against the Rabbinic tradition (which also happens to make good sense)? Rashi, Ibn Ezra, Ibn Caspi. Also, how Ibn Ezra is thus frum.
    2. Is blood on the doorposts le-dorotTwo parses of a pasuk yields the blood on the doorposts as a command for just in Egypt, and as a recurring commandment. Similar to the structure by amah ivriya. I strongly favor the traditional parse as the better parse.
    3. Was it the Israelites of the Egyptians on the seashoreTwo parses of the pasuk וַיַּרְא יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת-מִצְרַיִם מֵת עַל-שְׂפַת הַיָּם? The traditional one is that the Egyptians were dead on the seashore. Rashbam and Ibn Ezra differ from Rashi and the midrash, and claim that the Israelites were standing on the seashore when they saw the Egyptians dead. I side with Rashi and Shadal, in the traditional explanation. Also, does the trup indicate anything in this regard?
    4. Charoses and the authenticity of the Zohar -- If named Tannaim or Amoraim mentioned in the Zohar think the tapuach is the apple, but according to true Chazal the tapuach is the citron, then how could the Zohar be anything other than a forgery?
    5. Does an orange belong on the seder plate?
    6. Introducing the Absolut Haggadah, 2010 Vintage -- a link, and positive review, of that haggadah. I focus on one dvar Torah therein, about the meaning of varav, as mature. You can download the Haggadah here.
    7. The text of kol chamira
    1. My review of the 2009 edition of the Absolut Haggadah. You can download the haggadah here.
    2. Prepare for Pesach by learning through all of Rif on Pesachim. This year, I put it into a single convenient PDF.
    3. "And even you shall break his teeth": parts onetwothreefourfive.
    4. Does Oto HaIsh is the Haggadah refer to Jesus?
    5. And even you shall break his teeth -- what does this mean? part iiiiiiivv.
    6. The text of kol chamira. Times are from that year, though, unless I get around to updating it.
    7. Is Nirtza a violation of ain maftirin achar hapesach afikomen?
    8. Rav Shmuel Palagi's objections to the songs after Hallel (during the seder) -- part i ; part iipart iii. And his objections against piyutim in general.
    9. Another take on minei zemer (as definition of Afikoman)
    10. The dot on the heh of rechokah, and Pesach Sheni.
    11. Who likes Gazalot? Further analysis of that Yerushalmi about minei zemer.
    12. Does Arami Oved Avi refer to a wandering / poor Aramean, or to Lavan who sought to destroyThis post deals with an interpretation of Arami Oved Avi by Ibn Ezra and Radak which goes against the classic midrashic interpretation, and the reaction of two supercommentaries of Rashi to this "daring" interpretation. What comes into play is whether Ibn Ezra and Radak can claim to have absolute knowledge of Hebrew to be able to declare the midrashic interpretation to not work out according to the rules of dikduk; and whether one can argue on midrash, as they are doing, if after the midrashic interpretation goes all the way back to Sinai! It could also be that as supercommentators of Rashi, they are simply defending Rashi's interpretation as one of peshat.a
    13. The Rav on Arami Oved Avi -- Dr. David Segal told me over a peshat he heard from the Rav zt"l, in which Arami Oved Avi as expounded in the haggadah is in line with Ibn Ezra and Radak's insistence that Oved is an intransitive verb. Rabbi Wohlgelenter also heard this from the Rav. I repeat this from memory, and from a brief conversation; therefore, I hope I have the details right.
    1. Absolut Haggadah, 2008 Edition
    2. All of Rif on Pesachim
    3. One Who Dons Tefillin On Chol Chol haMoed is Chayyav Misa?
    4. Early Seder
    5. Some Fascinating Info On Dayenu, pt i
    6. One Who Eats Matzah On Erev Pesach
    7. A Redefined Kezayis, Because They Had a Smaller Strain of Olives
    8. What should I feed my goldfish on Pesach?
    9. Dueling Chumros
    10. Reclining Be-Benei Berak According to Abarbanel
    11. Rasha Mah Hu Omer -- How Do We Know This Is The Rasha?
    12. Elijah Drinks
    13. Soft Matzah
    14. The Prayer for an Edible Matzah
    15. Davening Maariv early on Shabbos on Erev Pesach
    16. The Pizza after Pesach segulah?
    1. When did the heirs slaughter the son
    2. It Is Permitted To Own Kitniyot On Pesach!
    3. Why do we care that Lot ate matza on Pesach?
    4. Does Eliyahu haNavi Really Visit Every Seder?
    5. Eating Original Chazeres
    6. What Do You Mean, It Would Have Been Enough Had God Stranded Us On The Shore of the Reed Sea At The Mercy of the Egyptians?
    7. The Absolut Haggadah, 2007 Edition -- my review
    1. The Learner/Burner Question (7 posts)
    2. The Rif on Sefirat HaOmer
    3. Cute: Pesach seder in 60 seconds
    4. Sources for Yoshev Lifnei Rabbo Devar for Pesach
    5. Naghei vs. Leilei (7 posts)
    1. Cute Pesach Flash
    2. Blunt his teeth because of his attitude, not because of his actions
    3. Feeding Gorillas Matzah in the run-up to Pesach. But what will they feed him Erev Pesach?
    to be continued...

    Wednesday, March 18, 2015

    Outing anonymous critics and threatening them with death

    So this has me somewhat upset. A pseudonymous critic of Rabbi Yosef Mizrachi, Dana Cohen, has disappeared from Facebook, apparently shortly after one of Mizrachi's followers tracked his/her IP address.

    While one may disagree with some of Dana's positions and/or approach, this is somewhat disturbing.

    To explain, Rabbi Mizrachi has stated in the past that:

    1) Dana Cohen is worse than Hitler
    2) He wishes anonymous commenters and critics would be out in the open so that they could be killed.
    3) He has followers who are thugs who will credibly threaten with death those who criticize him.

    For #1, see this video, at the 2:10 mark.

    For #2, see this video:
    "... every IP number, have a name and automatically, if someone use his computer to public and to murder someone else in Internet, the whole world will know who he is and will be subject to lawsuits, and actions against him, and all kinds of things, even to get killed. Why? You want to kill someone else, expect him to come and kill you tomorrow."

    For #3, see this video, from the 1 hour 32 minute mark, for a few minutes.

     where he says that though he knows his critic's identity, he won't reveal it, because his followers will make things rough for her. Because they are ex-criminals and tough guys. And then boasts how, when someone was opposing Rabbi Mizrachi, one such ex-criminal called the person up and threatened, if he didn't apologize to Rabbi Mizrachi, that he would come to his house, take him into the kitchen, and fry him in a pot. Or maybe drown him in a mikveh. And Rabbi Mizrachi had to beg him not to do it. He ends with 'This is not our way. But it is very sad that people lose their olam haba because they are very stupid.'

    While it is good that he closed the anecdote with a claim that one shouldn't do this, his attitude while telling the anecdote seems (to me) to be one of amusement and pride. And there is this undercurrent of threat in the very telling of the anecdote -- he knows Dana Cohen is going to hear this, and so he is telling him / her to watch out, or else this might happen.

    Frankly, if you have followers who are thugs like this, then it is more than inappropriate to make public statements that your critics are worse than Hitler and that an appropriate response to such criticisms is murder. As the Mishna in Avot (1:11) states:

    אבטליון אומר, חכמים, הזהרו בדבריכם, שמא תחובו חובת גלות ותגלו למקום מים הרעים, וישתו התלמידים הבאים אחריכם וימותו, ונמצא שם שמים מתחלל.

    I would fault Rabbi Mizrachi for the actions of his followers (including the attempt to find his / her IP address), and of the thuggish silencing of the pseudonymous Dana Cohen.

    Wednesday, March 11, 2015

    Chiram of Tyre, the coppersmith

    This year, we read Vayakhel-Pekudei as a double sidra, and so the haftara would begin at I Melachim 7:51. This is about the haftara of just Vayakhel, which begins at I Melachim 7:13.

    In the haftara, King Shlomo obtains a craftsman of copper, Chiram Mitzor, חִירָם מִצֹּר, who aids in the construction of the Bet Hamikdash.

    יג  וַיִּשְׁלַח הַמֶּלֶךְ שְׁלֹמֹה, וַיִּקַּח אֶת-חִירָם מִצֹּר.13 And king Solomon sent and fetched Hiram out of Tyre.
    יד  בֶּן-אִשָּׁה אַלְמָנָה הוּא מִמַּטֵּה נַפְתָּלִי, וְאָבִיו אִישׁ-צֹרִי חֹרֵשׁ נְחֹשֶׁת, וַיִּמָּלֵא אֶת-הַחָכְמָה וְאֶת-הַתְּבוּנָה וְאֶת-הַדַּעַת, לַעֲשׂוֹת כָּל-מְלָאכָה בַּנְּחֹשֶׁת; וַיָּבוֹא אֶל-הַמֶּלֶךְ שְׁלֹמֹה, וַיַּעַשׂ אֶת-כָּל-מְלַאכְתּוֹ.14 He was the son of a widow of the tribe of Naphtali, and his father was a man of Tyre, a worker in brass; and he was filled with wisdom and understanding and skill, to work all works in brass. And he came to king Solomon, and wrought all his work.
    טו  וַיָּצַר אֶת-שְׁנֵי הָעַמּוּדִים, נְחֹשֶׁת:  שְׁמֹנֶה עֶשְׂרֵה אַמָּה, קוֹמַת הָעַמּוּד הָאֶחָד, וְחוּט שְׁתֵּים-עֶשְׂרֵה אַמָּה, יָסֹב אֶת-הָעַמּוּד הַשֵּׁנִי.15 Thus he fashioned the two pillars of brass, of eighteen cubits high each; and a line of twelve cubits did compass it about; [and so] the other pillar.

    There are a number of interesting points which are inter-related.

    1. Why should he be described specifically as the son of a widow? Why should this matter?
    2. Was his father non-Jewish, and thus a man of Tyre as a nationality rather than just a resident. What I mean to say is, was he Tyrian as opposed to of Israelite descent? Is it strange for the child of intermarriage to be a major builder of parts of the Beit Hamikdash?
    3. Chiram was also famously the king of Tyre. Is it just that Chiram is a common name?
    4. Note the verb וַיָּצַר in pasuk 15. Might we say that אִישׁ-צֹרִי does not mean of Tyre but rather 'a craftsman'? Why don't the meforshim note this possibility or at least the pun?
    5. Chazal say that not only was he a craftsman but his father was as well, applying חֹרֵשׁ נְחֹשֶׁת to his father, and deduce from here that a person should go into his father's profession. Should we say this, as a matter of peshat?
    6. How do we resolve contradictions with the parallel account in II Divrei Hayamim II, where in response to a request from Shlomo, King Churam sends a craftsman from Tyre named Churam who is expert not just in copper but in all manners of construction, and whose mother was of the daughters of Dan, rather than Naftali?

    A short excerpt from Divrei Hayamim:

    י  וַיֹּאמֶר חוּרָם מֶלֶךְ-צֹר בִּכְתָב, וַיִּשְׁלַח אֶל-שְׁלֹמֹה:  בְּאַהֲבַת יְהוָה אֶת-עַמּוֹ, נְתָנְךָ עֲלֵיהֶם מֶלֶךְ.10 Then Huram the king of Tyre answered in writing, which he sent to Solomon: 'Because the LORD loveth His people, He hath made thee king over them.'
    יא  וַיֹּאמֶר, חוּרָם--בָּרוּךְ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה אֶת-הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֶת-הָאָרֶץ:  אֲשֶׁר נָתַן לְדָוִיד הַמֶּלֶךְ בֵּן חָכָם, יוֹדֵעַ שֵׂכֶל וּבִינָה, אֲשֶׁר יִבְנֶה-בַּיִת לַיהוָה, וּבַיִת לְמַלְכוּתוֹ.11 Huram said moreover: 'Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, that made heaven and earth, who hath given to David the king a wise son, endued with discretion and understanding, that should build a house for the LORD, and a house for his kingdom.
    יב  וְעַתָּה, שָׁלַחְתִּי אִישׁ-חָכָם יוֹדֵעַ בִּינָה--לְחוּרָם אָבִי.12 And now I have sent a skilful man, endued with understanding, even Huram my master craftsman,
    יג  בֶּן-אִשָּׁה מִן-בְּנוֹת דָּן, וְאָבִיו אִישׁ-צֹרִי יוֹדֵעַ לַעֲשׂוֹת בַּזָּהָב-וּבַכֶּסֶף בַּנְּחֹשֶׁת בַּבַּרְזֶל בָּאֲבָנִים וּבָעֵצִים בָּאַרְגָּמָן בַּתְּכֵלֶת וּבַבּוּץ וּבַכַּרְמִיל, וּלְפַתֵּחַ כָּל-פִּתּוּחַ, וְלַחְשֹׁב כָּל-מַחֲשָׁבֶת--אֲשֶׁר יִנָּתֶן-לוֹ, עִם-חֲכָמֶיךָ, וְחַכְמֵי, אֲדֹנִי דָּוִיד אָבִיךָ.13 the son of a woman of the daughters of Dan, and his father was a man of Tyre, skilful to work in gold, and in silver, in brass, in iron, in stone, and in timber, in purple, in blue, and in fine linen, and in crimson; also to grave any manner of graving, and to devise any device; to do whatever may be set before him, with thy skilful men, and with the skilful men of my lord David thy father.

    These questions are all interrelated because the answer to one can constrain answers to another.

    Thus, we might say the reason for mentioning that Chiram was the son of a widow was to explain why she would marry a non-Israelite. This was a remarriage.

    Or, we might say that despite Chiram residing in Tyre, אִישׁ-צֹרִי meant craftsman, and thus he learned the craft from his (even Israelite) father, from a young age, and was a progidy. Yet his father wasn't alive and available, and besides, he was exceedingly skilled.

    The way Radak resolves the contradiction between Dan and Naftali is to say that he (and thus his father) was from the tribe of Naftali, and his mother was from the tribe of Dan. And the focus in Melachim is copper work, which is why only expertise in copper is mentioned there, but indeed, he was an expert in all manner of materials, including silver, gold, iron, timber, etc., as mentioned in Divrei Hayamim. The dimensions of the pillars seems off by one cubit between the sources, (two pillars of 18 cubits in Melachim, and in total combined 35 cubits in the II Divrei Hayamim 3:15) but that is because (as the next pasuk in Melachim states, there were capitals on top of these pillars. Radak suggests that a half cubit at the top entered into the capital, which is why the sum is taken as 35 rather than 34.

    Once we say that his father was of Naftali (as a resolution of Dan / Naftali) , then we would have him of Naftalite descent. Unless she was a widow of a man of Naftali, and remarried a man of Tyre.

    Maybe we shouldn't work at harmonizing the contrasting accounts in Melachim and Divrei Hayamim. Melachim is in Neviim while Divrei Hayamim is of a lower level of inspired writings, Ketuvim. And (some members of) Chazal say that Divrei Hayamim was only given for the sake of derash, and in many cases do not take conflicts between Divrei Hayamim and other sources on a literal level, but use it to make derashot. (Thus, for example, the many children of Bityah are simply alternate names for Moshe Rabbenu.)

    Here is a map of ancient Israel, taken from Wikipedia:

    The caption there is: Map of the twelve tribes of Israel, before the move of Dan to the North

    Note Tyre (and Sidon) all the way to the North. Tzor is an island, but also has territory on the mainland. The tribe of Naftali is also at the top. Note that Dan is below, towards the middle. But also note the city of Dan in the North, within what is described as Naftali's territory. To explain:
    According to the biblical narrative, the tribe had originally tried to settle in the central coastal area of Canaan, but due to enmity with the Philistines who had already settled there, were only able to camp in the hill country overlooking the Sorek Valley, the camp location becoming known as Mahaneh Dan ("Camps of Dan"). (Joshua 19) The region they were trying to settle included the area as far north as Joppa, and extending south into the Shephelah in the area of Timnah; as a result, the modern state of Israel refers to the region as Gush Dan (the Dan area). However, as a consequence of the pressure from the Philistines, the tribe abandoned hopes of settling near the central coast, instead migrating to the north of Philistine territory, and after conquering Laish, refounded it as their capital (renaming it Dan). (Judges 18)
    Perhaps this can explain the contradiction between Naftali and Dan. Or it can explain how a woman of Naftali could marry a man of Dan. These were both places in the north, near Tyre. And perhaps one was a city of origin and the other was a tribal origin.


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