Friday, May 22, 2015

Knowing when to speak up and when to shut up

In honor of the upcoming holiday of Shavuot, this piece by the Vilna Gaon about the difference between taam elyon and taam tachton in the Aseres HaDibros.

Let me preface this with a peshat explanation of any and all differences between the two sets of trup. In one version -- the taam elyon, each of the Ten Commandments is given its own pasuk, except for the short ones. Here is an image, though in general (without looking carefully at this), there are many corruptions in the elyon and tachton so one should get it from a better source:

As you can see, Anochi starts the first pasuk, and there is no silluq or sof pasuk until Mitzvotai, five lines down. Interestingly, though, the short Lo Tirtzach until Ed Shaker are grouped together.

Meanwhile, the taam tachton has regular pasuk divisions, without real regard towards separating the Dibros. See here in in a Mikraos Gedolos.

Here is an interesting image, which I think shows the elyon / tachton with variations alongside one another:

This image appears to have (as the elyon variant) pasuk terminations pauses at the end of Lo Tirtzach alone and Lo Tinaf alone, and the dagesh kal / refeh and patach / kametz variations to match.

A natural consequence of this difference in approach to division is a difference in both trup and nikkud. There is a mechanical (though also probabilistic) process, based on logical and syntactic division, number of words in the current phrase or subphrase, and distance from the end of the next disjunctive trup mark, which defines what trup marks go where. And this will in turn define nikkud because certain trup marks (such as etnachta and silluq, and sometimes zakef) will transform the pronunciation of the word into its pausal form (where e.g. a patach will become a kametz). The trup will also affect the presence or absence of dagesh kal in the letters bet, gimel, daled, kaf, peh and tav. Following a disjunctive trup mark, there will be a dagesh kal even if the previous word ended in aleph, heh, vav or yud. Following a conjunctive trup mark, there will not be a dagesh kal if the previous word ended in alephheh, vav or yud

In sum, this is a mechanical process set in motion by the choice in pasuk length.

The Vilna Gaon says, in Kol Eliyahu on parashat Yitro :
"Lo Tirtzach: Behold, in the taam elyon it is read with a kametz and in the tachton it is read with a patach under the tzadik.
And there is to say that this hints to that which our Sages za'l said in the gemara in Masechet Avodah Zara (daf 19b)[1] upon the pasuk [in Mishlei 7:26] כי רבים חללים הפילה - This is a student who has not reached the level of ruling yet rules [from the language of nafal indicating that he will not fill out his days], ועצומים כל הרוגיה - this is a student who has reached the level of ruling yet does not rule [from the language of otzem einav], see there in Rashi's commentary. And Chazal referred to both of them as murderers, this one by opening [petichat] his mouth to rule and this one with the closing [kemitzat] his mouth and averting his eye from the people of the generation, such that he does not give them the benefit of his ruling. And to this the kametz and patach hint, for they indicate that both the opening [petichat] of the mouth and its closing [kemitzati] are within the realm of lo tirtzach."
I don't have the kamatz in the taam elyon picture above, but he must have had it in this way -- it is one of the alternates given in the second image.

Avodah Zarah 19b
אמר רבי אבא אמר רב הונא אמר רב מאי דכתיב (משלי ז, כו) כי רבים חללים הפילה זה תלמיד שלא הגיע להוראה ומורה ועצומים כל הרוגיה זה תלמיד שהגיע להוראה ואינו מורה 

Friday, May 08, 2015

Ibn Ezra on Lower Biblical Criticism, part iv

See part one, part two, and part three.

The context for the next suggested swap is as follows, in Shofetim 14:

יב  וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם שִׁמְשׁוֹן, אָחוּדָה-נָּא לָכֶם חִידָה:  אִם-הַגֵּד תַּגִּידוּ אוֹתָהּ לִי שִׁבְעַת יְמֵי הַמִּשְׁתֶּה, וּמְצָאתֶם--וְנָתַתִּי לָכֶם שְׁלֹשִׁים סְדִינִים, וּשְׁלֹשִׁים חֲלִפֹת בְּגָדִים.12 And Samson said unto them: 'Let me now put forth a riddle unto you; if ye can declare it me within the seven days of the feast, and find it out, then I will give you thirty linen garments and thirty changes of raiment;
יג  וְאִם-לֹא תוּכְלוּ, לְהַגִּיד לִי--וּנְתַתֶּם אַתֶּם לִי שְׁלֹשִׁים סְדִינִים, וּשְׁלֹשִׁים חֲלִיפוֹת בְּגָדִים; וַיֹּאמְרוּ לוֹ--חוּדָה חִידָתְךָ, וְנִשְׁמָעֶנָּה.13 but if ye cannot declare it me, then shall ye give me thirty linen garments and thirty changes of raiment.' And they said unto him: 'Put forth thy riddle, that we may hear it.'
יד  וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם, מֵהָאֹכֵל יָצָא מַאֲכָל, וּמֵעַז, יָצָא מָתוֹק; וְלֹא יָכְלוּ לְהַגִּיד הַחִידָה, שְׁלֹשֶׁת יָמִים.14 And he said unto them: Out of the eater came forth food, and out of the strong came forth sweetness. And they could not in three days declare the riddle.
טו  וַיְהִי בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי, וַיֹּאמְרוּ לְאֵשֶׁת-שִׁמְשׁוֹן פַּתִּי אֶת-אִישֵׁךְ וְיַגֶּד-לָנוּ אֶת-הַחִידָה--פֶּן-נִשְׂרֹף אוֹתָךְ וְאֶת-בֵּית אָבִיךְ, בָּאֵשׁ; הַלְיָרְשֵׁנוּ, קְרָאתֶם לָנוּ הֲלֹא.15 And it came to pass on the seventh day, that they said unto Samson's wife: 'Entice thy husband, that he may declare unto us the riddle, lest we burn thee and thy father's house with fire; have ye called us hither to impoverish us?'
טז  וַתֵּבְךְּ אֵשֶׁת שִׁמְשׁוֹן עָלָיו, וַתֹּאמֶר רַק-שְׂנֵאתַנִי וְלֹא אֲהַבְתָּנִי--הַחִידָה חַדְתָּ לִבְנֵי עַמִּי, וְלִי לֹא הִגַּדְתָּה; וַיֹּאמֶר לָהּ, הִנֵּה לְאָבִי וּלְאִמִּי לֹא הִגַּדְתִּי--וְלָךְ אַגִּיד.16 And Samson's wife wept before him, and said: 'Thou dost but hate me, and lovest me not; thou hast put forth a riddle unto the children of my people, and wilt thou not tell it me?' And he said unto her: 'Behold, I have not told it my father nor my mother, and shall I tell thee?'
יז  וַתֵּבְךְּ עָלָיו שִׁבְעַת הַיָּמִים, אֲשֶׁר-הָיָה לָהֶם הַמִּשְׁתֶּה; וַיְהִי בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי, וַיַּגֶּד-לָהּ כִּי הֱצִיקַתְהוּ, וַתַּגֵּד הַחִידָה, לִבְנֵי עַמָּהּ.17 And she wept before him the seven days, while their feast lasted; and it came to pass on the seventh day, that he told her, because she pressed him sore; and she told the riddle to the children of her people.
יח  וַיֹּאמְרוּ לוֹ אַנְשֵׁי הָעִיר בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי, בְּטֶרֶם יָבֹא הַחַרְסָה, מַה-מָּתוֹק מִדְּבַשׁ, וּמֶה עַז מֵאֲרִי; וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם--לוּלֵא חֲרַשְׁתֶּם בְּעֶגְלָתִי, לֹא מְצָאתֶם חִידָתִי.18 And the men of the city said unto him on the seventh day before the sun went down: What is sweeter than honey? and what is stronger than a lion? And he said unto them: If ye had not plowed with my heifer, ye had not found out my riddle.

That is, in pasuk 12, Shimshon gives them a deadline of the seven days of the feast to solve the riddle. In pasuk 14, in three days they could not arrive at the answer. In pasuk 15, on the seventh day they spoke to Shimshon's wife. In pasuk 17, she wept before him the seven days, while their feast lasted, and finally elicits the answer from Shimson. In pasuk 18, they answer the riddle before the sun goes down on the seventh.

The difficulties are why they only approach her on the seventh day rather than the fourth. Further, how she is able to cry before Shimshon for all seven days when they only approach her after seven (or at least after the first three days).

The anonymous grammarian suggests that in pasuk 15, it should read fourth rather than seventh. This would be a simple switch of a resh for a shin. Ibn Ezra's words follow:

"[Shofetim 14:15]
וַיְהִי בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי, וַיֹּאמְרוּ לְאֵשֶׁת-שִׁמְשׁוֹן - it is appropriate to be, according to the opinion of the mahavil [speaking of vanity and striving after wind] to be הָרְבִיעִי, since he found above [in pasuk 14] וְלֹא יָכְלוּ לְהַגִּיד הַחִידָה, שְׁלֹשֶׁת יָמִים [for three days, such that this would be the fourth].
And he is not saying anything, and here is its explanation: They engaged and strove for three days to solve the riddle and were not able, and when they say this, they gave up on it. And once it was the seventh day, they said to Shimshon's wife, 'entice your husband', and because she pressed him sore on the seventh day because of the things they said, so that he would relate it to her, for so it written.
[Meanwhile], the meaning of 'and she wept to him for seven days', Scriptures is relating that she, by her own initiative, was crying all seven days in order that he relate to her the [answer to the] riddle, even though no one has asked her to do this."

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Ibn Ezra on Lower Biblical Criticism, part iii

See part one and part two.

3) Ibn Ezra continues his response to the grammarian who proposed numerous emendations to the text of Scriptures. The third proposed emendation is the word הַדָּבָר in the following pasuk, which this anonymous grammarian asserts should read הָעָם:

Yehoshua 5:4:
ד  וְזֶה הַדָּבָר, אֲשֶׁר-מָל יְהוֹשֻׁעַ:  כָּל-הָעָם הַיֹּצֵא מִמִּצְרַיִם הַזְּכָרִים כֹּל אַנְשֵׁי הַמִּלְחָמָה, מֵתוּ בַמִּדְבָּר בַּדֶּרֶךְ, בְּצֵאתָם, מִמִּצְרָיִם.4 And this is the cause why Joshua did circumcise: all the people that came forth out of Egypt, that were males, even all the men of war, died in the wilderness by the way, after they came forth out of Egypt.
ה  כִּי-מֻלִים הָיוּ, כָּל-הָעָם הַיֹּצְאִים; וְכָל-הָעָם הַיִּלֹּדִים בַּמִּדְבָּר בַּדֶּרֶךְ, בְּצֵאתָם מִמִּצְרַיִם--לֹא-מָלוּ.5 For all the people that came out were circumcised; but all the people that were born in the wilderness by the way as they came forth out of Egypt, had not been circumcised.

Ibn Ezra writes:

"וְזֶה הַדָּבָר, אֲשֶׁר-מָל יְהוֹשֻׁעַ -- he says that הַדָּבָר is in place of הָעָם. But in reality it is just as its simple implication, 'and this is the davar -- that is to say, because of this davar [matter] -- Yehoshua circumcised them'. "

And indeed, reading this in context of the next few verses, which explains how and why those born in the wilderness were not circumcised, this makes good sense.

4) The next verse this anonymous grammarian proposes emending is I Melachim 2:28, which reads:

כח  וְהַשְּׁמֻעָה, בָּאָה עַד-יוֹאָב, כִּי יוֹאָב נָטָה אַחֲרֵי אֲדֹנִיָּה, וְאַחֲרֵי אַבְשָׁלוֹם לֹא נָטָה; וַיָּנָס יוֹאָב אֶל-אֹהֶל יְהוָה, וַיַּחֲזֵק בְּקַרְנוֹת הַמִּזְבֵּחַ.
28 And the tidings came to Joab; for Joab had turned after Adonijah, though he turned not after Absalom. And Joab fled unto the Tent of the LORD, and caught hold on the horns of the altar.

Ibn Ezra writes:

"וְאַחֲרֵי אַבְשָׁלוֹם לֹא נָטָה -- he said that it is [erroneously] in place of 'after שְׁלֹמֹה'.  And there is no need for this, for once the verse stated that he [Yoav] went after Adoniyah, what need would there be to say that he did not go after Shlomo, for this would be immediately apparent to anyone who heard it. Rather, 

the verse comes to explain something else, that Yoav did not go after Avshalom, because he knew that he [Avshalom] was not fit to have the kingship, and thought so as well regarding Shlomo." 

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Ibn Ezra on Lower Biblical Criticism, part ii

Read part i here.

This is a presentation of Ibn Ezra's response to a commentator [perhaps Yitzchaki] who suggested switching more than one hundred words in Scriptures. Here, he considers and rejects a swap in parashat Yitro, based on a mismatch of הַגְבֵּל of the nation or the mountain.

Thus, Ibn Ezra continues with the second suggested swap:

"2) Shemot 19:12:

יב  וְהִגְבַּלְתָּ אֶת-הָעָם סָבִיב לֵאמֹר, הִשָּׁמְרוּ לָכֶם עֲלוֹת בָּהָר וּנְגֹעַ בְּקָצֵהוּ:  כָּל-הַנֹּגֵעַ בָּהָר, מוֹת יוּמָת.

12 And thou shalt set bounds unto the people round about, saying: Take heed to yourselves, that ye go not up into the mount, or touch the border of it; whosoever toucheth the mount shall be surely put to death

vs. Shemot 19:23:

כג  וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה, אֶל-ה, לֹא-יוּכַל הָעָם, לַעֲלֹת אֶל-הַר סִינָי:  כִּי-אַתָּה הַעֵדֹתָה בָּנוּ, לֵאמֹר, הַגְבֵּל אֶת-הָהָר, וְקִדַּשְׁתּוֹ.

23 And Moses said unto the LORD: 'The people cannot come up to mount Sinai; for thou didst charge us, saying: Set bounds about the mount, and sanctify it.'

He said that it [the word in the latter verse] ought to be הָעָם.

And he did not say anything, for if one were to הַגְבֵּל the nation, then the גבול [boundary] would be around the mountain, and if one said to place [?] a boundary around the mountain, then there would be not difference between them."

End quote of Ibn Ezra.

In other words, since since the later verse is a rephrasing of God's command, and perhaps because הַגְבֵּל should be taken cause to form a perimeter, both should be the 'the nation'. Ibn Ezra's response is that one need not harmonize to use the same noun in the command and the restatement of the command, because with either word choice, this is a valid way of describing the action.

The Samaritans were also interested in such harmonizations, and they freely emended the text to make it smoother. In this instance, they similarly emended the text. Here is Vetus Testamentum, with the Masoretic text on the right and the Samaritan text on the left. A - means the Samaritan text is identical to the Hebrew, and a * means a corresponding letter or word is missing.

Their solution was to modify only verse 12 so as to make both instances, ההר, rather than העם. This introduces a problem, because of the word לֵאמֹר in pasuk 12. If Moshe were to וְהִגְבַּלְתָּ the nation, then there could be a לֵאמֹר as he instructs the nation. But the text will not flow if Moshe were to וְהִגְבַּלְתָּ the mountain. Therefore, the Samaritan scribe added an extra phrase, ואל העם תאמר, "and you should say to the nation".

Update: Also see Ibn Ezra on the pasuk:

[יט, יב]
והגבלת -
שים גבול בהר. ע"כ כמוהו הגבל את ההר וקדשתו לשום גבול בהר. והארכתי כל כך בעבור שאמר המשוגע שהפך בספרו דברי אלוהים חיים, אמר: כי רצה משה לומ: הגבל את העם. ויצא מפיו ההר במקום העם.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Ibn Ezra on Lower Biblical Criticism, part i

In Sefer Tzachot, Ibn Ezra writes at length against a grammarian [מדקדק] who proposed more than one hundred words which should be replaced in Scriptures. Ibn Ezra writes that the book is fit to be burned. (Elsewhere, in his commentary to Shemot 19:12, he labels this fellow a meshuga.) I've seen it asserted, but alas, as I write now can't find the source [update: see here] , that this grammarian is the same as Yitzchaki (whom people identify as Isaac Ibn Castar Ben Yashush of Toledo), who claimed fairly late authorship of a lengthy passage in sefer Bereishit, about whose book Ezra said that it deserved to be burned.

Ibn Ezra's opposition seems somewhat grounded in religious sensibilities --
"Forfend, forfend, for this is not correct, not in non-sacred words and certainly not in the words of the Living God. And his book is fit to be burnt." 
Further, this grammarian describes difficulties in the text which can only be resolved by emending the text. Ibn Ezra argues that with a bit of deeper thought and analysis, many of these difficulties are readily resolved, such that the radical course of emending the Biblical text is unwarranted.

I am going to separate Ibn Ezra's words into several posts, each tackling a different difficulty / proposed change from this grammarian. His words follow:

"Beware and guard your soul exceedingly, that you do not believe the words of the grammarian who mentioned in his book more than one hundred words and said that all of them need replacing. Forfend, forfend, for this is not correct, not in non-sacred words and certainly not in the words of the Living God. And his book is fit to be burnt.

And behold I will explain to you a few of the difficulties he mentioned, due to which he was unable to explain them in their straightforward manner. And they are:

1) [Yirmeyahu 33:26]

כו  גַּם-זֶרַע יַעֲקוֹב וְדָוִד עַבְדִּי אֶמְאַס, מִקַּחַת מִזַּרְעוֹ מֹשְׁלִים, אֶל-זֶרַע אַבְרָהָם, יִשְׂחָק וְיַעֲקֹב:  כִּי-אשוב (אָשִׁיב) אֶת-שְׁבוּתָם, וְרִחַמְתִּים.  {פ}

26 then will I also cast away the seed of Jacob, and of David My servant, [so that I will not take of his seed to be rulers over the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; for I will cause their captivity to return, and will have compassion on them.'] {P}
[Note: Ibn Ezra writes יעקב as chaser but it should be malei.]

He says that in place of "Yaakov" [at the beginning of the verse] should be "Aharon", because it states earlier [in verse 24] two families


כד  הֲלוֹא רָאִיתָ, מָה-הָעָם הַזֶּה דִּבְּרוּ לֵאמֹר, שְׁתֵּי הַמִּשְׁפָּחוֹת אֲשֶׁר בָּחַר יְהוָה בָּהֶם, וַיִּמְאָסֵם; וְאֶת-עַמִּי, יִנְאָצוּן, מִהְיוֹת עוֹד, גּוֹי לִפְנֵיהֶם.  {ס}24 'Considerest thou not what this people have spoken, saying: The two families which the LORD did choose, He hath cast them off? and they contemn My people, that they should be no more a nation before them. {S}

and the reference should be therefore be to two distinct families, not one within the other, and those should be the Davidic dynasty and the Aharonic priesthood.]

And the correct explaination is to leave it in its simple implication [of Yaakov], and the proof is [the continuation of pasuk 26]

מִקַּחַת מִזַּרְעוֹ מֹשְׁלִים
so that I will not take of his seed to be rulers

and its explanation is as follows: 'how shall I [אֶמְאַס] cast away one who is of the seed of Yaakov, after it is stated in the Torah that there shall be no ruling king in Israel except Yaakov? And further, that he is of the family of David.' And so, there are two positives.

And behold, I will show him the like, against his will, which he will not be able to swap out at all, namely [Tehillim 77:16]:

טז  גָּאַלְתָּ בִּזְרוֹעַ עַמֶּךָ;    בְּנֵי-יַעֲקֹב וְיוֹסֵף סֶלָה.16 Thou hast with Thine arm redeemed Thy people, the sons of Jacob and Joseph. Selah

See also Ibn Ezra's interpretation of this verse in Tehillim, where he also makes mention that this is a good response to Yitzchaki:
[עז, טז]
גאלת, עמך -
הוא הפעול כאילו כתוב: גאלת עמך בזרוע נטויה.וטעם להזכיר יוסף עם יעקב כי הוא החיה ישראל, ככתוב משם רועה אבן ישראל. 
והטעם: כי בזכות יעקב ויוסף פדית בניהם וכמוהו גם זרע יעקב ודוד עבדי אמאס, שהטעם מי שהוא מבני נדיבים והעד שאמר מקחת מזרעו מושלים והאומר כי יעקב תחת אהרן, לא דבר נכונה.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

A troubling minhag

I have heard reports of a troubling minhag this coming Shabbos [edit: the Shabbos immediately following Pesach], 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.


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