Monday, February 28, 2005

posts so far on parshat Vayakel

Year 1
Year 2

Miracles and the Natural Order - part 3

Can the Natural Order Change?

There is a yerushalmi that suggests that the natural order is subject to change. In yerushalmi Peah 33a (and in yerushalmi Sota 7b and 45b) we see a statement by Rabbi Yochanan that is explained based on the fact that in his days the world changed.

דלמא
רבי אבהו ורבי יוסי בן חנינא ור"ש בן לקיש עברו על כרם דורון
אפיק לון אריסא חדא פרסיקא
אכלון אינון וחמריהון ואייתרן ושערונא
כהדין לפיסא דכפר חנניא מחזיק זאה של עדשים
בתר יומין עברון תמן
אפיק לון תרי תלת לגו ידא
אמרו ליה מן ההוא אילנא אנן בעיין
אמר לון מיני' אינון
וקרון עלוי ארץ פרי למלחה מרעת יושבי בה
אמר ר' חנינא כד סלקת להכא נסיבת איזורי ואיזורי' דברי ואיזוריה דחמרי
מקפא בירתא דחרובתיה דארעא דישראל ולא מטין
קצת חד חרוב ונגד מלא ידוי דובש'
אמר רבי יוחנן יפה סיפסוף שאכלנו בילדותינו מפרסקי' שאכלנו בזקנותינו
דביומוי אישתני עלמא
א"ר חייא בר בא סאה ארבלית
היתה מוציאה סאה סולת
סאה קמח
סאה קיבר
סאה מורסן
סאה גניינין
וכדון אפילו חדא בחדא לא קיימא
A story
Rabbi Abahu, Rabbi Yossi ben Chanina, and Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish passed by Kerem Doron (a place)
The tenant brought out for them a peach (περσιχου)
They ate it, and their donkey-drivers [ate it] and left over some
and they measured it like the ilpis (pot) made in Kfar Chanania {a place where they made such vessels - thus they can refer to it for a standard size}
After some days they passed by there,
He brought out {such that} two or three {peaches fit} in the hand {so they were much smaller}.
They said to him: we desire from the same tree as last time.
He said to them: they are from it {the fruits are from the same tree}.
And they called upon it the verse in Tehillim 107:34

לד אֶרֶץ פְּרִי, לִמְלֵחָה; מֵרָעַת, יוֹשְׁבֵי בָהּ. 34 [Hashem turneth] A fruitful land into a salt waste, for the wickedness of them that dwell therein.
Rabbi Chanina said: when we left to here {Eretz Yisrael} I took my belt and the belt of my son and the belt of my donkey
To encircle the trunk of a carob tree in Eretz Yisrael, and it did not reach.
He cut a carob and the honey that flowed from the carob filled his hand.
Rabbi Yochanan said: the late fruits {from the word sof} that we ate in our youth were better than the peaches that we ate in our old age.
For in his days the world changed.
{Note "his" as opposed to "my" making it an explanatory statement rather than part of the quote.}
Rabbi Chiyya bar Abba said: an Arbelite seah {of grain when planted}
would yield a seah of fine flour
a seah of flour
a seah of coarse meal
a seah of coarse bran
a seah of straw
{thus 5 times the amount planted}
and now even one for one it does not produce.
Now, the context is such that it looks like nostalgia, but the explanatory statement (For in his days the world changed) show that it is being taken seriously. Perhaps there was some climactic change, or some conditions that degraded the soil quality, but the quality of the produce, they claim, declined. Now, the meforshim on the daf explain "the world changed" as nishtaneh haTeva, that nature changed. (Perhaps one can explain the intent of the gemara without resorting to this phrase.)

This is one possible source text showing that Chazal could believe that the laws of nature can change. And here, they changed, said Resh Lakish et. al., because of wickedness of humans (citing a pasuk to that effect), which might imply Divine intervention of some sort.

More in a later post. I want to eventually tackle R Shternbuch's position, but I want to lay a lot of groundwork first.
to be continued...

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Miracles and the Natural Order - part 2

Another gemara which perhaps reflects this idea of Hashem in control of the derech haTeva, the natural order, can be found on Ketubot 3b - Ketubot 4a:

The Mishna on 3b states:

דף ג, ב פרק א הלכה ב משנה
בתולה כתובתה מתאים
ואלמנה מנה
בתולה אלמנה גרושה וחלוצה מן האירוסין כתובתן מאתים ויש להן טענת בתולים
הגיורת והשבויה והשפחה
שנפדו שנשתחררו ושנתגיירו פחותות מבנות שלש שנים ויום אחד
כתובתן מאתים ויש להן טענת בתולים:
A virgin's ketuba is 200 {silver dinarim}
And a widow, a maneh {= 100 silver dinarim}
A virgin who is a widow or divorcee or has undergone chalitza, from betrothal {as opposed to from full nisuin}, their ketuba is 200 {silver dinarim} and they have upon them {the possibility of their husbands making} a taanat betulim = {a complaint that they were not virgins, with the possible effect of losing out on the entire ketuba based on the fact that they may have cheated while betrothed, or at least half of it.}
The {female} convert, captive, or {Canaanite} maidservant
That was redeemed {if a captive}; that was freed {if a maidservant, such that now she has the status of a Jewish woman}; and that was converted {if a convert}, when they were less than 3 years and 1 day
Their ketuba is 200 {silver dinarim} and they have upon them a taanat betulim.
The idea behind this last law is that all these three - a woman captive, slave, or non-Jew, were in situations such that they may no longer be virgins. However, if something happened to them when they were younger than 3 years and 1 day, the scientifically grounded {in their contemporary science} assumption is that the body hadn't been developed enough and will recover, such that the hymen will grow back. {Perhaps because the hymen only stretches rather than breaks and further growth of the body compensates for this, such that it is no longer stretched?}

Because anti-Semitic sites like to take gemaras such as this one out of context and pretend that the gemara is recommending that one sleep with a girl younger than 3 years and 1 day, let me point out here that that is definitely not what is going on here. Rather, they are discussing the law that would apply had this happened to the woman.

On the next page (4a), the gemara discusses this Mishna:
פחותות מבנות שלש שנים ויום אחד
רבי יוסי בשם ר' חייה בר אשי
רבי יונה רב חייה בר אשי בשם רב
למה זו דומה לעושה גומא בבשר וחוזר ומתמלא
תני רבי חייה לעוכר את העין וחוזרת וצוללת
א"ר יוסי מתניתא אמרה כן פחותות מיכן כנותן אצבע בעין
אמר רבי אבין (תהילים נז) אקרא לאלהים עליון לאל גומר עלי
בת שלש שנים ויום אחד ונמלכין ב"ד לעוברו
הבתולין חוזרין
ואם לאו
אין הבתולין חוזרין
"Less that 3 years and 1 day"
Rabbi Yossi citing Rabbi Chiyya bar Ashi
Rabbi Yona: Rabbi Chiyya bar Ashi citing Rav
To what is this compared? To making a depression {scratch} in flesh, and it returns to normal and fills up {heals}
Rabbi Chiyya learnt {in a brayta} to darkening {muddying} the eye and it returns to normal and clears up {perhaps the reference it to getting a black eye or else a red eye as a result of a punch; Alternatively, like muddying up water in a wellspring, which shortly will reclarify.}
Rabbi Yossi said: the Mishna {in Nidda 5:4} says this: "younger than this, it is like putting a finger in the eye."
Rabbi Avin cites Tehillim 57:3
ג אֶקְרָא, לֵאלֹקִים עֶלְיוֹן; לָקֵל, גֹּמֵר עָלָי. 3 I will cry unto God Most high; unto God that accomplisheth it for me.
{The drasha seems based on the simple reading of the verse of calling out to God, and God accomplishing, but perhaps לֵאלֹהִים refers to a bet din, court of law, as it sometimes does elsewhere.}
A girl 3 years and 1 day, and bet din decides to declare the year a leap year
{by adding an extra month, and therefore she is officially less that 3 years and 1 day by 1 month}
the hymen returns
and if they do not {declare a leap year}
the hymen does not return.
Thus we see Hashem making the natural order conform to the decision of a group of rabbis , such that a decision to declare a leap year has repercussions and manifests itself in the natural order.

Now this statement is difficult for me (and probably any reader grounded in science) to understand, for isn't the natural order outside of Divine control? However, if we consider the natural order to be the laws of nature God set into motion but that God can and does manipulate the world using the natural order, then it is not surprising that God can set the world up {or else modify the natural order} so that a halachic determination has an effect in the world. The sense I get from the gemara is that this is not on the level of overt miracle but rather part of the natural order.

{Note also that the proof text refers to God, as opposed to derech haTeva, the natural order. The fact that it needs be proven from a drasha from a pasuk perhaps shows that it is a somewhat novel concept, though.}

I think the Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa would have no problem fitting this idea into his world philosphy. Nor would the Alter of Kelm, nor would the Ramban, I think, even though he was a doctor. Nor would R Shternbuch.

I think one can fit this idea even into a scientific approach that tries to understand and make use of the mechanics of the natural order, such that this belief need not be anti-scientific.

More in a later post. Comments welcome.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Ki Tisa #2: How much is a shekel?

Parshat Ki Tisa begins with the command for each Israelite to give half a shekel as he is counted. Shemot 30:11-16:
יא וַיְדַבֵּר ה, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר. 11 And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying:
יב כִּי תִשָּׂא אֶת-רֹאשׁ בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, לִפְקֻדֵיהֶם, וְנָתְנוּ אִישׁ כֹּפֶר נַפְשׁוֹ לַה, בִּפְקֹד אֹתָם; וְלֹא-יִהְיֶה בָהֶם נֶגֶף, בִּפְקֹד אֹתָם. 12 'When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel, according to their number, then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul unto the LORD, when thou numberest them; that there be no plague among them, when thou numberest them.
יג זֶה יִתְּנוּ, כָּל-הָעֹבֵר עַל-הַפְּקֻדִים--מַחֲצִית הַשֶּׁקֶל, בְּשֶׁקֶל הַקֹּדֶשׁ: עֶשְׂרִים גֵּרָה, הַשֶּׁקֶל--מַחֲצִית הַשֶּׁקֶל, תְּרוּמָה לַה. 13 This they shall give, every one that passeth among them that are numbered, half a shekel after the shekel of the sanctuary--the shekel is twenty gerahs--half a shekel for an offering to the LORD.
יד כֹּל, הָעֹבֵר עַל-הַפְּקֻדִים, מִבֶּן עֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה, וָמָעְלָה--יִתֵּן, תְּרוּמַת ה. 14 Every one that passeth among them that are numbered, from twenty years old and upward, shall give the offering of the LORD.
טו הֶעָשִׁיר לֹא-יַרְבֶּה, וְהַדַּל לֹא יַמְעִיט, מִמַּחֲצִית, הַשָּׁקֶל--לָתֵת אֶת-תְּרוּמַת יְהוָה, לְכַפֵּר עַל-נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם. 15 The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less, than the half shekel, when they give the offering of the LORD, to make atonement for your souls.
טז וְלָקַחְתָּ אֶת-כֶּסֶף הַכִּפֻּרִים, מֵאֵת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְנָתַתָּ אֹתוֹ, עַל-עֲבֹדַת אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד; וְהָיָה לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לְזִכָּרוֹן לִפְנֵי ה, לְכַפֵּר עַל-נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם. {פ 16 And thou shalt take the atonement money from the children of Israel, and shalt appoint it for the service of the tent of meeting, that it may be a memorial for the children of Israel before the LORD, to make atonement for your souls.' {P}
How much is this shekel? It turns out that the shekel is a different amount/coin if it is mentioned in Torah, Neviim, or Ketuvim.

We see a statement from Rabbi Chanina cited in yerushalmi kiddushin 12a (perek 1 halacha 3)
ופליג על ההוא דא"ר חנינה
כל שקלים שכתוב בתורה סלעים
ובנביאים ליטרא
ובכתובים קינטרין
א"ר יודה בר פזי
חוץ משקלי עפרון דהויין קינטרין
מה טעמא (בראשית כג)
בכסף מלא יתננה לי
And this argues on the following statement of Rabbi Chanina:
All shekalim written in the Torah (Pentateuch) are selaim.
And in Neviim (Prophets) are litra.
And in Ketuvim (Writings) are Kintarin
Rabbi Yuda bar Pazi said:
except for the shekalim of Ephron {paid to him} which were Kintarin
What is the reason? It says in Bereishit 23:9 {Avraham is speaking}:
בְּכֶסֶף מָלֵא יִתְּנֶנָּה לִּי = for the full price let him give it to me
{which thus implies a much higher amount, which would be kintarin}
We see that is is shekels being dealt with by the purchase from Ephron from two psukim which follow shortly after: In pasuk 15, Ephron says:
טו אֲדֹנִי שְׁמָעֵנִי, אֶרֶץ אַרְבַּע מֵאֹת שֶׁקֶל-כֶּסֶף בֵּינִי וּבֵינְךָ מַה-הִוא; וְאֶת-מֵתְךָ, קְבֹר. 15 'My lord, hearken unto me: a piece of land worth four hundred shekels of silver, what is that betwixt me and thee? bury therefore thy dead.'

and in pasuk 16:

טז וַיִּשְׁמַע אַבְרָהָם, אֶל-עֶפְרוֹן, וַיִּשְׁקֹל אַבְרָהָם לְעֶפְרֹן, אֶת-הַכֶּסֶף אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר בְּאָזְנֵי בְנֵי-חֵת--אַרְבַּע מֵאוֹת שֶׁקֶל כֶּסֶף, עֹבֵר לַסֹּחֵר. 16 And Abraham hearkened unto Ephron; and Abraham weighed to Ephron the silver, which he had named in the hearing of the children of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, current money with the merchant.
How does the Targum translate shekel in our parsha (ki tisa), and how about there by Ephron? What about in Neviim and Ketuvim?

Onkelos, by Ephron, does not do so well - unless he disregards this midrash of Rabbi Yuda bar Pazi. He writes, on pasuk 15 and 16:
טו ריבוני קביל מיני, ארע שוויא ארבע מאה סלעין דכסף בינא ובינך מא היא; וית מיתך, קבר. טז וקביל אברהם, מן עפרון, ותקל אברהם לעפרון, ית כספא דמליל קודם בני חיתאה--ארבע מאה סלעין דכסף, מתקבל סחורה בכל מדינה.
Thus he has selaim, which is good for Torah in general, but he does not say Kintarin.

Tg Yonatan also seems to have selaim on these verses.

Onkelos also has selaim on our pesukim in Ki Tisa:

יא ומליל ה', עם משה למימר. יב ארי תקביל ית חושבן בני ישראל, למנייניהון, וייתנון גבר פורקן נפשיה קודם ה', כד תמני יתהון; ולא יהי בהון מותא, כד תמני יתהון. יג דין ייתנון, כל דעבר על מנייניא--פלגות סלעא, בסלעי קודשא: עסרין מעין, סלעא--פלגות סלעא, אפרשותא קודם ה'. יד כול, דעבר על מנייניא, מבר עסרין שנין, ולעילא--ייתין, אפרשותא קודם ה'. טו דעתיר לא יסגי, ודמסכין לא יזער, מפלגות, סלעא--למיתן ית אפרשותא קודם ה', לכפרא על נפשתכון. טז ותיסב ית כסף כיפוריא, מן בני ישראל, ותיתין יתיה, על פולחן משכן זמנא; ויהי לבני ישראל לדוכרנא קודם ה', לכפרא על נפשתכון. {פ
to be continued... (?)
{because I didn't actually say what a sela is, and I did not see how Targumim treat shekel in Neviim: e.g. in Yehoshua, Shmuel, Melachim, Yeshaya, Yirmiyah, Yechezkel, Amos; and in Ketuvim, e.g. in Nechemia}

Reb Yudel reposts a piece

by Yori Yanover criticizing someone who cited as a midrash on Kohelet a mashal which he feels is similar to a famous Aesop's fable. How could someone appropriate a fable of Aesop and attribute it to Chazal?

The Midrash (or possibly "Midrash"):
The Midrash offers an analogy to a fox, separated by a fence from the vineyard it would love to raid. its ample body cannot pass through the one breach in the fence it finds. Determined to get in, it fasts for days until its emaciated body is able to slip through. Once inside, it eats to his heart’s content, until he tires of all the good food, and decides it is time to move on again. Once again, the fence proves impassable. Once again, it is forced to starve itself in order to fit through the hole. Emerging to the far side of the vineyard, the fox looks back, and realizes that it came into the vineyard hungry, and left the same way.
The fable:
"A famished fox crept into a vineyard where ripe, luscious grapes were draped high upon arbors in a most tempting display. In his effort to win a juicy prize, the fox jumped and sprang many times but failed in all his attempts. When he finally had to admit defeat, he retreated and muttered to himself, 'Well, what does it matter anyway? The grapes are sour!'"
I would agree with the first commentor on his post that the two stories are actually fairly different. But I recall hearing as a child the one given in the Midrash, as a fable.

However, the assumption that it could not be a Midrash seems wrongheaded for two reasons.

1) Chazal do in fact cite what are known to us as Aesop's fables. Except, they call them parables of foxes, because they often involve foxes.

Here is Bavli Succah 28a:
אמרו עליו על רבן יוחנן בן זכאי
שלא הניח מקרא ומשנה תלמוד הלכות ואגדות
דקדוקי תורה ודקדוקי סופרים
קלים וחמורים וגזרות שוות תקופות וגימטריאות
שיחת מלאכי השרת ושיחת שדים ושיחת דקלים
משלות כובסין משלות שועלים
דבר גדול ודבר קטן
דבר גדול מעשה מרכבה
דבר קטן הויות דאביי ורבא
They said upon Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai
that he did not leave off from Scripture, Mishnah, Talmud, Halachot and Aggadot
dikdukei Torah and dikdukei Sofrim
Kal Vachomers, and Gzerot Shavot, Tekufot and Gematriot
the speech of the ministering angels and the speech of demons and the speech of palm trees
the parables of the washermen and the parables of foxes
the great matter and the small matter
the great matter: Merkava mysticism
the small matter: the discussions between Abaye and Rava
Without even looking at the sources I find it likely that what we may know as an Aesop's fable may have been cited by Chazal.

2) Furthermore, because Aesop told many fables of this type, the genre became associated with his name, such that many fables known as Aesop's fables came from someone else. (So I read in a reference book a few weeks ago.) So Chazal may have created this fable in this genre and it was attributed to Aesop as were other fables of this type.

So, I find it quite likely that it is in fact a midrash, or was cited by a midrash.

Perhaps if I can trace it down in the midrash on Kohelet, in which case I will post it. (Or someone can post it in the comments...)



Update: Rabbi Uri Cohen emailed me that it is in fact a midrash in Kohelet Rabba, on the pasuk in Kohelet 5:4. He saw the midrash inside. Thanks!



Update: Eliyahu emailed me the midrash in question.

פרשה ה
א [יד] כאשר יצא מבטן אמו
גניבא אמר לשועל שמצא כרם והיה מסוייג מכל פנותיו
והיה שם נקב אחד ובקש להכנס בו ולא הוה יכיל
מה עבד צם תלת יומין עד דכחיש ותשש ועאל בהדא נקובא,
ואכל ושמן,
בעא למיפק ולא יכיל מעיבר כלום,
חזר וצאים תלת יומן אוחרנין עד דכחיש ותשש וחזר היך מה דהוה ונפק,
כד נפק הוה אפיך אפוי ואיסתכל ביה
אמר כרמא כרמא,
מה טב את ומה טבין אינון פירין דבגווך,
וכל מה דאית בך יאין ומשבחן,
ברם מה הניה ממך,
כמה דבר נש עליל לגוויך כך הוא נפיק,
כך הוא דין עלמא,
ד"א כאשר יצא מבטן
אמו ערום ישוב ללכת כשבא,
תניא כמו שבא אדם כן ילך,
אדם בא בקול ונפטר מן העולם בקול,
בא לעולם בבכיה ונפטר מן העולם בבכיה,
בא לעולם בחבה ונפטר מן העולם בחבה,
בא בעולם באנחה ונפטר מן העולם באנחה,
בא לעולם בבלי דעת ונפטר מן העולם בבלי דעת,
תני בשם רבי מאיר
כשאדם בא לעולם ידיו הן קפוצות
כלומר כל העולם כלו שלי הוא אני נוחלו
וכשהוא נפטר מן העולם ידיו הן פשוטות
כלומר לא נחלתי מן העוה"ז כלום,
שכן שלמה אומר
כאשר יצא מבטן אמו ערום ישוב ללכת כשבא ומאומה וגו'

Kohelet 5:15: "As he leaves from the womb of his mother..."
{the pasuk continues: naked shall he return to go as he came, and shall take nothing of his labour, which he may carry away in his hand." So it is a comparison of death to birth.}
Geneiva said:{a parable} to a fox who found a vineyard which was fenced from all sides.
And there was a single hole and he tried to go through
it, but he was not able.
What did he do? He fasted 3 days until he was skinny and frail and he entered through that hole.
And he ate and became fat.
He desired to leave and he could not at all.
So he once again fasted 3 other days until he was skinny and frail, the same as he was before, and left {through the hole}.
As he left, he turned his face and looked at it {the vineyard} .
He said: Vineyard, vineyard!
What good are you and what good are your fruits?
All that is within you it truly good,
But what benefit do we get from you?
Just as a man enters you, so does he leave.
So to is the order of the world.
{The midrash continues with other parables, which elaborate upon other parts of the pasuk.}



Update: Yanover posts a response. He writes that he cut and pasted the wrong fable, and had a much closer one. Further, it was unfortunate that this cut and paste error led to a discussion of the citation as opposed to his other point. And finally, he wonders which is earlier, the 6 century BCE Aesop or the 7th century sage midrashic editors.

Argh!
I have what to say about this, but the computer is needed. In the meantime, check out this website.

OK, I'm back.

A number of points.
1. While the first commentor mentioned the mismatch of the fables and Miriam (on her blog) and I (on mine) agreed, I immediately dismissed this objection, saying I recalled a fable that matched more closely. The discussion was NOT the result of a mistaken cut and paste. Rather, it was the allegation that the Rav Yaakov Galinsky, or else Yitzchok Adlerstein, had "upgrad[ed] Aesop to midrashic sagehood." In fact, Yanover should have first investigated whether the midrash in question existed before making this criticism.

2. He wonders which is earlier, the 6th century BCE Aesop or the 7th century CE Midrashic editors.

However, this dating is extremely misleading. Why does he ascribe the midrash to the 7th century CE Midrashic editors? Basically, this is a way of choosing the latest possible date. The midrash is clearly ascribed to an Amora named Geneiva (a first or second generation Babylonian Amora = around 3rd century CE), and who lived well before the 7th century CE. Perhaps Yanover did not realize there was an attribution.

Or more likely, in this he is taking the lead of Jacob Neusner, who basically says that all attributions in Rabbinic literature should be assumed to be false, unless there is compelling evidence to the contrary. Since it was transmitted orally, we must assume the latest possible date for any tradition, which would be the time of the work's final redaction.

Now, this assumption about attributions is unfounded. Further, to make such an assumption without evidence is not a conservative view, so as to avoid unwarranted assumptions. See here, it is being used to imply that the midrash is derivative of another work!

This methodology has been contested by various other Talmudic scholars, including Dr. Elman at YU. Proof exists for the accuracy of at least some of the attributions, but I am not going to get into this because it will take me too far afield.

However, consider now the claim that the fable is the work of Aesop....
[The computer is needed again. Will resume later. This is where the website linked to above comes in - see that website as the basis for facts I will cite.]

OK, I am back once again.

Just as he (undeservedly) gives the latest possible date for the Midrash, he gives a date for the fable that is way too early. 6 century BCE? Sure, that is when Herodetus (5th century BCE) and Plutarch (1st century CE) place Aesop, but he is likely only a legendary figure. (see Encyclopedia Britannica here.)

Even if Aesop was a real person, his fables were transmitted Orally. While one can argue with applying Neusnerian methodology to Talmud and Midrash, it makes a lot more sense here. In the case of Talmud and Midrash, keeping track of attributions was a moral/religious obligation, as well as necessary in many cases to keep track of trends of opinion. In the case of Aesop, you have one individual to whom we know was attributed any story that fits the genre, even if composed by another, because it was of the genre. (see here)

Aesop's fables were first written down in 4th century BCE by Demetrius Phalareus, so rather than saying 6th century BCE, if he is being consistent with how he assigned dates in terms of the Midrash, Yanover should say at least 4th century BCE. But even that is way to early, because Demetrius Phalareus' collection did not survive past 9th century CE, so this could not be the text of the fable Yanover is citing. There was another collection of fables attributes to Aesop, produced by Phaedreus in Rome in the 1st century CE. But I do not know which collection he is using (he uses a translation - THREE HUNDRED AND FIFTY ÆESOP'S FABLES, LITERALLY TRANSLATED FROM THE GREEK. BY THE REV.GEO. FYLER TOWNSEND, M.A. CHICAGO: BELFORD, CLARKE & CO., 1882. p.132). Further, what was the editorial history of the work? Are we sure when this particular fable entered the collection?

So the proximity of the fable and Midrash in time is likely much closer than was suggested.

Now, I do not know which is original, though I would venture it was in fact likely the fable rather than the midrash. Chazal might be reusing or modifying a fable to explain a pasuk, as they were familiar with "Aesop's" fables. On the other hand, for the Midrash we have a direct attribution to Genieva (though he might be reusing the fable, or even citing an earlier Midrashic tradition), plus it is attached to a phrase in a pasuk which it explicates, raising the possibility that the parable was created for the purpose of explaining the pasuk.

Update: Check out the Jewish Encylopedia's take on Aesop's fables. (Read it all.) It notes that there were two collections of fables, one of which was Indian. They write:
It is probable that these later Indian fables were connected by the Greeks with the name of a Libyan, called Kybises: Babrius, a writer of fables in the third century, couples him with Æsop. Thus, in the first century, there were two sets of fables—one associated with the name of Æsop, and the other with that of Kybises—while in the second century these two sets were included in one compilation, running to three hundred fables, by a rhetor named Nicostratus. In the third century these fables were turned into Greek verse by Babrius.
Note that these were still being edited and redacted in the third century CE, the time of Geneiva.

Update: Reb Yudel had posted a link to an article by Shamma Friedman in the JSIJ Journal volume 2: The Talmudic Proverb in Its Cultural Setting (Hebrew). The article, besides discussing the general phenomenon, actually contains the midrash side by side with a translation into Hebrew of the fable.

Note also I am not saying that the Midrash was definitely the original, but rather that I found the dates assigned to the Midrash and fable respectively to be annoyingly misleading.

Update: Also, Yanover mischaracterizes the moral of the fable, making it seem like it is the same as that of the Midrash. He writes:
Incidentally, just as Friedman suggests, the later Jewish version is better edited and the Ecclesiastic association takes a mere "Life is a dung-heap" moral to the level of "Life is a dung-heap 'cause God says so," which works for me.
However, the explicit moral for Aesop's fable, as mentioned in Shamma Friedman's article, is not that life if a dung-heap. Rather, it is if you give it time, your troubles will pass. And the moral for the Midrash thus does not merely add a " 'cause God says so" to the moral, but it is rather a different moral entirely. In fact, nowhere in the Midrash do we see an addition of " 'cause God says so." God does not really enter the picture. The moral of the Midrash is that the material riches of this world are indeed great, but you cannot take it with you, and therefore, it is implied, you should focus on pursuing more spiritual aims, in the form of Torah and mitzvot.

This makes a great difference, because it means that the rabbi being criticized was correct to use the Midrash rather than the fable, since the Midrash explicitly had the message he wanted to convey while the fable had an entirely different message.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Ki Tisa #1: Michelangelo's Moses


Image from Olga's Gallery

If you look closely (it may help to click on the image to get it slightly larger), you will notice that Moshe has horns. Many depictions around the same time also give Moshe horns. The cause of this is a misunderstanding of the Hebrew (and/or possibly Latin) text.

In Shemot 34:30-35:

ל וַיַּרְא אַהֲרֹן וְכָל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֶת-מֹשֶׁה, וְהִנֵּה קָרַן, עוֹר פָּנָיו; וַיִּירְאוּ, מִגֶּשֶׁת אֵלָיו. 30 And when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face sent forth beams; and they were afraid to come nigh him.
לא וַיִּקְרָא אֲלֵהֶם מֹשֶׁה, וַיָּשֻׁבוּ אֵלָיו אַהֲרֹן וְכָל-הַנְּשִׂאִים בָּעֵדָה; וַיְדַבֵּר מֹשֶׁה, אֲלֵהֶם. 31 And Moses called unto them; and Aaron and all the rulers of the congregation returned unto him; and Moses spoke to them.
לב וְאַחֲרֵי-כֵן נִגְּשׁוּ, כָּל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל; וַיְצַוֵּם--אֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר יְהוָה אִתּוֹ, בְּהַר סִינָי. 32 And afterward all the children of Israel came nigh, and he gave them in commandment all that the LORD had spoken with him in mount Sinai.
לג וַיְכַל מֹשֶׁה, מִדַּבֵּר אִתָּם; וַיִּתֵּן עַל-פָּנָיו, מַסְוֶה. 33 And when Moses had done speaking with them, he put a veil on his face.
לד וּבְבֹא מֹשֶׁה לִפְנֵי יְהוָה, לְדַבֵּר אִתּוֹ, יָסִיר אֶת-הַמַּסְוֶה, עַד-צֵאתוֹ; וְיָצָא, וְדִבֶּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֵת, אֲשֶׁר יְצֻוֶּה. 34 But when Moses went in before the LORD that He might speak with him, he took the veil off, until he came out; and he came out; and spoke unto the children of Israel that which he was commanded.
לה וְרָאוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֶת-פְּנֵי מֹשֶׁה, כִּי קָרַן, עוֹר פְּנֵי מֹשֶׁה; וְהֵשִׁיב מֹשֶׁה אֶת-הַמַּסְוֶה עַל-פָּנָיו, עַד-בֹּאוֹ לְדַבֵּר אִתּוֹ. {ס} 35 And the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses' face sent forth beams; and Moses put the veil back upon his face, until he went in to speak with Him. {S}
the took the word karan to mean horns, rather than shining light. The Latin translation gives cornutam which can also mean shining or horned. In the Vulgate:
34:30 videntes autem Aaron et filii Israhel cornutam Mosi faciem timuerunt prope accedere

34:31 vocatique ab eo reversi sunt tam Aaron quam principes synagogae et postquam locutus est

34:32 venerunt ad eum etiam omnes filii Israhel quibus praecepit cuncta quae audierat a Domino in monte Sinai

34:33 impletisque sermonibus posuit velamen super faciem suam

34:34 quod ingressus ad Dominum et loquens cum eo auferebat donec exiret et tunc loquebatur ad filios Israhel omnia quae sibi fuerant imperata

34:35 qui videbant faciem egredientis Mosi esse cornutam sed operiebat rursus ille faciem suam si quando loquebatur ad eos

Update: And, of course, I should have mentioned why the Latin translation has the same two possible connotations - it is not so much a translation as a near transliteration! In Hebrew in is qrn, and in Latin it is crn. It is the same root, and probably comes from the Semitic; (or else as dictionary.com has it for the word unicorn (= one horn), from the Indo-European root ker.)

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A Telling Mistake in a HaAretz Article

about pulsa denura. I first saw the article cited at PaleoJudaica. The pulsa denura ceremony, for those who believe in it, is a kabbalistic curse calling upon *God* (rather than people) to cause the untimely death of the recipient of the curse. It is NOT a halachic judgemeny, and it certainly is not a ruling allowing Jews to assassinate the person.

The article starts:
Woman held for sending pulsa denura to Shaul Mofaz
A Bat Yam woman known to have harassed media figures and politicians was also behind a letter that suggested a religious edict of execution against Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, police have discovered.
The letter implied that religious authorities had issued a pulsa denura, a ruling allowing Jews to assassinate Mofaz over his support of the disengagement plan. The ancient edict was revived by far-right religious Jews in the months prior to the November 1995 assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.
...
The article was thus written by someone who has no clue what a pulsa denura is, and the effect is to say that rabbis has issued an assasination edict (fatwa) and also did so in the case of Rabin. There is another concept of din rodef, which the author probably confused in his mind (or rather never distinguished) when writing the article.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Sources for Shabbat: Yerushalmi Ketubot Second Mishna

דף ג, ב פרק א הלכה ב משנה
בתולה כתובתה מתאים ואלמנה מנה
בתולה אלמנה גרושה וחלוצה מן האירוסין כתובתן מאתים ויש להן טענת בתולים
הגיורת והשבויה והשפחה שנפדו שנשתחררו ושנתגיירו פחותות מבנות שלש שנים ויום אחד
כתובתן מאתים ויש להן טענת בתולים:

דף ג, ב פרק א הלכה ב גמרא
חונה בשם שמואל בשקל הקודש
רבי בא בר בינא אמר מטבע יוצא
מתניתא מסייעה לר' בא בר בינא :
וחמש סלעים של בן במנה צורי
שלשים של עבד חמשים של אונס ושל מפתה
מאה של מוציא שם רע כולן בשקל הקודש במנה צורי
ולא תנא כתובת אשה עמהן
אמר ר' אבין כלום למדו מכתובת אשה לא מכונס וממפתה
מכיון דתנינן האונס והמפתה כמאן דתנא כתובת אשה עמהן
עד כדון בתולה. אלמנה מאי ?
אמר רבי חיננא דייה לאלמנה שתיטול מחצית בתולה
אמר רבי חייה בר אדא אפילו ניתני כתובת אשה עמהן
לית כל אילין רבנין פליגין
רבי חנניה ורבי יונתן תריהון אמרין מטבע יוצא
רבי יהושע בן לוי אמר מטבע יוצא
ר' יעקב בר אחא רבי אימי רבי שמעון בן לקיש בשם ר' יודן נשייא מטבע יוצא
אמר רבי יוחנן סלעים סביריניות מהגינות ירושלמיות
אילין אמרין אכן ואילין אמרין אכן
אלא אף הוא חזר וסבר דכוותהון
ולית כל מילייא אכן אילין אמרין אכן ואילין אמרין אכן
הא אף הוא חזר ואמר דכוותהון
אתא עובדא קומי דרבי חנינה
באשה שהיתה כתובתה פחותה ממאתים זוז
ואמר תטול מה שכתב לה
אמר לרבי מנא שב וחתום
אמר לה אשוי שיטתך וכה חתום
לא רבי חייא דאמר בשם שמואל בשקל הקודש
רבי אבודמא דציפורי בשם רבי חונה משם

דף ד, א פרק א הלכה ב גמרא
ויתור. מעונה אשה שהיתה כתובתה פחותה ממאתים
תטמין כתובתה כדי שתיטול בשקל הקודש
אמר בשם ר' חונה במקום שאין כותבין כתובה
אבל במקום שכותבין כתובה מה דו מפקא היא גובה
אמר ר' יוחנן ותני כן
חרש שנשא פיקחת אין לה עליו מזונות ולא כתובה
ואם מתה הוא יורשה שהיא רצתה לזוק לו נכסיה והוא לא רוצה לזוק לה בנכסיו
פיקח שנשא חרשת יש לה עליו מזונות וכתובה
ואם מתה אינו יורשה שהוא רוצה לזוק לה נכסיו והיא לא רצתה לזוקן לו נכסיה
וחרשת יש לה קניין ויש לה כתובה
רבי ירמיה בשם רבי לעזר תיפתר כשכנסה פיקחת כנסה
רבי יעקב בר אחא בשם רבי לעזר שכנסה פיקחת ונתחרשה
מכל מקום לא יפקחת כנסה
רבי יעקב בר אחא בשם רבי לעזר תיפתר שהיתה חרשת ונתפקחה כנסה פיקחת ונתחרשה
שלא תאמר הואיל והיתה חרשת תחילה אין לה כתובה
לפום כן צריך למימר יש לה
רבי יוסי לא אמר כן
אלא אילו מי שבא על החרשת שמא אין לה קנס
וכל שאין לה קנס אין לה כתובה
א"ר יודן וכי בקנס הדבר תלוי
הרי בוגרת אין לה קנס וכתובתה מאתים
הרי בתולה מן הנישואין יש לה קנס וכתובתה מתנה
חרש או שוטה שכנסו פיקחת אע"פ שחזר החרש ונתפקח שוטה ונשתפה אין לה כתובה
רצה לקיימה כתובתה מנה
רבי לעזר בשם ר' חנינה והוא שבא עליה משנתפקח ומשנשתפה
אבל אם לא בא עליה משנתפקח ומשנשתפה אפילו כתובת מנה אין לה
פחותות מבנות שלש שנים ויום אחד
רבי יוסי בשם ר' חייה בר אשי רבי יונה רב חייה בר אשי בשם רב
למה זו דומה? לעושה גומא בבשר וחוזר ומתמלא
תני רבי חייה לעוכר את העין וחוזרת וצוללת
א"ר יוסי מתניתא אמרה כן
פחותות מיכן כנותן אצבע בעין
אמר רבי אבין (תהילים נז) אקרא לאלהים עליון לאל גומר עלי
בת שלש שנים ויום אחד ונמלכין ב"ד לעוברו הבתולין חוזרין
ואם לאו אין הבתולין חוזרין

the tzedaka collectors: Gittin:

דף ח, ב פרק א הלכה ה גמרא
והדין זכה לחבריה לא יכיל חזור ביה.
דלמא רבי דוסתאי בי רבי ינאי ור' יוסי בן כיפר נחתון מיגבי לחבריה תמן
ואיתאמרת עליהון לישן ביש
אתון בעיי מיפקא מיניה
אמרין לון כבר זכינן
אמרין לון אנן בעי תקימינון טבאת
אמרין לון שומר חנם אנחנו.

דף ט, א פרק א הלכה ה גמרא
אתון לגבי ר' דוסתאי בי רבי ינאי
אמר לון ההנו כולה נסבין לר' יוסי בן כיפר
ופטרוי ואפקון מיניה.
כד סלקון להכא אתא לגבי אבוי
א"ל לית את חמי מה עבד לי ברך.
א"ל מה עבד לך.
א"ל אילו אשוויי עמי לא הוון מפקין מינן כלום.
א"ל מה עבדת כן.
א"ל ראיתי אותן בית דין שוה
וכובעיהן אמה
ומדברין מחציים
ויוסי אחי כפות ורצועה עולה ויורדת
ואמרית שמא דוסתאי אחר יש לאבא
א"ר חגיי הדא דתימר בהוא דלא יכיל מיקמה טבאות.
ברם הוא דיכיל מיקמת טבאות מיפק לון מן הדא ויטלון לדין


Among the points made on Hirhurim

against R Shternbuch's position is that science is a neutral methodology. But on the other hand, R Shternbuch does have a point about having to trust the practitioners, who may not be neutral. Consider the following story, via WoldNetDaily.
Anthropologist resigns in 'dating disaster'
Panel says professor of human origins made up data, plagiarized works
A flamboyant anthropology professor, whose work had been cited as evidence Neanderthal man once lived in Northern Europe, has resigned after a German university panel ruled he fabricated data and plagiarized the works of his colleagues.

Reiner Protsch von Zieten, a Frankfurt university panel ruled, lied about the age of human skulls, dating them tens of thousands of years old, even though they were much younger, reports Deutsche Welle.

"The commission finds that Prof. Protsch has forged and manipulated scientific facts over the past 30 years," the university said of the widely recognized expert in carbon data in a prepared statement.

...

Among their findings was an age of only 3,300 years for the female "Bischof-Speyer" skeleton, found with unusually good teeth in Northern Germany, that Protsch dated to 21,300 years.

Another dating error was identified for a skull found near Paderborn, Germany, that Protsch dated at 27,400 years old. It was believed to be the oldest human remain found in the region until the Oxford investigations indicated it belonged to an elderly man who died in 1750.

...

Chris Stringer, a Stone Age specialist and head of human origins at London's Natural History Museum, said: "What was considered a major piece of evidence showing that the Neanderthals once lived in northern Europe has fallen by the wayside. We are having to rewrite prehistory."

"Anthropology now has to revise its picture of modern man between 40,000 and 10,000 B.C.," added Thomas Terberger, an archaeologist at the University of Greifswald.

Frankfurt University's president, Rudolf Steinberg, apologized for the university's failure to curb Protsch's misconduct for decades. "A lot of people looked the other way," he said.
Read the whole thing.

Now, presumably there is other research showing the existence of early humans, not by Protsch. But that people looked the other way when he falsified data, and the fact that he did, does partially serve R Shternbuch's point. And the fact that they have to revise the picture, and rewrite prehistory, because now the context has now changed, shows how much theories rely on other theories, which may at some point be flawed.

Miracles and the Natural Order

R. Gil Student over at Hirhurim posted an analysis of R. Moshe Shternbuch's statement. I think that R. Shternbuch's position is more defensible than one might think from reading the critique and comments, but I have to gather sources and figure out how to frame it, which will probably take more time than I have at the moment or am likely to have in the near future.

{One thing R Shternbuch cited is the Ramban that everything in the natural order is also miraculous, and one who does not believe this does not have a portion in the world to come. Gil counters that the Ramban's intent is not how R Shternbuch took it, for this would contradict other statements of the Ramban, but rather, based on an explanation by Dr. David Berger, this is restricted to reward and punishment.}

In the meantime, I posted two things in the past that touch slightly at the issue at hand. First, on parshat Eikev I wrote about how the clear message of the parsha is that God provides sustenance, in the desert with manna that was overtly miraculous1, and in Israel through control of the natural order. Thus, even though things happen naturally, this does not mean that ultimately God is not in control.

Second, on parshat Korach I wrote about how (most) miracles seem to be bound by certain limits, if not necessarily the natural order.



Consider the following story with R Chanina ben Dosa, in Bavli Taanit 25a:
חד בי שמשי
חזייה לברתיה דהוות עציבא
אמר לה בתי <למאי> [במאי] עציבת
אמרה ליה כלי של חומץ נתחלף לי בכלי של שמן
והדלקתי ממנו אור לשבת
אמר לה בתי מאי איכפת לך
מי שאמר לשמן וידלוק הוא יאמר לחומץ וידלוק
תנא היה דולק והולך כל היום כולו
עד שהביאו ממנו אור להבדלה
One twilight (going into Shabbat)
he saw his daughter was upset
He said to her: My daughter, why are you upset
She said to him: a vessel of vinegar was switched for me with a vessel of oil
and I lit from it the light for Shabbat
He said to her: why are you concerned?
He Who said to oil and it burns Is He Who will say to vinegar and it will burn
We learnt: It continued burning the entire day
until they brought from it light for Havdalah.
This can be understood in many ways. One can say it advances the idea that Hashem controls the natural order, and if Hashem wants to deviate from the natural order He can.

Alternatively, one can say that even the burning of oil is a miracle, and happens because Hashem tells it to. That does not mean there is no natural order. Hashem set up the natural order, and it generally works via some mechanism. Hashem can make the world operate via an alternative mechanism as well, if he so chooses. Thus, each thing happens because Hashem wants it to.

This would not stop a scientist, such as the Ramban, from treating a patient by making a diagnosis based on the natural order - that is, the way Hashem usually makes the world operate.


Also, even if we interpret the Rambam as referring only to matters of schar veOnesh, as Hirhurim reported was the conclusion in an article by Dr. Berger, the case in this gemara, of oil burning, is not such a case. Perhaps one can argue that the vinegar burning was a reward, but the idea was that the natural order of oil burning is as much of a miracle.

I did not originate this idea. In fact, the Alter of Kelm reads the same (and see here as well) into this Talmudic story, and uses it to answer the Bet Yosef's question of why Chanukkah isn't 7 days instead of 8, since after all there was enough oil to last 1 day. He answers that it is the celebration of the miracle of the natural order, besides that of the overt miracle.

And R Shternbuch is not the first to read into the Ramban the idea of everything natural also being miraculous, Dr. Berger's interpretation notwithstanding. I did not see the original, so I do not know if it is the Alter of Kelm's thought, or that of the two who wrote the divrei torah I linked to above, but the Ramban on parshat Bo is dragged into this.

Now, it may be that the true understanding of the Ramban is different, but at any rate, we see that there are sources for this point of view. Not that it really matters, because, as I hope to eventually get to, this idea is not really crucial to R Shternbuch's position.

Perhaps now would be a good time to turn to the Ramban.
Perhaps to be continued...



Footnotes:
[1] though the mishna in pirkei avot lists it as something created at twilight, implying perhaps a miracle built into creation

Monday, February 21, 2005

Sixth Sense

Psychologists at Washington University in St. Louis think they have pinpointed a part of the brain - in the anterior cingulate cortex - that may be the root of an instinctual sixth sense.

Wendy Shalit's essay

in the New York Times book review, and her followup article on the Aish website.

I've always been somewhat annoyed by inaccurate portrayals of Orthodox Jews in literature myself.

Lo RaInu Aino Raaya

= "We haven't seen" is not a proof. {Or, absence of proof is not proof of absence.}
From Jerusalem Post: [emphasis mine]
Jordanian dig confirms Biblical Edom
Just-published evidence from a US-directed archeological dig in Jordan further authenticates the Bible's descriptions of the existence of the ancient nation of Edom during the eras of King David and his son, King Solomon.

...

The new study, headed by archeology Prof. Thomas Levy of University of California, San Diego, contradicts much contemporary scholarship claiming – on the basis of no physical evidence – that no Edomite state existed before the 8th Century BCE. Until the new discovery, many scholars said the Bible's numerous references to ancient Israel's interactions with Edom could not be valid.

While previous investigations in Edom had been carried out in the Jordanian highland zone and put the rise of the Edomite kingdom during the 8th to 6th centuries BCE, the new archeological data from modern-day Jordan presents strong evidence for the involvement of Edom with neighboring ancient Israel as described in the Bible and indicates the existence of the biblical nation of Edom at least as early as the 10th Century BCE – when David and Solomon were alive.

...
Read it all. (hat tip: Eliyahu)

Update: The next paragraph:
The Edomite lowlands, home to a large copper ore zone, had been ignored by archeologists because of the logistical difficulties of working in the extremely dry and hot region. But with an anthropological perspective and using high precision radiocarbon dating, the team showed evidence of two major phases of copper production – during the 12th to 11th centuries BCE and the 10th to 9th centuries BCE.
reminds me of the old joke:

Late one night, a drunk guy is crawling around under a lamppost. A cop comes up and asks him what he's doing.

"I'm looking for my keys," the drunk says. "I lost them about three blocks away."

"So why aren't you looking for them where you dropped them?" the cop asks.

The drunk looks at the cop, amazed that he'd ask so obvious a question. "Because the light is better here."

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Multivalent Liquid Plumr Gel

A while ago, we were having problems with the shower not draining, so I bought some Liquid Plumr Gel. Eventually, the problem was fixed with the super's help, but we still have the container, about half full, in the bathroom.

This morning, I noticed something about the claims they made on the container in an effort to convince you to but it over Liquid Draino. Namely, it was deliberately multivalent.

On the side of the bottle it said:

BEST ON
TOUGHEST CLOGS
GUARANTEED!

with the large and small words in different colors. Depending on if you read it up close or from a distance, you got two different messages. There were two interpretations for the word TOUGHEST, and possibly of the meaning of the GUARANTEE and BEST as well.

From a distance, you read "BEST, TOUGHEST, GUARANTEED!" Thus, you think that TOUGHEST refers to the Liquid Plumr Gel, that of all the brands it is TOUGHEST. Further, it is the BEST. Both of these two claims are GUARANTEED.

Close up, you see that TOUGHEST refers to the clogs, and the claim is that on the most TOUGH clogs, Liquid Plumr is BEST. No mention is made about how it fares on clogs that are not so TOUGH. The claim they do make is GUARANTEED.

Thus, there are two messages, one which catches your eye, and the other which is probably the only one that is quasi-legally binding. But both were intended. An interesting modern multivalence.

MOChossid's Pet Peeve

is apparently the use of the word "literally" to mean "figuratively". As he says, the two words are antonyms.

However, as this entry in dictionary.com makes clear, "figuratively" it is in fact almost one of "literally"'s meanings, and is acceptable in the context he deplores. It is not really that "literally" has come to mean "figuratively", but rather "literally" is being used as an intensive before figurative expressions, just as it is often used as an intensive in other situations. Kind of like how 2 sentences ago I used "in fact" as an intensive. Or how someone might say mamash (mamish) as an intensive.

Update: Meanwhile, I misspelled MOChassid's name. :)

On Pre-nups

Hirhurim linked to an article in the Jerusalem Post. Basically, Rav Elyashiv has a long-standing halachic objection to the validity of pre-nups, and this is interfering with its being accepted in Israel. The pre-nup basically says that if they get divorced secularly and the husband withholds the get, he agrees to pay a hefty sum to her for each day he does not give her the get.

As I understand it, Rav Elyashiv's objection is that when he agreed to sign the pre-nup, he did not have in mind that he would ever get divorced, so as to be in a situation where it was enforced. As a result, the agreement has the status of asmachta and should not be binding. Using this agreement to then force the get would be improper coercion, and the resulting get would be invalid.

Now, a whole slew of RIETS Roshei Yeshiva, including Rav Schachter and Rabbi Willig, are on record in favor of the pre-nup, so there is obviously basis to say that it is good.

Just a few comments about the whole situation.

Firstly, contrary to a comment by Shmarya on that blog (since deleted), this is not about a power grab. Shmarya consistently makes such allegations about many rabbis, whenever some new issue comes up. As one example out of a bewildering array, he alleged that the entire copepod issue was created by the OU, not because of real kashrut concerns but rather because the OU wanted to make money certifying water and filters. In the end, when the OU made a statement, they gave general guidelines of what features of filters were OK, so it clearly was not a business decision. You have to learn to filter out the noise.

Both those in favor of the pre-nup and those against do not want to cause needless suffering to agunot.

The entire issue of agunot is that the women are being denied a valid Jewish divorce from their husbands, such that they can remarry halachicly. Were a woman to wish to remarry outside the bounds of halacha, she could do so by getting a secular marriage in America, or in Israel by going to Greece. It is women who are dedicated to keeping halacha who are suffering by not being able to remarry because of recalcitrant husbands.

Now, the solution is to find some way for the woman to receive a kosher get. If she receives a non-kosher get, then she is in the same situation she was in before. That is, the can remarry secularly, but from the perspective of halacha she would be committing adultery. Thus, there is no benefit over case 1.

Now, Rabbis today do not create halacha. They look through the sources, they assess the situation, and they try to make a determination of what the halacha is. According to Rabbi Schachter, Rabbi Willig, etc., the pre-nup is a valid way to have the woman receive a kosher get. Rav Elyashiv, based on his understanding of the sources and situation, disagrees, and thinks it would not be a valid get, and any woman using such a get as a basis to remarry would be violating halacha. He has an obligation to make his views known, and if he is correct, then allowing women to unwittingly commit adultery is no favor to them.

Now, there are major poskim backing the pre-nup.

I didn't like the final comment in the article, though:
Despite [Rav] Elyashiv's opposition to the use of prenuptial agreements as a tool for forcing the husband to give a get, or the wife to accept one, those who support the idea have not given up hope.

Rabbi Elyashiv Knol, of the Religious Kibbutz Movement, said a groundswell of public support for prenuptials would force the rabbinic courts to take the issue seriously. "We need to increase public consciousness in the hope that if the change does not come from the top it will be pushed from below by the people."

In general, I don't like the idea of halacha being pushed from below. Imagine other matters of major halachic impact being pushed from below. Tremendous support from below, on animal rights ground, for reforms in shechita which major poskim say would lead to the animals being non-kosher. In general I like the idea of people who are in the know and are on the level of knowledge to make halachic decisions to be the ones doing so, rather than to create artificial pressure from those who are not qualified to make the decision.

In this case, it is a bit different, since there is some major backing for the pre-nup even in Israel, and it is consideration for Rav Elyashiv's opinion on the part of Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar, who is head of the rabbinical courts, that is stopping them from being honored. Still, it is somewhat troubling.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Tetzaveh #1: The Purpose of the Tzitz

(This is from pre-blog, as is evident from the lack of Hebrew or links.)

In parashat Tetzaveh, there is a curious pasuk, regarding the Tzitz: (Shemot 28:38) And it shall be upon Aaron's forehead, that Aaron may bear the iniquity of the holy things, which the children of Israel shall hallow in all their holy gifts; and it shall be always upon his forehead, that they may be accepted before the LORD.

The curious phrase is "that Aaron may bear the iniquity of the holy things," ViNasa Aharon Et-Avon HaKodoshim. The Kodoshim typically refers to Korbanot.

The trouble is, what iniquity are we talking about in regard to the korbanot? I will offer three traditional answers, and then offer some completely unsubstatiated and wild speculation.

First, Rashi explains that the verb "bear," Nasa, means pardon (slicha), and yet it still retains a different connotation, that Aharon carries the burden of iniquity; thus the iniquity is removed from the korbanot. To identify the "iniquity," Rashi cites the gemara in Menachot 25a to say that it refers to fats and blood offered while they are Tamei. The Mishna there (top of 25a) states that if the Kometz (of the mincha) becomes Tamei, the Tzitz makes it accepted, but if it is Yatza (leaves proper areas), the Tzitz does not make it accepted (meratze), for the Tzitz only makes Tamei acceptable, but not Yotzei acceptable. The gemara there shows how this is derived from this pasuk. Basically, the pasuk says that the Tzitz is Nasa the iniquity of the kodoshim, such that "that they may be accepted before the LORD." And the iniquity (avon) belongs to the kodoshim and not to those who are bringing it.

Targum Yonatan ben Uziel explains the Avon Kodoshim as the iniquity of promising to bring a korban and then not doing it. Thus, the Avon of the Jews who are false in their promises of korbanot, that iniquity Aharon bears for them and makes those sins be forgiven. Tg Yonatan says this not in translating the phrase "the iniquity of the holy things," but rather, he translates later in the pasuk "which the children of Israel shall hallow in all their holy gifts" as "which the children of Israel shall hallow in all their holy gifts that they are false in them (DiMishakrin Behon)."

Rashbam says that according to the pshat it is not like Rashi, referring to the Tumah of the kodoshim, but rather, the korbanot that the Jews bring as Olah, Chatat, or Asham offerings - the tzitz together with the korban helps to recall them for good before Hashem and for a recollection on behalf of the Jews that their sins should be forgiven them.

Finally, some random, unsubstantiated suggestions. Look at the context.
25:34) A golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, upon the hem of the robe round about. 35) And it shall be upon Aaron to minister: and his sound shall be heard when he goeth in unto the holy place before the LORD, and when he cometh out, that he die not.

Then, 36) And thou shalt make a plate of pure gold, and grave upon it, like the engravings of a signet, HOLINESS TO THE LORD. 37) And thou shalt put it on a blue lace, that it may be upon the mitre; upon the forefront of the mitre it shall be. 38) And it shall be upon Aaron's forehead, that Aaron may bear the iniquity of the holy things, which the children of Israel shall hallow in all their holy gifts; and it shall be always upon his forehead, that they may be accepted before the LORD.

In pasuk 35, what does it mean that Aharon's sound should be heard... that he die not? Rashi there says this teaches that if he is missing one of the priestly garments when he enters the Kodesh, he is chayav mita in the hands of Heaven. Tg Yonatan seems to imply some kind of immediate death, translating, and he will not dies in Esha Metzalhava (some type of fire).

I would suggest that the ringing of the bells announcing his entering and departure from the Kodesh somehow prevents some harm befalling him. Perhaps this is averting some punishment, or perhaps this announcing causes some change in the Kodesh such that it will receive him? I think it is the former - only one who is properly announced can emerge from the Kodesh unscathed.

In view of this, perhaps a similar idea is present in the tzitz. Pasuk 36 says that Aharon was to wear a forehead plate (tzitz) on which was written Kodesh LaHashem, Holy to the Lord, or (in the translation I took,) Holiness to the Lord. He had to wear this tzitz at all times while doing the service. Perhaps it was similarly to identify him as the Holy One to Hashem, designated to perform this service. After all, it is presumption to touch and deal with korbanot, which go to Hashem, and only the Kodesh LaHashem could deal with them. Thus, the tzitz helped Aharon bear the Avon HaKodoshim, the "iniquity" present in any human dealing with things going to Hashem, because he was designated.

Meir Yaakov

has updated his blog.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

class 2, sugyot in moed

notes are up here.

The Outer Limits of Orthodox Theology

A response to Dr. Marc Shapiro's book

(This is in part a response to Dr. Shapiro's book, The Limits of Orthodox Theology, and in part a reaction to how some seem to be reading his book.)

There is an interesting yerushalmi I posted about a while back, in the first perek of gittin (Yerushalmi Gittin #1: Jewish Geography), about the borders of Eretz Yisrael and the direction from Eretz Yisrael to Bavel.

If a get (bill of divorce) comes from outside the Land of Israel, the agent delivering the get must say that before him it was written and signed. As a result, it is important to define the limits of the Land of Israel:


ד, ב פרק א הלכה ב משנה רבי יהודה אומר מרקם ולמזרח ורקם כמזרח מאשקלון ולדרום ואשקלון כדרום מעכו ולצפון ועכו כצפון ר' מאיר אומר עכו כארץ ישראל לגיטין:

Mishna: Rabbi Yehuda says: From Reqem and to the east, and Reqem is like the east {that is, it is considered outside Eretz Yisrael}; from Ashqelon and to the south, and Ashqelon is like the north; from Akko and to the north and Akko is like the north; Rabbi Meir says: Akko is like Eretz Yisrael for the purpose of bills {of divorce}.

דף ד, ב פרק א הלכה ב גמרא ר' יוחנן אמר לציפורייא אתון אמרין בשם ר' <יוחנן> חנינה אף המביא מבבל לכאן אינו צריך לומר בפני נכתב ובפ"נ ואני אומר שהוא צריך דהיא מתניתא ר' יהודה אומר
דף ה, א פרק א הלכה ב גמרא מרקם ולמזרח ורקם כמזרח. ואפילו תימא חלוקין על ר"י שאין רקם כמזרח. שמא מבבל לכאן

Rabbi Yochanan said to the residents of Tzippori: They come and say in the name of Rabbi Chanina: even one who brings {a bill of divorce} from Bavel to here {Eretz Yisrael} need not say "Before me it was written and before me it was signed." And I {Rabbi Yochanan} say that he must, for it is the Mishna. "Rabbi Yehuda says: From Reqem and to the east, and Reqem is like the east. And even if you say that we argue on Rabbi Yehuda that Reqem is not like the east, would you say that from Bavel to here??!?! {since Bavel is surely even further in that direction.}
Rabbi Chanina is in agreement with the opinion of Rav that Bavel is considered like the land of Israel as regards bills of divorce, and Rabbi Yochanan is arguing on him, based on the Mishna.

My approach to gemara and mikra is generally not homiletic, but I will make an exception in this instance and use the gemara to make a point.

That point is that while Chazal can argue about the limits of Eretz Yisrael (EY), with Rabbi Yehuda saying that Akko is outside EY and Rabbi Meir saying that Akko is inside, and Rbbi Yehuda saying Reqem is outside EY and a theoretical position brought up by Rabbi Yochanan (perhaps also Rabbi Meir) saying Reqem is inside EY, everybody will agree that there are *some* limits to EY. Surely if you go as far east as Bavel, everyone will say you are outside EY, says Rabbi Yochanan!

This dispute about the outer limits is not limited to national boundaries. If we look at our history, we will see that there have been many disputes about the limits of acceptable Jewish theology. Indeed, the very presence of the Rambam's ikarei emuna (principles of faith) testifies to the fact that there was some disagreement, for otherwise why formulate them? (OK, one could say because of contact with Islam, but still, disagreements about such matters surely were at least a partial impetus.)

Dr. Shapiro's book gives many many examples of great rabbis who disagree with some aspect of one of the Rambam's principles, or with an entire principle. Many of these examples were no surprise to me, as I've encountered them in classes and books before.

However, while there may be disputes about the exact parameters of each of the ikarei emuna, or those who reject one in its entirety, what you will *not* find is any of these people dismissing the idea that there *are* limits, and that at a certain point a belief can be heretical. That is, if you go too far east, eventually you will pass over the outer limit of EY, or of acceptable Jewish theology.

The message some people get from the book, however, is that since there are disputes about all these matters, one can deny all of the ikarei emuna and not be a heretic. I doubt Dr. Shapiro would agree with such a statement.

Consider the following excerpt from a review:
Shapiro, a Professor of Judaic Studies at the University of Scranton, Pennsylvania, and himself an Orthodox Jew, sets out to show that this attitude is completely modern, and that historically – both before and after Maimonides – his Principles were widely discussed, disputed and even dismissed by mainstream Orthodox authorities. Maimonides himself did not accept several of his own Principles, and certainly did not think that to deny them was heretical.
What??

{Note: Perhaps she does not mean this, and is only referring to those that the Rambam did not accept in their entirety. Still, the overall impression one gets from this review, and from some other people I have seen citing the book, is that none of the Rambam's principles are binding, and one can entirely deny any and all of them and not be a heretic...}

The Rambam might not have accepted the principles as most narrowly defined, but he certainly thought that one who denied entirely certain principles was a heretic. For example, principle 1 (in the ani maamins, a crude summary) is that Hashem created the world and directs it, and that He Alone created all creations. Principle 2 is the belief that Hashem is One and he exists and will exist forever. Principle 3 is that Hashem is incorporeal, and there is no real comparison to a body.

Now, people argued with the Rambam on some of this, and perhaps the Rambam did not believe these as narrowly specified, but the Rambam would consider a Cristian, who believed that God could have a human son, and could take human form, and was part of a trinity, to be outside the pale of Jewish belief. The Rambam would definitely consider someone who believed this to be a heretic. It is silly to say otherwise, and Marc Shapiro would not say otherwise.

What if someone entirely denied the existence of God? - and as a result denied principle 1, since a non-existant God cannot create or direct the world, and principle 2, since if He does not exist then He did not exist and will not exist in the future, and principle 3 since if God does not exist, He is not incorporeal (nor corporeal). Many other principles fail - how can the words of the Prophets be true if they speak the word of a God who does not exist? I think the Rambam would call such a person a kofer - a denier of the existence of God, and a heretic. And Marc Shapiro would surely agree.

The Continuum View
One can view opinions on theological matters on a continuum.

Here at the far left (as a straw man position) is the belief that every single letter and its form as was given to Moshe exists in our prsent day sifrei Torah.

A little to the right - well, the script was ktav ivri, and it now is ktav ashuri (though perhaps it was originally given in ashuri...). At about the same position - well, the final letters were instituted by the Prophets.

A little to the right - we are not experts in plene and defective spelling, so except where we have an explicit tradition (such as it is used in a drash) perhaps there are some extra or missing letters used to mark pronunciation. The integrity of the message is maintained.

A little to the right - certain words were changed deliberately - a tikkun sofrim - but these were kept track of, so we know what they are.) This is as opposed to treating tikkun sofrim as initial intent but written by Moshe in a polite way.

A little to the right - a few specific words might have been changed (see the 3 sifrei torah harmonized, each with one word different), but the meaning remains the same.

Further to the right - many words were messed up due to non-meticulous scribes, or scribes who did not understand, so we should engage in Lower Biblical Criticism to reconstruct the text.

Start again at the far left: Every single word in Torah was written by Moshe.

A little to the right - certain psukim could not have been written by Moshe since they describe what happened after Moshe's death, and as a result, specifically the last 8 psukim were written by someone else. Furthermore, that person also was Divinely inspired, the student of Moshe, and thus wrote them in that same approximate time period - it was Moshe's student Yehoshua.

A little to the right - other psukim were written by Yehoshua. Specifically, those that say Ad Hayom Hazeh or others that imply some distance in time.

A little to the right - certain, specific parenthetical, explanatory, or introductory psukim were written, or elaborated upon, by a still later (Divinely inspired) hand, such as the Ezra or the Anshei Knesset HaGedola.

Further to the right - the words were not in fact authored by Moshe, but by a single author. Or, further to the right, by multiple authors but based on true traditions passed down.

Further to the right - the words in the Torah are based on several different myths, held by different tribes, or sources, and assembled by an incompetent human editor, such that there are contradictions. The Torah is not from Sinai, is not from Moshe, is not from God, and is not Divinely inspired, but is rather an amalgam of fairy tales. This is more or less Higher Biblical Criticism.

Now, all of these steps along the continuum, save the first, involve violations of, at the least, the strict formulation of one of the Rambam's principles of faith. But you can see how each step is a more drastic violation than the previous. And, while you will find rabbis through the generations offering quote unquote heretical thoughts, these are but interesting pushing at the edges. Their contemporaries may think what they are saying is kefira, heresy, and in fact perhaps in certain cases it is. However, in these cases one might say that it is a matter of dispute - it is Reqem. (Note: See my post on "Commentators Who Live In Glass Houses," where Ibn Ezra thinks his own opinion on the authorship of certain psukim is true, while the opinion of Yitzchaki, further along the continuum, is heresy and should be burnt.)

However, at a specific point everyone will agree that certain beliefs are heretical, in that they deny God and the Torah. This far east, you are in Bavel, and definitely outside of Eretz Yisrael. I would say Higher and Lower Biblical criticism, as can be found in certain text such as the Anchor Bible, are definitely heretical.

Violations of the 13 Ikarei Emuna in Biblical Criticism

In fact, in Biblical Criticism you will find absolute denial of almost all of the 13 ikarei emuna.

Take the following list (note the source :), which is admittedly a non-exact approximation:

1. Belief in the existence of the Creator, be He blessed, who is perfect in every manner of existence and is the Primary Cause of all that exists.

Biblical criticism assumes the non-existence of God. As a result, miracles must be imagined or elaborations of regular occurences. If a prophet predicts something that can be confirmed in the historical record, they must have said (or recorded) it after the event, not before it. As a scientific discipline, it will not let the existence of God be considered seriously.

In terms of treating God in the Bible, they may well think that God as depicted in the Bible is not perfect.

2. The belief in God's absolute and unparalleled unity.

With the denial of #1, this principle cannot be held.

However, they might claim various pagan influences and sections of Torah, such as references to HaElohim in mishpatim referring to house gods as opposed to judges, and might claim that the Torah believes in the power of other gods.

They will also compare creation myths of other gods to the narrative found in perek 1 and perek 2 of bereishit (as well as in tehillim and various neviim). They would treat God as just another god.

3. The belief in God's non-corporeality, nor that He will be affected by any physical occurrences, such as movement, or rest, or dwelling.

With the denial of #1, this principle cannot be held.

However, they will point to psukim such as that in parshat Veyera as proving that God is understood to be corporeal.

4. The belief in God's eternity.

With the denial of #1, this principle cannot be held.

5. The imperative to worship Him exclusively and no foreign false gods.

With the denial of #1, this principle cannot be held.

They would admit that this imperative is found in the Torah.

6. The belief that God communicates with man through prophecy.

With the denial of #1, this principle cannot be held.

In fact, they treat prophecy as found in Tanach as myth or politically inspired falsehoods.

7. The belief that the prophecy of Moses our teacher has priority.

With the denial of #1, this principle cannot be held.
With the denial of #6, this principle cannot be held.

They do not think Moshe wrote the Torah, so what prophecy of Moshe our teacher? It is a poorly redacted composite of other, false, sources.

8. The belief in the divine origin of the Torah.

With the denial of #1, this principle cannot be held.

In fact, they do not think there was a divine origin of the Torah. According to Hirhurim, this also involved immutability of the psukim. If so, both Lower and Higher Biblical Criticism deny this.

9. The belief in the immutability of the Torah.

Again according to Hirhurim, this means:
1. That the Torah will never be abrogated, i.e. that the commandments will always be binding.
2. That there will never be a new Torah.
3. That nothing will be removed from the Torah.
4. That nothing will be added to it.
They would not treat the Torah as binding, being fiction.
Adding and removing from the Torah in this sense means commandments, and in fact they claim that various commandments were authored in different times in response to different realities or political/religious requirements, and that accounts for some of the differences between formulations in different books.

10. The belief in divine omniscience and providence.

With the denial of #1, this principle cannot be held.

They might well say that the Torah does depict lack of divine omnicience, as in e.g. Sodom, where God went down to see what was going on, or the Flood, where He had regret.

11. The belief in divine reward and retribution.

With the denial of #1, this principle cannot be held.

12. The belief in the arrival of the Messiah and the messianic era.

With the denial of #1, this principle cannot be held.

13. The belief in the resurrection of the dead.

With the denial of #1, this principle cannot be held.

In fact, you can read books on Bible that are predicated on the denial of all the ikarei emuna, principles of faith. And all of the people cited in Marc Shapiro's book, if they read such a book on Biblical criticism, would absolutely say it contains heresy.

Rabbi Parnes' Article

It is strange then, that the book is supposed to be a response to Rabbi Parnes. A while back, as I was reading the book, Eliyahu gave me the articles and letters to the editor to read, so that I would have appropriate context. And it struck me that Rabbi Parnes says X, and to disprove him Marc Shapiro should show NOT X, and instead he shows NOT Y.

Rabbi Parnes' article was a warning on unrestricted intellectual inquiry. He pointed out that the Rambam is held up as the paragon of the virtue of combining Torah and Maddah, yet the Rambam himself says that it is prohibited to read a book written by heretics containing heresy. Thus, we see that even the Rambam felt there were some limits.

This blow landed, and no matter how many examples you can bring, in an article and book, showing "heretical" beliefs, that you claim would render this inpractical, the Rambam still says this. Thus, the Rambam does indeed place a limit on intellectual inquiry. What exactly the Rambam meant by this, and what the exact parameters are, can be determined. But Rabbi Parnes made a valid point, one that is lost amid all the hubbub.

Rabbi Parnes then gave concrete examples of what he felt would constitute books written by heretics containing heresy. Among the examples he gave were (Lower and Higher Biblical Criticism), and evolution, agnosticism, cosmology, and determinism.

Now, I am not going to get into evolution, because this is perhaps resolvable as non-heretical (See Rav Slifkin's books - heh), and because it would take me too far afield, but I think that certain books on Lower and Higher Biblical Criticism are definitely written by heretics and contain heresy. This is not an emotional condemnation of such books, but rather a detached observation that they are definitely heretical, denying God, Torah, and almost the entirety of the 13 principles as formulated by the Rambam (as well as what is understood as articles of faith by almost every Jewish rabbi through the ages, including those mentioned in Shapiro's book), and very far along the continuum I might add.

Rabbi Parnes then made the unfortunate mistake of summing up (in a fairly innocuous sentence at the end - the second to last sentence of the article) by talking about heresy as that which goes against the 13 ikarei emuna as spelled out by the Rambam. He said: "Based on all of the above, Torah u-Madda can only be viable if it imposes strict limits on freedom of inquiry in areas that undermine the י"ג עיקרי אמונה."

This unfortunately gave Marc Shapiro a straw man to attack. For if you insist on the ikarei emuna specifically as formulated by the Rambam, well then, the Rambam formulates it differently in different places, so we are not sure what exactly they are. And others have minor divergences from a strict interpretation of that formulated by the Rambam.

After all, Rashi says (citing a gemara) that the last 8 pesukim of the Torah were written by Yehoshua. That would deny the principle, as interpreted most strictly, that Moshe received the entire Torah. As a result, we would not be able to read Rashi on the Torah and gemara. This is silly, and therefore Rabbi Parnes' article is silly.

The response should be that this is a dispute of the exact limits of acceptable Jewish theology. Rashi would agree that someone who thought the entire Torah was written by Ezra was a kofer. He would say that Higher Biblical criticism was kefira. And this violates the same principle of the Rambam. The difference is that Rashi holds that that vast majority of the Torah was written by Moshe - with the exception of the very end, only 8 psukim, which leads into sefer Yehoshua, were written by a Divinely inspired student of Moshe - Yehoshua.

This opinion cited by Rashi constitutes a major shock to some students in Intro to Bible at YU, but the fact is that it is an acceptable Jewish theological opinion. It is a minor violation of the principle - it is in Reqem territory. Higher Biblical Criticism is in Bavel, and is certainly kefira.

The answer, put another way, is that we do not, and have not, strictly adhered to the ikarei emuna as formulated by the Rambam. But, they do constitute a frame upon which the actual beliefs loosely hang. We more or less assume that Moshe wrote the Torah, and that the words of the Prophets are true, etc.. There is wiggle room, and occasional outright dismissal of a single principle. And, we see Rashi and accept that he is right, or perhaps wrong but not a kofer. (In other words, "Nu nu, what do you want, I am not being exact but speaking in general.")

However, Rabbi Parnes spoke of Biblical criticism, which violently dismisses all of the 13 principles, and is surely heretical, and should thus perhaps be avoided as the Rambam rules.

Learning Rashi, and thinking of ideas similar to that of Rashi, could well be within the "strict limits" on intellectual inquiry Rabbi Parnes mentioned.

Dr. Shapiro's book elaborates on his argument by showing a bunch of others that hold beliefs against what one would think acceptable based on a strict reading of the Rambam. But as Shapiro himself shows, the Rambam himself would be a kofer by the strict definition, and holds things which may be construed as violations.

Dr. Shapiro's point seems to be that the beliefs of Chazal are not as narrow as one might believe if one only had a yeshiva (or yeshiva high school) education. In that, he is absolutely correct, and it is an important point to convey.

However, one should not then take the next step and say that there must be no heresy, and anything goes. And the citing of one opinion early on the continuum does not justify opinions at the far end of it.

I still have two points to make:

Collecting Opinions

In another context, about psak, I heard a certain prominent rabbi say that normal people have quirks. It is the meshuggena (lunatic) who collects everyone else's quirks and takes them all upon himself. In the context of psak, this means that some Rishon or Acharon might have a weird opinion, or take on a specific issue, but that does not make them a meshuggena. The meshuggena is the one who takes the zany opinion from this one, and the strange interpretation from that one, and the quirky reading from the other one, in order to arrive at a totally kooked-out combined psak to permit what one wanted to permit.

We can transfer this to the realm of theology. More or less, Jewish theology approximates the 13 ikarei emuna. However, you occasionally have people with quirks. This one thinks God is corporeal. This one thinks specific psukim are written by Yehoshua. That one has a different conception of divine reward and punishment. The other one thinks mashiach has already come in the days of King Chizkiyahu and will not come in the future. They are all normal members of Chazal, with a quirk. It is the meshuggena who collects them all and tries to hold them all. Or, it is the historian.

I'm not calling Dr. Shapiro a meshuggena. However, I'm trying to make the point that individuals might have slightly quirky theological beliefs. But they are just that - quirks. In most instances, most of their contemporaries disagreed with them. The psychological effect of the book, which puts them all together, is that there is no mainstream theology, but rather anything goes, and went. Further, Biblical Criticism combines many of these violations, such that it is no longer a quirk.

Further, the fact that certain obscure or even prominent rabbis held something at some point of time does not automatically transform it into something acceptable in the mainstream. It may be a quirk, and should not influence and justify the mainstream.

I think Dr. Berger, who wrote The Rebbe, the Messiah, and the Scandal of Orthodox Indifference, would agree with me here, against Dr. Shapiro. After all, certain Lubavitchers have essentially argued that mashiach can come from the dead, or that a tzaddik (such as the Rebbe) can be the physical manifestation of God on earth, such that he can be prayed to. And they argue this based on obscure sources and point out that it is thus justified theologically and not heresy. But citing and combining obscure sources does not make for mainstream theology.

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parshablog is published by (rabbi) josh waxman (joshwaxman [at] yahoo [dot] com), a grad student in Revel, a grad student in a Phd program in computer science at CUNY. i recently received semicha from RIETS. this blog is devoted to parsha as well as whatever it is i am currently learning.