Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Covering One's Succah With the Arba Minim?

The Jewish Week had an interesting picture, recently, in honor of Succot. It showed Samaritans making their Succah.

As the article notes,
The Samaritans, thought to be descendants of Jews who were not sent into exile when the Assyrians conquered the land in the eighth century BCE, erect their sukkot inside their homes, with no separate walls, decorating the tops with all sorts of seasonal fruit, especially the Four Species that mainstream Jews shake during the holiday.
Some of the practice may be attributed to the fact that Samaritans do not accept the Oral Law, and thus will often interpret pesukim differently than we do. Thus, they are decorating the to
They make the roof of the Succah out of local seasonal fruits. This likely stems from interpreting velakachtem lachem as referring to the construction material for the schach, rather than as a mitzvah of Netilat Lulav.

Another aspect developed for another reason. Note they are building their Succah indoors, within their house. This is not due to some alternate intepretation of a pasuk, but rather because the outdoor Succah brought the wrath of local Arabs. See the article for more details.

What of this strange practice, of making a Succah from local produce?

Devarim 16:13 states:
יג חַג הַסֻּכֹּת תַּעֲשֶׂה לְךָ, שִׁבְעַת יָמִים: בְּאָסְפְּךָ--מִגָּרְנְךָ, וּמִיִּקְבֶךָ. 13 Thou shalt keep the feast of tabernacles seven days, after that thou hast gathered in from thy threshing-floor and from thy winepress.
which Chazal interpret that the Succot (and specifically the schach) should be made from בְּאָסְפְּךָ .מִגָּרְנְךָ, וּמִיִּקְבֶךָ

Meanwhile, a pasuk in Vayikra 23 states:

מ וּלְקַחְתֶּם לָכֶם בַּיּוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן, פְּרִי עֵץ הָדָר כַּפֹּת תְּמָרִים, וַעֲנַף עֵץ-עָבֹת, וְעַרְבֵי-נָחַל; וּשְׂמַחְתֶּם, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם--שִׁבְעַת יָמִים. 40 And ye shall take you on the first day the fruit of goodly trees, branches of palm-trees, and boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook, and ye shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days.
I personally believe that pashut peshat in the pasuk is exactly what we do, waving the lulav bundle (perhaps just as earlier in the perek there was an omer hatenufa).

However, perhaps one could interpret this as taking this produce for the purpose of building the succah.

The twist here is in Nechemiah 8:15, when they make a Succot festival.

יד וַיִּמְצְאוּ, כָּתוּב בַּתּוֹרָה: אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְהוָה בְּיַד-מֹשֶׁה, אֲשֶׁר יֵשְׁבוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל בַּסֻּכּוֹת בֶּחָג בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִי. 14 And they found written in the Law, how that the LORD had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh month;
טו וַאֲשֶׁר יַשְׁמִיעוּ, וְיַעֲבִירוּ קוֹל בְּכָל-עָרֵיהֶם וּבִירוּשָׁלִַם לֵאמֹר--צְאוּ הָהָר וְהָבִיאוּ עֲלֵי-זַיִת וַעֲלֵי-עֵץ שֶׁמֶן, וַעֲלֵי הֲדַס וַעֲלֵי תְמָרִים וַעֲלֵי עֵץ עָבֹת: לַעֲשֹׂת סֻכֹּת, כַּכָּתוּב. {פ} 15 and that they should publish and proclaim in all their cities, and in Jerusalem, saying: 'Go forth unto the mount, and fetch olive branches, and branches of wild olive, and myrtle branches, and palm branches, and branches of thick trees, to make booths, as it is written.' {P}
טז וַיֵּצְאוּ הָעָם, וַיָּבִיאוּ, וַיַּעֲשׂוּ לָהֶם סֻכּוֹת אִישׁ עַל-גַּגּוֹ וּבְחַצְרֹתֵיהֶם, וּבְחַצְרוֹת בֵּית הָאֱלֹהִים--וּבִרְחוֹב שַׁעַר הַמַּיִם, וּבִרְחוֹב שַׁעַר אֶפְרָיִם. 16 So the people went forth, and brought them, and made themselves booths, every one upon the roof of his house, and in their courts, and in the courts of the house of God, and in the broad place of the water gate, and in the broad place of the gate of Ephraim.
Troubling is the words צְאוּ הָהָר וְהָבִיאוּ עֲלֵי-זַיִת וַעֲלֵי-עֵץ שֶׁמֶן, וַעֲלֵי הֲדַס וַעֲלֵי תְמָרִים וַעֲלֵי עֵץ עָבֹת: לַעֲשֹׂת סֻכֹּת. The implication is that they took all these items to make booths, rather than taking them to wave. And of the things taken were וַעֲלֵי הֲדַס וַעֲלֵי תְמָרִים וַעֲלֵי עֵץ עָבֹת, which certainly sounds like things in the lulav bundle. But then, there is also the עֲלֵי-זַיִת וַעֲלֵי-עֵץ שֶׁמֶן. Perhaps we can associate the latter with the instruction of Devarim, of the produce of the goren and yekev, such that also oil pressings would be included?

At any rate, it would certainly seem at first glance that they are interpreting the pesukim in Vayikra to mean taking this produce to make the walls or the schach, with velakachtem in Vayikra being expressed by וְהָבִיאוּ.

Three ready answers:
3) To make "sukkot" means to make the festival of succot, the chag hasukkot, rather than the physical structures.
2) Just as we say by other instances, a Navi paskening halacha only has the status of a talmid chacham but not that of a Navi. And if they interpret pesukim that way, fine, but we have Tannaim who are batrai who interpreted the pesukim differently.
3) This is difficult to say, given that Ezra is supposed to be the scribe teaching all of Israel, but the pasuk 15 states וַיִּמְצְאוּ, כָּתוּב בַּתּוֹרָה. If we read this together with a literal reading of the later declaration that they had not had such a sukkot since the days of Yehoshua bin Nun (pasuk 17), then we could just they that they were simply ignorant, and did not know the correct interpretation of the pasuk.

Here is how Rashi interprets that pasuk in Nechemiah:

The pasuk:

15. And that they should announce and proclaim in all their cities and in Jerusalem, saying, "Go out to the mountain and bring olive leaves and leaves of oil trees, myrtle leaves, date palm leaves, and leaves of plaited trees, to make booths, as it is written."

Go forth unto the mount, and fetch olive branches, and branches of wild olive, and myrtle branches, and palm branches, and branches of thick trees, to make booths, as it is written.'
וַעֲלֵי הֲדַס וַעֲלֵי תְמָרִים וַעֲלֵי עֵץ עָבֹת: לַעֲשֹׂת סֻכֹּת, כַּכָּתוּב

And Rashi's comments:
And that they should announce And they commanded that they announce that they celebrate the Festival of Sukkoth, and so it is customary for Scripture to speak in this manner, like (I Sam. 9:27): “Tell the servant and he will go ahead of us.”
myrtle leaves וַעֲלֵי הֲדַס -- It is explained in Tractate Succah (12a) that this is a wild myrtle which is unfit for the lulav and only fit to make a sukkah.
date palm וַעֲלֵי תְמָרִים -- leaves for a lulav.
and leaves of plaited trees וַעֲלֵי עֵץ עָבֹת -- This is the myrtle that is fit for the lulav as is explained in Tractate Succah (ad loc.).

That gemara in Succah is here. The objection is that וַעֲלֵי עֵץ עָבֹת is understood to be hadas, but the pasuk in Nechemiah already mentioned וַעֲלֵי הֲדַס. So one is therefore the עלי הדס.

But is that all that Rashi is doing here? Explaining the seeming repetition of myrtle? Or by lelulav וַעֲלֵי תְמָרִים, for "for a lulav," and "myrtle fit for a lulav," is he stating some sort of dual role -- some of these items for a lulav, and some of these items for the sechach? It seems quite possible, in my estimation. But the one who suggests this dual role is Metzudat David. See inside for this, and for how he parses the pasuk.

Here is a link to the relevant page in a Mikraos Gedolos of Nechemiah. And the relevant meforshim are pictured to the right. Clicking on the picture will make it bigger and thus more readable.

So what now? Since the Samaritans have followed a literalist interpretation of the pesukim, I feel the urge to come out saying that we should avoid using these items for schach, not because they would be invalid for schach, but rather kedei lehotzi milibam shel Tzedukim.

Except I do not think there really is that much danger of us being drawn after the Samaritans in this day and age. On the other hand, Neo-Literalism and rejection of Chazal might be on the rise.

I would note that the article notes (about a different picture, not shown even there):
Two residents of Mea Shearim, below, drag palm tree branches to line the top of their sukkah.
Indeed, my year in Israel, in Har Nof, I recall dragging large palm branches to cover the Succah. And in Nechemiah, perhaps we are reading (or perhaps not) this that they used hadasim to cover their Succah, and maybe others of the arba minim as well. And a few weeks ago, I was reading in the sefer of Minhagim of the Maharil about how they covered their Succot in Aravot, which the children would burn in festivities at the end of Succot. So it is difficult to suggest this seriously. I don't know. But an interesting topic, nonetheless.

Note: Not intended halacha lemaaseh.

8 comments:

Berel Friedman said...

The Samaritan halachah is actually an opinion that is recorded in Chazal. R' Yehudah (in Sifra Emor and Bavli Sukkah 36b) holds that the schach can only be from the 4 minim, although his stated reason is far from a literalist reading.

joshwaxman said...

interesting. thanks! i'll check it out.

Lurker said...

Very interesting post (as are your two follow-up posts). I wish I had seen them earlier -- there's been a discussion of this very topic going on in a comment thread on DovBear.

A couple of comments:

However, perhaps one could interpret this [Vayikra 23:40] as taking this produce for the purpose of building the succah.

It should be noted that such an interpretation is strongly suggested by the fact that the instruction to "take" the arba minim on the first day (which does not include any explicit instruction regarding what to do with them) is almost immediately followed by the instruction to dwell in sukkot for seven days.

And of the things taken were וַעֲלֵי הֲדַס וַעֲלֵי תְמָרִים וַעֲלֵי עֵץ עָבֹת, which certainly sounds like things in the lulav bundle. But then, there is also the עֲלֵי-זַיִת וַעֲלֵי-עֵץ שֶׁמֶן. Perhaps we can associate the latter with the instruction of Devarim, of the produce of the goren and yekev, such that also oil pressings would be included?

A more likely explanation, IMHO, is that the Jews in the time of Ezra and Nehemia used olive branches (with the olives still on them), and branches from other oil-bearing fruits, as their interpretation of "פְּרִי עֵץ הָדָר". Thus, the list in Nehemia can be read as referring to the very things presribed in Vayikra.

If we read this together with a literal reading of the later declaration that they had not had such a sukkot since the days of Yehoshua bin Nun (pasuk 17), then we could just they that they were simply ignorant, and did not know the correct interpretation of the pasuk.

I wouldn't call them ignorant; I'd just say that they followed a different interpretation that the one given later by the tannaim. You seem to be suggesting that the tannaitic interpretation is the original and correct one, but that it was lost by the the time of Ezra and Nehemia -- and that even Ezra and Nehemia themselves were unaware of it. But if that's true, then how was this long-lost intepretation "rediscovered" in a later period?

And a few weeks ago, I was reading in the sefer of Minhagim of the Maharil about how they covered their Succot in Aravot, which the children would burn in festivities at the end of Succot.

This is quite interesting indeed, in light of the Samaritan custom to burn the sukkah's branches at the end of Sukkot (mentioned at the end of the Jewish Week article you cited).

A couple weeks ago on hol hamoed, Jameel and I visited the Samaritan community on Har Gerizim, where we had the opportunity to see (and photograph) some of the Samaritan sukkot. You can see the pictures here. (I'm the guy with the green head :-)

joshwaxman said...

Thanks. And good points.

1) Taking: Indeed. And as the Karaites note, we have an idea of "taking" by Pesach, where it is also the first day.

2) Olives: And indeed, the Karaite Aharon ben Yosef suggests the same idea, saying "o yihyeh etz hadar hu hanizkar beEzra alei zayit."

3) Ignorance: Indeed, the different interpretation offered by the Karaites, or quite likely by the Tanna Rabbi Yehuda. But if we want to be extremely committed Pharisees, we can still maintain that that interpretation was incorrect. As to the rediscovery in this scenario, I could come up with two answers: (1) While Ezra and Nechemiah were great leaders and good at kiruv, perhaps the real talmidei chachamim who knew this tradition were back in Bavel; (2) There is already an idea of restoring forgotten original halachot, mentioned in a midrash that in the days of mourning for Moshe Rabbenu, thousands of halachot were lost, but Otniel ben Kenaz restored them with his dialectics. See here:
http://books.google.com/books?id=Hmvdv6YU13UC&pg=PA62&lpg=PA62&dq=mourning+moshe+restored+laws&source=bl&ots=mZJphyvhZD&sig=Pg36WXLjZ7lFfxs0BV8LEVWprN0&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=1&ct=result
Indeed, the different interpretations here also have their own dialectics, though each can be read into peshat in the various sources.

4) Maharil: Indeed very interesting. Perhaps I'll put up another post in the series with the relevant Maharil.

Kol Tuv,
Josh

Anonymous said...

Shalom lakhem.

What of this strange practice, of making a Succah from local produce?

Comment:
Has it ever occurred to you that the reason for your viewpoint is that you're accustomed to the Rabbinic interpretation and never tried to interpret the verses independently?

I personally believe that pashut peshat in the pasuk is exactly what we do, waving the lulav bundle (perhaps just as earlier in the perek there was an omer hatenufa).

Comment:
Everyone is entitled to their beliefs and opinions, but not to their own sets of facts.
If your interpretation were correct, the Torah would have commanded "we-ni`anatem" (= you shall wave).
Unfortunately you have a seriously flawed idea of what Peshat is. Putting it mildly...

Your post betrays a poignantly feeble and pathetic attempt to avoid the obvious by way of clinging to Rabbinic hermeneutical methods, exposing the worst facets of Rabbinic thought in the process, eg the childish attitude of avoiding the adoptation of certain interpretations just so as to avoid the appearance of agreeing with the rivals of the Pharisees in olden times.


Sincerely,
a caring Jew

Anonymous said...

Shalom Josh Waxman.

Ignorance: Indeed, the different interpretation offered by the Karaites, or quite likely by the Tanna Rabbi Yehuda. But if we want to be extremely committed Pharisees, we can still maintain that that interpretation was incorrect. As to the rediscovery in this scenario, I could come up with two answers

Comment:
I submit that the ignorance is on the part of you people, the modern-day Pharisees.
You (pl.) arrogantly refuse to seriously consider that the original interpretation for the "taking" was to take the Four Species solely for making the skhakh, and that this interpretation was never forgotten -- just not carried out most or many years between Yehoshu`a and `Ezra.

Your (pl.) almost Pavlovian resort to all those fairy tales (including but not limited to midrashim) you (pl.) need to resort to to justify your Halakhic views on this topic goes a long way to explain why only about 20% of Jewry in North America are Orthodox. If the Qaraite Jewish point of view had had a broad hearing in the Jewish World, your p.o.v on this theme would likely have been squeezed into a minority position in the practicing Jewish arena.


Sincerely,
a caring Jew

joshwaxman said...

"Has it ever occurred to you..."

you obviously do not know me.

KT,
Josh

joshwaxman said...

As a short followup, just to demonstrate that answers exist:

"If your interpretation were correct, the Torah would have commanded "we-ni`anatem" (= you shall wave)."
If only every pasuk were unambiguous, then you might be absolutely correct. But do you really claim to be able to write Biblical verse, to be able to dictate which lexical choice Moshe should have made. Rather, there are *many* ambiguous verses, which lend themselves to more than one interpretation. And for each of those, someone can say "if X was intended, it would have said explicitly X." And the other can rejoin "if Y was intended, it would have said explicitly Y." But there are idioms in every language, and ambiguous language, and words which change their meaning. E.g. I could say "if it meant on the head-pate," it would have said "upon your kodkod" rather that "bein einecha." But we all know now that this is precisely what "bein einecha" means, now that we have the Chronicles of Baal. So yes, it would have been *clearer*, but that does not mean that its absence means *absolutely* that "velakachtem" does not mean that they should take for the purpose of shaking, or that they should take up. (Also, though this is obviously later, I would note the taking up of palm fronds and shaking them as noisemakers in joy in Christian practice and Chashmonean practice.)

"Unfortunately you have a seriously flawed idea of what Peshat is. Putting it mildly"

As I noted earlier, you do not know me, or what my conception of peshat is, except from one or two short blogposts which you objected strongly to. I certainly know methods of peshat as distinguished from midrashic methods. By insulting me like this, you lay claim to expertise in peshat yourself, without any evidence that this is so. Indeed, it seems likely to me that I read more deeply than you do. And also that you do not fully understand what it is I am doing here.

However, one idea that I have developed (and IIRC parallels something Halivni wrote) and have seen in certain scenarios, is that what is presented using classic *midrashic* methods as the meaning of the text actually accords with *a* reading of the Biblical text, albeit not one that is obvious at first glance. This is not "clinging to Rabbinic hermeneutical methods" as a means of reading peshat, even as they are indeed binding as halacha.

And what I am trying to do hear is seriously consider the established Pharisaic position (among others) and see how they may have read the relevant verses on a peshat level.

Here, by the way, is a small sampling of posts on parshablog which will either gratify or deeply annoy you:

A post (not the only one) about וְהֶחֱזִיקָה בִּמְבֻשָׁיו.
A post on capital punishment based on the testimony of two or three witnesses.
A post presenting Shadal's take on tithes.

KT,
Josh

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