Monday, March 31, 2008

The Authenticity of the Zohar -- pt xiv

Shadal continues his Vikuach al Chochmat haKabbalah. (See previous segment.) The guest now puts forth that peshat was primary for Chazal, and the Geonim and then medieval commentators advanced it. But now, due to kabbalistic influence, the knowledge and study of peshat is degraded and neglected, in favor of nonsensical commentaries involving gematriot and the like. Thus the study of the Zohar has not brought about "redemption," as had been promised. The text of the Vikuach continues:

The author: "You have overstepped your bounds, for I see that you repeat your wrongdoing, for ten times I have told you to stop it up within you, for I do not want these. And now, let us go to the house of Hashem."

And we went to the house of prayer together, and we sat together in that house, and we returned to the food to eat, and it was at the table that the man spoke up and said: Our early Sages only relied on the peshat of
Scriptures, and only it did they expound mostly, and if they said explanations which could not work based on the peshat, they only said them by way of support {asmachta} to make it easier to remember {=a mnemonic device} or to impose awe upon the ignorant, so that they would not disparage the few edicts which were only in truth words of the scribes {=Rabbinic}.

And if they said as well many things of aggada, they did not make it primary, and they explicitly said that it was not reliable, and they did not disparage one who did not engage in them.

And after a time, at the end of the days of the Geonim, the Sages of Israel began to deepen the investigation in settling the Scriptures according to their simple meaning.

Rashi z"l pushed off the aggada many times, when he found that it did not sit wall on the language of the Scripture, and so too after him did Rashbam his grandson, and Ibn Ezra and Radak and the Ramban. And before this, Rabbenu Saadia Gaon, Rabbenu Chananel, Menachem ben Saruk and Dunash ben Labrat, and after them Rabbi Yehuda Chayyuj, Rabbi Yonah ben Janach, Rabbi Moshe haKohen, and Rabbi Yehudah ben Bilaam, all of them great pashtanim, who shone a great light on the simple meaning of Scriptures, and they returned the crown of the Torah to its former glory, and these were the heads of the commentators both in time and in significance, and there is not found by them a mention or hint to the remazim and sodot and acronyms and gematriot, and all the other dreams and nonsenses which they appoint.

And the first who began to speak about these, behold it was the Ramban, who was the last of all of them chronologically, and he also speaks fairly little about these matters. But after the sefer haZohar was revealed, immediately the lamp of wisdom was extinguished {/faded} from amidst Israel, and the knowledge of the peshat of Scripture continuously degraded, and the love of the truth went missing, and men of intelligence are despised and considered repulsive, with their heads covered up and choosing absolute silence for themselves, and the earth is filled with faulty derashot, and the Torah is girded with worn out rags, and they abuse it not in its normal way, men who are honored with its disgrace and the disgrace of its Giver, may He Be Blessed. And upon it arise {?} a multitude of their nonsenses and dreams, and the thoughts are garbled, the hearts are spoiled, the eyes are blinded, darkness it placed to be light and light to darkness, and whoever increases in relating the going out from the peshat, he is praiseworthy. { A play on lesaper biytziat mitzrayim.} This is the first "redemption" which the sefer haZohar has brought us.

Interesting Posts and Articles #17

  1. The perils of researching on the Internet, via PreTeena.
  2. A twentieth century forgery of an Aramaic Essene enema instruction text, with a reinterpretation of Matthew 23:27-28 as reapplied to colonic irrigation. Heh.
  3. Reuters:
    New evidence of a sick, deprived population working under harsh conditions contradicts earlier images of wealth and abundance from the art records of the ancient Egyptian city of Tell el-Amarna, a study has found.
  4. There's nothing funny about prison rape
  5. Death by 1000 PaperCuts notes the story of a Saudi man who murdered his daughter for using Facebook.
  6. I don't think this maaseh is true, but at least it is strange. Dixie Yid looks for suggestions of what the maaseh is trying to teach.
  7. Sodom and Gemorrah destroyed in an asteroid strike?

11 For a Minyan??

Update: Chaptzem reports on a possible new takkanah in Lakewood requiring 11 for a minyan. I fell for it. I wasn't expecting April Fools jokes until tomorrow.


At least I really hope so.

Older post:
Chaptzem reports that Lakewood may implement a takana requiring 11 people for a minyan. I hope this rumor is belated Purim Torah, or a joke in honor of April 1st, tomorrow, or just a nonsense rumor. There is an unfortunate recent trend of taking one or two high-profile anecdotal incidents and making major changes in halacha on their basis, in the direction of chumra. What comes to mind are the new kashrus takkanos on the basis of one or two incidents, never mind the idea of a chezkas kashrus, which is a chazaka which we are allowed to rely upon, not a guarantee of metzius. I am sure that this fellow is not the first person to claim to be Jewish when he is not. Even the gemara records the case of the gentile who pretended to be Jewish, who was trapped by Rabbi Yehuda ben Beseira into asking for the fat-tail, the choicest piece of meat. Yet after this incident, the Talmud does not institute a requirement for 11 people for a minyan.

Even if there is one such individual who does this, this does not mean it is a widespread phenomenon. We can surely still rely on a chazaka that a person is who he says he is. (I have heard of other cases where two gentile shnorrers were taught by other shnorrers to act Jewish, so as to collect money in shuls, and who participated in a minyan.)

Perhaps some additional reason not to worry: The rule is that 9 which looks like 10 is really halachically acceptable, IIRC. But we are not sure if this means scattered, or grouped together, so practically, we never act on it. Perhaps we can say that ten people, and one is not-really Jewish, but everyone thinks he is, is also a case of nine that looks like ten... But I can't even track down the gemara that says this at the moment.

Another problem: We (or rather, they in Lakewood) would no longer be able to use the pasuk "Hoshia es amecha..." to count a minyan. What nice pesukim have eleven words in them?

Tazria: Dam Tohar

Important Note: If you are looking for practical halachic advice, to not base yourself on this post. Move on to other results on Google. Or better yet, consult your local Orthodox rabbi.

Something which annoys me, in this week's parsha, but is perhaps a good paradigm for how halacha sometimes develops. From Vayikra 12:
א וַיְדַבֵּר ה, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר. 1 And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying:
ב דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, לֵאמֹר, אִשָּׁה כִּי תַזְרִיעַ, וְיָלְדָה זָכָר--וְטָמְאָה שִׁבְעַת יָמִים, כִּימֵי נִדַּת דְּו‍ֹתָהּ תִּטְמָא. 2 Speak unto the children of Israel, saying: If a woman be delivered, and bear a man-child, then she shall be unclean seven days; as in the days of the impurity of her sickness shall she be unclean.
ג וּבַיּוֹם, הַשְּׁמִינִי, יִמּוֹל, בְּשַׂר עָרְלָתוֹ. 3 And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.
ד וּשְׁלֹשִׁים יוֹם וּשְׁלֹשֶׁת יָמִים, תֵּשֵׁב בִּדְמֵי טָהֳרָה; בְּכָל-קֹדֶשׁ לֹא-תִגָּע, וְאֶל-הַמִּקְדָּשׁ לֹא תָבֹא, עַד-מְלֹאת, יְמֵי טָהֳרָהּ. 4 And she shall continue in the blood of purification three and thirty days; she shall touch no hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purification be fulfilled.

Thus, there is a concept of dam tohar, blood of purification. Is this blood that she must endure before she becomes pure to her husband, or is it blood which is not dam niddah and thus she is pure to her husband. The Tzidukkim / Karaites I believe said the former, and Chazal said the latter. Thus, dam tohar is permitted.

Indeed, this features into a famous statement of Yalta that for every forbidden thing, there is a parallel permitted thing. And the parallel to dam niddah is dam tohar.

We read in Chullin 109b:
אמרה ליה ילתא לרב נחמן מכדי כל דאסר לן רחמנא שרא לן כוותיה אסר לן דמא שרא לן כבדא נדה דם טוהר חלב בהמה חלב חיה חזיר מוחא דשיבוטא גירותא לישנא דכוורא אשת איש גרושה בחיי בעלה אשת אח יבמה כותית יפת תאר

Yet there are, of course, "difficulties." Here is a good writeup, much better than I am offering here, at Virtual Beis Medrash. First, despite the fact that this was a Karaitic practice, some Jews in some communities decided to adopt this stringency. Rambam attacks this, correctly. But this is one trend in which stringencies over and above -- and contradictory to -- Rabbinic law arise. Yet Rivash, cited by Rema, defends the practice, as they know it is a stringency rather than halacha. This is the second trend, in which any mistaken stringency can be defended as a chumra. And then a minhag in those communities which one cannot overturn it. Yet there is something I find troubling, about how Yalta's statement reflecting Talmudic halachic practice was overturned by post-Talmudic chumra or Karaitic reading. Nor am I convinced that they meant it only as a "stringency."

Aside from this, there is the fact that practically, a woman who gives birth to a male will likely have almost no yemei tohar, and quite possibly a yoledet nekeiva would have none either. This is due to a third trend, in which principles are overextended and then overlap one another.

I don't see this particular one (about petichat hakever not possible without a drop of blood) in the summary, and I guess I could have invented all this in my mind, but anyway, I will lead with it:

That is, Rabbi Zera records that women took upon themselves to sit seven clean days for even a drop of blood the size of a mustard seed (which would not require it). Add to this the statement that the womb does not open without there being a tipat dam kechardal. Then every woman gives birth from this state of niddah. (Or, as will follow, the period of niddah immediately after pregnancy will assume the status of zivah.) But the Talmud distinguishes between a woman who gives birth from a state of niddah and one who gave birth from a state of zavah. {See for example Niddah 8b, 30a, 35b, etc, with no hint that now that Rabbi Zera made his statement, the practical difference has been removed.} And since women accepted to be so stringent, we then treat all such women as if they entered from a state of zavah.

(I am very unconvinced this is the correct reading and overlap. Namely, it is hard to understand practical differences between Rav and Levi on 35b (as the question is "mai beinayhu"), though Rav preceded Rabbi Zera and thus perhaps this situation. But I also don't think this was the intent of women who adopted the stringency of waiting like a zavah, that it should have all the stringencies of a zava, even by pregnancy, with all the differing situations and halachot, where the time is more fixed and less susceptible to confusion, and with all these unanticipated repercussions. And further, women treating something like dam ziva does not mean that it must assume the halachic status of such, complicating other situations.)

There is another issue yielding the same result, noted in the article -- the pesukim call these first days the days of her niddah, such that with or without blood, she would be considered a niddah. And if so, and we treat niddah as zavah (despite this clear fixed end) based on Rabbi Zera, she needs seven clean days. And perhaps, dam tohar is not considered a clean day. (Or perhaps since it is dam, though dam tohar, they would even treat it as dam niddah - though I think that it is very problematic to assert this (as Taz does), since Yalta, the wife of Rav Nachman, was later -- after Rabbi Zera made his statement, and she made a statement about how dam tohar was permitted.) And women after childbirth often continuously bleed, it is often unlikely that anytime during this time span of demei tohar will the "niddah" {/"zava"} status be lifted. And add on top of that harchakot.

Read the linked-to article for more specific details on positions.

Do not act on this. I am not treating this in all its detail, and I likely missed out on some all-important points. This is rather off the cuff from a read-up of some of the sugya and development a few months back. But it annoys me how one chumra (in this case, promoted to halacha) overlaps and interacts with other halachot and still other halachot, to end up with us painted into a corner that was never intended, and which seems to go against the spirit of both the Torah text and the Talmudic text. And if it were just this one law, hecherashti, because the tzaar would not be shoveh benezek hamelech. But this same pattern repeats, over and over, in many other contexts.

Again, I stress: not halacha lemaaseh. Just a rant.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Discussion of False Attrbution in Don Quixote?

I was reading the author's preface to Cervantes' Don Quixote, and I saw the following interesting exchange:
[T]here came in unexpectedly a certain lively, clever friend of mine, who, seeing me so deep in thought, asked the reason; to which I, making no mystery of it, answered that I was thinking of the Preface I had to make for the story of "Don Quixote," which so troubled me that I had a mind not to make any at all, nor even publish the achievements of so noble a knight.


Also my book must do without sonnets at the beginning, at least sonnets whose authors are dukes, marquises, counts, bishops, ladies, or famous poets. Though if I were to ask two or three obliging friends, I know they would give me them, and such as the productions of those that have the highest reputation in our Spain could not equal.


To which he made answer, "Your first difficulty about the sonnets, epigrams, or complimentary verses which you want for the beginning, and which ought to be by persons of importance and rank, can be removed if you yourself take a little trouble to make them; you can afterwards baptise them, and put any name you like to them, fathering them on Prester John of the Indies or the Emperor of Trebizond, who, to my knowledge, were said to have been famous poets: and even if they were not, and any pedants or bachelors should attack you and question the fact, never care two maravedis for that, for even if they prove a lie against you they cannot cut off the hand you wrote it with.
I wonder if this was indeed occasional practice. Cervantes did follow through on this "friend's" advice -- he has "some commendatory verses" by "Urganda the Unknown," "Amadis of Gaul," Don Belianis of Greece, attributed to fictional characters from the genre.

The Authenticity of the Zohar -- pt xiii

Shadal continues his Vikuach al Chochmat haKabbalah. (See previous segment.) Replying to the author's assertion that kabbalah took people away from the heresies of philosophy, the guest says that the kabbalah's invention was intended to good purpose, but did more damage than the philosophers, since it took people away from peshat. Chazal were engaged in peshat, but the Tikkunei Zohar denigrates peshat, and drives people away from it and towards nonsensical divrei Torah involving gematriot and the like. And further, it causes people to discuss sacrilegious topics about the nature of God. The text of the Vikuach follows:

The guest: My word is already said, that the Rishonim who invented from their own heart the wisdom of the kabbalah intended well.

But what will you say when I see that they did more damage than the philosophers?

Do you have anything which degrades the Torah more that the sefer haZohar which says that one who says that that the simple meaning {peshutah} of the Torah is the Torah itself, may his spirit be blasted, and he does not have a portion in the World to Come (chelek 3, page 152). And in another place it says that the peshat is the chaff of the Torah (Tikkunei Zohar Chadash, page 34). And in the beginning of the preface of the Tikkunim, he mocks those who engage in Scripture and calls them "eggs." {?}

And behold, we see that our Sages z"l only engaged in the peshat, and if they say also matters of aggada, they did not make them the primary, but rather they explicitly said "and are aggadot a reliable {?} ?"

And they said that the Scripture does not go out of its simple meaning, and when they came to respond to the faulty expositions which Menasheh ben Chizkiyah expounded -- and did Moshe have nothing better to do that write "and the sister of Lotan was Timna" -- they did not answer him on the way of sod {secret / mysticism}, but rather in the way of peshat. {See Sanherin 99.}

And in the matter of the precepts, I have already said before you the words of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai to his students: "By your lives! The corpse does not transmit impurity nor does the {red} heifer render pure, nor does the water render pure. {Rather, it is Hashem's wish that we conduct ourselves as if they do, such that it is a construct rather than reality.} Thus it is clear how far they were from the path of sod.

Also, in perek Ain Dorshin, when they came to speak a word in the matter of the Work of Creation and the Work of the Chariot, they brought a proof to their words from the peshat of the verses, or from the derash. But based on remez or sod, they did not say a word or half a word.

And behold, according to the words of the Zohar, they were all fools and "eggs," and their souls were blasted, and they do not have a portion in the world to come.

The author: Forfend to say like this about our Sages, z"l. For just the opposite. They were the ones who transmitted to us, in the sefer haZohar, and in Oral kabbalah, all the wonders of wisdom. But that which they did not wish to speak about in the Mishna and the Talmud, which are things equal to everyone.

Do you not know what they said about the {Divine} Name consisting of 12 letters and consisting of 42 letters? Behold there was by them sodot {secrets}, even though they did not explain them in the Talmud.

The guest: Even if you find to say they they had sodot by them, that which I will not deny, and I will only deny that they had by them sodot like the kabbalists in our days. Still, you will not find to them that they despised engaging in peshat, and he was not despised in their eyes one who did not desire sodot, like that Sage who said {in Chagiga 13a, when he declined to learn Maaseh Merkava} "I am still not old enough," even though he had an appropriate teacher to learn from.

Is this not the aim of my words which I have spoke, that the sefer haZohar caused the distancing of the Sages of Israel from engaging in the knowledge of the substance of Torah, which is the peshat, in order to know and understand the many piles and piles of halachot which depend on every single word and every single letter, according to the depth of the wisdom

of the language. And it caused them to waste their time and intellect in dreams and nonsense, and many things which do not have any substance, such as gematriot, acronyms, and other matters, which, if they are mentioned at times even in the Talmud, are only brought as a way of mere support {asmachta}, not to build upon them an insipid building, nor to believe that they were inspired in this {?} by the Divine Inspiration which spoke in the mouth of the prophets.

And the second thing which the sefer haZohar caused is the throwing off the yoke of fear of heaven from the necks of the Sages of Israel, until they did not have mercy upon the honor of their Creator. And they asked and answered, and wrote and printed about what is above, what is below, what is before, and what is after. And upon the God of gods {?} they speak and record with pride and and swelled heart, how He created his world, and how He conducts it, and how He contracted Himself to create it, and how he infused {?} worlds from His Essence, and how His Essence becomes joined with the worlds He infused, and how One is Ten and Ten is One, and how the soul is literally a portion of the Deity, and how the world is all a portion of the Deity, and how the works of flesh and blood have power in them to detract from and to damage the upper worlds, and similar things to these, whoever has a God, the hairs on his body stand on end when he reads them in a sefer, and specifically when he sees that those who are speaking in these matters are empty and missing the wisdom of common sense {/logic?}, and from all the required prefaces not only for such lofty investigations, but even for the littlest of the investigations. And on all of it, when he said how their is no accord among them in the foundations of their wisdom, and all of them grope the wall like blind men in matters upon which all depends, and based on this they strive to maintain two opposites in one issue, and that they say things which have no understanding at all. And the intelligent one who understands will only find their words blasphemies and sacrileges.

Coins of Rabbi Elimelech of Lizensk -- Updated

Note: See update on the bottom.

My brother forwarded me an interesting email he received, which read in part:
Did you know....

The rebbe promised all that would support his descendants in a financial manner that they would not lack in spiritual and moral support from Hashem, and that he will personally do them a favor from Gan-Eden.

How about sending your support today

BT”W Did you ever hear about the Coins of Lizensk

I checked out the website, and saw the segulah they are selling there. I wrote to the webmaster (based in Brooklyn) for some clarification of a few matters, and may update this post if I get a response.

(Still Wondering also saw this site, and needs help making a decision...)

Basically, they are selling three coins, a bronze coin for $20, a silver coin for $50, a gold coin for $100, or all three for $150.

To elaborate on the idea behind the coins, the following explanations are available on the website:

The Rebbe R’ Elimelech fervently prayed to Hashem, that his descendants should behold poverty, and never attain wealth. In this way, Klal Yisroel would get the merit of supporting them and in return they would receive untold blessings.

The esteemed Sanzer Rav declared that Moshiach at the redemption will ask us all if we shared our prosperity with the Rebbe R’ Elimelech’s offspring, as is well known that the tzaddik was Mevetal the Chevlei Mushiach.

Matbeyos Lizensk are magnificently hand drawn, newly minted coins, with the tzaddik's name embossed and his Tzion beautifully depicted. The proceeds of these matbayos go directly to support the tzaddik's grandchildren. Gedolai Hador explicitly endorsed the coins, adding that they would provide Sgula, Shmura, Hatzlacha and Kol Tuv and thereby confirmed the legitimacy of the Tzedakah causes. These attractive matbayos are now available to the public for the sum of $18 or higher. The matbayo is sure to invite all the promised blessings of the holy tzaddik, and those of the gedolai hador into your home for many years to come.
Elsewhere, it says "great talisman for success and protection."

Elsewhere: "The holy Tzadik promised: 'whoever will help my grandchildren, I will return the favor from Olam Habu.' "

Very interesting, but I have a number of questions, and issues with this. #6 and #7 are my real concerns:

1. First, did he mean grandchildren or all descendants? The website alternates. Presumably all descendants are meant. This would be necessary, for the Noam Elimelech passed on in 1786, so the descendants today would be great great great ... grandchildren. After all, the Kaliver Rebbe is "
Seventh in a direct paternal line to the Founder of the Dynasty, Rabbi Yitzchak Izak of Kaliv, a Disciple of the Rebbe Reb Elimelech of Lizensk." So we may well we talking at least seven generations. (For how many generations did he mean? At some point, almost every Jewish person in the world will be a descendant.)

2. This brings us to the second point. I don't know how many of his descendants are around today -- the Holocaust probably had an impact, but seven generations is enough time for a family tree to grow exponentially. I suppose supporting any of them would do.

3. "The Rebbe R’ Elimelech fervently prayed to Hashem, that his descendants should behold poverty, and never attain wealth." Did this prayer work? Is it true that none of his descendants attained wealth? I don't know. This is a factual question. But e.g. is the Melitzer Rebbe wealthy, or is he a pauper who relies on others to sustain him? And if that prayer did not hold, how confident should we be in the promise which is predicated on the prayer? (Assuming that tzaddikim have the power to promise supernatural rewards beyond the grave.)

4. We could ask this of any tzedaka, I am sure, but are the people being supported by this tzedaka capable of working, or did misfortune befall them? There are issues with casting oneself upon the community to be supported. Learning in kollel while doing this is a matter of dispute. There is the temptation here not to work and to be supported by people who want the segulah effects, which probably is not what the Noam Elimelech wanted. Organizing a whole segulah practice for such continued support seems to be working the system. But more likely, certain descendants fell on hard times, and kept track of yichus, and someone decided to bring these havtachos into play to assist them.

5. What is meant by the "proceeds of these matbeyos?" And which descendants? I am not trying to allege anything. It is just something that would be best clarified -- who the recipients are, what their financial state is, how much administrative costs, etc., who the person running the site is (the last of which is accessible via a whois search). Not just a webpage with two glossy pages, one of which is an order form for taking credit cards.

6. If we consider it carefully, the segulah as initially drafted has nothing to do with coins. It has to do with reward (promised by a rebbe) for tzedaka to his grandchildren. But minting coins with the rebbe's name and stating they are a talisman is not what he intended. Let us say someone buys these coins, gives them as a gift, and they are regifted over an over. Should they function as a segulah for the last person? Obviously not. But the presentation, and the concretization in the form of a coin, instead of as an act, promotes superstitious Judaism, which is not a good thing.

7. What exactly did the "Gedolim" say? I would like to know their names, their exact words, and the exact context in which this was posed to them. I have seen enough flyers from Kupat haIr and the like to see how the organizers of these things manipulate and extract statements from Gedolim such as Rav Elyashiv. (More on this in a later post, bli neder, about "gabbaim on the level of Rabbi Chanina ben Teradion" and "open miracles" as opposed to mere "yeshuos.") I therefore suspect any such statements and take them with more than a grain of salt. But this is the support for transforming the coins into talismans.

All in all, check out the site, find out more, perhaps donate if you determine it is a worthy cause. But I take issue with the creation of this modern segulah, or at least modern spin on this segulah, though it is interesting genesis.

Update: From this week's "My Machberes" column, we find out more about this segulah.
Recently, with the upsurge of the observance of the Noam Elimelech’s yahrzeit and individuals and groups from all over the world visiting his Ohel (burial chamber) all year-round, several chassidishe activists have undertaken to assist descendants of the Noam Elimelech who are in great need. In consultation with leading chassidishe rebbes, a decision had been made to mint and distribute Noam Elimelech coins.

The obverse (head) of the coin has an engraving of the Noam Elimelech’s monument enveloped in a flame of fire. This corresponds to the legend of the Rabbi Yisroel Baal Shem Tov, zt”l (1698-1760), founder of the Chassidic movement, revealing himself to the Noam Elimelech at that specific place.


The obverse of the coin also includes our opening quote attributed to the Ropshitzer Rebbe and the Divrei Chaim. The reverse (tail) of the coin has the given name of the Noam Elimelech as well as that of his father. Earlier kameios (handwritten amulets) of great chassidishe rebbes often contained the names of the Noam Elimelech and his father. Chassidishe tradition invests great strength in the names of tzaddikim, and in the name of the Noam Elimelech in particular.
The first distribution of the coins took place at the Ohel of the Noam Elimelech on 21 Adar I, his yahrzeit observance, Motzaei Shabbos Parshas Ki Sisa, February 22, 2003, to each contributor of $18.00 or more. Since many in attendance acquired coins for their spouses, children, relatives, and close friends, the supply was quickly depleted. An additional quantity had been issued and was distributed at the Ohel.
The purpose of the special coin was to generate continued financial support for needy descendants of the Noam Elimelech. The coins were blessed by the Bobover Rebbe, zt”l, Pshevorsker Rebbe, zt”l, and the Toldos Avrohom Yitzchok Rebbe, zt”l, and L’hibadel L’Chaim, the Tasher Rebbe. The coin is named matbe’a shel aish (coin of fire), to serve as an amulet for protection and for good fortune. This year, the coins will again be available to those making a donation immediately prior to entering the Ohel.
Read it all -- there is more. So this is not a new phenomenon, but dates to 2003. Though this is not at the Ohel, and rather than the bronze coins being $18 (as they are at the Ohel and on one text on the website) they are $20. And perhaps this is a new thing of the $50 silver and the $100 gold coins. We also see the names of the rabbinic supporters, though "chassidic activists" came up with the idea, which gives me the same pause as before. And we see that they consider the name of Rabbi Elimelech itself to be a name of power.

I will say this forthrightly -- even with Rabbinic approval from these chassidic Rebbes, I still think it is a really bad idea -- one that is superstitious and promotes superstition. Then again, I am most certainly a misnaged.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Shemini/Beshalach: "This Is That Which the LORD Hath Spoken"

Within parshat Beshalach, the man falls every day, and each person collects one portion for each member of his family. But on Friday somehow they end up with twice as much.
כב וַיְהִי בַּיּוֹם הַשִּׁשִּׁי, לָקְטוּ לֶחֶם מִשְׁנֶה--שְׁנֵי הָעֹמֶר, לָאֶחָד; וַיָּבֹאוּ כָּל-נְשִׂיאֵי הָעֵדָה, וַיַּגִּידוּ לְמֹשֶׁה. 22 And it came to pass that on the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for each one; and all the rulers of the congregation came and told Moses.
כג וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם, הוּא אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר ה--שַׁבָּתוֹן שַׁבַּת-קֹדֶשׁ לַה, מָחָר: אֵת אֲשֶׁר-תֹּאפוּ אֵפוּ, וְאֵת אֲשֶׁר-תְּבַשְּׁלוּ בַּשֵּׁלוּ, וְאֵת כָּל-הָעֹדֵף, הַנִּיחוּ לָכֶם לְמִשְׁמֶרֶת עַד-הַבֹּקֶר. 23 And he said unto them: 'This is that which the LORD hath spoken: To-morrow is a solemn rest, a holy sabbath unto the LORD. Bake that which ye will bake, and seethe that which ye will seethe; and all that remaineth over lay up for you to be kept until the morning.'
What is meant by הוּא אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר ה? The implication is that this situation is what Hashem said earlier, rather than this being a new speech, and that this is something they should know. But where did Hashem say it earlier?

Well, in pasuk 5:
ד וַיֹּאמֶר ה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, הִנְנִי מַמְטִיר לָכֶם לֶחֶם מִן-הַשָּׁמָיִם; וְיָצָא הָעָם וְלָקְטוּ דְּבַר-יוֹם בְּיוֹמוֹ, לְמַעַן אֲנַסֶּנּוּ הֲיֵלֵךְ בְּתוֹרָתִי אִם-לֹא. 4 Then said the LORD unto Moses: 'Behold, I will cause to rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day's portion every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in My law, or not.
ה וְהָיָה בַּיּוֹם הַשִּׁשִּׁי, וְהֵכִינוּ אֵת אֲשֶׁר-יָבִיאוּ; וְהָיָה מִשְׁנֶה, עַל אֲשֶׁר-יִלְקְטוּ יוֹם יוֹם. 5 And it shall come to pass on the sixth day that they shall prepare that which they bring in, and it shall be twice as much as they gather daily.'
Though when Moshe tells it over to the Israelites, he does not seem to mention what will happen on the sixth day. Rather, all we see is:
טז זֶה הַדָּבָר, אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה, לִקְטוּ מִמֶּנּוּ, אִישׁ לְפִי אָכְלוֹ: עֹמֶר לַגֻּלְגֹּלֶת, מִסְפַּר נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם--אִישׁ לַאֲשֶׁר בְּאָהֳלוֹ, תִּקָּחוּ. 16 This is the thing which the LORD hath commanded: Gather ye of it every man according to his eating; an omer a head, according to the number of your persons, shall ye take it, every man for them that are in his tent.'
יז וַיַּעֲשׂוּ-כֵן, בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל; וַיִּלְקְטוּ, הַמַּרְבֶּה וְהַמַּמְעִיט. 17 And the children of Israel did so, and gathered some more, some less.
Therefore, Rashi explains that Moshe only said earlier what we saw him say, and thus he did not mention the double portion on Friday. And so the people gathered up normally, a single portion. And when it reached their house, they discovered it was double. This surprised them, which impels the rulers of the congregation to come and inform Moshe. I would guess that one could read שְׁנֵי הָעֹמֶר לָאֶחָד as two omer to a single omer portion, though this is not necessary for saying this explanation. Rashi juxtaposes it with another explanation he labels as midrash aggada, so it stands to reason that he considers this to be peshat. And indeed, it fits in with other themes developed here, such as an explanation of וְלֹא הֶעְדִּיף הַמַּרְבֶּה וְהַמַּמְעִיט לֹא הֶחְסִיר as miraculous adjusting to be exactly the omer measure, and of the explicit melting of the leftovers.

Therefore, when encountering הוּא אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר ה, it makes sense to fit this into this theme of surprise on the part of the people and leaders. On pasuk 22, about the leaders' report:
and reported [it] to Moses They asked him, “Why is this day different from other days?” From here we can deduce that Moses had not yet told them the section regarding the Sabbath that he was commanded to tell them, [namely:] “And it will come about on the sixth day that they shall prepare, etc.” (verse 5) until they asked him this [question]. [At that point] he said to them, “That is what the Lord spoke,” (verse 23) which I was commanded to tell you. Therefore, [because Moses had waited to convey this commandment,] Scripture punished him that He said to him “How long will you refuse [to observe My commandments…]” (verse 28) and [in saying this He] did not exclude him [Moses] from the general community [of sinners]. — [from Exod. Rabbah 25:17]
And so he understands Hu Asher Dibber Hashem as referring to something Hashem said in the past, which they should have known of, and so we also need to explain that he omitted it, and thus explain the surprise. And it is the same command, because וְהֵכִינוּ אֵת אֲשֶׁר-יָבִיאוּ in pasuk 5 is essentially the same as the instruction in pasuk 23.

Shadal follows the lead of Ibn Ezra and Abarbanel, and notes that לָקְטוּ implies action on their part, that they collected the double portion.

לקטו לחם משנה : יפה אמר ראב"ע שהכתוב אומר לקטו ולא אמר מצאו; א"כ בכוונה ורצון לקטו לחם משנה, א"כ משה אמר להם כן ע"פ מה שאמר לו ה' (פסוק ה') אלא שלא פירש להם ענין השבת, ע"כ באו הנשיאים ויגידו למשה כי העם עשו כדברו ושאלוהו מה יעשו בו אחרי שכבר אמר להם : איש אל יותר ממנו עד בקר, וכן כתב דון יצחק.

But collecting the double-portion implies they knew to do it. And indeed, Shadal points to pasuk 5, where Hashem tells Moshe to tell this over. Just because the Torah did not report that Moshe said this over does not mean that Moshe did not in fact say this over. So why did the leaders go to Moshe to report? They were reporting the successful carrying out of his actions, and then asked the why, and what is next, for Moshe did not elaborate about Shabbat, which is what he does now.

So how does Shadal treat הוּא אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר ה? It is unclear, at least in the local scope of Beshalach, for Shadal says nothing there on that actual pasuk. If it refers to pasuk 5, then why should he say this? The leaders already know. It would seem to be, rather, a way of introducing new information. But does this mean something that Moshe should have said, or did say, earlier? It does not really seem so. Rather, it seems to be new information, which was meant to be revealed at this point. So הוּא אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר ה would then assume a role similar to זֶה הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה.

This plays out in the local parsha of Shemini. In Vayikra 10:1-3:
א וַיִּקְחוּ בְנֵי-אַהֲרֹן נָדָב וַאֲבִיהוּא אִישׁ מַחְתָּתוֹ, וַיִּתְּנוּ בָהֵן אֵשׁ, וַיָּשִׂימוּ עָלֶיהָ, קְטֹרֶת; וַיַּקְרִיבוּ לִפְנֵי ה, אֵשׁ זָרָה--אֲשֶׁר לֹא צִוָּה, אֹתָם. 1 And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took each of them his censer, and put fire therein, and laid incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them.
ב וַתֵּצֵא אֵשׁ מִלִּפְנֵי ה, וַתֹּאכַל אוֹתָם; וַיָּמֻתוּ, לִפְנֵי ה. 2 And there came forth fire from before the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD.
ג וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל-אַהֲרֹן, הוּא אֲשֶׁר-דִּבֶּר ה לֵאמֹר בִּקְרֹבַי אֶקָּדֵשׁ, וְעַל-פְּנֵי כָל-הָעָם, אֶכָּבֵד; וַיִּדֹּם, אַהֲרֹן. 3 Then Moses said unto Aaron: 'This is it that the LORD spoke, saying: Through them that are nigh unto Me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.' And Aaron held his peace.
In pasuk 3, Moshe says הוּא אֲשֶׁר-דִּבֶּר ה, and continues with בִּקְרֹבַי אֶקָּדֵשׁ, וְעַל-פְּנֵי כָל-הָעָם, אֶכָּבֵד. This means that we should have seen Hashem say this earlier, to Moshe, or to Moshe and Aharon. But where?

Rashi explains:
This is what the Lord spoke But when did He speak? [It was when He said], “And I will meet with the children of Israel, and it will be sanctified through My glory (בִּכְבוֹדִי) ” (Exod. 29:43). Do not read בִּכְבוֹדִי, “through My glory,” but בִּמְכֻבָּדַי, “through My honorable ones.” Moses said to Aaron, “Aaron, my brother! I knew that this House was to be sanctified through the beloved ones of the Omnipresent, but I thought it would be either through me or through you. Now I see that they [Nadab and Abihu] were greater than I or you!”- [Vayikra Rabbah 12:2]
The reference is to Shemot 29:43:
מג וְנֹעַדְתִּי שָׁמָּה, לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל; וְנִקְדַּשׁ, בִּכְבֹדִי. 43 And there I will meet with the children of Israel; and [the Tent] shall be sanctified by My glory.

In contrast, Shadal writes:
ג הוא אשר דבר ה': אין צורך לבקש היכן דיבר, כי כמוהו ותהי אשה לבן אדניך כאשר דבר ה' (בראשית כ"ד נ"א); והכוונה: דע כי כך גזרה חכמתו ית' להתקדש להראות קדושתו וגדלותו בהענישו את בחיריו הקרובים אליו, וזה למען כל העם ישמעו וייראו וידינו ק"ו בעצמם (עיין רש"י); והנני מבטל מה שכתבתי על המקרא הזה ב"בכורי העתים" תקפ"ח עמוד קנ"ה.

In other words, it is not reflecting some prior statement. He compares it to Bereishit 24:51:
נא הִנֵּה-רִבְקָה לְפָנֶיךָ, קַח וָלֵךְ; וּתְהִי אִשָּׁה לְבֶן-אֲדֹנֶיךָ, כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר יְהוָה. 51 Behold, Rebekah is before thee, take her, and go, and let her be thy master's son's wife, as the LORD hath spoken.'
There, Lavan and Betuel did not hear Hashem say any such thing, but the situation shows that this was Hashem's decree. And so too here, this was Hashem's decree, and for the reason Moshe offers, though without Hashem's explicit word. (Personally, the poetry of it and the first person makes me somewhat unconvinced of this point.)

That does not need to transfer to the הוּא אֲשֶׁר-דִּבֶּר ה in parshas Beshalach, because he is not saying something about the phrase in general, but rather about how phrases such as this can be used. But we might think about how, in the absence of this implication of decree, this phrase is to be used. By saying אין צורך לבקש היכן דיבר the message is that without this terutz, we would look for a pasuk elsewhere where Hashem says this. And similarly for parshat Beshalach.

I don't know what Shadal said in בכורי העתים that he is now retracting, but I believe you can find out here, by purchasing it.

The Authenticity of the Zohar -- pt xii

Shadal continues his Vikuach al Chochmat haKabbalah. (See previous segment.) The guest just brought a proof that the Zohar was from Sefarad, which would bolster belief in Rabbi Moshe de Leon's authorship. The proof was that a certain trup sequence was referred to in different ways in different places, and the Zohar uses the way of Sefarad. The author replies in this segment that perhaps this was also added later. The guest then challenges the assertion in the beginning of Tikkunim that study of the Zohar will bring mashiach, because it still has not. Furthermore, it has led to the abandonment of peshat in favor of kabbalistic and gematria-based derashot he considers nonsense. The author rejoins that practically, it did have good effect by causing abandonment of certain heretical, philosophical approaches to Torah and theology. The text of the Vikuach follows:

The author: Perhaps also this language was added.

The guest: And we will return to where we were in in it, and say that if it was true that which was written in the beginning of the Tikkunim, that in the merit of the learning of the Zohar, each man will return to his portion, I would have remained silent. But behold, more than 500 years have passed, in which the majority of Israel was seized after it, and with love of it and learning of it they always err {attain?}, and still the son of David {=Mashiach} has not come, and Hashem has not blessed us to spy {?} him, but just the opposite, this sefer has caused much damage to the general nation.

First of all, did it not cause the abandonment of the wisdom of the peshat, and to draw the majority of the Sages after the nonsense such that they are engaged in nonsense, to pervert the Scriptures with faulty derashot, with heads of words {=acrostics} and switching of letters {within similar phonetic groups, or via kabbalistic switches such as Atbash or Albam}, and with gematriot, and which all sorts of "hints" which the intellect cannot bear; and the true Torah which is called "the testimony of Hashem" which one can only understand according to its simple meaning, like the words of the Baal HaIkkarim, it lies in a corner, and no one seeks and no one requests it.

And it truth, where is found, after the revealing of the sefer haZohar men like Rashi, Rashbam, Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra, Ramban, Radak, and their colleagues, who illuminated the eyes of all of Israel with the knowledge of peshat?

And if in a later generation men arose like Rabbi Moshe ben Mendel {=Mendelsonn}, Ranhu {=Rabbi
Naftali Hertz Wiesel}, Rabbi Yechiel Bri"l, and others, are they not all of them men who cast off from upon themselves the yoke of the Zohar and mocked it their entirety, and did not bring it an offering.

And the Baal HaIkkarim, and Rabbi Yitzchak Abarbanel perhaps believed in it, but did not engage in it, and were distant from it and its ways.

And behold, the sefer haZohar is what caused Israel 500 years of darkness and pitch-blackness.

The author: A great answer there is to these words of yours, for I have in hand to say the opposite of what you have said, that a great benefit has the author of the sefer haZohar benefited us. For you know the Rishonim of our nation who were drawn after the Philosophy, in many heresies {kefirot} were they hindered {?} and captured, and many held cheap the Written Torah and the Oral Torah, to establish the words of Aristotle.

This one denied the creation from nothingness {ex nihilo}; and this one denies the knowledge of Hashem of particulars; this one nullifies the miracles, this one says that there is in the Work of the Chariot of Yechezkel things which are not in accordance with the truth, but rather according to lesser knowledge; this one says that the soul of man dies with the death of the body without engagement in wisdoms; and this one invents from his heart for the commandments of the Torah reasons which are already nullified, in such as manner than according to his words, most
of the commandments in this day and age are without any reason at at, and the keeping of them in these days are an empty act. And many of these denyings {/heresies} are scattered in their sefarim, and the general rule by them that one should only believe that which the intellect requires.

And after the sefer haZohar was revealed, immediately all these opinions were nullified.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Shemini: Why The Koteres? And What Foreign Fire?

I've covered some related suggestions on this topic in previous posts on Shemini, but Shadal's take was interesting. He reverses his opinion of 20 years in this matter. He writes:

א ויקריבו לפני ה' אש זרה: לא היתה כוונתם להקטיר קטורת של שחר (כדעת רשב"ם וכמו שהאמנתי גם אני זה עשרים שנה, עיין "בכורי העתים" תקפ"ח עמוד קמ"ה), שאם כן, מה מקום לשתי מחתות (ועיין במבאר עוד ראיות אחרות), אבל הקריבו קטורת שלא ציוה ה' והיה חטאתם מפני גאווה; כי לא הספיק להם להיות משרתים לאביהם, ככתוב (למעלה ט' י"ב) וימציאו בני אהרן את הדם אליו, וביקשו להראות שגם הם כהני ה' כאהרן, והואיל משה לא ציוה אותם לעשות שום עבודה פרטית, בחרו הם לעצמם עבודה יקרה והקריבו לפני ה' אש זרה, ולא אמר קטורת זרה, כי באמת לא היתה הקטורת זרה (עיין במבאר), אבל האש היתה זרה, ואם היתה ההקטרה ההיא ממצוות משה, היה משה מודיעם שלא ייקחו אש, כי מאת ה' תבוא האש, כמו שבא לאכול העולה; אבל הם עשו מדעת עצמם, ובהיותם בלתי בטוחים שתצא אש ה' לאכול את הקטורת אשר לא ציוה, הוצרכו להביא אש זרה.

ב ותצא אש: אש אחרת, לא האש שאכלה העולה (כשעת רשב"ם), שאם כדבריו ותצא "האש" היה לו לומר, ועיין רנ"ה וייזל בפסוק הקודם.

So why did these two sons of Aharon bring the ketoret? Rashbam, and initially Shadal, thought that this was the standard offering of ketores in the morning. But Shadal reverses himself on this, for we see in pasuk 1:
א וַיִּקְחוּ בְנֵי-אַהֲרֹן נָדָב וַאֲבִיהוּא אִישׁ מַחְתָּתוֹ, וַיִּתְּנוּ בָהֵן אֵשׁ, וַיָּשִׂימוּ עָלֶיהָ, קְטֹרֶת; וַיַּקְרִיבוּ לִפְנֵי ה, אֵשׁ זָרָה--אֲשֶׁר לֹא צִוָּה, אֹתָם. 1 And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took each of them his censer, and put fire therein, and laid incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them.
And if each took his censer, then there were two censers, and obviously only one would be required for the morning offering of incense. And there are apparently other proofs, but I did not look up his cited source. Rather, Shadal says that they sinned because of haughtiness. They did not want to merely serve under their father, as assistants, as we see them perform in the previous perek:
יב וַיִּשְׁחַט, אֶת-הָעֹלָה; וַיַּמְצִאוּ בְּנֵי אַהֲרֹן אֵלָיו, אֶת-הַדָּם, וַיִּזְרְקֵהוּ עַל-הַמִּזְבֵּחַ, סָבִיב. 12 And he slew the burnt-offering; and Aaron's sons delivered unto him the blood, and he dashed it against the altar round about.
As he explains elsewhere, the ketoret was not foreign, but the fire was; since Moshe did not command it, they did not trust that fire would come from heaven to consume it, so they provided their own.

The fire that consumed them was a fire from heaven, rather than their own fire, and other than the fire than consumed the Olah, like Rashbam (and as I, Josh) suggested. That pasuk was the last of the previous perek (that is, perek 9):
כד וַתֵּצֵא אֵשׁ, מִלִּפְנֵי ה, וַתֹּאכַל עַל-הַמִּזְבֵּחַ, אֶת-הָעֹלָה וְאֶת-הַחֲלָבִים; וַיַּרְא כָּל-הָעָם וַיָּרֹנּוּ, וַיִּפְּלוּ עַל-פְּנֵיהֶם. 24 And there came forth fire from before the LORD, and consumed upon the altar the burnt-offering and the fat; and when all the people saw it, they shouted, and fell on their faces.
Shadal claims that were it the same fire, it would have used the definite article, haEsh, rather than esh, in pasuk 2.
ב וַתֵּצֵא אֵשׁ מִלִּפְנֵי ה, וַתֹּאכַל אוֹתָם; וַיָּמֻתוּ, לִפְנֵי ה. 2 And there came forth fire from before the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD.
I am not convinced.

Interesting Posts and Articles #16

  1. Dr. Benny Shalom corrects the Guardian's article about his views on whether Moshe Rabbenu used psychotropic drugs.
  2. Wolfish Musings posts a SheAsani Kirtzono sign.
  3. Sinfest draws a spin on an old Easter / Groundhog day joke.
  4. I don't know whether the allegations will prove true, but I can see it -- the burka babe phenomenon was not the result of chumra-ism but rather of mental illness; but also, often making the permitted into the forbidden is a result of a warped worldview, or a rebellion, where the actually forbidden ends up being permitted. Her insane restrictiveness could easily translate into physical abuse, and her not talking to her family at all because of a taanit dibbur could easily translate into neglect or not offering proper guidance to her children.
    But I don't know. The authorities will do the proper investigations, I'm sure.
  5. Balashon on Ohel and Ahalan. A sampling:
    Ahalan, borrowed directly from Arabic, comes from ahal, one of many words for "family." (The cognate Hebrew word, ohel, means "tent," that is a place where a family lived.)
    Kaddari [...] dismisses a connection...

The Authenticity of the Zohar -- pt xi

Shadal continues his Vikuach al Chochmat haKabbalah. (See previous segment.) The guest just mentioned a Christian parallel story of "discovering" an ancient text, containing the history of the world as it would unfold, from Adam until the end, mentioning Jesus, and mentioning that this book itself "would in the future be revealed when Ferdinando ruled..." He now suggests that this influenced the story of the discovery of the Zohar. The text of the Vikuach follows:

The author: And where is this story found?

The guest: This story is found in the book Fortalitium fidei contra Judaeos etc. {ascribed to the Spanish Friar Alonso de Espina} printed in Nuremberg in the year 1494, and the scholar {Johan Christoph} Wolf records it in his book Bibliotheca hebraea, second volume, page 1121.

The author: Now, behold I recall that I have already seen this story in an early Italian book called Dittamondo (book 2, chapter 27) {from Fazio degli Uberti?}.

The guest: And what more, the matter is likely that the author of the Zohar, who was in Sefarad in the beginning of the sixth millennium, heard this made-up story, and from this he was encouraged to do to bolster our faith, just as others did to bolster their faith.

The author: And who told you that the author of the sefer haZohar was in Sefarad? For I have already showed you that the testimony of the {sefer} HaYuchsin is nothing.

The guest: This matter you have said, but have not proven it.

And I have already shown you the definitive example on this word Esh Nogah (Esnoga), which they say in the Sefardic language {=Ladino} in place of Synagoga.

And if a further, additional proof you request, there is another which I will leave before you.

Behold, it is known that the zarka which they teach to children is arranged in three different manners. For the Ashkenazim say zarka segol munach revia, and the men of Italy say zarka sharei {??} pazer gadol, and the Sefardim say zarka makef shofar holech segolta. And behold, in the sefer haZohar, (chelek 1, page 24a), it is written, "and the secret of the word is zarka makef shofar," which is like the custom of the Sefardim.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Interesting Articles and Posts #15

  1. Wired: How to create your own font.
  2. Wired: Giant Marine Life Found In Antarctic
    Large sea spiders, jellyfish with 12-foot tentacles, huge sea snails and starfish the size of big food platters were found during a 50-day voyage, marine scientist Don Robertson said.

    Cold temperatures, a small number of predators, high levels of oxygen in the sea water and even longevity could explain the size of some specimens.
  3. Hard Time Killing Fraud
    • Heh. Read this one. Calls to mind one half of Eliyahu on Har ha-Carmel. An atheist vs. a tantric. And the fact that he is an atheist is relevant.
  4. Obama speech transcript
  5. Fitting Chassidus into a Baal Teshuva's Life
    and the ensuing comment thread
  6. Also from BeyondBT: What to do when you adopted a chumra of not eating gebroks but then realize what it is, and that your family custom was to eat it?
  7. The Guardian's two-part article about Tranquility Bay.

Tzav: The definition of Shok

{Update: Welcome, visitors from Imamother. Why not take a look around while you are here? One thing you might be interested in is my series analyzing Oz VeHadar Levushah.}

: Reading or writing a blogpost is no substitute for reading through all the relevant halachic literature on the subject or consulting your local Orthodox rabbi. This is most certainly not intended as halacha lemaaseh. And there are other sources I am not mentioning. And I have not given this enough thought, and these are off the cuff reactions.

In parshas Tzav, upon {Vayikra 7:32}
לב וְאֵת שׁוֹק הַיָּמִין, תִּתְּנוּ תְרוּמָה לַכֹּהֵן, מִזִּבְחֵי, שַׁלְמֵיכֶם. 32 And the right thigh shall ye give unto the priest for a heave-offering out of your sacrifices of peace-offerings.
Rashi writes:
the right thigh refers to [the part of the animal’s hind leg extending] from the אַרְכּוּבָה [knee-joint, the bone and the flesh of which are usually] sold together with the head, up till the middle joint [of the upper leg] which is called "sovech shel regel." [The animal’s leg has three sections to it; thus, the שׁוֹק is the middle of those three sections.] [Chul. 134b]
His basis, as noted, is Chullin 134b. For what follows, we will need to refer to a cow skeleton. I got the following image from another website. It is of a cow skeleton, mounted on a wooden platform. For a limited time, you can purchase it from them for only $2100. The bones are marked for identification, so I guess it is good for people studying bovine anatomy. I am not sure how many parshablog readers will take them up on the offer, though. You can also click on the picture they feature on their website, to get to this full screen image of the same.

Note how both the front and the hind legs have three separate sections.

Rashi refers to one opinion in a dispute in a Mishna in Chullin.

איזהו הזרוע מן הפרק של ארכובה עד כף של יד והוא של נזיר וכנגדו ברגל שוק
ר' יהודה אומר שוק מן הפרק של ארכובה עד סובך של רגל
אי זהו לחי מן הפרק של לחי עד פיקה של גרגרת
Based on the definitions provided by Rashi on the daf, the Chachamim hold that the zeroa is the uppermost of the three bones -- from the kaf shel yad -- which is the shoulder -- until the first joint. And they hold that this definition of zeroa is specifically on the front legs. Meanwhile, the same, uppermost section on the hind legs is called the shok. Meanwhile, Rabbi Yehuda argues, and maintains that the shok is really from that top joint (knee) until the lower joint. Thus, Rabbi Yehuda holds the shok is the middle of the three bones.

How is it possible to have such a dispute about the definition of a well-known part of a creature's anatomy (and at least a person's anatomy)? Chazal were familiar with the term shok. Rav Chisda was able to say elsewhere that shok beIsha erva, and his assumption was that any listener would be able to comprehend what it means. It was a Hebrew word that was used. Similarly, in modern Hebrew, it has a standard definition, as calf, though meanings of words change over time.

So what gives? Was there a dispute among the Tannaim of the definition of this basic term by humans, such that they had difficulty defining it in terms of cows? And would Rav Chisda's statement, with a Scriptural source defining shok as erva, would take different meanings depending on whether you held like the Tanna Kamma or Rabbi Yehuda?

I don't think this is the case.

Rather, I am of the opinion that there was a known definition to shok, such that they thought it really should mean thigh (just like yarech, and this is the standard Biblical usage). But now there was a problem. In terms of cows, the Torah and halacha refer to two separate items. There is the zeroa and there is the shok. And obviously the two terms cannot refer to the same thing. And yet, there would appear to be only one thigh! This is the problem which faced both the Tanna Kamma and Rabbi Yehuda.

The two Tannaitic opinions took two separate approaches to resolve this issue. The Tanna Kamma's approach is as follows:

A person has two legs and two arms. The zeroa refers to the arm (perhaps upper arm) of a person, while the shok refers to a thigh. Therefore, image the cow standing upright on its hind legs. Thus, the zeroa is on the front legs, which we would think of as a thigh only because the cow stands on all fours.

Rabbi Yehuda's approach is that it is speaking of two parts of the same limb. Still, it presumably refers to a thigh. And so it is not the lowest of the three sections, but rather the portion above a joint. Since the top portion was already grabbed, in context it must refer to a lower part, which has a type of joint under it.

Similarly, in Avodah Zara 25a, reference is made to I Shmuel 9:24:
כד וַיָּרֶם הַטַּבָּח אֶת-הַשּׁוֹק וְהֶעָלֶיהָ וַיָּשֶׂם לִפְנֵי שָׁאוּל, וַיֹּאמֶר הִנֵּה הַנִּשְׁאָר שִׂים-לְפָנֶיךָ אֱכֹל--כִּי לַמּוֹעֵד שָׁמוּר-לְךָ לֵאמֹר, הָעָם קָרָאתִי; וַיֹּאכַל שָׁאוּל עִם-שְׁמוּאֵל, בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא. 24 And the cook took up the thigh, and that which was upon it, and set it before Saul. And [Samuel] said: 'Behold that which hath been reserved! set it before thee and eat; because unto the appointed time hath it been kept for thee, for I said: I have invited the people.' So Saul did eat with Samuel that day.
The gemara:
וישם לפני שאול מאי והעליה ר' יוחנן אומר שוק ואליה מאי והעליה דמסמכא שוק לאליה ורבי אלעזר אומר שוק וחזה מאי והעליה דמחית לה לחזה עילויה דשוק כי בעי אנופי ומנפי ליה ורבי שמואל בר נחמני אמר שוק ושופי מאי והעליה שופי עילויה דשוק קאי
Thus shok is assumed to be the thigh, and that which is upon it is either the tail which is upon it, the breast which was placed upon it, or according to Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachmeni, the cap of the hip-bone.

It certainly seems that they understood Biblical usage, at least by cows, to mean thigh.

In terms of humans, there seems an explicit Mishna in Ohalot 1:8 that the shok is the calf, rather than the thigh.

מאתיים ושמונה וארבעים אברים באדם, שלושים בפיסת הרגל, שישה בכל אצבע, עשרה בקורסל, שניים בשוק, חמישה בארכובה, אחד בירך, ושלושה בקטלית, ואחת עשרה צלעות, שלושים בפיסת היד, שישה בכל אצבע, שניים בקנה, שניים במרפק, אחד בזרוע, וארבעה בכתף. מאה ואחד מזה, ומאה ואחד מזה. ושמונה עשר חוליות בשזרה, תשעה בראש, שמונה בצוואר, שישה במפתח של לב, וחמישה בנקביו. וכל אחד ואחד, מטמא במגע ובמשא ובאוהל. אימתיי, בזמן שיש עליהן בשר כראוי; אבל אם אין עליהן בשר כראוי--מטמאין במגע ובמשא, ואין מטמאין באוהל

The phrase שניים בשוק presumably refer to the tibia and fibula below the knee. And אחד בירך presumably refers to the femur. And the Mishna works up the body, from the shok to the knee to the yarech.

Of course, this could perhaps only mean this in context. Think of the word regel. Regel can mean leg or foot. In general, when we have a general word, it could mean the whole, or a part, or specific parts at different times. Perhaps once yarech was going to be used, and that is used specifically, it was clear what shok was to mean. But in other uses it might mean thigh. But we would have to inspect these cases one by one.

In Yeshaya 47:2, which is Rav Chisda's prooftext in Berachot daf 24 that shok beIsha erva:

א רְדִי וּשְׁבִי עַל-עָפָר, בְּתוּלַת בַּת-בָּבֶל--שְׁבִי-לָאָרֶץ אֵין-כִּסֵּא, בַּת-כַּשְׂדִּים: כִּי לֹא תוֹסִיפִי יִקְרְאוּ-לָךְ, רַכָּה וַעֲנֻגָּה. 1 Come down, and sit in the dust, O virgin daughter of Babylon, sit on the ground without a throne, O daughter of the Chaldeans; for thou shalt no more be called tender and delicate.
ב קְחִי רֵחַיִם, וְטַחֲנִי קָמַח; גַּלִּי צַמָּתֵךְ חֶשְׂפִּי-שֹׁבֶל גַּלִּי-שׁוֹק, עִבְרִי נְהָרוֹת. 2 Take the millstones, and grind meal; remove thy veil, strip off the train, uncover the leg, pass through the rivers.
ג תִּגָּל, עֶרְוָתֵךְ--גַּם תֵּרָאֶה, חֶרְפָּתֵךְ; נָקָם אֶקָּח, וְלֹא אֶפְגַּע אָדָם. {פ} 3 Thy nakedness shall be uncovered, yea, thy shame shall be seen; I will take vengeance, and will let no man intercede. {P}
In this translation, at least (and in the translation given by Soncino), it refers to the whole leg, not just the shin. Rabbi Yehuda Henkin writes:
Note that in verse 2 all the verbs are in the imperative: “kehi” (take), “hespi” (expose), and “gali” (reveal); while verse 3 is in the passive future tense: “tigal” (will be revealed) and “tiraeh” (will be visible). I think the inference is clear: if she uncovers her shok her erva will then be revealed, even unintentionally. Shok and actual erva are adjacent to each other, and uncovering one will result in uncovering the other. This may be the meaning of R. Avraham Alshvili and Shita Mekubbetset in Berakhot 24a who wrote, “although occasionally [shok] is revealed, it has the status of a covered area of the body because it leads to [uncovering the actual] erva.”

It also supports the ruling that shok with regard to erva refers to a woman’s upper leg, above 32a and not below the knee, 33 for the lower leg is not adjacent to erva and uncovering it will not result in uncovering oto makom. Isaiah’s depiction of a woman exposing her shok in order to cross rivers (neharot) 34 is further indication that shok is above the knee; were it below the knee and she were clothed down to her ankles to cover it, she would have to raise her skirts to cross even a puddle. The only reference in Scripture to a woman’s shok, then, appears to refer to her upper leg, as opposed to talmudic usage where it invariably connotes an area below the knee.
I am not sure that I am persuaded by the shift from imperative to passive. The argument from the river imagery is more convincing to me.

I agree that there is a likely shift between Biblical and Talmudic usage of the term. But did Rav Chisda intend Biblical or Talmudic usage of the term. Is he making a derasha based on proximity, or is he making a careful reading of the verse in Yeshaya in context?

(In terms of regel, it is interesting how in Yevamot 103 Chazal restrict and redefine Biblical usage of regel so that it cannot mean thigh, because the verse in Devarim 35 uses the term regel.)

Even if it does mean calf here, that does not mean that Rav Chisda's statement is lehalacha, or might be limited in its definition for other reasons, as Rav Henkin discusses in his article. And here is not the place to elaborate.

The Kabbalah Personality Test

I've seen two ads on "similar" topics on occasion on the sidebar or top of parshablog, presumably sparked in large by my continuing series of posts from Shadal's Vikuach al Chochmat haKabbalah, most recently about the authenticity (or lack thereof) of the Zohar. Or perhaps from my general posts on Jewish topics

The first one offers a "free" kabbalah personality test, to "discover the true you." It is from some website called You know who else offers a free personality test, to try and hook you? The Scientologists.

So I clicked on the ad, on another site, to check it out. It is a color/pattern based test, but they arrange the colors and patterns in something akin to a chart of the Sefirot, though of course someone taking the test would likely not recognize this. And then based on the preference for the shapes/colors in specific positions, they create (presumably programmatically) some personality profile.

Of course, to access the results of this "free" test, you need to put in your email address as well as your cell phone number, to send the PIN number to access the results. And you have to agree to their terms and conditions. And of course, those terms and conditions include the following:


That is, to access the results of your "free" test, you sign up for their service. You have a 7 day period which is free, after which they charge you $10 a month. Of course, many people will not read this fine print and will not cancel until after the first week, and will be charged the $10 bucks -- which they first notice when they get their bill, or finally notice after several months. They note this in a hover-over on the word terms (though not in the plain-text of the page), but this is a sneaky way to take advantage of people, in my opinion.

Don't fall for this.

{Update: See people who have specifically burned by this service, in this way, here, at}

The second place advertised is more straightforward. You can access their website here. They advertise as "kabbalah without the hype." It is part of the Aleph Society, an effort to present Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz's teachings on the web. And indeed, they offer free -- really free -- essays from Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz on a number of topics, including Jewish mysticism. There are links to purchase his books, but you know beforehand that this is a purchase from, and you deliberately purchase it, because you are interested in the material contained therein. An excerpt from the linked-to page:

According to Rabbi Steinsaltz, Jewish mysticism – or Kabbalah – is the official theology of the Jewish people. Although the world of Kabbalah is profoundly symbolic and abstract, its teachings are of tremendous significance to the individual and to society alike. Its influences are evident in all Jewish spheres – the prayer book, the Talmud, and Jewish philosophy.

Agree or disagree -- at least they are above-board, and presenting authentic kabbalistic teachings, in an honest and straightforward manner, from a true scholar. That is important.

* Note: Short code removed due to a legal request.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Do Kabbalists Have A Chelek In Olam Haba?

My answer is that I don't really care. Well, that is not so true. I care in the sense that they are fellow Jews, and would not want them to lose out on their portion of their world to come.

Rather, what I mean is that such a discussion is orthogonal to what I was discussing in posts like this previous post.

This rambles a bit, but bear with me, if you want to.

An anonymous commentator (oh, how I wish they would at least choose pseudonyms!) on my translations of Shadal's Vikuach asked on Shadal in general -- how could we possibly say that kabbalah is false and/or avodah zarah, if so many great rabbonim throughout the ages subscribed to it? To say so would be to say that they were not so great.

One answer (of many) is that truth is truth, regardless of the repercussions. That question perhaps reflects an emotional rather than rational reaction, and should not hold much sway. Of course, it does hold sway for us Orthodox Jews, anyway, for it ties this question to the more general status of the masorah, "Daas Torah," and so on and so forth. Perhaps there is just to much invested to question the status of the kabbalah. Or perhaps, there is indeed so much invested, and so we should discard not just kabbalah but all the rest as well.

But that question might not be the emotional reaction I cast it as above. Rather, to flip the question around -- we know how great a scholar the Gra was. He was a much bigger genius than me. And the same goes for Ramban, and for Rav Yosef Karo. They were unquestionably really really smart and skilled people, in disciplines we respect and appreciate. Yet they were all kabbalists. If we say that kabbalists were foolish, then these people must have been foolish as well. But we know that this is not the case! Therefore, our initial assumption must have been wrong. And thus we have a proof by contradiction for the authenticity of the kabbalah.

It was to these two facets of this question that I addressed this previous post. It was by way of mashal that I brought the gemara about king Menashe, not to say that they are entirely identical. While there are points of similarity, we should consider the points of similarity, and where and how they are similar and different.

The point I attempted to make in the previous post was as follows: People can be great, yet constrained by the sociology and / or intellectual climate of their time. That was the point of the gemara, I think, and the point of Rav Ashi's dream conversation with King Menashe. Of course King Menashe did something that was wrong. Rabbi Abahu sets this out beforehand, that 'Did they abandon [their evil course], that I should abandon [my habit of lecturing upon them]?' And even after Rav Ashi has this dream, he does not say that he will not lecture about them. Rather, he will lecture about them, but refer to them as "our teachers" rather than "our colleagues."

Depending on who you ask in the gemara, these kings did or did not have a portion in the world to come. But that is not the point I am trying to bring out, or that I think Rav Ashi was trying to bring out. Rather, it is that there were certain social influences, and it is not correct to casually dismiss them. There were indeed certain aspects of them that were positive, and furthermore, we do not know how we would react if cast into the same situation, so don't be so smug.

I don't think this is just the frummie position of making everyone in Tanach operate on a much higher plane than we operate on, but rather a peshat position on Tanach that comes out of unbiased reading. Achav is not just a bad guy. He had different religious beliefs. When you have one cult of worship and another one, how do you make a decision? Achav gives Eliyahu mussar about causing the famine. It is hard to understand him, but as a historical figure, he was human. And most humans want to think of themselves as good. The fact is, there was a whole social dynamic that we do not think of, because it is so difficult to cast ourselves into their days.

That is not to say that ultimately Achav, or Menashe, was not wrong, or deserving of Divine punishment, or were deprived of their portion in the world to come. Frankly, that is up to God, not up to me. And it is beside the point for the present discussion. It would be relevant were I learning through that perek in Sanhedrin, perhaps.

To transfer this over to the question of the kabbalists, we could use this mashal to answer those two questions, as posed.

Let us say the kabbalists were wrong. (Yes, I know the second anonymous questioner -- Dovi -- asked about idolatry, but let us push that off for now.) Let us say the kabbalists were wrong in their conception of God, and kabbalah is a forgery, or nonsense and a waste of time. Does saying that mean that we should consider them no longer great?

No. People are bound by their time. If there was a great philosopher who also wasted a lot of time engaging in alchemy, or in astrology, both sciences of the time, that does not mean that I regard all his other contributions as valueless!

Similarly, kabbalists were also great poskim, biblical commentators, ethicists, righteous people, and so on and so forth. Even if I consider their efforts in one realm to be nonsense, this need not devalue their contributions in other realms. And the fact that they did not recognize the realm of kabbalah to be nonsense or a forgery does not mean that they were not brilliant in other realms. There is the social and intellectual climate which influences things like this.

Aristotle was great, even though he believed in spontaneous generation. Isaac Newton was a great scientist and committed Christian, though I think he was wrong about Christianity. And modern scientists, even atheists, consider him a great scientist, even though they would say that he was influenced by his time and culture in this aspect.

Similarly, the few rishonim, contemporaries of Rambam, who thought that God could assume corporeal form, may have been mistaken in these beliefs. And they may even be heretics, if we follow the Rambam in this matter. And the same if we say that Rav Yaakov Emden was right about Rav Yonasan Eibeshitz being a closet Sabbatean. This does not negate his Torah insights. And if he was a closet Sabbatean, is was not out of avarice, malice, selfishness, etcetera, but rather because he thought that this was the correct and righteous path.

I think this answers the two questions I had set out to respond to. Namely, don't despair! for the greats were still greats in the areas in which you look to them most. And there is no proof by contradiction either, for we all are prisoners of our times and culture.

This is separate from the questions raised by Dovi, mentioned above. And this is where I attempt to address him.

We are different people, and what I describe are my own perspectives, and so it is quite possible that I will not convince you. That is fine. I just will delineate some of my own perspectives on the issues.

First, as I mentioned above, my concern is not who gets what in Olam haBa. That is God's concern, not my concern.

Second, my concern is even more surely not with who gets Olam haBa in the distant past. My concern is more with the here and now, and what people nowadays believe and practice.

"Can't this issue make a person evil? Like it did Achav?"
"can't this error turn them into reshaim?"

One difference of course is that Achav at least had an Eliyahu haNavi telling him he was wrong, with messages from God, and with miracles. For kabbalists through the ages, kabbalah was the tradition, taught from their teachers, and was the only game in town.

Furthermore, there is a difference between meizid, which Achav was (because of whatever social influences, etcetera, he still acted wrong bemeizid) on the one hand, and shogeg on the other. And this is less than shogeg. There is not the slightest negligence at play here. Their position is what would be arrived at by righteous, good, diligent people, who were schooled in this teaching. And it was pervasive. Even non-kabbalists simply did not engage in kabbalah, rather than thinking and trying to prove it wrong.
"If you have on the one hand someone who knows very little torah but doesn't believe in zohar and kabbalah, can't a good argument be made that he is much better than a godol who is a baki in shas and poskim but believes in kabbalah which might be avodah zorah and cause a distortion in the halachah and hashkafah as passed down from chazal?"

Are we trying to determine schar veOnesh here? What do you mean by "better?" I am not really concerned with that, or in weighing the value of one holy Jew against another, but more about how people should conduct themselves, and who and what to follow.

In terms of halacha at the least, it is a common practice to document, document, document. We know sources for many, many things. And so we know in many cases where there are kabbalistic influences. When paskening, the role of the posek is to look at all the sources all the way back the the Mishna and Gemara, see how it developed, and see what he thinks is correct. And the interaction between straightforward halacha and kabbalah is an interesting and variegated one -- one which has been dealt with in different ways, and one which I hope to address in a later post. This is an area which concerns me most, I think. I agree with you that in many ways, it is indeed a different Judaism, in terms of halacha and hashkafa, then that of Abaye and Rava.

But to attempt to answer your question, though it is not really my concern, I think:

Do you really know what is avodah zarah, and what is just nonsense?

The Zohar caused the addition of rabbosai mir vellen bentchen at the beginning of mezuman, which I argue against in this post about the proper nusach of mezuman. This is based on an assertion that every davar shebikdusha requires a hazmaza. If I say, based on Pri Megadim, that this is not so, then all we do is add something unnecessary. But is it avodah zarah? No.

If some rabbi holds false beliefs about the nature of God, does that make him a sinner? It might not be so bad if he happens to belief that there are Sefirot, but does not offer sacrifices on an altar to each of the Ten Sefirot, or if he does not pray to specific Sefirot, but rather just to Hashem.

(That said, there are people who know very little Torah but think God has a body, for how else could he put on tefillin.)

For most nowadays, it is a matter of learning chassidus, getting mussar from it, getting inspired by it. (Even Shadal, in his addendum, speaks about these benefits of kabbalah and the way people use it, such that it might not be worthy making this whole hullabaloo.) But not all the beliefs in there are avodah zarah, even if they are incorrect. And even if certain beliefs are idolatrous, that does mean that kabbalists, or gedolim who happen to study some or much kabbalah, are actively engaging in idolatry.

If so, we should certainly correct the errors and get a truer understanding of hashkafa and halacha. And my further concern is kabbalistic beliefs are the basis for still other beliefs which extend them, which cannot be effectively challenged so long as those challenged can appeal to kabbalah. But sins, and schar veOnesh, and weighing their value as people, we need not get into it.

{Update: And just to be clear, I do think they have a chelek in Olam haBa.}

I hope this clarified the context of my initial remarks, and expands upon my thought in the matter you raised.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin