Thursday, December 22, 2005

Orthodoxy Test

Gil at Hirhurim posted his result on taking LamedZayin's Orthodoxy test. So I took it, and yes, it's a pretty accurate assessment - verified by my wife. User Test: The Orthodoxy  Test.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Chanukah charol

Since Lipman posted his "Chnukke Song", I thought I'd post my wife Debbie's take on the song:

I'm dreaming of a frum Xmas
Just like the ones in Boro Park
Where sheitls glisten
And children listen
To tales of sages long ago

I'm dreaming of a frum Xmas
Ignoring Santa if he comes
May your days be merry, not glum
and may all your Xmases be frum.

(c) 1995 Debra Baker and Nightroads Associates

For other Chanukkah songs, see Lisa Liel's rather militaristic parodies,

and a few others in a thread from soc.culture.jewish.moderated newsgroup.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Machzorim and Piracy

Some years ago, I bought a Rosh Hashanah machzor on eBay, German-size, nusach Polin (Eastern European), printed in Sulzbach in 1826. I've used it for years, enjoying the commentary, but not knowing much about it. This year, I obtained the Yom Kippur volume.

Also this year, Feldheim Publishers has put out a reprint of an 1815 German machzor, printed at Roedelheim at the press of Wolf Heidenheim, with the commentary and partial German translation prepared by Heidenheim, a noted grammarian as well as publisher. I started comparing by Sulzbach machzorim to the Heidenheim, and found that the commentary and translations are identical, and the page layout is similar.

Now, a real Roedelheim/Heidenheim machzor has a picture of R' Heidenheim's signature, and in later editions, a picture of his seal. My 1826 machzorim had no indication of the editor or commentator's names. The 1815 ones had the picture of Heidenheim's signature, and a couple of prefaces and haskamot, while mine had neither. Furthermore, the 1826 edition is not listed in the Bet Eked Sefarim, one of the major bibliographies of Jewish books before 1950.

It seems I have a knockoff Heidenheim machzor.

Furthermore, Heidenheim machzorim were pirated almost from the beginning. The 1815 edition (third) has a letter from Heidenheim decrying unauthorized reprints, and anathematizing his former assistant, Baruch Boschwitz, who had left him in 1807 and published his own knockoff of Heidenheim's machzorim. The Chatam Sofer intervened in that case and ruled in Heidenheim's favor, on the grounds that impinging on the editorial and creative effort of an author, is the same as poaching on another's fishing areas (Choshen Mishpat #79). The first edition had been printed around 1800.

Now, haskamot were originally provided to anathematize unauthorized reprinters. They were not exclusively the nihil obstat (proof of kosher content) that they have become today. They were the old equivalent of copyright (see, e.g. the Jewish Law site for articles on Jewish law and copyright). But in the absence of real enforceable penalties, they became useless, as my machzor shows.

Today we have numerous copyright infringements that go unenforced, notably the Rebecca Bennet Talmud in the 1960s. This was a small-format Talmud, with reduced images of the early 1860s Lemberg edition of the Talmud on one side, and reduced images of the Soncino English translation of the 1930s and 1940s on the other side.

In fact, the first full edition of the Talmud printed in North America, in 1919 by the Eagle-Wolofsky Press in Montreal, used Vilna page images, as most Talmuds do today, and is listed by Habermann in his bibliography of the Talmud as "unauthorized".

Does anyone know of recent material on Heidenheim and his literary and commercial activities? Preferably in Hebrew or English? The Jewish Encyclopedia refers me to some articles in a German journal in 1900 and 1901.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The Theology of Rabbi Irving Greenberg

The theological meditations of Rabbi Irving "Yitz" Greenberg have become fodder for the Jewish blogosphere lately, so I thought I'd summarize what little I know about R' Greenberg's ideas.

R' Greenberg, in various articles and in a recent book, FOR THE SAKE OF HEAVEN AND EARTH:
The New Encounter Between Judaism and Christianity
, expresses a theology that seems close to Reconstructionism or to classical Epicureanism (from which the word Apikoros).

Each major destruction in our history has signaled a change, a distancing, in our relationship with God. The first Destruction, in which the Ark was lost/hidden, brought an end to God's revealed presence in the world. God had hitherto interacted with us directly, through prophecy, through the Divine fire that accepted the sacrifices, through open miracles. These came to an end during the first 70-year exile.

The second Destruction removed the Temple as the focus of Judaism, the sacrificial service as a Divinely-ordained means of achieving atonement. Divine worship, and receiving atonement for one's sins, become entirely an individual responsibility, as teshuvah and tefillah became the real paths towards personal salvation, and ultimately towards the communal salvation through the Moshiach.

The Destruction of European Jewry indicated a third distancing. If the first was removal of God's direct influence, and the second removed our direct Torah-mandated path of communication to God (the Temple service), the third Destruction indicated the end of the Covenant. In allowing the Holocaust to happen, God signaled that He had abrogated His covenant with us, and the mitzvot were no longer binding.

As reviewer Michael Kress states, "In trying to answer that fundamental theodicy question—how to reconcile the idea of a just God and the flames of Auschwitz—Greenberg concludes that we have passed from a stage in which Jews are commanded to one in which the covenant with God is voluntary. God has undergone a further tzimtzum, or self limitation, which God first undertook to enact Creation, giving humans full responsibility for perfecting the world, without any divine intervention." See the full review.

In light of this view, R' Greenberg is amazed and pleased that the Jews have voluntarily continued to observe the mitzvot, given that they can't expect God to respond to them.

This leads to some disturbing questions, though:

- is it true, as a Christian preacher claimed in the last century, that God no longer hears the prayers of the Jews?

- If God has restricted/constricted Himself away from the world, does he no longer care about what happens in the world?

That would seem to be R' Greenberg's point, most like Reconstructionism or like Maimonides' definition of Epicureanism: "[Laws of Repentance 3:8] 8) There are three types of heretic [Apikorsim]: One who says that there is no Prophecy at all and that there is no knowledge given by God to men; one who refutes the Prophecy of Moses; and one who says that God doesn't know the actions of men."

Note that expressing such sentiments need not separate one from Orthodoxy. R' Mordechai Kaplan, founder of Reconstructionism and shaper of much of Conservative Jewish theology in the last century, was employed by Orthodox synagogues, and spoke at Orthodox functions, for years after he began to publish his heterodox ideas. He begain to write articles on these ideas starting around 1909, but he was not forced out of his rabbinic position in an Orthodox synagogue until 1922.