Wednesday, August 29, 2007

I Knows da Woid

Another quiz. Strangely easy. I never thought I was much of a Nach guy, but even the NT questions were easy or guessable.

You know the Bible 100%!

Wow! You are awesome! You are a true Biblical scholar, not just a hearer but a personal reader! The books, the characters, the events, the verses - you know it all! You are fantastic!

Ultimate Bible Quiz
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Monday, August 27, 2007

God the King I

Sanctity and Kingship, Kedushah uMalchus. Thus end Pesukei deZimrah, leading to the first beracha of the Shema. How do they relate? Where is G-d the King before the Shema? Why say a Kedushah?

What is a king in Judaism? First, a king relates to his people. As the famous maxim says, “ein melech b’lo am”, there is no such thing as a king without a nation. The human king rules his people, legislates with a word, and holds power of life and death over them. In return, he protects them from enemies, and leads them in following G-d’s word.

How is G-d a King? The analogy should be fairly obvious. In fact, the two are innately linked. G-d lends his power to human beings (as we say in the beracha for seeing a king); their power reflects His, and their honor reflects on Him. The Bible notes: 4 Then Solomon sat on the throne of the Lord as king instead of David his father” (Divrei Hayamim I 29:23). Not that the throne was G-d’s, but that the throne, symbolizing kingship, drew from G-d’s power.

Honor and glory flow upward as well. The credit of the nation reflects well or badly on its king, and through the king to G-d, as David says, “The Lord says to my lord:'Sit at My right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool” (Tehillim 110:1). The psalm says of David that he is lord under the Lord. David says similarly, after the conquest “Mi k’amcha Yisrael…Who is like Your people Israel… And let Your name be magnified for ever, that it may be said: The Lord of hosts is G-d over Israel; and the house of Your servant David shall be established before You” (Shmuel II 7:22-26). David praises Israel, whose glory redounds upon him, and thus also to G-d.1

Kedushos appear in the daily morning services: in the Shema, in the Amidah, and in the conclusion of the service. Each helps to explain the others; today we focus on the Kedushah deYotzer, in the beracha Yotzer Or.

The kedushos are based on the daily angelic choir described in the first chapter of Yechezkel and elsewhere. These choirs daily crown G-d and acclaim Him King, while accepting upon themselves His Kingship.

Why coronation? We say “umamlichim,” the angels make Him King, but it is explicit in the Sephard mussaf kedushah, saying “keter yitnu l’cha – a crown the angels will give to You.” There are many ways of appointing kings. We anoint Israelite kings, and the community proclaims them by praise. The crown is a badge of kingship, of course, but its placement is not a part of our usual ceremony. That is liturgically reserved for G-d.

The coronation of the kedushah is complemented by the angels’ acceptance of the Divine yoke, “umekablim ol malchus shamayim zeh mizeh,” and also by our coronation of G-d, as the mussaf kedushah goes on to say, “malachei hamonei ma’alah, im amcha yisrael kevutzei mata,” or as we say on Yom Kippur, “darei ma’alah im darei mata”; we crown Him along with the angels above, we accept Him along with the angels. There is no King without a nation, and He rules the heavenly hosts along with the physical realm. This compares to melech ha’olam in the basic beracha text, King of the universe, including the he’elam concealed, spiritual universe.

The coronation theme emerges from a variety of midrashim, both in the Gemara and later midrashic collections. The basic form is in Chagigah 13b, amplified here by variants from parallel versions in the other midrashim, particularly Pesikta Rabbasi 20, and the late Midrash Konen:

It is taught in a Mishnah (really a braisa) that (the angel) Sandalphon … stands behind the merkavah and binds crowns (made out of the prayers of Israel) for His Master. Indeed? But does Scripture not say “Blessed is the glory of G-d from His place” (Yechezkel 3:12) indicating that nobody [including the angels, who speak this verse] knows His place? Rather, he recites a name on the crown and it goes and seats itself on His head. (When the crowns arrive, there is a moment of silence, punctuated by the roaring of the chayos. Then the legions say, quaking, Kadosh kadosh kadosh… Then He passes by them, and they respond Baruch kevod H’ mimkomo. They all together say (Tehillim 146:10) Yimloch H’ l’olam…)

Our prayers crown G-d. Our words form the core of the angelic coronation ritual. We join their daily crowning and acclamation of G-d the King, and prepare to accept His Sovereignty when we say, Shema … Baruch shem kvod malchuso l’olam va’ed. The Gra comments on es shem hamelech: “this is the Royal Crown” – hinting at the whole trope, of names corresponding to crowns, made from our prayers, ascending to G-d.

Where does the Kedushah fit into the Yotzer Or? We begin the beracha with praise of G-d for creating the physical universe. Then, both on Shabbos (Keil Adon) and on weekdays (Keil Baruch) we get a piyut, that starts with physical creation, concluding with angelic praise. We read, and join in with, the angelic coronation ceremony, return to praise of physical things, concluding with thanks for creating the light sources. Light is of this world, of the physical sun and moon, but light is also a spiritual energy, as the Infinite Light.

These midrashim link us and our prayers with the angelic choirs, and urge us to incorporate them in our daily acceptance of G-d’s Kingship. However, the angels have to praise Him. We choose to praise and crown and accept Him, through free will, and may thus rise higher than the angels.

1 The Temple, by R’ Joshua Berman, Aronson: 1995, pp. 101-103.

(Originally published as Sefasai Tiftach, in the AishDas parsha sheet Mesukim MiDevash, Re’eh, 5764. It was largely based on Dr. Arthur Green’s book Keter, which was deemed an inappropriate source to mention by name for the intended audience of Mesukim MiDevash.)

(This is a prequel to next week’s article on the Coronation Theme on Rosh Hashanah.)

Monday, August 20, 2007

From Germany to Poland - Sim/Shalom/Rav

David Ziants commented on my post on the Retzei bracha in its Eastern (Bavel -> Edot haMizrach) and Western (Eretz Ysrael -> Ashkenaz) variants:

At Shabbat Mincha Nusach Ashkenaz (according to the Gr"a) there is "Sim Shalom" at yet there is no birkat haCohanim. Also we we still say "Sim Shalom" on morning fast days when we don't do Birkat HaCohanim (probably because of being in distress).

Thus I would conclude (according to Nusach Ashkenaz):
a) Sim Shalom always at Shacharit
b) Sim Shalom at other times only if there is k'riat hatora.

I think things are not necessarily as you have them here.

Here we get into another source of variation: Eastern vs. Western Ashkenaz. Germany vs. Poland. While the texts don't vary so much, minhag still does - what to say when. The Siddur Eizor Elyahu, (EE) a Siddur HaGra [of the Vilna Gaon] edited by R' Yehoshua Cohen zt"l and yblcht"a R' Isaiah Winograd, has a truly excellent set of notes documenting, from old printed and manuscript siddurim, what the "original" Nusach Ashkenaz was.

According to the notes in EE, western Ashkenaz said Sim Shalom at Shabbat Mincha, while Poland said Shalom Rav at Mincha. To quote the Rema (R' Moshe Isserles, Cracow, 16th century) in Orach Chaim 127: "We are accustomed to say at Shacharit 'Sim Shalom', and also every time we say 'Elokeinu ...' [the priestly blessing]. Otherwise we say 'Shalom rav'. Some say at Shabbat mincha, 'Sim Shalom', because the paragraph includes 'in the light of Your Face you gave us...', which is the Torah, which is read on Shabbat afternoons."

Old siddurim of the Western Rite have Sim Shalom, old siddurim of the Polish rite have Shalom rav. Testimony from students of the Gra tells us that he himself davened Nusach Poland, whatever the modern siddurim in his name say to do. The editors of EE thus brought both versions at Shabbat Mincha - one as Nusach Germany, one as Nusach Poland.

Many machzorim have Sim Shalom for Shabbat Mincha on Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur. I wonder if this is included as a survival of "Old Ashkenaz" as we also say "Oseh hashalom" at the conclusion of the bracha, which is certainly the Old Ashkenaz (and Eretz Yisrael) phraseology, instead of our current "Hamevarech et amo yisrael bashalom". Alternatively, it could be a simple unconscious bias of machzor editors, who often base themselves on German archetypes, since they tend to be better-edited and -annotated than other sources. Also, until the 1700s, Eastern-Ashkenaz machzorim were printed mostly in Western Europe, where the presses were (Furth, Amsterdam).

As for not saying Birchat Kohanim on some fast days (we do say it on the minor fast days, just not on Yom Kippur and Tisha B'Av) - I could equally speculate that for those days, there are special considerations. For Yom Kippur, there's the whole Avodat Yom haKippurim, which confers blessing on the whole nation, and for Tisha B'Av, we avoid anything that might give happy memories of the Temple.

It may even be simpler than that, looking at the notes in the Heidenheim machzor (Roedelheim 1815 3/e, reprinted Feldheim 2005) - birchat kohanim must be undertaken in simcha, a mourner can't say it, so perhaps since we have customs of mourning on Tisha B'Av and Yom Kippur (where it's not so much mourning as nervousness), we can't say Birchat Kohanim out of "distress", as you say.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Milah: Mitzvah on the father or son?

A bitter custody case in Oregon currently engages the issue of circ'n (milah): the father converted to Judaism, and wants to have the son circ'ed, the mother apparently is not Jewish - does the son have the right to decide to be circ'ed?

I don't understand why this is an issue: the son is old enough to make a conscious choice, he should be consulted.

Further, what's going on here? It appears the mother isn't Jewish, so neither is the son. Does the father want to force the son to convert? What beis din (Jewish court) would accept a convert under such circumstances?

Also: is there a mitzvah of circ'n independent of whether the son is Jewish or not? A literal reading (not that anyone seems to accept it) of the first law in the Shulchan Aruch (code of Jewish Law) on circ'n: "The father is commanded to circ his son." - seemingly regardless of whether the son is Jewish or not. Does the father take it this way? What rabbi would agree with him? It seems rabbis are not being consulted in this case, only a Harvard professor of family law.

I'm confused.

P.S. note the abbreviations. There are anti-circ crusaders who troll the Web looking for the full word, so they can come in and drop their propaganda on all and sundry. Hence the elision.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Parents update

My parents were in a major car accident. They're mostly OK - some bruises, cuts, slight concussion. No other cars were involved. They hit a guardrail, sailed over, rolled over and down an embankment. Car smashed. Them, not so much. Why? THEY WERE WEARING SEATBELTS.

For some more detail on what has been going on, Debbie (my wife) keeps a Livejournal:

They're home, after 4 days in hospital. I think they're going to give up driving, but they're trying to find a way to keep going to their summer home in the Catskills (to which they were enroute when they crashed).


For those who feel so motivated, their names are Simcha b. Rivka, and Tova Batya bat Tzivia.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Whar Ah Bin

Because sometimes, something trivial is all you're up for.

create your own visited states map
or check out these Google Hacks.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Bias in Siddur Editing

What do the editors of siddurim bring to the table?

R' Arnold Lustiger has issued a set of errata for the first edition of his machzor based on the extensive teachings of [The] Rav YB Soloveitchik zt"l. I have a small issue with it, although he does say that the siddur is supposed to represent standard nusach [the prayer recension of] Ashkenaz, while the Rav's modifications to the nusach can be found in footnotes.

One place he corrects is in the introduction to the long Vidui (confession), which was printed with what today is called "nusach sfard". Three phrases describe the Creator's role in atonement, and they are given in different orders in nusach Ashkenaz (pre-Chasidic European text) and nusach Sfard (post-Chasidic European text, modified by some patters from Spanish and Middle Eastern texts).

The order in our siddurim is:
  • shetislach lanu al col avonoteinu
  • vetimchal lanu al col pesha'einu
  • utechaper lanu al col chata'einu
The order that you say is "nusach sfard" turns out to be "old Polish", long before the rise of Chassidism brought Nusach Sfard to the world. See the siddur Eizor Eliyahu (3/e, p. 387), which is nusach haGra, whose notes give a lot of information on what the "original" Ashkenazi nuschaot were.

It seems that a lot of the old Polish and Eastern European siddurim from the 16-17th century have the same order as nusach Sfard (techaper, tislach, timchal), while the order that we mostly use today in nusach Ashkenaz (tislach timchal techaper) is found only in the Western Ashkenaz traditions (i.e.. German). So it seems possible, perhaps likely, that the Rav, following the Gra and early Eastern European (rather than German) traditions, would have said this passage in this order.

I wonder to what extent current Nusach Ashkenaz siddurim are based on Heidenheim's machzor, which reflects a more German-influenced tradition. There were Heidenheim machzorim issued in "Nusach Polin", which are probably the basis of our current text (real German versions differ, a lot on Yom Kippur, less on other days). One's background, as well as one's conscious program, does affect how one edits a siddur text.

For example, in the first bracha before Shma, there is an ambivalent text: this is the praise of Seventh Day, on which rested the Almighty from all His work, the Seventh Day praises and says, "Singing a Song for the Sabbath Day (Ps. 91)". It can either be read as "the praise of the Seventh Day, on which the Creator rested, is that it and we say the Psalm" or with a minor edit, which some Ashkenazi siddurim take, following Heidenheim's emendation as "of the day", "shelayom" instead of "shel yom". That makes it read, "this is the praise of the Seventh Day, that on it rested the Creator; this is the song of praise of the Seventh Day, "Singing a song..." Two separate ideas, rather than one with a bit of elaboration.

The Eastern text, however, disambiguates it differently, making the second phrase say, "this is the song of praise of the Seventh Day, and it says "Singing a song..." Alternatively, Seligmann Baer notes (Siddur Avodat Yisrael) that the Roman and Spanish siddurim say, "This is the song and praise for the Seventh Day, on which the Almighty rested from all His work, this is the praise of the Seventh Day, which says, "Singing a song..."

When R' Dr. David de Sola Pool, the long-time rabbi of the Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue in New York, edited the Siddur for the Rabbinical Council of America, as an Ashkenazi siddur in the 1960s, he recognized the ambiguity in the text, and put in a more Sephardic version to disambiguate it, one which is not, as far as I know, attested in Ashkenazi texts. The second phrase reads "this is the song of praise of the Seventh Day, and it says ..." This text appears in other modern Eastern siddurim.

So Heidenheim had a conscious program of emending texts to make more (to him) grammatical sense. de Sola Pool had a less-conscious tendency to regard his native (Spanish) nusach as normative. To what extent do other contemporary siddur editors adopt Heidenheim's texts, under some possible presumption that "the Germans were medakdek (precise), therefore we accept his version as correct"? Clearly, according to the editor of Eizor Eliyahu, what is precise is not always the most accurate.