Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Second Hakafot

Responding to a kvetch on Avodah last year, that it’s foolish to believe that our holy tzadikim based the idea of hakafot on a misquoted text, I wrote:

In fact, Yaari says that the whole thing is based on this mistaken transcription.

He quotes from Shaar Hakavvanot (R' Chaim Vital; shaar 6) "...I saw my teacher [the Ari] z"l who was very careful in this to circle after the sifrei torah or before them or after them and to dance and to sing before them as much as he could on the night of motzai Yom Tov after Aravit."

The problem was that Shaar Hakavvanot was not printed until 1852, and then in Salonika. Various excerpts appeared from manuscripts in collections of customs of the Ari. One such was the Negid uMitzvah of R' Jacob Tzemach, (Amsterdam, 1712, p. 76) who wrote "...and to dance and sing before them, and to make seven circuits with all his strength with great simcha at night, and in the day we did not see him do so."

R' J. Zemach was not accurate in his transcription, and left out "motzai Yom Tov", transposing it to Simchat Torah night (Shmini Atzeret, since he was in Eretz Yisrael).

The author of Hemdas Yomim (part 3, Days of Sukkot, ch. 8) did not have a ms. of Shaar Hakavvanot, and relied on R' Jacob Tzemach.

R’ Vital did not bring any reasons for the 7 hakafot; later authors attributed meanings to it, e.g. the 7 midot (lower sefirot?) according to the Shelah hakodesh, etc.

Actually, I don't think this is necessarily the origin of chassidim outside of Israel specifically doing hakafot on the night of Shmini Atzeret. It seems instead to be the origin of most of Jewry's doing it on the night of Simchat Torah, rather on motzaei Simchat Torah. Meanwhile, in the Land of Israel, the original Ari custom of motzaei Simchat Torah took hold in Chevron and J'lem, at least down to the 1700s. In Italy, too, they had accurate versions of Shaar Hakavvanot, and did their hakafot on motzaei ST.

In fact, the Chasidish minhag to make hakafot on the night of Shmini Atzeret was an innovation of the Hemdat Yamim (ibid., ch 7), to express unity with the Jews of EY who were making their hakafot that night. It was picked up by R' Alexander Ziskind of Horodno (Yesod veShoresh HaAvodah 11:16). A misnaged (quoted in S. Dubno, History of Chasidism, 446) testifies (lefi tumo) that in the Maggid's court (kloiz) in 1772 he saw the Chasidim making hakafot on Shmini Atzeret "like we do on ST".

The hakafot that we do during the day seem to be a much later invention. They sprang up independently in several places, in Germany, in Baghdad, in Poland (as testified to by the above Yesod veShoresh HaAvodah), etc. in the late 18th century.

So even if you don’t have easy access to Yaari, you can read this summary, with pointers to his sources. There was a mistake in transmission, which led to the universal Simchat Torah night hakafot, and there was a conscious choice made by the author of Hemdat Yamim, and ratified by early Chasidim, to do extra hakafot on the night of Shmini Atzeret.

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Other well-known halachot based on "mistakes": the kashrut of bee-honey (when the text meant date-honey in the Torah, and only switched in the period of the Early Prophets) and turkey (based on a mistake about Asian Indians vs. American Indians). When asked about turkey, isn't it based on a mistaken identity, the late Bobover Rebbe replied, "It's a good thing our ancestors weren't as frum as we are". So now we have a mesorah that turkey is kosher. And now we have hundreds of years of a minhag to do hakafot on leil Simchat Torah. It matters far less what the origin was, than that it has been ratified by pretty much all of Klal Yisrael.

* * *

And now this old custom, of hakafot on the night after Simchat Torah (did the moderns in Israel know it was ancient? Was it continued down to the present day or was there a break in the practice?) has been interrupted by the new rabbinic ban on outdoor concerts. For the political repercussions, please see Harry’s blog.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You say that the source of the custom is R. Jacob Zemah misquoting Sha'ar ha-Kavvanot.
But then you say the SheLaH cites an interpretation of the 7 haqafot.
SheLaH was of the generation before R. Jacob Zemah and himself visited Zefat where he learned from students of the AR"I. SheLaH could not have learned from the misprint of Nagid u-Mezaveh and must have heard about haqafot from students of AR"I.
Please clarify. (I have not investigated the matter myself.)