Tuesday, April 28, 2009
standing here after two millenia of exile, I no longer feel driven by a need to give to Him. There is something incomplete in my ahavas Hashem, love of G-d.
I for one do look forward to the restoration of sacrifices, and my job as janitor (or, if I'm lucky, singer). Perhaps not on a daily basis, as it's a bit hard to conjure up the whole imagery while dragging my eyes over the same old words yet again, but on Erev Pesach and on Yom Kippur, yes. I try to imagine myself there, involved in the service, in the audience, whatever. Sometimes it even works.
Micha speaks about it in terms of humans being innately generous, wanting to give to the One whom they love. I don't see much of it like that, except for korbanot nedavah, free-will offerings, which seem to be purely emotion-driven. Most of the sacrificial service that we see in the daily liturgy is mandatory, be it communal (in which case my emotions have little to do with it), or individual (in which case giving is, and should be, a hardship, a deterrent against further transgressions).
I see it rather as the complete fulfillment of the Torah, over half of whose mitzvot have to do with the Holy Temple and its service. Perhaps we feel incomplete if we don't have the emotional link, but our Geonim already seem to have recognized this and have adapted the service to recognize this, in partially distancing us from the reality of Temple observance.
I think Nusach Ashkenaz has lost some of its richness by switching from "ot'cha beyirah naavod" to "hamachazir shechinato letziyon" - it makes us far more passive observers, than active participants. Which is kind of ironic, in that most people, in the time of the Beit haMikdash, were just that, passive observers, usually not even there at all. But "returning His Presence to Zion" puts us entirely in the position of receivers, not active participants in Divine Worship.
What I'm not looking forward to, is being bankrupted by having to offer all those sin-offerings for all my sins, and then being executed by the court* for not having always been shomer shabbos.
R' Micha feels incomplete for not feeling sufficiently incomplete, whereas I look forward to the complete observance of the Torah, in chesed and din and rachamim, bimheirah beyameinu.
* Woo-hoo! Mass executions of all of us who were not Frum From Birth! At least if those elements who don't consider most modern Jews to be tinokot shenishbu gain control of the Sanhedrins. Given how the Israeli Government Rabbinate has been slowly taken over by hareidim, it's not inconceivable.
Monday, April 27, 2009
Meanwhile, the Orthodox anti-Zionists, mostly Chassidim, felt that any State set up not along religious lines, by non- or anti-religious people, could not be a legitimate Jewish State. This came out in several flavors.
For one, some believe that while Hilter killed Jewish bodies and made them into martyrs, the secular Zionists destroyed the Jewishness of souls, and took away their reward in the world to come.
For another, some believe that God extracted three oaths from us and the world, not to try to bring the Final Redemption by artificial means. We would not go up to Israel "as a wall," we would not rebel against the nations under which we were subjugated, while the other nations promised not to oppress us too much. For the Zionists, of course, these Oaths were inoperative, given what was going on in Europe - the deaths of Six Million and enslavement of the rest of European Jewry, surely is excessive subjugation.
But one of the most sensitive areas where this conflict comes out is in the escape of several Chassidic rebbes while their flocks died in the ovens. A number of Chassidic rebbes, such as the Satmarer and the Munkatcher, two of the most vehemently anti-Zionist rebbes, managed to get Zionist escape visas, but were unable to get sufficient visas for their families, let alone their thousands of followers. So they left, and made speeches reassuring their followers that they need not try to escape, that God would find a way to save them. Ephraim Zuroff has spoken about this on many occasions, as has Esther Farbstein. Even in Lithuania, very few yeshivas took advantage of the Japanese exit visas that allowed them to shelter in Shanghai; most felt God will provide, like the man on the roof (I sent the boat and the helicopter, you didn't use them, of course you drowned).
The simple answer is that nobody knew ahead of time that the Nazis would destroy Hungarian Jewry, they didn't conquer Hungary until very late in the war. But this is complicated by the idea that Hasidic Rebbes, and Roshei Yeshiva, are holy men who either have a direct channel to God, or who have Daat Torah, a perspective akin to prophecy, imbued by lifelong immersion in Torah, that makes the speaker an expert in fields which he has not studied.
This leaves us with many painful questions:
1) if the Rebbes were holy men with direct channels to God, couldn't they have interceded on behalf of their followers?
2) if they were holy men with direct channels to God, shouldn't they have known the end was coming, and encouraged their followers to flee?
3) if they were holy men with anti-Zionist principles, how could they have relied on the Zionists to get them out? and even more, having been rescued by the Zionists, how could they not have seen what RYB Soloveitchik saw - the imprimatur of history confirming that the Zionists were correct, that having a Jewish state, even if not a perfect religious state, was a positive good?
If we say they were not holy men with direct channels to God, then it is easy - they were people, with a drive to live, and do whatever it took to survive. That they survived and recreated a version of their prewar communities is a tremendous thing, and indicates that God does shine on them.
But for both the believer and the unbeliever, we are left with painful admissions:
a) to the believer, how could they have betrayed their followers to their deaths? should they not have at least had the dignity to stay with their flocks to the end, to help them with their painful journeys?
b) to the non-believer: they should have stayed and died in the ovens, by surviving they prove that their ideas are morally bankrupt, they should have (god forbid) died in the ovens along with their outdated corrupt ideologies.
And so for both the believer, and the non-believer, we are left with a cognitive disconnect: how could these rebbes have done what they did? Were they truly rebbes, how could they betray their people? Or since they betrayed their people, that proves they were never truly rebbes!
What one believes about these rebbes and rabbis, is based in (or can be attributed to, by opponents) recriminations about the Other, and politics about My Group is Better than Your Group. I don't see any good answers here.
I just thank God on this Yom Ha'atzma'ut that we have a State of Israel, which is the United States' only true ally in the region, as well as being a defender of Jews and Jewish interests around the world.
Sunday, April 26, 2009
by Cantor Sherwood Goffin
Proof Text of the Torah Given with Musical Taamim
How do we know that when Moses taught the Torah to the Jewish People it was taught with the Taamim - musical tropes? Proof Text #1: In Parshat Yitro (19:19) it says: “...Moses would speak and G-d would respond to him with a voice.” Most commentaries agree that this refers to the Oral Law (Torah she-b’al peh).
Rabbi Yehuda HeChasid (Germany, c. 1150-1217), the spiritual giant of his era, writes that “voice” is the Taamei HaMikra, the musical “trop.” We know that the people could not stand the power of G-d’s voice, and after only two of the commandments pleaded with Moses that he present the commandments in G-d’s place. How could they listen to G-d reciting an entire parallel Oral Law as Moses taught the Torah? The answer given by the Sefer HaChassidim is that this was the heavenly melody of the Torah Trop that punctuates the text of the Chumash and therefore serves as a “code matrix” from which emanated the Torah she-b’al peh! At a future time, I will give the second proof text.
DAVEN WELL, DON’T TALK, BUT SING ALONG!
© 2009 Sherwood Goffin and Lincoln Square Synagogue
Saturday, April 25, 2009
Rabbi Wein explains that Tzaraas is a visible consequence of telling lashon hara (gossip). What one said secretly, behind the other's back, becomes visible, such that everyone can see your disfigurement, that you gossiped about another person. The secret becomes visible. Today, since everybody gossips, the sign is no longer visible, because whatever it was, everybody has it.
I prefer the Chinuch's answer, which is more pragmatic (I tend to prefer pragmatic to magical explanations), although it still depends on magical instantaneous Divine retribution, because that's what Tzaraas was.
About 2300 years ago, our sages noticed that no matter how many people were afflicted with tzaraas, it was no longer working as a Divine deterrent to gossipping. Let's review the tzaraas process. One gets a skin lesion, and worries that it might be tzaraas. So he calls in a priest. The priest must give the official diagnosis, but more likely than not, was not himself expert in diagnosing the condition, so he would call in an expert. The expert would say "Yup, looks like Tzaraas", at which point the homeowner would immediately take out all their furniture and clothes and utensils, because the moment the priest pronounced the infection to be Tzaraas, everything in the house had to be regarded as infected as well, and would have to be processed to remove the taint of ritual unfitness. This includes burning the cloth items - hence everything was brought outside before the official proclamation, to save them from having to be burnt. The priest then proclaims the lesion to be tzaraas.
The affected person then has to wait until the lesion goes away, and is certified cured by the priest and his diagnostician. The priest, in pronouncing the cure, performs a ritual with two birds, a hyssop twig, and some scarlet thread, killing one bird over fresh water, using the live bird to sprinkle the dead bird's blood on the victim, and releasing the live bird. A week later, the victiim goes to the ritual bath, immerses, and can return to normal life.
This huge process, with potential for big material loss, would seem to be a sufficient deterrent for gossip, but the Evil Urge is strong, and it didn't work. So, rather than afflict everyone in Israel with this, the Chinuch claims, the Sages voluntarily gave up their expertise in diagnosing Tzaraas. They didn't teach it to the next generation. Without the proper diagnosis, the priests couldn't pronounce anyone to have Tzaraas. So the reason we don't do it any more is because our ancestors willingly gave up the ability to process Tzaraas, because its utility was at an end.
Some might see this as a precedent for changing Biblical laws which seem outdated. But this is not a universal precedent. Rather, it's an example of "shev v'al taaseh" - sit and don't do it. If you don't do something, it won't get done. But it can't remove a negative command - you can't passively sit and not keep kashruth, you actively eat food that is not kosher. It can only remove a positive command - by not doing it. And there has to be rabbinic as well as communal consensus that the time for, and utility of, this law has passed. I don't see that applying to anything nowadays, but others might differ.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
I started to get more serious about Judaism in college. In high school, well, I was going to Ramaz, that was enough to say I identified as Jewish, no? That, and helping with outreach efforts at Lincoln Square Synagogue. I couldn't really observe at home, since my parents were not yet interested in raising their own observance level. But at college, I resolved not to eat non-kosher meat, although I would eat veggie options in the regular dining hall, and I would not work on Saturdays, although I would study and do computer/written assignments. Not too much, though, since I was going to shul morning & afternoon, so I didn't leave myself much time for studying schoolwork. The rest of the road to observance came on slowly, much of it after marriage, where both my wife and I could grow together.
I knew other guys who really turned their lives around, perhaps with the help of the major Baal Teshuvah yeshivas, and others who sorta lost interest in the whole thing, even after a year in yeshiva in Israel. The first, founded of one of the best-known Torah websites. The second is still a serious Jew, teaches at Reconstructionist conventions, etc.
College is a time for self-investigation, and often the first place where one can really choose one's way of life, being out from under one's parents for the first time. One thing I'm glad of, is that Ramaz prepared us to deal with a seriously secular and particularly anti-religious world, and remain serious Jews, even if we didn't stay (or become) Orthodox. Like it or not, there are Jews of all stripes in this world, and educated and helpful Jews in all denominations enrich the lives of all affiliated Jews.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
20 Sivan was established after the Crusades by the German Jewish communities, to commemorate the deaths, the rounding up of Jews in synagogues that were then set on fire, the rape and pillaging of Jews and their towns and homes, by the Crusaders, who decided to kill some Jews enroute to kill the Saracen infidels in the Holy Land. It had its significance reassigned after Tach-veTat, the Chmelnitsky massacres of 1648-49.
I have long thought that it should now become the new Yom haShoah, instead of the rather stupid date it is now, which is theoretically linked to the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, but which is really connected to nothing, and is in Nissan which semi-suppresses the semi-mourning of Sefirah. 20 Sivan has a long history, it places the Holocaust as the latest in a string of European massacres as the Charedim see it, rather than as the sui generis event that it was, and it doesn't conflict with the joy of Nissan or the mourning for all past horrors on Tisha b'Av. Eventually, Holocaust commemoration will be folded into Tisha b'Av, but not yet, not while survivors and their children remember, and deserve their own day of commemoration. Better than 27 Nisan, it should be on 20 Sivan.
I've also been semi-jokingly calling it Yom Hashva'ah (יום השוואה) - because everyone wants to compare other situations to Hitler and the Holocaust. Some Reform Jews even compare Israel's treatment of the Palestinians to the Jews in the death camps, having swallowed the PLO Kool-Ade. It's so pervasive that we have "Godwin's Law" to describe its effect on a conversation. Even while many Jews use the uniqueness of the Holocaust to define their Judaism, a Judaism based on "Never forget!", while forgetting much of the 3250 years of rich history that predated 1933, others in and out of Judaism compare other interethnic conflicts to the Holocaust, diminishing the memory of the slain.
On this day, I thank God that all of my and most of my wife's family were out of Europe by the 1920s, so that we have living memories of great-aunts and -uncles, our parents have living memories of their grandparents, etc.
Meanwhile, Remember the Six Million.
Monday, April 20, 2009
Cardinal numbers are quintessential numbers. Bertrand Russell would say, in defining “number”, that number is the class of all classes which have the same number of members. That is, the number 5 is that which is characteristic of all 5-member sets. A number, a cardinal number, then describes the size of a collection, an unordered collection. If talking about time, we might say One Day, Two Days, Three Days.
* * * * * * ...
Ordinal numbers, on the other hand, are points on a line. They are imbued with order: the second number follows the first, the third number follows the second, and so on. The successor of a number is always a larger number, never a smaller number. Thus we might say First Day, Second Day, Third Day.
Does this sound familiar, at this time of year? It should – it’s the big counting that every Jew does, the Omer. And the counting is indisputably cardinal, we say “Today is, e.g., eleven days, which are one week and four days [in/to] the Omer.” Why do we count cardinal days rather than ordinal days? I would think ordinal would be more intuitive, as we’re counting days and weeks towards a goal of the Feast of Weeks. Other periods of time are counted ordinally, e.g. the days of the week and the Biblical month numbers (the modern names were adopted from the Babylonians). But days of the month tend to be cardinal: chaf-vav Nisan, etc., unlike our English usage where we talk about the twenty-sixth of the month.
Some (e.g. R’ Soloveitchik) seem to think that the preposition we choose, in or to, suffices to distinguish between counting as cardinal or ordinal numbers. Not so. The count itself is cardinal or ordinal, and we use a cardinal count: one day, two days, etc. Russell Hendel notes in Rashi Yomi that the prepositions (in or to) often switch meaning dependent on context, so the choice of preposition is not dispositive.
Meanwhile, the Lubavitcher Rebbe recognizes the same problem I do, but leaves the reasoning implicit and unexplained: “the lessons should be obvious.” No, they’re not.
Shemaryahu Talmon, in an article on a calendar from the Qumran 4 cave, (4Q325) notes that days of the week for ritual purposes, such as the period of a family’s priestly service, are cardinal. (Solving riddles and untying knots, Jonas C. Greenfield et al)
Perhaps there’s a secular/religious division there? Ritual numbers are cardinal, calendrical numbers are ordinal?
R’ Benzion Milecki, citing the Zohar on human achievement, suggests that each day’s work is cumulative, so that what one achieves on day two depends on what he did on day one, etc. That seems a bit far-fetched, inasmuch as the “work” one does during the Omer, self-work on the kabbalistic “lower seven attributes”, was invented by the siddur printers after it became known that the Ari meditated on the seven attributes during the Omer (see U’Sfartem Lachem haShalem, by R’ Daniel Frisch, the Matok Mid’vash). The style of counting long predates the Ari.
R’ Micha Berger, building on R’ Elozor Reich, suggests that since the Torah asks us to count complete days, perfect days, we count them as wholes, as integers. Thus we can count them at the beginning of the day, as Tosfos requires – once a moment of the new day has passed, we are into the wholeness of the day, and can count the whole day. Otherwise, we would have to wait for the whole day to pass before counting it, recognizing that another whole day has passed. That sounds vaguely plausible.
But I tend to think of these kinds of subtleties as arising from some kind of halachic or conceptual requirement, and only later, acquiring homiletic or mystical meanings, much as the covering of the Challah arises out of “poreis mappah umekadeish”, spreading the tablecloth and making Kiddush; only later did we get the homiletic reason of “the bread is embarrassed to be blessed after the wine” or “the dew covered the manna above and below on the Shabbat”).
Russell Hendel has another thought attributed to R’ Soloveitchik that intrigues, which leads me to speculate: perhaps it’s a consequence of being cardinal numbers that if one forgets to count for a whole day, he loses the ability to say the bracha. Why? Because if one forgot to count the day, the day is gone, and can’t be retrieved. So from then on, the count is qualitatively different, as it is missing something, and is thus not a perfect count. If we counted ordinally, and lost a day, well, the number line continues, and even if we missed day 14, by the next day the number line is still 15 days long. That gives me an idea – perhaps it is because of the requirement of temimus, perfection, in the count, that we count cardinally. Only then can the count be qualitatively perfect or not perfect, while with an ordinal count, the count goes on whether or not one missed a day.
Does anyone have any better ideas, arising out of older considerations, as to why cardinal rather than ordinal?
Friday, April 17, 2009
The usual reading, following Rashi and Mechilta, is that Moshe sang the Song Az Yashir with the men, and then Miriam led the women in a separate recital of the same song. It serves as a precedent for the segregation by sex in traditional public prayer. But the Netziv (the last Rosh Yeshiva of Volozhin) carefully picks apart the verses (Ex 15:20-21) to find what my old study partner called the "maximum chiddush" - way more is implicit in the verses than simple sex-segregated repetition.
First off, Moshe says "Ashirah laH' ki ga'oh ga'ah," while Miriam says "Shiru laH' ki ga'oh ga'ah." Next, Miriam is called "the Prophetess," and also styled "sister of Aaron." Third, only one line of Miriam's song with the women is quoted. Fourth, Miriam takes up an instrument, and encourages the women to do so as well. All of these provide clues as to the difference in the male and female experience of celebratory liturgy.
Moshe is the one who spoke with God face to face. He wore the mask to protect people from his glowing skin. As such, he was always close to God, the highest of prophets, detached from the hamon am, living in a high-level trance of constant experience of the Divine closeness, as it were. So Moshe, lost in his own experience of God, says "I will sing to God for He has excelled." It was all Moshe's own reaction, fed by the Divine Inspiration, and as such, ws written down in the Torah word for Divinely inspired word.
Miriam, on the other hand, is a prophet of the people, much as Aaron is. She is on the same level as Aaron, so she is described as his sister. Moshe sang because he became the conduit for Divine flow, but Miriam actively took up the tambourine and sang, and actively involved other women in the song. However, since her song was her own creation, other than the refrain of Shiru laShem which she received prophetically, it was not recorded in the Torah, the record of Divine revelation. But her act of creative liturgy, of involving the masses in her prayer, is recorded approvingly.
Thus far the Netziv, as explained by R' Sokol in his 7th day pesach drasha. But what can this tell us today? R' Richard Wolpoe has said that he doesn't understand why women's tefillah groups feel so bound by the traditional forms of public prayer. Since they are not actually commanded in daily public prayer, they have the freedom to compose their own liturgy, to say prayers that are meaningful to them, as women in the past have done through their own compositions called techinot, personal prayers, which were often collected and published for other women to use.
The obligation in prayer is either daily or "in time of need", which R' Soloveitchik reads as obligating women in daily prayer, even though the rabbis created a timebound structure for prayer - that does not override the underlying non-timebound nature of prayer, as recorded in the recent book "Thinking Aloud". Techinot are one example of women creating their own prayers to answer their own needs, Yiddish and Hebrew prayers from Eastern Europe, in collections such as "Shas Techines"..
R'n Shoshana Boublil has often challenged women to come up with ways to sanctify their daily activities, through prayers, through declarations of intent for holiness, etc. Men have a long recorded tradition of attempts to sanctify their daily ritual and workaday activities, through prayers, declarations of intent to perform mitzvot, etc. Women have just as long a tradition, going back to Miriam creating a women's ritual for the same event as that for which God gave a ritual to the men - and that creative ritual was approved by God. The resulting rituals are not as well recorded, which gives each generation the opportunity to construct prayers that speak to them.
Let this post renew R'n Boublil's challenge - just as Miriam took the active public role in creating public women's ritual, so too today's women should take an active role in creating equally important, albeit sex-segregated, rituals for today's women. Don't let the heterodox take away your power to create meaningful rituals.
Sunday, April 12, 2009
Rabbi Sokol gave a d’var torah comparing the Tosafot and the Rambam on who drinks the Four Cups at the seder. Tosafot, on Pesachim 98b (s.v. Lo yiftechu lo me’arba kosot), tells us that it should suffice for the leader of the seder to drink the Four Cups, just as we do in other situations. But it’s a good idea to be machmir, and have everyone, men & women, drink the Four Cups. The Rambam, meanwhile, requires all adults to drink, men and women.
He then brought in R’ Chaim Brisker, who tries to resolve the apparent contradiction by positing that Rambam saw a separate din, law, category, relating to the Four Cups. The Four Cups are thus treated differently than other Cups on Which We Bless (kos shel bracha), and everyone has to drink from them.
I mused to the Rabbi, afterwards, “what would R’ Marc Shapiro say?” R Shapiro asks how much of Reb Chaim’s ideas are really what the Rambam was thinking, and how much is really Reb Chaim’s highly creative thinking about the Rambam and the law. The Rabbi thought that Reb Chaim’s explanation seemed very close to the text. But I still wondered.
I reviewed the sections of the Bavli and the Yerushalmi that discuss the obligation to drink four cups at the Seder. It turns out that there is a key statement in the Bavli that is missing in the Yerushalmi:
Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says that women are obligated in the Four Cups because they too were included in the miracle.
I also looked into the Rosh, the famous Ashkenazic posek. He believes that it is possible for one person to do all the drinking, and others fulfill their obligation through him, although the sense of the Gemara for him is that everyone should drink, and he too recommends it. The baraita he cites is also present in the Yerushalmi.
The Rosh spells out his reason why he believes that it is OK for one person to do all the drinking vicariously, which Tosafot leaves implicit, by carefully examining the language of the Mishnah. The Mishnah says repeatedly, "they mix for him the first/second/third/fourth cup". Note the subject and object: THEY (the assembled company) mix for HIM (the leader of the ceremony). So even ab initio, one person can (and probably did, in Mishnaic times) do all the drinking.
So there are two statements: the above in the name of R' Yehoshua b. Levi, which is only in the Bavli, and a baraita present in both, in markedly different versions:
Bavli (108b-109a): Our rabbis taught: All are obligated in these four cups, men women and children. Rabbi Judah says, what use is it giving children wine? Rather, give them nuts and pins to play with so that they don't fall asleep and they ask questions.
Yerushalmi (68b): It was taught: A man must make his wife and children happy on the holiday. What what does he make them happy? With wine. Rabbi Judah says, women with what they like and children with what they like - women with new clothes and shoes, children with nuts and pins.
So again, we have the Bavli requiring women to drink, if not children, while the Yerushalmi tells us that drinking does not make women happy, rather, buying them new clothes and shoes. And that wine vs clothes/toys is an issue in rejoicing on the holiday, rather than in the issue of drinking Four Cups. Both, of course, are built on the Mishnah. The Bavli reads the Mishnah in context of baraitot (sources contemporary with, but left out of, the Mishnah) that include women in the drinking, while the Yerushalmi does not read through the filter of those baraitot, and is left with the plain sense of the Mishnah, where only one person drinks.
* * *
So it seems likely to me that this is the reality:
The Bavli requires women to drink the Four Cups. The Rambam, as is his usual method, reports the Bavli’s ruling as law. The absence of these statements from the Yerushalmi seems to indicate that there is no actual requirement for women to drink the Four Cups in the ancient customs of the
How can we verify this? By, among other things, looking at pictures. The Haggadah as a text lends itself to illustration. As a pedagogical tool of the nation’s central founding story, it strives to educate young and old, literate and illiterate. Many manuscript and printed haggadot are accompanied by pictures – of steps in the narrative, of steps in the Seder, the visual pun of the Rabbit Hunt*, and pictures of the seder ceremony, presumably reflecting the way it was done in the locations where the artists and publishers lived and worked.
Let’s look at some pictures, shall we?
Click on each picture for a larger version.
The two left-most figures at the table appear to be women – they may have breasts, and are wearing caps. The man and the boy, by contrast, are not wearing anything on their heads. This seems surprising in the modern context, but in 13th-century
Most significantly for our issue, though, only the father is holding a wine goblet, while the mother is not, nor are the children.
the left being from the Sarajevo Haggadah, we see several people with wine goblets, women as well as men. In the right-hand picture, although it’s muddy, we can see similarly, the left side being the dining room and the right side the kitchen – several people each with their own goblet, Spaniards (Sephardim) following the Rambam. In fact, the Sarajevo Haggdah picture is captioned, “Everyone drinks their cup, and makes the Seder as is written.”
In a German manuscript painting from the 1460s [
The father is holding a wine fountain, apparently, for later distribution to the other adults at the table, each of whom has their own cup, or becher, rather than a goblet. Everyone at the table has some kind of head covering.
we also see every adult drinking from their own glass. Interesting that they are using glasses (we can see them partially filled with wine), and a glass decanter, rather than metal goblets as in the previous picture – perhaps these are Venetians?
Now we come to the printed haggadot. And here we see more variation in practice, at least through the 16th century.
The first illustrated haggadah [YHY], possibly from pre-Exilic
in one of the sixty famous woodcuts from the
Not far away, in
we have a similar family seder scene. Here, there are two men, two women and two children, apparently about to eat the Karpas (the left-most man is holding a bunch of plants). And there are only two bechers on the table. Apparently this family follows the custom of the Yerushalmi, where only men drink the wine. Or perhaps only the leader, the bearded figure on the left, is drinking, while the other cup is for Elijah or for the salt-water.
(Update: Mrs. B__ notes that they're probably not eating Karpas, as the caption in one of the books had it, but reading Maror, al shum mah in the passage where Rabban Gamliel requires us to explain the significance of Pesach Matzah and Maror. After all, just as it says in modern haggadot, they're all pointing at the plant. There's a woodcut for Maror in the Prague haggadah of 1526 that has someone holding a big plant and pointing to it.)
Unfortunately, I don’t have ready access to Ashkenazic haggadah pictures from the intervening centuries; the famous Venice tri-lingual haggadot (three versions, translated into Yiddish, Ladio and Judeo-Italian) of 1609 and 1629, much imitated, use the same pictures for Ashkenazim and Sephardim, as far as I can tell, where all drink. Perhaps this in itself was a unifying influence, bringing everyone to follow the Bavli's ruling?
By the late 18th century, we see an
where father, mother, and one of the four sons are drinking. The Bavli’s ruling has become more widespread. The Rosenthaliana-Leipnik manuscript haggadah of 1738, done by the German artist Joseph b. David, similarly illustrates the Kadesh Urechatz with pictures where everybody drinks. So too the 1712 Amsterdam haggadah, with pictures slightly redrawn from the Venice 1629 haggadot - in both cases, all drink.
* * *
I’d say this demonstrates the plausibility of our hypothesis – that
I might further speculate that this relates to the introduction of the Shulchan Aruch. Before the Shulchan Aruch, there was no real code for Ashkenazim. But with the Shulchan Aruch in the early 1500s, and especially with the Rema’s Ashkenazic glosses introduced c.1578, its rulings became the way of life for all of Jewry. And in Orach Chaim 472:14, the Shulchan Aruch obligates women in the Four Cups, and the Rema does not disagree. Thereafter, then, that would have become the normative ruling for Ashkenazim, rather than the recommendation of some Rishonim.
A note on sources. I copied the pictures of old haggadot from various sources, noted above in the text:
[YHY] – Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, “Haggadah and History.”
[DG] – Daniel Goldschmidt’s historical haggadah.
* Rabbit hunt: the Talmudic mnemonic for remembering the proper order of blessings when a holiday falls on Saturday night is Yakneha"z [Yayin Kidush Ner Havdalah Zman, or WineKiddush Flame Separation Time], which sounds like the German Jag-den-has, or "hunt the hare." Since the Jews have so often been on the run, a picture of a rabbit-hunt often adorned haggadot and other Jewish prayerbooks in the Renaissance.
Wednesday, April 08, 2009
The Yavneh Minyan Experience.
I got to shul late, close to 6:30, with a shopping cart full of siyum food. Davened quickly, caught up by the middle of the repetition of the Amidah.
I got up to say the siyum, which we had planned as a holding action until the sun came over the buildings across from the shul yard, but then the Rabbi suggest we all go outside to Avenue M and see if the sun is visible. We all trooped outside, and it was a good thing, as the sky clouded up later.
Rabbi Sokol started mumbling the first psalm (148 - we followed the brief rite established by the Chatam Sofer in 1813, and adopted by the Vilna yeshivot), so I launched into the tune I had worked out for it (I think it's a Carlebach tune for Hallel, that one of our baalei tefillah uses regularly, so everyone could sing along), and people joined in.
Just as we said the blessing Oseh Maaseh Bereshit, aloud, in muddled unison, the sun cleared the top of the elevated Brighton Line station and burst through the clouds. We had been worried about clouds - all the weather reports were for "mostly cloudy, chance of rain." But God and His Nature cooperated, and we recited the bracha at the proper time, fully articulated.
We then sang El Adon, recited Ps 19 verse by verse, then Aleinu and Kaddish.
We returned to shul, I said the siyum (on the Yerushalmi version of Tractate Horayoth), but nobody wanted to hang around and listen to my drosho at that point, and we went & ate. Debbie had set up the food during my siyum.
Then we went out and burned stuff. The smell reminded me of huddling around the campfire for warmth on the cold July mornings at Scout camp, which led into a nice conversation with Lion of Zion's father about Camp Kunatah (The Last Kosher Scout Camp in America) Then (late 1970s) & Now (early 2000s).
Then we went home to take naps. All in all, a hectic but fulfilling experience. Standing on the streetcorner, praying aloud as a group, publicly thanking God for creating the natural order in the midst of the built environment, terrific.
[Notes marked JE: are taken from the Jewish Encyclopedia article on Ben Azzai]
[This is my drasha for the siyum on Horios, Erev Pesach 5769 at the Yavneh Minyan of Flatbush]
In learning Tr. Horios in the Yerushalmi, to finish IY”H before Pesach and give a siyum, I’ve come across Ben Azzai not only as a tanna, but as an idiom. He is the archetype of the “talmid hara’ui lehora’ah”, the student worthy of ordination, which implies that he never actually obtained the degree of rabbinic ordination, or perhaps, in modern terms, he was Yoreh Yoreh, the lower, standard rabbinic degree, attained by most communal, teaching and pulpit rabbis, but not Yadin Yadin, the higher rabbinic degree that allows one to function on a rabbinical court.
But more than that, throughout the first chapter, whenever someone wants to refer to someone who would undoubtedly know the correct law, they use the term “Ben Azzai” as an idiom to represent that, whether to describe a civilian or a sitting judge who should know better than to follow a mistaken judgment. In fact, some Amoraim claimed great authority by calling themselves “Ben Azzais.” (JE: Yer. Bik. ii. 65a; Yer. Peah vi. 19c). So the use of Ben Azzai as an idiom extends throughout the Yerushalmi.
Rabbi Akiva apparently looked down on him for not having bothered to take the rabbinic degree, and for not being married – he felt that Ben Azzai’s soul was not sufficiently settled, not having married. Of course, some of that may have been personal. Ben Azzai was betrothed to R’ Akiva’s daughter for years, but never actually married her (JE: Keth. 63a-b). And yet, Ben Azzai and Akiva are often paired and compared: as opponents, as teacher and student, as equals in the industriousness of their study, and later in the Pardes experience.
Ben Azzai is also known, in M. Sotah 3:4, for recommending that people teach their daughters Torah. Unfortunately, that idea was not taken up immediately, rather Rabbi Eliezer’s recommendation against became the generally-followed rule until the last century.
There is also a story, in Chagigah 14b, about the intensity of Ben Azzai’s learning. In the middle of a series of stories about the intensity of teaching mysticism – that flames shoot out of the heads of those who teach it correctly – we have a story where Ben Azzai is teaching, and flames surround his little group. When asked if he was teaching mysticism, he responded that no, he was just tying together psukim from Torah, Neviim and Ketuvim. In other words, his big strength was Biblical interpretation.
Ben Azzai’s “Great Principle”, according to the JE, which opposes Rebbi Akiva’s principle of “what is hateful to you, do not do unto your neighbor”, is “This is the book of the generations of Adam… In the day when God created Adam… Man was created in God’s image.” In a sense, then, Akiva’s great principle is outer-directed, while Ben Azzai’s is inner-directed, towards the perfection of the intellect and attachment to the Torah, such that the Torah would saturate him. This devotion to Torah kept him from marrying.
And yet, even though he did not consider himself a mystic, his death is part of the Pardes narrative.
I quote from a series of lectures by Idel on Maimonides’ and others' creative understanding of the Pardes:
The Core of the "Pardes" Tradition: Tosefta Hagigah 2:3-4
Four entered the Orchard (Pardes): Ben Azzai, Ben Zoma, Akher and Rabbi Aqiva. One peeked and died; one peeked and was smitten; one peeked and cut down the shoots; one ascended safely and descended safely.
Ben Azzai peeked and died. Concerning him Scripture says: "Precious in the eyes of he Lord is the death of His loyal ones" (Ps. 16. 15).
Ben Zoma peeked and was smitten. Concerning him Scripture says: "If you have found honey, eat only your fill lest you become filled with it and vomit" (Prov. 25:16).
Akher peeked and cut down the shoots. Concerning him Scripture says: "Do not let your mouth bring your flesh to sin, and do not say before the angel that it is an error; why should God become angry at your voice, and ruin your handiwork" (Eccl. 5:5).
Rabbi Aqiva ascended safely and descended safely. Concerning him Scripture says: "Draw me, let us run after you, the King has brought me into His chambers" (Song I:4).
Idel brings a (medieval? Unknown author) manuscript expanding on Ben Azzai’s experience:
In the Hekhaloth texts, too, the idea of Light is paramount. Pardes is described as full of the radiance of Light. There is a manuscript text by an unknown author - one which I needed some 60 pages to analyze, so we can only deal witha small part of it here. There are some ten lines in it about Ben Azzai (who did not return). "Ben Azzai peeked and died. He gazed at the radiance of the Divine Presence like a man with weak eyes who gazes at the full light of the sun and becomes blinded by the intensity of the light that overwhelms him... He did not wish to be separated, he remained hidden in it, his soul was covered and adorned ... he remained where he had cleaved, in the Light to which no one may cling and yet live."
Ben Azzai ascends to perceive the Light of the Divine Glory (a major aspect of Heichalot and early medieval mysticism; see Wolfson’s book, Through a Speculum that Shines).
a) overwhelms him;
b) he wishes to unite with it;
c) he is hidden in it, his soul is covered and adorned.” (really, go look at the linked lecture, Idel analyzes the text expansively).
This idea comes down to us today, in the Chasidic (emphasized in Chabad) of bitul ha-yesh, nullification of existence. The soul is a candle flame which is nullified before the infinite Divine Light, which is an understanding of “ki ner mitzvah vetorah or”, a mitzvah is a lamp and the Torah is light – the mitzvoth that we do feed the flame of our souls, but that flame is nullified beside the Light expressed by Him who gave us the Torah. It is the Chassidic “lower unity”, recognizing that existence is nullified, has no real existence, beside God.
And yet, and yet, even though today such an idea drives whole systems of Torah, if we look at it in context of Ben Azzai’s life, and the ideas he espouses, perhaps it’s not the ideal life of the Torah scholar, of the Tanna.
Who was Ben Azzai, ultimately? From what I can see, a genius, but too self-centered to survive the ultimate test. The Maharal, using the “three things on which the world stands” passage as a paradigm for interpreting the three-fold statements throughout Pirkei Avot, sees the ideal personality as balanced between Torah (intellect, personal growth), Divine Service (attachment to God), and Service to Others (attachment to the community).
Ben Azzai was not so well balanced. He was a genius of the intellect - he was devoted to Torah. He strove for greatness in Avodah - he delved into the mysteries, but ultimately failed. Why did he fail? Because, as Rebbi Akiva said, he was insufficiently attached to others. He did not marry, so was not grounded in the basic interpersonal relationship, and he did not take semicha, to take his proper place on the Sanhedrin - to fulfill his duty to his community, to all of Israel. He was unbalanced - too heavy in the intellect (self-directed), insufficently outer-directed, he strove to reach Up, and never came back Down.
Ben Azzai became an idiom, because of his intellect, but he did not become a major halachic figure, because he was too driven by self-interest, insufficiently driven by duty to klal Israel. We should all strive to be balanced persons, to live our lives for ourselves, for God and for others, so that we too, may fulfill our highest aspirations and yet be whole.
P.S. In learning the Yerushalmi, I used two terrific aids:
1) the audio shiurim on Daf Yomi Yerushalmi by Rabbi Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer; and
2) the running commentary of Yedid Nefesh.
Saturday, April 04, 2009
In short: it means, "watched". But what is watched, and from when, and why? Grain or flour, from various possible times, for various reasons. Let's go through them:
Why: 3 possibilities. Rambam suggests, in slightly different contexts, to prevent chimutz (leaven from forming), and for the sake of matza, while Rashi says it's for the sake of the mitzva of matza. What's the difference between the last two? Well, one could make matza for dog food, according to the second position, and as long as it's also going to be eaten by people, it's OK. But for Rashi, the matza has to be made for the sake of the mitzva of eating matza, not just for being non-chametz.
When: The gemara says "from the time of kneading, and Rava would watch from earlier." How much earlier, it doesn't say. The Rif suggests it's from the time of cutting, but that it was a personal chumra of Rava, not meant for everyone. The Rosh, who was of course from Ashkenaz, even if he later moved to Spain, says from the time of grinding. Why then? There's nothing in the Talmud to suggest it. R' Sokol believes that it was because of the development of water-driven mills in Northern Europe. Since there would be water involved in the grinding of grain, it would need to be guarded against coming in contact with water from the time of grinding, from the time of going to the water mill.
Nowadays, when mills are driven by electricity, that water-contact should not be a problem. Therefore, according to R' Sokol, since pretty much all matza is guarded from the time of kneading, especially since (after the 1700s) the 18 minutes includes the time of kneading, pretty much all box matza will be shmura. And it's all for the sake of the mitzva, because all the KP matza is. There is non-KP matza which isn't, like Streits Moonstrips (which are flavored).
So why do so many yeshivish favor "shmura mish'at ketzirah", guarded from the time of harvest? Probably because of the chasidicization of the yeshiva world. The black and white uniform, the treatment of the rosh yeshiva as a rebbe, non-gebrokts, all of these are absorptions from the chasidishe velt. So too here, apparently - for the Litvish, regular cheap matza should be fine, but most buy the expensive shmurah.
Why was there this absorption from the chasidim? Probably because, in the early years of the Orthodox revival, chasidism seemed somehow more dynamic, sexier as it were, in the years when there were maybe 50-100 guys in Lakewood (1950s-60s).
So there you have it - lots of people whose very frum grandparents didn't bother with shmura matza, now treat it as The One Right Way.
Friday, April 03, 2009
by Cantor Sherwood Goffin
Tefillat Tal, the Prayer for Dew
One of the melodic highlights of the festival service for Pesach is the very majestic, yet deeply inspirational “Tefillat Tal,” the Prayer for Dew. This sanctified, ancient melody of the Ashkenazic synagogue service was standardized in the period between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries in the Rhineland communities of Germany. Now that the rainy season is over in the Land of Israel, we pray that the Dew will be copious and preserve the crops. It is also a time “when the windows of heaven are open to our prayers for blessing and life.” (Pirkei de R’ Eliezer)
In the beautiful poetry of Tal, composed more than a millenium ago by R’ Elazar HaKallir, I will intersperse the traditional nusach with the beautiful “Shifchi Kamayim” by R’ Shlomo Carlebach, that interprets and complements the words and melody of this profound prayer.
© 2009 Cantor Sherwood Goffin and Lincoln Square Synagogue
Thursday, April 02, 2009
I attended a fascinating shiur by R' Menachem Leibtag at RIETS' Kollel Yom Rishon on Armistice Day in 2007, on the Biblical roots of Pesukei Dezimra. He focussed on Hodu, how the passage from I Chron is a paraphrase of two tehillim.
Enroute, we analyzed Psalm 105, the beginning of which is paraphrased in Hodu. R' Leibtag has a simple approach to breaking down a psalm:
3) What's The Point.
Here's the psalm, broken down as it was done in class.
vv. 1-5 are a command, telling someone to praise God.
6: who is to praise? The descendents of Avraham and Yaakov, namely, us.
v. 7: what is the object of the praise? God, who rules throughout the land.
So we have subject (we), verb (praise), and object (God).
Note that verse 7 calls Him "Elokeinu", where v. 1 calls Him "YKVK" - the object of praise is in an intimate, I-Thou relationship, not the transcendent Commander God, King over all the nations. We who are in a covenantal relationship with God, we praise Him.
Let's break down the rest of the story:
7: declares God as the Party of the First Part in the covenant..
8 sets the tone of remembering the Covenant. Which Covenant?
9-11: The Covenant Between Halves, with Avraham, that his descendents will wander, will go to an alien land, will become enslaved, and after 400 years will emerge with great property and return to Kena’an (Israel). The promise of having a nation some time in the future.
12-15 There will first be a period of wandering.What period of wandering is referred to the Psalm, where God didn’t let people touch us? The period of the Fathers:
16-22: concluding with the final journey to
23: we arrive in
24: we’re doing OK
25: not so much any more.
26:Moshe and Aaron are sent
27 and convince Paroh and the Jews with their magickal Signs and Wonders.
28-36: The Plagues come down to convince Paroh - frogs, blood, locusts, darkness, killing the firstborn, etc.
37: and sure enough, we are sent out with gold and silver.
39-41: the Desert experience: pillars of fire and smoke, Manna, crossing the Sea
42: and God finally fulfills the prophecy, the covenant with Avraham:
43-44: by bringing us into the Land, conquering the inhabitants – the Fifth Cup, but why?
45: So that we could fulfill the Torah and its Mitzvot, live our true destiny as god’s people, and praise Him. And that’s our end of the Covenant – when God keeps His covenant, it is our duty to say Hallel.
When we say this psalm as part of Davening we stop after verse 15. (actually the slightly variant version from Chronicles), followed by the next bit, it becomes a more universal, perhaps post-Messianic message - Sing unto Him, all the Earth, the other nations shall remember His glory, etc. But the psalm itself in isolation may well have been an early version of Maggid. Which fits interestingly with the idea that King David composed the version of this psalm found in I Chron 16:8... as a liturgy to say over the daily offerings (see verse 7 - David ordained that the priests say the Hodu which follows while offering the daily sacrifices).
So perhaps King David then composed the alternate, longer version to use as a Maggid at the Pesach seder. That would liturgically link the Pesach offering with other Temple rituals, emphasizing that the culmination of the Exodus was the Temple in Jerusalem, where we could (and will bb"a) fulfill all the mitzvot of the Torah.
Wednesday, April 01, 2009
Someone on Hirhurim raised the issue of "Davar tmuah lerabbim", something that is startling to the masses should not be done.
Davar tmuah lerabbim is indeed a consideration in psak, but it cuts both ways - sometimes it's necessary to pasken even if the result will be surprising. You have to take into account who the rabbim is, and how they may be affected.
See SA YD 245:10, and Shach there, and Birchei Yosef in Shiurei Yoreh Deah s"k 6. The Shach has no problem as long as the posek presents clear reasoning for doing something that looks surprising. The Birchei Yosef, similarly, says what my correspondent seems to imply, but has no real problem with it if a rav wants to permit something which is technically OK, even if most people don't do it. So it's a consideration, but much less of one than the poster would like.
In this case, my wife agrees with the poster (who is, naturally, opposed to Orthodox women rabbis) on a sociological basis. If we start having women rabbis, it will denigrate the field in the eyes of men, and men will stop becoming rabbis. It happened with bank clerks 100 years ago. Bank clerk used to be a high-status job, high-trust, etc., when it was done by men. Now that it is done by women, it is a low-status, low-pay job.
And it is happening in the heterodox seminaries - more women than men are signing up for the rabbinical programs in recent years. Once women start doing it, it becomes women's work, and infra-dig for men.
IOW, it may not be technically assur for a woman to have yoreh-yoreh smicha and function in a pulpit or in a school, especially since, as my mother points out, in the Orthodox world the rabbi doesn't have to lead services and witness weddings. Thus, the Shach and Birchei Yosef should have no problem with this Rabbi Hurwitz, on a technical level. But as a policy question, it may not be the best thing for Orthodoxy.