Thursday, July 22, 2010

Is Moshiach Always Shayech [relevant]?

I've been davening in a Nusach-Sfard (chasidic-style) shtible lately, because it has a morning minyan at a convenient time (7:45) without another mourner competing for leading the prayers.

I was chatting with the gabbai about my confusion between the Nusach Ashkenaz and Nusach Sfard texts, that Nusach Sfard has a lot of extra words stuck in. He commented that he once said the extra phrase in Kaddish, "Vayatzmach Purkanei Vikareiv Meshicheih" (his redemption will flower and his Messiah will draw near) at a Nusach Ashkenaz place, and they came down on him hard for it*.

At any rate, the gabbai was puzzled, who wouldn't want to invoke the Final Redemption during Kaddish?

I just came up with an answer. Look at the Kaddish. Aside from the phrase in question, it's all about God's existence, kingship, praiseworthiness, and relationship with Israel. Basically, expanding on "Baruch atah H' Elokeinu melech haolam." It's said by mourners largely as a defiant expression of their continuing belief in God in the face of ultimate tragedy, the destruction of one of the pillars of their personal worldview - one's parent.

So my return question is - while we're proclaiming the greatness of God, how is mentioning an earthly king appropriate?

* They may have feared he was a Lubavitcher, many of whom practice what I call "cultural imperialism" - they will insist on praying their nusach when leading prayers in a non-Lubavitch synagogue. Actually, I find this is mostly the position of ignorant lay Lubavitchers, while trained Lubavitch cantors who know the halacha will use the local nusach.

Monday, July 19, 2010

JOFA and Anat Hoffman

I know, people will come down on me for fomenting internecine strife on Erev Tisha B'Av, but something must be said.

I just received an email from the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, whose conferences I have attended, and which I have supported financially for many years (if only a small annual donation). Last week, Anat Hoffman, chairperson of the Women of the Wall, (hereinafter WotW) was arrested at the Kotel for carrying a Sefer Torah. It is hard to comprehend why she would be arrested, Except, of course, that visibly carrying a Sefer Torah is usually a precursor to leining from the Torah, an action from which WotW was enjoined in 2003 by Israel's High Court. Should they wish to lein, the Court designated other nearby areas of the Kotel for them, which they do not prefer, but have used for some years. Still, there is nothing technically illegal or un-halachic with a woman carrying a Sefer Torah, and she should not have been arrested for simply doing so.

However, what bothers me, is Ms Hoffman's involvement in Women of the Wall, and JOFA's continued support of them.

Why on earth should I, as an Orthodox Jew, want to support/stand in solidarity with someone whose prominence in WotW, undermines the entire enterprise of Orthodox Women's Tefillah Groups?

WotW is linked to the Women's Tefillah Movement in both the popular imagination and through direct support by numerous leaders of JOFA/WTN. That would be all well and good if the WotW were not chaired by Anat Hoffman, the director of the Israel lobbying arm of the Reform Movement, the Israel Religious Action Center.

JOFA decisively rejected Alice Shalvi when she defected to the Conservative movement, only days or weeks before she was scheduled to be the keynote speaker at one of the International JOFA Conferences. In doing so, they followed the principle laid down by the Rav YD Soloveitchik zt"l, that while cooperation with other denominations was OK for social/communal issues, cooperation on religious issues was impossible, because the different denominations don't speak the same language, don't assign the same meanings to key Torah words, do not speak in the same universe of discourse.

The email includes a quote from a supportive rabbi:

As Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, Rabbi of Ohev Sholom - The National Synagogue, wrote in an email to his congregants:

"Orthodox Jewish law does not prohibit women from carrying a Torah scroll and leading rabbis have endorsed the practice in the past, albeit in a different setting. (For example, in 1972 Rabbi Shlomo Riskin received support from both the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson and Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik when he allowed women in his congregation, Lincoln Square Synagogue, to dance with the Torah scroll on Simchat Torah.) Thus, Anat Hoffman was not in violation of Jewish law. We would not tolerate the arrest of a Jew, man or woman, for carrying a Torah (especially when seeking to participate in a prayer service) in any other country, so we should not stand silent when Israel does so."

R' Herzfeld, on the other hand, as quoted above, seems to cynically invoke the Rav, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and yblcht"a R' Riskin as justification to support Ms. Hoffman. Cynical, because neither the Rav nor the Rebbe would have stood for interdenominational religious cooperation, such as occurs in the WotW. I don't think R' Riskin would be in favor of WotW and Ms. Hoffman's involvement either.

I think it behooves the JOFA to ignore the whole incident, and to sever ties with Women of the Wall as long as their leadership includes activist members of heterodox denominations.

Monday, July 12, 2010

What's a Migrash? I can't tell you, ha ha ha...

Mar Yaakov haMizrachi, Esq, gave a fascinating talk at Seudah Shlishit this week in Silver Spring, on the Migrash (open space) around the Levite cities, and what that tells us about the Torah's view of cities.

I also gave a talk about migrash at Shaleshudis, but it was not so involved, mostly explaining Shadal's (Samuel David Luzzatto, mid-19th century) attempt to understand what the Migrash was, somewhat textualist.

I recently acquired a Mendelssohn Bamidbar, pub. Wien, 1846, which came with Shadal in the back. So I was looking through it and came across his comments on 35:4-5, the migrash around the Levite cities - is it 1000 or 2000 amot?

He starts out with a long harangue about anyone who thinks it's an example of scribal error for lower criticism has rocks in their head (reikei moach).

Shadal even quotes from a "de Rossi" in Latin to demonstrate that editors tend to smooth out inconsistencies, rather than introduce them, although the online version doesn't have the Latin passage. Ah, this must the Christian Hebraist Bernardo de Rossi from the intro to his "Variae lectionis." He also quotes a couple of other Christian commentators who attempt to reconcile the 1000 vs. 2000 apparent contradiction.

To summarize,
  • Rashi said that it was a Migrash of 2000 cubits = 1000 empty + 1000 for crops. Based on a braita in B. Eruvin 56b.
  • Ramban, attempting to work out a pshat directly from the text, says the city is 1000 square and the migrash fills out to the edges of a 2000x2000 square, so the migrash itself is only 500 cubits wide.
  • Rambam says 2000+1000=3000, based on an alternate version of the braita quoted in M. Sota 26b.
  • Shadal says that his opinion is most like Rashi, in that the migrash was 2000 amot wide, with 1000 inside the city wall, and 1000 more outside, but none of it was to be used for crops, only for grazing and storage, based on historic Roman parallels in city planning. E.g. Romulus laid out a "Pomerium" surrounding Rome, partly inside and partly outside the city walls. (Is Pomerium an orchard?)
Shadal proceeds to critique all the other opinions - if the migrash is supposed to be 1000 outside the "kir" of the city, Ramban's solution doesn't work, it's only 500 wide. And are the cities really limited to 1000 cubits square? Included among the cities are the capitals of Sihon and Og, surely they were more than 5 Flatbush short blocks on a side?

Also, "kir" never means "center", only "wall" - so another interpretation which posits a square 2000 on a side centered on the center of the city, such that the migrash extends 1000 from the center to the limit, doesn't work either.

Rashi's doesn't work because it doesn't agree with historical parallels. Rambam's doesn't work because it's based on a literal reading of what is clearly an abbreviation (in the mishnah in Sota) of the longer baraita in Eruvin.

So, apparently for Shadal, textual criticism is dangerous when applied to Torah (although he himself applied it to Neviim and Ketuvim), but not historical consideration of realia.

A PDF of Rashi's, Mendelssohn's and Shadal's comments is here.