Friday, September 23, 2011

Shofar Blessings

MUSICAL NOTE by Cantor Sherwood Goffin

The Blessings of the Shofar

Although, as your cantor, I am very much engrossed with the proper interpretation of the Yomim Noraim liturgy, there is no question that the moment that captures the attention of every worshipper is when the shofar is sounded.

The blowing of the shofar is the oldest ritual that is still heard in synagogues all over the world. It is interesting to note that it was used to proclaim the Jubilee Year in biblical times, as seen in Lev. 25:9-10: "to proclaim liberty throughout the land," the same verse engraved on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia! The shofar's purpose is to proclaim G-d's Kingship, and at the same time, to summon the Jewish People to repent. As the Baal Tokeahfor at least one day of R"H, I will recite two blessings in a traditional melody which is also used for the Megillah on Purim, and which some also utilize for the Shehecheyanu on Yom Kippur Eve. My teacher, Cantor Macy Nulman, theorizes that "the same melodic theme was intended for all three occasions in order to direct the worshipper's attention to the same sentiment. On Rosh Hashana the shofar reminds us of the Day of Judgment, on Yom Kippur each person's lot is determined, and on Purim Haman cast lots to determine the most favorable month and day ... to exterminate the Jews of Persia."

May the sound of the shofar awaken our hearts and encourage us to repent. But, may it also be the harbinger of the day when all of the world will recognize G-d's kingship and usher in an era when humankind will live together in peace and harmony.

Shana Tova! Daven well and sing along!


© 2011 LSS and Sherwood Goffin

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Musical Mnemonics

I have a bunch of musical mnemonics I picked up from Mom, who I think got them in elementary school. Do other people know them, or know similar things? Where did you pick them up?


Have you heard, of Beethoven's Third?

Morning is dawning and Peer Gynt is yawning da dee da da dee da de dah
and: In the hall of the mountain king, the mountain king, the mountain king. In the hall of the mountain king: the Peer Gynt Suite by Grieg

This is, the symphony, that Schubert wrote and never...

So, I don't have to be profound all the time.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Siyum Seder Taharos - Dad's Yahrzeit

This is a very long one. It's the speech I gave at our shul's siyum mishnayos, somewhat elaborated for a wider audience.

Siyum Seder Tohoros, Shabbat afternoon 25 June 2011

Yavneh Minyan of Flatbush,

Siyum of the community mishnah study program, the first year we were able to cover all six sedarim of Mishnah

Two days before the yahrzeit of Dad, Sydney Baker, hareini kaparat mishcavo

I want to talk about the Pharisees and Sadducees, or Prushim and Tzdukim, or Chazal and the Kohanim.

What's the most common characterization of the Tzdukim in the Talmud? That they don't accept the Oral Torah. That's true as far as it goes, but doesn't explain their total difference with Chazal over biblical legal and narrative interpretation.

Who are the Sadducees? Yechezkel designates the family of Tzadok Hakohen to be the future Kohanim. As for their legal positions vis-à-vis the Pharisees, we turn to Josephus:

Antiquties XIII:10.6: What I would now explain is this, that the Pharisees have delivered to the people a great many observances by succession from their fathers, which are not written in the laws of Moses; and for that reason it is that the Sadducees reject them, and say that we are to esteem those observances to be obligatory which are in the written word, but are not to observe what are derived from the tradition of our forefathers. And concerning these things it is that great disputes and differences have arisen among them, while the Sadducees are able to persuade none but the rich, and have not the populace obsequious to them, but the Pharisees have the multitude on their side.

Aharon Shemesh (Halakhah in the Making, 2009) notes that where the Pharisees derived law through the drasha process, including explicating verses through the Thirteen Hermeneutical Principles of Rabbi Ishmael, from the opening of Midrash Sifra, the halakhic midrash to Leviticus, the Sadducees derive law through continuing revelation. That is, they study and meditate on the literal text, and the get ideas about interpretation which they attribute to Divine revelation. This can, of course, lead to chaos, as Korach wanted to do because of his personal interpretations of Scripture, so the system of development based on a defined process is probably better as far as uniform understanding of the law goes.

Lawrence Schiffman – "From Text to Tradition" 1994 notes that some have suggested that they have their own exegetical methods, which are not simply literalism, and which are non-rabbinic. He believes, and there seems to be growing acceptance of the idea, that the Qumran people were a kind of super-Sadducees – they had the Sadducee calendar, they had multiple copies of a document called MMT (Miqsat Maaseh Torah, or the Halakhic Letter, a catalogue of legal issues wherein they differ with the Pharisees and the Pharisee-dominated Sadducees who were running the Temple) indicating its importance, and, most important, MMT (only released in 1990) parallels known Pharisee/Sadducee arguments in the mishnah. So passages in the mishnah and in the DSS can shed light on Sadducee exegesis and their legal assumptions.

We can see that through a few cases drawn from the mishnayot in Seder Tohorot

Mishnah text

English mishnah translation


Parah 3:7

ג,ו ]ז] לא הייתה פרה רוצה לצאת--אין מוציאין עימה שחורה, שלא יאמרו שחורה שחטו; ולא אדומה, שלא יאמרו שתיים שחטו. רבי יוסי אומר, לא משום זה; אלא משום שנאמר "והוציא אותה" (במדבר יט,ג), לבדה. זקני ישראל היו מקדימין ברגליהם להר המשחה, ובית טבילה היה שם. ומטמאין היו את הכוהן השורף את הפרה, מפני הצדוקיין שלא יהו אומרין במעורבי שמש הייתה נעשית.


(44) Also built, like the causeway, over a hollow as a protection against a corpse uncleanness in the depths.

(45) Var. lec., ‘because they used to say’.

(46) Sc. those only who are in all respects clean.

And also in what pertains to the purity of the red heifer in the sin offering:

17 that whoever slaughters it and whoever burns it and whoever collects the ash and whoever sprinkles the [water of]

18 purification, all these ought to be pure at sunset,

19 so that whoever is pure sprinkles the impure. For the sons of

20 [Aaron] ought [to be…]

First idea: Parah – it's rabbinic legislation how we deal with a tevul yom (one who has gone to the mikvah to be purified from some tumah, but the next sunset has not yet passed – many know this from the first mishnah in Brochot, that the evening Shema is said "from the hour when the Kohanim go in to eat their trumah", that is, when the sun has set after they had gone to mikvah) vis-à-vis burning the parah.

The text in the Torah is not entirely clear – the kohen who burns the parah is not a tevul yom until after burning the parah, as we just leined now (Shabbat afternoon). Which implies that it's not relevant before the burning. But the Sadducees don't accept rabbinic legislation. The clear situation for many types of purification is that one's purification doesn't end until sunset after going to the mikvah, and the kohanim have to be pure to do divine service, so they have to be fully pure to burn the Parah.

But the Rabbis legislated that it was OK for a Tevul Yom to burn the Parah. The Sadducees didn't accept rabbinic legislation, and would object, so the Rabbis deliberately did this to prove "We're not Tzdukim."

Yadayim 4:7

ד,ז אומרין צדוקיין, קובלין אנו עליכם פרושים: שאתם מטהרין את הניצוק


(42) Cf. Maksh. V, 9. If a liquid is poured from a clean vessel into an unclean vessel, the liquid remaining in the former vessel remains clean, as the uninterrupted flow does not form a connective.

(43) Cf. Mik. I. 4. The Sadducees agreed that this was the case. On this controversy v. Finkelstein, The Pharisees II, p. 638.

And also concerning flowing liquids: we say that in these there is no

59 purity. Even flowing liquids cannot separate unclean

60 from clean because the moisture of flowing liquids and their containers is

61 the same moisture.

Similarly in the case of poured liquids (irui, nitzok) – we have a case of conflicting legislation in an unclear case. In our case, we rely on the rule of "heat rises", or "tata'ei gavar", which may be familiar from one's study of the rules of meat & milk. Only when the stream springs back up on disconnection, like thick honey, does it physically carry the tumah to the upper container. They evidently don't have that rule, so any connection connects tumah.

Yadayim 4:7 continued

ד, אומרין צדוקיין, קובלין אנו עליכם פרושים: מה אם שורי וחמורי שאיני חייב בהן מצוות, הריני חייב בנזקן; עבדי ואמתי שאני חייב בהן מצוות, אינו דין שאהא חייב בנזקן. אמרו להם, לא, אם אמרתם בשורי וחמורי, שאין בהן דעת--תאמרו בעבדי ואמתי, שיש בהן דעת, שאם אקניטנו, ילך וידליק גדישו של אחר ואהא חייב לשלם.


(44) I.e., I am responsible for the damage they do. Cf. Ex. XXI, 35. The Sadducees did not dispute this, as it is expressly stated in the Torah.

(45) Cf. B.K. VIII, 4. Not being expressly ‘stated in the Torah, the Sadducees did not accept this.

(46) Since the Torah does not enjoin religious duties on animals.

(47) E.g., to see that they do not work on the Sabbath.

(48) Hence the law provides that I should not be liable for the damage they do. On this controversy v. Finkelstein L. op. cit. II, p. 684.

Second idea – drasha. We mentioned the 13 Exegetical Principles at the beginning of the Sifra – since it's midrash, it's a foundational document of rabbinic exegesis. Further, its inclusion in the priestly midrash (Toras Kohanim) seems indicative, that even in the Temple the rabbinic writ extends, despite the Sadducees. Look at the liability case. The Sadducees use kal vachomer, the first of the 13 Principles, the only one that is purely logical, not requiring a tradition about some part of the argument. Thus, it's the one principle that doesn't require a mesorah (tradition). Shemesh notes a few other places where the Sadducees use kal vechomer, but that's the only one of the principles they use.

So they have their own exegetical methods, perhaps based on logic, but not on mesorah. Aviram Ravitzky, in his recent book on the relationship between the 13 Principles and Aristotelian logic, notes that even kal vachomer isn't quite the Aristotelian syllogism of the Prior Analytics. Kal vechomer the other ideas, such as combinations of generals and particulars, or the gezerah shavah – the similar language idea that REQUIRES a tradition. So, looking at the elaboration of the Main Categories of Damages in the first few pages of Tractate Bava Kamma, we see a rabbinic elaboration, that looks like what I think of as the uncertain origin of drash. That is, whether it's rabbinic exegesis or Mosaic tradition, it's treated as part of Torah law. The Sadducees don't have that, so they rely on syllogism alone, kal vechomer.

Let me elaborate on what I mean by uncertainty, and share some of my personal journey. It took me a long while to convince myself to be Orthodox, and my main sticking point was the Divine origin of the Oral Law.

I had read a book by Rabbi Elliott Dorff on the varieties of Conservative Judaism. All of them shared one idea that distinguished them from Orthodox Judaism – none of them accepted a Divine origin of the Oral Law. To Conservatives, the Oral Law, while necessary to understand the Torah, is a completely human construct. And that makes a lot of sense – if the laws weren't written down until the Mishnah or after, how can we know that they were reliably transmitted from Sinai? How do we know that the laws as we have them aren't the result of a 1500-year game of telephone, distorted by time and transmission?

Then I spent a few weeks learning the Rambam’s introduction to the commentary on the Mishnah. He classifies the laws into different categories. One is the “halacha lemoshe misinai”, a tradition that is a) universally accepted, b) not argued with, and c) not derivable from Scripture. Examples include the requirements that tefillin be square and black. There’s no way to get that from “totafot” etc., but everyone agrees, and the archeological evidence shows that it was the case all the way back, at least in the last 2000 years.

Then there are the regular laws, which are details of the mitzvoth which are known through drasha, and argumentation, etc. What relation do these bear to a possible Sinaitic revelation? I read somewhere, I don’t remember where, that basically, it doesn’t matter whether these laws are known by drasha or by tradition. The laws generated by drasha, since drash is part of the system, are equivalent to laws known by tradition. We generally hold, or at least in the time of the Tannaim they held, that a law known by tradition, from one’s teacher and one’s teacher’s teacher, is not to be argued with, it’s “hilcheta gemiri lah”, learned law from ancient tradition. This is generally held in higher esteem than laws known by logic, which are in turn considered stronger than laws derived from a verse. But they’re all d’oraita laws, Torah-originated laws.

That was another thing, I had to understand that d’oraita vs. d’rabbanan, as against written law and oral law, were different spectra of legal origin. Rabbinic law is legislation. D’oraita law is law derived from the Sinaitic revelation. And I realized, it doesn’t matter whether a given law is known by tradition or by drash. It Doesn’t Matter. They’re all considered d’oraita. Because laws reconstructed (yes, reconstructed, we know that legal matter was lost over the generations – there’s a tradition that 3000 laws were lost at the death of Moshe, and the continuing pattern of exile and death continues to erode our capacity for oral legal transmission) through the drash process, through the 13 Principles of Exegesis, or the 32 Principles of Midrashic Interpretation, etc., since the interpretive rules are themselves part of the system of law – derived law is the same Torah-originated law as traditional law.

So imagine my pleasure at finding the Mishnah in Yadayim 4:3 which validates this whole outlook.

Here it is:

ד,ג בו ביום אמרו, עמון ומואב מה הם בשביעית. גזר רבי טרפון, מעשר עני; וגזר רבי אלעזר בן עזריה, מעשר שני. אמר רבי ישמעאל, אלעזר בן עזריה, עליך ראיה ללמד, שאתה מחמיר--שכל המחמיר, עליו הראיה ללמד. אמר לו רבי אלעזר בן עזריה, ישמעאל אחי, אני לא שניתי מסדר השנים; טרפון אחי שינה, ועליו ראיה ללמד. השיב רבי טרפון, מצריים חוצה לארץ, ועמון ומואב חוצה לארץ--מה מצריים מעשר עני בשביעית, אף עמון ומואב מעשר עני בשביעית. השיב רבי אלעזר בן עזריה, בבל חוצה לארץ, ועמון ומואב חוצה לארץ--מה בבל מעשר שני בשביעית, אף עמון ומואב מעשר שני בשביעית. אמר רבי טרפון, מצריים מפני שהיא קרובה, עשאוה מעשר עני, שיהו עניי ישראל נסמכין עליה בשביעית--אף עמון ומואב שהן קרובין, נעשים מעשר עני, שיהו עניי ישראל נסמכין עליהן בשביעית. אמר לו רבי אלעזר בן עזריה, הרי אתה כמהנן ממון, ואין אתה אלא כמפסיד נפשות: קובע אתה את השמיים מלהוריד טל ומטר, שנאמר "היקבע אדם אלוהים, כי אתם קובעים אותי, ואמרתם, במה קבענוך; המעשר, והתרומה" (מלאכי ג,ח). השיב רבי טרפון. אמר רבי יהושוע, הריני כמשיב על דברי טרפון אחי, אבל לא לעניין דבריו: מצריים מעשה חדש ובבל מעשה ישן, והנידון שלפנינו מעשה חדש; יידון מעשה חדש ממעשה חדש, ואל יידון מעשה חדש ממעשה ישן. מצריים מעשה זקנים, ובבל מעשה נביאים, והנידון שלפנינו מעשה זקנים; יידון מעשה זקנים ממעשה זקנים, ואל יידון מעשה זקנים ממעשה נביאים. נמנו וגמרו, עמון ומואב מעשר עני בשביעית. וכשבא רבי יוסי בן דורמסקית אצל רבי אליעזר ללוד, אמר לו, מה חידוש היה לכם בבית המדרש היום. אמר לו, נמנו וגמרו, עמון ומואב מעשר עני בשביעית. בכה רבי אליעזר ואמר "סוד ה', ליראיו; ובריתו, להודיעם" (תהילים כה,יד); צא והודיעם ואמור להם, אל תחושו למניינכם--מקובל אני מרבן יוחנן בן זכאי, ששמע מרבו, ורבו מרבו הלכה למשה מסיניי, שעמון ומואב מעשר עני בשביעית.

As you can see, it’s very long. I’m not going to translate the whole thing. To summarize: It’s a story of a dispute held on the day that R’ Elazar b. Azariah became the head of the academy. You all know about that, he was “like a man of seventy years” because his hair miraculously turned white, to give him gravitas when made Rosh Yeshivah at age 18. Anyway, they’re arguing a question. Various people argue with R Elazar, he gives counterarguments, then they vote, and R’ Elazar loses.

Now the crucial bit:


And there you have it. By arguing and voting, by following the reconstructive process, they came to the correct conclusion, the correct halacha, which was validated by the tradition received by R’ Eliezer. So IT DOESN’T MATTER that laws are lost and we can’t say for certain whether a given law comes from tradition or from reconstruction – they’re the SAME THING. They’re all d’Oraita laws, originated at Sinai, even if the transmission path isn’t direct and reliable. We have error-correcting codes built in.

But I had to work all this out from first (or second) principles. It was never enough to just take on faith ideas that sounded ridiculous, like “the Oral Torah came from Sinai, just as we have it.” I had to dig, to understand that while true, it was a ridiculous oversimplification.

* * *

My father also took a spiritual journey, although his went through emotions and behavior rather than intellect. Started out atheist, knew Yiddish and a bit of Hebrew. As we went to school, and switched to R Riskin's O shul, he taught himself Hebrew. He later took R Cohen's intro Talmud class, and learned more biblical exegesis following Mom's example.

Because he could sing and read/understand Hebrew, he learned to lein and daven, because the summer C-nagogue needed people, following my example (I learned to lead High Holidays shacharit/mincha so that they could hold services without having to pay someone). At 68, he was the "kid" in their davening/leining crew.

After some years, I asked if he was still an atheist. He told me that after davening for all this time, he thought that maybe there might be something there. By the end, in the nursing home, he was insisting on kosher (icky frozen meals) rather than fresh kosher-style food, and wore a yarmulke all day. Now, I don't know about his theological state at the time, communication was difficult with his lost hearing aid, but I have to figure that the insistence on behavioral correctness reflected a change in internal belief. Atheist – agnostic – by the end, I think a believer, to some extent, although I may be fooling myself.

At any rate, at Michael's (Michael Klein, organizer of the community Mishna study program) urging, I undertook to learn all of Seder Taharot in Dad's memory, so that we could, as a shul, complete all six orders of Mishnah for the first time. I want to thank him for his organizing efforts, I want to thank all of you for your efforts in this program. I want to thank Debbie for her support this year, forgoing a public honor because I was insecure during shloshim, and I want to thank Dad (and Mom too, of course), for support during his life, for sending us to Ramaz despite a lack of belief in God, although he always believed in the value of tradition and Jewish peoplehood, for being proud of his children whether or not they followed his own path. Yehi zichro baruch.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Variations in the Siddur - Cantor Goffin

MUSICAL NOTE by Cantor Sherwood Goffin

Variations in the Siddur

I have often been asked why one siddur uses one form of a word, and another siddur uses another form of the same word. For instance, we pronounce the phrase sho-ato hu, which is found in Modim and the paragraph after Sh'ma, whereas it is pronounced She-ato hu in a Nusach Sfard siddur. This often causes a Baal tefilla to pronounce the word incorrectly in our Nusach Ashkenaz services. Here, the difference is simply a matter of difference between the text of Sfard versus Ashkenaz. It makes no grammatical difference. However, one leading the services at LSS should use the version found in our siddur, so that the congregation will not think that he has made a mistake. Sometimes, within Ashkenaz siddurim, there are differences, such as the word Na-avo at the end of Mizmor Shir/Hashem Moloch in our De Sola Pool RCA siddur. The Artscroll siddur, however, writes the word as No-avo. Again, I counsel those leading the services to read it according to the way our siddur writes it. One of the most startling changes is that in the Adon Olam of the Chabad siddur, which writes the words Ye-tsur Nivra, instead of Ye-tsir Nivra which we know well. Sometimes the changes are because we follow the Vilna Gaon's customs, such as Yisga-dale instead of Yisgadal, etc. The best rule, generally, is to always read the version that is found in our siddur.

Daven Well, Don't Talk, and Sing Along!

© 2011 Lincoln Square Synagogue & Sherwood Goffin

Monday, March 28, 2011

Can you tell a Bible by its cover?

Well, maybe not. I was in a local bookstore this afternoon, and saw a display of JPS English and Hebrew-English pocket-sized Bibles. They had a black covered Hebrew-English, a pink-covered all-English (I guess for girls), the website has other colors such as black, white, and green - nice and neutral. The translation is the usual New JPS - terrific translation, been using it for over 30 years. Where it says "b--b meaning of Heb. uncertain", it's a sure sign to go check out the meforshim (commentaries, mostly medieval).

But the one that caught my eye was the one printed in "Denim". A back-pocket, to be precise, mirrored on the back of the book. IOW, the cover of this Bible was a tuchus. I don't know what their cover-designer was thinking, probably trying to be "hip" or whatever, but what comes across is "the Tanakh is compared to a tuchus." Or maybe, the product of the backside? Really not the message I'd think a Jewish publisher would want to project about their flagship product.

Hm, thinking about denim-jeans images - I had a passbook bank account when I was in Jr High and High School. The original passbook was the same design as my parents' - a photo of a local park. I lost it at one point, and had to get a replacement, so they gave me a "kids'" model - with a drawing of a pair of jeans. I felt rather condescended to. Maybe designers of kid-versions of adult objects should consult with real children of the age they're targeting.

BTW, "tuchus" may sound Yiddish, but it's really direct from Hebrew - tuchus is an Ashkenazic pronunciation of "tachat", which means "underneath".

(image copyright Jewish Publication Society, used without permission qua fair use - quotation in a review)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Changes in Jewish publishing - response

Gil Student wrote an article in Jewish Action, the OU magazine, on the changes in Jewish and mainstream publishing. He avoided the one big question looming on the horizon of Jewish publishing, as it is beginning to make inroads into mainstream publishing: the e-book.

He addresses the information-chunking and short-attention-span issues pretty well.

But there need to be heterim found for e-book readers on Shabbos, if we're not to have people dropped from Orthodoxy for "half-shabbos", esp. as more and more seforim are online in PDF and etext, if they wish to learn Torah stored in an ebook reader. Do you really learn all those seforim in your shrank, bought when a kid in yeshiva, or are they mostly for show, and occasional reference?

I carry around a good-sized library in my e-book reader, whether Torah or fiction, academic or popular material. Until people start using iPads or Kindle DX's widely, things like Gemara pages will still be difficult, although who knows - maybe the small-format Gemara may yet make a comeback. I have, for instance, a scanned PDF of Bava Kamma from the Lemberg half-page edition on the ebook-reader. Legible, but barely, on the 3x4" screen. But if I can get e-texts of Rishonim from Bar-Ilan, in pieces (how many blatt gemara does an in-depth once-a-week shiur cover, after all), that makes it more accessible to be on the Palm or the EZ-Reader.

The standard Gemara page was defined by Bomberg in the 1520s, because he issued the first full set of Shas. It made sense to keep using the same pagination for standard reference. Why did he use that page size (folio pages)? Ultimately, because of the size of sheep. Sheep are a certain size, so their skins are a certain size, which governs the dimensions of parchment pages made from those skins.

Technology has changed. We need no longer be governed by the sizes of medieval sheep. It is certainly possible to maintain indicators to standard pagination in text of other configurations (just look at, e.g., a two-volume two-column Zohar of the 17th century which has indicators of the pagination of the by-then standard three-volume single-column Zohar, so you can find page references easily.

So too here - as e-readers and pad computers improve, we should be able to use them with cross-linked etexts of the Talmud, Tanach, Midrashim Rishonim and Acharonim. Must we continue to spend hundreds of dollars on dead trees for use on Shabbos alone? Perhaps rabbis should work with electrical engineers to design an e-book reader that will not violate Shabbos, as Tzomet has done for doctors and the handicapped. Perhaps we should resurrect the arguments used by RSZA, and only not implemented out of respect for the Chazon Ish, and find ways to use solid-state technology lehagdil Torah uleha'adirah. After all, we don't slavishly follow the Chazon Ish, at least not in Galut, where we don't eat normal gelatin (which the CI approved).

If we don't find ways to adapt to such changing technology, then we, and our dead-tree obsession, will be left in the dustbin of history, along with our decaying paper.

Zohar maybe not from Rashbi

I was reading the Zohar in the Berg-ite translation, and came across the following passage:

30. There are questions that are the garments of the Ha-lachah, NAMELY THE GARMENTS OF MALCHUT, of which it says "inwrought with gold" - as it is written: "The King's daughter is all glorious within: her clothing is in-wrought with gold" (Tehilim 45:14). You, AMORAIM, cut THE GARMENT INWROUGHT WITH GOLD into several le-gal sentences and later fix and explain them away using various arguments.

31. If one chapter of the Mishnah is missing, and it has been maintained that something is missing from the Mishnah, you fix it. FOR EXAMPLE, IN PLACES WHERE IT IS STATED IN THE GEMARA: "A CLAUSE HAS BEEN OMITTED, FOR THIS IS THE WAY WE HAVE LEARNED IT...," such is wanting that can be numbered. If a sim-pleton comes and spreads an evil report of the craftsman that cuts the garments, saying: The Torah is lacking - STATING THAT IN THIS PARAGRAPH OF THE MISHNAH, A CLAUSE HAS BEEN OMITTED. Yet, it is written: "The Torah of Hashem is perfect," (Tehilim 19:8) perfect in all the members of the body, the 248 positive precepts, as written: "You are all fair, my love; there is no blemish in you," (Shir Hashirim 4:7), and perfect in her garments. How can anything be lacking in the Mishnah?

32. HE ANSWERS: Say to him - look carefully and find the MISSING piece. You may find it mixed with other verses and Mishnahyot, MEANING, IT IS THE CUSTOM OF THE TORAH TO BE LACKING IN ONE PLACE AND RICH IN ANOTHER. For it is the way of the craftsman to cut garments into several pieces, AND THAT WHICH IS MISSING IN ONE PLACE IS FILLED UP IN ANOTHER. The students, inexperienced in connecting the Halachah to those pieces THAT ARE IN ANOTHER PLACE, confuse the sentences and questions, and cannot explain the dilem-mas until the craftsman comes and explains all the doubts they have. At that time, Halachah the daughter, NAMELY MALCHUT, rises before the King, perfect in eve-rything, in body, garments and jewelry. And in it the verse comes true: "And I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting Covenant" (Beresheet 9:16). Sometimes the craftsman has an experienced student whom he sends to correct them, NAMELY ELIJAH, AS WAS MENTIONED BEFORE.

Note that this passage, in addressing the students of the Amoraim, is clearly set after the time of R' Shimon bar Yochai. It seems to start out criticizing the Amoraim for "cutting up the golden garment" of the Mishnah, but winds up praising them for bringing the disparate parts of the Mishnah together in a coherent whole. They do this by looking for what is missing, perhaps it can be found in another mishnah or in a midrash or Tosefta, and splice it in. Or perhaps they extrapolate what was missing, as in chasurei mechsera vehachi katani - "this is how the lacuna should be read".

In any case, this is clearly the textual criticism that makes up much of the Gemara's discussion of Mishnayot. This story praises the early Amoraim for their textual activity (the early Amoraim feeling freer to emend the text of the Mishnah).

If Rashb"i lived in the late Tannaitic period (according to the JE article on Simeon ben Yohai, citing Graetz, he fled to the cave c. 161), it had to have 50-100 years after his time that this story took place. Thus, this part of the Zohar necessarily postdates Rashb"i.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


Another Musical Note from Cantor Goffin of Lincoln Square Synagogue

MUSICAL NOTE by Cantor Sherwood Goffin

This is a response I gave to a questioner last month:

"I have been very closely associated with this song ever since I began my former folk-singing concert career back in 1962. I taught it at NCSY, Yeshiva U Seminars and everywhere I went. In 1970 I recorded a "Russian Jewry" version of the Little Bird for the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry, on an album that featured SSSJ rally songs and Rabbi Riskin interviewing famous refuseniks.

The Little Bird was written by a 17 yr. old Bais Yaakov Camp Jr. Counselor, Millie Steinberg. She used the tune of an old Russian folk melody that was converted in 1948 to the beautiful "B'arvot Hanegev'; words by Menashe Baharav, who was also the accompanist to Shoshana Damari. Millie married Mr. Sachs and moved to Israel in the 1970's. I had asked her if she had other songs, which she did send to me, but I never sang them. I changed some of the words for public concert use, to make it scan better. On my hit album Neshomo (1972) we merely copied the above-mentioned version in the activist style of those years that spoke to the idea of peace and freedom. Many years later, on my 1996 album "Ish Echad," I recorded the original words for the first time." Now you know!


Saturday, February 12, 2011

Let's pray to the Moon - not

Tonight was Kiddush Levanah, the monthly sanctification of the New Moon, as much as we can without a central court to actually establish the new moon. Lacking that, we have had the fixed calendar since about 325 CE, and we say prayers in honor of the lunar cycle each month.

My problem with the prayer is that there are one or two lines that seem (no matter how much apologists try to defend them, or say they're referring to God) to be directed to the Moon as if it were a separate (if subsidiary) Power. There certainly are midrashim that portray the Sun and Moon as self-willed entities, and since they're in the heavens, it would seem that that implies that they are powers subservient to God.

Which inspired the following:

Oh Selene, with your rays so white
Reflecting Helios' starry light.
God created you, to rule the night
Along with the stars, to whom we don't pray "Starlight, star bright."

which more or less reflects what saying the prayer feels like.

"Just as I dance towards you but cannot reach you, so may my enemies be unable to touch me." - a line from the prayer, carefully enwrapped with other lines talking about God and Israel.

Oh, well, it's an excuse to say an extra kaddish, which I'm sure Dad's soul could use during his up to eleven months in Gehinnom.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Turnabout is Fair Play

As I have been rebroadcasting Cantor Goffin's "Musical Note" columns, this week he took my posting of last week's column, with my speculations about Nusach Sfard vs. Nusach Ashkenaz, and turned it into this week's Musical Note column.

Any Nusach Sfard people over the age of 45 out there who want to chime in?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

La-ad Kayamet after Shma: Musical Note

MUSICAL NOTE by Cantor Sherwood Goffin

I want to point out an essential difference between the Artscroll Hebrew-English Siddur and the subsequent All- Hebrew version, the Yitzchak Yair Siddur. For those who are functioning as the chazzan, whether on weekdays or Shabbat, one has to be informed that the English Artscroll is incorrect as to where the chazzan is to recite immediately after the reading of the Sh'ma. As far as most of us can remember, after the recitation of Shma in Shacharit, the chazzan always continued at the words "L'dor vador Hu Kayom Ush'mo kayom" - NOT at "Al Avoseinu." The special indicator for the chazzan is incorrect in the English version. However, in the all-hebrew version, the indicator has been corrected to indicate that one begins at "L'dor Vador..." This is the correct choice because, in actuality, a NEW "topic" begins at "Ud'varav Chayim." I surmise that the original Artscroll editors for the English version were mislead because some anonymous printer more than a century ago arbitrarily made a new paragraph at "Al Horishonim." Despite that, it is well documented that baalei tefilla for centuries have always ended the first topic at "L'dor Vador." I would ask all those who lead the Shacharit services to please follow this guideline. Thank you!

Daven Well, Don't Talk, and Sing Along!

The preceding copyright (c) Lincoln Square Synagogue and Sherwood Goffin

Well. That clears up something I've long suspected. Listening to people lead davening, those who say aloud "Ledor vador ... la'ad kayamet" seem to be people who learned to daven Before Artscroll, while those who say "Al Avoteinu..." were those who learned from Artscroll. This confirms it - the Chaz says outright it is an error in the English Artscroll.

Contra the Chaz, I wonder if it's a Nusach Sfard thing. In the all-Hebrew Nusach Sfard Artscroll, at least the chazan-sized one that I've been using for the past 6 months by the `amud in a local shtibl, I think they do begin at Al Avoseinu.

I checked - yes, the Artscroll NS siddur has the chazan start at Al Avoseinu. Further, I checked with the gabbai, who, like me, grew up Before Artscroll, and asked what he grew up with. As far as he knows, he always started from Al Avoseinu. So now we know - rather than being an error of the siddur printers, it was a Nusach Sfard custom, that leaked into the Artscroll Nusach Ashkenaz, probably because whoever edited that section grew up with Nusach Sfard. Not that siddur printers are innocent of introducing changes in the davening.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Response to RYGB and the HoS view

RYGB: your attempt [in the comments to the previous post] to disavow the anecdotes you brought to support your position looks disingenuous. You certainly wrote to give the impression that you support the position RAS took, given that it was brought as support for your dismissal of RNS as "flippant", There was also the story of RYBS' dismissal of the Meiri. As well, you brought R Kamelhar as evidence that Chazal didn't take the aggadita literally, when there's absolutely no reason to believe that, v. infra.

"most courteous manner possible" - repudiation? hope that he recant, like Galileo Eretico? calling him flippant where you simply call others wrong? Ad hominems are courteous? They're Internetty, sure, but I thought you were trying for something better.

Although, reading Micha's quote above, I think RNS could have expressed the same idea without being quite so, well, abrasive. "Chazal were mistaken"? Really. "Chazal ruled in accordance with the science of their time, we have no evidence that they should have known current science through ruach hakodesh, therefore, when our poskim rule in accordance with the science of our time, they are following in the footsteps of our Sages."

The sociological characterizations, stipulated. The vehemence and flippancy of your disassociation essay, led me to think that you had actually supported his earlier positions, rather than supporting him personally. Sorry not to have remembered your actual position.

I'm not dismissing Kamelhar on the basis of his obscurity, but on the basis of the irrelevance of a modern reading for understanding how Chazal thought. As RNS said, there was a different metzius then, that Chazal thought Aristotle was right on physiology. To take a post-Harvey metaphorical reading is anachronistic and does not explain anything, except to make the aggadita more palatable to us, so that we don't have to reject it as "wrong" in a Maimonidean sense.

I wrote a paper on Galileo and the Church in HS for a history class. For a year afterwards, I would not say the Shir shel yom on Fridays, Ps. 93, "the world is set firm, it does not move." Until I read a metaphorical explanation by RSRH. Now, sure, that's not necessarily what Dovid Hamelech was thinking, but it allowed me to have a true idea in mind when reading the posuk. So too here. Kamelhar allows us to accept the aggadita without having to say Chazal were wrong. But that doesn't change the fact that Chazal thought they were right. It's just not an idea based on mesorah, hence independent of physical truth.

And that's the different metzi'us - not an actual change in teva (although that too may allow us to rationalize the change in rabbinic positions), but a change in scientific worldview between their day and ours. The metzius includes their mental state, the possibility of their having knowledge through non-supernatural means. Since they didn't espouse a position that was clearly not compatible with their medicine, that of brain-death, we have no evidence that they knew what we know about brain-stem death and rejected it in the face of supernatural knowledge.

I for one have no trouble accepting that they perceived phenomena that they interpreted as bas kol, or appearances of dead people - such stories continue on to today. How can a believing Jew deny the possibility of the supernatural? But there is no evidence of their having supernatural knowledge here, only natural knowledge. Which places them soundly within normal intellectual history - they ruled in accordance with reality as they knew it to be, but we understand reality differently. Shifts in psak due to the influence of the Zohar and the Ari are the same - rabbinic perceptions of reality changed, so psak changed. Supernarual or natural changes are still changes in reality. Only God is the Knower, the knowledge and the known - for us, they are different things.

Maybe I'm being an apologist for RNS because the HoS perspective resonates with me. Ainochenami, it's a different perspective than has yet been expressed in this debate, one which might help bring some resolution to the two "sides" that may not really be so far apart.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Brain Death and Arguments at Cross Purposes

Reading the extensive debates on the brain death vs. heart death issue, I begin to discern positions, and understand to some extent where various parties are coming from. And I am coming to the conclusion that the one who best pursues Emes in this case is R' Slifkin (RNS), while other parties seem to sometimes argue disingenuously.

R' Moshe Feinstein, and yblcht"a R' Moshe Tendler, agree on brain-death as equalling death, based on close readings of a mishna in Ohalot, a Rashi in B. Yoma 86a, and other sources. Never mind that those who support heart-death read the same things another way. R' Tendler doesn't approach the scientific basis of Chazal and the Rishonim in understanding this, he seems to treat the whole thing as an empirical exercise. His primary motivation seems to be to allow heart, lung and liver transplants, which cannot take place from a donor whose heartbeat has stopped. Therefore, read the halacha, take what you can, and who cares what the science was underlying their opinions?

R' Slifkin, taking off from there, looks at what Chazal thought about science, based on an aggadita in B. Ber. 61a. Seeing that it doesn't agree with modern science, but does agree with Aristotelian ideas about the functions of the various organs, he says that "Chazal were mistaken in this regard", and then goes on to say that the modern understanding of brain-death vs. cerebral death vs. heart death is based on that flawed understanding of science. Now that we know the true function of most organs, we can follow those who say brain death is death.

R' YGB (Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer), in a fit of political pique, finds a 19th-century source (R Kamelhar is a good writer, I have his capsule biographies of 18th and 19th century rabbis "Dor Deah", but do people really take him more seriously outside his field than, say, the Torah Temimah?) that understands R' Slifkin's aggadita metaphorically, and uses that to say R' Slifkin was wrong, and further heretical to believe that Chazal were wrong. RYGB's post and comments seem based on a desire to disassociate himself from RNS, whom he had supported in the earlier banning of R' Slifkin's books.

Note that R' Slifkin is not disagreeing with Chazal, he's not saying they're wrong in any metaphysical sense, just that they had outdated science, and ruled in accordance with that.

Note further that RYGB also says that contemporary poskim should rule in accord with modern science, in some cases. Where to draw the line? Apparently, where it crosses a line. What line? The line drawn in the sand by loud "gedolim" and their handlers. (in quotes because one never knows what's really from a godol and what from the handler - e.g. the RYSE-Crocs controversy).

RYGB paints himself into a contradictory position: poskim can/should depend on science/secular knowledge, AND poskim who rely on science/secular knowledge where that knowledge is true yet different from that of Chazal, are heretics.

RYGB tries to portay his position as one of respect for Gedolim, using the story of his smicha farher, but even that fails, in that he embraces positions of ziluzul chachomim, like that of RASolo who would have put R' Yitzchak Lampronti into cherem.

RNS demonstrates clearly that the Acharonim had no problem embracing science and its changes since the days of Chazal, or even in their own times, e.g. R' Yonasan Eibeschutz ruling in accord with post-Harvey understandings of the heart and circulation as against the Chacham Tzvi who extensively supported Chazal's understandings of organ function as literally true. He doesn't even seem to have a problem himself with using modern understandings of biology to change psak (not just explain changes in psak, but actually change it).

I think RYGB really gives away the game in comments such as "[the Chasam Sofer used Conservative reasoning in ruling that karpas is celery based on Arabic language] Certainly not! He was using secular wisdom to understand chazal, not to override them," and "[if you have no proper fear of Chazal] you have no business in the world of psak." Either RYGB is completely misreading RNS intentionally, and thus fighting tooth and nail against a strawman for political purposes, or he is truly misunderstanding RNS beyond his evidently superficial reading, which seems unlikely.

RNS' whole purpose appears to be understanding Chazal, rather than overriding them. Others have already long since overridden Chazal on matters dependent on changing understandings of science - R Tendler, the Chasam Sofer, etc. They just don't make it explicit that they're disagreeing with the science of Chazal. They just ignore the history of science, and run roughshod over precedent. That seems to be the position of R' Tendler and, by extension, his late father-in-law. As is psak. RNS is not paskening, he's using evidence of change in our Rabbis' understandings of science, based on the changes in the ongoing history of science, to understand the shifts in their thinking and psak. So RYGB's arguments are not really aimed at RNS, but at a strawman. I don't think RYGB would actually disagree with RNS if he were to take the time to understand him.

Really, most people don't think all that much about history of science. Good history of science writing is often based on the idea of "we would know what they thought when they did it." (Richard Hamming, 1980) The discipline of the history of science has long been developed by amateurs. E.g. Galileo studies, my late aunt's field, was largely developed by Stillman Drake, who started out with several decades as a financial consultant, teaching himself about Galileo. He never took a PhD. Her advisor, a prominent figure in the history of mathematics, did her PhD is in math, albeit a historical survey of modern abstract algebra. (Full disclosure, I minored in Science in Human Affairs, and wrote my bachelor's thesis on "The IBM 650, A Computer in Context", advised by the late Prof. Michael S. Mahoney).

This may be a problem for RNS in being accepted by those who want to be seen supporting Yeshivish positions. He is engaging in intellectual history, and the history of Halakhah is often seen as a Maskilic undertaking (about it, not it.) But who better to write history of halachah than one who has spent his life within its daled amos, and who has been forced by circumstances to take the long view in understanding intellectual shifts?

By raising the issue of "they could say this but we cannot", his banners created a consciousness of shifts in intellectual trends within the Torah world over the millenia of its development. I get the feeling RNS started out writing his animal books in the spirit of "ignore what they used to think, here's a way to think about them for kiruv," much as R' Tendler's approach to brain-death ignores history in accommodating contemporary needs. But in the course of the dispute, he seems to have gained a sense of history. Is it any wonder that he now applies that sense to other disputes in contemporary Orthodoxy? It was not he who started the brain-death dispute, it was an RCA committee report.

To sum up then, from what I can see, R' Tendler (and the other poskim who rule for brain-death rather than heart death) ignore Chazal's history of science, and simply rule in accordance with changes in science and technology, motivated by the need for organ transplantation and Jews not being portrayed as takers but not givers. RYGB pretends that there is no history of science, and that RNS is being disrespectful of his betters by saying they were wrong and paskening against them. On that basis, he disassociates himself from an effigy of RNS. And RNS honestly undertakes an investigation of the history of rabbinic science, explaining the shift in psak, not paskening for anyone.