Friday, November 30, 2007
Afterwards, I cornered the man and asked him how the scrupulously halachic forefathers could have created a kosher bes din given that they were (a) related to each other (b) related to the victim.
To his credit, the man had the good sense to say he didn't know.
What was his mistake? This: He presumes the world he dwells in today existed always. In 2006 we can't imagine a great Jewish man acting outside of the halacha, and because Yaakov, obviously, was a great Jewish man, many Jews take it for granted that he was also halachic. But this idea crumbles on examination. How for instance, could Yaakov have foreseen the development of the Mishna, the Talmud, and all the subsequent codes and commentaries? That corpus, our law, is the work of men, gifted men to be sure, but men all the same. As such, the result is contingent, not inevitable. We could have ruled like Bes Shamai and not like Bais Hillel in every instance and created a Judaism that bears no resemblance to our own and God's reaction would have been exactly what it was when the court of Rabbi Yehoshua rejected the proclomation of a Bas Kol.
As the Talmud says: '[At that time] God smiled and said “My children have defeated me, my children have defeated me.”"
The entire picture of Eisav as a whole, which emerges from the entire corpus of centuries' worth of rabbinic literature as a whole, is more nuanced and less black-and-white than our children are often taught in preschool, grade school, and even high school. That's point #1.
Point #2 is that when viewed through the lens of historical context, it is possible that some of the negativity we have come to associate, through Chazal's teachings, with the historical figure Eisav was indeed originally motivated not by traditions regarding the character in the Bible, but by the behavior of his descendants -- the Romans -- at a particular point in history. Did the formulators of those particular midrashim think the person Eisav shared these negative characteristics, or were they using his name solely as a metaphor to describe his descendants? Who knows. We can't ask them. All we have are the words they left us, and viewing those words in the context of the worldview of their formulators leaves open many possibilities. The possibility that Chazal intended for us to view the historical Eisav, son of Yitzchak, as a person of near-unambiguous evil is indeed one, but only one, of these possibilities.
The most famous appearance of these words is in Rashi's comment to Gen 33:4
There are dots above vayishakayhu. There is a difference of opinion concerning this matter in the Beraysa of the Sifre. There are those who explained these dots as saying that he did not kiss him wholeheartedly. R. Shimon b. Yochai said: "It is a known fact (halacha b'yaduah) that Esav hates Yaakov, but, his mercy was aroused at that moment and he kissed him with all of his heart."In this comment, Rashi is attempting to explain the dots which appear over the word "and he kissed him." (ie: vayishakayhu) One opinion says the kiss was not a real kiss, but a bite; therefore the word is dotted. Shimon Bar Yochai goes the other way, and says the kiss was real, but the dots are needed because everything we've seen in the narrative so far indicates that Esav hates his brother, and would sooner knee him in the crotch than kiss him. Were it not for the dots, everything we know about Esav would cause us to doubt the sincerity of the kiss.
The words Esav sonei le’Yakov, therefore, should be understood as a straightforward, statement of fact about the nature of Yakov's relationship with his brother; unfortunately they are not. Instead, the words have been used for centuries to explain, and even justify anti-Semitism. It has even made it impossible for some Jews to negotiate with gentiles in good faith. Why should we bother, these Jews reason, after all Esav sonei le’Yakov.
All of this has happened because Rashby chose to describe Esav's attitude toward Jacob as a "halacha b'yaduah."
Artscroll (Artscroll!!) translates these words as "known fact" and in the notes, the editor makes it clear that the subject of R’ Shimon’s observation is Yakov’s brother, not the nation (Edom) descended from him. Unfortunately, the average Jew on the street sees the words "halacha" and imagines some imperishable rule of life has been announced. Perhaps this is what the words halacha suggests in our day; in Rashby's time, though it meant something less, something like "rule" or "fact" or "opinion."
The known opinion Rashby is citing is that Esav, the person, hated Yakov, the person. No information about the future is suggested or implied. For if Rashby had intended to give us information about the nations these two brothers would produce, he would have used the words the Torah uses whenever it speaks of those nations, and instead he would have said Edom sonei l'Yisroel.
GAME SET MATCH
What follows is the midrash in context, supplied elsewhere by Elder:
:דבר אחר לך לקראת משה המדברה, זש"ה מי יתנך כאח לי (שה"ש ח, ישראל אומרין לפני הקדוש ברוך הוא מי יתנך כאח לי, את מוצא כל האחים שונאים זה לזה קין שונא להבל שנ' (בראשית ד ויקם קין אל הבל אחיו וגו', ישמעאל שונא ליצחק שנאמר ותרא שרה את בן הגר המצרית וגו' (שם כא ואין מצחק אלא שבקש להרגו שנאמר יקומו נא הנערים ויצחקו (שמואל ב ב), עשו שונא ליעקב שנאמר ויאמר עשו בלבו וגו' (בראשית כו, השבטים שנאו ליוסף שנאמר וישנאו אותו (שם לז
From here its clear, obvious and irrefutable that the speaker's subject is individuals, not nations.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Anyway, even though I have no sense of havdala, and I also believe that the Hasmoneans were the Jewish equivalent of the Taliban, I do follow tradition, and if Hannuka is a time of Thanksgiving, then I will do so too.
Thanks to God for not zapping me with a bolt from the blue as punishment for my publishing those two accounts of my experience in the Divine Presence, one of which appeared on this very web site.
Thanks to Dov Bear for providing a place where Jews (and even non-Jews) of all streams can get together and talks and even argue about Judaism without getting too nasty. (Most of the time, anyway.)
And thanks to the Bray of Fundy for teaching me about.... well, about havdala.
Who is wise? He who learns from everybody.
Now y'all go get ready for Shabbos, hear? If an apikoris like me can do it, so can you!
To whom he was married.
Now they are saying that Rudy Giuliani provided a police driver and city car to his mistress.
To whom he was NOT married.
If Rudy, adulterer and misappropriater of public funds is still running for president next week, it is only because his name isn't Clinton, and the so-called liberal media are a pack of two faced louts.
Or, in other words IOKIYAR
Although it is normally a festival to thank God, I think interpersonal thanks are definitely in the holiday spirit.
Thanks Dovbear, from the bottom of my souless heart.
I know that he posted a Ban Chaim G. poll that was to see what the people wanted. To bad Chaim G rigged it by having all his cronies and fake names vote. As a team member he has given me the keys to his kingdom and afforded me even more opportunities to voice my vulgar views.
Recently, behind the scenes, he giggled with me about Chaim G. Though he doesn't make a big deal out of it I was actually moved (not touched, that's not appropriate). Thanks DovBear. Or as I prefer to put it: .
Oh well. It's not like a balding, lisping, adulterous, pro-choice, pro-gay, authoritarian whackjob had much of a chance anyway. (We hope) (Trying to forget America went, in the two most recent presidential elections, for a stammering, marble-mouthed authoritarian whack job) (Failing)
All honor to Ben Smith
Although it is normally construed as an festival to thank G-d I'd venture that interpersonal thanks are definitely in the holiday spirit.
I want to publicly thank DovBear for putting up with me despite my being both an annoying pest, IHO "as wrong as the day is long" and, arguably, running his blog into the ground.
I know that he posted a Ban Chaim G. poll but I am now convinced that was pure shtick. As a team member he has given me the keys to his kingdom and afforded me even more opportunities to voice my contrarian unpopular views, perhaps win some greater understanding from readers who subscribe to the conventional wisdom and...maybe run his blog into the ground.
Recently behind the scenes he resisted manipulative machinations by a free speech bully seeking to silence me and to throw me out. Though he doesn't make a big deal out of it I was actually touched and moved. Thanks DovBear. Or as I annoyingly prefer to put it: Shkoyakh
So screw the magic miracle oil, and go for the 24C gold. You deserve it. And the poor suck. If God wanted them to have nice things, the nice things would fall from the sky.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
14K Solid Gold Kiddush Cup with Tray
Have you ever wondered what to get that special person that has everything?
Our Price: $10,400
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I keep all Halachah but I don’t know of any rational (this world) reason or benefit for most of it. Why do I keep it then? Because I believe firmly that God dictated the entire Torah word for word, and all the Bible Academics are wrong. Also I believe the world is 6,000 years old, Adam was the first ever man, and all the Scientists are wrong. Furthermore, I can prove all of this with various proofs. And if anyone ever proved me to that these beliefs were false I would drop all of it in a minute. But of course that’s never going to happen.
I keep all Halachah because I can see the rational benefits of doing so, at least for most of it. As for the rest, it’s mostly minor details, and its perceived usefulness varies from person to person. Since it’s an ancient tradition that has been going for thousands of years, I’m very reluctant to mess with it. Was the Torah written by God? Probably not. Was it Divinely Inspired? Who can say? There’s no way of determining that. But Judaism has a long and venerable history, we have achieved great things, and I perceive Orthodox Judaism to be highly moral in general and a great community and lifestyle. Of course it’s not perfect, but it’s better than the alternative. The question of how exactly 'Divinely Inspired' it all is doesn't bother me, because either way it's a valuable system, and I'm extremely proud to be part of the traditional Jewish community, for rational reasons alone.
Lifted whole cloth, from XGH, who concludes with this:
For some strange reason, a few of my commenters think that Person B is not viable or sustainable as a community, but Person A is going mechoyil ad choyil.I agree with his commenters, but not for theological reasons. I'm far more pragmatic, and its clear to me the game is fixed. Marc Steyn, author of the lovely obituaries that appear on the last page of every edition of the Atlantic, famously says that the future belongs to the fecund and confidant. I'm not sure Person A is confidant - can a community that defines itself against everyone else, while stifling questions and punishing non-conformity be called confident? - but there's no doubt he knows how to breed.
.........midrash isn't a monolith. The great majority of agadic wisdom is contested by other parts of the agada. A great example from last week's parsha: The 12 sons of Jacob married their sisters, right? Well, no, not according to Rav Nechamia, who says they married Canaanite women, the same sort of Canaanite women who gave their grandfather Abraham night terrors and cold sweats.
The teaching about Esav's absolute evil is also contested, as follows:
Statements about Esav that are not completely negative
-- Gen. Rabbah 65:16 (No one honored his father better than Esav)
-- Gen Rabbah 67:4 (Jacob was wrong to make Esav cry by taking his blessing, and he was later punished for this via the loud cry issued by his decendant Mordechai)
-- Avot de-Rabbi Nathan: 47, 130 (Esav shed three tears when Jacob took his blessing, the first two caused the destruction of each temple, and the third temple won't be restored until the third tear dries.)
There may be plenty more, but this is all I came across in six seconds of searching.
Ok, now, let's get serious: Why do we think that Esav's link with Rome and anti-semitism is an undisputed fact of Jewish life? Answer: Rabininc polemics.
Before Esav could be linked with anti-Semitism, he needed to be linked with Christians. And before he could be linked with Christians he needed to be linked with Rome. That first occured in the second century.
Esav appears as a stand-in for Rome only after the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132-135 C.E.). Until then Esav was generally just a symbol of godlessness and bad stuff, inspired, most likely, by that verse at the beginning of Malachi. Before the Bar Kokhba Revolt, there's no specific equation of Esav with Rome. (Incidentally, early Christianity also depicts Esav as godless, rejected, and bad: a significant point because the earliest Christians were virtually indistinguishable from Jews.)
As to why he became equated with Rome at that point, the answer's clear: Beitar marked the end of a century-long Roman war against the Jews, the most grevious violence against the Jewish people until the Final Solution. (That's the social and political context often missing when we study aggada) The ratio of Jewish dead in turn-of-the-century Palestine may well approximate one in three. Notably, the first sources to equate Esav with Rome are following the BK Revolt, when the Jews began to write about their defeat at the hands of Rome and to interpret it. Like all violated and defeated people, they also demonized their vanquishers, in the language of their "street," which as you might imagine, was spiritual. (If you listen carefully, you can even hear echos of this in the way that conquered Palestenians speak of Jews)
Two of the first agadic links of Esav and Rome
Lamentations Rabba 2:4:R. Yochanan said: The voice is the voice of Jacob (Gen. XXVII, 22)--the voice [of distress caused by] the Emperor Hadrian, who slew eighty thousand myriads of human beings at Beitar. (If the voice was Jacob, it follows that Esav was the hands.)
Tanhuma Terumah 3: In an imagined exchange between R. Akiva and Tinneius Rufus, the Roman tyrant specifically links himself with Esav and the proof-text from Malachi: "Why does the Holy One so hate us that He wrote, ‘But I hate Esau’?" The fact that R. Akiba was there tells us it couldn't have been long after the revolt. It should be remembered however, that Rufus was no Christian.
To sum up: The idea that Esav (formerly just a generic bad guy with some redeeming qualities) was Rome appears to have entered the popular imagination after Beitar. Later, when Rome became Christian, the Christians appear to have inherited the negative distinction. This was done by people who needed to explain their defeat in spiritual terms. It was a way of saying, "Ok. We got our heads handed to us in this world, but upstairs, where it counts, God likes us more."
Don't miss the The Mystery of the Muqata and the Missing Tefillin, now playing.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Is any of this accepted by the average Orthodox Jew? NO! So riddle me this: Why is it impossible for an OJ to DISAGREE with the Rambam about the incorporeal God, while simultaneously being impossible for him to AGREE with the Rambam on demons or magic?
But get this. One of the VIN commenters, a GOP Jew, no doubt, has a much better explanation:
The republicans voted against it, because their track records shows they support jews, while the Democrats, need votes like these to try to prove they are not anti jewish.Makes perfect sense to me!
Deep enough, and strong enough, believes in you...
Hard enough, and long enough,
It stands to reason, that someone else will think
"If he can do it, I can do it."
Making it: two whole people, who believe in you
Deep enough, and strong enough,
Believe in you.
Hard enough and long enough
There's bound to be some other person who
Believes in making it a threesome,
Making it three.....
People you can say: believe in me.....
This Elmo song, Sesame Street: The Best of Elmo - Just One Person, is filthy.
[DB- The picture was worse, which is why I took it down.]
Monday, November 26, 2007
For your reference, the letters and numbers can also be found on my sidebar.
1: The Masoretic Text
ויצו אתם לאמר כה תאמרון לאדני לעשו כה אמר עבדך יעקב עם לבן גרתי ואחר עד עתה
(I don't have a font for the cantillation, but the comma, or asnachta, is under the word "לעשו" See it here)
2: Christian Translations
King James Bible: And he commanded them, saying, Thus shall ye speak unto my lord Esau: "Thy servant Jacob saith thus, I have sojourned with Laban, and stayed there until now..."
American Standard Version: And he commanded them, saying, Thus shall ye say unto my lord Esau: "Thus saith thy servant Jacob, I have sojourned with Laban, and stayed until now..."
3: Robert Alter's note on this verse (click to read)
4: ArtScroll's translation (click to read)
[For those I may have lost]
I'm asking a question on ArtScroll. The cantillation of the verse suggests that "To my lord Esav" is not part of the message. This is picked up by the famous Christian translations which have (something like) And he commanded them, saying, This it what you should tell my lord Esau [STOP]: "Your servant Jacob says, I have sojourned with Laban, and stayed there until now..."
Using the work of another scholar, and ANE letters, Alter argues that "To my lord Esav" is part of the message. Thus: This it what you should say [STOP] "To my lord Esau, your servant Jacob says, I have sojourned with Laban, and stayed there until now..."
ArtScroll, oddly, follows Alter and not the MT's cantilation.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Friday, November 23, 2007
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
From my mail, I know that many of you were oblivious to my intentions. Now, thankfully (Get it? Thankfully? Ha!) my friend mevasertzion explains all.
MT ואלה בני צבעון ואיה וענה הוא ענה אשר מצא את הימם במדבר ברעתו את החמרים לצבעון אביו ׃
These are the sons of Zibeon: Aiah and Anah-- he is the Anah who found הימם in the wilderness when he was pasturing the donkeys of his father Zibeon.
LXX: και ουτοι υιοι σεβεγων αιε και ωναν ουτος εστιν ο ωνας ος ευρεν τον ιαμιν εν τη ερημω οτε ενεμεν τα υποζυγια σεβεγων του πατρος αυτου
And these are the sons of Sebegon; Aïe, and Ana; this is the Ana who found Jamin in the wilderness, when he tended the beasts of his father Sebegon
Vulgate: et hii filii Sebeon Ahaia et Anam iste est Ana qui invenit aquas calidas in solitudine cum pasceret asinos Sebeon patris sui
And these the sons of Sebeon: Aia and Ana. This is Ana that found the hot waters in the wilderness, when he fed the asses of Sebeon, his father:
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
[Photo at right: Three guys who blow.]
אנכי האל בית אל אשר משחת שם מצבה אשר נדרת לי שם נדר עתה קום צא מן הארץ הזאת ושוב אל ארץ מולדתך
I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar, where you made a vow to Me; now arise, leave this land, and return to the land of your birth.
Though it flows nicely in translation, האל בית אל is non-standard. Rashi, of course, manages to smooth it out, writing: The same as אל בית אל the letter ה being superfluous It is usual for Scripture to speak this way as in [another example of a superfluous ה].
Hmmm. So the ה is not needed here, but, per Rashi, it isn't unusual for the Torah to occasionally throw in an unnecessary ה. In other words: Move along, nothing to see here.
Both Targum Onkelus and Targum Yonatan deal differently with the problem. They translate the verse as: I am the God that appeared to you in Beth El. [Two extra words in Hebrew]
This is also the translation provided by a third, less famous Targum, the Targum Shivim [Scroll to 31:13]
Monday, November 19, 2007
1 - The verse tells us Esav won his father's heart with food. In the very next verse - immediately afterwards, so to speak - we see Jacob preparing a stew.
2 - Esav comes in from the field famished, and on the verge of death. Jacob takes advantage of the situation and trades a bowl of lentils for Esav's dearest possession.
3 - Jacob deceives his father with a goat, and acquires great wealth at Lavan's expense using goats. Later, his own sons deceive him with a goat.
4 - Jacob deceives his father with a garment. Later, his own sons deceive him with a garment.
5 - When his sons deceive him, they use the same verb for recognition that the text uses when we're told that Issac didn't recognize Jacob.
6 - Jacob takes advantage of his father's blindness and deceives him. Later, he is deprived of his own sight by the darkness of night and is deceived by Lavan and Leah.
7 - On the night before his reconciliation with Esav, Jacob is maimed by a mysterious stranger. The name "Jacob" Robert Alter tells us, can be construed as "he who acts crookedly." Along with wounding him, the stranger changes his name. Does this injury, (and the attendant name change) on the eve of his meeting with Esav serve to "straighten him out?" (See Rashi on the spot, who says: "it will no longer be said that the blessings came to you through deviousness ('oqbah) (hear the echo in Yaakov?) but, instead through lordliness.") Perhaps the wrestling match with the stranger is meant to illustrate Jacob's battle with (and eventual victory over) his own worst impulses?
8 - On the morning after the wrestling match, we are told that the "sun rose upon him" Nachum Sarna has observed that when Jacob's departure was marked by the setting on the sun. Now, his demon conquered, his crookedness corrected, his exile completed, the rising sun welcomes him home.
Friday, November 16, 2007
So here it is
[Note: The formatting isn't great, and some of the smartest, funiest stuff is way at the bottom]
Dear Jewish People:
Each year, at parshas v'yatze, the Jewish boys and girls all come running home with Rashi's story: "Leah cried day and night. Leah cried day and night. Boo hoo hoo."
But don't you pious people do shnayim mikra v'echad targum? And doesn't the targum (Onkelos) translate the verse about my eyes this way: "And the eyes of Leah were beautiful."
Why yes, I think it does.
And, furthermore, those of you who study Torah like grownups, may have noticed that the Rashbam ALSO says that my eyes were beautiful.
BEAUTIFUL. Not soft from crying, but BEAUTIFUL.
So why isn't their more positive view in circulation? Why am I remembered as the bible's Moaning Myrtle instead of as the chick with the drop-dead gorgeous eyes?
Also, I know you shrewd Jewish businessman prefer to think of Jacob's scheme with the sheep as the archetype example of Jewish cunning. And, yes, that was a pretty neat swindle. But how about my acquiring a night of hot love for the price of some lousy flowers? That doesn't impress you?
Wife of Jacob
Thursday, November 15, 2007
The average Torah tyke (and alas, some Torah tykes have long beards and wrinkles) (Torah-tyke is my phrase. You can' t use it) the average Torah tyke will tell you that our forefather Isaac lost his sight because the tears of angels fell into his eyes when he was tied to the alter. This is problematic: (1) Angels aren't physical, so how could they produce physical tears?; and (2) why would their tears be corrosive to Isaac's sight? I could cry in your eyes, for example, without doing any damage.
Explaining this midrash is beyond the scope of this post (also, I haven't completely worked it out yet) but if you look in Rashi, you'll see that he gives two other reasons for Isaac's failing sight:
(1) The smoke from the sacrifices offered to idols by Esav's Hittie wives;
(2) Done by God, for the purpose of delivering the Blessing to Jacob.
You might also, notice that some editions put the bit about the tears in brackets, suggesting that it does not appear in every variant reading of Rashi.
Also, if you refer to Rashi's source material, you will see that there are two other explanations, which Rashi does not use:
(A) Abimelech said to Sarah (Gen 20:16): ולשרה אמר הנה נתתי אלף כסף לאחיך הנה הוא לך כסות עינים לכל אשר אתך ואת כל ונכחת׃ (unto Sarah he said, Behold, I have given thy brother a thousand pieces of silver: behold, he is to thee a covering of the eyes, unto all that are with thee, and with all other: thus she was reproved.) The midrash construes this as a curse of blindness, which fell on Isaac, Sarah's child
(B) The blindness resulted from looking at his evil son Esav (the author of this aggadah held that looking at bad people degrades the eyes) (the author of this aggadah also held Esav was evil)
So what gives?
Rashi's comment, in which he mentions just two (or perhaps three) of the available explanations serves to address the juxtaposition of the information. We're told Issac was blind immediately before the blessing story begins. Why? Because the blindness was manufactured by God for the purpose of the blessing (see 2) We're also told about Esav's Hittie wives, and the foul odor their sacrifices produced, immediately before we're told about Isaac's blindness. Why? Because the smoke caused his eyes to fail (see 1 above)
(Those who argue that the the story about the tears was originally included, and not added by a later scribe, say that it is there to explain why the smoke affected Issac, and not Rivka, ie: his eyes had already been weakened by his experience on the alter)
The other two explanations (A and B above) can not be used to address a textual issue, and this Rashi excludes them. Unfortunately for the Jewish people, our children are rarely -if ever- given this sort of insight into Rashi's method and thinking. Instead, they are fed the tale of the tears as if that was the sole authentic Torah True explanation, when, in fact, there are four others. Instead, they grow up thinking the Rashi is a midrash anthology, which he is not.
Eisov is compared to a pig as it is said... When the pig lies down it stretches out its hooves as if to say, "See, I am a clean animal." So, too, those who rob and extort yet make pretensions of being honorable.
Rashi doesn't spell it out, but it seems obvious to me that he's speaking of Christians, Esav's presumed descendants. This short comment, therefore, tells us something about how Christians behaved in Rashi's time, and also what Rashi thought of it.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
עֵקֶב, אֲשֶׁר-שָׁמַע אַבְרָהָם בְּקֹלִי; וַיִּשְׁמֹר, מִשְׁמַרְתִּי, מִצְוֹתַי, חֻקּוֹתַי וְתוֹרֹתָי
...because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws.
This is the famous posuk that causes legions of yeshiva boys to imagine the Patriarchs assembling eruvim and slaughtering goats in honor of the Passover. Usually, they attribute the idea that Avraham and his family followed every jot and tittle of the not-yet-revealed divine law to Rashi, but in fact its found first in the Talmud, tractate Yoma, where an odd aggadah announces that they kept an observance (eruv tavshilim) designed to solve a problem caused by a holiday that hadn't been invented yet.
On the spot, Rashi cites the Gemarah, not to praise the Patriarchs, but because he's spoted an anamoly. The verse says Toratai. Two torahs? Ah, answers Rashi: We mean the writtten and the oral. Both were kept by our ancient forefathers.
Rashbam, pace his brilliant grandfather, does not agree. He says, that the ikar pshuto (his words) is that the word "Torasai" means only the 'obvious mitzvot' like stealing, adultery, coveting, justice, and welcoming guests. These rules were in affect before Matan Torah, (paging Plato) (or see here) but were renewed and expounded at Sinai. In short, Rashbam is not troubled by the use of a plural (Torasai) and unlike Rashi, has no reason to rely on the midrash for pshat. According to him the Avot kept the "obvious laws" and nothing else.
Chizkuni, Ibn Ezra and Radak agree with Rashbam in general, but not on the particulars. All three agree with Rashbam, and reject the Midrash, along with the idea that every divine law was known to the Patriarchs, and observed by them. However, they each give a different defintion to the words מִשְׁמַרְתִּי, מִצְוֹתַי, חֻקּוֹתַי וְתוֹרֹתָי. For instance, Chizkuni says "Torah" means Avraham's original trip to Israel (based on a use of the word elsewhere) whereas the Ibn Ezra says "Torah" refers to the mitzvah od brit mila.
(There's a long post I could write about how the Chizkuni, Ibn Ezra, Radak and the Rashbam disagree on the meaning of מִשְׁמַרְתִּי, מִצְוֹתַי, חֻקּוֹתַי וְתוֹרֹתָי in a way that reveals their individual approaches to pshat, but naah: that's why God gave us Josh Waxman)
Meanwhile, the Ramban pays homage to Rashi and the midrash, and finds a way to reconcile it with the plain fact that the Avot did NOT follow the commandments (Yaakov's sister-wives being just one example) but, in the end, concludes that Torasai means only the actual mitzvoth he was given: e.g. Brit Milah & Noachide laws. Nothing more.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Here's the Rashi comment in question :
ויפצר בם מאד ויסרו אליו ויבאו אל ביתו ויעש להם משתה ומצות אפה ויאכלו׃
But he insisted so strongly that they came with him and went into his home. He prepared a feast for them, and baked some flatbreads, and they ate.
Rashi: And baked some flatbreads: It was Passover
Asks Divrei Chaim:
What do we make of Rashi? Rashi seems to be addressing a simple textual question... If you dismiss Rashi as “derash” and not pshat, what does that mean? – did Rashi waste his time composing “fictional” answers to explain troublesome details in the text? Or to put it another way, if Rashi knew it was irrational or improbable for Lot to have really kept Pesach and eaten matzah, then hasn’t Rashi failed to answer the textual question he posed?"The problem, I think, is that DC has a post-enlightenment way of looking at history, and can't quite wrap his head around the fact that Rashi -for all his brilliance- did not. We're modern. Anachronisms bother us. Rashi was from a different time and place, a foreign country in LP Barthartley's famous phrase. Anachronisms didn't bother him (His commentary, and the Midrash upon which most of it is based, are chock full of them.) Nor did they bother the non-Jewish geniuses of his time (See Anselm of Canterbury who imagined God as the fuedal lord of the word, and interpreted the Jesus story from that perspective.) We worry about the little details of history. We want to know exactly what Lot served the visiting angels. Rashi was different. As a man of the 13th century, he just didn't care. He was a critic, concerned about the words on the page , and a halachist, concerned about Jewish law. He was not a historian in any sense, but certainly not a historian in the modern sense.
1 - I could argue that Rashi's view of 19:3 isn't necessarily anachronistic. Suppose we were to corner Rashi and ask him what happened in Sodom on the night before the destruction. We could ask him three different questions: (1) Were matzot really served?; (2) Was it really Pesach?; and (3) Did Lot bake matzot because he somehow knew that in the far off future his uncle's descendants would be commanded to eat them in memory of an event that was yet to occur? I'm certain Rashi would say "yes" to the first two questions, but if he were to answer "no" to the third, his comment isn't an anachronism.
2- In particular, Rashi wants to know why the word "feast" is used to describe a meal that consisted of the poor man's bread. His answer, despite what you may have heard about Rashi, didn't arrive via ruach haKodesh. Its right from Berashis Rabba. (Not having seen this particular midrash in many years, I can't tell you what its author was attempting to address, but I'd bet serious money that it was not written to tell us the facts of history. Midrashim rarely attempt to tell us what happened. They almost always serve to give us some lesson or explanation. Because Rashi often re purposes midrashim, the fact that Rashi uses this one to explain why the feast Lot prepared was so pathetic is not proof that the midrash was written for that reason, too.)
3 - This, incidentally, is the other problem with the DC approach. Along with construing Rashi as a historian, he construes midrash as history. True, the midrash says that the angles visited Lot on Passover. However, it doesn't follow from this that it actually was Passover or even that the author of the Midrash believed it himself. The Ramchal says that moral and metaphysical lessons are hidden in midrashim. Perhaps the author of this particular midrash said that the visit occured on Passover for the sake of some moral lesson he wished to convey.
4 - Or perhaps he really thought it was Passover. We have no way of knowing.
[*] Its also possible that the words ומצות אפה were added by a later scribe/editor/redactor who wanted to make an editorial point about the salvation of Lot and connect it to the later salvation of the Jewish people. This is the sort of thing Midrash does all the time, so it doesn't seem far fetched that an scribe/editor/redactor might try it, too. But that's another post
(I'm struggling to make some larger point about Jews being successful in every endeavor, but it isn't coming. I also have a few words to say about Jews and Communists. Maybe, I'll update the post later.)
One that you might find interesting:
Analysis of Ya'akov's deal with Esav (lentils for birthright) has to include consideration of Esav's physical state at the time of the deal. How seriously are we to consider his claim that "I am going to die?" Most commentators seem to take this statement homiletically (see Rashi); however, I think there's reasonable basis in the text to take it more literally.
The earlier pasuk describes Esav as being "ayef," generally translated as "weary," "faint," or "tired." These translations give the idea that Esav was just in need of a good night's sleep; however, this is not the proper connotation of "ayef." Throughout tanach, "ayef" has a connotation of being in extreme need of sustenance. Esav was *objectively* famished from lack of food, and may well have been in dire straights.
I have not comprehensively looked through every source in my concordance, but so far, everywhere I've looked (8 places and counting), Onkelos consistently translates "ayef" as "Meshalhi." This word is the basis (see mo'ed katan 2a) for "bet hashalchin," a field that is in desperate need of watering (and, according to the gemara, can be watered on Chol hamo'ed). Just from the pesukim quoted in the concordance, I would be very surprised to find a different translation elsewhere.
In sum: Esav was not simply exhausted from his sinful ways; he was in significant physical danger, and Ya'akov withheld food until he obtained the bechorah. This does *not* mean that Ya'akov was wrong to do so (the pasuk specifically states that, his physical condition notwithstanding, Esav "despised" the birthright), but it puts the lie to any apologetics as being true to the plain meaning of the text.
Monday, November 12, 2007
Friends, this might be the concession of the century, if not the millennium, and I accept it graciously. (I hope.) Those of you who joined late, and have no idea what I am talking about, or otherwise fail to appreciate exactly how monumental this is, are going to have to email me, or stay mystified. (It isn't nice to publicly remind a convert of his past errors.)
After the Ramban translated the word YOM as era (as part of his effort to prove, via Midrashim, that the Messiah had not yet arrived) Pablo accused the Rmaban of kvetching the meaning of the word YOM. To prove his point, Pablo brought in the first Jew he found on the street and asked him to define the word "YOM."
"It means DAY," said the JewThis view of the meaning of the word YOM was shared by Rashi, who on Gen 24:55 translates the word יָמִים as year.
"Ha Ha!" said Pablo.
Replied the Ramban: "My Lord King: This Jew is certainly a better judge of the matter than Pablo Christiani, but not better than I. The word YOM in scripture means TIME."
[I recognize that this does not disprove the theory of evolution, nor does it prove the legitimacy of the Torah's account. I also recognize that the word in Berashis is YOM not יָמִים .]
There are two famous examples of this:
(1) The answer the Delphic Oracle gives Crœsus when he asks about attacking the Persians. The Oracle said:"If you attack you will destroy a mighty empire." Crœsus attacked, but destroyed his own empire.
(2) The reply Rivka receives when she "she went to enquire of the Lord" She is told "...and the elder shall serve the younger," in Hebrew וְרַב יַעֲבֹד צָעִיר. As Robert Alter says, the Hebrew syntax leaves unclear which noun is subject and which is object -- "the elder shall serve the younger" or "the elder, the younger shall serve."
Friday, November 09, 2007
Reports the JTA:
Rabbi Yehuda Levin will perform an ancient prayer ritual Wednesday seeking divine help to end the drought in the South, the Christian Newswire reported. Levin reportedly performed the ritual in 1986, after which there was four days of rain.Here's how this is going to go down.
If it rains
R' Levin will:
(1) Claim success
If it does not rain
R' Levin will:
(1) Blame someone (ie, the liberals, the gays, the skeptics) eg: "Their sins, have made my prayers useless." [Never mind that this is kfirah, in that it denies that God is all powerful. Its still how the ultra pious play the game.]
(2) Never mention the failure again.
Incidentally, this is how it works in the mentalist game. Once, when the Big Ben clock stopped working, Uri Geller claimed credit. Oddly enough, no mention of this famous failure [Wait till the video gets to the Johnny Carson show] appears on his website (and take note of who Geller blames)
Important note: This post is no reflection on prayer. I'm sure it works (maybe) It's also no reflection on Rabbi Levin. I am sure he believes it works, is confidant in his own powers, and isn't defrauding anyone.
[*] Honi is a famous rain maker
Thursday, November 08, 2007
See the video
And be sure to contrast the British welcome with the kissing-Suha manner in which Abdullah was greeted by Israel's best friend ever.
Caller 1: I am a Christian believer who goes to church every day, and I am deeply offended that a man of faith  and a minister of God such as Pat Robertson has aligned himself with someone who isn't Pro Life
Caller 2: I am deeply disappointed, praise God, that one of God's finest servants has announced his support for some one who would allow the abortionist nightmare to continue.
Caller 3: Pat Robertson is a sell out, and he is gambling with the lives of unborn babies
And so on and so forth. 
For her part, Laura seemed to think that Patty is an old fool, desperate for relevance. She also was disappointed to see a purported Conservative betraying "core Conservative values" like gay-baiting, freedom, and intolerance . I do give her some credit, though, for scoring points off Patty's claim that Rudy is "a good Catholic."
She claims to be a "True Conservative" yet exposes huge swaths of personal skin on her website.
 Try not to snort
 I want to know why Jews, weren't calling in the Leah Ingraham show, or whatever the Torah True equivalent of her show might be, to complain about Rudy getting into bed with someone who has many times announced his desire to convert us all. Could nut-job Christians be more deeply principled then nut job Jews? Possible, I suppose.
 Not exactly what she said, but you get the idea.
 Two divorces, adultery, friendly to homosexuals, pro-life, goes to church only when the cameras are there, etc.
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
Yesterday, I introduced a new acronym, BHM (black-hat-moron) to the DovBear lexicon (joining GOPJew and KefiyaTalis as phrases invented here.)
But what exactly is a BHM? See below (and for the sake of comparison and fairness, I've also defined MOM (modern-orthodox-moron))
|Michaper Kol Averot (forgives all sins)||His hat||His Zionism|
|At kiddush, will knock you over to get:||Kugel (burnt and greasy, please)||Sushi|
|Cause of all suffering in the universe:||Short hemlines / The New York Times||Muslim Arabs / The New York Times|
|Nightmare of nightmares||An unmarried 19-year old daughter||A meshulach at the door|
|Dream of dreams||A 5000 sq foot house, with a Lexus sedan in the drive and jealous neighbors next door||A 5000 sq foot house, with a Lexus SUV in the drive and jealous neighbors next door|
|Sin that's not really a sin||Tax fraud, bigotry, cheating at business.||Mixed swimming, fish at non-kosher resteraunts.|
|Favorite mitzvah||Sitting in a bes medrash, drinking coffee, and "learning"||Voting Republican|
|How he makes decisions:||Decisions? Huh? I just ask my Rav.||Is is good for Israel?|
|How he learns chumash:||Rashi is always right! (Unless the Little Midrash Says disagrees, in which case teku.)||Scours texts to develop apocalyptic scenarios involving crystals and space aliens, all having zero basis in legitimate commentary|
|How he learns gemarah:||Chazal are always right! (Only modernishke herr doktor scholars look at Rishonim)||Gema-what?|
|Favorite holiday:||Lag B'omer||Yom Ha'atzmaut|
|Ditches his wife, family and all household responsibilities to:||Sit in a bes medrash, drink coffee, and "learn"||Play poker and/or attend sporting events|
|Has a child named after:||Fauna (ie: Dov, Tzvi, Ze'ev)||Flora (ie: Ilan, Tomar, Daphne)|
|Favorite blog:||Yeshiva World||DovBear|
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
Monday, November 05, 2007
In the next story his first son is imperilled.
In the story after that, his second son is imperilled.
Then, for a change of pace, he's forced to haggle with a clique of self-important Hitties about an overpriced burial cave.
This, ladies and genteleman, is called IRONY.
An example from this week's sedra:
The verse [Gen 25:1] says: And again, Abraham took a wife, and her name was Keturah, but every school child is taught to ignore the plain meaning of the words on the page , and to instead accept that Keturah was Hagar. Why? Because Rashi said it. And why did Rashi say it? For one reason, and one reason only : In verse 6 the word pilagshim is choser, ie: with no
Only, hold on: In the MT the word is malay (spelled with a
Rashi's comment here, like many of his comments, is based on a midrash, in this case one found in Berashis Rabba. This suggests that the Midrash's author also had a text with a
Alternatively, its possible that the midrash in Berashis Rabba isn't addressing the text at all. The midrash continues (and Rashi cites this elsewhere, though in the midrash the two thoughts are not seperated) that Hagar is called Keturah because her deeds were beautiful like incense (Keturah puns on incense) . Perhaps Hagar is construed by the midrash as a meritorious woman for the glory of her husband Abraham, and not because of an anamoly in the text. It would not be unlike Rashi to use a midrash written for one purpose to address another.
Given the Rashi does not cite every single Midrash , I thinks its reasonable to conclude that we are only aware that the midresh said Ketruah and Hagar were the same person because of an accident, the accident of Rashi's choser text.
 Alas, no school child is taught that the Rashbam disagrees with both Rashi and the misdrash and insists that Keturah was a third wife, and not Hagar redux. You're invited to complain about this to your local school authorities.
 I expect those of you who don't know how to learn Rashi are already yelling: "One reason only? What do you mean? It's in the midrash!" You are reminded that Rashi does not cite every single midrash. He picks and chooses among them for two purposes. As he says himself on Gen 3:8: There are many aggadic midrashim, and our Rabbis have already arranged them in their proper setting, in Breishis Rabbah and in other collections of midrashim. I have only come (1) to give the simple meaning (pshat) of Scripture, and (2) for aggadah that resolves the words of Scripture...
 Rashi also suggests that she was called keturah because "she "tied her womb" and did not mate with any man from the time she separated from Avraham" ["Tied" also puns on keturah.] This explanation is not found in BR, but is from Pirkei de R. Eliezer
Friday, November 02, 2007
והלא לא הלך לעמוד לפניו אלא הקב"ה בא אאצלו ואמר לו זעקת סדום ועמורה כי רבה והיה לן לכתוב וה עודנו עומד לפני אברהם אלא תיקון סופרים הוא זה אשר הפכוהו ז"ל לכתוב כן
But is it not so that he [Avraham] did not go to stand before Him [God]? Rather, it was God who came to him and said to him, "The wailing concerning Sedom and Amorah is so great," and it should have been written: "G-d was still standing near Avraham," but, it is an emendation of the Scribes.
Mizrachi tells us that this does not mean that the scribes actually rewrote the verse, rather it was given, by God, using the sort of respectful language a scribe might use. Instead, of saying God remained in front of Avraham, its written the other way around for the sake of the honor of God.
All good, except for one thing: In some early editions of Rashi, the comment concludes with five additional words:
אשר הפכוהו ז"ל לכתוב כן
which those of blessed memory reversed writing it thus.
These words aren't in the standard mikraot gedolot, nor are they included in the Stone or Sapperstein Chumashim. However, surprise, surprise, they do appear in the Gutnick edition!
I imagine the Stone editor excluded the troublesome words because they are not in mikraot gedolot and Stone doesn't even pretend to be scholarly. Saperstein has more to answer for [as Fred told us last year] but OK: They don't promise to include every variant reading in Rashi, and this one, arguably is kfirah, so perhaps you can make a case that it didn't come from Rashi's pen.
But Gutnick? What in the world is it doing there?
Someplace else where Gutnick beats ArtScroll
Also awesome (same blog, different post): I’d like to suggest a new policy. Whenever someone says “im yirtza Hashem by you” with their head slightly tilted and their voice overly kind, punch them in the nose.
Thursday, November 01, 2007
Update: The Bray stays
Clarification: The problemn with Bray isn't his message, but his manner. His ideas aren't frighting or threatening. He's just annoying. And a community has the right to bannish annoying people if it so desires.
As scientists probe deeper into the brain for what underlies superstition, they have found a surprising suspect: dopamine, which usually fuels the brain's sense of reward. In one study, two groups of people, either believers in the supernatural or skeptics, looked at quickly displayed images of faces and scrambled faces, real words and non-words. The goal was to pick out the real ones. Skeptics called more real faces non faces, and real words non words, than did believers, who happily saw faces and words even in gibberish. But after the skeptics were given L-dopa, a drug that increases dopamine, their skeptical threshold fell, and they ID'd more faces and words as real.That suggests that dopamine inclines the brain to see patterns even in random noise.
Last night, after Jim Callaham pretended to summon a dead person, Angel followed through with his promise [Video] and almost got his nose broken for it. [Full performance]
Now, how cool would it be if Criss or someone like him were to do the same to rebbas who fake miracles for the purpose of defrauding the public? You know the kind. They look at your mezzuzot and pretend to see deep secret things about your love life. Or maybe they do some mumbo jumbo to remove an ayin hara from a loved one. Stuff like that. All bogus.
1 - Parallels and antithesis
(a) The angles visit to Abraham vs. their visit to Lot
- The guest are eagerly welcomed and fed (duh) (p)
- Both men are sitting at an entrance when the guests appear (p)
- Abraham's guests arrive at midday; Lot's arrive at twilight (a)
- Sarah laughs; the son in laws of Lot laugh (the same verb is used) (the laughter itself is a parallel, the reason for the laughter is an antithesis.
- Following the visit Abraham asks God to spare a city and fails; Lot, likewise asks for divine mercy but succeeds (a)
(b) The destruction of Sodom vs. destruction of the world
- The word himtir appears in both places; both are destroyed by precipitation
- In each case, moral perversion is the reason given for the destruction
- In each case, one family is marked for survival
- In each case, the hero becomes drunk immediately afterwards, and is involved in an illicit act.
(c) Yishmael's trip to the desert vs Yitzchak's trip to the mountain
- Abraham "rose early in the morning" both to send Hagar away, and to begin his trip with Yitzchakl
- He first puts bread and water on Hagar; next he puts wood on Isaac
- In each case an angel intervenes when the boy is on the brink of death
- At the last moment, eyes are opened.
- In each case the angel promises that the boy will produce a great nation
(d) Abraham's grandson Yaakov has 12 sons: so do his brother Nahor and his first son Yishmoel
(e) The sin of Sodom vs the crime of Procrustes
(f) The Lord's visit to Abraham vs. Kothar's visit to Dan'el [*], a judge in the Ugaritic epic of Eqhat
- Dan'el also sits by an entrance
- He "lifts up his eyes" to apprehend the divine visitor; and
- tells his wife to prepare a meal with the best of the best.
2 - Mussar
- Lot offers his virgin daughters to the mob, but ends up deflowering them himself (mida kneged mida)
- The famous point made by SRH about Avraham's use of the word's "midst of the city"
- The famous point made by SRH about how we are to view non-Jews
3 - Famous Parshanut discussions
- The mocking of Issac. What was Yishmael's sin? Attempted murder? Rape? Or, as Alter cleverly concludes from Sarah's reaction and the appearance of the word metzachek "we may also be invited to construe it as Issac-ing -- thatis Sarah sees Ishmael as playing the role of Issac... as presuming to be the legitimate heir."
- The age of Yitzchak at the Akeida
4 Plot holes
- Where did Lot's daughters find wine?
5 - Unanswered questions
- Why is the Davidic line born in sin?
[*] Incidently, some speculate that the third person mentioned in Ezekiel 14:14 is Dan'el, the Ugaritic Judge, not Daniel the lion tamer (Reasons: The other two listed are gentiles, and the book of Daniel was written long after Ezekiel)