Thursday, July 31, 2003

Parshat Devarim - Perverting the Mikra? An Open vs. Closed Canon Approach

The first pasuk of Devarim lists a whole slew of place names. Rashi cites R Yochanan, who said (Rashi dibur hamatchil "Bein Paran UVein Tofel VeLavan") "We reviewed all of Scriptures and we found not a place whose name was Tofel and Lavan; rather, he (Moshe) rebuked them on the fact that they complained (tiflu) about the Manna that was white (lavan), as they said..." and then brings the source pasuk where complained about the Manna.

In fact, Rashi explains all the place names in this way - Chatzeiros, Di Zahav, etc.

The Sifrei has the same explanations of place names, without (at least as far as I read) R Yochanan's justification that these place names never occur elsewhere in Scriptures. However, it does record an objection:

"R Yosi ben Dormaskit said to him, 'Yehuda BeRabbi, why do you pervert to us the Scriptures? I call Heaven and Earth upon me as my witnesses that I reviewed all the places (original girsa: in the Torah and there is no place that is called - but this is placed in parentheses, and instead we have in brackets what makes more sense in context) and all of them are (actual) places, but rather they are called that because of actual happenstance (they recieved their place names because of some occurance there). Similarly, (Bereishit 26) 'He called the place Esek because 'hitasku imo' - they contended with him. And it says (Bereishit 26:33) 'And he called it Shivah (after the oath)'"
{Josh: This is an example of places named after an occurence which happened there.}

"Similarly, R Yehuda darshened (Zechariah 9:1) "The burden of the word of the LORD. In the land of Hadrach, and in Damascus shall be His resting-place; (for the LORD'S is the eye of man and all the tribes of Israel)" {Regarding the place ChadRach} This is Mashiach who is Sharp (Chad) to the Canaanites and soft (Rach) to Israel."

"R Yosi ben Dormaskit said to him, 'Yehuda BeRabbi, why do you pervert to us the Scriptures? I call Heaven and Earth upon me as my witnesses that I am from Damesek {the pasuk said "in the land of Chadrach and in Damascus...", and he is ben Dormaskit, implying he is from Damascus) and there is a place there and its name is Chadrach... {R Yosi ben Dormaskit then explains what "Damascus is his rest place" means assuming the reference is really to Damascus.}"

"Similar to the matter R Yehuda darshened
(Bereishit 41:43) "And he made him to ride in the second chariot which he had; and they cried before him: 'Avrech'; and he set him over all the land of Egypt."
- This is Yosef who is a father/master (Av) in wisdom and soft (Rach) in years.

"R Yosi ben Dormaskit said to him, 'Yehuda BeRabbi, why do you pervert to us the Scriptures? I call Heaven and Earth upon me as my witnesses that "Avrech is only the language of ??brachim?? {perhaps knees, since "none shall lift up his hand or his foot in all eretz mitzrayim?}" "and he set him over all the land of Egypt." - that all entered and left under his hand.'"

Closed vs. Open Canon
The dispute between R Yochanan and R Yosi ben Dormaskit seems to be one of closed-canon versus open-canon approach to interpreting TaNaCH. A closed-canon approach means that any person or place which occurs uniquely in one location must get its definition from elsewhere in the body of the canon, those texts which are part of TaNaCh, because we would not get thrown a random person or place out of left field that we have not encountered elsewhere. An example of this is the claim that Ivtzan is identical with Boaz, since otherwise we would have expected Boaz to have been mentioned in Sefer Shoftim as a judge. An open-canon approach assumes that TaNaCH could refer to a person or place (or thing) that otherwise we would not know about, and that we have not seen elsewhere in another context.

R Yochanan states that we reviewed all of Scripture and we see no place by those names in all of TaNaCH. He makes no claim of looking at the actual world to confirm that no such place exists. Since it does not exist elsewhere in TaNaCH, he determines that these places are not real and the intent that the Jews were not really there but rather Moshe rebukes them on all the matters hinted at by these strange made-up place names. Thus, R Yochanan uses a sort of closed-canon approach, but rather than identifying these places with some other known place, he says that they do not really exist.

R Yosi ben Dormaskit makes no reference to the fact that these places occur nowhere else in Tanach. Rather, he points out that geographically, if you look at the world, these are actual locations, and so no midrashic interpretation of these place names is necessary, or in fact wanted. This seems to be an open-canon approach. The Torah can bring in a place that is otherwise unmentioned, but this is a unique location that surely exists. The fact that the names seem to hint at meanings stems from the fact that all place names have meaning, which they obtained by some event occuring there, as we see from Esek and Shiva.

It is unclear what the response of R Yochanan would be. Do we ignore geographical evidence and adopt a closed canon approach? Would we do the same for archeological evidence? Rashi certainly does not seem to be concerned by R Yosi ben Dormaskit's objection, since he prints R Yochanan and NOT R Yosi ben Dormaskit's statement.

What's the Biggee? Why can't we say it is just Drash?
Even so, R Yosi ben Dormaskit's language seems unduly strong. Is R Yehuda BeRabbi really perverting/twisting the meaning of the psukim? Why can't we say that R Yosi ben Dormaskit is operating on the pshat level, and R Yochanan and R Yehuda are operating on the midrashic level? Further, why is R Yochanan compelled to first justify his explanation by saying that these places do not exist? Why not just say they could exist, but the fact that they are written in the pasuk is coming to bring additional (midrashic) information?

I think this might actually help us understand more about Chazal's attitude to pshat and drash. I am not entirely convinced that when Chazal gave an interpretation in the Midrash or in the Gemara, they meant it as Drash and not Pshat. Certainly we find statement about the four levels of interpretation, and statements like Ain HaMikra Yotzei miydei pshuto, but I think is is possible that many of the statements Chazal made are intended as pshat, even though it looks to us like drash. Or perhaps better, it is Emes, Truth, and they do not necessarily make such distinctions between pshat and drash as a regular matter of course. As such, R Yehuda and R Yochanan means their explanation as the true, meaning of the text. As such, we must preclude other meanings, so places with those names must first of all not exist. And R Yosi ben Dormaskit can have such a pointed and heated reaction to this attempt at declaring meaning.

Another possibility (perhaps true at the same time as the above), drash is not "I am making something up, so don't bother me." It is a hyper-literal reading of the text. It operated by rules. The most basic one of which I've encounted in reading various midrashim, is that there has to be something on which to hang your hat. It is usually an irregularity in the text. For example, Az Yashir Moshe means "then Moshe sang," but the form of the verb is the imperfect, so it is interpreted to mean Moshe will sing in the time of Mashiach. There has to be some irregularity, not to discard the pshat but to hint at something more.

If so, if there is nothing irregular about the place names because that is where they were, there is no cause for drash. And perhaps thats the root of this machloket. This could have repercussions in other realms. I have had disputations in the past with people who would take something intended as pshat and when it is disproven, would be happy to relegate it to the level of drash. But drash is not something that is incorrect, and drash is something that needs be based on something "off" in the text. This would be an argument against modern "midrash" where people want to make an ethical/moral point and spin the parsha to make that point, with no true basis for making that spin in the text, but just the fact that one could make a wordplay or the like. That is falsehood, not midrash. There is nothing to "force" you to say the midrash. You might say it is drush, not drash, but I am not sure. I certainly would not say it is on the level of Chazal's interpretations in the midrashim or gemara. Furthermore, if someone attempts to say a pshat and it is intended as pshat and not drash, if it is disproved, it is disproved pshat - one could say a twisting/perversion of the mikra (if you really have proof it is incorrect), and not drash.

Or maybe not. Just some thoughts that struck me as I contemplated this.
Good Shabbos!

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Parshas Devarim

Title: Is Devarim rebuke? Or a pep talk?

Parshas Devarim opens with the statement (Devarim 1:1) "These are the words which Moshe spoke unto all Israel beyond the Jordan; in the wilderness, in the Arabah, over against Suph, between Paran and Tophel, and Laban, and Hazeroth, and Di-zahab."

The Sifrei asks about the words "Eileh HaDevarim," "these are the words that Moshe spoke." Did Moshe only speak those words? He wrote the whole Torah? Rather, when we see this pattern, it means that he spoke words of rebuke. The Sifrei shows where there is rebuke, by quoting a pasuk from MUCH later, Devarim 36:15, "vayishman yeshurun vayiv'at...," "But Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked--thou didst wax fat, thou didst grow thick, thou didst become gross--and he forsook God who made him, and contemned the Rock of his salvation." It seems clear that Sifrei regards the opening pasuk as addressing the entire sefer Devarim, not just (for example) the first parsha, and the problem is that Moshe also wrote the rest of the Torah as well.

The Sifrei demonstrates this pattern for several other prophets as well. Amos, Yirmiyahu, David, and Kohelet all have similar "divrei" statements, and the Sifrei asks that they spoke other things, and concludes by citing a pasuk within the prophecy which is rebuke.

The Sifrei continues with R Yehuda and others darshaning the place names as references to specific wrongdoings the benei yisrael did. Thus, we have the rebuke immediately following, even though the original Sifrei was referencing the sefer as a whole.

Pep Talk:
My own general impression of parshat (not sefer) Devarim is that is a pep talk. Moshe is turning over leadership to Yehoshua, and the Jews have suffered defeats, disappointments, and delays for the last 40 years. He wants to encourage them regarding the change of leadership and the capture of the land of Israel.

As a result, he tells them how they failed and were discouraged in the past, how they were afraid of the giants who lived in the land and would not be able to conquer, and how their previous effort to capture the land failed because Hashem was not with them. Now that Hashem was with them, they would be able to succeed. Thus, in the the second perek, Moshe stresses how they should not attack Esav or Moab, because they got the inheritance that Hashem had given them, and also detailed how those nations had won battles against the previous inhabitants of the land, who were giants. The parsha ends with exhortations to bnei Gad and Benei Reuven to help capture the land.

More about that Sifrei (you should look inside the Sifrei for this):

There seems to be a constant emendation of all the psukim cited to make it fit better (in other words, in my mikraos gedolos, the original psukim or statements are placed in parentheses and a better pasuk or statement in placed in brackets). I do not know who is doing this emendation, but it seems like before the change, "eileh hadevarim" or the like refer to an entire book, and that is contrasted with other prophesies the prophet is known to have made. After the change, a specific prophecy is the intent of "eileh hadevarim" or the like, which raises issues with other prophecies in the same book. For example, a quote from the first pasuk of Amos ("divrei Amos...") is changed to a later citation with the DBR root later in the sefer, and this is contrasted with the first pasuk. I claim the original intent is to contrast the ""divrei Amos..." in the first pasuk with the fact that he was known, from that same first pasuk, to have made prophesies elsewhere ("asher chaza al," and lists where else he prophesied). Similarly, a "divrei" statement from Yirmiyahu 30, proved by a rebuke in Yirmiyahu 30, and strangely contrasted with a statement from the second to last perek of Yirmiyahu which says Ad Kaan are the words of Yirmiyahu, showing he prophesied other things. This seems to imply that we are contrasting Yirmiyahu 30 with the rest of the book. But, the original text asks, "but didn't Yirmiyahu write two sefarim?" Those two sefarim would be Yirmiyahu and Echa, the latter written as a song of mourning for the death of King Yoshiahu. This is somewhat problematic in terms of how the quote demonstrates it, but our editor emends the text to "but didn't Yirmiyahu write the entire sefer?" Koheles is left intact, with first the quote "Divrei Koheles...," "The words of Koheleth, the son of David, king in Jerusalem." This is followed by the question that Shlomo HaMelech wrote 3 books, not just Koheles. The answer is that this is denoting rebuke, followed by a quote demonstrating it. I think it is possible to justify the original text over the emendations, and the difference again is: are we contrasting a specific prophecy to the whole sefer, or the sefer to other prophecies?

Another Perek!

Hadran Alach Mi SheHoziuhu (4th perek Yerushalmi Eruvin)!

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Hadran Alach Bechol Maaravin (3rd perek Yerushalmi Eruvin)!
Yerushalmi Eruvin 3:2

Note: see retraction on bottom.
The gemara discusses the need for Eruvei Chatzeiros (a courtyard eruv, accomplished by means of shared food).
"R Yehoshua said, 'Why do we [/they] make an eruv chatzeiros? Because of "darkei shalom (the ways of peace).' A story with a woman who was an enemy of her fellow woman, and she sent her eruv via her son. She (the other woman) took him, and hugged him and kissed him. He (the son) came and related (what happened) before his mother. She said, 'here she loved me and I did not know.' Out of this, they made peace. This is what it written (Mishlei 3rd perek), 'Deracheha darchei noam vechol nesivoseha shalom' (her = the Torah's ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace).

Rav Chaim Kanievsky explains the preceding Yerushalmi as explaining why they make an eruv chatzeiros (courtyards), when they are also making a shitufei muvaos (partnership of alleyways), where the alleyway encompasses the courtyard and would obviate the need for an eruv chatzeiros. The answer is, darkei shalom, the ways of peace, as the gemara proceeds to explain by way of the story.

This is a nice explanation of the gemara, but I think it is incorrect. I don't know if the following explanation is novel, since I don't have access to meforshim on this gemara, but here is my explanation.

The mishna upon which the gemara is based says that if one sends their eruv via a deaf mute, an insane person, or a minor, or with one who does not acknowledge the existence of the law of eruv, his eruv is not an eruv (i.e. invalid). Then, in the gemara, immediately preceding the one cited above, we have two statements limiting this law:

"Shmuel said, like a 9 or 10 year old, his eruv is an eruv (valid). R Yosa said, this that was said (a minor being invalid, or else a minor being invalid younger than 9 or 10) was by eruvei tchumin (a separate law regulating travel boundary on Shabbos), but by eruvei chatzeiros, even a minor."

The story is not about making an eruv chatzeiros in general, but rather making such an eruv via a minor. If so, the gemara in general is about minors, not the law of eruv chatzeiros in general.

As such, I would argue with Rav Kanievsky, and say that the question was not why we need eruv chatzeiros when we have shitufei muvaos, but rather:

"R Yehoshua said, 'Why do we [/they] make an eruv chatzeiros?"

means for what reason do they, meaning minors, make an eruv chatzeiros. Why should they have legal force to accomplish it.

Now, two statements prior, Shmuel said that minors of 9 or 10 could effect (or at least deliver) an eruv. This age has a special halachic name, "onas hapeutos." At that age, elsewhere, the Rabbis granted minors in certain circumstances the rights of acquisition and the ability to buy and sell, where the minors did not have that right Biblically. Why did they give them that right? Because of what is called "darkei shalom," to have a functioning society.

Presumably, this is what darkei shalom should mean here as well. Back to our quote:

"R Yehoshua said, 'Why do we [/they] make an eruv chatzeiros? Because of "darkei shalom (the ways of peace).'"

Basing himself on Shmuel's statement, as well as R Yosa's, he explains the reason. Just as elsewhere children of this age have their actions endowed with the force of law because of darkei shalom, so too here as well.

One we are talking about children delivering eruvei chatzeiros, and darkei shalom, we have a perfect segue to a story of a child delivering such and eruv and indeed making peace.

But, this does not mean that the gemara is saying we do not really need eruvei chatzeiros because shitufei muvaos would cover it.

Update: I retract this next week, based on the yerushalmi eruvin 7:9. Rav Kanievsky's explanation is correct. See next week's post (Sunday, August 3rd) for more details.

Friday, July 25, 2003

Hadran Alach Perek Osin Pasin (2nd perek Yerushlmi Eruvin)!

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Parshat Matos/Ma'sei

In parshat Matos, Hashem commands Moshe and Moshe commands the Jews to attack Midyan, with 1000 warriors from each tribe for a total of 12,000 (Bemidbar 31:1-5). The fact that this machaneh, or camp, consisted of 12,000 actually, according to R Yehuda, has halachic ramifications. The tenth and final mishnah of the 1st perek of Eruvin says that in a machaneh, or encampment of Jewish soldiers, five normal halachic obligations are waived (though under specific conditions explained in the gemara):

1) They may take wood from anywhere if it is needed (and not be concerned with the fact that it belongs to others; here, as an example of a condition given in the gemara in yerushalmi is that they are not near a forest where wood is readily available)
2) They are excused from having to [ritually] wash their hands [for example, before eating a meal]
3) They may eat demai
4) They are excused from having to make an eruv [chatzeiros, but not an eruv tchumin whose basis is Biblical]

Various suggestions are made as to what minimum this encampment must consist of. R Yochanan suggests 10 men after a machaneh of David. R Yehuda ben Pazi also suggests 10 on the basis of the machaneh elokim. R Chanania suggests 100 based on the hundred man machaneh of Gideon. Finally, R Yehuda suggests 12,000 on the basis of machaneh yisrael that found Midyan.

Hadran Alach Mavui! (Perek Alef Shel Eruvin, Talmud Yerushalmi)!

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Hello all! For my first post, I think I'll change from my regular modus operandi and post something about a gemara. Yes, this blog is actually going to also host my chiddushim on whatever it is I am currently learning. The stress, I think, will be parsha, but that will not preclude other subject matter.

I was learning Yerushalmi Eruvin, perek aleph, halacha heh. The subject is the korah, a "pole" which spans the top of an entrance to a mavui (alleyway) leading into a public domain. The previous mishna and gemara discussed how the korah should be able to support a brick 3 tefachim (handbreadths) by 1 1/2 tefachim, with a dispute between R Meir, R Yehuda, and (in a brayta) R Shimon, as to whether "ability to support" means that it has the requisite surface area, whether it can support the weight of such a brick, or both. R Yehuda said the surface area and not the weight was important.

The fifth mishna is as follows:

1) If [the korah] was of straw or reeds, you consider it as if it were of metal.
2) Curved, you consider it as if it were straight.
3) Circular [Cylindrical such that any brick would then slide off], you consider it as if it were a square [in other words, as if it as a flat rectangle surface on each side]
4) If it [the cylinder] has in its circumference 3 tefachim, it has in its breadth a single tefach [and a single tefach is what is needed to support area-wise 1 1/2 tefachim, as we see earlier in the gemara]

The yerushalmi is then as follows:

i) (1) in the mishna is only according to R Yehuda who says area and not weight support is important.
ii) A short citation of (2). This is called a pesikta, and is an insertion from the geonim, a post-Talmudic source. It shows what the following gemara addresses.
iii) A dispute between two Amoraim. R Acha citing R Zera says this is (the Tanna) R Yehuda; R Yosa claims everyone agrees to this law (of the curved pole).
iv) This is only when it is curved sideways (it is not an arch lifting vertically, but the curve is in the pole which is still parallel to the ground); this is does not not jut out of the alleyway, but if it does [perhaps more than 3 tefachim], and if you were to cut that portion the juts out, there would be 3 tedachim from one part to the next, it is invalid.
v) Another pesikta, this time citing (3)
vi) "This too is R Yehuda. From the Sea of Solomon we learn it"... Then, they cite a verse from Kings I 7:23 about the Sea of Solomon: And he made the molten sea of ten cubits from brim to brim, round in compass, and the height thereof was five cubits; and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about.

The Sea of Solomon was a fixture in the Temple. It was a pool, 30 cubits in circumference and 10 cubits in diameter.

Now, the typical explanation is that (vi) is coming to explain (3) and (4), namely, that the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter is 3:1.
This seems a bit strange, as this was a known fact (Pi was taken back then to be 3, rather that 3.14159....), but Chazal like to derive known facts from verses. They do so even to prove that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west!

However, I would like to suggest an alternate explanation of the text. Rather than being a source for (3) and (4), the cylindrical pole and the 3:1 ratio, I posit it is a source for (2), that a sideways curved pole is (according to R Yehuda) valid.

After all, the pool was round, and as the verse states, "a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about." That is, the 30 cubits round about the pool was considered a line, a "kav." (Further, the verse reckons the "straight" diameter measure as well.) So too, a korah that was similarly curved could be reckoned as a line.

The problem with this explanation is that the gemara explicitly states this is going on (3), (4), by citing (3) in the pesikta. The answer is that the pesikta, like all pesikata, is post Talmudic, from the Geonim, and reflects only how they understood the gemara, but not necessarily its original intent.

Further, this is not the first time a law about the korah from R Yehuda is derived from a feature of the Temple. Earlier, R Yehuda stated that a korah could be placed higher that 20 cubits, on the basis of the height of the entrance to the Ulam (antechamber) of the Temple or possibly (to exceed a height of 40 cubits) the height of the entrances of palaces. It would be appropriate that here he derive a law particular to korah, that is can be curved like the curved line about the pool, rather than a generic mathematical rule of 3:1 ratio which would be applicable to many other subject.

An extra wrinkle arises from the fact that the Talmud Bavli (Eruvin 14a,b) is parallel to the Yerushalmi in subject and order of subject matter, is explicit in the intent of this slice of gemara:

a) cylindrical, we view it as square (pesikta citing (3))
b) what is this further coming to teach me. it is needed for the last part (4) - all that has in its circumference 3 tefachim has a diameter of 1 tefach.
c) From where do we know this?
d) Says R Yochanan, [and then cites the verse about the pool]
e) But there is the rim?! [and would thus mess up the ratio]
f) R Papa says that the rim was very thin [and would thus not mess up the 3:1 ratio]

So it seems explicit that the gemara is going on (3) and (4), not (2), and is dealing explicitly with the ratio!

I would answer that (a) is a pesikta, from the geonim, so does not enter the picture.
(b) and possibly (c) is what is called stama degemara. It is an anonymous section, written most often in Aramaic (rather than Rabbinic Hebrew). Only that references the ratio and asks what is the source of this ratio. Stama Degemara is understood by most Talmudic scholars to be from the Savorin, a post-Talmudic stage preceding the geonim. As such, it should not enter the picture.
(d), R Yochanan's citation, parallels what we have in the yerushalmi, and is thus open to either the standard interpretation or my novel interpretation.
(e) is stama degemara.
(f) is R Papa, who is an Amora, and thus throws a huge monkey-wrench into the whole shebang! However, it is often noted the curious fact that R Papa (and specifically R Papa) is often observed responding to a stama degemara. It is not clear if this is pseudopigraphic or perhaps a late R Papa with the same name as an Amora, but this happens so often that we should not be held back by a statement from R Papa responding to a stama degemara.

Thus, the Bavli also reads in a way amenable to my suggestion.

Update: Some points in favor of the traditional reading:
1) Both the bavli and yerushalmi have a discussion immediately following which discusses the volume of the pool, which has an easier segue if they were just calculating length (and pi). Specifically, the gemara first discusses a discrepency between a description of the pool as "agula" (circular) or "merubaas" (square), words specificly used in the mishna to describe the cylinder korah and the angular korah, and then moves on to discuss a discrepency in the volume measurement.
2) The gemara in yerushalmi starts with the statement "od hi de R Yehuda; min hayam lamdo" which implies this is an additional section of the mishna like R Yehuda. Previously in the gemara there was a dispute whether to attribute this to R Yehuda or to everyone. Reason dictates that this would then apply to the next section of the mishna, (3) and (4) rather than (2) again. It could be parsed otherwise: "further, this [law] of R Yehuda from the pool he learns it," since he learned other laws from items in the Temple.

Update: Retraction:
Just as we get reward for the drisha, so too we get reward for the prisha.
On reflection, the traditional explanation, as understood by the stama degemara and the geonim in the pesiktata, feels more and more convincing. Most, if not all, places where I've encountered this pattern "min X lomdo" in Eruvin, what is being learned are dimensions. The latest is Eruvin yerushalmi, 2nd perek, 5th halacha. The dimensions of 70 + 2/3 cubits by 70 + 2/3 cubits, is learned, according to R Shmuel b Nachman in the name of R Yochanan, from the chatzer (courtyard) or the Mishkan (Tabernacle) which had equivalent area by being 50 by 100 cubits.
Parsha Blog

Welcome to ParshaBlog! I hope to put out a dvar torah on a weekly basis on this blog, as well as other related items as they arise.

About me: My name is Josh Waxman, and I'm a student in RIETS and Revel at YU, and also at CUNY Graduate Center.


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