Sunday, October 31, 2004

There is an interesting post over at Hirhurim about parshat Vayera that I thought I would discuss. Simcha writes, based on a question by Gil Student:

Sarah, Wombs, Hazal and Science

The Torah tells us about Sarah (Bereishis 11:30) "Vatehi Sarah akarah,
ein lah valad
- Now Sarai was barren, she had no child." The Gemara in Yevamos 64a-b learns from this verse that not only did Sarah not give birth, she did not have a "beis velad" (uterus) at all.

Bereishis Rabbah 53:5 and 63:5 says that Sarah did not have "ikar mitrin."

This all seems to imply that Sarah did not have a uterus. But if that is the case, how could she have menstruated? Aside from the midrashim that she menstruated (e.g. Bava Metzia 87a), the Torah tells us (Bereishis 18:11) that Sarah had stopped menstruating due to her advanced age, clearly implying that when she was younger she had menstruated. (Cf. Rashi, Bereishis 18:8 that Sarah miraculously regained her menses.) Is this a midrash that contradicts science as we now understand it or can the two be somehow resolved?

R. Yitzhak Weiss (Minhas Yitzhak 1:125:6-7) says that we cannot bring a proof le-halakhah

R. Ovadia Yosef in Yabia Omer vol. 3, Even Ha-Ezer 4:1 says about Sarah, "Therefore the text had to tell us that she did not have a 'beis velad' - she did not have a 'beis velad' at all." This is in implicit disagreement with the Minhas Yitzhak.

Dr. Shaul Weinreb has suggested that "she did not have a uterus" is not meant literally but that she did not have a functioning uterus.

Dr. Eddie Reichman suggested that these midrashim disagree with each other. This does not, however, explain how the midrash seems to contradict an explicit verse.

Dr. Josh Backon suggested that Sarah lacked eggs but had a uterus.

My rabbi, this past Shabbos, suggested that the midrash did not mean that Sarah literally had no uterus. It only meant that in shamayim it was decreed that she be incapable of giving birth. from Sarah because this midrash contradicts the physical reality as we know it. He then suggests that perhaps part but not all of Sarah's uterus was damaged.

I think we have to approach this issue carefully and deliberately, which involves looking not only at the drashot but also the derivations of these drashot from the pasuk.

Let us start with the midrash contradicting an explicit verse. I do not think it is really possible to contradict an explicit pasuk. That is, a pasuk is just an ordered collection of consonants (and vowels) encoded on paper or parchment. According to my definition, a pasuk does not have meaning. Separate from the pasuk is the semantic meaning assigned to and conveyed by the pasuk.

This semantic meaning can be on the level of peshat, derash, or something else. If you think a midrash contradicts an explicit pasuk, it is in truth only contradicting your understanding of the pasuk. The author of the midrash may have had a different understanding of the pasuk in question on a peshat or derash level. (This assumes that the midrash is not erroneous, where the author of the midrash forgot the pasuk.)

In this case, the pasuk actually does seem to have multiple possible meanings. The pasuk, Bereishit 18:11, reads:

וְאַבְרָהָם וְשָׂרָה זְקֵנִים, בָּאִים בַּיָּמִים; חָדַל לִהְיוֹת לְשָׂרָה, אֹרַח כַּנָּשִׁים.
"Now Abraham and Sarah were old, and well stricken in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women."

This straightforward reading is as was suggested above. Sarah once menstruated, but (presumably because of age) she experienced menopause. Note the natural rendering of חָדַל as "had ceased" - that is, the pluperfect. Even as the entire narrative takes place in the past, Sarah's menopause happened still earlier. It is "had ceased" rather that "ceased," which would have implied that her menopause would be taking place now in the narrative.

That it is the pluperfect gives way to a midrashic interpretation of the verse (by Ephraim mekasha`a the student of Rabbi Meir, citing Rabbi Meir), based on a troubling context. Earlier, Avraham had asked Sarah to prepare cakes (18:6) yet he does not serve it to them, and in fact serves them other food not mentioned in preparation. The explanation attributed to Rabbi Meir in midrash rabba is that Sarah experienced a menstrual flow while preparing the cakes, making the taharot tame`. Therefore Avraham did not serve the cakes (and provided other food in its stead). Note that the cake discrepency is insufficient to explain all of the details of this midrash. Sure, it explains why the cakes were not brought forth, but the detail of it being because Sarah became a niddah comes from where exactly. (I maintain the position that generally all details of a midrash come from the pesukim.) The answer, to my mind, is perhaps that חָדַל is the pluperfect. Therefore, while her menstruation had ceased in the past, it was not necessarily the case that it was not present now. (I will revise this statement later on.)

The midrash rabba notes that the chachamim actually dispute this derasha, appealing to the principle of kal vachomer. If food whose preparation was not mentioned was served, then certainly the food whose preparation was mentioned explicitly in a pasuk was served! Thus they needn't (though they might still) make any drasha on the pasuk that Sarah became a niddah.

Another possibility of what the drasha of Rabbi Meir is (which I actually think is a bit more likely): While on a peshat level the word חָדַל is in the pluperfect, there is no distinct form in Hebrew to denote pluperfect. It has the same form as the perfect. It is therefore simpler, if we were to ignore context, to read it as the perfect, which means it is something that is happening now in the narrative. Now, the pasuk that states that חָדַל לִהְיוֹת לְשָׂרָה אֹרַח כַּנָּשִׁים precedes her laughter at the angel's remarks, and follows the actual serving of the food. Thus, the pasuk is to be understood thusly: Sarah was having an אֹרַח כַּנָּשִׁים, that is, she was seeing dam niddah. At this point, though, her flow stopped. Not permanantly, mind you, but for this instant. Thus, at no point does the pasuk imply menopause, but rather, it is telling us that she just had an אֹרַח כַּנָּשִׁים. Why? Well, according to Rabbi Meir, this would explain why the cakes were not served.

There is a problem according to Rabbi Meir. How are we to understand Sarah's laughter in the following pasuk. How could she be surprised that she was to have a child, if she just had (miraculously according to the first way I explained it, or naturally according to the second, and I think better, way) an אֹרַח כַּנָּשִׁים?

The midrash rabba actually addresses this issue in its rendering of the pesukim about Sarah's laughter. The pesukim, Bereishit 18:10-12, read:

וַיֹּאמֶר, שׁוֹב אָשׁוּב אֵלֶיךָ כָּעֵת חַיָּה, וְהִנֵּה-בֵן, לְשָׂרָה אִשְׁתֶּךָ; וְשָׂרָה שֹׁמַעַת פֶּתַח הָאֹהֶל, וְהוּא אַחֲרָיו
וְאַבְרָהָם וְשָׂרָה זְקֵנִים, בָּאִים בַּיָּמִים; חָדַל לִהְיוֹת לְשָׂרָה, אֹרַח כַּנָּשִׁים.
וַתִּצְחַק שָׂרָה, בְּקִרְבָּהּ לֵאמֹר: אַחֲרֵי בְלֹתִי הָיְתָה-לִּי עֶדְנָה, וַאדֹנִי זָקֵן.
"And [h]e said: 'I will certainly return unto thee when the season cometh round; and, lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son.' And Sarah heard in the tent door, which was behind him.--
Now Abraham and Sarah were old, and well stricken in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women.
And Sarah laughed within herself, saying: 'After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?'"

The midrash translates Sarah's laughter slightly differently. אַחֲרֵי בְלֹתִי = after I am waxed old. הָיְתָה-לִּי עֶדְנָה: I have ornaments, just as I had when I was young. (The prooftext עֶדְנָה can connote ornaments is in Yechezkel 16:11: וָאֶעְדֵּךְ, עֶדִי; וָאֶתְּנָה צְמִידִים עַל-יָדַיִךְ, וְרָבִיד עַל-גְּרוֹנֵךְ). And I have a veset (idonim); or a zeman. All interpretations of the word עֶדְנָה. However, וַאדֹנִי זָקֵן = my husband is old. As Rabbi Yehuda says (immediately following), Avraham was not able to be polet zera anymore. Thus, she is not laughing about herself - her doubt stems from Avraham. In a famous midrash, the fact that when Hashem recounts Sarah as saying that she, rather than Avraham, is old, was a step taken to preserve Avraham and Sarah's shalom bayit. Thus, the fact that she just saw dam niddah poses no problem, midrashically speaking, to the fact that she laughs.

Now that we know that the midrash considers עֶדְנָה to mean a veset, we have an even better source for the midrash of Ephraim mekasha`a the student of Rabbi Meir. A little extra knowledge is required, and that is that bila, besides meaning "waxing old", also denotes "mixture." There is a famous talmudic principle stated by R Zera (Chullin 83) כל הראוי לבילה אין בילה מעכבת בו וכל שאינו ראוי לבילה בילה מעכבת בו - that even though there is a requirement to mix/stir the mincha's oil. If you do not mix, it is OK, so long as it is possible to mix it. But if it not possible to mix it (say the oil is up to the rim of the vessel), then bilah would present an absolute requirement. Thus, bila = mixing oil with flour.

Now let us reexamine the pasuk. We can translate: וַתִּצְחַק שָׂרָה, בְּקִרְבָּהּ לֵאמֹר: אַחֲרֵי בְלֹתִי הָיְתָה-לִּי עֶדְנָה, וַאדֹנִי זָקֵן. Sarah laughed to herself, saying: After I mixed the oil with the flour to make the cakes, I had a veset and saw dam niddah, so for me it would not be so surprising to have a child. However, my husband is old!

Whereas the previous explanations I gave about the perfect and pluperfect senses of the word חָדַל are tentative, this last derasha I would say is absolutely a source for the midrash. This derasha definitively links Sarah's veset to the preparation of the ugot. Thus we can understand why the ugot were not brought to the table even though they were prepared. Note that even though we give this source for the midrash, this does not preclude the midrashic explanation of the חָדַל pasuk I gave before.

There is another twist. What does the root חָדַל mean? We focused before on the tense - perfect or pluperfect. But what is the sense of the word? It is in fact not so simple. midrash rabba in fact discusses it. midrash rabba does not discuss the what the word amar, or zaken means. Regardless of how the midrash explains it, we see it is not a trivial word to translate.

We assumed חָדַל meant "to cease." Either this denoted menopause or denoted the end of her seeing dam niddah this time, as I suggested earlier. However, if we look at the Etymological Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew: Based on the Commentaries of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, we will see that Rav Hirsch gave various senses to the word. One sense is indeed "to cease." However, two other senses he gives are "to refrain" and "to lack."

Specifically, consider the tower of Bavel. In Bereishit 11:4, we read:
וַיֹּאמְרוּ הָבָה נִבְנֶה-לָּנוּ עִיר, וּמִגְדָּל וְרֹאשׁוֹ בַשָּׁמַיִם, וְנַעֲשֶׂה-לָּנוּ, שֵׁם: פֶּן-נָפוּץ, עַל-פְּנֵי כָל-הָאָרֶץ.
And they said: 'Come, let us build us a city, and a tower, with its top in heaven, and let us make us a name; lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.'

Then, they begin to build the tower, and Hashem confounds their language, and they scatter and never actually build the city. That is, in Bereishit 11:8:

וַיָּפֶץ ה אֹתָם מִשָּׁם, עַל-פְּנֵי כָל-הָאָרֶץ; וַיַּחְדְּלוּ, לִבְנֹת הָעִיר.
"So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth; and they left off to build the city."

Assuming this means that they left off from building the city (since they were scattered) instead of leaving off from building the tower and beginning to build the city, then this perhaps means that they never started to build the city. So חָדַל need not mean "to cease," but can mean "to refrain," to never start."

Rav Hirsch also gives the sense of "to lack," as in Yeshaya 53:3:
נִבְזֶה וַחֲדַל אִישִׁים, אִישׁ מַכְאֹבוֹת וִידוּעַ חֹלִי; וּכְמַסְתֵּר פָּנִים מִמֶּנּוּ, נִבְזֶה וְלֹא חֲשַׁבְנֻהוּ.
"He was despised, and forsaken of men, a man of pains, and acquainted with disease, and as one from whom men hide their face: he was despised, and we esteemed him not."

I don't really see how this connotes "lacking" as opposed to "ceasing," but if so, then we can say Sarah lacked an orach kanashim, as opposed to having one which ended.

Two better pesukim to illustrate this sense is in fact cited by the midrash, though to advance the meaning of "to cease." The first is in Devarim 23:23. Started from the previous pasuk:

כִּי-תִדֹּר נֶדֶר לַה אֱלֹקֶיךָ, לֹא תְאַחֵר לְשַׁלְּמוֹ: כִּי-דָרֹשׁ יִדְרְשֶׁנּוּ ה אֱלֹקֶיךָ, מֵעִמָּךְ, וְהָיָה בְךָ, חֵטְא.
וְכִי תֶחְדַּל, לִנְדֹּר--לֹא-יִהְיֶה בְךָ, חֵטְא.
"When thou shalt vow a vow unto the LORD thy God, thou shalt not be slack to pay it; for the LORD thy God will surely require it of thee; and it will be sin in thee.
But if thou shalt forbear to vow, it shall be no sin in thee."

Now this can mean that at one point he was making nedarim and then decided to stop the practice, or else, more likely, it means to not swear in the first place. If so, חָדַל need not mean to cease to much as to refrain, to not start in the first place, in which case חָדַל לִהְיוֹת לְשָׂרָה אֹרַח כַּנָּשִׁים might be taken to mean that she never had her period.

The second pasuk cited by the midrash is about someone who does not bring the korban pesach when he could have. In Bemidbar 9:13:
וְהָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר-הוּא טָהוֹר וּבְדֶרֶךְ לֹא-הָיָה, וְחָדַל לַעֲשׂוֹת הַפֶּסַח--וְנִכְרְתָה הַנֶּפֶשׁ הַהִוא, מֵעַמֶּיהָ: כִּי קָרְבַּן ה, לֹא הִקְרִיב בְּמֹעֲדוֹ--חֶטְאוֹ יִשָּׂא, הָאִישׁ הַהוּא.
"But the man that is clean, and is not on a journey, and forbeareth to keep the passover, that soul shall be cut off from his people; because he brought not the offering of the LORD in its appointed season, that man shall bear his sin."

Note this is a perfect pair - in one case a man refrains and has a sin (because it is obligatory) and in the other he forbears and has no sin.

Onkelos gives the targum of the word as ve`itmena' - and he holds back.

Anyway, this seems to be a case where someone did not bring the pesach in the first place - not a matter of ceasing.

However, the midrash tries to explain what it means by Sarah, cites the first pasuk, says פסק (presumably meaning to cease), then cites the second pasuk. How exactly the midrash extracts this meaning out of these pesukim, I will not attempt to discover. The targum Onkelos on the pasuk in our parsha gives פסק as the explanation.

I will put aside the pasuk in our parasha for a moment and turn my attention to another pasuk, which is the source of a midrash that Sarah was an aylonit, and did not have a womb.

Sarah as an aylonit
Meanwhile, there is another pasuk that speaks about Sarah being barren. Now it is possible to be barren as a result of not having children, and it is possible to be barren because of not being physically capable of having children. The pasuk can imply either, but is taken by two separate midrashim to mean the latter. The pasuk, Bereishit 11:30, reads:

וַתְּהִי שָׂרַי עֲקָרָה: אֵין לָהּ וָלָד
"And Sarai was barren; she had no child"

Now, the repetition is unnecessary; if she was barren, then she had no child. Such a pasuk calls out to be interpreted midrashically. One way to interpret this is וַתְּהִי שָׂרַי עֲקָרָה = and Sarah was barren. Why was she barren? Because אֵין לָהּ וָלָד, she had no valad, that is short for she had no bet valad. That is, she had no womb.

Alternatively, as Rav Yehuda says in the name of Resh Lakish, she had no ikar mitrin, or womb. This would come from the same pasuk, but parsed as follows: וַתְּהִי שָׂרַי עֲקָרָה אֵין לָהּ = And Sarah, an akara = ikar mitrin she had not. And so Hashem engraved within her a womb.

The contradiction
Is there in fact a contradiction between these midrashim?

More specifically, what about the midrash given by Ephraim mekasha`a the student of Rabbi Meir? According to this midrash, Sarah menstruated, and thus Avraham did not serve the cakes. And there are other midrashim saying that she menstruated at this point. If medical science tells us that a woman cannot menstruate if the has no womb, then how could she have menstruated?

To answer this question, I will ask a better question. How could Sarah have become pregnant with and given birth to Yitzchak if she had no womb? Just as you cannot menstruate without a womb, you cannot birth a child.

The answer is not that Hashem allowed her miraculously to give birth to a child without a womb. If you look closely at what Resh Lakish said, he said that she had no ikar mitrin, and so Hashem was galaf for her a womb - he carved out a womb within her.

Thus, at this point in the narrative, Hashem has given her a womb. If so, then just as she can have a child, she can menstruate, for she has a womb! There is no necessary contradiction between the midrashim, so long as you assume she is only menstruating now.

However, let us say the midrashim actually insist that the continuously had a veset. Consider the one in which Sarah said she had a veset when she was young, and a veset now. That clearly states that she did have a veset in the past. Or even Rabbi Meir's one might be assuming that she had a veset in the past.

I would consider the possibilities.
1) Perhaps Chazal did not know that without a uterus one could have no veset. I would more readily say this than reinterpret the midrashim to mean something other than what they really mean. Whether this would present a problem with the midrash depends upon what one regards the role and goal of midrash to be. However, I believe that one would need to know Greek science well before making such a statement. I would doubt that they did not know something like that.

{Further, according to Rabbi Meir, Sarah made the cakes tameh. Even if Sarah could bleed, would this be considered dam from the makor, if she has no ikkar mitrin?}

2) Another possibility is that ikkar mitrin and bet havalad do not mean the actual womb was missing, but that she was infertile. Perhaps she did not have a functioning uterus. I would reject that on the basis of the fact that the midrash clearly is deducing the specifics of the diagnosis from the words of the pasuk. Further, Resh Lakish states that Hashem carved for her an ikkar mitrin. This does not signify a non-functioning uterus so much as lacking one altogether. The same goes for the suggestion that she lacked eggs but had a uterus. This is unlikely from the words that form the basis of the midrash and from the words of the midrash itself. So too Simcha's rabbi's suggestion that it was a gezeira from shamayim or that the uterus was present but deficient does not fit well the the source pasuk nor with the wording of the midrashim.

3) I think that Dr. Eddie Reichman's suggest is most likely the correct one. That is, these are two midrashim that contradict one another. The ones about Sarah's menstruating was said with regard to the series of pesukim in our parasha, as I explained above, and were said by a specific set of Tanaaim and Amoraim. {For Rabbi Meir's midrash, the one cited by Rashi, we are told is in fact a matter of dispute, with the chachamim saying we need not say the cakes became tame`.} The midrash where Sarah was saying that she was menstruating just as she did in her youth is stressing the fact that she feels she is entirely fertile, and the only grounds for the couple's infertility is Avraham. In contrast, the midrashim suggesting that Sarah is an aylonit is based on another, earlier pasuk {which has the word akara and valad in it}, is stated by different members of Chazal, and have a primary purpose to stress that Sarah was not fertile. I would say these midrashim clearly contradict each other, and must read each other's base pesukim in entirely different ways. I would say this without even coming to any question about science, wombs, and menstruation.

Ah, there is a problem that the aylonit midrashim contradict an explicit pasuk?! As a laid out before, I do not think it is possible to really contradict an explicit pasuk as much as contradict someone's understanding, on a peshat or derash level, of the pasuk. How Resh Lakish would understand that pasuk is unknown. But, I presented what I feel are quite legitimate interpretations of the pasuk, at least on the midrashic level, which is where we are operating. Specifically,
a) if that חָדַל is the perfect, then it is not saying that she at one point had a veset and then experienced menopause, from which she now recovers, so much as that she miraculously developed a womb, and then had a period, which ended when the angel finished speaking. Or,
b) if חָדַל does not mean "cease," but rather "lacked" or "refrained from having," then there is no contradiction. She lacked a period because she had no uterus.

I am sure that there are other possible explanations, and that the midrash does not in fact contradict an explicit pasuk.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

A response to Rabbi Dr. David Berger

In one of the blogs I check regularly, the Town Crier, I saw an excerpt of an article in the Jewish press by David Berger about the issue of the copepods in New York city water. I have been meaning for a while to post something comprehensive about copepods, but have not gotten around to it. I read Dr. Berger's article, and I feel I must respectfully disagree with him on some of the points he makes.

1) Dr. Berger talks about how since water is such a staple, it is conceivable that "Even in an urban setting, it is easy to envision realistic scenarios involving jeopardy to the health of especially vulnerable observant Jews." I don't know how likely this (in cases of pikuach nefesh obviously the water would be OK, this is restricted to places where there is a metziut that must be worried about, and there are alternatives to non-filtered water), nor is this something that should necessarily influence the determination of whether something is or is not an issur diorayta. Note that Chazal talk about not drinking water from moving streams which have small non-kosher fish in it, and they probably strained such water to remove these creatures. The Aruch Hashulchan (Yoreh Deah Aleph, Siman 84:36-37) talks about a requirement to filter such water for the tiny creatures therein, as well as filtering for Pesach, so in the past they did not hesitate to forbid water. (Water which was left uncovered is another tempting example if not for the fact that the reason it is forbidden is because of safek sakana itself.) Other staples have been forbidden - chalav akum, stam yeinam, pas akum (though for the last in certain areas and times Chazal relaxed part of the prohibition perhaps because otherwise people would not have access to the staple.)

2) He points out this is not a new phenomenon, and "the almost universal, instinctive reaction that water imbibed over the years by a host of tzaddikim and talmidei chachamim must be permissible does not deserve to be dismissed as irrelevant." He cites the Talmudic dictum that if the animals of tzadikim (such as donkey of Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair who did not eat tevel) would not come to stumble then certainly not the tzadikim themselves. To show this is not merely an aggadic statement he cites Tosafot on Chullin 5b who speaks about it in a legal context and restricts it to the consumption of forbidden foods.

There are two answers to this, I think. Not every faucet receives copepods. Depending on the specific structure of the pipes, floor in the building, position of the house/apt. on the block, copepods may or may not reach the faucet at all or in sufficient amounts so as to pose a problem. Further, the prevalence of copepods vary with the seasons of the year. So it is possible that Hashem arranged it so that via fate, chance, and season, the tzadikim of the previous generation did not come to consume the forbidden.

Secondly, if you look at the Tosafot, it ends with a case in which Rabbi Zera did in fact eat tevel and in answer to the seeming contradiction, a statement by Rabbi Zera about yeridat hadorot - originally Rabbi Zera said that if the preceding generations were like sons of angels we are like sons of man, and if the preceding generations were like sons of man, we are like donkeys. Now, in response to this incident, Rabbi Zera (elsewhere it is Rabbi Mana) said that nowadays we are not even like the donkey of Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair (who did not eat tevel). Thus, there seems to be a yeridat hadorot from the Tanaaim and early Amoraim to the late Amoraim. The great ones of the last generation, while fantastic tzaddikim, are after all acharonim, and not even late Amoraim, so why assume they are afforded this protection, and consider this a basis for determining halacha?

To cite the gemara, which Tosafot refers to in Bereishit Rabba and Shekalim, but I will take from yerushalmi demai 3b:
רבי ירמיה שלח לרבי זעירא חדא מסאנא דתאנים דלא מתקנא
והוה רבי ירמיה סבר מימר מה ר' זעירא מיכול דלא מתקנא
והוה רבי זעירא סבר מימר מה אפשר דרבי ירמיה משלחה לי מילא דלא מתקנא
בין דין לדין איתאכלת טבל
למחר קם עימי' א"ל ההוא מסנאתא דשלחת לי אתמול מתקנא הוה?
א"ל אמרית מה רבי זעירא מיכל מילא דלא מתקנה?
א"ל אוף אנא אמרית כן הוה מה רבי ירמיה משלח לי מילא דלאו מתקנה?
רבי אבא בר זבינא בשם רבי זעירא אמר אין הוון קדמאי בני מלאכים אנן בני נש ואין הוון בני נש אנן חמרין
אמר רבי מנא בההיא שעתא אמרין אפי' לחמרתיה דר' פינחס בן יאיר לא אידמינן
Rabbi Yirmiyah sent to Rabbi Zera a basket of figs that was not fixed {was tevel}.
And Rabbi Yirmiyah thought to say: what, will Rabbi Zera eat without fixing it.
And Rabbi Zera thought to say: is it possible that Rabbi Yirmiyah will send me something not fixed?
Between this and that, tevel was consumed {by R Zera}.
The next day, he met him and said to him: the basket you sent me yesterday, was it fixed?
He said to him: I said: would Rabbi Zera eat something that was not fixed. {he would take off the required terumot and maaserot}
He said to him: so too did I say: What, would Rabbi Yirmiyah send me something that was not fixed?
Rabi Abba bar Zevina cited Rabbi Zera {who was the person who ate the tevel here} who said: if the First Ones were like children of angels, we are like men. And if they were like men then we are like donkeys.
Rabbi Mana said: At that hour {when Rabbi Zera accidentally ate the tevel} they said, even like the donkey of Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair we are not comparable. {The gemara continues by explaining how his donkey did not consume forbidden food.}
3) Dr. Berger adds another issue. The Torah was not given to angels, and so truly microscopic organisms should not present a problem, as was stated in previous permissive rulings. From mattan Torah until the invention of the microscope the existence of microscopic creatures could not be known. Copepods are a distinct situation but are similar in nature. A trained observer can spot it, but otherwise most people for "generations" would not spot it, and it looks like a glass of clear water.

In response, I would point out that the Aruch HaShulchan is one source that said there was no problem with microscopic creatures, because the Torah was not given to angels, and so anything the eye does not rule over presents no problem. However, he writes that if it is visible to the naked eye, even if is is incredibly tiny and even if it is only visible in direct sunlight, that is considered something the eye rules over, would therefore present a problem, and would need to be filtered just as some Jews filtered their water on Pesach. (I will cite it in full shortly.) This seems to directly address Dr. Berger's point, such that the two cases are to be distinct from each other in law.

Further, it is not necessarily so that people could not spot it for generations. There is an important distinction to be made between water with live copepods and water with dead copepods. When the copepods are alive, they move, and are readily visible. For generations, up to the time of the Tanaaim, and in Europe, there were live copepods. In New York, because of the nature of the the water system and the water treatment, the copepods, while not filtered out, are dead by the time they reach the faucet. As such they are not as readily visible. But in the past, if you go aenough generations back, they were most likely visible, just as they are readily visible if you were to go right now up to the reservior yourself and look.

The first scientist to describe a copepod was Aristotle, though this was a parasitic one, which is larger than the free range copepods we find in our water. But when this whole business started I took out on interlibrary load the book "The Copepodologist's Cabinet" which contained a history of copepodology. Even without microscopes, people saw sometimes silvery of red pools of water which was a mass of copepods. A 17th century scientist did a survey of various water sources in his area and noted the copepods and small marine plants in it. He suggested that people boil the water to create a soup, or else to filter the water through hat felt.

Dr. Berger points out that copepods are present in lake water and have been for centuries, but firstly a lake is non-moving water and so the copepods would likely be permitted on the basis of Chullin 66, and further such copepods would be alive and thus visible.

4) He points to the paucity of halachic literature on the issue says that it "underscores the obvious: in almost all cases, these Jews drank the water in question without noticing anything amiss."

I would answer that Chullin 66 is halachic literature on the subject, and it is brought down in Shulchan Aruch. The Aruch HaShulchan dealt with the issue and ruled that people should filter the water. I am not sure we can call this a paucity of halachic literature. Perhaps he means a paucity of literature about creatures which are at one point visible and later not visible - and now looks like a clear glass of water. After all, what prompted his article was in part the recent psak that once the copepods are visible once, they are considered a sheretz and present a problem even if no longer visible.

If this is in fact a new issue, we would not expect much halachic literature on the subject.

I would also note that it is not clear we should say they are not visible, based on the Aruch HaShulchan I mentioned. Here, by the way

I will end by citing the Aruch HaShulchan I mentioned above: This was written by Rav Yechiel Michel Epstein, born 1829, passed away 1888. So it is fairly recently that this issue came up.
לו: יש מי שכתב בשם חכמי הטבע דהמסתכל בזכוכית המגדלת שקורין ספאקטיוו"א יראה בחומץ מלא תולעים והנה בחומץ אין חשש כמו שנתבאר דהתולעים המתהוים בתלוש התירה התורה. אמנם שמעתי שבכל מיני מים וביחוד במי גשמים מלא ברואים דקים שאין העין יכולה לראותם. ובילדותי שמעתי מפי אחד שהיה במרחקים וראה דרך זכוכית המגדלת עד מאד כרבבות פעמים במים כל המיני ברואים, ולפי זה איך אנו שותים מים, שהרי אלו הברואים נתהוו במקורם, אמנם האמת הוא דלא אסרה תורה במה שאין העין שולטת בו, דלא ניתנה תורה למלאכים, דאם לא כן, הרי כמה מהחוקרים כתבו שגם כל האויר הוא מלא ברואים דקים מן הדקים, וכשהאדם פותח פיו בולע כמה מהם, אלא וודאי דהבל יפצה פיהם, ואף אם כן הוא כיון שאין העין שולט בהם, לאו כלום הוא. אמנם, במה שהעין יכול לראות, אפילו נגד השמש, ואפילו דק מן הדק, הוא שרץ גמור

לז: ולכן, יש ליזהר מאד בקיץ באותם ששותים מן הנהרות ומן האגמים ומעינות שאינם עמוקים דעל ידי החמימות נתהוו שם כמו זבובים קטנים ותולעים קטנים, ויש ליזהר לסנן המים במסננת דקה מן הדקה, או על ידי בגד, בדרך שאנו מסננים המים בפסח מפני חשש תערובת חמץ, אבל בבארות ומעיינות עמוקים אין הרחש מצוי בהם

36: There is one who writes, citing naturalists, that if one looks with a magnifying glass that they call spectiva he will see in the vinegar, full of of worms. And behold, in vinegar there is no concern, as was explained, that worm which come into being detached {J: presumably not attached to the ground} the Torah permits. However, I have heard that in all types of water, and specifically in rainwater, is filled with tiny creatures that the eye is not able to see them. {J: That is, they are not visible to the naked eye.} And in my youth I heard from one who was abroad and saw via a magnifying glass, many times in the water, all types of creatures. And, according to this, how can we drink water? For these creatures come into existence in their source!? However, the truth is that the Torah did not prohibit that which the eye does not rule over {J: that which is not visible to the naked eye}, for the Torah was not given to angels. For if not so, behold many of the investigators have written that also all of the air is full of finer than fine creatures, and when a man opens his mouth he swallows many of them. Rather, certainly they speak nonsense. And even if it is so, since the eye does not rule over them, they considers as if nothing. However, in that which the eye does rule over {J: what is visible to the naked eye}, even if only with direct sunlight, even finer than fine, is considered absolutely a Sheretz.

37: And therefore, there is to be very careful in the summer, for those who drink from rivers and from swamps and springs that are not deep, since via the heat there will cause to be there like small flies and small worms. And there is to be careful to filter the water with a filter, finer than fine, in the manner that we filter the water on Pesach because of the concern of a mixture of Chametz. But in the deep wells and springs the creeping creatures are not found in them.
5) Just because we cannot see something, or just because only a trained expert can detect something (this may not in fact be the metziut by copepods) does not mean that it has no halachic significance. Consider that some items are not halachicly nullified even in a ratio of 1 to 1000. And consider that when something is nullified in a 60 times its measure, this is because it no longer gives its taste. To determine whether something does give taste, they sometimes gave it to a non-Jewish chef, a קפילא ארמאה, who is an expert in detecting the presence of tastes in food (see e.g. Chullin 97a). Thus sometimes food can be prohibited if the forbidden within it is only detectable to a "trained observer." (I do not think Dr. Berger meant to imply otherwise - he was at the time speaking of whether there was a muit hamatzui of people in past generations who would know about the issue of these copepods, which is another matter entirely.)

6) I would end with a great source my friend Eliyahu brought to my attention. Apparently, the Perushim, Pharisees, were filtering their water for gnats in the days of Jesus, and are criticized by him for being hypocritical - specifically, for focusing on the minutia when what he felt were more major issues were ignored.

The quote can be found in Matthew 23:24:
"Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel."

It seems then that there is a very ancient precedent for filtering water for fear of consuming bugs.

Lech Lecha: "And the Canaanites were then in the land"

I think that Lech Lecha ("You Go") is a wonderfully appropriate name for last week's parsha, for it captures the major theme that Avraham begins an existence in which he is constantly in motion. He becomes a nomad, and wherever he would epect peace, quiet, and settling down, he is suddenly thrust into some new place or situation that does not allow him to become complacent.

Consider: In the beginning of the parsha (Bereishit 12:1), Hashem tells him to leave his country and father's house to another land. Avraham does so, taking Lot and Sara with him (12:4).

Hashem then tells him that he will inherit the land, but specifically his seed will inherit the land (12:7). This is in the future. Right now Avraham does not possess the land - he is passing through. To stress this, the preceding pasuk (12:6) mentions that the Canaanites were than in (and therefore in possession of) the land. וְהַכְּנַעֲנִי אָז בָּאָרֶץ. In fact, IMHO, the purpose of mentioning the Canaanites were there, on a pshat level, is to stress that he did not gain possession of the land then.

The next psukim talk about his travelling from place to place in the land, and finally, how he must leave because of the famine, and must go to Egypt (12:8-10). In Egypt, he does not have any power, and must resort to subterfuge, having Sara lie and deny they are married so that the Egyptians do not kill him (12:11-15).

Avraham then becomes a wealthy man in Egypt (12:16), and perhaps has been able to settle down, but then he is exiled from the land (12:20) when the king of Egypt discovers Sarah is actually Avraham's wife. Thus he resumes his wanderings.

He then returns to Canaan, and the pasuk stresses he is now wealthy, as was Lot (13:1-5). This did not let them settle down in peace because of a dispute between Avraham and Lot, and between their respective shepherds (13:6-12). The land was not able to bear both of them. Thus, ironically, the wealth caused at least one of them not to be able to stay in place, as well as creating discord rather than sheket.

The cause of this dispute, according to midrash rabba, is that Lot's shepherds refused to muzzle his animals as they passed through other people's fields, while Avraham's shepherds did muzzle the animals. The cause for this dispute? Lot maintained that Hashem said he would give them the land, so the land was theirs. Why should they then muzzle their animals. Avraham maintained that they did not yet have the land, but his descendants would inherit it in the future, and thus they did not currently have a right to it. In fact, we can see the source of this midrash in 13:7:
וַיְהִי-רִיב, בֵּין רֹעֵי מִקְנֵה-אַבְרָם, וּבֵין, רֹעֵי מִקְנֵה-לוֹט; וְהַכְּנַעֲנִי, וְהַפְּרִזִּי, אָז, יֹשֵׁב בָּאָרֶץ.
"And there was a strife between the herdmen of Abram's cattle and the herdmen of Lot's cattle. And the Canaanite and the Perizzite dwelt then in the land."
Once again we see the stress on the current inhabitants, and the midrash takes this instance as an explanation for the dispute, especially since they are juxtoposed within the same pasuk. Avraham insisted and recognized that they did not yet have the land and were living a nomadic existence.

I would add that I think the reason for this instance of "the Canaanite and Preizzite dwelt then in the land" is because in the subsequent narrative (13:9) , Avraham and Lot choose the land in which they will dwell, and Avraham is again told by Hashem that the land will be his (13:17). This is just as before when we are told that the Canaanite were then in the land, when Avraham is told that his descendants will inherit the land.

Continuing the trend, Avraham's (and Lot's) quiet is shattered by the war, and Avraham must go and save Lot (perek 14). And Avraham is told (perek 15) that his descendants will first go down to a strange land and will only inherit in the future, "for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full."

Thus this parsha details a very nomadic, not settled life, one which will only really be settled in the future when the nation of Israel possess the land.

When was this written?
A problem arises regarding the two psukim I cited, about the Canaanite, or the Canaanite and Perrizite then being in the land. Ibn Ezra notes the issue. (See his perush on Devarim 1:5.)

At issue is, could Moshe have written וְהַכְּנַעֲנִי וְהַפְּרִזִּי אָז יֹשֵׁב בָּאָרֶץ or וְהַכְּנַעֲנִי אָז בָּאָרֶץ? For to say that they were then (אז) in the land is to imply that at the time these words are being written, the Canaanite and Perrizite were not in the land. (Further, why mention they were in the land at that time, if after all, they are still in the land now?) It seems directed at an audience living at a time in which the Canaanites were not in the land, which would be after the Israelites took control in the time of Yehoshua. So how could Moshe have written this?

To me, this is really a non-issue. Why? Because these verses serve a specific purpose in the narrative - to note that even though talk is made of inheritance of Canaan, the settlement did not really happen back then, but other local groups were in possession. The psukim note that even though Avraham seems to be possessing the land, the Canaanite and Perizzite were then in the land. Then, at the time you would think Avraham is in possession. This does not in any way imply that now, when the psukim are being spoken and written, in the time of Moshe, the Canaanite and Perizzite were not in the land. It would possibly be more problematic were these psukim mere innocent interjections of demographic facts.

Some other explanations of the אז occurred to me:
1) They were then in the land. As opposed to when? If we are thinking of a terminus ad quem (end point) for the Canaanite occupation, then may be problematic, for even in Moshe's day they were in the land. But if we think of a terminus a quo (starting point), then it is no problem at all. At some point they were not in the land. Then they settled in the land. We are told that at this point they had already entered the land when Avraham was there. (See Rashi about Canaan vs. Shem in the land and see how this can fit in.) That they are still there in Moshe's day matters not at all. (The sefer is after all called Bereishit, The Beginning, and tracks peoples and lands from the beginning of time.)

2) The direct audience is a nation of Israel about to enter the land and possess it. As such, the expectation (and prophetic knowledge) is that in the next generation and on, the Canaanite and Perizzite would not be in the land. And while the אז and the statement about the Canaanites' presence is not necessary for Moshe's generation, the Torah was expected to be read by other audiences where this would not be the case.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

+2 = masechet yevamot; + 2 ketubot

הדרן עלך האשה שלום!
הדרן עלך האשה בתרא!
(perek 15-16 of yerushalmi yevamot)
וסליקא לה מסכת יבמות

הדרן עלך האשה שנתארמלה!
הדרן עלך אלו נערות!
(perek 2 - 3) of yerushalmi ketubot)

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Bereishit: Adam and Chava pull a Yeshaya

In Bereishit 3:8:
וַיִּשְׁמְעוּ אֶת-קוֹל ה אֱלֹקִים, מִתְהַלֵּךְ בַּגָּן--לְרוּחַ הַיּוֹם; וַיִּתְחַבֵּא הָאָדָם וְאִשְׁתּוֹ, מִפְּנֵי ה אֱלֹהִים, בְּתוֹךְ עֵץ הַגָּן.
"And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden toward the cool of the day; and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden."
עֵץ הַגָּן is singular, so a hyper-literal translation would perhaps be that they his themselves inside a single tree in the garden, as opposed to amongst the trees in the garden. (We could expect the construct form עצי. Of course, the pshat, or literal level of the text, is that the term עֵץ הַגָּן is a collective noun, referring to a group in the singular.) My reaction was that one could say they pulled a Yeshaya, the prophet who according to one midrash, to hide from king Menashe, pronounced a Divine Name and was swallowed up by a cedar.

What is this midrash? It occurs in Bavli Yevamot 49b. The mishna on 59a said
איזהו ממזר...
ורבי יהושע אומר כל שחייבין עליו מיתת בית דין
אמר רבי שמעון בן עזאי מצאתי מגלת יוחסין בירושלים וכתוב בה איש פלוני ממזר מאשת איש לקיים דברי רבי יהושע
Who is a mamzer (bastard)? ... And Rabbi Yehoshua says all relashionships for which one is liable for it the death penalty of the court.
Rabbi Shimon ben Azzai said: I found a megillat yuchsin (scroll of geneology - geneological chart) in Yerushalayim, and written in it was the man Such and Such is a bastard from an adulterous with a married woman, to establish the words of Rabbi Yehoshua.
The gemara then cites a brayta which elaborates upon the contents of this megillat yuchsin.
א"ר שמעון בן עזאי כו':
תני שמעון בן עזאי אומר מצאתי מגלת יוחסין בירושלים
וכתוב בה איש פלוני ממזר מאשת איש
וכתוב בה משנת ר' אליעזר בן יעקב קב ונקי
וכתוב בה מנשה הרג את ישעיה
אמר רבא מידן דייניה וקטליה
אמר ליה משה רבך אמר (שמות לג) כי לא יראני האדם וחי
ואת אמרת (ישעיהו ו) ואראה את ה' יושב על כסא רם ונשא
משה רבך אמר (דברים ד) מי כה' אלהינו בכל קראנו אליו
ואת אמרת (ישעיהו נה) דרשו ה' בהמצאו
משה רבך אמר (שמות כג) את מספר ימיך אמלא
ואת אמרת (מלכים ב כ) והוספתי על ימיך חמש עשרה שנה
אמר ישעיה ידענא ביה דלא מקבל מה דאימא ליה ואי אימא ליה אישוייה מזיד
אמר שם איבלע בארזא
אתיוה לארזא ונסרוה
כי מטא להדי פומא נח נפשיה
משום דאמר (ישעיהו ו) ובתוך עם טמא שפתים אנכי יושב
מכל מקום קשו קראי אהדדי
ואראה את ה' כדתניא כל הנביאים נסתכלו באספקלריא שאינה מאירה משה רבינו נסתכל באספקלריא המאירה דרשו ה' בהמצאו הא ביחיד הא בצבור ויחיד
אימת אמר רב נחמן אמר רבה בר אבוה אלו עשרה ימים שבין ראש השנה ליום הכפורים
את מספר ימיך אמלא תנאי היא דתניא את מספר ימיך אמלא

אלו שני דורות זכה משלימין לו לא זכה פוחתין לו דברי ר' עקיבא וחכמים אומרים זכה מוסיפים לו לא זכה פוחתין לו אמרו לו לרבי עקיבא הרי הוא אומר והוספתי על ימיך חמש עשרה שנה אמר להם משלו הוסיפו לו תדע שהרי נביא עומד ומתנבא (מלכים א יג) הנה בן נולד לבית דוד יאשיהו שמו ועדיין לא נולד מנשה ורבנן מי כתיב מחזקיה לבית דוד כתיב אי מחזקיה נולד אי מאינש אחרינא
We learnt: Rabbi Shimon ben Azzai says: I found a megillat yuchsin in Yerushalayim and written on it was the man Such and Such is a bastard from an adulterous relationship with a married woman. And was written in it the Mishna of Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov kav venaki, and was written in it Menashe killed Yeshaya.
Rava said, he judges judgings and killed him. He (Menashe) said to him(Yeshaya):
  • Moshe your teacher said (Shemot 33) "For a man shall not see me and live" And You said (Yeshaya 6) "and I say Hashem sitting on a high exalted throne."
  • Moshe your teacher said (Devarim 4:8),כִּי מִי-גוֹי גָּדוֹל, אֲשֶׁר-לוֹ אֱלֹקִים קְרֹבִים אֵלָיו, כַּה אֱלֹקֵינוּ, בְּכָל-קָרְאֵנוּ אֵלָיו, "For what great nation is there, that hath God so nigh unto them, as the LORD our God is whensoever we call upon Him?" {note that the actual words cited leaves out some of the middle words.}
    And You said (Yeshaya 54) "Seek out Hashem when he is to be found."

  • Moshe your teacher said (Shemot 23:26) לֹא תִהְיֶה מְשַׁכֵּלָה וַעֲקָרָה, בְּאַרְצֶךָ; אֶת-מִסְפַּר יָמֶיךָ, אֲמַלֵּא. "None shall miscarry, nor be barren, in thy land; the number of thy days I will fulfil." {thus connoting that man will live out his alloted years.}
    And You said (2 Kings 20:6) {to King Chizkiyahu} וְהֹסַפְתִּי עַל-יָמֶיךָ, חֲמֵשׁ עֶשְׂרֵה שָׁנָה, "And I will add unto thy days fifteen years"
Yeshaya said: I know about him that he will not accept what I tell him {in answer to his contradictions} and if I answer him I will make him into a deliberate sinner.
He said the Divine name and was swallowed up in a cedar tree.
{King Menashe called for woodcutters and } they came to the cedar tree and cut it.
When they reached his mouth Yeshaya's soul rested.
Because he {maligned Israel, when he} said (Yeshaya 6) "and I dwell amongst a people of unpure lips."
Even so, these verses do indeed contradict one another!
  • "And I saw Hashem" - as the brayta says, all the prophets saw in a non-lucid speculum {window glass}; Moshe saw in a lucid speculum.
    {That is, this statement that no one can see Hashem and live, with Moshe as an exception, goes on the clearer prophetic vision of Hashem. But the vision of all the prophets allows for this "seeing" of Hashem, in a non-lucid vision.}
  • "Seek out Hashem when He is to be found." - one is as a single individual, and one is when in a group. And the individual, when? Rav Nachman cited Rabba bar Avua: these are the 10 days between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur.
  • "The number of your days I will fulfill" - this is a matter of tanaitic dispute!for a brayta said: "The number of your days I will fulfill" - these are the days alloted to man at the time of his birth. If he merits it he fills out these days; if he does not merit it {years} are taken away. These are the words of Rabbi Akiva. And the Sages say if he merits years are added to him; if he does not merit years are taken away. They said to him, to Rabbi Akiva - behold it states in 2 Kings 20:6: And I will add on to your years. He replied to them, of his

    {King Chizkiyahu's} own years he added to him.

    {That is, he was originally slated to live at least another 15 years, but lost those due to lack of merit, and is now being informed that he will get 15 years, but those are part of those allotted to him when he was born.}

    You should know this, for the prophet stood and prophesied in 1 Kings 13: "Behold a son is born to the House of David; Yoshiyahu is his name." and Menashe {father of Yoshiyahu} had not yet been born.

    {That is, this is an earlier prophesy, and for it to be fulfilled Menashe would need to be born, so we see the original plan was for him to live longer, father Menashe, who would in turn father Yoshiyahu.}

    And the Sages {who argue on Rabbi Akiva} - does the verse {in 1 Kings 13} say "to Chizkiyah?" It says "to the House of David." Either from Chizkiyah of from another man.
Is this a midrash? An historical account? A popular legend?

Rabbi Shimon ben Azzai, a 2nd century Amora, attests to the basic thought in in, but states straight-out that the material did not originate with him - he found it in a megillat yuchsin. Rava, an Amora, fills in the details. However, it is possible that not all the details are from Rava. Rava adds how he was killed and the objection to Isaiah's prophecy based on contradicting verses in Torah. However, the resolution of the contradictions does not seem to be from Rava, but rather supplied by the stama degemara. This matters in part because a lot of the Rabbinic flavor - resolutions based on various Tanaim and tanaaitic sources comes in the resolution as opposed to the questions.

There is a 1st century peice of pseudepigrapha called the Ascension (or the Martyrdom) of Isaiah. It has Christian components but also parts that scholars think are Jewish in origin. (See this article in Jewish Encyclopedia: Isaiah, Ascension of.) There is a part that parallels that part of the legend recounted by Rava.

Here is a link to the full text of the Ascension of Isaiah. The parallel portion:

1. AND Belchira recognized and saw the place of Isaiah and the prophets who were with him; for he dwelt in the region of Bethlehem, and was an adherent of Manasseh. And he prophesied falsely in Jerusalem, and many belonging to Jerusalem were confederate with him, and he was a Samaritan.

2. And it came to pass when Alagar Zagar, king of Assyria, had come and captive, and led them away to the mountains of the medes and the rivers of Tazon;

3. This (Belchira), whilst still a youth, had escaped and come to Jerusalem in the days of Hezekiah king of Judah, but he walked not in the ways of his father of Samaria; for he feared Hezekiah.

4. And he was found in the days of Hezekiah speaking words of lawlessness in Jerusalem.

5. And the servants of Hezekiah accused him, and he made his escape to the region of Bethlehem. And they persuaded...

6. And Belchira accused Isaiah and the prophets who were with him, saying: `Isaiah and those who are with him prophesy against Jerusalem and against the cities of Judah that they shall be laid waste and (against the children of Judah and) Benjamin also that they shall go into captivity, and also against thee, O lord the king, that thou shalt go (bound) with hooks and iron chains':

7. But they prophesy falsely against Israel and Judah.

8. And Isaiah himself hath said: `I see more than Moses the prophet.'

9. But Moses said: `No man can see God and live'; and Isaiah hath said: `I have seen God and behold I live.'

10. Know, therefore, O king, that he is lying. And Jerusalem also he hath called Sodom, and the princes of Judah and Jerusalem he hath declared to be the people of Gomorrah. And he brought many accusations against Isaiah and the prophets before Manasseh.

11. But Beliar dwelt in the heart of Manasseh and in the heart of the princes of Judah and Benjamin and of the eunuchs and of the councillors of the king.

12. And the words of Belchira pleased him [exceedingly], and he sent and seized Isaiah.



ON account of these visions, therefore, Beliar was wroth with Isaiah, and he dwelt in the heart of Manasseh and he sawed him in sunder with a wooden saw.

2. And when Isaiah was being sawn in sunder, Belchira stood up, accusing him, and all the false prophets stood up, laughing and rejoicing because of Isaiah.

3. And Belchira, with the aid of Mechembechus, stood up before Isaiah, [laughing] deriding;

4. And Belchira said to Isaiah: 'Say, "I have lied in all that I have spoken, and likewise the ways of Manasseh are good and right.

5. And the ways also of Belchira and of his associates are good."

6. And this he said to him when he began to be sawn in sunder.

7. But Isaiah was (absorbed) in a vision of the Lord, and though his eyes were open, he saw them (not).

8. And Belchira spake thus to Isaiah: "Say what I say unto thee and I will turn their hearts, and I will compel Manasseh and the princes of Judah and the people and all Jerusalem to reverence thee.

9. And Isaiah answered and said: "So far as I have utterance (I say): Damned and accused be thou and all they powers and all thy house.

10. For thou canst not take (from me) aught save the skin of my body."

11. And they seized and sawed in sunder Isaiah, the son of Amoz, with a wooden saw.

12. And Manasseh and Belchira and the false prophets and the princes and the people [and] all stood looking on.

13. And to the prophets who were with him he said before he had been sawn in sunder: "Go ye to the region of Tyre and Sidon; for for me only hath God mingled the cup."

14. And when Isaiah was being sawn in sunder, he neither cried aloud nor wept, but his lips spake with the Holy Spirit until he was sawn in twain.

It stands to reason then that Rava was citing the well known legend, or else midrash, to explain what Rabbi Shimon ben Azzai found in the megilla.

If it is just popular legend, we would not expect any scriptural basis. If it is midrash we expect some pasuk. The encyclopedia article I cited above mentions 2 Kings 21:16. But that verse, and the next, simply read:
טז וְגַם דָּם נָקִי שָׁפַךְ מְנַשֶּׁה, הַרְבֵּה מְאֹד, עַד אֲשֶׁר-מִלֵּא אֶת-יְרוּשָׁלִַם, פֶּה לָפֶה--לְבַד מֵחַטָּאתוֹ אֲשֶׁר הֶחֱטִיא אֶת-יְהוּדָה, לַעֲשׂוֹת הָרַע בְּעֵינֵי ה.
יז וְיֶתֶר דִּבְרֵי מְנַשֶּׁה וְכָל-אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה, וְחַטָּאתוֹ אֲשֶׁר חָטָא: הֲלֹא-הֵם כְּתוּבִים, עַל-סֵפֶר דִּבְרֵי הַיָּמִים--לְמַלְכֵי יְהוּדָה.
16 Moreover Manasseh shed innocent blood very much, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another; beside his sin wherewith he made Judah to sin, in doing that which was evil in the sight of the LORD.
17 Now the rest of the acts of Manasseh, and all that he did, and his sin that he sinned, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah?
The reference to shedding innocent blood could be a veiled reference to this incident, but really if it is midrash we should expect something in the verse that can be interpreted to give each of the specific details of the story. At least that is my experience with almost every other I've experienced. A general bloodshed reference does not a midrash make, or justify.

I would suggest that if it is midrash, perhaps it is the וְגַם דָּם נָקִי שָׁפַךְ מְנַשֶּׁה, "Moreover Manasseh shed innocent blood," plus מִלֵּא אֶת-יְרוּשָׁלִַם, פֶּה לָפֶה, which literally means filling Jerusalem with blood from mouth to mouth. This could be taken as a reference to Yeshaya dying when the saw reached his mouth. Finally, the reference to the fact, in the next verse, that there are more condemnatory details in the book of Chronicles of the kings of Judah makes the verse beg to be expanded, especially in a megillat yuchsin which might be related in geneological attitude to a Divrei HaYamim.

What a precocious baby!

My son Meir Yaakov has his own blog.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Here is the text of the speech I gave at my son Meir Yaakov's bris

In an uncharacteristic departure from his usual dry, technical, legal writing style, the Tur, in his opening remarks on the laws of bris milah, waxes poetic about the lofty stature and various benefits of the mitzvah of milah. Among other things, he mentions how the positive commandment of milah is greater than all other positive commandments; how Avraham avinu was not complete until he was circumcised; how the land of Israel was attained in its merit; and how in its merit man is saved from the punishments of Gehinnom. He characterizes it as a permanent sign of the covenant between Man and Hashem, which testifies to our special relationship with Hashem as His people and flock. Bris milah is unique in that it is permanent sign of this relationship, as opposed to tzitzit and tefillin which can be removed and leave no record of their presence.

The Bach picks up on this atypical effusive style of the Tur, and offers his own, interesting explanation for it. But I would suggest that part of what motivated the Tur to wax poetic about bris milah is that there is an obvious element of mesirat nefesh to the mitzvah on the part of the parents, to place such a tiny baby under the scalpel. The Tur’s words offer encouragement to bolster their desire to perform this mitzvah.

I believe this idea is expressed in a midrash. Yitzchak and Yishmael are talking, and Yishmael boasts that he underwent the bris at the age of 13, and as such, his was a great act of mesiras nefesh, while Yitzchak had his bris when 8 days old, and thus did not make such a great self-sacrifice to show his dedication to Hashem. Yitzchak replied that, given the opportunity he too would be moser nefesh. Partially in response to this, Hashem commanded the akeidas Yitzchak. So we see that the midrash links the self-sacrifice and devotion of bris milah to that of akeidas Yitzchak.

Now, the bris milah was clearly mesirat nefesh on the part of Avraham, as opposed to Yitzchak. Meanwhile, Akeidas Yitzchak was explicitly in the psukim a difficult test and act of devotion for Avraham, but also implicitly, and in the words of Chazal, for Yitzchak as well.

I think this relates to the final comment of the Tur, about the permanent nature of the bris. The bris milah is the devotion of the parents of their son to the service of Hashem, such that he has a permanent reminder of his relationship with his Creator. It puts the child on the right path, such that in the future he, in turn, will desire to devote himself to avodas Hashem.

Our son, Meir Yaakov, is named for his mother’s paternal grandfather, Rabbi Yaakov Meir Mittelman, who exemplified these attributes of mesiras nefesh and dedication to Hashem. Rabbi Yaakov Meir became a rosh yeshiva in Europe at an early age, and after losing his wife and child in the Holocaust, remarried and made a new life for his family in America, never letting his experiences during the war interfere with his future goals. He spent his life here serving in various Jewish communal roles, often simultaneously. For instance, he worked as a shammas, baal koreh, baal tefila, made tzitzit and tefillin for people, counseled those undergoing hardships, and helped many others enter into the Jewish community by teaching them halachos and kashering their homes. Without sacrificing adherence to the halacha that he held so dear, he transmitted the laws to each person on his or her own level. He made sure his children attended yeshivot despite the financial difficulties this entailed. Rabbi Yaakov Meir had an intense desire to help his family and community develop and maintain a permanent connection to Hashem, and was moser nefesh to this end.

Racheli and I express our hope that with today’s small act of mesiras nefesh little Meir Yaakov will have been set upon a course of devotion to Hashem, to Torah, and to klal yisrael, just as his namesake.

Further, we hope that our son, Meir Yaakov, grows up to be a devoted oveid Hashem, who true to his name, will bring light to the world in the form of knowledge, Torah and joy.

I would like to thank everyone who made this simcha possible – first and foremost, Hakadosh Baruch Hu, the third partner in the creation of a child. Next, of course, my wife Racheli, and my new son Meir Yaakov, without whom we wouldn’t be having this bris. Also, my mother and father in law, for raising Racheli, and for their help with everything, up to and including recent help with the baby and organizing the bris. And of course I would like to thank my parents for bringing me to where I stand today. Our parents’ mesiras nefesh has ingrained in us the values we hope to pass on to our son. And finally, I would like to thank everyone who came here today to join in, and thereby add to, our simcha, and the entrance of Meir Yaakov into the bris of Avraham Avinu. Keshem shenichnas labris, ken yikanes liTorah, lichuppa, ulemaasim tovim.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Shmuel vs. Rav on Bashert

In an earlier post during parshat Pinchas, I posted some source material I had collected on and bashert and zivug. Both Rav and Shmuel make statements about a bat kol announcing a match. However, Rav has this bat kol 40 days before the formation of the fetus, while Shmuel has the bat kol go out every single day. One could spin this as Rav considering this fate while Shmuel considers this reward for one's merit (based on if this was preordained before birth, or a constant, every-day reevaluation of one's merit to determine one's match); on the other hand Rav does cite a statement about God creating matches in a more active, continuous role.

Before Shmuel, we have the Tosefta Moed Katan 1:6, with the statement:
א,ו אין מקדשין נשים במועד רבי יהודה מתיר שמא יקדמנו אחר ברחמים ממאנין ומגרשין וחולצין ומייבמין במועד.
One should not betroth women during Chol HaMoed. Rabbi Yehuda permits, lest one precede him via Mercy. We conduct refusal and divorce, and chalitza and levirate marriage during Chol HaMoed...
This statement is remarkably similar to that of Shmuel, the Amora, as we shall see. Even the elaboration "with Mercy" is remarkable parallel to an elaboration of Shmuel found in the gemara. Yet no mention is made in the gemara to this Tanaaitic statement and basis for Shmuel. I have a rather strong suspicion that this is not Rabbi Yehuda, the Tanna, but Rav Yehuda, the Amora, who cites Shmuel in the gemara. And it is not even really Rav Yehuda, but rather the stama digemara's elaboration of Rav Yehuda in the name of Shmuel, perhaps on the basis of Rava's statement. The Tosefta then included this Amoraic statement, attributing it to R' Yehuda, to contrast with that of the Tanna Kamma in the Tosefta, and it is now taken as Rabbi Yehuda, the Tanna. To the gemara in question - Moed Katan 18b:
Mishna: The following documents may be written on the middle days: contracts of betrothing, bills of divorce, and receipts in discharge of debts; also wills or codicils; deeds of gift; premonitions; and deeds of maintenance, certificates of Halitza, and certificates of refusal; arbitration bonds; decrees of the Beth Din; and powers of attorney.
This lists contracts of betrothing among the list, in a Tanaaitic source, so this can actually be Rabbi Yehuda in the Tosefta. But on the other hand, as we shall see in a moment, the gemara considers this, and rejects the idea that contracts of betrothing are those that effect the actual marriage.
אמר שמואל מותר לארס אשה בחולו של מועד שמא יקדמנו אחר
לימא מסייע ליה: ואלו כותבין במועד קדושי נשים
מאי לאו שטרי קדושין ממש?
לא שטרי פסיקתא, וכדרב גידל אמר רב דאמר רב גידל אמר רב כמה אתה נותן לבנך כך וכך כמה אתה נותן לבתך כך וכך עמדו וקדשו קנו הן הן הדברים הנקנין באמירה
לימא מסייע ליה אין נושאין נשים במועד לא בתולות ולא אלמנות ולא מיבמין מפני ששמחה היא לו הא לארס שרי לא מיבעיא קאמר לא מיבעיא לארס דלא קעביד מצוה אלא אפילו לישא נמי דקא עביד מצוה אסור
תא שמע דתנא דבי שמואל מארסין אבל לא כונסין ואין עושין סעודת אירוסין ולא מיבמין מפני ששמחה היא לו ש"מ
ומי אמר שמואל שמא יקדמנו אחר?
והאמר רב יהודה אמר שמואל בכל יום ויום בת קול יוצאת ואומרת בת פלוני לפלוני שדה פלוני לפלוני
אלא שמא יקדמנו אחר ברחמים
כי הא דרבא שמעיה לההוא גברא דבעי רחמי ואמר תזדמן לי פלניתא א"ל לא תיבעי רחמי הכי אי חזיא לך לא אזלא מינך ואי לא כפרת בה' בתר הכי שמעיה דקאמר או איהו לימות מקמה או איהי תמות מקמיה א"ל לאו אמינא לך לא תיבעי עלה דמילתא הכי
Samuel said: "One is permitted to become betrothed to a woman on the middle days, for fear that he may be preceded by another one."
{Then the gemara rejects the Tanaaitic basis for this, from R Gidel's statement. Note that if the gemara knew about the Tosefta, with the parallel statement to that of Shmuel from Rabbi Yehuda, they should have cited it here. But they do not. Other Tanaaitic sources are attempted.
The stama digemara then challenges Shmuel's statement, on the basis of a second-hand statement of Rav Yehuda, citing Shmuel.}
And does Shmuel indeed say "Lest one precede him? But Rav Yehuda said in the name of Shmuel, "on every single day, a bat kol goes out and says, 'the daughter of Ploni to Ploni. The field of Ploni to Ploni?!"
Rather, lest someone precede him with Mercy.
{The stama digemara thus succeeds in reinterpreting Shmuel by adding the word ברחמים, with Mercy, on the basis of Rav Yehuda. I think it is clear that subsequently the proximity of Rav Yehuda's citation of Shmuel in the gemara to the reinterpretation of Shmuel caused the question and answer to be associated with him, and then Rav Yehuda's opinion is mentioned in the Tosefta, and finally taken to be Rabbi Yehuda. In other versions, where Rav Yehuda's citation is not mentioned, but rather some drashot of Shmuel on psukim, the girsa is lest someone preempt him with תפלה, prayer. There is thus a close relationship between the tosefta and this gemara.
The stama continues to explain what it means by the suggestion that one might preempt with Mercy, which is prayer, by citing Rava.}
Like this instance, in which Rava heard a certain main pleading for Mercy and said "Plonita should marry me." Rava said to him, do not request Mercy in such a manner. If it is fitting to you, she will not leave you. And if not, you will have denied God. (Rashi: your faith will be weakened because your request will not be granted.) Afterwards he heard it said, either he will die before her, or she will die before him...
The citation of Shmuel by Rav Yehuda here is also a bit suspect. Why?
1) Because of other gemaras where Rav Yehuda cites Rav, in a remarkably similar statement to that of Shmuel (as we shall see); the only difference being that Rav has the bat kol come out 40 days before the creation of the child, while Shmuel has the bat kol come out every single day.
2) This change to every single day is a phrase that could have come from elsewhere that an original opinion of Shmuel differing from that of Rav. Specifically, bat kol's coming out every single day is not unique to Shmuel's statement. The terminology might be borrowed from, say, the brayta in Pirkei Avot 6:2: Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said, every day a bat kol goes forth from Mount Chorev and says, "Woe to the peoples [of the earth] because of the disgrace shown to the Torah."
3) In other gemaras where a contrast is made between Shmuel's fear lest one preempt him in marriage as opposed to Shmuel's belief in bashert, Rav Yehuda's citation of Shmuel about a bat kol does not appear; instead there is reference to a drasha Shmuel makes on Tehillim 68 and Tehillim 62. For example, consider Yerushalmi Betza 20b, 5:2:

ולא מקדשין: רבי בא בר כהן אמר קומי ר' יוסה ר' אחא בשם ר' יעקב בר אידי אסור לארס אשה בע"ש הדא דאת אמר שלא לעשות סעודת אירוסין הא לארס יארס שמואל אמר אפילו בתשעה באב יארס שלא יקדמנו אחר מחלפא שיטתיה דשמואל תמן הוא אמר (תהילים סח) מושיב יחידים ביתה (תהילים סב) במאזנים לעלות המה מהבל יחד והכא הוא אמר הכין שלא יקדמנו אחר בתפילה אפילו כן לא קיימה
And they do not betroth: Rabbi Ba bar Kohen said before R Yosa; R Acha cited R Yaakov bar Idi: It is forbidden to betroth a woman on Friday. This that you say, is not so make a feast of Betrothal. But, to betroth, he should betroth. Shmuel said, even during Tisha BeAv he should betroth, so that another should not precede him.

Shmuel's positions are inconsistent! There he said (Tehillim 68) "אֱלֹקִים, מוֹשִׁיב יְחִידִים בַּיְתָה-- מוֹצִיא אֲסִירִים, בַּכּוֹשָׁרוֹת;" - "God maketh the solitary to dwell in a house; He bringeth out the prisoners into prosperity"
and (Tehillim 62) "if they be laid in the balances, they are together lighter than vanity." And here he says this!! The answer: that one should not precede him with Prayer. Even so, it will not last.
Conversely, the Moed Katan gemara is more expansive (as it uniquely cites Rava as an explanation of the harmonized thought), and refers to a basis for the elaboration of either ברחמים or בתפלה, and is has a match in the Tosefta for Moed Katan, so the case can be made that the original sugya was in Moed Katan and summarized elsewhere. If so, we would have Rav Yehuda citing both Rav and Shmuel with roughly parallel statements about and bat kol and bashert; much or little may be made about the difference about 40 days preceding the formation vs. every day.

However, please note that we see the first drasha of Shmuel (though not the second, on Tehillim 62) in another gemara - Sanhedrin 22a (which I will cover soon) - associated with Rabbi Yochanan, which then leads into a quote (which they feel contrdicts this drasha!) by Rav Yehuda of Rav. This suggests there is some ha'avara going on, with some gemaras choosing the statement of R Yochanan to attribute to Shmuel to form a contradiction, and others choosing the statement of Rav Yehuda citing Rav to attribute to Shmuel to form a contradiction. In which case none of the Shmuel elaborations are actually original, but are attributed to Shmuel under the impression that they must be in order for there to be a contradiction. For certainly citing Rav to contradict Shmuel is not very effective, nor is citing a derasha of Rabbi Yochanan, as Chazal are not monolithic in their attitudes.

For Rav's opinion, we have Sota 2b and Sanhedrin 22a. Let us examine Sanhedrin:
א"ר שמואל בר רב יצחק כי הוה פתח ריש לקיש בסוטה אמר הכי אין מזווגין לו לאדם אשה אלא לפי מעשיו שנא' כי לא ינוח שבט הרשע על גורל הצדיקים
אמר רבה בר בר חנה אמר ר' יוחנן וקשין לזווגן כקריעת ים סוף שנאמר אלהים מושיב יחידים ביתה מוציא אסירים בכושרות
והא אמר רב יהודה אמר רב ארבעים יום קודם יצירת הולד בת קול יוצאת ואומרת בת פלוני לפלוני בית פלוני לפלוני שדה פלוני לפלוני
לא קשיא הא בזוג ראשון הא בזוג שני:

R Shmuel bar Rav Yitzchak said: when Resh Lakish began with Sota, he said as follows: A man is not matched with a wife except according to his deeds. As it states, "For the rod of wickedness shall not rest upon the lot of the righteous;" (Tehillim 125:3)

Rabba bar bar Chana said in the name of R Yochanan. And it is difficult to match them as the splitting of the Red Sea, as the verse states, מושיב יחידים ביתה מוציא אסירים בכושרות, "God maketh the solitary to dwell in a house; He bringeth out the prisoners into prosperity."

{The stama degemara then asks:}
Is this truly so? But did not Rav Yehuda say citing Rav, 40 days before the formation of the child a Bat Kol goes out and says, 'The daughter of Ploni to Ploni. Such and such a house to Ploni. Such and such a field to Ploni. This is no question. Here for the first match, and here for the second match.
(Rashi: Zug rishon: based on his mazal. Zug sheni: based on his deeds. And it is difficult to match them because she is not his match (bat zugo).)
Thus, we have a contradiction between various different personages, as opposed to a singe person as in the Shmuel gemaras. This is thus a harder contradiction to make; but perhaps the principle of lectio difficilior should come into play to declare this the original of the two text, if indeed there was only one original.

See also how the text of the stama, the question of the contradiction, and the resolution remain constant, even as the philosophies behind the positions change!

In the Rav gemara, the initial position is that of Resh Laskish and/or that of Rabbi Yochanan. I would claim only that of Resh Lakish.
Resh Lakish: a derasha to show one gets a wife in accordance to one's merits.
(Rabbi Yochanan: Making matches is as difficult as splitting the Red Sea is the focus. Implied is that Hashem is arranging these matches, in parallel to other sources of Hashem making these matches continuously since the 6 days of creation. The verse he cites about the difficulty is used by Shmuel though to connote a notion of Hashem guiding people to their match.)
Rav Yehuda citing Rav: 40 days before the creation of the baby.

Thus, Rav = fate, predestination, while Resh Lakish = in accordance with one's deeds, merit.
{Or else, Rav = fate, while Rabbi Yochanan = Hashem's setting up appropriate matches.
The former is a better contrast, I think.

In the Shmuel gemara, we have an internal contradiction within Shmuel.
Shmuel 1: Do hishtadlut, and marry even on 9 Av lest someone precede you.
Shmuel 2: Two derashot, the first one referring to the same pasuk and similar in nature to that of Rabbi Yochanan. Thus, Hashem is in charge. Is this predestination or merit at work? Unclear. Regardless, this contradicts Shmuel 1, for if Hashem controls it, why fear preemption?
Shmuel 3: In the alternative Shmuel gemara, Rav Yehuda, who in the Rav gemara cited Rav, cites a similar statement. A bat kol announces every day the match. Is this predestination or merit at work? Unclear. Does "every day" mean that each man gets reevaluated every day, which would imply merit, or is it that the bat kol comes out every day (just as in Pirkei Avot), but about different people, in which case it can mean predestination. I think predestination is meant. And if it is fate, this contradicts Shmuel 1.

Thus, while in the parallel Shmuel gemara both Shmuel 2 and Shmuel 3 are used to contradict Shmuel 1, in the Rav gemara, the position similar in form to Shmuel 3 (Rav) is used to contradict the position similar in form to Shmuel 2 (Rabbi Yochanan). Looking at the Shmuel gemaras alone since Shmuel 2 and Shmuel 3 might be seen as in agreement since they are both used to combat Shmuel 1. However, the Rav gemara seems to show Shmuel 2 and 3 in disagreement.

All this seems to suggest to me that the Shmuel gemaraya are derivative of the Rav gemara. There are of course other features that suggest otherwise.

Tosafot knows both sugyot, and questions why in the Rav gemara the answer in the first and second match, while in the Shmuel gemara it is lest someone precede him with Mercy/Prayer. I would suggest that the answer is clear - the contradictions are different in the two sugyot. For Rav, it is Fate vs. Merit. Fate would determine the first match, since this is stated before the formation of the child, and subsequently one's merit kicks in to determine the next matches, as the one who is appropriate for him, as Resh Lakish stated.
For Shmuel, it is a question of Man's effort vs. God's control through either Fate or based on merit. If so, the answer which was good for Rav does not work well here. The answer of the first vs. the second match would be arbitrary and erroneous. Why is the first match subject to God's control and the second due to Man's efforts. Further, Shmuel did not state that only for second marriages should one betroth on 9 Av! A better answer is given by the stama, which fits the contradiction. Hashem indeed decides, but still one must do effort, for someone else can preempt him by appealing directly to Hashem - to Hashem's mercy, through prayer.

More on Rav and bashert
Consider the following gemara:
Rab said in the name of R. Reuben b. Atztrubli: It appears from the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings that the union of a woman to her husband comes from God himself. The Law [Gen. xxiv. 50]: "Then Laban and Bethuel answered and said: The thing hath proceeded from the Lord," etc.; the Prophets [Judges, xiv. 4]: "But his father and his mother knew not that it was from the Lord"; the Hagiographa [Prov. xix. 14]: בַּיִת וָהוֹן, נַחֲלַת אָבוֹת; וּמֵה' אִשָּׁה מַשְׂכָּלֶת - "Houses and wealth are an inheritance from fathers; but from the Lord cometh an intelligent wife."

{Note about Shmishon: it is from Judges 14:1-4: And Samson went down to Timnah, and saw a woman in Timnah of the daughters of the Philistines. And he came up, and told his father and his mother, and said: 'I have seen a woman in Timnah of the daughters of the Philistines; now therefore get her for me to wife.' Then his father and his mother said unto him: 'Is there never a woman among the daughters of thy brethren, or among all my people, that thou goest to take a wife of the uncircumcised Philistines?' And Samson said unto his father: 'Get her for me; for she pleaseth me well.' But his father and his mother knew not that it was of the LORD; for he sought an occasion against the Philistines. Now at that time the Philistines had rule over Israel.}
However, this is Rav citing someone else, so it is not necessarily indicative of his own opinion. Further, while it does show Hashem's involvement in making matches, in a continuous manner, this might be implementing the decision Hashem predestined 40 days before the formation of the child.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

I found Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar

on the Internet, avaliable in multiple pdfs. A great resource, which I hope to add to the links on the side, once I reenable the links on the side...

+5 yevamot;

הדרן עלך האשה שהלך!
הדרן עלך נושאין על האנוסה!
הדרן עלך מצות חליצה!
הדרן עלך בית שמאי!
הדרן עלך חרש שנשא פיקחת!

(perakim 10-14 of yerushalmi yevamot)

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Posting has been sparse lately

because I just had a baby boy! Meir Yaakov was born last week, and the bris was yesterday.

Regarding "Succah Intentions"

Recently, on the blog Hirhurim, Simcha posted:
The Tur (Orah Hayim, 625; and later the Shulhan Arukh, ad loc.) introduces the laws of living in a sukkah by saying that the mitzvah is so that we remember that God had us live in sukkos in the desert after the exodus from Egypt. R. Yoel Sirkes, the Bah, asks why the Tur mentions this theological idea in his practical compendium. He answers that this idea has a practical application. The Torah tells us that we must live in a sukkah "in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt" (Lev. 23:43). Therefore, writes the Bah, when one sits in a sukkah one must consciously remember the historical origin of the sukkah in order to fulfill the commandment.

This innovation of the Bah is accepted by all major posekim, with the only debate centering around the case of someone who failed to remember this historical origin. Has this person ex post facto (be-di-avad) fulfilled the commandment or must he repeat it? Many (e.g. Bah, Bikkurei Ya'akov, Derekh Pekudekha) hold that he has not fulfilled the commandment while others (e.g. Peri Megadim, Mishnah Berurah) hold that he has and need not repeat the mitzvah act.

What leaves me dumbfounded is not the details of this matter but its methodology. Without any mention in the Talmud or medieval literature, this innovation was accepted unanimously. The Bah essentially created his own exegesis of a biblical verse in order to create an obligation (granted, in order to solve a textual problem in the Tur).

I am not the first to notice this anomaly. R. Moshe Shternbuch (Mo'adim U-Zemanim, vol. 1 no. 85) also expressed surprise at this innovation... and therefore concluded that this can only be an ab initio (lekhatehilah) obligation but not ex post facto.

I simply fail to understand how this methodology of post-talmudic biblical hermeneutics can be used. However, since the posekim have unanimously accepted this innovation, no one has the right to ignore it and I certainly defer to their authority and expertise.

I recently saw another Bach on the Tur explaining the Tur's mentioning of a "theological idea in his practical compendium," or in this case, a drasha in a legal text - in the opening siman of the hilchot milah.(Yoreh Deah 260), where the Bach takes the Tur's foray in drash as a polemic of sorts (see there). I wonder if the Bach does this regularly.

At any rate, my initial reaction to this was that it is not entirely clear that this is in fact a post-Talmudic derasha. In fact, a derasha in Bavli Succah immediately came to mind.

On the first daf of Bavli Succah, 2a, different derivations are given for the law that the schach of a succah may not be more than 20 cubits off the ground. One derivation is given by Rabba:

מנה"מ אמר רבה דאמר קרא (ויקרא כג) למען ידעו דורותיכם כי בסוכות הושבתי את בני ישראל עד עשרים אמה אדם יודע שהוא דר בסוכה למעלה מעשרים אמה אין אדם יודע שדר בסוכה משום דלא שלטא בה עינא
From whence these words? Rabba says, since the verse states (Vayikra 23:43) "לְמַעַן, יֵדְעוּ דֹרֹתֵיכֶם, כִּי בַסֻּכּוֹת הוֹשַׁבְתִּי אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, בְּהוֹצִיאִי אוֹתָם מֵאֶרֶץ ..." - "that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt..." Until 20 cubits a man knows that he is dwelling in a succah; higher than 20 cubits a man does not know that he is dwelling in the succah, for the eye does not rule over it {he cannot see it}.

The context of the pasuk is (Vayikra 23:42-43)
בַּסֻּכֹּת תֵּשְׁבוּ, שִׁבְעַת יָמִים; כָּל-הָאֶזְרָח, בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל, יֵשְׁבוּ, בַּסֻּכֹּת.
לְמַעַן, יֵדְעוּ דֹרֹתֵיכֶם, כִּי בַסֻּכּוֹת הוֹשַׁבְתִּי אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, בְּהוֹצִיאִי אוֹתָם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם: אֲנִי, ה אֱלֹקֵיכֶם.
"Ye shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are home-born in Israel shall dwell in booths;
that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God."

The simple reading of the text is that there is a commandment for all time to sit in a succah, so that those future generations will sit in the succah and recall that *in the past*, Hashem sat their ancestors in succot when He took them out of Egypt.

How do you get from a command that talks about sitting now to cause recollection of the past, to Rabba's derasha that one in the present must know he is sitting in the succah? After all, the verse says "that generations should know that I caused (in the past) to sit - הוֹשַׁבְתִּי - the Israelites, and specifies also that this causing to sit was when they left Egypt!"

Several explanations are possible, but I would suggest the following, which I think deviates least from the peshat level of the text: the verse says to sit in the succah now so that we will remember our ancestors sitting in the past. It can clearly only serve as such a reminder if the people sitting there in the present day know they are sitting in a succah. Those people will recognize their surroundings and recollect the sitting of their ancestors in succot in the past. Thus, Rabba says, to attain the requisite recollection of the past one must be congnizant of his surroundings in the present. {One could make an interesting homily out of the previous sentence, I think.} Further, that others disagree with Rabba in his derivation of the law of the 20 cubit succah does not mean they necessarily disagree with him in his basic assumption that such a kavana and recollection of the past is required.

This basic assumption could be said to be in fact encoded in the peshat level of the text, such that reading the recollection as a requirement is not necessarily a derasha. However, requiring the kavana as a matter of practical law is in fact derasha-like. But is Rabba, and perhaps others' basic assumption even in Talmudic times was that a specific kavana is required, then it is not post-Talmudic Biblical hermeneutics.

And, whether or not this is in fact Rabba's take of the pasuk and derasha, it is possible that it is the Tur's, or else the Bach's which he relied upon in interpreting the Tur.

While on the subject of the derasha, I may as well mention my other way of interpreting it - as an al tikra. That is, we read the verse with different vowels. Rabba cites the verse לְמַעַן יֵדְעוּ דֹרֹתֵיכֶם. The word דֹרֹתֵיכֶם is written chaser (defective) rather than maleh (plene). That is, the cholam after the daledh has no vav consonant to mark its presence in the unvowelized text of the Torah. Therefore, one can easily read another vowel in its place. I would suggest we place a chirik vowel there and then read לְמַעַן יֵדְעוּ דִרֹתֵיכֶם - "so that you should know your *dwellings*", rather than "so that that your *generations* show know." This would also account for the emphasis on the word yodea' in Rabba's derasha, as well as the emphasis on the word dar. The derasha would then be: "so that you should *know* your *dwellings*" - until 20 cubits man *knows* (yodea') that he *dwells* (dar) in a succah; higher than 20 cubits, a man *knows* (yodea') not that he *dwells* (dar) in a succah for his eyes do not rule over it (the schach). Note the word choice - dar instead of yoshev, as we find in the word hoshavti later in the verse.

Even though I think this may be the actual derasha of Rabba, this does not preclude the Tur, or the Bach, from reading it differently, in a way that I suggested above would introduce the requirement of the specific intent as a Talmudic hermeneutical derivation.


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