Friday, July 28, 2006

Sponsor A Meal In Israel

I got this as an addition to a shul newsletter. It's a nice idea:
Among all of the ways we can help Israelis from afar, one is very easy,
and is a great way to enter Shabbat this week--

Kibbutz Lavi, closed understandably to tourists, is preparing thousands
of hotel quality meals to be delivered to Jews of northern Israel, who
otherwise might be eating canned cold food, or whatever comes to hand
this Shabbat. The meals are at cut-rate cost--about $6 dollars a meal.
It is possible with a single call and a credit card to sponsor any
number of meals. A colleague of mine from Cleveland sponsored the
number of meals his family would eat this Shabbat, in safety. Dina and
I just sponsored 10 meals for 250 shekel. It was a 2 minute phone call.

The number to call is 972 (4) 6799450. They man the phones late.

May we be able to bring comfort to our brothers and sisters in Eretz

Moshe Rosenberg

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Why I Support Talking In Shul

(Within Limits, Of Course)

Beit Tefillah vs. Beit HaKnesset

Perhaps a good place to start is with an idea from a close friend of mine, who suggested that talking in shul is a good thing (TM), even where in violation of halacha. I don't agree with him entirely, of course, but it is an interesting point to consider.

Nowadays, a shul serves a dual function. It acts as a bet tefillah, a house of prayer, and as a bet haknesset, a house of gathering. It is a place to make a connection with one's Creator and a place to make a connection with one's co-religionists. Jewish society has changed; people used to interact on a daily basis with fellow Jews, but now, shul has become a place to make social connections and to feel part of the community. This is not a bad thing, but a good thing. It keeps people part of the Jewish community.

Of course, there are tradeoffs, and one (most) would not want to violate halacha in the process, but perhaps the socializing within shul is not entirely bad in and of itself. On the other hand, if it does in fact mean a bizayon to the bet haknesset, or a reduction in decorum, or speech when forbidden or halachically problematic in the course of davening, then it is a problem. But in analyzing this, we should not ignore that there is something beneficial to socializing with co-religionists, if it creates a kesher to the Jewish community that otherwise would not exist.

Of course, we should not think of a shul as a social hall, rather than a place of prayer. As we see in Shabbat 32a:

תניא ר' ישמעאל בן אלעזר אומר בעון שני דברים עמי הארצות מתים על שקורין לארון הקודש ארנא ועל שקורין לבית הכנסת בית עם

(though one may interpret this in different ways.)

On the other hand, don't tell me that shul was not historically a place to congregate and make social connections. As we read about the splendor of the Synagogue in Alexandria in Succah 51b,
תניא רבי יהודה אומר מי שלא ראה דיופלוסטון של אלכסנדריא של מצרים לא ראה בכבודן של ישראל אמרו כמין בסילקי גדולה היתה סטיו לפנים מסטיו פעמים שהיו בה <ששים> כפלים כיוצאי מצרים [פעמים שהיו שם ששים רבוא כיוצאי מצרים ואמרי לה כפלים כיוצאי מצרים] והיו בה ע"א קתדראות של זהב כנגד ע"א של סנהדרי גדולה כל אחת ואחת אינה פחותה מעשרים ואחד רבוא ככרי זהב ובימה של עץ באמצעיתה וחזן הכנסת עומד עליה והסודרין בידו וכיון שהגיע לענות אמן הלה מניף בסודר וכל העם עונין אמן ולא היו יושבין מעורבין אלא זהבין בפני עצמן וכספין בפני עצמן ונפחין בפני עצמן וטרסיים בפני עצמן וגרדיים בפני עצמן וכשעני נכנס שם היה מכיר בעלי אומנתו ונפנה לשם ומשם פרנסתו ופרנסת אנשי ביתו

That is, people would not sit all mixed together, but rather they recognized people in their own profession, and from there, they helped each other make a living. And this was looked on as a good thing. Of course, this does not necessarily mean that they talked shop in shul. But they surely greeted one another and became friendly.

On the one hand, Tosfot Yom Tov relates that the Chmielnicki massacres were partially punishment of people talking during davening when they shouldn't. {Update: Note that the above may well not be true. See Menachem Butler's comment to this Hirhurim thread.}
On the other hand, the gemara tells us that Christianity started partially because someone did not talk during Shema:

Sota 47a:

יהושע בן פרחיה מאי היא כדהוה קא קטיל ינאי מלכא לרבנן שמעון בן שטח אטמינהו אחתיה ר' יהושע בן פרחיה אזל ערק לאלכסנדריא של מצרים כי הוה שלמא שלח ליה שמעון בן שטח מני ירושלים עיר הקודש לך אלכסנדריא של מצרים אחותי בעלי שרוי בתוכך ואני יושבת שוממה אמר ש"מ הוה ליה שלמא כי אתא אקלע לההוא אושפיזא קם קמייהו ביקרא שפיר עבדי ליה יקרא טובא יתיב וקא משתבח כמה נאה אכסניא זו א"ל <אחד> רבי עיניה טרוטות א"ל רשע בכך אתה עוסק אפיק ארבע מאה שפורי ושמתיה כל יומא אתא לקמיה ולא קבליה יומא חד הוה קרי קרית שמע אתא לקמיה הוה בדעתיה לקבוליה אחוי ליה בידיה סבר מדחא דחי ליה אזל זקף לבינתא פלחא אמר ליה חזור בך א"ל כך מקובלני ממך כל החוטא ומחטיא את הרבים אין מספיקין בידו לעשות תשובה דאמר מר {יש"ו} כישף והסית והדיח והחטיא את ישראל
Our Rabbis have taught: Always let the left hand thrust away and the right hand draw near. Not like Elisha who thrust Gehazi away with both his hands and not like R. Joshua b. Perahiah who thrust one of his disciples away with both his hands.


What was the incident with R. Joshua b. Perahiah? — When King Jannaeus put the Rabbis to death, Simeon b. Shetah was hid by his sister, whilst R. Joshua b. Perahiah fled to Alexandria in Egypt. When there was peace, Simeon b. Shetah sent [this message to him]: 'From me, Jerusalem, the Holy city, to thee Alexandria in Egypt. O my sister, my husband dwelleth in thy midst and I abide desolate'. [R. Joshua] arose and came back and found himself in a certain inn where they paid him great respect. He said: 'How beautiful is this 'aksania'! {achsania means both "inn" and "the female innkeeper." One of his disciples {other manuscripts: Jesus} said to him, 'My master, her eyes are narrow!' He replied to him, 'Wicked person! Is it with such thoughts that thou occupiest thyself!' He sent forth four hundred horns and excommunicated him. [The disciple] came before him on many occasions, saying 'Receive me'; but he refused to notice him. One day while [R. Joshua] was reciting the Shema', he came before him. His intention was to receive him and he made a sign to him with his hand, but the disciple thought he was repelling him. So he went and set up a brick and worshipped it. [R. Joshua] said to him, 'Repent'; but he answered him, 'Thus have I received from thee that whoever sinned and caused others to sin is deprived of the power of doing penitence'. A Master has said: The disciple practised magic and led Israel astray.
On the one hand, ideally one should not interrupt during and the paragraphs of Shema. On the other hand, we are supposed to interrupt to greet or respond to greetings during this very time, in specific circumstances. (Whether this applies nowadays is up for discussion.)

Different Approaches to Tefillah
To cite some famous words of a song by Alan Thicke, Gloria Loring and Al Burton:

Now, the world don't move to the beat of just one drum,
What might be right for you, may not be right for some.
A man is born, he's a man of means.
Then along come two, they got nothing but their jeans.

But they got, Diff'rent Strokes.
It takes, Diff'rent Strokes.
It takes, Diff'rent Strokes to move the world.

This is an approach I feel would be good to adopt. Unfortunately, for many, the approach is: anyone to the left of me religiously is a sheigitz and anyone to the right of me is a crazy frummy.

Rav Schachter posed the following in a shiur a while back. (My crude summary, so if you dislike the message, blame only the messenger.) Why did each and every shevet have its own Sanhedrin? He suggested that it is because variety is the spice of life, and even as they might have slightly different halacha, all are valid, and Hashem wants this situation. And in present day, we have a similar situation for Ashkenazim, Sefardim, Chassidim, etc..

We might apply this approach to shuls and their form of tefillah. A few years back, when staying for Shabbat in Washington Heights, I attended the Breuer's shul on Friday night. They had a choir, led by a choirmaster, for Lecha Dodi, and it seemed that only those in the choir were to sing. I'm sure for those in this community, they felt that this added to shul decorum, and was a beautiful way of greeting the queen, Shabbat. Yet I felt a bit miffed at the exclusion of the rest of the tzibbur. And I felt also as if it were a church service.

However, they would probably similarly dislike, or feel uncomfortable the less-orderly singing in a chassidishe shteible, and would look askance at the lack of decorum in a Carlebach minyan in which people sang and danced well past any actual words of the kabbalat Shabbat.

Luckily, there are both types of shul available, and people can go to the shul that is right for them.

I have been blessed to have grown up in Kew Gardens Hills, where there is a shul on every block. There are Young Israels, Agudahs, shteibels, yeshivas, Sefardic shuls, etc.. If one shul is not a good match for you, you can always cross the street and try the next shul. These shuls have different ambiances and davening experiences. They have differing architecture in terms of the ezrat nashim, different structure, in terms of saying tefillot lishlom hamedina, adon olam, anim zemirot, etc. at the end of davening, whether the Rabbi speaks and for how long, different levels of decorum, different policies on dealing with talking during davening, different hashkafot, different zemanei tefillah and length of various parts of davening, different expected responses at various parts of davening (e.g. do we say, or sing in unison, as the sefer Torah is brought out/back to the aron), etc..

And this is a good thing, to my mind.

Yet some people believe that their shul has the right approach and if a shul does it differently, they are doing wrong. In certain cases -- such as where there is violation of halacha -- this indeed has merit. But sometimes there is room for variance. And approaches to shul decorum may somewhat subjective.

I am reminded of the old joke about a priest who visits a shul (presumably a shteible), and he remarks at what he sees as the lack of decorum there - people shukkling, pacing as they daven, lack of coordination of prayer, etc., (I'm not sure whether talking in shul was part of this joke) and remarked to the rabbi about the difference between this and the decorum in his church, wondering what accounted for the difference. The Rabbi thought for a moment and told the priest, "that's because your religion has a mother."

Of course, different people will have different reactions to this joke. But there are in fact different attitudes to shul decorum that vary sociologically.

Some Sources
This is not going to be a comprehensive coverage of the topic, and please don't act based on anything in this post (i.e. the discussion is not le-maaseh). However, there are some interesting sources which factor into talking during prayer and during various points in kriyat haTorah.

One should distinguish between various reasons not to talk. For example, there is an aspect of kavod to the bet haknesset that may (or may not) preclude talking idle talk (as opposed to divrei Torah). This reason should apply regardless of where one is in tefillah, or even after tefillah. This might not apply if the shul is built with a precondition allowing other uses. (Thus, the same siman in Shulchan Aruch states that one may not eat or drink in a shul, yet many shuls have the kiddush in the sanctuary regardless. See this article which mentions this leniency as well.) This should not apply if, for some reason, one is davening at home.

Then, there are reasons of hefsek - one should not interrupt because it causes problems based on the surrounding blessings. (However, even in such a case, in certain instances greeting and responding to greetings were allowed, at least initially.)

Then, there is the reason of not disturbing others around you. Then, there is the reason of not focusing on what the shliach tzibbur is saying, such that one will not be able to respond appropriately.

Let us consider some of the sources. First, in terms of talking during aliyot, and between aliyot. In Sotah 39a:

אמר רבא בר רב הונא כיון שנפתח ספר תורה אסור לספר אפילו בדבר הלכה שנאמר (נחמיה ח) ובפתחו עמדו כל העם ואין עמידה אלא שתיקה שנא' (איוב לב) והוחלתי כי לא ידברו כי עמדו לא ענו עוד ר' זירא אמר רב חסדא מהכא (נחמיה ח) ואזני כל העם אל ספר התורה
Raba son of R. Huna said: When the Torah-scroll is unrolled it is forbidden to converse even on matters concerning the law; as it is said: And when he opened it all the people stood up, and standing up signifies nothing else than silence, as it is said: And I wait because they speak not, because they stand still and answer no more. R. Zera said in the name of R. Hisda: [It may be derived] from this passage, And the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law.
There is a dispute as to the meaning of כיון שנפתח ספר תורה. Does this mean "opened up" or does it mean "begun?" If it means "opened up," then only during the aliyot when the Torah is open must the people be quiet. On the other hand, if it means "begun," then the implication is from the beginning of kriyat haTorah until the end, including the span between aliyot.

This accounts for the major dispute between authorities about whether one may talk between aliyot. There are other opinions within this, however.

For example, the opinion that the gemara actually does forbid talking between aliyas, but this was only in the time of the gemara. That is, in the time of the gemara, the first person called up made the opening bracha but no concluding bracha, and the last person made the concluding bracha but not the opening bracha. And people in between made no brachot. The other people in shul should not talk throughout, even between aliyot, lest they be called up and have a hefsek, such that they are not covered by the opening bracha. But nowadays, where each person called up makes both brachot, this is not an issue.

One might also wonder what is meant by אפילו בדבר הלכה. Is this the same as devar Torah, or does it refer to a specific, shortly-answered halachic question such that there is no fear of extending into the actual leining.

(Also, the fact that the gemara must say that in this instance, talking is forbidden implies that in other instances (e.g. before the sefer Torah is "opened" or "begun" talking (to whatever level) is allowed.)

Also, according to those who hold this means only during actual leining (and not between aliyot) I wonder what the implication of אפילו בדבר הלכה is. One could read this gemara as: Of course, during the entire service, one cannot say anything except devar halacha (or greeting). But here, even devar halacha is forbidden. Or else one could read this as: During actual leining, there are additional restrictions on speech. And don't think that just because this is public reading of Torah, other Torah-related subject matter is allowed (similar to the way Rav Sheshet turned his head and learned gemara to himself during leining, according to some ways of reading the gemara in Brachot daf 8). Rather, even Torah-related discussion is restricted. Meanwhile, between the aliyot and otherwise, perhaps even non-Torah related discussion is allowed (e.g. inviting someone over for Shabbat lunch.) This would be strange, given that one should not, according to the Shulchan Aruch, talk sicha beteila in a shul, but I am not sure where the source in the gemara is for this (I haven't tracked it down yet). I know where the other things he mentions for a shul find their source in the gemara (rperhaps someone can help me out) - not having kalut rosh, not eating, not drinking, etc. - Megillah 24a-b:

ת"ר בתי כנסיות אין נוהגין בהן קלות ראש אין אוכלין בהן ואין שותין בהן
ואין ניאותין בהם ואין מטיילין בהם ואין נכנסין בהן בחמה מפני החמה ובגשמים מפני הגשמים ואין מספידין בהן הספד של יחיד אבל קורין בהן ושונין בהן ומספידין בהן הספד של רבים

and it continues with making shuls with a precondition:

א"ר אסי בתי כנסיות שבבבל על תנאי הן עשויין ואעפ"כ אין נוהגין בהן קלות ראש ומאי ניהו חשבונות אמר רב אסי בהכ"נ שמחשבין בו חשבונות

These Rishonim who permit sicha beteila on the basis of precondition (as per that article linked above) apparently do not consider sicha beteila to be equal to kalus rosh, and so it would seem from the gemara. I would guess that sicha beteila is added in on the basis of the general theme which is to treat the bet haknesses as sacrosanct.

Another interesting source I don't know what to do with is Shabbat 31:
ת"ר אין עומדין להתפלל לא מתוך עצבות ולא מתוך עצלות ולא מתוך שחוק ולא מתוך שיחה ולא מתוך קלות ראש ולא מתוך
דברים בטלים אלא מתוך שמחה של מצוה

which is based on the fact that the Shechina is not shoreh except with simcha shel mitzvah, as we say earlier on 30b (on Pesachim 117a):
ללמדך שאין שכינה שורה לא מתוך עצבות ולא מתוך עצלות ולא מתוך שחוק ולא מתוך קלות ראש ולא מתוך שיחה ולא מתוך דברים בטלים אלא מתוך דבר שמחה של מצוה
This would imply some kind of sicha or devarim beteilim would be possible. Of course, it also says kalus rosh. Perhaps this is tefillah not in shul such that this is necessary?

At any rate, this is a good argument for decorum and for focusing on tefillah. Though one might envision one talking for some reason if and where permitted, and then before resuming tefillah, assuming simcha shel mitzvah.

The Shulchan Aruch (146) rules that speaking even between aliyot is forbidden, though some permit in a group of instances based on explanations of Rav Sheshet's actions in Berachot daf 8 compared with the gemara in Sota 39a (see the gemara and Tosafot there). But see Mishnah Brura there, who notes: bein gavra legavra - lest one be drawn into it and come to talk during the aliya itself. (perhaps this is an an additional takana over the gemara, or perhaps an explanation of the gemara. I would guess the latter.) However, the Bach appears to allow talking in divrei Torah. The Be`er Heitiv cited the Bach that it is permitted to talk betwen aliyot and explains that this is only now that they extend in mi sheberachs. The Mishna Berura also concludes that to teach something important for that time, one should not be machmir, for it is not so likely that one will come to extend to the actual leining.

In the aforementioned article, there are even more lenient readings of the Bach, and other lenient opinions.

28 Machatzis ha-Shekel, Aruch ha-Shulchan, and Shulchan ha-Tahor maintain that the Bach permits even idle talk between aliyos. See also Pri Chadash who permits conversing bein gavra l'gavra. Obviously, they refer to the type of talk which is permitted in shul and on Shabbos.

Speaking During Psukei deZimra
For this, a good source is the Rif (on brachot 23 in pages of Rif). Right click the picture and open the link in a new window if you want to see it inside:

And we learn in perek Kol Kitvei Kodesh {Shabbat daf 118b}: Rabbi Yossi said: may my portion be with those who finsh {saying all of} Hallel every day.
Is this so?
But Mar said that one who says Hallel every day is {as if} blaspheming and reproaching {the Divine Name}!
{Rather, } what are we referring to {by Hallel}: Verses of Song {=Psukei DeZimra, called Hallel because of the word Halleluya which appears often.}
{end quote from the gemara}

And what are they {Psukei DeZimra}?
{From Tehillim 145-150, that is}
From Tehilla LeDavid {=Ashrei} unti Kol HaNeshama Tehallel Kah.

And the Sages instituted to say a blessing beforehand and a blessing afterwards. And what are they? Baruch SheAmar and Yishtabach. Therefore one must not speak from the time he begins Baruch SheAmar until he finishes Shemoneh Esrei.

{Note: From Rabbenu Yona's words, citing Rav Amram Gaon, it is clear that all this - the specifics of Psukei DeZimra, and the blessings, are Geonic. See inside.}
{Note: Rashi has a different explanation of psukei deZimra.}
Rabbenu Yona, on the side, cited Rav Amram Gaon about what to do if one came late, and notes that the main Psukei deZimra is Ashrei (surrounded by Baruch SheAmar and Yishtabach).

It is interesting that Rif states between Baruch sheAmar and Shemoneh Esrei. What about after Yishtabach? One might say that this time is brief, and so he was not introducing any innovation, but rather noting that the brachot surrounding the spans of psukei deZimra and Shema, together with the fact that one may not interrupt Shemoneh Esrei, plus a statement by Chazal that teikef lig`ula tefillah means that in general during that span there would be no interruptions. But if pressed, he might acknowledge the time between Yishtabach and the first blessing of Shema.

Alternatively, look on the side at Shiltei Giborim, who cites a Yerushalmi that one may not interrupt between Yishtabach and Yotzer Or (see note 4), that such is a sin for which one is returned from fighting a war. And so does Hagahot Maimoni cite this Yerushalmi. And the Shulchan Aruch brings it down lehalacha, though giving some exceptions.

(I find this surprising since I thought the brachot of psukei deZimra were also post-Talmudic enactments, and further because I learned through all of Yerushalmi and do not recall seeing this gemara. If someone has seen it, please help me out here.)

The implication is that if not for the blessings before and after, one would have been able to talk somewhat. And this would then be applicable to other parts of tefillah not mentioned by the Rif. (Again, for specifics, see this article by Rabbi Doniel Neustadt.)

Even in pesukei deZimra, the Rif did not intend a total prohibition on speech. As Shiltei Giborim notes the obvious (also in note 4), citing Tur: "However, it is not better that Shema and its blessings. Therefore, between the mizmorim one may ask {=introduce greeting} because of honor {such as to an elderly, learned, or rich person} and respond to a greeting by anyone. And within mizmorim, one may ask {=introduce greeting} because of fear {such as of his father or teacher} and answer because of honor.

And the same applies to Shema, of course. See Shulchan Aruch.

Of course, based on Mishna Berura, even this would be ruled out, as we shall see.

Not Talking At All
It is possible to construct a case where one can argue that one should adopt a taanit dibbur until chatzot on Shabbat morning. After all, one is forbidden from going to a friend's door to greet him before greeting Hashem via davening. And Mishnah Brura considers crossing the shul to greet an example of this. Furthermore, he states that it is not present custom to greet during davening at all, and thus one should not respond or ask greeting. Furthermore, sicha beteila is forbidden in a shul. Further, various times one is forbidden to interrupt because of the enclosing blessings. And he maintains one should not talk in general during kriyat haTorah. One can quite possibly go until 12:30 without saying a word to his fellow.

Yet let us see the Mishna Brura inside (in English):

In terms of the practice of not going out of one's path to greet, but only if one chances upon him:

(1) Between the paragraphs - This is only where they meet each other in the natural course of events, but it is forbidden to get up early to visit one's friend, or to cross the Shul from his own fixed place to his friend's in order to greet him. This is true even for one's father, Rebbe [Torah teacher], and even before he commences "Boruch She'Omar" [the Blessing before the Verses of Praise] or any time before saying the main Amidah prayer [see Berochos 14a, where they say that one may not greet anyone before praying, as one first has to "greet" HaShem, as it were, before anyone else --SP].

However, this would not exclude people you meet on the street on the way to shul, or (yet - see next point) people in your path to your seat or at your table, or people who come up to you.

One may greet - even in one's own language. One may only greet and return a greeting to strangers [literally "new faces"], where if one did not return the greeting it might cause hatred.

There might be several ways of interpreting this, but it seems to be
that one should only greet panim chadashot, since otherwise it would cause hatred. I am not sure how to resolve this with the statement in Shulchan Aruch that talks of greeting ones father or teacher. Perhaps he means that specifically for strangers who do not expect greeting, one should only greet where otherwise it might cause hatred? (I don't see how that would work with the words, though - vedavka befanim chadashot shoel umeshiv, sheim lo yashiv yavo lidei sin`a.) Maybe by vedavka befanim chadashot he means when they first enter and are panim chadashot, and is not referring to strangers at all? That is the way I would read it. Suggestions welcome.

He continues:

The Sefer HaChinuch also writes that one may not interrupt [the Shema] for a person whom we see is not disturbed by his friend's behavior [and will not be bothered if not greeted]. Therefore, because it is our custom nowadays not to greet others in Shul during Davening, Heaven forbid that we should greet or return a greeting (even with words of Torah) whether between the paragraphs [of the Shema] or even in the Verses of Praise.

Let us consider whether this is the case. It is in fact custom (in my shul at least) to greet during davening. People, even those who do not talk between aliyot, come in and say good Shabbos (with a handshake) to everyone at the table. It is considered being a mentch. This is not to say that in the Chafetz Chaim's shuls they weren't mentchen. But what is considered appropriate in one time is not necessarily so in another place. As the Mishna Brura himself writes, the custom nowadays was different than it was in the past.

And in our present shuls, we reverted to the custom of old and we do in fact greet. Should we then apply the Mishna Berura's rule even in a situation in which it does not apply?

(One can argue that people will not take offense because he knows that the person cannot reply during this point in davening. It is a good argument. But how is this any different than in the time of the gemara, when they most assuredly did respond and greet?)

Thus, if there is a shul in which people do actually shmooze in Torah (or other) between aliyot, I do not see this as the end of the world. It happens in one of the shuls I frequently daven in. And I do not find that this detracts from the decorum of the shul. And I do not find it distracting in the least. Further, this is an established custom in the shul that has firm basis in halacha.

Similarly, if someone comes in in between birchot haShachar and baruch sheAmar, and the chazzan is taking his time going through korbanot, and his friend greets him and they talk for a minute of two in learning (or other) in a way that does not disturb others (i.e. sitting at a table, takling quietly, such that it does not disturn others who are also saying tefillot quietly), I do not see this as the end of the world.

Everything depends on degree and context. I am not condoning talking loudly about sports throughout the silent amidah and chazarat ha-shatz. Or doing this in a shul in which the accepted custom by everyone else is not to talk during this time. Or where the structure of the shul and the service are such that you will be disturbing others. Nor am I saying that the practice in shuls which do have more stringent custom about talking are halachically illegitimate -- they are; or that their mode of prayer is not beautiful and uplifting -- it can be.

What I am saying is that this current, halachically legitimate practice need not be changed to to the most stringent in order to satisfy all shittot. And that adopting a more stringent position is not necessarily ideal, if it makes shul into an uncomfortable experience for the participants. People who will appreciate this form of davening will gravitate towards these shuls and away from others; and vice versa.

Some people will object to this because of ethnocentric belief that their way is the only correct way. And that any custom which is more relaxed than the one they grew up with is a violation of the sanctity and decorum of the synagogue. Some people would shush the Bach and kick Rav Sheshet out of shul. Or at the least, tell them that they need to work on their middot in order to gain a proper appreciation of tefillah.

Friday, July 21, 2006

parshat Masei: Shadal on Lectio Difficilior; Rabbi Akiva on Biblical Techum Shabbat

There is an apparent contradiction in parshat Masei between Bemidbar 35:4 and 35:5, in that pasuk 4 seems to say that there is 1000 cubits about the city, while pasuk 5 suggests 2000.

ד וּמִגְרְשֵׁי, הֶעָרִים, אֲשֶׁר תִּתְּנוּ, לַלְוִיִּם--מִקִּיר הָעִיר וָחוּצָה, אֶלֶף אַמָּה סָבִיב. 4 And the open land about the cities, which ye shall give unto the Levites, shall be from the wall of the city and outward a thousand cubits round about.
ה וּמַדֹּתֶם מִחוּץ לָעִיר, אֶת-פְּאַת-קֵדְמָה אַלְפַּיִם בָּאַמָּה וְאֶת-פְּאַת-נֶגֶב אַלְפַּיִם בָּאַמָּה וְאֶת-פְּאַת-יָם אַלְפַּיִם בָּאַמָּה וְאֵת פְּאַת צָפוֹן אַלְפַּיִם בָּאַמָּה--וְהָעִיר בַּתָּוֶךְ; זֶה יִהְיֶה לָהֶם, מִגְרְשֵׁי הֶעָרִים. 5 And ye shall measure without the city for the east side two thousand cubits, and for the south side two thousand cubits, and for the west side two thousand cubits, and for the north side two thousand cubits, the city being in the midst. This shall be to them the open land about the cities.
The Septuagint harmonizes the reading. Are they correct? Shadal weighs in, explaining the principle of lectio difficilior. Shadal writes the following:

מקיר העיר וחוצה אלף אמה סביב ומדותם מחוץ לעיר את פאת קדמה אלפים באמה וגו': בתרגום יוני המיוחס לשבעים זקנים כתוב אלפים אמה בפסוק ד' כמו בפסוק ה', וקצת ריקי מוח נפתו אחריו, וחשבו וכתבו כי טעות נפלה בספרינו; אבל כל שאר המתרגמים הקדמונים תירגמו בפסוק ד' אלף אמה, וגם בתורת השומרונים כתוב אלף אמה. והנה כבר הסכימו גדולי החוקרים כי כשיימצא בספר קדמון חילוף נוסחאות, ותהיה הנוסחה האחת נכונה בלשון ומתיישבת על הדעת, והאחרת זרה ובלתי מובנת, אין למהר ולשפוט שהזרה היא מוטעית והאחרת היא האמיתית, אבל פעמים רבות הדבר הוא בהפך, כי קרוב הדבר שהסופרים שהעתיקו הספר כשראו לשון זר ובלתי מובן תיקנוהו, אבל רחוק הוא שאם מתחילה היה הלשון נכון ומובן ישימו במקומו דברים זרים ובלתי מובנים...

Read it all.

To translate:
"(4) from the wall of the city and outward a thousand cubits round about" ... "(5) And ye shall measure without the city for the east side two thousand cubits...":
In the Greek translation ascribed to the 70 Elders {=Septuagint} it is written 2000 cubits in the 4th verse just as in the 5th verse, and some empty-brains are seduced after it, and think and write that an error fell in our manuscripts; but all the rest of the ancient translators translated in the 4th verse 1000 cubits, and also in the Torah of the Samaritans it is written 1000 cubits.

And behold, the expert scholars have already agreed that when in an early manuscript is found variant versions, and one version is correct linguistically and sits well on the mind, and the other is strange and impossible to understand, one should not rush and conclude that the strange one is erroneous and the other is the true one. Rather, many times the matter is the opposite, for it is a close matter that the scribes who transcribed the book, when they saw a strange and not understandable term, they fixed it. However it is far off that if initially the language is proper and understable, they put in its place strange and indecipherable thing...
He proceeds to offer his own explanation, which is not really pertinent to this blogpost.

However, one should note that Chazal were well aware of this change in the text, and in fact, as related in a Yerushalmi, it was used by Rabbi Akiva as a Biblical basis for techum Shabbat being 2000 cubits. I present to you the Rif for Eruvin 17b:
{The Mishna said:} "and {exempt} from having to make an eruv":
They said in the academy of Rabbi Yannai: They only said this regarding the eruv of courtyards {to allow carrying}, but the eruv of techum {to establish a Shabbat center} they are obligated, for Rabbi Chiyya taught {in his brayta}: we administer lashes for eruv of techum as a Biblical matter.
This was problematic to Rabbi Yochanan: And do they truly administer lashes for a prohibition which was given over to warning of death penalty by bet din? {Rather, death!}
Rav Ashi said {answered}: Does it state אל יוציא איש - let no man carry out? It is written {Shemot 15:29} אל יצא איש - let no man go out!
That is to say, this verse is speaking about going out only with legs, and there is no death penalty from the bet din, but just a warning, and therefore, we administer lashes for it.

And it is problematic for us how we say that we administer lashes for eruv of techum as a Biblical matter, for we establish that we do not rule like Rabbi Akiva who said that techum was a Biblical matter.

And we find in the Yerushalmi, that we learn there:
{... As Rav Hoshaya said:} The extent of techum Shabbat is not straightforward to you as a Biblical matter {and thus, we are understanding this gemara to say, it is of Rabbinic origin}.
Rabbi Mana asked: This is fine to say regarding the 2000 cubits, that it is not straightforward. But 4000 cubits is straightforward!
Rabbi Shmuel bar Bisna {our gemara: bar Sisreta} cited Rabbi Acha: None is more straightforward than the techum of 12 mil, which is the size of the encampment of Israel.

We thus find now that techum Shabbat, some of them are Rabbinic and some Biblical. From 2000 cubits and higher until 12 mil, we administer lashes for them Rabbinically, and according to Rabbi Akiva, we administer lashes for them Biblically, for it is written {Bemidbar 35:4-5}:
ד וּמִגְרְשֵׁי, הֶעָרִים, אֲשֶׁר תִּתְּנוּ, לַלְוִיִּם--מִקִּיר הָעִיר וָחוּצָה, אֶלֶף אַמָּה סָבִיב. 4 And the open land about the cities, which ye shall give unto the Levites, shall be from the wall of the city and outward a thousand cubits round about.
ה וּמַדֹּתֶם מִחוּץ לָעִיר, אֶת-פְּאַת-קֵדְמָה אַלְפַּיִם בָּאַמָּה וְאֶת-פְּאַת-נֶגֶב אַלְפַּיִם בָּאַמָּה וְאֶת-פְּאַת-יָם אַלְפַּיִם בָּאַמָּה וְאֵת פְּאַת צָפוֹן אַלְפַּיִם בָּאַמָּה--וְהָעִיר בַּתָּוֶךְ; זֶה יִהְיֶה לָהֶם, מִגְרְשֵׁי הֶעָרִים. 5 And ye shall measure without the city for the east side two thousand cubits, and for the south side two thousand cubits, and for the west side two thousand cubits, and for the north side two thousand cubits, the city being in the midst. This shall be to them the open land about the cities.
It is impossible to say 2000 cubits for it has already stated 1000 cubits. But rather, the 1000 cubits are the migrash {open land} and the 2000 cubits are the techum of Shabbat.

And the Sages hold that the 1000 cubits are migrash and the 2000 cubits are fields and vinyards.

From 12 mil and higher, we administer lashes for them Biblically, according to all, for it is written {Shemot 15:29} אל יצא איש - let no man go out - and this is 12 mil corresponding to the encampment of Israel.

But from 2000 cubits and less, it is permitted according to everyone.

And the question still stands in its place, for we only make eruvei techumin until 2000 cubits, and if he places his eruv outside of 2000 cubits, his eruv is no eruv, and it forbidden for him to go further than 2000 cubits {in that direction} even a single cubit, and if this prohibition is Rabbinic, he should not get lashes for it as a Biblical matter, except according to Rabbi Akiva. And this answer does not come out according to our own {Bavli} gemara, and the question stayed in in place until now, and it stands as it stood.

parshat Matot: Pinchas the Flying Priest

Another version of the flying Bilaam story can be found in Targum Yonatan. In this version, Pinchas also flies, utilizing a Divine Name. The Targum also equates Bilaam with Lavan and relates all the evil things Lavan/Balaam did to the Israelites. There are many texts and themes which contribute to this midrash, but I will only focus on one aspect here - the primary derivation of the details of Balaam's sins .

(Interesting to note, in terms of the previous related post (Bilaam the Flying Soothsayer), that Targum Yonatan renders the כְלֵי הַקֹּדֶשׁ to be the Urim veTumim rather than the tzitz.)

The pasuk states {Bemidbar 31:8}:

ז וַיִּצְבְּאוּ, עַל-מִדְיָן, כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְהוָה, אֶת-מֹשֶׁה; וַיַּהַרְגוּ, כָּל-זָכָר. 7 And they warred against Midian, as the LORD commanded Moses; and they slew every male.
ח וְאֶת-מַלְכֵי מִדְיָן הָרְגוּ עַל-חַלְלֵיהֶם, אֶת-אֱוִי וְאֶת-רֶקֶם וְאֶת-צוּר וְאֶת-חוּר וְאֶת-רֶבַע--חֲמֵשֶׁת, מַלְכֵי מִדְיָן; וְאֵת בִּלְעָם בֶּן-בְּעוֹר, הָרְגוּ בֶּחָרֶב. 8 And they slew the kings of Midian with the rest of their slain: Evi, and Rekem, and Zur, and Hur, and Reba, the five kings of Midian; Balaam also the son of Beor they slew with the sword.
Tagum Yonatan "translates":

וית מלכי מדינאי קטלו על משרייתהון ית אוי וית רקם וית צור הוא בלק וית חור וית רבע חמשת מלכי מדין וית בלעם בן בעור קטלו בסייפא והוה כוין דחמא בלעם חייבא ית פינחס כהנה רדיף מן בתרוי עבד מלתא דקוסמין ופרח באויר שמיא. מן יד אידכר פינחס שמא רבא וקדישא ופרח בתרוי ואדחיה ברישיה ואחתיה. שלף סייפא ובעא למקטליה. פתח פומיה במילי תחנונין ואמר לפינחס אין תקיים ית נפשי משתבענא לך דכל יומין דאנא קיים לית אנא מלטיט ית עמך. עני ואמר ליה הלא אנת הוא לבן ארמאה דבעית למישיציא ית יעקב אבונן ונחתת למצרים בגין למובדא זרעא. ומן בתר דנפקו ממצרים גריתא בהון עמלק רשיעא. וכדון איתגרתא איתגרא למילוט יתהון. וכיון דחמיתא דלא אהנין עובדך ולא קביל מימרא דיי מינך, אמליכת מלכא בישא ית בלק למקומא ית בנתיה בפרשת אורחתא למטעיא יתהון ונפלו בגין כן מנהון עשרין וארבעא אלפין. בגין כן לית אפשר תוב למקיימא ית נפשך. ומן יד שלף סייפיה מן תיקא וקטליה

A rough translation:

And the kings of the Midianites they killed on their camps - Evi, Rekem, Tzur - he is Balak, Chur, and Reva, the five kings of Midian. And Bilaam son of Beor they slew with a sword.

And it was, when Bilaam the guilty saw Pinchas the priest running after him, he performed a magical feat and flew in the air in the sky.

Immediately, Pinchas pronounced the Great and Holy Name and flew after him, and grabbed him by the head and brought him down(1) and was about to slay him.

He {=Bilaam} opened his mouth with words of supplication and said to Pinchas: If you let me live, I swear to you that as long as I live I will not curse your nation.

He {Pinchas} responded and said to him: Are you not Lavan the Aramean who wished to destroy our forefathe Yaakov? And you descended to Egypt to destroy the descendants. And after they left Egypt you incited(2) {to war} against them the wicked Amalek. And then you hired(3) yourself out so curse them. And when yuo saw that your actions did not help and Hashem did not accept your words, you counseled an evil counsel(4) to Balak to place his daughter at the crossroads to lead them astray, and because of this 24,000 of them died. Because of this, it is not possible anymore to spare your life.

And immediately, he drew his sword from its sheath and slew him.

My analsysis continues after these notes.

Translation Notes:
(1) I take ואחתיה as the aphel causative of חתי - thus, caused him to descend. This even though the preceding word ואדחיה (grabbed) seems to have the same form and the א there is a root letter.
(2) גריתא means to stir up, to incite, to attack
(3) אגרא is reward/hire. thus the reflexive איתגרתא איתגרא means to hire yourself out.
(4) I take מלכא בישא to mean evil advice rather than evil king Balak. After all we have the verb אמליכת.

Now on to a bit of analysis. Where are all these details of Bilaam's misdeeds coming from. To my mind, the key phrase which tips us off is הלא אנת הוא לבן ארמאה דבעית למישיציא ית יעקב אבונן. This immediately calls to mind Arami Oved Avi, "a wandering Aramean was my father," from the parshat Bikurim in parshat Ki Tavo. Devarim 26:

ה וְעָנִיתָ וְאָמַרְתָּ לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, אֲרַמִּי אֹבֵד אָבִי, וַיֵּרֶד מִצְרַיְמָה, וַיָּגָר שָׁם בִּמְתֵי מְעָט; וַיְהִי-שָׁם, לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל עָצוּם וָרָב. 5 And thou shalt speak and say before the LORD thy God: 'A wandering Aramean was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there, few in number; and he became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous.
ו וַיָּרֵעוּ אֹתָנוּ הַמִּצְרִים, וַיְעַנּוּנוּ; וַיִּתְּנוּ עָלֵינוּ, עֲבֹדָה קָשָׁה. 6 And the Egyptians dealt ill with us, and afflicted us, and laid upon us hard bondage.
ז וַנִּצְעַק, אֶל-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵי אֲבֹתֵינוּ; וַיִּשְׁמַע יְהוָה אֶת-קֹלֵנוּ, וַיַּרְא אֶת-עָנְיֵנוּ וְאֶת-עֲמָלֵנוּ וְאֶת-לַחֲצֵנוּ. 7 And we cried unto the LORD, the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our voice, and saw our affliction, and our toil, and our oppression.
ח וַיּוֹצִאֵנוּ יְהוָה, מִמִּצְרַיִם, בְּיָד חֲזָקָה וּבִזְרֹעַ נְטוּיָה, וּבְמֹרָא גָּדֹל--וּבְאֹתוֹת, וּבְמֹפְתִים. 8 And the LORD brought us forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great terribleness, and with signs, and with wonders.
ט וַיְבִאֵנוּ, אֶל-הַמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה; וַיִּתֶּן-לָנוּ אֶת-הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת, אֶרֶץ זָבַת חָלָב וּדְבָשׁ. 9 And He hath brought us into this place, and hath given us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.
י וְעַתָּה, הִנֵּה הֵבֵאתִי אֶת-רֵאשִׁית פְּרִי הָאֲדָמָה, אֲשֶׁר-נָתַתָּה לִּי, יְהוָה; וְהִנַּחְתּוֹ, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, וְהִשְׁתַּחֲוִיתָ, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ. 10 And now, behold, I have brought the first of the fruit of the land, which Thou, O LORD, hast given me.' And thou shalt set it down before the LORD thy God, and worship before the LORD thy God.
Most of the derasha comes from אֲרַמִּי אֹבֵד אָבִי, וַיֵּרֶד מִצְרַיְמָה, וַיָּגָר שָׁם בִּמְתֵי מְעָט; וַיְהִי-שָׁם, לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל עָצוּם וָרָב, I think.

Classically, אֲרַמִּי אֹבֵד אָבִי is interpreted to mean that Lavan the Aramean attempted to destroy my father. (Connections between Lavan and Bilaam have been and will be subjects of other blogposts.) So far we are in familar territory. But then, the derasha takes an unexpected turn:

וַיֵּרֶד מִצְרַיְמָה no longer means that Yaakov descended to Egypt, but rather that Lavan/Bilaam descended to Egypt. To flesh this out, see midrashim that list Bilaam as one of Pharaoh's three advisors, and the one who advised him to kill Israelite boys (see Sotah 11a).

וַיָּגָר שָׁם בִּמְתֵי מְעָט - the word וַיָּגָר is actually taken by this midrash twice. First, that when they left Egypt, he incited the evil Amalekites to attack them. Thus, גריתא בהון עמלק רשיעא.

In parshat Balak, Balak and Moav are sore afraid of Israel because they are so many. Bemidbar 22:
ב וַיַּרְא בָּלָק, בֶּן-צִפּוֹר, אֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר-עָשָׂה יִשְׂרָאֵל, לָאֱמֹרִי. 2 And Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites.
ג וַיָּגָר מוֹאָב מִפְּנֵי הָעָם, מְאֹד--כִּי רַב-הוּא; וַיָּקָץ מוֹאָב, מִפְּנֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל. 3 And Moab was sore afraid of the people, because they were many; and Moab was overcome with dread because of the children of Israel.
Note the word וַיָּגָר, "sore afraid," which probably influenced this midrashic link even more. But they were sore afraid -כִּי רַב-הוּא, because they were so many.

Therefore, Bilaam was there when they were mighty and numerous - וַיְהִי-שָׁם, לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל עָצוּם וָרָב. And what did he do? He hired himself out to curse them. Thus וַיָּגָר שָׁם. Thus וכדון איתגרתא איתגרא למילוט יתהון. This is the second drash on וַיָּגָר.

The idea that he counseled Balak to send out his daughter, Cozbi bat Tzur (Balak), is based on several other texts which I am not going to digress to in this post (but which I have partially covered in previous posts - feel free to browse). But it takes us away from the Arami Oved Avi verse.

Finally, that because 24,000 Israelites died as a result of his advice, Pinchas has no choice but to slay him. Where does this come from?

I would suggest that it is possibly from here:
וְאֶת-מַלְכֵי מִדְיָן הָרְגוּ עַל-חַלְלֵיהֶם
and then
וְאֵת בִּלְעָם בֶּן-בְּעוֹר, הָרְגוּ בֶּחָרֶב

or in sefer Yehoshua perek 13:
וְאֶת-בִּלְעָם בֶּן-בְּעוֹר, הַקּוֹסֵם--הָרְגוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל בַּחֶרֶב, אֶל-חַלְלֵיהֶם.

The חַלְלֵיהֶם is perhaps taken midrashically not to mean the Midianite slain, but rather on account of the Israelite corpses. After all, this was a battle לָתֵת נִקְמַת-ה בְּמִדְיָן.

"How Faith Saved The Atheist" - Death With Dignity

A great article in this week's Wall Street Journal. An excerpt:

I complained about all the death-with-dignity pressure to my father's doctor, an Orthodox Jew, who said that his religion forbids the termination of care but that he would be perfectly willing to "look the other way" if we wanted my father to die. We didn't. Then a light bulb went off in my head. We could devise a strategy to fend off the death-happy residents: We would tell them we were Orthodox Jews.

My little ruse worked. During the few days after I announced this faux fact, it was as though an invisible fence had been drawn around my mother, my sister and me. No one dared mutter that hateful phrase "death with dignity."

Read it all.

Update: A strange paragraph, though:
But I'm offended that so many conservative Christians believe that theirs is the only path to salvation. I'm sick of being proselytized. We Jews enjoy a more basic type of faith, a direct relationship to God that requires no salvation, no penitence, no supplication. We do not proselytize. And we don't worry about the next life; we conduct mitzvahs--good deeds--that enhance life for ourselves and others in the here and now. Religion is said to have no grandparents--meaning, we each find our own path to (or away from) faith. Yet it's my grandparents' faith--and not my father's Jewish atheism--to which I find myself being drawn.

parshat Matot: Bilaam the Flying Soothsayer

There is an interesting midrash that Bilaam flew, and (in certain variants) that Pinchas flew and brought him down to earth. There is a lot to discuss regarding these midrashim, but I am going to focus on only a few points.

First, the midrashim. In midrash Rabba on parshat Balak:

וכלי הקדש, זה הציץ, שכתוב בו: קדש לה'.
וחצוצרות התרועה בידו
אמר להם משה לישראל: בלעם הרשע עשה להם כשפים ופורח ומפריח לחמשת המלכים, הראו לו את הציץ, ששמו של הקדוש ברוך הוא גלוף עליו, והן נופלין תדע, שכן כתיב (במדבר לא): ואת מלכי מדין הרגו על חלליהם את אוי ואת רקם ואת בלעם בן בעור.

while on parshat Matot we have the same midrash, more or less:

דבר אחר:
נקום נקמת
זה שאמר הכתוב (איוב ל): לא יגרע מצדיק עיניו ואת מלכים לכסא.
מהו לא יגרע מצדיק עיניו?
אין הקב"ה מונע מן הצדיק מה שרוצה בעיניו, ללמדך שמשה מתאווה לראות בנקמת מדין קודם שימות, והיה מבקש מן הקדוש ברוך הוא שיראה בעיניו.
על משה נאמר (תהלים נח): ישמח צדיק כי חזה נקם נקמת מדין פעמיו ירחץ בדם הרשע, זה בלעם.
אמר משה לפנחס ולאנשי הצבא: יודע אני שבלעם הרשע הוא שם ליטול שכרו, עד שהזאב בא לצאן, פרשו לו מצודה, ואותו רשע, אם תראו אותו שעושה כשפים ופורח באוויר העולם, הראו לו את הציץ שכתוב בו: קדש לה' והוא נופל, והרגו אותו ואת מלכי מדין הרגו על חלליהם, שהיו עושין כשפים עם בלעם ופורחין, וכשראו את הציץ נפלו על חלליהם:

A bit earlier in midrash Rabba on Matot there is a dispute:

וכלי הקדש, זה הארון, שנאמר: כי עבודת הקדש וגו'.
רבי יוחנן אמר: אלו בגדי כהונה, שהם אורים ותומים, כמו שנאמר: ובגדי הקדש אשר לאהרן.

There are several pesukim that enter into this midrash, just at first glance. One set is the one describig the deaths of Bilaam and these 5 kings. In Bemidbar 31:8:

ח וְאֶת-מַלְכֵי מִדְיָן הָרְגוּ עַל-חַלְלֵיהֶם, אֶת-אֱוִי וְאֶת-רֶקֶם וְאֶת-צוּר וְאֶת-חוּר וְאֶת-רֶבַע--חֲמֵשֶׁת, מַלְכֵי מִדְיָן; וְאֵת בִּלְעָם בֶּן-בְּעוֹר, הָרְגוּ בֶּחָרֶב. 8 And they slew the kings of Midian with the rest of their slain: Evi, and Rekem, and Zur, and Hur, and Reba, the five kings of Midian; Balaam also the son of Beor they slew with the sword.
and in sefer Yehoshua 13:21-22:

כא וְכֹל, עָרֵי הַמִּישֹׁר, וְכָל-מַמְלְכוּת סִיחוֹן מֶלֶךְ הָאֱמֹרִי, אֲשֶׁר מָלַךְ בְּחֶשְׁבּוֹן: אֲשֶׁר הִכָּה מֹשֶׁה אֹתוֹ וְאֶת-נְשִׂיאֵי מִדְיָן, אֶת-אֱוִי וְאֶת-רֶקֶם וְאֶת-צוּר וְאֶת-חוּר וְאֶת-רֶבַע, נְסִיכֵי סִיחוֹן, יֹשְׁבֵי הָאָרֶץ. 21 and all the cities of the table-land, and all the kingdom of Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon, whom Moses smote with the chiefs of Midian, Evi, and Rekem, and Zur, and Hur, and Reba, the princes of Sihon, that dwelt in the land.
כב וְאֶת-בִּלְעָם בֶּן-בְּעוֹר, הַקּוֹסֵם--הָרְגוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל בַּחֶרֶב, אֶל-חַלְלֵיהֶם. 22 Balaam also the son of Beor, the soothsayer, did the children of Israel slay with the sword among the rest of their slain.

Thus in parshat Matot, in sefer Bemidbar, it states עַל-חַלְלֵיהֶם rather than אֶל-חַלְלֵיהֶם, and it is midrashically (that is hyperliterally) read as "upon/over their slain," thus deducing that they were flying in the air overhead.

Note also that the assumption that Pinchas combats this with the tzitz, the mitre, also finds root in the pesukim:

ו וַיִּשְׁלַח אֹתָם מֹשֶׁה אֶלֶף לַמַּטֶּה, לַצָּבָא: אֹתָם וְאֶת-פִּינְחָס בֶּן-אֶלְעָזָר הַכֹּהֵן, לַצָּבָא, וּכְלֵי הַקֹּדֶשׁ וַחֲצֹצְרוֹת הַתְּרוּעָה, בְּיָדוֹ. 6 And Moses sent them, a thousand of every tribe, to the war, them and Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, to the war, with the holy vessels and the trumpets for the alarm in his hand.
What are these "holy vessels?" The ambiguity encourages commentary. Thus, in Matot there is a dispute - either the ark of the covenant (which we saw was brought into war in other situations), or the priestly vestments, which equals the Urim veTumim.

Of course, the midrash at hand assumes it is neither, but rather, like the midrash rabba in parshat Balak, it refers to the tzitz.

(Each of these is based on parallels to the word "kodesh," since the pasuk states וּכְלֵי הַקֹּדֶשׁ, "and the vessels of "Kodesh." Thus the tzitz had Kodesh LaHashem, and regarding the aron it is written כי עבודת הקדש. And Rabbi Yochanan notes the priestly vestments are called ובגדי הקדש. In fact, these last two are closer because they also share the definite article ha.)

Shadal's pashtanic take on it:

אין נראה שהוא הארון, כי היה הכתוב אומר שהלכו עמו הלויים נושאי הארון, גם לא הציץ כי לא היה לובש בגדי כהן גדול, ואלעזר אביו חי,גם לא כדברי קלעריקוס שכלי הקודש הם הם החצוצרות , כי החצוצרות אינן קודש, לפיכך לא ידענו מה הם, ואולי הם האורים ותומים (כתרגום ירושלמי), ולצורך המלחמה לקח אותם, אעפ"י שלא לבש בגדי כהונה.

Thus, he dismisses the idea that it is the ark, the tzitz, or the trumpets. Thus we don't know what it is, though he offers a speculation that it refers to the Urim veTumim.

Why should we asume that that which Pinchas took is to be used specifically to undo Bilaam's magic and bring him down to earth?

I would suggest that it may be based on the word beyado in the phrase וּכְלֵי הַקֹּדֶשׁ וַחֲצֹצְרוֹת הַתְּרוּעָה בְּיָדוֹ. First, though, a digression.

Part of the input to the midrash is quite likely the idea that Bilaam was a sorcerer. This we may easily get from the aforementioned pasuk in sefer Yehoshua: וְאֶת-בִּלְעָם בֶּן-בְּעוֹר הַקּוֹסֵם. qosem can be translated as wizard. That this should be mentioned in proximity to his death, when there are derashot on עַל-חַלְלֵיהֶם, suggests that they are interlinked. The juxtaposition to the five kings, and perhaps the use of the word et, might work to bring these kings of Midian in as well.

Now, where have we seen kosem before? In parshat Balak:
ז וַיֵּלְכוּ זִקְנֵי מוֹאָב, וְזִקְנֵי מִדְיָן, וּקְסָמִים, בְּיָדָם; וַיָּבֹאוּ, אֶל-בִּלְעָם, וַיְדַבְּרוּ אֵלָיו, דִּבְרֵי בָלָק. 7 And the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the rewards of divination in their hand; and they came unto Balaam, and spoke unto him the words of Balak.
perhaps the elders of Midian = the kings of Midian. Especially (though not necessarily) since a bit earlier they are called malachim, messengers, which might be reread as melachim, kings.
ה וַיִּשְׁלַח מַלְאָכִים אֶל-בִּלְעָם בֶּן-בְּעֹר, פְּתוֹרָה אֲשֶׁר עַל-הַנָּהָר אֶרֶץ בְּנֵי-עַמּוֹ--לִקְרֹא-לוֹ: לֵאמֹר, הִנֵּה עַם יָצָא מִמִּצְרַיִם הִנֵּה כִסָּה אֶת-עֵין הָאָרֶץ, וְהוּא יֹשֵׁב, מִמֻּלִי. 5 And he sent messengers unto Balaam the son of Beor, to Pethor, which is by the River, to the land of the children of his people, to call him, saying: 'Behold, there is a people come out from Egypt; behold, they cover the face of the earth, and they abide over against me.
Taking וּקְסָמִים בְּיָדָם not as rewards of divination but rather as magicks, we have a good opposition in place. Even if the earlier elders of Midian are not the kings of Midian, we see that kesamim go in hand. Presumably Bilaam had kesamim beyado, which allowed him to fly and make the kings of Midian fly as well. Therefore, when the pasuk in Matot states וּכְלֵי הַקֹּדֶשׁ וַחֲצֹצְרוֹת הַתְּרוּעָה, בְּיָדוֹ, it is a very short leap to associate the two and claim that the tzitz opposed the kesamim which was in Bilaam the kosem's hand.

There is another midrash, similar but different, brought down in Targum Yonatan, which I hope to cover in a later post. Note though that this is not the only place a midrash records a flying Bilaam. In the extra-biblical work Divrei HaYamim leMoshe Rabbenu, we find another instance of Bilaam fleeing by flying via magic.
When Balaam b. Be‘or saw that the city was captured, he pronounced a spell and conjuration: he and his two sons flew through the air and fled back to Egypt to Pharaoh and dwelt there with him.

Noteworthy Shiur this Shabbat at Etz Chaim

and not just because he's a relative. From the Etz Chaim of Kew Gardens Hills Weekly Bulletin:
Mincha 7:45 PM

Shiur by Rabbi Chanoch Waxman: “The Leadership of Moshe and the
Rebellion of Moshe”


Welcome to Rabbi Chanoch Waxman, who will be giving the shiur this
Shabbat following Mincha. Rabbi Waxman is on the faculty at the Matan
Institute in Jerusalem, and the Drisha Institute here in New York. He
was also former Rosh Kollel of Torah Mitzion in Chicago. Note that
Mincha will start earlier than usual (7:45 PM) to allow Rabbi Waxman to
fully cover the material. Please join us for an exciting shiur.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

More Midrashic Literalism - The Comment Thread Is Active Again

On one of my original articles on midrashic literalism, Avi Goldstein has posted another response, and I have responded in turn. I make some points that will eventually find their way into other parshablog posts - e.g. the position of Rambam's contemporaries; the position of that great 6-year old, Maharatz Chayos; and elaboration on the idea that Chazal were motivated by a different Zeitgeist, and had different social and intellectual inputs, that we have.

To coin a melitza - when reading Chazal, we must consider them just as we consider the sturdiness of a Succah. We must judge them on the basis of the ruach (spirit) hametzuya beOto makom uveOto zeman.

Anonymous: Sorry, I have not gotten around to responding to you just yet, especially since I have now responded to others before getting to you. Hope to do so soon.

Friday, July 14, 2006

parshat Pinchas: Chamber or "Belly"?

Towards the end of parshat Balak {beMidbar 25:8}, we encounter the following interesting pasuk:

ז וַיַּרְא, פִּינְחָס בֶּן-אֶלְעָזָר, בֶּן-אַהֲרֹן, הַכֹּהֵן; וַיָּקָם מִתּוֹךְ הָעֵדָה, וַיִּקַּח רֹמַח בְּיָדוֹ. 7 And when Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose up from the midst of the congregation, and took a spear in his hand.
ח וַיָּבֹא אַחַר אִישׁ-יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶל-הַקֻּבָּה, וַיִּדְקֹר אֶת-שְׁנֵיהֶם--אֵת אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאֶת-הָאִשָּׁה אֶל-קֳבָתָהּ; וַתֵּעָצַר, הַמַּגֵּפָה, מֵעַל, בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל. 8 And he went after the man of Israel into the chamber, and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her belly. So the plague was stayed from the children of Israel.
The two words highlighted in red are remarkably similar, and we would expect their translation to also be remarkably similar. But, as one may see from this JPS translation, the first is rendered "the chamber" while the second is rendered "her belly."

This accords with Tg. Onkelos's translation of the verse, as well as with Rashi. And if we trust Shadal's judgement in matters such as these, the nikkud and the trup accords with this as well - that the second קֳבָתָהּ means "her belly" rather than "her tent."

If so, how can we account for this divergence in meaning between similarly structured words? Quite simply, poetic word choice, in order to create an echo effect. Or perhaps this was placed deliberately to hint at other meanings. The verse then shouts from the rooftops, Darsheni!!

Ibn Ezra, I suppose with differing grammatical judgement, translates both as "tent" (though he lists female anatomy for the latter as a non-midrashic alternative, labelling the various miracles as midrash). That is, first Pinchas entered Zimri's tent and killed Zimri. Then he entered Cozbi's tent - presumably, she was with Zimri's relatives - and killed Cozbi.

Shadal says the same thing:

אל קבתה : לדעת בעלי הנקוד והטעמים קבתה איננה ענין קבה, אבל (כדעת אנקלוס) ענין נקבוּת , ולפי הפשט היה ראוי להטעים: ויבא אחר איש ישראל אל הקבה וידקר את שניהם את איש ישראל.

That is, while the nikkud and trup accords with a meaning of female anatomy, the baalei nikkud and baalei hateamin were post-Talmudic (as he lays out in his vikuach al chochmat hakabbalah), and thus he feels he may revocalize and rewrite the cantillantion. As such, he suggests an alternate trup division of the pasuk. That is, the pause should be after killing the Ish Yisrael, that is Zimri.

Thus, something like:

וַיָּבֹא אַחַר אִישׁ-יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶל-הַקֻּבָּה, וַיִּדְקֹר אֶת-שְׁנֵיהֶם--אֵת אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל
And he went after the Israelite man into his tent -- and he killed both of them -- the Israelite man
וְאֶת-הָאִשָּׁה אֶל-קֳבָתָהּ
and the woman in her tent

There seems a bit of awkwardness here, with the interjection of אֶת-שְׁנֵיהֶם.

Let us now turn to consider some of the midrashim, and how they arise from the pesukim. In Sanhedrin 82, Rav Nachman citing Rav brings a pasuk in Mishlei to bear on the incident. However, as I have demonstrated often in the past, the methodology of such midrashim is to interpret a foreign verse to provide details about the local incident, but at the same time interpreting some local pasuk as well to match these details. This local reinterpretation is quite often not made overt.

The gemara in Sanhedrin:
R. Nahman said in Rab's name: What is meant by, "A greyhound [zarzir mathnaim, lit, 'energetic of loins']: an he goat also [tayish]; and a king, against whom there is no rising up?" — That wicked man, [sc. Zimri] cohabited four hundred and twenty-four times that day, and Phinehas waited for his strength to weaken, not knowing that [God is] a King, against whom there is no rising up.
That is, in Mishlei 30:31, we read:
לא זַרְזִיר מָתְנַיִם אוֹ-תָיִשׁ; וּמֶלֶךְ, אַלְקוּם עִמּוֹ. 31 The greyhound; the he-goat also; and the king, against whom there is no rising up.
Interpreting this verse outside of its local context (that is, applying omnisignificance), Rav applies this verse to Zimri, Cozbi, and Pinchas.

זַרְזִיר מָתְנַיִם on a peshat level is an animal, a greyhound. However, literally, it means "energetic of loins." A perfect reference to Zimri. Why 424 times? This connects to the phrase זַרְזִיר מָתְנַיִם, for the numerical value of זַרְזִיר is 424. Thus 424 instances of energetic use of his loins. (One need not take this number literally, but one might consider it a way of stressing how long this went on, while at the same time connecting it further to the foreign verse.)

תָיִשׁ literally refers to a he-goat. Yet one may read it midrashically as tash, as in tash kocho, ihs strength is exhausted.

Yet, וּמֶלֶךְ, אַלְקוּם עִמּוֹ, God, the king, against Whom there is no standing up, was with Pinchas, and so he did not have to wait for Zimri to be exhausted before making his move.

Perhaps we might also incorporate the word אוֹ. That is, Pinchas could have killed him while he was yet energetic or when he was exhausted, yet he waited, not knowing that since Hashem was with him, he would have prevailed either way.

That is the application of the foreign verse. What about the local verse? Well, there is the tangential assumption that Pinchas was also allowed to kill Zimri while Zimri was actually engaged in the act - based on various halachic principles. Thus, in Sanhedrin 82a, we see Rabbi Yochanan say:
What is more, had Zimri forsaken his mistress and Phinehas slain him, Phinehas would have been executed on his account; and had Zimri turned upon Phinehas and slain him, he would not have been executed, since Phinehas was a pursuer [seeking to take his life].
But this is different that Pinchas waiting for Zimri to become exhausted in the sexual act.

In fact, this קבה/קבתה issue is likely at play. Rav reads not only the second instance as female anatomy, but the first instance as well. Thus:

וַיַּרְא, פִּינְחָס בֶּן-אֶלְעָזָר, בֶּן-אַהֲרֹן, הַכֹּהֵן; וַיָּקָם מִתּוֹךְ הָעֵדָה, וַיִּקַּח רֹמַח בְּיָדוֹ.

Pinchas saw them, and got up from within the congregation, taking a spear in hand.

וַיָּבֹא אַחַר אִישׁ-יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶל-הַקֻּבָּה

And he went after the Israelite man {entered} her womb opening.

Not only taking הַקֻּבָּה as womb but taking after to mean temporal succession instead of spatial succession. (That is, he did this after -- timewise -- the Israelite mean entered her womb opening.)


וַיִּדְקֹר אֶת-שְׁנֵיהֶם--אֵת אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאֶת-הָאִשָּׁה אֶל-קֳבָתָהּ

and only then did he slay them both.

Another midrash: Among the miracles that Rabbi Yochanan lists in the Pinchas incident, on Sanhedrin 82b:
[iii] he [Phinheas] succeeded [in driving his spear] exactly through the sexual organs of the man and woman.
this is of course associated with the fact that he pierced through her belly, or rather, female anatomy.

וַיָּבֹא אַחַר אִישׁ-יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶל-הַקֻּבָּה, וַיִּדְקֹר אֶת-שְׁנֵיהֶם--אֵת אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאֶת-הָאִשָּׁה אֶל-קֳבָתָהּ

But, the derivation is actually even more specific:

וַיָּבֹא אַחַר אִישׁ-יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶל-הַקֻּבָּה
And he waited (thus achar) until the Israelite had entered her womb opening.

וַיִּדְקֹר אֶת-שְׁנֵיהֶם
And he pierced through both of them, in one act. Or rather, he pierced through both of their sexual organs. שְׁנֵיהֶם may refer specifically to their organs rather to them in general.

אֵת אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל
That {sexual organ} of the Israelite man

וְאֶת-הָאִשָּׁה אֶל-קֳבָתָהּ
and that of the woman, into her womb.

Thus, the derasha certainly involved שְׁנֵיהֶם, and quite likely also incorporates a match between both instances of קבה.

One final interesting midrash, involving some of the same elements. From Sanhedrin 82a-b. How did Pinchas manage to gte into the tent with the spear in order to kill Zimri and Cozbi?
He removed its point and placed it in his undergarment, and went along leaning upon the stock [of the spear, into which the pointed blade is inserted], and as soon as he reached the tribe of Simeon, he exclaimed, 'Where do we find that the tribe of Levi is greater than that of Simeon? [i.e., I too wish to indulge]. Thereupon they said, 'Let him pass too. He enters to satisfy his lust. These abstainers have now declared the matter permissible.'
So many different elements enter this interesting midrash. The first is the allusion to Ehud, who slew Eglon the king of the Moabites with a sword (see sefer Shofetim 3:12). There, Ehud must resort to similar trickery, giving some other reason for entering alone to meet the king, and hiding his sword in his garment. He was left-handed, and they did not search that side of him.

טז וַיַּעַשׂ לוֹ אֵהוּד חֶרֶב, וְלָהּ שְׁנֵי פֵיוֹת--גֹּמֶד אָרְכָּהּ; וַיַּחְגֹּר אוֹתָהּ מִתַּחַת לְמַדָּיו, עַל יֶרֶךְ יְמִינוֹ. 16 And Ehud made him a sword which had two edges, of a cubit length; and he girded it under his raiment upon his right thigh.
and furthermore:

כא וַיִּשְׁלַח אֵהוּד, אֶת-יַד שְׂמֹאלוֹ, וַיִּקַּח אֶת-הַחֶרֶב, מֵעַל יֶרֶךְ יְמִינוֹ; וַיִּתְקָעֶהָ, בְּבִטְנוֹ. 21 And Ehud put forth his left hand, and took the sword from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly.
כב וַיָּבֹא גַם-הַנִּצָּב אַחַר הַלַּהַב, וַיִּסְגֹּר הַחֵלֶב בְּעַד הַלַּהַב--כִּי לֹא שָׁלַף הַחֶרֶב, מִבִּטְנוֹ; וַיֵּצֵא, הַפַּרְשְׁדֹנָה. 22 And the haft also went in after the blade; and the fat closed upon the blade, for he drew not the sword out of his belly; and it came out behind.
Thus, we have the sword going into Eglon's belly, just as the spear entered Cozbi's belly. Add to this that both Eglon and Cozbi are Moabite royalty (see previous post about Cozbi being the daughter of Balak), and the parallels basically write a large portion of the midrash.

When about Pinchas claiming to want to enter for the purpose of sinning? Once again, a close reading of the local pasuk.

וַיָּקָם מִתּוֹךְ הָעֵדָה, וַיִּקַּח רֹמַח בְּיָדוֹ.
So, Pinchas took this spear in his hand, and concealed it as follows: "He removed its point and placed it in his undergarment, and went along leaning upon the stock [of the spear, into which the pointed blade is inserted]"
Thus, the actual blade was hidden in his undergarment, but the romach, the stock of the spear, he took in his hand, leaning upon it like a walking stick.

וַיָּבֹא אַחַר אִישׁ-יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶל-הַקֻּבָּה
we take אַחַר not in the sense of following after in time or place, but rather, after in intent. He went "after," in the way of, the Israelite man, to enter her womb, אֶל-הַקֻּבָּה. Or so he said. Thus:
and as soon as he reached the tribe of Simeon, he exclaimed, 'Where do we find that the tribe of Levi is greater than that of Simeon? [i.e., I too wish to indulge]. Thereupon they said, 'Let him pass too. He enters to satisfy his lust.
He enters - וַיָּבֹא, in the same way as Zimri - אַחַר אִישׁ-יִשְׂרָאֵל, in order to satisfy his lust - אֶל-הַקֻּבָּה.

Another possible (though unlikely) point in this midrash is that Pinchas places the point of the spear in his underclothing, and enters under the guise of desiring to satisfy his lust. The spear may well be a phallic symbol, and indeed, what does he do with it?

וַיִּדְקֹר... אֶת-הָאִשָּׁה אֶל-קֳבָתָהּ
he thrusts it into the woman's womb. Indeed, they take pains to compare him to Zimri. Except of course that he does not do what Zimri does, but instead directs his focus in a different direction.

This is what I meant in previous posts about midrashim arising out of midrashic analyses of the pesukim - such that it is somewhat more difficult to claim that Chazal did not intend this as anything but figurative.

blog roundup for parshat Pinchas

AlanLaz analyses a midrash which lists several who merited the reward of the entire generation, and lists the daughters of Tzelofchad among them. He suggests that this is because while the entire generation desired to return to Egypt at signs of trouble, Tzelofchad's daughters wished to inherit the land despite the difficulties it would entail. He then relates it to the current difficult situation in Israel.

As always, I like when people actually cite the midrash inside, so while he does not, I will provide it here. It is from Sifrei Zuta:

ותקרבנה בנות צלפחד וכו' הוא כל אדם כשר שעומד בתוך דור רשע זוכה ליטול שכר כולו. נח עמד בדור המבול זכה ליטול שכר כולו, אברהם עמד בדור הפלגה זכה ליטול שכר כולו, לוט עמד בדור סדום זכה ליטול שכר כולו, אל (=בנות צלפחד) עמדו בדור המדבר זכו ליטול שכר כולו.

Choshvei Shemo also relates parshat Pinchas to the current situation in Israel. He suggests that the way to succeed is to oppose immorality, and thus brings in the opposition to the WorldPride event in Jerusalem (though not in any violent way).

Similarly, Rabbi Pinchos Lipshutz draws inspiration from Pinchas in light of current events in Israel to encourage fidelity to Torah and halacha.

Purim Hero discusses how some pervert the lesson of parshat Pinchas to encourage violence, in light of the news story about the flyer encouraging use of firebombs against participants in the WorldPride event in Jerusalem. (Though I am not convinced that it was not a prankster or an agent provocateur who created these fliers -- there is precedent for both.) (Also relevant to this issue is my post from last year - Did Pinchas Act on His Own Initiative?)

Rafi G. at Torah Thoughts expands on a Rashi about Moshe appointing a successor, about great leaders taking care of the community up to the point of their own deaths, to ensure a smooth transition. In another post, he suggests that the lineage of Pinchas, traced to Aharon, is not to stop those of his generation from criticizing him, but rather is directed towards us -- so that we should know that "the intentions of Pinchas were honest and done with integrity."

Once again, I wish people would also cite the source before discussing it. It may well be a good explanation. However, in terms of intentions and integrity, I am not so sure. A citation from Sanhedrin 82. Ignoring the portion about the ministering angels:
The tribes now began abusing him: 'See ye this son of Puti [= Putiel] whose maternal grandfather fattened [pittem] cattle for idols, and who has now slain the prince of a tribe of Israel!' Therefore Scripture detailed his ancestry: Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the Priest.
It seems that the complaint is about ancestry. "Who is this schnook? Look at who he comes from. A nobody! And he has slain a prince of Israel." Thus, we are told the Pinchas was no schnook, but had princely yichus of his own.

By the way, I would assume that a large part of the midrashic spark of this is that this lineage of Pinchas begins God's command to Moshe, in pasuk 11, and juxtaposed, immediately following, is:
יד וְשֵׁם אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל הַמֻּכֶּה, אֲשֶׁר הֻכָּה אֶת-הַמִּדְיָנִית--זִמְרִי, בֶּן-סָלוּא: נְשִׂיא בֵית-אָב, לַשִּׁמְעֹנִי. 14 Now the name of the man of Israel that was slain, who was slain with the Midianitish woman, was Zimri, the son of Salu, a prince of a fathers' house among the Simeonites.
טו וְשֵׁם הָאִשָּׁה הַמֻּכָּה הַמִּדְיָנִית, כָּזְבִּי בַת-צוּר: רֹאשׁ אֻמּוֹת בֵּית-אָב בְּמִדְיָן, הוּא. {פ} 15 And the name of the Midianitish woman that was slain was Cozbi, the daughter of Zur; he was head of the people of a fathers' house in Midian.

And so the midrash read this as a response.

Relevant to a post of mine about the curiosity of only Menashe being listed as part of shevet Yosef in the list of the spies, ADDeRabbi discusses how the Torah traces the ancestry of the daughters of Tzelofchad back to Yosef, and how "the daughters of Tzelophchad ... re-asserted the Josephite relationship with the land."

Sedra Shorts has an analysis piece, showing how Yehoshua took on Moshe's role in several ways.

Reb Barry also has a takeoff on the Zimri-Pinchas thing and the leaflets offering a reward for killing a gay participant in the WorldPride event. I disagree with him in terms of analysis of the meaning of the Zimri event. Further, he repeats the famous claim:
Yes, the Torah forbids male homosexuality. Calls it a "toevah," an abomination. But before you jump to conclusions and think it might in some way be OK to kill Jews who do something abominable to God, remember that eating non-kosher food is also called a "toevah." Why don't these modern day Pinchas's run out to the nearest non-kosher restaurant and start killing people eating BLTs?
Actually, it uses the term sheketz. See Vayikra 11 and Vayikra 20.

Update: Actually, I stand corrected - there is one instance in which toeva substitutes as a synonym for sheketz. See the comments. There still are some obvious distinctions between the two - the most obvious being the difference between noun and verb, but also between the punishment explicitly related to each, among others)

Thursday, July 13, 2006

parshat Pinchas: Who Was Cozbi bat Tzur?

There is an interesting parse of Bemidbar 25:15, in identifying Cozbi Bat Tzur. That pasuk reads:
יד וְשֵׁם אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל הַמֻּכֶּה, אֲשֶׁר הֻכָּה אֶת-הַמִּדְיָנִית--זִמְרִי, בֶּן-סָלוּא: נְשִׂיא בֵית-אָב, לַשִּׁמְעֹנִי. 14 Now the name of the man of Israel that was slain, who was slain with the Midianitish woman, was Zimri, the son of Salu, a prince of a fathers' house among the Simeonites.
טו וְשֵׁם הָאִשָּׁה הַמֻּכָּה הַמִּדְיָנִית, כָּזְבִּי בַת-צוּר: רֹאשׁ אֻמּוֹת בֵּית-אָב בְּמִדְיָן, הוּא. {פ} 15 And the name of the Midianitish woman that was slain was Cozbi, the daughter of Zur; he was head of the people of a fathers' house in Midian.
Targum Pseudo-Yonatan identifies her as Shevilanai daughter of Balak. The Shevilanai part is explained well in Sanhedrin 82b, which I eventually intend to cover in another post, but there, it is Shevilanai daughter of Tzur. Tg Yonatan changes Tzur to Balak, king of Moav, based in part on the following interesting reparse of the verse (there are other aspects, such as the fact that it is the daughters of the Moabites who commit harlotry, the aspect of Bilaam's counsel, etc. See this post where I discuss some of it):

רֹאשׁ - the head
אֻמּוֹת - revocalize as umat, thus uma de, the nation of
בֵּית-אָב - the house of the father, code for Moav
בְּמִדְיָן הוּא - who dwelled in Midian


parshat Pinchas - Brit Kehunat Olam. What Exactly Did Pinchas Get? Also, how could Pinchas Kill Zimri?

Towards the beginning of Pinchas, we read {Bemidbar 25:13}:
יג וְהָיְתָה לּוֹ וּלְזַרְעוֹ אַחֲרָיו, בְּרִית כְּהֻנַּת עוֹלָם--תַּחַת, אֲשֶׁר קִנֵּא לֵאלֹהָיו, וַיְכַפֵּר, עַל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל. 13 and it shall be unto him, and to his seed after him, the covenant of an everlasting priesthood; because he was jealous for his God, and made atonement for the children of Israel.'
This is somewhat strange, given that Pinchas is the son of Eleazar, the son of Aharon the Kohen. And all descendants of Aharon are also kohanim {priests}. If so, Pinchas should already be a kohen, so why is he being appointed one now?

The famous answer is given by Rashi, who in turn gets it from Zevachim 101b. Sure, kehuna is inherited, and so all sons born to Aharon and Eleazar will also be kohanim. But the appointment of Aharon and Eleazar was done after Pinchas' birth. All sons born after they are appointed will indeed be kohanim. But Pinchas, being born before this, is not born into the priesthood.

Thus, Pinchas eludes the kehuna under a grandfather clause, of sorts.

Wouldn't we expect the same to be true for the Levites. This too is an inherited positions, so anyone not numbered and appointed should not be a levite. Would this indeed be so? Well, this is sort of irrelevant, but perhaps not, given that if we look at the counting and appointing of the Levites in place of the firstborns in Bemidbar 3, we see that are counted not from the age of 20 and up, but rather from one month and on. (Perhaps because earlier that that is considered a safek that it might end up a nefel?) Yet, for those under one month -- and why specify, if there were none? -- did they become Leviim? Did their children inherit Leviiteness?

Anyhow, this is the somewhat midrashic answer to the problem of the introduction of berit kehunat olam.

Meanwhile, Ibn Ezra, Ralbag, and Shadal all claim that the peshat in the pasuk is different. Namely, that what is being given here is the High Priesthood, kehuna gedola. All future High Priests will be descendants of Pinchas.

Shadal writes:

לפי הפשט הכוונה כדעת ראב"ע ורלב"ג שהכהנים הגדולים יהיו מזרעו, ועיין רלב"ג

Indeed, the Sifrei mentions the various kohanim gedolim in the first and second Bet HaMikdash, who all were descendants of Pinchas.

Now, we shall not be like certain ursine bloggers who throw a hissy-fit every time they discover that, in elementary school, they were only exposed to the midrash-based Rashi and not to an alternate peshat. No. Instead, we will lean back in our chair and admire the two approaches to resolving the textual difficulty.

On a related note, there is an interesting question in Daat Zekenim miBaalei haTosafot: How could Pinchas kill Zimri? If he killed him in the tent, would he not become ritually impure?

One could easy dismiss the very premise of the question, of course. People were dying left and right in the plague, and the slaying of Zimri stopped it. Sometimes certain commandments and prohibitions are set aside for cases of emergency. If Pinchas saw someone killing another in a cemetery, could he intervene? Of course! Plus, consider my post from last year claiming, based on pesukim, that Pinchas' act was not that of a zealot, but rather the fulfillment of a direct command of Moshe, mentioned in a pasuk (see Did Pinchas Act On His Own Initiative?). Being a kohen should not have caused a problem.

Yet, Daat Zekeinim suggests, based on Rashi, that since Pinchas was not yet a kohen, he did not need to worry about becoming ritually impure.

(Pop quiz for those interested in the issue Midrashic literalism: Does Daat Zekeinim consider this Rashi to be literal or allegorical?)

Daat Zekeinim gives an alternative suggestion: A goses, one at death's door, does not render one ritually impure. So Zimri was a goses until Pinchas left the tent.

Indeed, Targum Pseudo-Yonatan lists Zimri not dying as the eleventh of many miracles that happened in the Pinchas incident. (The gemara in Sanhedrin daf 82 only lists 6, and thus is not among them.)


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