Sunday, August 17, 2008

Does Rabbi Falk Have Correct Peshat in Shir HaShirim 7:2?

Continuing to flip through Oz Vehadar Levushah, I came across the passage to the right, on page 308-309. In it, Rabbi Falk gives an "interesting" and creative peshat in the pasuk, and appears to attribute this peshat to Rashi, Ibn Ezra, and the gemara. Then he derives from this "interesting" peshat some stringent rules of tznius.

He writes: "The verse says in Shir HaShirim: 'How beautiful are your shoe-clad footsteps O daughter [of Avraham Avinu] the nobleman; [how refined is your dress in that] your thigh is hidden and obscured.' חמוקי means 'to make disappear' as in the verse חמק עבר לו... and he gives sources ... The verse חמוקי ירכיך therefore means hidden or disguised, which is far more than just being very well covered."

But do his sources justify this interpretation? Recall, he inserts "how refined is your dress" -- way of dressing -- in that your thigh is covered. And he bases himself on Ibn Ezra and Rashi.

On Shir HaShirim 7:2, Judaica Press translates:
How fair are your feet in sandals, O daughter of nobles! The curves of your thighs are like jewels, the handiwork of a craftsman.
This is important because Judaica Press's declared approach is to translate in accordance with Rashi. This means that they believe Rashi would translate the phrase as "the curves of your thighs."

Is there basis for this? Yes. Rashi states:
The curves of your thighs are like jewels A collection of gold jewels is called חֲלִי כֶתֶם, al chali in Arabic. And our Sages interpreted this as referring to the holes of the foundations [of the altar] for the libations, which were created during the Six Days of Creation, round as a thigh.

like jewels Heb. חֲלָאִים, like the hollow of (חוּלְיַת) a pit.
Thus, we see two points. He refers to Chazal in Sukkah 49a who refer to the the holes in the foundations of the altar, which are round as a thigh, basing themselves on this verse. Thus, the attribute of thighs Rashi is highlighting here, and which Chazal highlighted there, was the roundness of the thigh. And furthermore, the comparison of the thigh made was that it was "like jewels," and once again Rashi stresses the hollow aspect of it. Thus, while he brings Rashi on Moed Katan, Rashi's actual peirush on the pasuk is not like that. Perhaps that is the intent of the Rashi is Moed Katan? We will have to see.

Rashi on Shir HaShirim 5:6 makes the connection to 7:2, but that connection does not imply that the praise is of the dress which makes sure that the thigh is well hidden. The Judaica Press translation of the pasuk there is:
I opened for my beloved, but my beloved had hidden and was gone; my soul went out when he spoke; I sought him, but found him not; I called him, but he did not answer me.
Rashi there states:
but my beloved had hidden and was gone Heb. חָמַק, was hidden and concealed from me, like (below 7:2): “the curves (חֲמוּקֵי) of your thighs,” the hidden places of your thighs, because the thigh is hidden. [Also] (Jer. 31:21): “How long will you hide (תִתְחַמָּקִי) ,” will you hide and cover yourself because of the shame that you betrayed Me?
Thus, there is the idea of it being hidden, but the intent in Shir HaShirim 7:2 is sitrei hayarech, "the hidden places of your thighs." (As an aside, perhaps we can link in the idea of beis hasetarim.) And as we saw there, the hidden curves of the thighs were what was being praised, for their similarity to curves jewels. Even though there is a definition of hidden, and a link between 5:6 and 7:2, what is being praised is the thigh itself, not the dress because it functions to obscure the thigh. This is not peshat of Rashi within Shir HaShirim.

What about Ibn Ezra? On 7:2, he writes:
חמוקי ירכיך: יש אומרים שהוא מקום שיסוב הירך וכן יפרש תתחמקין גם חמק עבר.

Thus, he explains that it means the place that encircles the thigh. He indeed links it to Shir HaShirim 5:6, which uses the term חמק עבר, just as Rabbi Falk claims. But the link does not serve to define the local חמק in 7:2 to mean hidden away. Rather, this is an extension of the definition of חמק as יסוב, to turn away or encircle, as an explanation of 5:6.

And indeed, on 5:6, Ibn Ezra does not define it as "hidden away" in the same way Rashi does. Rather, he defines it as הלך, making a connection to 7:2. He writes:
חמק: כמו הלך מן חמוקי ירכיך ויש אומרים כמוהו עד מתי תתחמקין בענין רחוק.

To see how יסוב fits in here, see Metzudat David on 5:6, where he writes כאשר פתחתי לו הדלת אז סבב עצמו ועבר משם. And this is a commentary on חמק עבר.

Based on this, Rabbi Falk is correct that Ibn Ezra links 5:6 and 7:2, but he appears to be entirely incorrect in the meaning of the link. Ibn Ezra is certainly not claiming that it means hidden, as Rabbi Falk claims it does. Thus, it is incorrect to state "See Ibn Ezra on Shir HaShirim (7:2)" as if this proves his point. It does not, and indeed argues against his point.

The final citation he makes is to Rashi on Moed Katan 16a. The Rashi in question may be found on the bottom of the daf. (See here.) But all Rashi says there is חמוקי ירכיך: כמו חמק עבר. Thus, he makes the link between the two pesukim, of 5:6 and 7:2. But does this establish Rabbi Falk's translation of the pasuk? I don't see how it does. After all, even Rashi in Shir HaShirim made the connection, and the point there was that it referred to the curves of the thigh, which were hidden away. Rashi here may be coming to explain the difficult word being cited from the pasuk - just as on Succah 49a he defined it as סתרי הירך, the hidden places of the thighs. Especially since the context in the gemara is a part that should be hidden, as we will see. But that does not mean that the translation of the pasuk is as given by Rabbi Falk.

The derasha made in the gemara, in Moed Katan 16a-b, is as follows:
גזר רבי שלא ישנו לתלמידים בשוק מאי דרש (שיר השירים ז) חמוקי ירכיך כמו חלאים מה ירך בסתר
אף דברי תורה בסתר
Rabbi decreed that the students should not learn in the marketplace. How did he expound? From Shir Hashirim 7:2 -- "the hidden places of your thighs are like jewels." Just as the thigh is in secret, so too words of Torah are in secret.
The derasha can easily be that the thigh is a concealed part, and this is the meaning of חמוק, that is סתר. So too words of Torah are in סתר.

Now, Rabbi Falk would like to make a whole derasha of his own out of the choice of the word סתר rather than מכוסה. But he, seemingly consciously, only cites the first part of the derasha -- מה ירך בסתר, and omits the second part of the derasha, which states אף דברי תורה בסתר. But derashot like these are rhetorical devices. Would Rabbi Falk really expect the derasha to end אף דברי תורה מכוסה?! This is an instruction to where the students should be learning Torah. Besides which, the derasha comes from חמוקי, which means סתר, hidden, rather than מכוסה. So why should it use מכוסה, which is not a word derivable from the pasuk?

This does not, by any means, imply the requirement for a deeper level of concealing than other places which need concealing. (Perhaps one can muster other sources for this idea, but he does not bring it in the book, as far as I have seen.)

Usually, the ones empowered to make derashot from pesukim are the Tannaim, and rarely the Amoraim. But we do not find Rishonim making derashot, and certainly not late Achronim. Yet this appears to be what Rabbi Falk is doing here, in order to establish that there are pesukim, gemaras, and Rishonim which support his tnzius preferences as a matter of required halacha.

And the problem is that your average Beis Yaakov girl is not going to look up these sources and learn them deeply to see if they really say what they supposedly say.


Anonymous said...

Wow- serious accusations.

(Avot 3:14)

joshwaxman said...

to be fair, it could well be that he is merely accidentally misreading the sources by retrojecting his own values on them. more on this in a later post, bli neder. (not the next one on this topic, but the one after that.)

Kol Tuv,

Anonymous said...

I can't see how R' Falk can be justified in using Shir HaShirim this way. My understanding is that all traditional Jewish sources treat this megilla as an allegory in which erotic love is a metaphor for the love between people and G-d or between the Jews and Torah or whatever. This being the case, how can he use a verse as proof that women should dress in a particular way? The woman in Shir HaShirim isn't supposed to be a real woman: she's supposed to represent the Jews as a whole. Saying that the verse means that a woman's thighs should be hidden is as repugnant to the metaphor as saying that a woman should have a belly like a heap of wheat or breasts like twin gazelles.

Dragging the Gemara Moed Katan in just does more violence to the traditional Jewish understanding of Shir HaShirim. Everything which is necessary to the subject of an analogy necessarily applies to its object. In the classic story of the Fox and the Grapes it is necessary that the fox desires the grapes, and that he disparages them only because he cannot reach them. By analogy, we tend to disparage anything we cannot attain. These elements are necessary to the analogy, but it would be superfluous to insist that the fox wants the grapes because the day is unusually hot, or the grapes are of a rare variety that foxes especially enjoy. If the author of the analogy insisted on these points it would imply something about our own desires and confuse the metaphor.

If Rebbi thought the verse meant that the woman's beautiful thighs were covered with a loose dress extending past the knee and entirely concealing the thigh he would have been forced to apply these details to his students - that a Yeshiva should be metaphorically "loose"; that it should have a certain amount of coverage, that the students should be entirely secluded from the world. He didn't find these details in the analogy because, I suggest, they are not there to be found.

Anonymous said...

Joe- the gemara already utilizes the psukim in ShS to learn specific halakhot. At least with regards to that, Rabbi Falk is not out of bounds.

Josh- are the serious consequences associated with someone who is מגלה פנים שלא כהלכה only if it's done intentionally?
If so, I'm not really sure how to classify Rabbi Falk's interpretation. He's not exactly an אונס, as it's an extra-halakhic agenda that causes him to pervert his analysis.

joshwaxman said...

Joe in Australia:
On Ibn Ezra he is just entirely wrong. It is possible he got excited and did not look carefully enough.

It seems to me that he carefully avoids mentioning the local Rashi, and his claim is based specifically on Rashi on Moed Katan. And that based on the analogy the gemara gives. Thus, since Rashi defines it as hidden, Rashi is saying that the gemara is saying that "your hidden thighs are like the jewels of Talmud Torah (or of talmidei chachamim)." And thus the praise in both cases is that they are hidden. And then he makes a diyyuk on the gemara.

I don't find this persuasive, or necessary, in terms of what the gemara is saying, for reasons given above. I don't think that Rashi needs to be saying anything more than he says locally on the pasuk, or that the gemara is focused on praise of the dress hiding the thighs, or that "hidden" in this case is driven mashal rather than the nimshal, or that "hidden" means more than "covered," since it is driven by rhetorical and midrashic concerns.

But indeed, I find the book to be intentionally misleading by glossing over all this and making this type of leap, with just minor references to marei mekomos as if they are pashut peshat of these claims.

blue man:
I don't know. I'd rather not pass judgment on a fellow Jew, who is surely well-meaning. And it is possible he just has a very different methodology of learning, which I would consider krum. But I do know that I am extremely unsatisfied with a bunch of these leaps Rabbi Falk makes and presents as clear-cut, when they are anything but. And perhaps if I make these cases clear, in strong terms, people will be able to evaluate whether to take the claims he makes in the plain-text of the book at face value. I'll be posting another another one this morning, based on his presentation of a gemara, which he makes in the very next paragraph.

Kol Tuv,

Anonymous said...

josh- you seem like a really good guy.

keep up the good work on your blog!

joshwaxman said...

thanks. and I'll try. :)

kol tuv,

Anonymous said...

the gemara already utilizes the psukim in ShS to learn specific halakhot. At least with regards to that, Rabbi Falk is not out of bounds.

I didn't mean to suggest that it's wrong to learn halachos from Shir HaShirim. What I find surprising is that he reads ShS as if it were talking about a real woman, and as if the qualities of this woman are significant in themselves. Does the Gemara do likewise? All the references I've checked use the woman in ShS as a metaphor for the Temple or Altar or Jews in general or whatever. When you say "the woman in ShS is dressed this way, and our daughters should do likewise," you're actually treating it as an erotic poem - which is against the traditional interpretation.


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