Sunday, November 30, 2008

Interesting Posts and Articles #98

  1. The plan of the terrorists in Mumbai was to kill 5000 people.

  2. The Yeshiva World has articles on various of the innocent people killed in the Chabad house. See here, here, here, and here.

  3. Life Of Rubin is upset at the Yeshiva World for printing photos of the male victims but not of the female victims. And points out that they ran the live video which included females in it. But now is not the time to argue about this. I certainly personally think that the general policy is silly. But in terms of showing the streaming video of events, they did not choose specifically what would be showing, and there was the immediate concern for people whose lives were at that time in danger, such that considering this would place one in the realm of chassid shotah. (Not that showing or not showing the video had any impact, but just the emotions as the danger was there perhaps gave more justification.) Now that the danger has passed, the issue is more of concern for the honor to the victims. And they may feel that is shows more honor not to show a picture of a woman.

  4. Treppenwitz was in that Chabad house, but left 5 days earlier. He asks not to call it hashgacha pratit. I can certainly see it playing out within the realm of hashgacha kelalit, and would certainly not direct anyone about how to approach it, especially so soon after the tragedy. Though whether true or not, it might eventually be more positive to approach many things in life as hashgacha peratit.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Who Or What Was Achuzat?

An interesting dispute between Shadal and Rashi. I would side with Rashi, as a matter of peshat, though modifying it in a few important ways.

In Toledot, we read {Bereshit 26:26}
כו וַאֲבִימֶלֶךְ, הָלַךְ אֵלָיו מִגְּרָר; וַאֲחֻזַּת, מֵרֵעֵהוּ, וּפִיכֹל, שַׂר-צְבָאוֹ. 26 Then Abimelech went to him from Gerar, and Ahuzzath his friend, and Phicol the captain of his host.
What is meant by וַאֲחֻזַּת מֵרֵעֵהוּ?

Rashi says:
and a group of his companions Heb. וַאִחֻזַת מֵרֵעֵהוּ, as the Targum renders: וְסִיעַת מֵרַחִמוֹהִי, a group of his friends [the “mem” meaning“of”](Gen. Rabbah 64:9). Some interpret that in the word מֵרֵעֵהוּ, the “mem” is [part of] the root of the word, like (Jud. 14:11):“the thirty companions” (מֵרֵעִים) of Samson, in order that the word וַאִחֻזַת should be in the construct state [i.e., the group of his friends]. However, it is not polite to speak of royalty in this manner, i.e.,“his group of companions,” because this would imply that he brought his entire group of companions, and that he had only one group of companions. Therefore, it should be interpreted in the previous manner, [i.e., that אִחֻזַת is not construct]. And do not be puzzled about the letter“thav” of אִחֻזַת. Although the word is not in the construct state, there are similar cases in Scripture (Ps. 60:13):“help against the adversary” עֶזְרָת מִצָּר (Isa. 51: 21):“drunk, but not from wine” (וּשְׁכֻרַת וְלֹא מִיָּיִן).
a group Heb. אִחֻזַת, an expression of a gathering or a band [of people] who are held (שֶׁנֶאֱחָזִין) together.
While he argues effectively that the word achuzat need not necessarily be the construct state, I would disagree with his selection of this interpretation, and favor an interpretation that makes it the construct state, together with the mem being part of the word, like the thirty companions of Shimshon.

Indeed, I now see that that is exactly how Rashbam appears to render it -- with the mem as part of it and with the tav designating the construct form:
פסוק כו
ואחוזת מרעהו -
חבורת אוהביו, כמו: ויתנה למרעהו והמ"ם כמו מ"ם של מריע ותוקע, וכמ"ם של אנכי מסב כלי מלחמה.
וכן יתר מרעהו צדיק ודרך רשעים תתעם הצדיק יתר ויכונן דרך ישר את מרעהו,
כמו: ויתורו את ארץ כנען אבל דרך רשעים לעצמם ושכיניהם תתעם פייט' אשגרור בלע"ז. יתור, הוא את עצמו, יתר הוא את אחרים, כמו ישוב ישיב יקום יקים זה פועל וזה מפעיל

though which of the two is closer to Targum Onkelos' וסיעת מרחמוהי is up for discussion. (Does Onkelos consider the mem part of the word? It would seem not since it is likely not in מרחמוהי. Yet וסיעת seems to be the construct form. Yet Daat Zekeinim will translate this as if it is not construct form, and with mem part of the word.)

Tg Pseudo-Yonasan has ואתקיף ברחמוי למיזל עמיה, seeming to mean "and he compelled in (=of) his friends to go with him." This would seem to aphel, causative, form in Aramaic. So maybe he is taking vaAchuzat as a causative in Hebrew as well? What about the mem? Perhaps he is saying that a drafted, compelled group of his friends were with him.

Daat Zekeinim (right) mention the Targum, and says keTargumo. But then mentions another possibility, that Achuzat was the name of a person. And that there is a masorah (masoretic note?) on this לית שום בר נש מרעהו.

Shadal endorses this latter explanation as peshat:

אחזת : שם אדם, כן דעת בעלי המסורה ורבנו סעדיה, היירונימוס , והמתרגם הסורי והאלכסנדרי ואחרים, וכן דעת ר' יהודה בבראשית רבא (ס"ד ח'), אלא שלדעתו אחזת מרעהו היה שמו, כלומר שהיה שמו מורכב משתי מילות על דרך דמשק אליעזר, רוממתי עזר (ד"ה א' כ"ה ד' ול"א), וזה רחוק בעיני, שתהיה מילת מרעהו בכנוי נסתר גם היא מן השם, ואולי טעות סופר נפלה במדרש וצ"ל : אחזת היה שמו.

He says this is the position of the Baalei HaMasorah, of Rabbenu Saadiah Gaon {presumably in his Arabic Biblical translation}, Jerome, the Syrian translator {Peshitta}, the Alexandrian one {presumably Septuagint -- as we have here: "And Abimelech came to him from Gerara, and so did Ochozath his friend, and Phichol the commander-in-chief of his army."} and others. And so is the position of Rabbi Yehuda in Bereishit Rabba. Though in midrash Rabba, the name is purportedly אחזת מרעה. Shadal gives precedent in Damesek Eliezer for two names together for a person, but also suggests it is a typographical error.

With all the irregularities necessary for Rashi's peshat -- and in the end I don't think there are any substantive ones -- I would still side with Rashi and Rashbam here. Indeed, if it were solyly the midrash here, some people would dismiss it as a midrash, just as a claim that BaKol was the name of Avraham's daughter.

And it really makes sense. If he is making some sort of covenant, he might well bring along a group of his associates and colleagues, to make it a broader covenant, not just with him. And furthermore, let us not read רעהו as "companions" but rather shepherds. We see earlier that the shepherds were contending with Yitzchak about the wells.

כ וַיָּרִיבוּ רֹעֵי גְרָר, עִם-רֹעֵי יִצְחָק לֵאמֹר--לָנוּ הַמָּיִם; וַיִּקְרָא שֵׁם-הַבְּאֵר עֵשֶׂק, כִּי הִתְעַשְּׂקוּ עִמּוֹ. 20 And the herdmen of Gerar strove with Isaac's herdmen, saying: 'The water is ours.' And he called the name of the well Esek; because they contended with him.
כא וַיַּחְפְּרוּ בְּאֵר אַחֶרֶת, וַיָּרִיבוּ גַּם-עָלֶיהָ; וַיִּקְרָא שְׁמָהּ, שִׂטְנָה. 21 And they digged another well, and they strove for that also. And he called the name of it Sitnah.
These were shepherds of Gerar, where Avimelech is now coming from. So to sort this out and make peace, it makes sense to bring along some of his shepherds.

Update: Thanks to Mississipi Fred MacDowell of On The Main Line for providing the translation of Rav Saadia Gaon of the relevant pasuk, pictured to the right, available here.

He writes:
ואבימלך צאר אליה מן אלכלוץ ואחזת נדימה ופיכל רייס ג'ישה

The word ואחזת is not translated into Arabic, so it is clearly taken as a proper noun, that is a name. And נדימה, nedimo, means his companion (or drinking buddy), as we see here for the Arabic word nadim.

Interesting Posts and Articles #97

  1. Dixie Yid on Chayyei Sarah, and changes in maleh vs. chaser in our Torah vs. that of Rashi.

  2. JNUL scans in, posts up a copy of Sefer Tashbetz.

  3. MysticalPaths talks about the financial challenges to yeshivot and kollels in Israel, with some closing, and them seeking money to support them. Related, over at SerandEz, a posting about relying on charity.

  4. Breast cancer and other forms of cancer might suddenly go into remission without treatment, and doctors are studying this phenomenon, according to this NY Times article. This calls to my mind various miracle stories where people davened, or else got a blessing from a rebbe or rabbi, or else did performed some sort of segulah, and when the doctors next checked them, the problem had disappeared. This would then suggest, at the least, a derech hateva mechanism exists which the prayer might help set in motion.

  5. MysticalPaths on Web rumors -- specifically the latest one about Rav Kanievsky and bomb shelters on Chanukkah, but also in general. I last addressed this particular rumor the other day, in this post.

  6. The controversial music video "I Want To Be A Rebbe," taken down by a fraudulent DMCA notice and then uploaded again. See here for the details.

  7. DixieYid is asking for donations for friends who need money to start antibody treatments for a child with neuroblastoma.

Did Yaakov Stray After His Eyes In Preferring Rachel?

Yet another interesting Rabbenu Bachya is about the reason for Yaakov's punishment. Chazal say that for the years he neglected kibbud av vaEm, he was punished middah keneged middah by being deprived of Yosef. The problem with this, as Rabbenu Bachya points out, is that Yaakov only went to Charan to fulfill his parents' directive. They told him to leave, and to go there to get a wife. They were thus mochel him this kibbud av vaEm, and indeed he was fulfilling their instruction. So how could he be punished for this?

Indeed, Bereishit 28:7 states:
ז וַיִּשְׁמַע יַעֲקֹב, אֶל-אָבִיו וְאֶל-אִמּוֹ; וַיֵּלֶךְ, פַּדֶּנָה אֲרָם. 7 and that Jacob hearkened to his father and his mother, and was gone to Paddan-aram;
His suggestion is that he was supposed to simply go to Charan and marry Leah. But he set his eyes on the younger daughter, and fell in love with her. As the pesukim say in parshat Vayeitzei {Bereshit 29:16-18}:
טז וּלְלָבָן, שְׁתֵּי בָנוֹת: שֵׁם הַגְּדֹלָה לֵאָה, וְשֵׁם הַקְּטַנָּה רָחֵל. 16 Now Laban had two daughters: the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel.
יז וְעֵינֵי לֵאָה, רַכּוֹת; וְרָחֵל, הָיְתָה, יְפַת-תֹּאַר, וִיפַת מַרְאֶה. 17 And Leah's eyes were weak; but Rachel was of beautiful form and fair to look upon.
יח וַיֶּאֱהַב יַעֲקֹב, אֶת-רָחֵל; וַיֹּאמֶר, אֶעֱבָדְךָ שֶׁבַע שָׁנִים, בְּרָחֵל בִּתְּךָ, הַקְּטַנָּה. 18 And Jacob loved Rachel; and he said: 'I will serve thee seven years for Rachel thy younger daughter.'
And because she was beautiful and fair to look upon, he loved her, and was willing to work 7 years, instead of marrying Leah and returning immediately. (Perhaps related: This recent Hirhurim post about a beautiful wife, and how one should be attracted to his wife.)

To me, this seems akin to innovating a criticism of one of the Avos. Not to say that this is not doable, but everybody talks about it when Ramban is critical of Avraham, and when he is critical of Sarah. This would be, then, another example, this time from Rabbenu Bachya. On the other hand, perhaps he considers this just a clarification of what Chazal actually meant, such that it is not he who is criticizing Yaakov Avinu.

This perush goes against modern sensibilities, for we look at the story of Yaakov working for 7 years (and then an additional 7!) for his destined mate as something extremely romantic, and beautiful -- certainly nothing to criticize him for. And I believe that this ethos is present even in the Biblical text itself, without having to really read anything into it. But this perush might well reflect the sensibilities in Rabbenu Bachya's community, at his time. See once again Dixie Yid's post about Yitzchak first marrying Rivkah before coming to love her, as a possible optimal approach.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Controversial "I Want To Be A Rebbe" Video Taken Down Via Fraudulent DCMA Violation Notice

{Update: See this followup post, with the text of the DMCA notice, and some possible back and forth with "Chofetz Chaim."}

So it was a very funny video, but it was not really just comedy. It was well-written, biting satire. And it was carried on several blogs, including Hirhurim. And then R' Gil Student took a lot of flak for posting it, and decided that because so many people were grievously offended by it, considering it lashon hara or improper leitzanus, he would take it down. (See this post.)

When I showed it to someone the other day, he told me to save it locally, because it would surely be taken down. Well, I neglected to do so, and sure enough, someone has managed to take it down.

I do not believe it was the original author. Rather, someone sent a DMCA notice to YouTube, asserting copyright on the relevant clip, such that they would be legally obligated to take it down, unless sent a counter-notice by the author, asserting his own ownership of it. Of course, such notice would leave probably leave some sort of legal paper trail, and it is extremely safe to assume the author wants to remain anonymous. This is thus censorship by means of a fraudulent DMCA takedown notice. One could probably point out to the humans at YouTube that the "Chofetz Chaim" is no longer alive, and that if he did produce the video, more than 70 years have elapsed since his passing.

Or else the author can just repost it on YouTube from its source.

At any rate, he are two links:
1) "Ich Vil Zain A Rebbe," taken down by Chofetz Chaim.
2) "I Want To Be A Rebbe," a video posted in response to that video (I'm unsure of the contents -- perhaps the same video with English subtitles?) taken down by an actually named (though not sure if fictitious) person.

Update: Well, that was fast! It is now back up, since someone uploaded it once again to YouTube. The video is now available here, with 12 views. And now I saved my own local copy. Here is that video:

Update 2: And now that that one is not available, here is another one:

Update 3: And now the one I put up was removed due to another fake DMCA notice from "Chofetz Chaim." It looks like the one in Update 2 still plays in my browser, but will not do so on YouTube's site itself. But that just might be on my computer, due to having it in the cache, perhaps. Or perhaps not. Anyway, I sent a response to YouTube, and we will have to see how this is resolved. But anyway, here is another one:

Update: Try the second one posted, again. Now it works.

Will That Be One Placenta Or Two?

Another interesting Rabbenu Bachya on this week's parsha (Toledot) is what he says on אֵם יעקב ועשו. On Bereishit 28:5:
ה וַיִּשְׁלַח יִצְחָק אֶת-יַעֲקֹב, וַיֵּלֶךְ פַּדֶּנָה אֲרָם--אֶל-לָבָן בֶּן-בְּתוּאֵל, הָאֲרַמִּי, אֲחִי רִבְקָה, אֵם יַעֲקֹב וְעֵשָׂו. 5 And Isaac sent away Jacob; and he went to Paddan-aram unto Laban, son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, Jacob's and Esau's mother.
He gives an explanation, but then another one al derech hateva. And that is that the import of אֵם יַעֲקֹב וְעֵשָׂו was that they shared a single placenta in Rivka's womb. For al derech hateva, even twins each have their own placenta, but do not share one. But the wonder here was that they shared a single placenta. And this can help explain vayitrotzetzu habanim bekirba, how they struggled in the womb, and also why it was more than other people's pregnancies.

It appears that this is all dependent upon a medieval understanding of medicine. In fact, sometimes twins have separate placentas and sometimes they share a single placenta. This is due to the fact that the placenta itself develops from the fertilized egg. Therefore, fraternal twins never share a placenta. But identical twins sometimes share a placenta. It depends when the twins split off. If it splits very early, then each might develop its own placenta. But that occurs only 1% of the time. In 99% of cases (apparently), they share a placenta. But even within this shared placenta, there can be two separate sacs (amnions) within the placenta. This occurs 60% to 70% of the time, when the split occurs about 2 days in, and such twins are called monochorionic diamniotic twins.

When Rabbenu Bachya said that al derech hateva even in the case of twins they have different shilyas, it is possible that he was conflating fraternal and identical twins, such that in his (or medieval science's) understanding, this was indeed the case. And not always is it possible to tell the difference between fraternal and identical twins, especially when there is no DNA test. And it is possible that by shilya he meant the amnion rather than the placenta. Indeed, if they have separate sacs in the placenta, they could not very well struggle, now could they? And so we have a large percentage of twins which are actually fraternal. Of the identical, 99% would have one placenta -- assuming of course that medieval environmental conditions would not shift this somehow -- and of those, only 30%-40% would share a single amnion. So it is understandable that he would label this derech hateva, while sharing a single placenta and amnion would be a peleh.

But it is still entirely without the realm of natural possibility. However, what Rabbenu Bachya likely does not realize is that to say they shared one shilya, and one amnion, one would need to say that Yaakov and Esav were identical twins. Perhaps one can say this. The divergence later, stressed in midrash, can then be even further developed. The fact that Esav was born hairy and ruddy while Yaakov was not could be attributed to environmental factors.

Ibn Ezra has a related suggestion. He also subscribes to the medieval scientific belief that each twin must have its own shilya. But he says that it was wondrous that the placentas (or else sacs) opened up at the same time. What is driving Ibn Ezra is presumably the fact that Yaakov grabbed onto Esav's heel, which would not be possible if both shilyas were closed. Indeed, we might seize this reason as well to reinforce Rabbenu Bachya's suggestion that they shared a single shilya. And then determine that they were identical twins. But according to Ibn Ezra, they could well be fraternal twins.

There is one extra twist. There is a Rashi which makes it clear that Yaakov and Esav could not be identical twins. On Bereishit 25:26, Rashi reads:
And afterwards, his brother emerged, etc. I heard a Midrash Aggadah that interprets it (the verse) according to its simple meaning: He (Jacob) held onto him lawfully, to restrain him. Jacob was formed from the first drop and Esau from the second. Go forth and learn from a tube that has a narrow opening. Insert two stones into it, one after the other. The one that entered first will emerge last, and the one that entered last will emerge first. The result is that Esau, who was formed last, emerged first, and Jacob, who was formed first emerged last, and Jacob came to restrain him so that he (Jacob) should be the first to be born as he was the first to be formed, and he would open her womb and take the birthright by law. — [From Gen. Rabbah 63:8]
I do not believe that medically speaking, the order of conception determines birth order of twins. Or that it is so narrow that it is a single tube.

But I found this Midrash Rabba in 63:11. Rashi develops it somewhat, and in the midrash it is actually the matter of a discussion between a presumably Roman matron and Rabbi Yossi ben Chalafta. There are several such discussions between them. (See here.) So underlying this might be a discussion of who is prime, the Romans or the Jews, (conceptual) descendants of Esav or the descendants of Yaakov. If so, it is unclear whether this was truly intended literally. It is certainly possible that it was. We need to know more about the contemporary science to make such a determination.

And Rashi changes the midrash slightly in citing it, making Yaakov attempting to obtain what is rightfully his. And this then is true to a running theme in the Biblical text as well as other midrashim, in which Yaakov appears to be doing something slightly askew (stealing the blessing, coercing Esav to sell the birthright, getting the best of the deal from Lavan), but in each case the argument can be made that he is the rightful person to receive each of these things. This midrash just reads this even into the grabbing at the heel at birth, emphasizing this message even to the significant moment of birth. In which case, as noted, this midrash need not be intended as absolutely literal.

But at any rate, if Yaakov and Esav came from different drops of semen, then they would have to be fraternal twins. In which case they could not, at least al derech hateva, share a placenta or an amnion.

This is an interesting Rashi, though. It does not appear in the first printing of Rashi. And an early manuscript, rather than having "I heard a Midrash Aggadah," has "I, the scribe, heard a Midrash Aggadah." In which case Rashi never said this, but this was a comment inserted by a scribe, which eventually worked its way into the main text of Rashi. If so, we do not know that Rashi himself would be forced to argue with Rabbenu Bachya and claim that they were fraternal twins.

Why I Have My Serious Doubts Rav Kanievsky Said That People In Israel Would Be In Bomb Shelters For Chanukkah

I don't know if he said it. Geulah Perspectives first reported it, then took down the contents of the post. As he writes in an update:
I have received a lot of response to the post entitled "Rav Kanievsky's Psak" and I have taken down the post, and I am still not putting it back up for the time being. There is someone who will be asking Rav Kanievsky directly whether these statements were indeed made, and also whether he feels it is appropriate that they be made public knowledge. In any event, I will defer to his wishes.
The problem is that many things are reported in various rabbi's names when they were actually made up, misattributed, or misunderstood. A prime example of this was a rumor, reported and subsequently debunked by "yaak" of Yeranen Yaakov, {oops! link was wrong, now corrected} that Rav Chaim Kanievsky instructed his family to buy a new suit for Thursday, when he would greet mashiach. Read there for how it was misunderstood.

In a previous post, I explained how if Rav Kanievsky shlita really said this, we are not put into the Lord-Liar-Lunatic trilemma, such that we are compelled to accept this as Daas Torah, or such that if he is wrong, we would (chas veshalom) think less of him.

But I am not at all convinced that Rav Kanievsky actually said this, as I will not explain.

In the present case, while the author began his post with "this is not a rumor," if you read it carefully you will discover that in fact major critical portions of it are indeed rumor. I saved a copy on parshablog, so it is available here.

1) The bomb shelters -- was from R' Levi's 14 year old daughter, who heard at her friend's house that someone had asked, and received this reply. The someone was not specified by name. So, rumor. Geulah Perspectives can vouch for the anonymous R' Levy, but this is someone else entirely. Now, R' Levy was able to get in contact with the person who asked Rav Kanievsky and received the bomb-shelter response, a young man named Reuven. But while Geulah Perspectives can vouch for R' Levy, he cannot vouch for Reuven's accuracy. And even R' Levy seems not to know Reuven personally.

Not that I think Reuven would lie. But it is quite possible that Rav Kanievsky said something that Reuven misinterpreted. He asked about having a wedding on Chanukka. Now Moed Katan 8b prohibits a wedding on Chol HaMoed or Yom Tov. But Purim and Chanukka are permitted. So that was not the reason for the answer. (Though the reasoning of the gemara is that if it were permitted, people would delay until that point, when people have off, thus delaying fulfillment of the Biblical command.) But perhaps the chassan wanted to delay the wedding until Chanukka, thus postponing the mitzvah deOrayta. After all, when he asked it, it was almost two months away. And it is possible that wedding halls were available earlier. And so Rav Kanievsky might have said to have it earlier -- because who knows, given the current state of the world and Israeli security, we might all be in bomb shelters on Chanukka.

I have no idea that this is actually what happened in the exchange. But it is certainly possible that this, or something similar, occurred, and Reuven misinterpreted it to be an absolute prediction of what would occur on Chanukkah. Just as Rav Kanievsky was misinterpreted in terms of buying a suit to greet mashiach, when really he said buy a suit for the wedding, and who knows, perhaps mashiach will come by then and we can use it to greet mashiach.

The above was what I had prepared before the update. Now that he has updated, he has researched and clarified that R' Levi did not actually contact Reuven, the one who asked Rav Kanievsky, about this. Rather, he heard it from someone who heard it, etc., such that it was not confirmed at all. Thus, it is quite possible that this was either entirely made up, or more likely, a case of broken telephone along the lines of what I described above. For in the update, he wrote:
It became clear that in my excitement about the story, I had misunderstood what Rav Levy had said. As it turned out, Rav Levy had heard the story from his son-in-law Dovid who had in turn heard it from another rav in the neighborhood, 'Rav Stein.' When I subsequently spoke to Dovid directly, he said that Rav Stein had heard both the story about the bomb shelters (his wording was 'bunkers') and the story about buying property from two different sources. Rav Stein could not remember from whom he had heard the story about the bomb shelters, and thus could not verify it. In the original version of the story as Rav Stein had heard it, someone came to Rav Kanievsky asking if he should make his chasunah on a certain date in Kislev of this year. Rav Kanievsky responded and said that he should not make the wedding on that date as we would be in bunkers. Again, this story could not be verified.
2) In terms of the prices of apartments going down, such that one should not buy at this point, he heard this from Shimon, another unnamed person who may have misunderstood. Again, you need to actually hear this firsthand to get the full impression, but it may have been intended as that the economic times are hard, and who knows, prices of apartments might well go down, and you will lose all this money you put in. To take so much money and invest it in real estate at this point may well be financially imprudent, and it makes more sense to rent for a few more months, until the market settles.

That is, this question was not one of psak. But everyone annoys gedolim with questions like this, such that the gadol is overloaded. It is seeking a blessing from a rebbe. But they also seek direction, and he gave prudent financial advice. The thing is that I could have given similar advice. But had I said it, it would not be interpreted as a prediction, because of information from on high. Maybe Rav Kanievsky had this information from Eliyahu haNavi, but maybe not. And perhaps he was ambiguous, and Shimon interpreted it this way.

3) Did R' Levy's speaking to Rav Kanievsky clarify matters? It appears not. From the description of it, it is very difficult to actually speak at length with Rav Kanievsky. As Geulah Perspectives writes:
"I subsequently spoke to Dovid a number of times, and at first we thought that perhaps we could confirm the story by asking Reb Chaim directly whether he had indeed said these things. Dovid went first on Tuesday night and then on Wednesday night to Reb Chaim, but the first time he was too late to speak to him. The second time he was one of the last people in and was unable to get to this question, as he had another important and pressing question to ask."
When R' Levy asked the question, it was a lengthy question about the chasuna, and whether it should be in Eretz Yisrael or in America. And Rav Kanievsky read it and apparently gave a rather short answer -- יותר טוב שיהיה פה, and when pressed verbally, said again יותר טוב שיהיה פה. This is certainly not enough to endorse the idea that the apocalypse is coming on Chanukkah and that everyone will be in bunkers.

However, about the letter that was presented:
"We have heard that the Rav [meaning Reb Chaim Kanievsky] has said that some serious things are going to be happening in the near future," and Reb Chaim read the entire letter very carefully and did not make any comment to the contrary of this statement.
But Rav Kanievsky neither confirmed nor denied this one sentence, among many others. And one might say shetika kehodaah, but this might not be true when an individual is overloaded and is prioritizing. And as expressed, Rav Kanievsky might even have agreed to it. He said that he thought the words situation was pressing, and that some serious things might be happening. But not that this was a prediction altz ruach hakodesh. Or else, by saying יותר טוב שיהיה פה, he was saying that he did not think there would be such serious problems in Israel.

Or, it did not have anything to do with that point at all. After all, there were other real concerns. Should one prioritize friends or family here? Should one subject them to this extraordinary expense? He could have been answering on the significant merits of one possible course of actions over the other, and not have been addressing that one line within the letter at all.

Also the letter did not specify exactly what Rav Kanievsky was alleged to have said. It should have specifically mentioned bomb shelters on Chanukkah, or the falling prices of real estate. Then Rav Kanievsky could have confirmed or denied it. As it is, it remains shrouded whether Rav Kanievsky understood this part of the question (for it was not phrased properly) and whether the questioner understood Rav Kanievsky's response.

4) It does indeed come down to what Rav Kanievesky said:
כל מה שאומרים בשמי הוא שקר
The problem is, how do I know this statement is true? After all, it was said in Rav Kanievsky's name!

But it is a problem when a gadol is overloaded with people asking questions, from the minor to the major. And when they are therefore not really approachable, in order to answer these types of questions. One cannot simply call up Rav Kanievsky and say "Hey rabbi! did you say, or did you not say that we would be in bunkers on Chanukkah?" Because so many people are trying to get access, you need to wait in line, and possibly write it down, and get a very short and possibly ambiguous response. This is not a good situation, and it is unclear what can be done to rectify it.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Interesting Posts and Articles #96

  1. MUTO a wall-painted animation by BLU from blu on Vimeo.

  2. There are all sorts of explanations of kulo kaaderet seiar about Esav in this week's parsha, Toldos, but what about hypertrichosis? See this article about how scientists think they may have a way to treat a "wolf boy."

  3. Copernicus's skeleton identified.

  4. Life In Israel has a psak from Rav Yaakov Yosef, not to participate in the Israeli census.
    "If God forbid somebody counts people, it can effect ayin ha'ra taking control over them. There are those who are lenient nowadays saying it is a computer counting the people, and not a person. We do not protest against those who are lenient. Better that one should not be counted."
    It is good that he explicitly says "we do not protest against those who are lenient." Where there is legitimate machlokes, it is good to publicly acknowledge that others can rule differently, and that others can follow those positions. If that is what he means. In which cases would he protest against those who are lenient?

    I wonder also at the potential impact of this. What are these numbers used for? To determine funding for yeshivas? How about determining Jewish demographics, to see if there will in the future be a Jewish majority, such that this can affect national security and public policy decisions? The Biblical census seems to have been used (within acceptable halachic parameters) to determine the size of the army.

  5. Geulah Perspectives has a much anticipated update on Rav Kanievsky's "psak" about bomb shelters on Chanukka. (And he may research it more.) It turns out it was more along the lines of rumor -- it was heard not from the source he thought it came from. And that one should not really trust anything said in Rav Kanievsky's name, unless he hears it from him himself. There is what to say about this phenomenon, specifically and broadly, and perhaps I will develop it in a subsequent post.

Toledot: Two Whole Goats?

There are quite a number of interesting items in Rabbenu Bachya this week, on Toledot. I'll probably split them among several posts.

He asks a great peshat-based question, which Rashi also asks. The pasuk in 27:9 reads:
ט לֶךְ-נָא, אֶל-הַצֹּאן, וְקַח-לִי מִשָּׁם שְׁנֵי גְּדָיֵי עִזִּים, טֹבִים; וְאֶעֱשֶׂה אֹתָם מַטְעַמִּים לְאָבִיךָ, כַּאֲשֶׁר אָהֵב. 9 Go now to the flock, and fetch me from thence two good kids of the goats; and I will make them savoury food for thy father, such as he loveth;
י וְהֵבֵאתָ לְאָבִיךָ, וְאָכָל, בַּעֲבֻר אֲשֶׁר יְבָרֶכְךָ, לִפְנֵי מוֹתוֹ. 10 and thou shalt bring it to thy father, that he may eat, so that he may bless thee before his death.'

How can a single person eat two whole goats? Even if they are small. Usually, for the korban pesach, it was one or more families which split a sheep. Rabbenu Bachya interprets it instead as relating to the two goats on Yom Kippur. See inside.

But Rashi cites Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer that it was Pesach, and one was for the korban Pesach and one was for the Chagiga, since it was Pesach. (And Targum Yonatan says the same.) And Siftei Chachamim has a cute explanation, that tzaddikim pass away on the same day they were born, and earlier Rashi put Yitzchak's birth at Pesach. And so this was why Yitzchak was now thinking that maybe he would die (now having reached the age his father did), and so perhaps it would be this year.

Perhaps on a peshat level, we could say that there would choice parts of the small goats she served. Think of the midrash that when Avraham served the three malachim, he shechted three cows, so as to serve to each one of them a cow tongue, a delivacy. Or else the recipe called for two kids, and she had a whole lot left over, a point not discussed in the Biblical text. Or perhaps she needed both goats because she needed a specific amount of goat hair to disguise Yaakov as Esav. (See Rashbam as to the selection specifically of goats.)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Chayei Sarah: Did Sarah Die From The Shock or From The Kiss?

I don't see it accessible online, but I saw a dvar Torah this past Shabbos from Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss which I did not like, in this week's Jewish Press. (Here is a related one from a year ago where he makes some of the same points, of two mechanisms of Sarah's death.) But I can tell it over, and explain my reasons for thinking the dvar Torah is not correct. These reasons can serve to instruct, and lend insight into how to read a Rashi, and how to contrast midrashim. Or else explain how people can differ in their approach to sources. כשם שמקבלים שכר על הדרישה כך מקבלים שכר על הפרישה.

A quick summary of the dvar, reproduced from memory. The pasuk says Avraham came to eulogize Sarah. Rashi asks where he came from and answers it was from Har HaMoriah, from the Akeida. Because she heard the news of Yitzchak's near death experience and the shock and fear caused her death. The Rashi in full:

ויבא אברהם -
מבאר שבע:
לספוד לשרה ולבכתה -
ונסמכה מיתת שרה לעקידת יצחק, לפי שעל ידי בשורת העקידה שנזדמן בנה לשחיטה וכמעט שלא נשחט, פרחה נשמתה ממנה ומתה:
and in English here.

The "problem" with this is that we know she was buried in Mearat Hamachpela, and from elsewhere (he does not give a source) we know that only those who died via neshika (through a Divine "kiss") can be buried there. So how can Rashi say this?

He adds to this the explanation of the Paneach Raza that this was recompense for Sarah lying when she said she did not laugh. Thus, the Satan was able to fool her about this.

He then reads וכמעט שלא נשחט that she did not hear the full tale, with his being saved. (And indeed, there is support for this from Tanchuma.)

He then suggests that she was scared based on this, and this atoned for her previous sin. And therefore she was without the effect of this sin. And at that point, Hashem did neshika and took her soul. And that is why Avraham was able to bury her in mearat hamachpela.

Furthermore, he points out that this is indeed what Rashi is saying, because if he was saying that the shock caused her death, Rashi would have put his comment on the first pasuk, since after all, that is where the semichut is, and where her death is related. Instead, it puts it later on, on the pasuk of Avraham coming.

So much for my summary of the dvar Torah, from my recollection.

Now, on to why I did not like it.

Firstly, the fact that one can find a contradiction in midrashic sources does not mean that there is really a "problem." What is his source for requiring neshika in order to be buried in Maarat haMachpela? Whatever it is, who says that Rashi, or Rashi's source, Midrash Rabba on Chayyei Sarah, in Bereishit Rabba 58:5, agrees that such is a requirement? And the question can be turned around. Whatever that source for such a requirement, perhaps they do not agree with the midrash as to the method of Sarah's death from shock. There are contradictory midrashim all over the place -- enough to fill volumes. There is an idea of a machlokes, which occurs in mirash just as it does in halacha. It is therefore not a "problem" in need of solving. And especially in the process of solving it and harmonizing these midrashim, one does damage to the original intent of the midrash.

Secondly, I am not certain I agree with the rereading of Rashi. Syntactically and semantically, it makes much more sense to me that וכמעט שלא נשחט was part of the בשורת העקידה. Read it a few times and see what I mean. Though he is not the only one to read the Rashi that way. See for example here. If we look to Tanchuma, we may get plenty of support for this reading:

באותה שעה הלך השטן אצל שרה, ונזדמן לה כדמות יצחק, כיון שראה אותו, אמרה לו:
בני, מה עשה לך אביך?
אמר לה: נטלני אבי והעלני הרים והורידני בקעות והעלני לראש הר אחד ובנה מזבח וסדר המערכה והעריך את העצים ועקד אותי על גבי המזבח ולקח את הסכין לשחטני ואילולי שאמר לו הקדוש ברוך הוא אל תשלח ידך אל הנער, כבר הייתי נשחט.
לא הספיק לגמור את הדבר, עד שיצאה נשמתה, הדא הוא דכתיב: ויבא אברהם לספוד לשרה ולבכותה.

And it makes sense that this is where Rashi gets his details from, since the details are missing in Bereishit Rabba. Though Rashi does not mention the Satan explicitly here.

The question is what does וכמעט שלא נשחט in Rashi's words match, if we are to match it to Midrash Tanchuma? It could either match ואילולי שאמר לו הקדוש ברוך הוא אל תשלח ידך אל הנער, כבר הייתי נשחט; or it could match לא הספיק לגמור את הדבר. I would understand it as matching the former, since there is stress that he was almost nishchat, and the echoing of kevar hayiti nishchat. And I would understand לא הספיק לגמור את הדבר perhaps as that he had barely managed to finish the matter.

He is not coming up with this out of thin air, of course. This has precedent in Sifsei Chachamim, citing Maharai. Squint at the picture, or else click on it to make it bigger. Start reading from os ches.

Sifsei Chachamim's problem is the language וכמעט שלא נשחט when it should have been וכמעט שנשחט, without the word שלא. Therefore, it is referring {in what I would consider grammatically awkward form} to the fact that the shaliach had not been able to say that he was not slaughtered. But I think that this is a fine echoing of the intent of Midrash Tanchuma, and the stress there of the peril and near miss.

If we are following this midrash Tanchuma as the source, I would point out, it would be extremely surprising to have Sarah believe falsely that Yitzchak had been killed, because after all, according to this midrash, the Satan appeared to Sarah in the form of Yitzchak. Though instead of being the Satan disguised as Yitzchak, Maharai and Siftei Chachamim transform him into a shliach. Would Rashi similarly strip out the idea that it was the form of Yitzchak, while taking the rest of it? And if he is not getting the idea from Tanchuma, where is he getting it?

Thirdly, I do not think that Rashi could have been clearer that it was the news which caused Sarah's death. The Hebrew above, but the English, from Judaica Press, here:
to eulogize Sarah and to bewail her The account of Sarah’s demise was juxtaposed to the binding of Isaac because as a result of the news of the “binding,” that her son was prepared for slaughter and was almost slaughtered, her soul flew out of her, and she died. — from Gen. Rabbah 58:5]
You can kvetch it that she heard this, and at that point her soul flew out, for a different reason, but it is an extreme kvetch. And you are doing the midrash, and Rashi, no favor in kvetching it this way in order to harmonize it with another, contradictory source.

Indeed, Rashi was getting this from Midrash Rabba, as is clear e.g. from his explanation of where Avraham was coming from. To cite that Midrash:

ה ויבא אברהם לספוד לשרה מהיכן בא רבי לוי אמר מקבורתו של תרח לשרה בא א"ל ר' יוסי והלא קבורתו של תרח קדמה לקבורתו של שרה שתי שנים אלא מהיכן בא מהר המוריה ומתה שרה מאותו צער לפיכך נסמכה עקידה לויהיו חיי שרה:

Rashi has a perush on Bereishit Rabba, and he comments on this midrash, and echoes the words ומתה שרה מאותו צער. Thus, she died from that tzaar, not from neshika which happened subsequently. And even if you somehow free Rashi in order to harmonize him with the idea of neshika, and do so by creatively interpreting Midrash Tanchuma, I don't believe one can do this with Midrash Rabba. In which case, you gain nothing from the harmonization, and have a situation of conflicting midrashim anyway.

Finally, this idea of why Rashi puts the midrash on this pasuk, as opposed to the beginning of the parsha, one pasuk earlier. We see from Rashi's source, Bereishis Rabba, that the midrash was originally written on this pasuk. Sometimes, when Rashi changes from his source material, or moves a midrash from one place to another, we have what to comment and what to derive about Rashi's goal in doing so. Where he preserves the location of the midrash, it is much harder to make such an argument. But it is possible that Rav Weiss did not see it in midrash rabba, to see that it was in the same place as Rashi put it.

But why would Midrash Rabba put it here, rather than in the very beginning? This is where we realize that the two Rashis, of where Avraham was coming from, and what caused Sarah's deaths, are related, and they come from the same Midrash Rabba explaining this. Because in Midrash Rabba, as we just saw, there is a machlokes. Rabbi Levi says that he came from the burying of Terach, while Rabbi Yossi says that he came from the Akeida, from har haMoriah.

When Rashi says that Avraham came from Beer Sheva, this is really his way of saying that he came from the Akeida. Because in Bereishis 22, at the end of the akeida, we have:
יט וַיָּשָׁב אַבְרָהָם אֶל-נְעָרָיו, וַיָּקֻמוּ וַיֵּלְכוּ יַחְדָּו אֶל-בְּאֵר שָׁבַע; וַיֵּשֶׁב אַבְרָהָם, בִּבְאֵר שָׁבַע. {פ} 19 So Abraham returned unto his young men, and they rose up and went together to Beer-sheba; and Abraham dwelt at Beer-sheba.
upon which Rashi comments:
and Abraham remained in Beer-sheba This does not mean permanently dwelling, for he was living in Hebron. Twelve years prior to the binding of Isaac, he left Beer-sheba and went to Hebron, as it is said (above 21:34): “And Abraham dwelt in the land of the Philistines for many days,” [meaning] more numerous than the first [years] in Hebron, which were twenty-six years, as we explained above. — [from Seder Olam ch. 1]
So Avraham stayed for a little time in Beer Sheva, after which he went to Chevron. And Sarah had died in Chevron.

Since this is all rooted in this midrash, with the question of where Avraham came from, the answer is fairly why Rashi, and Midrash Rabba, put it here rather than on the previous pasuk. Even though an element of the proof to answer the question was the semichut of the parshiyot.

Interesting Posts and Articles #95

  1. Daas Torah on how a third-year seminary is canceled, because they are following Daas Torah. And another post about molad, the moon's race against the earth.

  2. Hirhurim goes into competition with Bray of Fundie with a post about Havdalah Consciousness -- whether you can make havdalah on coffee. :)

  3. Vos Is Neias posts an article by Rabbi Avi Billet about Rivkah's age, prompting some readers to call him an apikores. Oy. You can see my take in this parshablog post. And Divrei Chaim's take on it here.

  4. Dixie Yid talks about a book written by a secular advocate for shidduch dating, or arranged marriages. First comes marriage, rather than first comes love. And connects it with the week's parsha, since Yitzchak first married Rivkah and only afterwards does it say he loved her. I point out in a comment section that Yaakov is a counterexample, where he did the dating himself, and loved Rachel before he married her.

  5. It was only a matter of time before silly people took Rav Elyashiv recent comments in a shiur and turned it into a kol koreh. Life In Israel has an image of said Kol Korei. My reaction to Rav Eliashiv's remarks can be seen at this parshablog post from a week or two ago.

  6. Lineman on eruv online responds to Rav Belsky's Shulchan haLevi, about Eruvim.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Chayei Sarah: Rashi and Women's Empowerment?

A post over at Abacaxi Mamãochayei brought a certain Rashi to my attention, and so I would like to address this Rashi.

Rivkah's family says that they will put the question whether she will go to Rivkah. Bereshit 24:
נה וַיֹּאמֶר אָחִיהָ וְאִמָּהּ, תֵּשֵׁב הַנַּעֲרָ אִתָּנוּ יָמִים אוֹ עָשׂוֹר; אַחַר, תֵּלֵךְ. 55 And her brother and her mother said: 'Let the damsel abide with us a few days, at the least ten; after that she shall go.'
נו וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם אַל-תְּאַחֲרוּ אֹתִי, וַיה הִצְלִיחַ דַּרְכִּי; שַׁלְּחוּנִי, וְאֵלְכָה לַאדֹנִי. 56 And he said unto them: 'Delay me not, seeing the LORD hath prospered my way; send me away that I may go to my master.'
נז וַיֹּאמְרוּ, נִקְרָא לַנַּעֲרָ, וְנִשְׁאֲלָה, אֶת-פִּיהָ. 57 And they said: 'We will call the damsel, and inquire at her mouth.'

On pasuk 57, Rashi writes:
נז) ונשאלה את פיה -
מכאן שאין משיאין את האשה אלא מדעתה:
or in English:
And ask her From here we learn that we may not marry off a woman except with her consent. — [Gen. Rabbah 60: 12]
The thing is, when we actual look it up in Midrash Rabba, we see that Rashi seems to be a bit off in his citation. Bereshit Rabba actually says:
ויאמרו נקרא לנערה, מכאן שאין משיאין את היתומה אלא על פיה
The change is from yetoma to isha.

In context in Midrash Rabba, the idea is that a brother and sister cannot marry off the orphaness except after consulting her. And then this follows quite nicely from as an endorsement and continuation of the thought a bit earlier that Betuel was slain by an angel, because he wanted to stop the marriage - something Rashi indeed cites. And the interpretation of the yamim as the days of mourning for Betuel -- something Rashi does not cite.

Why the change? I looked it up in Mosad haRav Kook's Rashi al HaTorah, to see if they had anything, and they cited in a footnote a dvar Torah from the Nachlas Yaakov. Namely, that Rashi was expanding the statement on the basis of a gemara we just encounted in daf Yomi this week, on Kiddushin 41a. That gemara, cited lehalacha by the Rif, reads:
האיש מקדש את בתו כשהיא נערה:
נערה אין קטנה לא
מסייע ליה לרב דאמר רב יהודה א"ר אסור לאדם שיקדש את בתו כשהיא קטנה עד שתגדיל ותאמר בפלוני אני רוצה:
"A man may marry off his daughter when she is a naarah":
{The implication is:} A naarah, yes, but a minor, no. This supports Rav. For Rav Yehuda cited Rav: It is forbidden for a man to marry off his daughter when she is a minor, until she grows and says "I want to be with Ploni."
And thus it is not just the mother and brother marrying her off, but even the father. Even in that case, they must consult her for her consent.

I have strong doubts as to this interpretation of Rashi's modification of the wording, for a few reasons. Among them is that in context, the עד שתגדיל means when she becomes a naarah, but as a ketana it is forbidden. And that is why the Mishna chose specifically naarah, which supports that statement of Rav. The implication is not a mature ketana, but specifically a naarah. And so how could Rashi be endorsing this as a perush in this story when the characters in the story are violating it? (I suppose one could say he is selectively borrowing ideas from masechet Kiddushin, but I am not enthusiastic about this reading.) That is not to say that Rashi paskens against this gemara, but I am addressing the application of this gemara to the narrative, within Rashi's commentary.

Furthermore, Rashi copies over the wording mikan. Do they really derive the halacha in the gemara from this story? Besides the difficulty in doing so because of the mismatch, there is nothing to hint at the idea that this narrative forms the basis of Rav's prohibition.

I would rather say that Rashi had a different girsa in midrash rabba, or else was not so careful in his quotation of it, because the word yetoma was not so important for his purposes. Or maybe he removed it with purpose. This might actually help us in understanding Rashi.

Let us now turn to the question of what is motivating (rather than bothering) Rashi. There are oh so many midrashim, yet Rashi selected the midrashim he did in order to express some view of the Biblical narrative. Why is Rashi selecting this particular midrash of מכאן שאין משיאין את האשה אלא מדעתה? What does this add for him? I don't believe he was trying to teach us this halacha, and that was the sole reason for citing it. It must add something, perhaps thematically.

I see a few possibilities.

1) As mentioned earlier, Rashi channels the midrash rabba in the same section to explain the sudden disappearance of Betuel from the scene. By citing this when the mother and brother ask her, he is bolstering this idea of Betuel's death and the rise of the mother and brother, by demonstrating that they were following the appropriate guidelines for a mother and brother marrying off an orphaness.

Of course, by removing the word yetoma, if it was deliberate change, Rashi demonstrates that this is not his focus in citing this midrash. And even if it was a careless mis-citation, he demonstrates that this was not an important aspect to pay heed to, such that isha is a perfectly acceptable switch for yetoma.

2) He indeed is trying to teach people in general that they should not marry off their minor daughters without consent. We see from Tosafot on the daf that this was actually medieval practice, so maybe he was giving mussar as best he could, in context. Thus, say Nachlas Yaakov was right. I still have difficulties for the previously listed reasons.

Or we could say that he wouldn't be condemning it, because it was after all a common and accepted Jewish practice, and we see Tosafot defending it. Assuming that Tosafot's description is applicable to Rashi's time and place as well.

3) I would assume more along the lines of the following option: Rashi is not interesting in discussing her yetoma status, and perhaps that is why he leaves it out of his citation. Rather, his interest is in how Midrash Rabba is casting what they are asking Rivkah. One would think they are just asking her if she wants to leave right away, but according to this, they are asking her the primary question of whether she wants to get married or not.

We indeed know that this is a question which concerns the pashtanim, as we see that Rashbam and Shadal argue with Rashi on this count. As Shadal writes:

התלכי עם האיש הזה : לא ייתכן שישאלו אותה, אם רצונה להינשא ליצחק, אחר שכבר אמרו : מה' יצא הדבר ; גם נראה שלא היה מנהג הקדמונים לשאול את פי בניהם ובנותיהם בענין זה, אלא האבות היו משיאין את זרעם מדעת עצמם, וכמו שאנו רואים ביצחק שלקח לו עבדו אשה שלא מדעתו ; אלא הטעם (כדברי רשב"ם ) התלכי עתה מיד עם האיש הזה או תחפצי להתעכב וללכת אחר זמן עם אחרים.

dismissing the possibility that they asked her about agreeing to the marriage, for several reasons he gives above. Rather, he is simply asking when she wants to leave.

This, then, I am fairly confident, was Rashi's motivation in citing this particular midrash, as well as why he might have chosen to emend out the word yetoma.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

From Whence The Ten Years Before Yitzchak and Rivkah Began To Try To Have Children?

Based on a discussion on this recent parshablog post about Rivkah's age of 3: Is this just our innate moral sensibilities that guide us to this assumption that they waited ten years, or is there something in the text that directs this?

To recap: Rashi says he took Rivkah 3 years after Akeidat Yitzchak, the first time such a marriage was possible. And Rashi also says that there was a 20 year gap, 10 years until she could possibly have children and another 10 years of trying.

Firstly, while we might conveniently cite it as a basis that they waited 10 years for nisuin and thus consummation, this is not really within the text of Rashi itself. In parshat Toledot, on the pasuk stating Yitzchak was 40 when he took Rivkah, Rashi writes:
(כ) בן ארבעים שנה -
שהרי כשבא אברהם מהר המוריה נתבשר שנולדה רבקה, ויצחק היה בן שלשים ושבע שנה, שהרי בו בפרק מתה שרה, ומשנולד יצחק עד העקידה שמתה שרה שלושים ושבע שנה, ובת תשעים הייתה כשנולד יצחק, ובת מאה עשרים ושבע כשמתה, שנאמר (כג א) ויהיו חיי שרה וגו', הרי ליצחק שלושים ושבע שנים ובו בפרק נולדה רבקה, המתין לה עד שתהא ראויה לביאה שלוש שנים ונשאה:
This is where he makes the calculation as to their respective ages, and he says that she was three years old ונשאה. (This based on Bereishit Rabba 57:1.) It could be he is being inexact and means kiddushin rather than nisuin, but it is also quite possible that Rashi envisioned consummation having occurred some time before 10 years had elapsed.

A bit later in the same perek, when the pasuk says that Yitzchak was 60 when Rivkah had Yaakov and Esav, Rashi writes:
בן שישים שנה -
עשר שנים משנשאה עד שנעשית בת שלוש עשרה שנה וראויה להריון ועשר שנים הללו צפה והמתין לה כמו שעשה אביו לשרה, כיון שלא נתעברה ידע שהיא עקרה והתפלל עליה. ושפחה לא רצה לישא, לפי שנתקדש בהר המוריה להיות עולה תמימה:
again referring to it as nisuin.

So moral sensibilities might not even come into play.

But aside from that, how do we get this 10 year gap until they begin to try to have kids. One thing I would suggest is that we see that Chazal maintained that medically, above a certain age, a girl is incapable of becoming pregnant, and early within that time, she could become pregnant but would die as a result. (The gemara in Yevamot either requires or permits birth control under these conditions, depending on if you ask Rashi or Tosafot on this point.) So that certainly feeds into it.

But the aforementioned Rashi gives the reasoning, based on pesukim. In Bereishit 25, we read:
כ וַיְהִי יִצְחָק, בֶּן-אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה, בְּקַחְתּוֹ אֶת-רִבְקָה בַּת-בְּתוּאֵל הָאֲרַמִּי, מִפַּדַּן אֲרָם--אֲחוֹת לָבָן הָאֲרַמִּי, לוֹ לְאִשָּׁה. 20 And Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean, of Paddan-aram, the sister of Laban the Aramean, to be his wife.
כא וַיֶּעְתַּר יִצְחָק לַיה לְנֹכַח אִשְׁתּוֹ, כִּי עֲקָרָה הִוא; וַיֵּעָתֶר לוֹ ה, וַתַּהַר רִבְקָה אִשְׁתּוֹ. 21 And Isaac entreated the LORD for his wife, because she was barren; and the LORD let Himself be entreated of him, and Rebekah his wife conceived.
and she could not be established as an akara until 10 years of trying. The same is encoded in halacha (not in practice today), of taking a different wife, in order to fulfill peru urevu, if ten years passed. And we see Avraham similarly waiting for Sarah. And we see a bit later in the same perek that 20 years had passed:
כו וְאַחֲרֵי-כֵן יָצָא אָחִיו, וְיָדוֹ אֹחֶזֶת בַּעֲקֵב עֵשָׂו, וַיִּקְרָא שְׁמוֹ, יַעֲקֹב; וְיִצְחָק בֶּן-שִׁשִּׁים שָׁנָה, בְּלֶדֶת אֹתָם. 26 And after that came forth his brother, and his hand had hold on Esau's heel; and his name was called Jacob. And Isaac was threescore years old when she bore them.
because he was now 60, and they started this at 40. So why 20 years and not 10? This now works well with the assumption that they married when she was 3. The first ten years was waiting until she reached maturity.

This Rashi is partly based on Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer, perek 32, pictured to the right. (So says Judaica Press.) Although if you compare It states that:
Rabbi Yossi says that for three years Yitzchak was in mourning for Sarah his mother. After three years, he took Rivkah, and forgot the mourning of his mother. From here you learn that before a man takes a wife, his love goes after his parents. Once he takes a wife, his love goes after his wife. And he cites Bereshit, al ken yaazov ish et aviv veEt imo vedavak beIshto. Now does a man who takes a wife abandon the commandment of kavod {kibbud av vaEm}? Rather, the love of his soul attaches after his wife, for it states vedavak beIshto. Rabbi Yehuda says that for 20 years Rivkah was an akarah {barren}. After 20 years he took Rivkah and went with her to Mount Moriah, to the place where he was bound, and prayed for pregnancy, and was answered.
And cites that pasuk.

I wonder whether Rabbi Yossi and Rabbi Yehuda are meant to be combined. It is possible. But on the other hand, Rabbi Yehuda is saying that she was barren for 20 years, something which does not seem to apply to a girl under the age of 12. Indeed, even within Rabbi Yossi, the three years waiting is not until she is capable of being married, at least not explicitly, but rather is just spent in mourning for Sarah his mother. Though 3 years waiting certainly does seem to connect with the other idea Rivkah's age. So maybe that is the intent of the midrash here, or maybe not.

Rivkah's Age, Yet Again, And Apikorsus

This is not the first time this has made it to the Jewish Blogosphere. Rashi says Rivkah's age was 3. But there are other rabbinic positions which place her age as older - Tosafot quotes a Sifrei that she was 14.

Rabbi Avi Billet penned an article for the Jewish Star on this topic, basically talking about plausibility and how he would not accept Rashi as peshat here, but would follow other positions. And the idea behind this, I would assume, was to get people to think in general about the Biblical text, and not just stick with Rashi's peshat every time, and not grapple with it and think about it. The result is a more optimal type of learning Chumash. We learn Chumash as kids in yeshiva, but we don't approach the text as Rashi would, as Ibn Ezra would, as Abarbanel would, thinking about the text ourselves, the intertexuality, the grammar, etc. But we could, if we adopt a more sophisticated approach to the text and to the mefarshim.

There is a principle of Da Lifnei Mi Ata Omed. As used by Chazal, this means realize before Whom you are standing, which is Lifnei Melech Malchei HaMelachim, HaKadosh Baruch Hu. But we might reuse that phase to mean know your audience, and present it in a way they can accept.

And this is just what Rabbi Billet did when writing for the Jewish Star. But then it was carried over to Vos Iz Neias, which has a more chareidi audience. And this audience was perhaps not ready for this message, at least in the style it was presented. And so the comments stand right now at 168, many of them calling the author of the article an apikores for thinking he can argue with Rashi on the basis of plausibility. And a commenter, zb, left a lengthy comment addressing their points in a recent parshablog post. This also drew the attention of Streimel and of WolfishMusings.

Personally, I think that certain aspects of the story make more sense with an older Rivkah. But even so, I have written posts about the plausibility or lack thereof of Rashi's position.

For example, the Torah calls Rivkah a naarah, which in Rabbinic thought refers specifically to people of a specific age, an age much larger than 3. Here is a post demonstrating that while thus is true on the level of derash and even midrash halacha, on the level of peshat, this need not be so, as we see from the Naarah Ketana serving Naaman.

Second, Rabbenu Bachya notes the implausibility of Rivkah doing all that she did -- for she needs miraculous strength, and concludes it must have been with Divine assistance, and then notes that this is all the more so according to the position of the midrash that she was three. The implication is that one might say not like the midrash. But it is also that even as a three year old, we are already assuming miraculous Divine assistance.

In this post, I address whether Rashi's explanation is plausible, and whether it is obscene. I note that what is described is taking Rachel back for eventual nisuin, but that according to Rashi, that nisuin does not occur until 10 years later. And marrying at 13 is not unknown in ancient cultures, and was culturally acceptable. Indeed, as the author of the KallahMagazine blog pointed out, we see that Juliet was that age, and her mother says that she is an old maid -- at that age, Juliet's mother was already pregnant. And as the author of the Divrei Chaim blog points out, Tosafot writes how kiddushei katana was common in the middle ages. So it is not such a farfetched peshat as it might appear to us, living in the 21st century CE. When learning Biblical text, or when learning commentaries on the Biblical text, sometimes it pays to get past our own preconceptions, especially before judging various mefarshim's comments as ridiculous.

In that same post I also include a bunch of photos are really young children, about the age of three, getting water in buckets from water sources such as wells. And I know from my own son that he was capable of carrying gallon-sized Poland Spring waters (and large and heavy Shulchan Aruchs) across the room -- he did so on much more than one occassion.

In this post, I address what I would consider a more important issue. As I write there,
Those who take every midrash absolutely literally are missing the point. Those who try to harmonize competing midrashim are missing the point. Those who are upset at the midrash and rail against it because they think it improbable or against a literal reading are also missing the point.
If it is a midrash, what exactly is the point of the midrash? And based on the mechanism of deriving it, I suggest that an important message of the midrash is that this is a predestined marriage. Because making her three comes from the apparent fact (apparent because there are other ways of reading it, on a peshat level) that Avraham is informed of her birth right after Akeidat Yitzchak, now that Yitzchak has survived the ordeal. And then the betrothal occurs at the first available point, when betrothal could effectively work. And this bolsters the theme in the Biblical text of the Divine hand guiding Eliezer towards finding Yitzchak's soul-mate.

Finally, in this post, I continue analyzing the theme in terms of another midrash, about Rachel's age at the time of marriage.

Again, this is not to say that she was three. But one could argue that position while remaining a pashtan and plausible, or else one can dismiss it on the level of peshat while still appreciating the deeper thematic message the midrash is seeing and teaching in the Biblical text.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Is One An Apikores For Thinking That Kohelet 2:8 Does Not Refer To Demons?

As a quick followup to an earlier post on parshablog, how can one deny the reality of sheidim and still not be an apikores? After all, the gemara understands from Kohelet 2:8 that there were demons in play, which Shlomo haMelech apparently used to construct the Beis HaMikdash?

One possible answer is that that midrash was intended allegorically, or intended to teach moral lessons rather than literal history. Indeed, I have learned through that particular midrash, and I think this is more than plausible. Another possible answer is that whether Kohelet 2:8 refers to sheidim as demons is actually a matter of dispute among Chazal, between the sages in Bavel and the sages in Eretz Yisrael.

The pasuk in question reads:
ח כָּנַסְתִּי לִי גַּם-כֶּסֶף וְזָהָב, וּסְגֻלַּת מְלָכִים וְהַמְּדִינוֹת; עָשִׂיתִי לִי שָׁרִים וְשָׁרוֹת, וְתַעֲנֻגוֹת בְּנֵי הָאָדָם--שִׁדָּה וְשִׁדּוֹת. 8 I gathered me also silver and gold, and treasure such as kings and the provinces have as their own; I got me men-singers and women-singers, and the delights of the sons of men, women very many.
To cite Gittin 68a:

קוהלת ב) עשיתי לי שרים ושרות ותענוגות בני האדם שדה ושדות שרים ושרות אלו מיני זמר ותענוגות בני האדם אלו בריכות ומרחצאות
שדה ושדות הכא תרגימו שידה ושידתין
במערבא אמרי שידתא
אמר רבי יוחנן שלש מאות מיני שדים היו בשיחין ושידה עצמה איני יודע מה היא
Thus, there is a difference between the way they translated it in Bavel (hacha) and in Eretz Yisrael (be-Maarava). Looking at Rashi on the daf, in Bavel, it refers to male and female demons. While again according to Rashi on the daf, in Eretz Yisrael, they explained it as wagons, to convey women and sarim {?or perhaps sharim, given the context?}.

Now perhaps one can say one is on the level of pshat and the other on the level of drash, but the way it is being cast is as a machloket between targumim. (Rabbi Yochanan, of Eretz Yisrael, talks about demons, but does not know who Shidah is, strongly implying he understands this pasuk akin to his colleagues in Bavel.)

So how does Rashi decide to present it in his perush on Kohelet? He writes:
wagons and coaches Heb. שִּׁדָה וְשִּׁדוֹת beautiful coaches, covered wagons, and in the Gemara, [we find] a coach (שִּׁדָה) , a chest, and a closet.
Is he an apikores for reading the pasuk as referring to coaches rather than to demons? I would hope not!

How about Rabbi Yeshaya di Trani? How does he explain the pasuk? He writes that according to pshat, they are musical instruments. Thus:
ח. שרים ושרות: מיני זמר, שידה ושידות: גם אלו הן מיני כלי-זמר, לפי הפשט;
Since he labels it pshat, he is allowing room for the midrash to still stand in place.

And Rashbam? He says like Rashi, that it means a coach.

Seforno writes וכמו כן עשיתי מהם שדה לסגלת מלכים: ושדות. לזהב ולכסף. He is clearly not taking it as referring to demons. See inside.

The Targum refers to מרזבין דשדין מיא פשורי מרזבין דשדין מיא חמימי, thus pipes and not demons.

Alshich indeed explains it as referring to demons, but he is a darshan rather than a pashtan, and he, among some notable others, hold that one is not allowed to divert from derashot of Chazal on aggadah as well -- something up for dispute (see e.g. Shmuel haNagid for a contrary position).

So we need not say that the pasuk in Kohelet must be translated as meaning demons, thus reinforcing a particular aggada which we then insist on taking absolutely literally.


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