Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Who Causest 'Jesus' to Flourish?? Unlikely

{Update: While my guesswork below was a good first attempt, the article in question is much more comprehensive. I still don't buy it, even after reading it, but read the update at the end for my brief take on it.}

Avakesh linked to an interesting article about Prof. Yehuda Liebes, which mentions his controversial theory about the bracha of matzmiach keren yeshua. The article does not give all the details, but I think I see enough to be able to reconstruct his argument, and enough to then explain why I think it is very unlikely. Creative, but unlikely. From the article in Haaretz:
The article scrutinizes the closing words of one of the blessings in the Shemoneh Esreh (18 Benedictions) prayer ("Et tzemah David avdekha mehera tazmiah, vekarno tarum biyeshuatekha, ki liyshuatekha kivinu kol hayom. Baruch atah Hashem, matzmiah keren Yeshu'a" - "Speedily cause the offspring of thy servant David to flourish, and let his glory be exalted by thy help, for we hope for thy deliverance all day. Blessed art thou, O Lord, who causest salvation to flourish").

Liebes argued that, logically, the blessing should have concluded with the words "matzmiah keren le'David" ("who causest David to flourish") but instead of "David" it says "Yeshu'a" - an allusion to Jesus, according to his interpretation.

Liebes: "There is evidence that this wording [matzmiah keren le'David] is the original and that it changed during the time when there was not yet a total disconnection between the Jewish-Christian sect and the Israelite religion. It appears that it was a Christian-Jew who chose to replace 'David' with 'Yeshu'a,' so that it would be possible, without forcing it, to also allude to the figure of Jesus."
Let us begin with the closing of the bracha, namely matzmiach keren yeshuah. Why does he say that "logically" it should have ended with matzmiach keren David? Because if we look up the pasuk, we find it in Tehillim 132:17:
שָׁם אַצְמִיחַ קֶרֶן לְדָוִד; עָרַכְתִּי נֵר, לִמְשִׁיחִי.

Thus, it is keren for David, not a keren for salvation. True, salvation is implicit in the pasuk and in the context (see the previous pasuk with states albish yesha), but a strict fealty to the pasuk would demand matzmiach keren David.

He mentioned other evidence. What other evidence is there? Well, there is the gemara which has a compelling tidbit. In Pesachim 117b {citing from my translation in the Rif}:
Rabba bar Shela said: In Shemoneh Esrei, {the 15th blessing ends} Matzmiach Yeshua {Who causes salvation to spring forth}. In the {third of the four blessings after the} haftara {which has similar content it ends}, Magen David {the Shield of David}.
In our own girsa in our gemaras, we have the word keren in there, matching our nusach, and better matching the pasuk in Tehillim, if that is its source.

So we see that an Amora relates these two endings, such that perhaps there is some connection there, some trace that it was originally magen david, or made some mention of David, similar to the haftarah.

Also, the closing should echo the beginning, which is the general rule in brachot, and the closer echoing would mention David.

However, I would respond as follows. First, if salvation is meant, yeshuah (with an ending heh) is not unexpected. It is unfortunate, or perhaps by design, that the Christian messiah and deity had that name, but that should not necessarily color our every experience or its every mention. Salvation finds itself in various contexts involving mashiach, and as mentioned, even was mentioned in Tehillim in the previous pasuk, which was Scripture which well predated Yushkah.

Yes, Chazal were well aware of the Biblical bases for the berachot. The blessings all borrow Biblical language by design. But they are not entirely constrained by it. Yotzer Or Uvorei Choshech, Oseh Shalom Uvoreh et haKol. The pasuk ends differently. That was a change, and it was not due to the tricky hand of some early Christian Jew. Brachot are influenced by Biblical language, but are not always entirely bound by it.

But since Chazal were aware of the ending, one might conflate or confuse the two, and so Rabba bar Shela had his statement distinguishing the two.

To me, the question is what it is the theme of the respective brachot. One nusach of the blessing from the Amidah:

אֶת צֶמַח דָּוִד עַבְדְּךָ מְהֵרָה תַצְמִיחַ, וְקַרְנוּ תָרוּם בִּישׁוּעָתֶךָ. כִּי לִישׁוּעָתְךָ קִוִּינוּ (וְצִפִּינוּ) כָל-הַיּוֹם.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה', מַצְמִיחַ קֶרֶן יְשׁוּעָה.

I am personally used to saying ki kushyatecha kivina kol hayom, umetzapim liyshuah. This influential Christian not only modified the ending, but worked the there of salvation, yeshuah, throughout the entire bracha. Not so. Rather, the theme is salvation, from mashiach ben David, and since mashiach is from David, he gets a mention. But a very brief mention, in the beginning of the blessing. The theme is salvation, not David. The first phrase interprets that pasuk in Tehillim as mashiach, the offshoot of David; the next talks about lifting up his keren in salvation, which is the point; the next talks about our hopes of salvation; the next (in my own version) restates that. The closing should indeed echo the beginning, as is the rule by brachot. But this is a close enough echoing, and it also reinforces the theme throughout which is salvation. It is an excellent summing up, and much better, IMHO, than one which would end matzmiach keren David. I am not Judeo-Christian, and I would have changed it, had it been up to me. I don't believe it was changed.

For the sake of contrast, let us examine that which Rabba bar Shela contrasted it with, one of the blessings from the haftarah.

Look at the paragraph beginning samecheinu. It is also about mashiach, and so begins with Eliyahu HaNavi. But then it mentions, strongly, the kingdom of David Your annointed. It resumes with redemption. But then, how no stranger, not from the Davidic line, will sit on his throne, in a nice long phrase. And then how Hashem swore this to him, that David's light would not be snuffed, ever. Thus, while there is some focus on mashiach, a very strong theme is specifically the promise made to the person, and family, of David. As such, Magen David is an appropriate ending here. And while this strong argument can easily be made for the haftarah, one cannot assemble such an argument for the bracha in Shemoneh Esrei.

Now, maybe there is some other evidence I have missed, or have never seen. It certainly could be. Maybe I should actually bother to go read the article. ;)

Update: The following is my first reaction after skimming through the article. Many of my reactions don't make full sense without reading the article, so perhaps read it. I hope I have not introduced errors here:

Wolf2191 of Ishim veShittos helped me out by pointing me to the article about Matzmiach Keren Yeshuah.
See here - http://faculty.biu.ac.il/~barilm/masmiah.html

Liebes's article is available on his site - http://pluto.huji.ac.il/~liebes/zohar/matsmiah.doc
The second link is the article, while the first contains an attempted debunking, asking in part the question how it practically could have developed.

The article admittedly contains more elaborate proofs than I intuited, though some of what I wrote was present. To quickly summarize the points, as they occur:

1) The closing does not match the opening.
I think this is an overstatement. It fits well with the general theme, which is Hashem saving his nation, acting through his mashiach.

2) Based on Biblical idioms, it does not flow.
Here, there is an intensive analysis of each word and phrase. I think that such analysis can sometimes be peshat but, especially when taken to extremes, can easily be derash. Much of what he says here is extremely problematic appears to me as not problematic at all, or at the most, only a smidgen. And of course it is a reworking of Biblical phrases, with yeshuah put in to direct the message in accordance with the theme, so it can differ from Biblical idioms in this regard.

3) הצמחת הקרן should be for a man, not for a concept like salvation.
Unless the point is that it is not the salvation of the man, but the salvation coming for Hashem (and it is Hashem's salvation we are hoping for), through the intermediary of whichever mashiach he appoints.

4) Karno Tarum Biyshuatecha is not in the pasuk. It should perhaps be emended to an "original" bekhavod.
I don't buy that. Brachot are reworkings of Biblical text, and can easily assume new words not in the original pasuk, to reinforce a particular theme.

5) Magen David for the haftarah is also not original.
We'll have to evaluate it when we get to its place in the article. I am not so convinced.

6) Chachmei Yavneh did not like it and therefore they eliminated it.
See page 33 for an elaboration. Perhaps that was the way it happened, together will the addition of birchat hamminim, or perhaps it was redundant, or perhaps because they wanted to maintain 18 blessings, as many suggest. If they really didn't like it for that reason, surely they could have reasserted the ending of Magen David, if it was still extant, as seems from the haftara? Why eliminate it entirely?

7) Havinenu has David in that place:
ובצמיחת קרן לדוד עבדך ובעריכת נר לבן ישי משיחך
True, but that is a rewording of the pasuk in short, without the opportunity to expand on the theme. We get it anyway from meshichecha. This need not match the "original" closing of the full bracha.

8) The meaning of the terms.
I see now he mentions that perhaps those establishing the bracha did not follow the exact pattern of the Mikra. It is good to entertain this idea. His response is that it doesn't fit the pattern of the time the brachot were instituted, and it is upon others to prove otherwise.
I don't really agree with his close diyukim which brought us to the above analysis.

9) Ah, here is a point I missed. Apparently, some nuschaot in the haftara have the exact text of Et Tzemach, but just have a different closing. And then the statement from Rabba bar Shela which makes the distinction in the closing makes more sense. Also, masechet Soferim shows more fluidity there. Nice.

10) The nusach in Eretz Yisrael.
But that same nusach, at least in the haftarah, contains
אלהי דוד מצמיח ישועה לעמו ישראל!
How can one turn around and say elsewhere it is an addition from an early Jewish Christian? There is a theme even here of causing salvation to sprout, and Hashem being the actor.

11) Elokei David, in the full text, or in the excerpt, shows David is the focus of the bracha.
Unless it is a shorthand. And anyway, it does not show that David is the focus, but rather that Hashem is the focus. And if later on we say that Elokei David was deliberately all that was left in/inserted as a reaction to this blessing, how can we then say that this was the original text and focus?

12) Actions of 12th century kabbalists.
are no proof of anything. And may be attempts to incorporate brachot from the Yerushalmi.

13) Proof from Ben Sirah. I don't see this text in my Ben Sirah, but perhaps there are different versions. That is a nice proof.
But then, this is drawn from the pasuk, without the thematic development in the entire bracha.

And so on and so forth. I'm getting tired of summarizing.

My general feeling after reading the whole article is still that there is a theme which was being developed in Et Tzemach David, which is that we should merit Hashem's salvation via the melech hamashiach. And the repeated theme of salvation, and Hashem's salvation, is not out of place. While some texts may hew closer to the Biblical text, this is not surprising since they are drawing from that source. But it is not the act of some mischevious early Christian, but the shaping done by the one who crafted the bracha. The extremely close reading claiming things don't work out in the wording seem to me like drash, where the peshat answer may easily be "Nu, Nu, it is slightly awkward," or else that the problem is not really a problem at all. This all seems extremely speculative to me, even after reading the article. Perhaps this is just my own bias at play, though.


גילוי said...

Maybe I'm missing something, but the entire conversation seems to be based on the wrong evidence. "Judeo-Christians" were not in Bavel, yet we are discussing the Bavli's nusach. Yerushalmi Brachot 2:1 mentions that David and Yerushalayim are mentioned together.

joshwaxman said...

interesting point. let me think about it. with the combined bracha, the conversation might not even begin...


Wolf2191 said...

See here - http://faculty.biu.ac.il/~barilm/masmiah.html

Liebes's article is available on his site - http://pluto.huji.ac.il/~liebes/zohar/matsmiah.doc

joshwaxman said...

I'll check it out


joshwaxman said...

he notes some things I missed. such as sefer ben Sirah and other nuschaot of the brachot for the haftarah, which are identical save for the ending. I still don't find it persuasive, but that would have to be for a different post.


Anonymous said...

The pasuk says "atzmiach keren LE-david". Is there any evidence that the bracha ever read "matzmiach keren le-yeshuah"?

And how do you get from "not yet a total disconnection between the Jewish-Christian sect and the Israelite religion" to total adoption of J-C customs? Messianic Chabad is not totally disconnected from the Orthodox world today, yet is there a single non-Chabad person who says Yechi?

joshwaxman said...

in terms of (1), not that I am aware. I'm not sure if you are putting this as a point in favor or against, though. (towards a Christian theory, one could still say *of* Yushka, and preserving the lamed would make it to obvious.) either way, reworking a pasuk into a bracha need not be exact.

in terms of (2), that first (/second) link tries to also make a point about how it was unlikely to have spread.

but that Chabad vs. non-Chabad is not the only dynamic. How many non-Chassidim who daven in chassidic shuls have adopted their nusach? If indeed (and it is a question) the Tu BiShvat Seder had Sabbatean origins, how many accidentally have adopted it.

That said, I agree with you.


Anonymous said...

It could actually be an anti-christian pun. Purposely using the word 'salvation'=yeshuah in its original meaning as something that Hashem will produce in the future, and not in the christian sense.
What about kadosh kadosh kadosh in kedushah? Maybe we also say this for the same reason?

joshwaxman said...

maybe; though the threefold kadosh as it appeared in Yeshaya 6:3 predated Christianity.


Anonymous said...

It might be the same idea. By putting it in kedusha on purpose so as to return it to its original meaning.
Since the christians use isaiah as a 'proof' for the trinity.


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