Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The Rav, and Shadal, on Removing Yekum Purkan

It is a famous joke, and I've always heard it in the name of the Rav. What I did not know was that Shadal said it before him, or that the Rav credited Shadal with it, using a rabbinic appellation to refer to him (relying on the translation below.)  {Update: The translation was quite possibly wrong, as the Hebrew translation from Yiddish lacks this rabbinic appellation.}  The following is drawn from The Rav: the world of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Volume 2, by Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff and Joseph Epstein.

As the text states, the joke is based on the pasuk in parashat Noach, 7:23:

כג  וַיִּמַח אֶת-כָּל-הַיְקוּם אֲשֶׁר עַל-פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה, מֵאָדָם עַד-בְּהֵמָה עַד-רֶמֶשׂ וְעַד-עוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם, וַיִּמָּחוּ, מִן-הָאָרֶץ; וַיִּשָּׁאֶר אַךְ-נֹחַ וַאֲשֶׁר אִתּוֹ, בַּתֵּבָה.23 And He blotted out every living substance which was upon the face of the ground, both man, and cattle, and creeping thing, and fowl of the heaven; and they were blotted out from the earth; and Noah only was left, and they that were with him in the ark.

and the words וַיִּמַח אֶת-כָּל-הַיְקוּם, "and he blotted out every Yekum". I was recently asked, in a conversation about Shadal and the Vikuach al Chochmat Hakabbalah, who Shadal is that we should listen to him. That is, which Gedolim list him as a credible and kosher source.

I am not sure that I agree with the various premises of the question, and would rather accept the truth from whoever says it. Even so, perhaps this can be taken as a sort of endorsement of Shadal, that he is quotable.

Anyway, see this post at On the Main Line, particularly the comment section starting with Lawrence Kaplan's comment, and how it develops into multiple attribution of this joke.


Wolf2191 said...

Translation is wrong. Snippet view of Yemei Zikaron on Goggle books -


has no Rabbi.

Also, have yet to find this quote in any of Shadal's writings...

joshwaxman said...



S. said...

Thanks. I have researched it and I don't think Shadal really said it. I think it was a good melitzah, and was attributed to him the same way things are attributed to Mark Twain, or Churchill or Einstein. What is interesting is how sometimes the quip is attributed to Reformers themselves, which of course makes no sense.

On the Italian mesorah of pheasant, R. D.Z. Hoffmann writes (V.2 YD 16) of Shadal " וידוע שהחכם הנ"ל היה מדקדק מאד במלותיו ועדותו עדות ברורה."

S. said...

As for rabbinic appellation, that's kind of neither here nor there. Evidently in the 18th-19th century there were many who were referred to as an acronym - the way they signed their name - without the R; Chida, Malbim, Netziv. There are plenty of Rashda"ls to be found in the literature.

joshwaxman said...

iirc, a few months back, on the now-defunct Mahpach leining list-serve, there was a discussion of Rashdal. Someone was arguing that despite a prominent orthodox rabbinical figure calling him that, the R' stood for Reb, and as such was a mere measure of politeness.

my rejoinder was that obviously it was the opposite, and he was calling him one who was Rash and Dal in chochma. some took this seriously. ;)

kol tuv,

joshwaxman said...

looking back now, it was Malbim who used the Rashdal under discussion.


S. said...


While I do agree that you can't really infer so much from titles - כמוהרר was a little bit like "Mr." in the 18th-19th century, just like every man in Lakewood is called Rabbi on his mail.

Anyone who has spent a little time learning Shadal knows from the hundreds of sources he quotes in the Bavli, Yerushalmi, Rif, Midrashim, Kabbalah and even posekim (although rarely) that he was at the very least a shtik talmid chochom, probably but not necessarily as much as the average rov of a shul in Brooklyn.

As for the interesting question if he ever technically received semicha, we know from his autobiographical info that when he was a teenager his rebbe R. Abraham Eliezer ha-Levi of Trieste promised to ordain him Chacham (they didn't say Morenu in Italy) at 20, although he specifically decided not to pursue the rabbinate, and never received the title. However, less well known is that R. Abraham Reggio actually wrote a semicha for him in 1838 as a kind of honorary degree, and so that he could be properly called to the Torah (evidently back then gabboim didn't arbitrarily decide to confer titles on people). Considering that at the time a good portion of Italy's rabbis were being trained by him, it's hard to see how if they weren't rabbis how he wasn't a rabbi. I have the text in my possession.

At the very least, he's like a Shnayer Leiman. No one who knows things (except maybe R. Shlomo Miller vhmv"y) is going to say that he doesn't know what he's talking about.

S. said...

If it was the Malbim, since Yair Or was private notes, and was published posthumously, who was he being polite to? Ha-kesav ve-ha-kabbalah calls him Rashdal many times.

joshwaxman said...


SF2K01 said...

I never understood why people make a big deal out of it considering that the Sfardim don't say Yakum Purkan at all (did they ever?).

joshwaxman said...

it is sort of like the idea of dying al kiddush Hashem. usually, one only must give up his life to avoid the big three, but if it is in public, for the purpose of stopping the practice of judaism, this would apply for something even so minor as a matter of the color of shoelaces. (though consult your local Orthodox rabbi for specifics, and specific applications.)

so too, one must way the spirit and intent of those trying to Reform Judaism in general. and that, at a time when they are trying to usurp major things, not to give ground even on minor things.

at any rate, it made for a good joke.

kol tuv,

S. said...

>I never understood why people make a big deal out of it considering that the Sfardim don't say Yakum Purkan at all (did they ever?).

That itself doesn't matter at all. No one claims that it's a major pillar of Judaism per se. The reason why it's a perfect flash point is because almost more than anything else this piyut illustrates the reformist contention that Orthodox Judaism is entirely detached from reality. There is no Resh Galuta, there is no Bavel, and there hasn't been for, oh, about a thousand years. By contrast, from the Orthodox perspective (at least of the time) removing it is a slippery slope which leads to totally denying the binding force of even de-orayta law, and no one can deny that this is precisely the Reform position.

Like I said, I've researched it and the historical truth is that this was *not* the "first reform" and this did not lead to other things. However, it is true that this was used symbolically by both sides. One Reform rabbi, writing in the early 1860s, rebukes what he called "Yekum Purkan heroes," professing Orthodox Jews who champion Yekum Purkan and fight its removal tooth and nail, but go to work on Shabbat. Certain Orthodox writers sarcastically pointed out that the reformers think all will be perfect in the world if only Yekum Purkan is omitted. There's a lot more to write about it, but that's a taste.

Jacov Di Segni said...

שלום וברכה,
שמי יעקב די סיניי,
אני יליד רומא ותלמיד בבית המדרש
לרבנים האיטלקי ברומא. לפני כמה שנים
קבלתי תואר משכיל ואני ממשיך כעת את לימודיי בארץ הקודש על מנת לקבל סמיכה מהרבנות הראשית ובמקביל מבית המדרש לרבנים של רומא.

רציתי לדעת יותר בקשר לסמיכה של שד"ל מאת הרב אברהם חי רג'יו, אביו של ,
קראתי את המכתב האיטלקי של שד"ל לרב א. רגיו שמודה לו על התעודת סמיכה.
יש אפשרות שאני אוכל לקבל את הצילום של התעודה?
תודה רבה וכול טוב.
יעקב די סיניי
Jacov Di Segni


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