Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Letter from R. Nathan Kamenetsky

A Letter from R. Nathan Kamenetsky

In response to my last post on the Seforim Blog, R. Nathan Kamenetsky sent me a long e-mail. Because of its value to those with an interest in the Lithuanian Torah world, I asked Rabbi Kamenetsky for permission to post it here, and he graciously agreed – Marc Shapiro

The central figure, albeit a mostly passive one, in the story I shall tell below is R' Maisheh Finkel, one of the twin sons who were the youngest children of the Alter of Slabodka, born around 1887. The other twin was R' Shmuel Finkel, whose son became a caterer in Chicago and is the father of the recently deceased son-in-law of R' Bainish Finkel (son of the the Alter's oldest son R' Laizer-Yudel), R' Noson-Zvi Finkel, a namesake of his great-grandfather the Alter of Slabodka who served as the Rosh of the mighty Yeshivat Mir of Jerusalem for about thirty years. 

R' Maisheh was far superior in Torah talent to his twin R' Shmuel. Someone described to me R' Maisheh's learning pose; he would pace back and forth the length of the beit midrash, and if someone asked a good question, R' Maisheh would give him one reply as he passed the questioner on the first time he transversed the beit midrash, then give him a second answer when he passed by him a second time, and a third answer when he passed him by for the third time. Raised by his mother – the Alteh lived in Kelem, not Slabodka, till the latter part of the first decade of the 20th century: see MOAG pp. 594-596 -- the Alter had at first sent him to learn under R' Baruch-Ber Leibowitz in Hlusk, and then brought him to Slabodka. R' Maisheh married Zlateh, the daughter of the Slabodka Rosh Yeshiva, R' Moshe-Mordkhai Epstein, in 1913, and was appointed as a maggid shiur in the Slabodka Yeshiva.

When the Slabodka Yeshiva opened a branch in the city of Chevron in the winter of 1925, R' Maisheh was sent along with the first talmidim to be a maggid shiur there. The Alter himself came to Palestine in the summer of 1925 – not as the mashgiach, but as a retiree – and three months later, R' Maisheh died. Chiddushei Torah of R' Maisheh Finkel were published beginning in 1986 by R' Chaim-Dov Altusky, Rabbi Pinchas Scheinberg's late son-in-law, under the name  "Chiddushei Hagram Mislabodka" (together with "Chiddushei Hamasbir", with the last word created from the acronym of Harav Morainu Soloveitchik Ber Yosheh, Reb) on various massekhtot. Rabbi Altusky had gotten R' Maisheh's manuscripts from a (posthumous) daughter-in-law of R' Maishe's. 

Before we go on with the story, I will quote Rabbi Altusky from one of the introductions of "Chiddushei Hagram Mislabodka" where he quotes R' Yeruham Levovitz, celebrated Mashgiach of the Mirrer Yeshiva, as having written about R' Maisheh: "I always said that in a generation which has a great timber as he (ilan gadol kamohu), Israel is not yet widowed (od lo alman Yisrael), and in his light shall we see radiance (b'oro nir'eh or)." Rabbi Altusky points out that R' Yerucham wrote this when such greats as R' Chaim-Ozer, R' Shimon Shkop, R' Baruch Ber Leibowitz and the Kovner Rav fully functioned; but Rabbi Altusky does not explain why it was R' Maishe Finkel's presence that assured R' Yeruham that lo alman Yisrael. The Alter and his talmid R' Yeruham saw the ideal gadol baTorah, the ilan hagadol, as one who is equally great in Torah and in Musar – and this combination was very rare to find. They both saw that R' Maishe filled that prescription – also cf. MOAG pp. 805-806 on what the Alter thought of his son.

Verily, according to one of Altusky's introductions, R' Maisheh was "designated (m'yu'ad)" to succeed both his father as Mashgiach and his father-in-law as Rosh Yeshiva; this is surely something that his daughter-in-law had heard within the family and passed on, together with the manuscripts, to Rav Altusky. Also see MOAG pp. 756 and 765 that R' Maisheh would be his father's agent to carry through sensitive matters. [Do you, R' Mailech, have my Improved Edition or only the original MOAG? The Improved Edition has a asterisked footnote on page 1278 regarding the Alter's high estimation of his son and also pertains to the subject of your landmark book, viz., to R' Yehiel-Yankev Weinberg.]

Now to the body of the story. I shall tell it in the way it came to me. My father had said several times, "The (Slabodka) Yeshiva was so dear to the Alter, that he would be willing to sacrifice a child for it." I never understood what he meant by this Aqaidah metaphor (nor did I question my father about it) until I arrived in Israel and repeated it to R' Laizer Goldschmidt, a dayyan on the Beit Din Hagadol and husband of Miriam nee Plachinsky, a granddaughter of the Alter of Slabodka, asking him what my father had meant. He explained that Slabodka talmidim attributed R' Maisheh death at so early an age to his having broken his engagement to another girl in order to marry R' Moshe-Mordkhai's daughter. He had been engaged to Chava-Leah Hutner of Warsaw (who later became the wife of R' Tzvi-Yehudah Kook). (You may look up MOAG pp. 791-798 where I conjecture that this breakup brought about [in a convoluted way] R' Hatzqel Libshitz's decision to turn down the rabbanut of Kovno - thus opening the door for R' Avraham-Dober Kahana-Shapiro's appointment.) Incidentally, when R' Yitzchak Hutner, later of Yeshivat Rabbenu Chaim Berlin, came to study in Slabodka after WWI, the Alter was ill at ease with him because he was closely related to the jilted young lady, and had his major talmid R' Avrohm Grodzinsky, by then part of the Musar-hanhalah – see MOAG p. 806 – deal with the neophyte.

And why did R' Maisheh break up? Because the wife of the Rosh Yeshiva, R' Moshe-Mordkhai, insisted on it: she insisted that R' Maisheh marry her daughter Zlateh. The Alter of Slabodka felt that if he would enter into bad relations with (Menuhah Epstein, and hence with) R' Moshe-Mordkhai, the yeshiva would suffer. And he was willing to sacrifice his son on the altar of Yeshivas Slabodka. It is said that when the Alter was told of his son's demise, he repeated Job's words (3:25) "What I greatly feared is come upon me; what I had apprehended has come on me." In MOAG, I have an excursus on pp. 1061-1064 about the power certain wives of rashei yeshiva wielded in some old yeshivot – especially the Netziv's (niece, who became his) second wife, sister of R' Baruch Epstein. When R' Maisheh broke his engagement, R' Hayyim Soloveichik was angry with the Alter, saying, "For politics one does not embarrass a Jewish daughter" – see MOAG pp. 419-420.

But I had a problem: if Menuha Epstein was intent enough on having the 'iluy Maisheh Finkel marry her daughter that she would have him break his earlier engagement, why did she allow him to get engaged to someone else to begin with? Why didn't she interfere with Maisheh Finkel's proposed shiddukhim immediately?. This was bothering me for a long time – until I heard another story about R' Avrohm Kalmanowitz, of Va'ad Hatzalah fame, from a son of his sister, R' Osher Katzman, an author of many popular articles in the Aguda monthly "Dos Yiddisheh Vort" (and whose son Eli'ezer is on the editorial board of "Yeshurun"). 

R' Avrohm Kalmanowitz had learned in Slabodka, having come there from the town of Aishishok (the town perpetuated by Yaffa Eliach) where he learned with its rav, Reb Zundel Hutner. In his famous speeches in the United States after WWII, Rav Kalmanowitz would often refer to his study sessions with Reb Zundel and would recall that they studied through the long commentaries of the Shakh in Section 25 of Hoshen Mishpat (about the laws of a judge who erred in his ruling) - and that Reb Zundel lamented that there is no one "nowadays" who learns thoroughly through the subject at which the Shakh had toiled so hard. R' Avrohm then studied under Reb Laizer Gordon in Telz (see fn. t on p. 964 of MOAG), and, by the time he came under the wing of the Alter of Slabodka, he was already close to 20 years of age. By that time he had already completed the 4 Sections of the Shulkhan 'Arukh. In fact, when he arrived in Slabodka, he would look down upon a bachur his age who had not completed covered as much Torah as he had. He was considered a 'iluy in the yeshiva, and there was an ongoing debate among the talmidim of the Yeshiva on who was the greater 'iluy, Avrohm Kalmonowitz or Aaron Sislovicher (later Kotler). In fact, when R' Avrohm died, in 1964, two years after R' Aaron Kotler, my father za"l remarked, "The last member of our chabhurah in Slabodka is gone." 

According to "Kulmos Hallev", a volume about Rav Kalmanowitz and "his Da'ath Torah and spiritual fervor (sa'arot ruach)" (published by his family in Jerusalem, 1996), p. 4, R' Zundel had spread his pupil's fame as a "wondrous 'iluy" and the Alter sent a wagon to fetch him and bring him to Slabodka; the Alter then arranged that he should learn together with his talented son R' Maisheh. R' Avrohm's father, who served as rav in Volhyn, in the town of Barashi, near Rogachov, once came to Slabodka to see how his son was faring. When the Alter told him, "He can already lead half the world," he became upset, and said, "I sent him here to learn, not to lead."

The story Katzman told was as follows: R' Avrohm had gone home for Pesach, at a time when two shiddukhim were being proposed to him; one was a daughter of his rosh yeshiva R' Moshe-Mordkhai Epstein, and the other was an orphaned daughter of the Rav of Rakov, a town between Volozhin and Minsk, and he had already met both young ladies. From home, he wrote out two envelopes addressed to the two female candidates, and then sat down to write out the letters he was planning to send them. First he wrote the letter to the Rakov girl and he put her letter into an envelope and took it to the post office. He then wrote a letter to the Epstein girl, and as he was putting the letter into the remaining envelope -- woe is him! – he saw that the remaining envelope was the one addressed to Rakov. This meant that the letter to the Rakov girl would arrive at the home of the Epstein girl. He rushed to the post office and asked the postman to return the letter he had given him, but the postman refused. R' Avrohm went on to offer the postman up to 10 Rubles to get his letter back, but the postman explained that the law is that once a letter is in his hand he must deliver it only to the addressee. In short, when the Rakov girl's letter arrived in Slabodka, and the daughter of R' Moshe-Mordkhai saw that Avrohm had even considered another shiddukh but herself, the proud granddaughter of the famous Kovno philanthropist R' Shraga-Feivel Frank (cf. MOAG Index), was beside herself, and decided she would hear no more of Avrohm Kalmanowitz.

When I heard this story I pieced two and two together, to wit: in the winter of 1913, Rebbitzen Epstein was not interested in Maisheh Finkel because she had as good a catch, if not a better one, for her Zlateh in Avrohm Kalmanowitz, the latter being not only a great 'iluy, but a tall, handsome and charismatic leader as well. So why should she care if R' Baruch-Ber Leibowitz, by-this-time the Rosh Yeshiva of Knesset Beit Yitzchak, the "other", non-Musar, yeshiva in Slabodka, had cast his eye on Maisheh for his daughter (see MOAG p. 525), and why should she care if Maisheh gets engaged to Chava-Leah Hutner of Warsaw? At the beginning of that winter, R' Moshe-Mordkhai presented R' Avrohm with an effusive Certificate of Ordination (Smikhah) testifying that he is "a wondrous baqi in all of Shas with Tospoth, and in the posqim, rishonim v'acharonim, as one of the greats of the generation." The Certificate manuscript is pictured on the page facing page 1 of "Kulmos Hallev", and is laid out in print on p. 5, together with ordinations by R' Elya-Barukh Kamai, Rav of Mir, and R' Rephael Shapiro of Volozhin, both awarded to R' Avrohm about a month later than R' Moshe-Mordkhai's, the manuscripts of which are pictured on the page following p. 220 of "Kulmos", the last page of the volume.

It is worth noting that in transcribing the manuscript of R' Moshe-Mordechai, the family misread one word, for, after praising the ordainee as "yet from his youth he stood out as a wondrous 'iluy," the end of the fifth and beginning of the sixth written lines read: "Va'yiph va'yigdal va'yehi l'erez may'arzei Hatorah (he became beautiful and grew to become a cedar among the cedars of Torah)," while the printed transciption misreads the beginning of the quotation, that is, its first word, to: "Aph va'yigdal va'yehi (he also grew and became)." The family obviously did not realize that R' Moshe-Mordkhai used the language of Ezekiel 31:7 which describes "a cedar of Lebanon, that is Assyria (Verse 3)" which "Va'yiph b'godlo (became beautiful in its greatness)" to describe R' Avrohm who, after being a wondrous 'iluy in his youth, grew to become a cedar-like tall and handsome young man and one of the Torah cedars of his generations. (I had seen the manuscript Smikhah before "Kulmos Hallev" was published, and I immediately connected R' Moshe-Mordechai's expression to Ezekiel. I'll just add that R' Moshe-Mordechai used the expression from his by-heart knowledge of the verse, and did not look up the verse in a Tanakh before penning it, else he would have spelled the word "va'yiph" with two Yoddim - and the family would not have been mislead to read his Vav and single Yod as an Aleph, "aph" instead of "va'yiph".) 

I believe that R' Moshe-Mordkhai wrote the extremely flattering Smikha when R' Avrohm was a candidate to become his son-in-law, but R' Avrohm obtained the other two smikhot soon thereafter because he was also interested in the Rakov girl whose hand was offered together with her late father's rabbanut of the town of Rakov - as you know from the case of R' Yehiel-Yankev Weinberg of Pilvishok, a town would keep its rabbinical post vacant until their deceased rav's daughter would find a match suitable to take over the rabbinate. Therefore, R' Avrohm sought out ordinations from well-known rabbanim who served in towns close to Rakov, not in faraway Slabodka. During the same winter that the Epsteins were sure that R' Avrohm would close a shidduch with their Zlateh, R' Maishe became engaged to the well-to-do and pedigreed Chava-Leah, daughter of R' Yehudah-Laib Hutner, a Motz in Warsaw who also owned a printing company. After Avrohm's Pesach blunder, Zlateh was left with a second-choice mate, one who was already engaged, Maisheh Finkel: her mother took care of the rest. Under the hand of the daughter-in-law who supplied Rav Altusky with R' Maishe's Torah manuscripts, I saw the ketubah of Zlateh and Maisheh: they were married two months after the Pesach debacle, in Sivan 5673 (June 1913), and one of the two witnesses thereon is my grandfather, R' Bereh-Hirsh Heller, the "younger" mashgiach of the Slabodka Yeshiva. Rav Kalmanowitz went on to wed the Rakov girl and its rabbinate, and became known throughout his lifetime as "the Rakover Rav". It is said that R' Laizer Rabinowitz, who succeeded his father-in-law the Minsker Godol, R' Yeruham-Yehudah-Laib Perlman, as Rav of Minsk, took no major action in that metropolis without first discussing it with Rav Kalmanowitz. The latter verily became a great Torah leader as the Alter had predicted.     

I'll end by doing justice to the historically underrated Rav Kalmanowitz. During the First World War, Rav Kalmanowitz organized aid for the refugees who streamed from Poland into Russia, as recorded at length in "Kulmos Hallev". He also went on to become close to the Chafetz-Chaim and followed the latter's guidance in klal Yisrael activism. When the Mirrer Yeshiva underwent a financial crisis, he became the major fundraising representative of the Mirrer Yeshiva in Europe, and then traveled to America on behalf of that yeshiva. Because he was not a simple executive director but a great talmid chakham, he was given the title of "Nasi" of that yeshiva, and was promised that he would eventually deliver shiurim therein. (Nowadays, many religious institutions raise their stature by claiming to be uner the "n'si'ut" of one gadol or another. But the first to hold that title was Rav Kalmanowitz, who not only contributed his good name to the Mirrer Yeshiva, but earned the title by literally saving it from collapse.) 

But delivering shiurim in the Mirrer Yeshiva never worked out for R' Avrohm. I conjecture that it was due to the opposition of Reb Yeruham Levovitz, the Mashgiach who shared at least equally with the Rosh Yeshiva, R' Laizer-Yudel Finkel, the adulation of the talmidim. As a ba'al Musar who sought to raise the stature of bnai Torah who devoted themselves exclusively to Torah study, R' Yeruham felt that super-activist Rav Kalmanowitz was an improper role model. (See MOAG pp. 573-576 that R' Yeruham disagreed strongly with the Chafetz-Chaim's approach to the training of yeshiva students.) Instead, the Mirrer Yeshiva fulfilled its obligation by providing a group of its outstanding talmidim to set up a kolel in Otwotzk (near Warsaw) for its Nasi to head. The Kalmanowitz family told me that R' Avrohm always looked back at that time in his life when he sat and learned in the Mir-sponsored kolel as the happiest period of his lifetime.

In spite of this, Rav Kalmanowitz could not bring himself to shun the public arena for long. He returned to his activism and became Rav of Tiktin, an ancient and highly prestigious rabbanut. His many activities on behalf of Jewry and his prolific writings about them are recorded in "Kulmos Hallev", a book which should be read by all bnai Torah. When the Second World War broke out, he happened to be fundraising in the United States, and there became the linchpin of the Vaad Hatzalah organization. Among other accomplishments, he raised the monetary means to sustain the Mirrer Yeshiva throughout its Shanghai exile. In connection with this supreme achievement, there is a famous vort which R' Avrohm expounded. He asked: why did the lion claw and injure Noah when he was once late feeding it in the Ark, when, after all, he had fed it in time all the other meals? And he answered: there can be no excuse for treating the very last lion in the world in any manner less than royally. Rav Kalmanowitz used this bon mot when asking people to contribute to saving the last yeshiva remaining when the Jewish world was destroyed with the onset of the war.

I'll end with an exchange between gedolim that R' Yankel Leshinsky witnessed and relayed to me. The three Slabodka talmidim, R' Reuven Grozovsky, R' Avrohm Kalmanowitz, and R' Aaron Kotler were meeting in the Vaad Hatzalah office, and a heated argument broke out between Rav Kalmanowitz and Rav Aaron Kotler as to which course of action to take. Rav Kalmanowitz lost his composure and said, "Listen R' Aaron, if I had sat and learned all the years as you did, I would have been greater than you." To which R' Reuven retorted, "Yes, R' Avrohm, but R' Aaron did learn!" The point is that Rav Kalmanowitz sacrificed the pinnacle of personal rank in favor of the public needs: and he was never properly appreciated for it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Midrashic Exegesis and Biblical Interpretation in the Meshekh Hokhmah

Midrashic Exegesis and Biblical Interpretation in the Meshekh Hokhmah
by Yitshak Cohen

In honor of Yitshak Cohen’s just-published book, “Or Sameah” Halakhah u-Mishpat: Mishnato shel Ha-Rav Meir Simhah ha-Kohen al Mishneh Torah le-ha-Rambam, the Seforim Blog is happy to present this post in English, which is taken from a longer article to appear in the Jewish Law Annual.


R. Meir Simhah Hacohen (henceforth: RMS) was born in 1843 in the village of Butrimonys, in the Vilnius district. Gaining renown as one of his generation’s leading scholars, in 1888 he was appointed rabbi of the city of Daugavpils (Dvinsk), a post he held until his death in 1926.[1] He was most active during the period spanning the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a period in which the Lithuanian yeshivot were ascendant in Eastern Europe.[2] His literary output was unique and varied as his writings fall into many rabbinic-legal genres. He spent most of his life writing a work on Maimonides’ Code of Jewish Law (henceforth: Code), the Or Sameah (henceforth: OS).[3] He also wrote a second literary work, published in Riga, approximately a year after his death, entitled Meshekh Hokhmah (henceforth: MH). In his one line introduction to MH, he characterized it as “elucidations and interpretations, insights and homilies, comments and novellae on the five books of the Pentateuch.”[4] In addition to these, R. Meir Simha wrote novellae on the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds and a volume of responsa.

In my book I demonstrated that the rabbinic legal decisors (poskim) regarded OS not only as a collection of novellae but also as a halakhic work, containing legal rulings.[5] Should this also prove true of RMS’ commentary on the Torah, the MH, this would be an even more surprising and significant discovery, for RMS does not hint at this role in his introduction and since the closing of the Talmud there are almost no instances of halakhists offering midrashic exegeses of biblical verses as the basis for normative rulings.[6] If RMS took this path and the rabbinic decisors accepted it as the basis for establishing normative law, the roots of this phenomenon are worth exploring. Therefore, in this article, I will study RMS’ unique midrashic exegeses in MH and explore their legal status and the extent of their influence on later rabbinic decisors: Did these decisors attribute legal standing to MH in light of the midrashic exegeses it contains, or did they relegate it to the biblical commentary or novellae genres. Did they also rely on the conclusions RMS reached through his midrashic exegesis when the laws he deduced strayed beyond what were deemed the boundaries of the normative halakhic framework? Did they also rely on his novel interpretations when ruling on especially weighty matters, such as marital law, the release of agunot, and more? This article will present some of the findings RMS reached via his midrashic exegesis, and discuss the extent of their impact on the rabbinic decisors. Building upon this analysis, it will examine why RMS’ midrashic exegesis’ had such a remarkable impact on later decisors.

A. RMS and His Use of Midrashic Exegesis as a Legitimate Tool for the Development of Jewish Law

A.1. The Traditional Reticence to Engage in Midrashic Exegesis as a Means for Developing the Law 
Gilat wrote that in the post-talmudic period, we find almost no evidence of Jewish law being created through midrashic exegesis, not in the period of the Early Authorities (Rishonim, medieval authorities spanning the 11th-15th centuries CE) and certainly not in the period of the Late Authorities (Aharonim, 15th century CE and on).[7] Thus, legal creativity stemming from the Torah and the rest of Scriptures, as a rule, atrophied.[8] These sources were only used to provide a basis for laws already promulgated in the Talmud. Indeed, a decisor must display tremendous judicial boldness and courage to “skip over” or ignore the classical literary sources of antiquity, the Geonim, and the Early Authorities and create original, legal precedents based on the source text, itself. Indeed, it is natural that as time goes on and rabbinic decisors find themselves further and further from the “source”, those willing to turn their backs on the customary and the conventional, bravely opting to engage in midrashic exegesis to render new rulings will be few and far between.

Urbach[9] conducts a lengthy inquiry into the problematics of accepting midrashic exegesis as the basis for Jewish law. He quotes the opinion of Rabbi Yitzhak Isaac Halevy,[10] who contends that only masoretic transmission can function as the source for Jewish law; the Rabbis never relied on midrashic exegesis as the source for legal innovation. Epstein also adopts this approach.[11] In contrast, Albeck argues that when a case reached the High Court of Law (Beit Din Hagadol) on a point of law that had no extant tradition, the judges engaged in midrashic exegesis, plumbing the depths of the biblical text and deriving from it alone the legal verdict.[12] However, both Epstein and Albeck agree that the laws transmitted to us from the periods of the “The Pairs” (Zugot) and the Tannaim were only handed down in the following ways:  decrees, enactments (which derived from the authority invested in the established institutions), tales, testimony, and tradition (transmitted to us in the form of custom). In light of this historical background, the extraordinary boldness of a rabbinic decisor who innovates Jewish law based on his midrashic exegesis of the Bible becomes clear.

The rabbinic decisors’ reticence throughout the generations regarding deriving Jewish law from Scriptures stems from several fears: firstly, the stories in the Torah and even more so in the Prophets are told with a wealth of detail; they may unintentionally promote certain modes of behavior or action that the biblical “author” did not intend to teach; indeed, specific details may be mentioned merely to set the historical stage and possess no normative implications whatsoever. Secondly, there is an even more complex problem: even if the biblical author meant to impart halakhic rulings, the rabbinic decisors will have grave difficulty deciding which of the myriad details is relevant and foundational, crucial to informing the very nature of the law, and which is mere background, having no impact on the law’s formulation.[13] Therefore, RMS’ midrashic exegesis is a phenomenon demanding study in and of itself, and all the more so, if it influenced later rabbinic decisors.
A.2. RMS as Groundbreaker, Adopting Midrashic Exegesis as a Means to Develop the Law
Gilat cites four examples taken from the Late Authorities in which midrashic exegesis was used to develop normative Jewish laws, this, despite the traditional opposition to doing so. Surprisingly, three of the four examples were taken from RMS’ oeuvre. A thorough analysis of RMS’ work reveals that these are not the only instances. Some of these instances are widely cited in later works and by the academy as possessing original and surprising positions. Without a doubt, RMS’ work on the Bible, an unusual undertaking for a halakhist, presents us with ample opportunity for investigating this matter.

B. Creative Midrashic Exegesis: The Midrash, Its Rejection and Its Influence
In order to emphasize the complexity involved in creating Jewish law via midrashic exegesis, I have chosen to begin with three cases[14] where the rabbinic decisors reject RMS’ midrashic exegesis, instead of adopting it. RMS’ boldness will become even more evident, in the context of this rejection.

B.1. Rejecting Creative Midrashic Exegesis – One Who Murders a Person in his Death Throes
After the Israelites’ defeat in their war against the Philistines, a fugitive reaches David and tells the following tale:

I happened to be at Mount Gilboa and I saw Saul leaning on his spear, and thechariots and horsemen closing in on him … Then he said to me , ‘Stand over me, and finish me off, for I am in agony and barely alive.’ So I stood over him and finished him off, for I knew that he would never rise from where he was lying….[15]

The following dialogue ensues after David laments:
David said to the young man who had brought him the news, “Where are you from?” He replied, “I am the son of a resident alien, an Amalekite.” “How did             you dare,” David said to him, “to lift your hand and kill the Lord’s             anointed?” Thereupon David called upon one of the attendants and said to him, “Come over and strike him!” He struck him down and he died. And David said to him, “Your blood be on your head! Your own mouth testified against you when you said, ‘I put the LORD’s anointed to death.’ ”

Maimonides in Laws concerning Murder and the Preservation of Life (2:7) writes:
Whether one kills a healthy person or a dying invalid or even a person in his death throes, he must be put to death on this account. But if the death throes are humanly caused, for example, if one who has been beaten to the point of             death is in his throes, the court may not put his slayer to death.

Commenting on this section, RMS deduces a halakhic norm from the story about King David:

And note, that there was a dispute regarding whether one who killed a person              in his death throes should be punished as a murderer. And our Rabbi [Maimonides] ruled in accord with the Rabbis to exempt him. It seems that in this case as well, he is liable by the law of the king of Israel, so the king may slay him. And proof for this may be adduced from the case of David who             killed the Amalekite proselyte based on his own admission of guilt; and this was authorized by the king’s law…even though he [King Saul] had fallen on the spear and [the Amalekite] stated “for I knew that he would never rise from where he was lying”… and so we learn that in the case of one who kills a person in his death throes, the murderer is punishable by death, by the king’s law.

RMS agrees that the court cannot execute an individual who killed a person in his death throes; however, he adopts the novel position that the king has the authority to do so. In doing so, RMS improves upon Maimonides’ code by adding a halakhic component that stems from midrashic exegesis.[16]

RMS strives to prove that Maimonides would also agree with this ruling:

And our Rabbi demonstrated sensitivity to this point in his holy words: “and if the death throes are humanly caused … the court may not put his slayer to death.” He inferred: the court, but by the law of the king he is condemned to death,

It would be interesting to examine whether RMS’ success at finding support for his innovation in Maimonides’ language led later rabbinic decisors accept it. What did RMS hope to achieve by pointing out the consonance between Maimonides’ wording and the results of his own midrashic exegesis?

B.1.A. The Tzitz Eliezer’s Opposition to the Specific Midrash concerning the Law of the King
Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg (1917-2006), in his book Tzitz Eliezer, disputes the halakhic norm derived by RMS from Scriptures:

And so, apparently, we must study the source brought by the OS [to establish the law] in the case of one who killed a person in humanly caused death throes from the case of the Amalekite proselyte, from the language used by Scriptures therein … and this implies that David condemned him to death based on the authority of the special law delineating the punishment due one who defaces and murders the LORD’s anointed one. So he invoked the law of the king in this case wherein the murderer killed the LORD’s anointed one, even though the victim was already dying from humanly caused death throes. And therefore this does not provide proof that the law of the king would be invoked in a similar case if an ordinary human being was slain.

The Tzitz Eliezer argues that the victim being “the LORD’s anointed one” was a crucial element in the Amalekite proselyte’s transgression, and, indeed, played a critical role in David’s decision to execute him. In his opinion, had the killing not fulfilled this condition, the murderer could not have been subject to execution by order of the king. RMS apparently believed that this detail was only of historical import and was not a factor in David’s legal ruling; therefore, he concluded that one who kills a person in his death throes – no matter what the dying man’s stature may be – is condemned to death by the authority of the king. This discussion highlights the complexity involved in deriving Jewish law from Scriptures and aptly demonstrates the fundamental reason underlying the Late Authorities’ reticence to do so. Implicitly, however, it also demonstrates RMS’ daring in utilizing midrashic exegesis as a legitimate tool for developing or innovating Jewish law.

B.1.B. Paving the Way for Sanctioning the Use of Midrashic Exegesis as a Tool for Developing the Law
Reading between the lines of R. Waldenberg’s ruling, an astonishing phenomon comes to light: while R. Waldenberg rejects the halakhic ruling innovated via this midrashic exegesis, he, himself, adopts such a methodology. That is to say, he is influenced by RMS. He does not disagree with RMS’ means but with the conclusion he reached, for he also engages in midrashic exegesis, but arrives at a different reading. RMS pioneered the use of midrashic exegesis as a legitimate tool for developing the Halakha and the Tzitz Eliezer followed in his footsteps; however, in this case, he disputed RMS’ conclusions and limited the ruling to apply exclusively to one who killed the LORD’s anointed one. The Tzitz Eliezer could have stood upon principle and issued a categorical denunciation of such a methodology, as we will see others do below. The Tzitz Eliezer did not do so. He looked and was hooked.         

B.1.C. Creative Midrashic Exegesis: Amalekite Proselyte
RMS also understands the transgressor’s identity, as an Amalekite proselyte, to be of import and grants it legal weight. In the Torah portion of Ki Tetze, RMS notes the Mekhilta in which God swears that no Amalekite will ever be converted.[17] Ipso facto, there can never be an Amalekite proselyte, and the individual mentioned in the verse must be an ordinary Noahide. King David ordered his execution, as he would have for any Noahide; for Noahides are subject to execution based on self-incrimination. This in contradistinction to the law applying to Jews, who cannot be executed based on their own testimony: “no man may incriminate himself.”[18] This law which RMS seems to have innovated almost as an aside in the course of his pursuit of a greater innovation is not at all obvious; indeed, it is quite novel.

The Tzitz Eliezer objects to this midrashic exegesis offered by RMS.[19] In his opinion, Maimonides, himself, did not read the verse this way.[20] In fact, the opposite seems to be true; Maimonides seems to explicitly state that an Amalekite proselyte is a righteous convert who can be accepted into the ranks of nation of Israel. As proof of this, note that Maimonides finds it necessary to justify David’s decision to execute the proselyte based his own self-incrimination by explaining that it was either a horaat shaah (emergency ruling specific to that time and place) or stemmed from the authority of the king. Had the Amalekite proselyte been considered a Noahide, as RMS declares, there would have been no need to justify his execution.

[1] B.Tz. Eizenstadt, Dor rabbanav vesofrav [no official English title], 6, (New York: 5665) 39.
[2] S. Stampfer, The Formation of the Lithuanian Yeshiva, (Hebrew; Jerusalem: 2005) 12.
[3] This work is generally classified as a commentary on the laws contained in Maimonides’ Code; see, for example, M. Elon, Jewish Law: History, Sources, Principles, 1-3, (Hebrew; Jerusalem: 1992), 930.
[4] This work was edited and published in more than sixteen different editions and was reprinted numerous additional times, including in expanded editions produced by A. Abraham, S.H. Domb, Z. Metzger, and Y. Cooperman.
[5] Doctoral dissertation cited above, p. 247ff.
[6] Responsa Maharik, Root 139, p.156; R. Elijah Mizrahi in his commentary on the Torah, beginning of Parashat Matot, s.v. vayedaber, notes that the authority to do so was only granted to the mishnaic sages; Sedei Hemed, Kelalei Haposkim 16, n. 50; Responsa Beit Avraham remarks that we have not found this approach adopted by any rabbinic decisor, neither the early nor the late ones; and for an academic perspective, see: Z. Frankel, The Way of the Mishnah (Hebrew; Berlin: 1859), 18.    
[7] Y.D. Gilat, Studies in the Development of the Halakhah (Hebrew; Ramat-Gan: 1992), 389.
[8] See B. Lifshitz, “Aggada and Its Role in the Unwritten Law” (Hebrew), Shenaton Hamishpat Haivri 22 (2004), 233, 295, regarding the Written Law becoming a canonical work that does not function as the basis for legal creativity, even as it plays the role of authoritative source for all such creativity.
[9] E.E. Urbach, The World of the Sages – Collected Studies (Hebrew; Jerusalem: 2002), 50; Idem, “The Derasha as a Basis of the Halakha and the Problem of the Soferim” (Hebrew), Tarbiz 27/2 (1958), 166.
[10] Y.I. Halevy, Dorot rishonim (Berlin: 1923), part 1, vol. 3, 292; vol. 5, 467.
[11] Y.N. Epstein, Prolegomena ad Litteras Tannaiticas (Hebrew; Jerusalem: 1957) 511; see too M. Halbertal, Interpretative Revolutions in the Making, (Hebrew; Jerusalem: 1997) 14.
[12] H. Albeck, “Hahalakhot vehaderashot”, Alexander Marx Jubilee Volume (New York: 1950), 1-8. S. Friedman appears to adopt a similar approach in Tosefta Atiqta: Synoptic Parallels of Mishna and Tosefta Analyzed With Methodological Introduction (Pesah Rishon) (Hebrew; Ramat-Gan: 2002), 77.
[13] Thus writes A. Grossman, The Early Sages of Ashkenaz (Hebrew; Jerusalem: 1988), 157: “There is no need to mention that usually such deductions from the Bible are not necessitated by the plain sense of Scriptures and oftentimes are not even required by the methods adopted by the halakhic midrashim; they are only cited as asmakhta, to bolster the law.” 
[14] [Only one case is mentioned in this post. For the others, see the forthcoming article in Jewish Law Annual.]
[15] 2 Sam 1.
[16] In my article, “The Or Sameah's Objectives and their Halakhic and Jurisprudential Implications” (Hebrew) Shenaton Hamishpat Haivri  25 (2008), 97, I demonstrated that RMS’ primary goal in composing the OS was improving Maimonides’ code and expanding its contents to include additional cases that had not been incorporated originally. RMS performed this task by adopting a variety of methods described in the article. Here, we witness RMS adopting another method that allows him to innovate and improve the law; this time, innovations based on midrashic exegesis.    
[17] See M.I. Kahana, The Two Mekhiltot on the Amalek Portion  (Hebrew; Jerusalem: 1999), 102.
[18] See bSanhedrin 9b, Maimonides, Code, Laws concerning Evidence 12:2; A. Kirschenbaum, The Criminal Confession in Jewish Law (Hebrew; Jerusalem: 2004).
[19] Responsa Tzitz Eliezer, vol. 13, #71.
[20] Maimonides, Code, Laws of Kings 6:1-4. Kesef Mishneh comments that if they agree to observe the seven Noahide laws, they are no longer classified as Amalekites and they are to be treated like any other kosher (ritually unobjectionable) Noahides. 

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

German Orthodoxy, Hakirah, and More

German Orthodoxy, Hakirah, and More
Marc B. Shapiro

1. I recently published a translation of Hirsch’s famous lecture on Schiller. You can see it here.

At first I thought that this lecture remained untranslated into English for so long because of ideological concerns. (I still think that this is the reason it was never translated into Hebrew.) Yet before the article appeared, I was informed that the reason it did not appear in the English translation of the Collected Writings of Hirsch was not due to ideological censorship, but censorship of a different sort (see the article, note 2). I will let readers decide if this was a smart choice or not. I plan on publishing another translation from Hirsch which has also never appeared in English or Hebrew, and which many people will regard as not “religiously correct” for the twenty-first century.

With regard to the Schiller lecture, I thank Elan Rieser who called my attention to the following: Hirsch quoted Schiller as saying about a plant, “What it [the plant] unwittingly is, be thou of thine own free will.” It so happens that this very thought also appears in the Nineteen Letters, Elias translation, p. 56: “The law to which all forces submit instinctively and involuntarily—to this law you, too, are to subordinate yourself, but consciously and of your own free will.” This shows that even in his earliest work, Hirsch was influenced by Schiller.

While on the topic of non-Jewish writers influencing German rabbis, here is another example which might lead some to wonder if we have crossed the line from influence into plagiarism. (I do not think so, as I will explain.) Rabbi Marcus Lehmann (1831-1890) was a well-known German Orthodox rabbi. He served as rabbi of Mainz and was founder and editor of the Orthodox newspaper Der Israelit. Apart from his scholarly endeavors, he published a series of children’s books, and is best known for that. These were very important as they gave young Orthodox Jews a literature that reflected traditional Jewish values and did not have the Christian themes and references common in secular literature. Yet despite their value for the German Orthodox, R. Israel Salanter was upset when one of Lehmann’s stories (Süss Oppenheimer) was translated into Hebrew and published in the Orthodox paper Ha-Levanon. Although R. Israel recognized that Lehmann’s intentions were pure and that his writings could be of great service to the German Orthodox, it was improper for the East European youth to read Lehmann’s story because there were elements of romantic love in it. This is reported by R. Isaac Jacob Reines, Shnei ha-MeorotMa’amar Zikaron ba-Sefer, part 1, p. 46. Here is the relevant passage:

והנה ברור הדבר בעיני כי הרה"צ רמ"ל כיון בהספור הזה לש"שויכול היות כי יפעל מה בספורו זה על האשכנזים בכ"ז לא נאה לפני רב ממדינתינו להעתיק ספור כזה שסוף סוף יש בו מענייני אהבה.

This passage is followed by another, which was made famous by R. Jehiel Jacob Weinberg in Seridei Esh, vol. 2 no. 8. This is Weinberg’s well-known responsum on co-ed groups. He describes how R. Israel Salanter visited R. Esriel Hildesheimer and saw him giving a shiur in Tanakh and Shulhan Arukh before young women. R. Israel commented that if a rabbi from Lithuania would institute such a practice in his community they would throw him out of his position, and rightfully so. Yet he only hoped that he would be worthy enough to share a place in the World to Come with Hildesheimer: הלואי שיהי' חלקי בג"ע עם הגה"צ ר"ע הילדסהיימר.

Weinberg doesn’t say where he learnt of this story, but it comes from Reines, who heard it directly from R. Israel Salanter. Yet Weinberg’s recollection was not exact. Before World War II, Weinberg had access to Shnei ha-Meorot, and he refers to it in his essay on Reines (Seridei Esh, vol. 4, p. 355, originally published before the War). After the War he no longer had access to this book, and thus was not able to check R. Israel Salanter’s exact words. Although, based on Weinberg, people often repeat Salanter’s comment that he hopes for a share of the World to Come together with Hildesheimer, he never actually said this. Here are his words, as recorded by the only witness, Reines, and I hope that from now on the great R. Israel Salanter will be quoted accurately. (The passage in the parenthesis is a comment from Reines himself.)

הלכתי לבקר גם את ביה"ס אשר לבנותששמעתי שגם שם מגיד הרה"ג הנ"ל [הילדסהיימראיזה שעורומצאתי שבחדר גדול ורחב ידים עומד באמצע שולחן גדול וסביב השולחן יושבות נערות גדולותוהרה"ג הנ"ל בראש השלחן מגיד לפניהם שעור בשו"ע (הוא אמר לי אז גם באיזה הלכה שאמר להם אבל שכחתיוהוסיף לומר בזה"ל "ברור הדבר בעיני כי כוונת הרב היא לש"שוגם נעלה הדבר בעיני מכל ספקכי כל התלמידות האלה השומעות לקח מפיו תהיינה לנשים כשירותתמלאנה כל המצות שהנשים חייבות בהןתחנכנה ילדיהן על דרכי התורה והאמונהבאופן שיש לומר בוודאות גמורה ומוחלטת כי הרה"ג הנ"ל עושה בזה דבר גדול באין ערוךבכ"ז ינסה נא רב במדינתינו לעשות ב"ס כזההלא יקראו אחריו מלא ומן גיוו יגרשוהו; ואין ספק כי יהימוכרח לנער את חצנימן הרבנות כי לא תהלמו עוד", כל הדברים האלה דבר הרה"ג הצדיק הנ"ל בהתרגשות מיוחדה והתלהבות יתירה

Returning to Lehmann, one of his short stories is titled Ithamar. Eliezer Abrahamson called my attention to the fact that chapter 17 tells the same story as is found in Lew Wallace’s classic American novel, Ben-Hur, Book 3, chs. 2-3. I prefer to call this “borrowing”, rather than plagiarism, since Ben-Hur was a worldwide sensation and Lehmann was not trying to hide his borrowing. At that time, any adult reading Lehmann’s book would know what he was basing the chapter on, and that he was providing a Jewish version of certain episodes. In fact, the name of the main character of Lehmann’s book, Ithamar (not a very common name), is also the name of the father of the main character of Ben-Hur (Judah ben Ithamar ben Hur). By naming his character Ithamar, Lehmann was signaling his debt to Wallace.[1]

Regarding Lehmann’s stories, in the 1990s they also appeared in a censored haredi version. Ha-Modia actually published an article attacking this “reworking”. Here it is, followed by the response. (You can right-click to open larger images, or download it as a pdf here.)

I found these on my computer and don’t remember anymore how I got them (and unfortunately, there is no date visible on the articles). Click them to enlarge.

2. Not too long ago Hakirah 13 (2012) appeared, and as with the previous issues, it is a great collection of articles. The other Orthodox journals have to ask themselves why Hakirah has been so successful in overshadowing them. I think the answer is obvious. Hakirah is not afraid to take risks in what they publish. They don’t mind rocking the boat a bit, and dealing with controversial matters. I want to respond to two articles in the issue. The first is R. Elazar Muskin’s piece in which he discusses a 1954 Yom ha-Atzmaut event in Cleveland, which featured R. Elijah Meir Bloch, the Rosh Yeshiva of the Telz yeshiva. From the article one sees that Bloch had a positive attitude towards the State of Israel. Before reading further, I suggest people look over Muskin’s article again, so you can best appreciate that which will follow. You can find the article here.

Muskin notes that Bloch’s letter justifying his appearance at the Yom ha-Atzmaut event was published in R. Joseph Epstein’s 1969 book Mitzvot ha-Shalom. Although there have been many books that express a positive, or tolerant, view towards Zionism, anti-Zionist extremists chose to focus on this volume. Muskin quotes Gerald Parkoff who wrote as follows in a letter published in the Torah u-Madda Journal 9 (2000), p. 279:
When the first edition of the Mizvot ha-Shalom was published, the unsold inventory, which represented most of the extant copies, was kept in Rabbi Epstein’s garage. As it turned out, the sefer came to the attention of some misguided people[2] who were particularly upset with Rabbi Epstein’s association of Rabbi Eliyahu Meir Bloch with Yom ha-Azmaut. They proceeded to burn the first edition of Mizvot ha-Shalom in Rabbi Epstein’s garage. Subsequently, the perpetrators of this dastardly act were found and brought to a Satmar Bet Din. Financial restitution was then made to Rabbi Epstein.
As Parkoff notes, when the next edition of the work was published, Epstein took out Bloch’s letter, so as not to have another confrontation with the extremists. Yet something doesn’t make sense. Why would Satmar (or Satmar-like) extremists care about a letter from Bloch in Epstein’s book? What does this have to do with them? The extremists certainly had no interest in defending the honor of an Agudist whose ideology is rejected by them just as they reject the Mizrachi position. So why would they care about Epstein’s book at all?

If you compare the first edition of Mitzvot ha-Shalom to the second edition, the answer is, I think, obvious, and it has nothing to do with the Bloch letter. Pages 605-624 from the first edition are omitted in the second edition. The first few pages of this is Bloch’s letter, but beginning on p. 612 there is a section titled “Al ha-Geulah ve-al ha-Teshuvah.” This section is a rejection of R. Joel Teitelbaum’s views (in which, by the way, Epstein refers to the writings or R. Zvi Hirsch Kalischer, R. Yissachar Shlomo Teichtal, and R. Menachem M. Kasher). The very title of the section is an allusion to the Satmar Rav’s book, Al ha-Geulah ve-al ha-Temurah. While Epstein’s views are expressed respectfully, it is easy to see why the extremists would have gone after him, as a means of upholding the honor of their Rebbe. They presumably also saw the following passage, p. 611, as directed against the Satmar Rav, and even if it wasn’t directed against him personally, it is certainly directed against his followers.
אמנם השטן מרקד בין תלמידי חכמים על תלמי הפירוד והפילוג בישראל להטיל קטטיגוריא ביניהם, עד כדי השמצת שמות אהלי תורה ויראה, ועד כדי הורדת כבוד גדולים ארצה בכתבי פלסתר והוצאת דיבה, ללא חשש הלבנת פנים, וחטא מבזה תלמיד חכם, ונמצאים נכשלים בחטאים יותר חמורים מאלה שבאו לצעוק עליהם.
On p. 615 he writes as follows (even referring to the Satmar Rav’s views as “has ve-shalom”):

עיני גדולי וצדיקי הדור רואים נסים ונפלאות (ראה לעיל מבוא, מ"מ 32) – קול דודי דופק – אם אתחלתא דגאולה, אם רק פקידה, אם רק רמז רמיזה "מן החרכים" מאבינו שבשמים לריצוי, לפיוס – בהדי כבשי דרחמנא למה לן – איתערותא דלעילא הקוראת לאיתערותא דלתתא – וכי כל זה אך אור מתעה הוא חו"ש? (ראה "על הגאולה ועל התמורה עמ' כ' . . . )

I found a relevant “open letter” in the R. Leo Jung archives, File 2/1, at Yeshiva University. I thank the Yeshiva University Archives for permission to reproduce the letter here.

From this letter we see again that the issue had nothing to do with Bloch. Yet since there were other people attacking the Satmar Rav’s views during this time, I still think we need an explanation as to why these crazies decided to focus on Epstein. From the “open letter” it would appear that this was just another way to attack R. Moshe Feinstein, who wrote a haskamah for Epstein. In the “open letter” it states that if R. Moshe does not retract his haskamah then those behind the letter will take action. This action no doubt includes the burning of Epstein's sefer.[3]

Here is how these wicked people expressed themselves, sounding just like mobsters:

משה'לע תדע שזה היא האזהרה האחרונה שאם לא תתחרט ברבים על ההסכמה שכתבת להספר הנ"ל לא נבוא עוד בכתב רק בידים נעשה מעשים נבהלים שתסמר שערות ראשך שתבוש להראות פרצופך הטמא.

Regarding R. Elijah Meir Bloch, he was a real Agudist, even serving on the U.S. Moetzet Gedolei ha-Torah. Yet his positive view of the establishment of the State of Israel is not unexpected. I say this because his father, R. Joseph Leib Bloch, Rosh Yeshiva of Telz and also rav of the city – the combination of rosh yeshiva and city rav was not so common [4] – appeared to be inclined to a type of Religious Zionism. Here is his letter to R. Zvi Yehudah Kook, published in the latter’s Li-Netivot Yisrael (Beit El, 2001), vol. 1.


I realize that R. Joseph Leib Bloch is usually portrayed as a strong anti-Zionist. This needs further investigation, but it could be that his opposition was only against secular Zionism and what he regarded as the Mizrachi’s compromises with the secular Zionists. From his letter, we see that he had a much different view of R. Kook’s Degel Yerushalayim.[5]

The letter above that of R. Joseph Leib Bloch is from R. Avraham Shapiro, the Kovno Rav, who unlike many other Lithuanian gedolim was a real opponent of Agudat Israel. (Another noteworthy opponent was R. Moses Soloveitchik.) Here is R. Shapiro’s picture.

R. Shapiro also was a supporter of Religious Zionism and a great admirer of R. Kook. Unfortunately, we don’t yet have a biography of his life. Those who want to know a little more about his attitude towards Zionism can see his 1919 letter to R. Kook in Iggerot la-Re’iyah, no. 94. Here he writes as follows:

החלטנו שבהמעשים הפוליטיים להשגת חפצנו באה"ק, כלומר העבודה לפני אסיפת השלו', נלך ביחד עם הציונים שלא בהתפוררות כבאי כח מפלגה ומפלגה, כי אם כבאי כח כל העם העברים בסתם. למטרה זו נבחרה קומיסיה פוליטית לבוא בדברים עם הציונים, וכבר נעשה הצעדים הדרושים לזה. מקוה אני שתמצא הדרך להתאחדות הפעולות.

We see very clearly from this letter that the Kovno Rav supported working with the non-Orthodox Zionists in order to achieve the Zionist objective, which became a real possibility after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War 1.

In a 1921 letter to R. Zvi Yehudah Kook, Iggerot la-Re’iyah, p. 557, the Kovno Rav refers to the Agudah paper Ha-Derekh in a mocking tone: כפי שראיתי מ"הדרך" לא-דרך. In this letter he tells R. Zvi Yehudah that it is important for the Orthodox in Palestine to be involved in the political process that was set up by the British Mandatory authorities. Yet instead of doing that, he claims that the Orthodox have turned a large portion of the women against them, alluding towards the Eretz Yisrael rabbis’ ruling forbidding women’s suffrage, a ruling which R. Avraham Yitzhak Kook was at the forefront of. Look at these words and remember that the one writing them was one of the greatest poskim of his time, the great rav of Kovno, not some minor Mizrachi figure:

האומנם חושבים הם את השתתפות הנשים לאיסור גמור המפורש בתורה שאין אומרים בו מוטב יהיו שוגגים כו'? לדעתי הסכילו עשה.

This opposition to women voting in Israeli elections has disappeared from the haredi world, for obvious political reasons. Yet examination of haredi writings leads to the conclusion that female suffrage is only a hora’at sha’ah, and that if the haredim ever became a majority the right to vote would be removed from women. But I think that this is more theory than reality, as I can’t imagine that even a haredi society would take this step as the backlash from women would be quite significant. As for the followers of R. Kook, do they also think that female suffrage is hora’at sha’ah and hope for a day when the vote will be taken away from women, for all the reasons R. Kook offered? Based on a recent statement by R. Aviner, it appears that for some of them the answer to this question is yes.

The Kovno Rav ends his letter to R. Zvi Yehudah with these strong words against Agudat Israel:

כנראה אסע אי"ה בקרוב בשביל צרכי צבור ללונדון. כמובן לא בשביל אגודת-ישראל. כנראה אחר כ' את האספה בפ"ב. מה דעתו עליה? אנכי בכוונה לא נטלתי חלק בה, לפי שכל מעשיהם עד עכשיו אינם רצוים בעיני ואינם בדרך האמת. הדו"ח של רוזנהיים לא הי' אמת. הקומיסא הפוליטית איננה יודעת מאום מאשר עשו ולכה"פ אנכי איני מסכים על כל דרכיהם שהזיקו רק להאורטודקכסיא ולא לאחרים. אני אומר זאת לכל מפורש מבלי התחבא בהשקפתי.

I mention the Kovno Rav’s opposition to Agudat Yisrael not only for its historical significance, but also because it brings us back to a time when Agudat Israel actually did something other than put on a big Daf Yomi celebration every seven years.[6] There was a time when Agudat Israel tried to accomplish great things, so there was reason to oppose it by those who thought that it was moving in the wrong direction. Today, however, what is Agudat Israel? There was a time when it was a movement, and today it is a lobbying organization, pure and simple, and without much influence at that. I guess that’s what happens when you don’t even have a website or a journal. You sink into oblivion, only to be remembered in another seven years at the next Siyum ha-Shas.

In a 1931 letter to R. Kook, Iggerot la-Re’iyah, no. 273, the Kovno Rav asks R. Kook if he agrees with him that a world congress of rabbis should be convened – אספת רבנים עולמית . I mention this only because in later years it became almost an article of faith in the haredi world that such rabbinic gatherings were absolutely forbidden. The fear was that the gatherings would make decisions at odds with the haredi Daas Torah. The only way to make sure that their followers would not attend these gatherings, where they might actually hear different viewpoints, was for the haredi leaders to ban these gatherings.[7] This is as good an example of any of how the haredi leadership uses its rabbinic “muscle” for political goals. If someone were to ask on what basis can one state that it is forbidden for rabbis with different viewpoints to gather to discuss issues, the answer is obviously not going to be that the Talmud or Shulhan Arukh says it is forbidden. It is forbidden because the gedolim say it is forbidden, i.e., Daas Torah.

R. Jehiel Jacob Weinberg writes as follows about the Kovno Rav (Kitvei ha-Rav Weinberg, vol. 2, p. 234):

ועלי להעיר כי הגאון דקאוונא שליט"א הוא אחד מגדולי הדור בזמננו, אחד המוחות היותר טובים שבתוכנו. ואעפ"י שאנשים ידועים משתדלים להשפילו ולהמעיט את ערכו, מ"מ אי אפשר להחשיך את אור תורתו וחכמתו.

What does Weinberg mean when he speaks of those who oppose the Kovno Rav and try to minimize his importance? Who are these people and what led them to this judgment of the great Kovno Rav? Let me thicken the plot. The late R. Tovia Lasdun wrote to me as follows: “Kovner Rav was a great person, but his views did not always meet the views of the Orthodoxy [!]”[8] By “Orthodoxy” he meant Lithuanian yeshiva world Orthodoxy. From what we have seen already, namely, his anti-Agudah stand and the other points I noted, one can begin to understand why there would be opposition to the Kovno Rav from yeshiva circles.

R. Jeffrey Woolf recorded the following story about the Kovno Rav. He heard it from an eyewitness and it is very illuminating.[9]
The pre-war Jewish community of Kovno (Kaunas, today) Lithuania was divided into different components, divided by the Neris River. On the one side was the general community, which was made up of every type of contemporary Jewish religious and cultural population. Indeed, the community was a bit notorious for a lackadaisical form of religiosity. On the other side of the Williampol bridge, was the famous Slabodka Yeshiva, a flagship of the Mussar Movement. As might be expected, relations between the two sectors were often tense. There was a saying attributed to the Alter of Slabodka, R. Nosson Zvi Finkel זצ"ל, that the bridge from Kovno to Slabodko only went one way.
Coping with the myriad of challenges, modernization and secularization in Kovno was its illustrious rabbi, R. Avraham Dov-Bear Kahana-Shapira זצוק"ל, author of the classic collection of responsa and Talmudic essays דבר אברהם, and known more popularly as the 'Kovner Rov.' One central concern of his was the alienation of young Kovner Jews from the synagogue. Thus, when the administration of the Choral Synagogue came to him with an intriguing approach to the problem, he jumped at it.
The idea was to have the synagogue's cantor, the internationally renowned tenor Misha Alexandrovich, offer public concerts that would feature classical חזנות alongside renditions of serene Italian bel canto compositions. The hope was that this type of cultural evening would draw modernizing young Jewish men and women to the synagogue, where they would socialize and (perhaps) find mates. 
The first concert was a smashing success and more were planned. Everyone was thrilled, except for the heads of the Slabodka Yeshiva. They turned angrily to the Kovner Rov and demanded that he intervene to stop the concerts. They were indecent, the Rashe Yeshiva objected. The led to fraternization between men and women, and in the synagogue. Worse still, they might corrupt yeshiva students.
The Kovner Rav listened quietly, and then firmly rejected the Yeshiva's objection. “You are responsible only for your yeshiva,” he asserted. “I am responsible for the spiritual welfare of all of the Jews of Kovno.” The concerts, he declared, would continue.
Returning to R. Elijah Meir Bloch, there is another relevant source and that is found in Chaim Bloch’s Dovev Siftei Yeshenim. (There was no familial relationship between the two Blochs.) As we have discussed numerous times, one can’t believe anything that Bloch wrote, and all of the letters of gedolim he published must be assumed to be forgeries. However, this only applies to the letters he published of deceased individuals, but the letters he published of living figures are indeed authentic. In vol. 1 (1959), p. 392, he published a letter he received in December 1944 from Jacob Rosenheim, the president of World Agudat Israel, then living in New York. Chaim Bloch had written to him asking on what basis the Agudah was now supporting the establishment of a Jewish state. Rosenheim replied that this policy was based on the decision of the “gedolei ha-Torah.” He also mentioned that this support was dependent on two important points. (1) The State had to be run according to Torah, and (2) that the new State would be accepted peacefully by the Arabs. He states that if the Arabs and the world governments agree to the establishment of the State, then there is no prohibition of שלא ימרדו באומות. He also adds that there is no prohibition to establish a state without a Temple, i.e., a State before the coming of the Messiah.

Chaim Bloch strongly rejects Rosenheim’s words, and declares that based upon what Rosenheim writes, there is now no difference between the Agudah and the Mizrachi. This was exactly the claim of the Edah Haredit in Jerusalem, and eventually it and the Agudah would go their separate ways.

The end of Rosenheim’s letter is of interest to us, because after stating that he personally doesn’t believe that in the current (end of 1944) circumstances there is any chance of a Torah state, he adds that R. Eliezer Silver and R. Elijah Meir Bloch do think such a Torah state is possible. I don’t know what this says about the political acumen of Silver[10] and R. Elijah Meir Bloch, but it shows that R. Bloch had a very optimistic view of the religious development of the future State.

Rosenheim concludes his letter by stating that, unlike Silver and R. Elijah Meir Bloch, “we” (by which he must mean the rest of the Agudah leadership) regard the creation of a State as a real catastrophe. Rosenheim and the others assumed (correctly) that the non-religious would be the majority and that this would create a very difficult circumstance for Orthodox Jews. Their preference was that the land remain under British control, with religious freedom given to all. Rosenheim’s comments today appear surprising, but we must remember that from the perspective of most Agudists, nothing was worse than having a secular “Hebrew State”. Many of them assumed that Zionist control of the Land of Israel would lead to anti-religious measures (which turned out to be correct in some instances). Others might even have believed that the Zionists were to be suspected of wanting to kill the Orthodox![11]

Regarding R. Elijah Meir Bloch, let me call attention to one more interesting source. In the volume Yahadut Lita, vol. 2, pp. 234-235, Bloch contributed an article on Agudat Israel, in which, as mentioned, he was very involved. In this article he says the following, which fits in very well with what we learn from Muskin’s essay (I have added the emphasis).

"אגודת ישראל" בליטא, כמו מרכז "יבנה", התענינו גם בהפצת הדיבור העברית והשתמשו בטקסיהם בדגל הכחול-לבן, שכן סיסמתה של ה"אגודה" בליטא היתה ללחום רק נגד הדברים שהם בניגוד להשקפתה, אבל לא נגד דברים נכונים כשלעצמם, אף שאחרים דוגלים בהם בדרך מנוגדת להשקפת העולם החרדית. סיסמתנו היתה שכל דבר טוב שייך לנו, אף שאחרים הרימוהו על נס, ונקבל את האמת ממי שאמרו. אדרבה, בזה יכולנו לרכוש את דעת-הקהל לצדנו בהיות מאבקנו רק נגד הדברים שהם בניגוד למסורת.

As Bloch says, the approach of the Lithuanian Agudah was not to oppose something just because it was supported by the non-Orthodox. Just because the non-Orthodox spoke in Hebrew in their schools and used the blue and white flag didn’t mean that the Orthodox had to avoid these things. (I have to admit that for Agudah members to use the blue and white flag strikes me as very strange, as from its beginning this was a Zionist flag, not a flag for the Jewish people as a whole.)

In his article, Bloch describes how in the 1930s two hundred Agudah halutzim went on aliyah, after hakhsharah at Tzeirei Agudah kibbutzim in Lithuania. Sounding very Zionistic, he notes that among them were those who took part in defense of the yishuv against Arab attacks: ופעלו במסירות למען בנין הארץ.[12]

* * * *

In a previous post I asked two quiz questions. No one was able to answer no. 1, which means that the prize will remain for the winner of a future quiz. These were the questions.

1. Tell me the only place in the Shulhan Arukh where R. Joseph Karo mentions a kabbalistic concept? I am referring to an actual concept e.g., Adam Kadmon, Ein Sof, etc.

2. If more than one person answers the above question correctly, the one who answers the following (not related to seforim) will win: Which is the only United States embassy that has a kosher kitchen?

Nachum Lamm and Ari Zivotofsky both got the answer right for no. 2. The embassy is in Prague and the ambassador is Norman L. Eisen. I had the pleasure of davening with him every morning on my trip to Prague last summer. You can read about him here.

Now let’s turn to the question no. 1. The first thing to note is that there are many halakhot in the Shulhan Arukh. If R. Joseph Karo was a mystic, as in the title of Werblowsky’s book on him,[13] one would expect to see evidence of this in the Shulhan Arukh, and also in the Beit Yosef. Yet we don’t have this, and references to the Zohar and even basing halakhot on the Zohar have nothing to do with whether one should be thought of as a mystic. By the 16th century the Zohar was a canonical text, so referring to it says nothing about whether one is a mystic, neither then nor today.

However, we know that R. Joseph Karo was a mystic because of his book Magid Meisharim, which recounts his visions of a heavenly figure, who taught him over many decades.[14] Interestingly, R. Leopold Greenwald denied that Karo wrote this book. He attributes it to an anonymous לץ.[15] This reminds me of something I noted in an earlier post. See here where I mention how Abraham Samuel Judah Gestetner denies that R. Jacob Emden wrote Megilat Sefer, his autobiography. Gestetner claims that it could only have been written by a degenerate maskil! (There is no doubt whatsoever that Emden wrote the work.)

Despite the fact that the Shulhan Arukh does not generally mention kabbalistic ideas, there is one place, and only one place, where he indeed does so. It is in Orah Hayyim 24:5, where he states that the two tzitzit in front have ten knots, which is an allusion to the ten Sefirot:

כשמסתכל בציצית מסתכל בשני ציציות שלפניו שיש בהם עשרה קשרים רמז להויות

* * *

I am happy to report that this summer, God willing, I will once again be leading Jewish history-focused tours to Central Europe and Italy. (A trip to Spain is being planned, but will not be ready by the summer.) For information about the trip to Central Europe, please see here.

Complete information about the Italy trip will will soon be available on the Torah in Motion website.

To be continued

[1] With regard to Ben-Hur, there are at least eight different Hebrew translations, and they all censor Christian themes in the novel. See Nitsa Ben-Ari, “The Double Conversion of Ben-Hur: A Case of Manipulative Translation,” Target 12 (2002), pp. 263-302.
[2] Why such lashon nekiyah? I can think of many more appropriate ways to refer to such criminals.
[3] In the introduction to Iggerot Moshe, vol. 8, p. 27 (written by the sons and son-in-law), it states that some Satmar hasidim would come to R. Moshe for advice and to receive blessings. But on p. 26 it also records as follows:

בגלל עמדת האגודה לגבי ארץ ישראל וההתנגדות החריפה של חסידות סטאמר לעמדה זו, הוחלט אצלם לתקוף את רבנו ופסקיו (כך ספרו לרבנו אנשי נטורי קרתא בירושלים כאשר היה שם בשנת תשכ"ד). כמטרה להתקפה זו נבחרו תשובותיו בעניין הזרעה מלאכותית ושיעור מחיצה של עזרת נשים. מחלוקת זו שלא היתה לאמיתה של תורה גרמה לרבנו עגמת נפש מרובה. התקפות אלה לא היו רק באמצעות מאמרים ותשובות, אלא גם בהתקפות אישיות חירופים וגידופים, מעשי אלימות, איומי פצצות, הטרדות טלפוניות ושריפת ספריו.

[4] His father-in-law, R. Eliezer Gordon, also held both positions, as did his son, R. Avraham Yitzhak Bloch (who was martyred in the Holocaust). Although in the U.S. the Telz yeshiva adopted a very anti-secular studies perspective, this was not the case in Europe. R. Joseph Leib Bloch was very involved with the Yavneh day school system in Lithuania, which incorporated secular studies (and also Tanakh), and in the context of Eastern Europe can be regarded as a form of Modern Orthodox education. It is also significant that in Yavneh schools Hebrew was the language of instruction for all subjects. The preparatory school (mekhinah) of the Telz yeshiva also contained secular studies (which the government insisted on if students wanted to be exempted from the draft).

The graduates of Yavneh attended universities, in particular the University of Kovno, and they had an Orthodox student group named Moriah. By the 1930s, Lithuania had begun to produce an academically trained Orthodox population. Had the Holocaust not intervened, much of Lithuanian Orthodoxy would have come to resemble German Orthodoxy. This is important to realize since people often assume that Bnei Brak and Lakewood are the only authentic continuation of Lithuania, when nothing could be further from the truth. What R. Ruderman attempted to establish in Baltimore was, speaking historically, the true successor of the pre-War Lithuanian Orthodox society’s dominant ethos. (I am speaking of Orthodox society as a whole, not the very small yeshiva population.)

In speaking of R. Joseph Leib Bloch, Dr. Yitzhak Raphael ha-Halevi Etzion, the head of the Yavneh Teacher’s Institute in Telz, writes as follows:

בדברי על הגימנסיה העברית לבנות "יבנה" בטאלז ובהזכרי על החינוך בעיר בכלל אינני יכול שלא להזכיר את דמותו המופלאה והדגולה של הרב ר' יוסף ליב בלוך זצ"ל, רבה של טאלז וראש ישיבתה. אחד הרבנים הגדולים והקנאים ביותר של ליטא – היה הראשון שהבין את הנחיצות של חינוך עברי דתי-מודרני לבנות ולבנים.

See “Ha-Zerem ha-Hinukhi ‘Yavneh’ be-Lita,” Yahadut Lita, vol. 2, pp. 160-165.

R. Shlomo Carlebach wrote as follows, after describing the creation of the Kovno Gymnasium, a Torah im Derekh Eretz school established by R. Joseph Zvi Carlebach (Ish Yehudi: The Life and the Legacy of a Torah Great, Rav Joseph Tzvi Carlebach (Brooklyn, 2008), pp. 74, 76):
The Kovno Gymnasium left a deep impression upon the Lithuanian Torah leaders, who could not help but notice the enthusiastic response to the Torah im Derech Eretz educational approach on the part of students and parents. They realized that this approach caused no compromise in Yirat Shamayim. The enormous upheaval in the political and social structure of Jewish society throughout the land, in the aftermath of war, threatened the stability and loyalty of Jewish youth. Under those circumstances, these Torah leaders felt an urgent need to introduce a similar educational program, on a broad scale, by reorganizing existing schools and establishing new ones, where subjects in Derech Eretz would be taught alongside Limuday Kodesh.
At the behest of the Telzer Rav, Rav Joseph Leib Bloch, a world-renowned gaon and Rosh Yeshivah of the equally renowned Telzer Yeshivah, Dr. [Leo] Deutschlaender, director and guiding spirit of the Keren Hatorah Central Office in Vienna, was summoned to Kovno to organize, in consultation with the Rav [Joseph Zvi Carlebach] such an educational system, to be called Yavneh. . . . At its conclusion, he published a summary of the “Yavneh educational project” in the “Israelit”. He reported that separate teachers’ seminaries for men and women had been established in Kovno, in addition to “gymnasium-style high schools in Telz, Kovno, and Ponevesh, and approximately 100 elementary schools spread throughout the land.”
It is interesting that when the late, unlamented, Jewish Observer published a review of this book by R. Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer, the editor felt constrained to insert the following “clarification,” knowing that its readers would be shocked to learn that Lithuanian Torah Jewry was not an enlarged version of Lakewood.

The best part of this “clarification” is the final sentence. I wonder, why does such a careful scholar and talmid hakham as Rabbi Carlebach need to have his book vetted by “gedolei Torah and roshei yeshivos”, who for all their talmudic learning are not known as experts in historical matters? Since the Agudah gedolei Torah and roshei yeshivot are prepared to cover up historical truths (as seen in their signing on to the ban of Making of a Godol), why in this case did they agree to allow the masses to learn what really was going on in Lithuania? Is it because they too feel the need to change the direction of American haredi Orthodoxy to a more secular studies friendly perspective, and this could help set the stage for this?

Returning to Telz, the question remains why Telz in Cleveland adopted such an extremely negative outlook regarding secular studies? Maybe a reader can offer some insight. R. Rakeffet has reported that R. Samuel Volk of YU, who was himself an old Telzer, commented that Telz in Cleveland distorted what Telz in Europe was about.

An interesting story about the Cleveland Telz was told to me by Rabbi M.C., a Cleveland native (and YU musmach). He was at the Telz high school and upon graduating decided to go to YU. R. Mordechai Gifter summoned M.C.’s mother and told her that if her son goes to YU, within a few months he will no longer be religious. She then angrily demanded that R. Gifter return to her all the years of tuition she had paid. She said: “If you tell me that after all the years my son has studied here, it will only take a few months at YU before he becomes non-religious, then the education you offer must be pretty lousy, and I want my money back!”

R. Dov Lior recalls that R. Zvi Yehudah Kook had a similar reaction when at a meeting of roshei reshiva with Minister of Defense Shimon Peres a haredi rosh yeshiva claimed that putting yeshiva students in the army could lead to them becoming non-religious (Hilah Wolberstein, Mashmia Yeshuah [Merkaz Shapira, 2010], p. 296):

הרכין הרב צבי יהודה את ראשו כולו בוש ונכלם. הרי צבא ישראל, צבאנו הוא, ולא צבא הפריץ הנוכרי, ולכן חובה עלינו להשתתף בו. זאת ועוד, האם המטען שהבחורים קיבלו בישיבות אינו חזק דיו שיש לחשוש כל כך לקלקולם?

[5] See his Shiurei Da’at (Tel Aviv, 1956), vol. 3, p. 65 (in his shiur “Dor Haflagah"), where we see that he was also opposed to messianic Zionism, so it appears that he didn’t really understand R. Kook’s ideology.

הגאולה אי אפשר להביא על ידי תחבולות בני אדם ואי אפשר לדעת אותן, נעלה ונעלם הוא ענין הגאולה, ולכן תבא בהיסח הדעת, כי לא ידעו בני אדם אל נכון איזה מצב הוא הראוי לגאולה.

[6] In all the discussions recently about the success of Daf Yomi, I didn’t see anyone note that one of the reasons this success is so surprising is that the whole notion of Daf Yomi goes against what for many years was the outlook of the rabbinic elite. The Shakh, Yoreh Deah 246:5, quoting the Derishah, states that laypeople should not only study Talmud but also halakhah, which he thinks should be their major focus as practical halakhah is שורש ועיקר לתורתינו. It is not hard to understand the point that since a layperson's time is limited, he will get more out of his learning by focusing on practical material. If, for example, one has an hour a day to learn, what makes more sense: to go through hilkhot Shabbat or to study Talmud? While people today prefer Talmud, the Shakh prefers halakhah, and I don’t know of any rabbinic figures in years past who disagreed with the Shakh. This Shakh is also mentioned in the introduction to the Mishnah Berurah. While it is obvious that one who has time to learn both Talmud and practical halakhah is in the ideal circumstance, how did we get to the situation where those whose time is limited are now encouraged to focus on Talmud? The credit (or blame, depending on your outlook) for this development can, I think, be laid at Artscroll’s door, for Artscroll made learning Talmud exciting for the masses, in a way that halakhah is not, and maybe can never be.

Daf Yomi is so revolutionary precisely due to its democratic ethos, that everyone is welcome to study that which used to be the preserve of only the elites. Much like American universities opened up higher learning to the masses, and created a situation where for the first time in history texts such as Plato and Aristotle were now taught (or spoon-fed) to all, so too, for he first time in history, Daf Yomi allowed Talmud to become a product of mass consumption.
[7] See e.g.. R. Eleazar Shakh, Mikhtavim u-Ma’amarim, vols. 1-2, no. 111.
[8] Rabbi Rakeffet has reported the following story that he was told by R. Bernard Revel’s widow, Sarah. When the Kovno Rav was in New York he was at some gathering with Revel. Revel told him that he had to excuse himself as he had yahrzeit and had to go recite kaddish at a minyan, The Kovno Rav replied: “You also believe in that?” The implication was that the notion of saying kaddish on a yahrzeit was folk religion, not something that Torah scholars take seriously. Mrs. Revel was shocked when she heard the comment, but Rakeffet is probably correct that this was an example of Lithuanian rabbinic humor.
[9] See here.
[10] I heard from a Holocaust survivor that in 1946 Silver came to Kielce. Dressed in a military uniform, he gave a speech telling the people to remain in Poland in order to rebuild Jewish life there. The man who told me this thought that Silver’s speech was directed against the Mizrachi. (Silver was in Poland on July 4, 1946, the date of the infamous Kielce pogrom, yet I don’t know if his visit to Kielce was before or after the pogrom.) Silver was not a chaplain, but rather an emissary of Agudat ha-Rabbanim and Vaad Hatzalah. “The American government agreed to Silver’s wearing an Army uniform so its insignias would add to his protection in areas where anti-Semitism was still rife.”Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff, The Silver Era (Jerusalem/New York, 2000), p. 228.
[11] It has been reported that R. Moshe Sternbuch claims that he was told by R. Velvel Soloveitchik that his father, R. Hayyim, once expressed fear of not being left alone with a religious Zionist. He was worried that the latter would kill him, since the Zionists are suspected of shefihut damim. See Mishkenot ha-Ro’im, vol.1, p. 271, quoting Om Ani Homah, Sivan 5732. (I don’t know if Sternbuch is being quoted accurately, but I can’t imagine that R. Hayyim would ever have said this about a religious Zionist. A number of his own students and relatives were religious Zionists!). The exact same fear was, according to Moshe Blau, expressed by R. Joseph Rozin, the Rogochover:

הלא הם [הציונים] חשודים על הכל, הם חשודים גם על שפיכות דמים

See Yair Borochov, Ha-Rogochovi p. 70. (After the killing of Jacob de Haan, this viewpoint was given some basis.) See ibid., where Blau also quotes the Rogochover as saying that the reason he stopped publicizing his anti-Zionist views was because he was asked to do so by his daughter, who was married to R. Yisrael Abba Citron, the rav of Petah Tikvah. Citron was a Mizrachi supporter and it was creating problems for him that his father-in-law was attacking the Zionist movement. Regarding Citron, see the fascinating book-length biography of him that appears at the beginning of his volume of hiddushim, published in 2010.
[12] As Eliezer Brodt noted in his last post, Bloch’s son, R. Yosef Zalman Bloch, Be-Emunah Shelemah (Monsey, 2012), pp. 115-116, quotes a strongly anti-Zionist and anti-Mizrachi letter of the elder Bloch, attempting to leave the impression that when it came to this issue his father had a completely negative attitude. However, as we have seen, the truth is more complicated. In general, Y.Z. Bloch's book is quite a strange mix of wide learning combined with unbelievable nonsense, a point alluded to much more gently by Brodt. On the very page that he quotes his father’s view of Zionism, he tells us that one who does not believe that God’s individual providence encompasses everything in the world, even the animals, insects, falling leaves, etc. הרי הוא כופר בעיקר, ואין לו חלק לעוה"ב. He says that the sages in earlier times who didn’t have this perspective were tzadikim and they are at present in Olam ha-Ba, but today, after the matter has been “decided” by the Masorah, holding such a position is heretical. Leaving aside the question as to why he feels he is a prophet and can in bombastic fashion declare who has lost his share in the World to Come (something he is fond of doing in this book), does he not realize how many great Torah scholars from even recent generations he has (inadvertently?) condemned as heretics?

This is all so obvious to me that I don’t see any need to cite “authorities.” But for those who want this, let me offer the following. A few years ago, an author writing in Mishpahah asserted that one who believes that animals are not subject to individual providence, it is like he is “eating fowl with milk” (which is a lot less severe than Bloch’s judgment that such a person is a heretic with no share in the World to Come). R. Meir Mazuz, Or Torah, Tamuz 5769, pp. 867-868, responded to this strange assertion by citing many authorities who indeed held this position, and he mentions nothing about it being “rejected by the Masorah.” He concludes:

אבל אטו מי שסובר כדעת הרמב"ם והרמב"ן והרד"ק ורבינו בחיי וספר החינוך ומהרש"א והרמ"ק ומהר"י אירגאס והגר"א נקרא אוכל בשר עוף בחלב?

A large section of Bloch's book is designed to show that the only acceptable Torah belief is that the sun, planets, and stars revolve around the earth. As for Copernicus, he refers to him as קופירניקוס הרשע שר"י (p. 351 n. 36).

Among his nuggets of wisdom is that astronomy is the most heretical, and anti-Jewish, of all the sciences. P. 387 n. 1:

וצריכה למודעי, דספרי חכמת התכונה גרעי טובא יותר מכל שאר ספרי חכמתם, שמלאים אפיקורסות ושנאת הקב"ה ר"ל, שנאת דת יהודית, ושנאת האמת, שטויות ושגעונות, עד שיש להתפלא מה טעם יהיו "חכמיהם" וספריהם האלו כל כך מטופשים ומלאי ארס הכפירה יותר מכל שאר ספרי חכמיהם.

Since, as he states, these scientists are not only heretics but also stupid fools, one can only wonder how they were able to figure out how to put a man on the moon.

On p. 331 he refers to the view of R. Jacob Kamenetsky (without mentioning him by name) that the first four chapters of Hilkhot Yesodei ha-Torah are not to be regarded as Torah but as פילוסופיא בעלמא. See Emet le-Yaakov (New York, 1998), pp. 15-16. Bloch sees this as absolute heresy, and he quotes R. Yehudah Segal of Manchester as saying that even if the Hatam Sofer or the Noda bi-Yehudah said this, we would not accept what they said, and would be forced to reinterpret their words. Bloch quotes this approvingly, and this illustrates the problem. He is so locked into his dogmatic assumptions that his mind is closed and doesn’t want to be confused with the facts.. If most people were shown an explicit text of the Hatam Sofer or Noda bi-Yehudah that diverges from their dogmatic assumption, they would conclude that their assumption of what is “acceptable” needs to be revised. But Bloch refuses to even acknowledge the possibility that people greater than him might have a different perspective on what constitute the fundamentals of faith.

Bloch advocates this approach even when it comes to the rishonim (p. 117):

ואפילו מה שכתבו עמודי העולם הראשונים ז"ל, אם אינו מתאים עם האמונה הפשוטה הברורה שבה"אני מאמין", וכפי שנמסרה לנו ה"אני מאמין" מאבותינו ואמותינו הצדיקים והצדקניות, הַניחו אותה בקרן זוית.

On p. 336 Bloch goes further than merely rejecting the Copernican outlook that earth revolves around the sun. He also denies that the earth rotates on its axis. According to him, it is a Torah truth that the earth stands still: שהארץ עומדת על עמדה ואינה זזה כלל.

The absolute craziest thing he says, in a book filled with absurdities, is that the sun, moon, and all the stars [!] revolve around the earth every twenty-four hours!:

שהשמש והירח וכל הכוכבי-לכת וכל הכוכבים וכל צבא השמים סובבים יחד את כדור הארץ בכל עשרים וארבע שעות.

I  guess it is a neat trick that stars so many light years away (i.e., trillions of miles away) are able to circle earth each day. (Our galaxy alone has hundreds of billions of stars.) But seriously, is one supposed to laugh or cry when reading this? How should one relate to a rabbi who so dishonors the Torah by claiming that this is Torah truth, and a required belief of any religious Jew?

On p. 289 Bloch writes:

והא דמצינו לפעמים שאחד מרבותינו הראשונים או אחד מגדולי האחרונים ז"ל אשר מימיהם אנו שותים, אמרו על איזה אגדתא שזה גוזמא, תדע לנכון דלא משום שח"ו לא הרכינו ראשם לכל הנאמר בגמרא, וחשבו שמה שרחוק מהמציאות שלעינינו בהכרח יתפרש רק כגוזמא, אלא דכך היתה קבלתם דזה המאמר המובא בתלמוד לא נאמרה מעיקרא כפשוטה אלא כגוזמא.

Everything in this sentence is incorrect, and is contradicted by numerous explicit statements in rishonim and aharonim.
[13] Joseph Karo: Lawyer and Mystic (Oxford, 1962)
[14] Regarding why R. Joseph Karo doesn’t mention the maggid in his halakhic writings, see Eliezer Brodt, Likutei Eliezer (Jerusalem, 2010), pp. 106ff. As usual, Brodt shows incredible erudition.
[15] Kol Bo al Avelut (Brooklyn, 1951), vol. 2, p. 31, in the note. Greenwald elaborates on this position in Ha-Rav R. Yosef Karo (New York, 1953), ch. 8.

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