Conservative Conversions, Some Grammatical Points, and a Newly Published Section of a Letter from R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik Marc B. Shapiro 1. Since I mentioned R. Ovadiah Hoffman in the last post, I would be remiss in not noting that he and his ...

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Conservative Conversions, Some Grammatical Points, and a Newly Published Section of a Letter from R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik

Conservative Conversions, Some Grammatical Points, and a Newly Published Section of a Letter from R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik

Marc B. Shapiro

1. Since I mentioned R. Ovadiah Hoffman in the last post, I would be remiss in not noting that he and his brother, R. Yissachar Dov, recently published volume 4 of Ha-Mashbir, devoted to R. Ovadiah Yosef. It can be purchased here.

The volume contains a previously unpublished letter by R. Ovadiah Yosef that I provided, dealing with a rabbi who improperly converted people. It also contains a number of other noteworthy sections, such as R. Ovadiah’s notes to R. Ben Zion Uziel’s Mishpetei Uziel, talmudic notes from R. Uziel published from manuscript, R. Meir Mazuz’s notes to R. Ovadiah’s Yehaveh Da’at, and many valuable articles by contemporary Torah scholars, including the editors. Of particular interest to me was R. Yissachar Dov Hoffman’s article on the practice of a number of great Torah sages of prior generations not to kiss their children. Such a practice is so much against the contemporary mindset of what is regarded as healthy that, as R. Hoffman notes, even a Satmar rabbi, R. Israel David Harfenes, has stated that “in our time it is forbidden to follow this path” (p. 293).

Apropos of the above-mentioned responsum on conversion by R. Ovadiah Yosef, in Beit Hillel, Adar 5770, R. Avraham Meir Yonah deals with a conversion done by a Conservative beit din. He rules that in this particular case the conversion is valid. This ruling was affirmed by R. Ovadiah. 

In his responsum, R. Yonah states that R. Moses Feinstein regarded Conservative conversions as doubtful conversions rather than completely invalid, and brought two supposed proofs for this. I responded to R. Yonah in Beit Hillel 43 (Heshvan 5770), and you can see my letter here.[1]

To his credit, R. Yonah acknowledged that he was mistaken in his reading of R. Feinstein’s responsum.[2] It is also the case, as I mention in my letter, that it is possible that a conversion done by a Conservative rabbi, especially from years ago, could be halakhically valid. R. Feinstein himself, who wrote very strongly against Conservative conversions, also writes about such a conversion: כמעט ברור שאין עושין הגרות כדין. The word כמעט shows us that even R. Moshe recognized that there are times when a Conservative conversion can be halakhically valid. In Mesorat Moshe, vol. 1, p. 327, we see as well that R. Moshe acknowledged the possibility that a Conservative conversion could be valid:

אולי יש להסתפק דאפשר לא היו ב"ד של פסוליםדיש אנשיםבעצם דתיים ומאמיניםשמחמת דוחק פרנסה מקבלים משרה כרבנים אצלםואפילו אם למדו בסמינר שלהםאולי בעצמו כן מאמיןולפיכך למעשהאם זה אפשר לבררתבררוואם קשה לברראז אולי שייך להגיד השערהשאם זה בכפר או עיר רחוק מעיקר ישוב היהדות הדתי מסתמא אין להסתפקבוודאי אינו כלוםואם זה בעיר שיש בו ישוב דתינואזי כן יש ספק.

I also know someone who offers eyewitness testimony that R. Moshe did not think that every Conservative conversion could be voided without investigation, especially as this would mean that women married to these converts would then be able to remarry without a get. R. Moshe was not willing to go this far.

Similarly, R. Ovadiah Yosef, when asked about a Conservative conversion, replied that before giving a ruling it was necessary to find out which Conservative rabbi did the conversion, “since the Conservatives are not all alike.”[3]

R. Ovadiah was also asked about a woman who had become religious and was interested in going out with a kohen for the purpose of marriage. The problem was that she had slept with a man whose mother was converted by a Conservative rabbi. This man’s family was somewhat traditional as they kept kosher, made kiddush, and lit Shabbat candles. Could the woman in question marry a kohen, which is forbidden if she had slept with a non-Jew? The answer to this question depends on the status of the man whose mother was converted by a Conservative rabbi. If the conversion was invalid then the man was also to be regarded as a non-Jew, and the woman we are discussing, who slept with this man, would be forbidden to a kohen.

R. Ovadiah replied that the woman could marry a kohen, which means that be-diavad he accepted the Conservative conversion. He gave this ruling without even seeking further knowledge about the particular rabbi who did the conversion under question, which appears to me to be an incredible leniency. In seeking to explain this ruling, R. Yehudah Naki writes, “We see that they observed some mitzvot, so be-diavad there is more room to be lenient, at least not to forbid others” (that is, to forbid the woman from marrying the kohen).[4]

As mentioned, R. Ovadiah accepted R. Yonah’s pesak that a particular conversion carried out by a Conservative beit din was valid. In this case, the daughter of a woman who had been converted wished to marry a kohen. This would only be allowed if the daughter was born Jewish, meaning that everything depended on the status of her mother’s conversion. Here is how R. Yonah described this particular Conservative beit din.[5]

ובירורים שעשינו בנ"ד התברר לנו שב"ד הזה שגיירוההם אנשים שנקראים וידועים כשומרי תורה ומצוותובעצם הם אורטודוכסיםוגם הגיור שעשוע"פ כל החקירות ודרישות שעשיתיהקפידו בכל הדברים כולםהן בטבילהחציצה וכווכו', הן בקבלת מצותולימודי יהדות קודם הגיורלא פחות ואולי יותרמהרבה בתי דינים אחרים שנחשבים לחרדייםוא"כ אין כל סיבה לפע"ד לפסול גיור זה.

Here is R. Ovadiah’s affirmation of R. Yonah’s pesak, from Beit Hillel, Adar 5770, p. 60.

That a Conservative conversion might be valid also appears to be assumed by R. Mordechai Eliyahu. This is what he writes in his Ma’amar Mordechai, vol. 2, Even ha-Ezer, no. 16:

ובענין הגר שנתגייר אצל הקונסרבטיבים והוא אינו שומר תורה ומצוותוהיה לכם ספק אם אפשר לכתוב שם יהודי שניתן לושם שלא השתמש בו מעולםאו לכתוב בן אאע"הנראה לימאחר וכל עצם נתינת הגט של אדם זה הוא לחומרא ולא מדינאכי מי אמר שגרותו – גרותוגיוריהם של הרבנים הקונסרבטיבים – גיור . . .

R. Eliyahu does not say that there is absolutely no reason for a get when dealing with a Conservative conversion. Rather, he refers to it as a humra. Also, note how he states, “who says that his conversion was a [valid] conversion?” This is the language of safek. He does not say, “certainly his conversion was invalid.”[6]

2. In a previous post here I mentioned a few common pronunciation mistakes in Kiddush. There is one more that I would like to mention, but it is a little more complicated than the ones I previous noted. In the Friday night kiddush we say כי הוא יום תחלה למקראי קודש. Where is one supposed to put the accent in the word למקראי? If you look at ArtScroll you find that it puts the accent on the penultimate syllable, the ר. However, Koren and most of the other siddurim I checked put the accent on the final syllable, the א.

I don’t know why this should be a matter of dispute, because the Torah itself uses the expression מקראי קודש three times (Lev. 23:2, 4, 37), and in every case the accent in מקראי is on the final syllable.[7] The Yom Tov morning kiddush also begins: אלה מועדי המקראי קודש. For some reason ArtScroll is not consistent, and in this case it puts the accent in מקראי on the א.

After my last post someone emailed me pointing out that another “common mistake” is that in Birkat ha-Mazon, in the second paragraph, people say נודה לך putting the accent on the first syllable instead of the second. In fact, the tune for Birkat ha-Mazon that American children are taught at schools around the country has the word נודה recited with the accent on the first syllable. Should we now start teaching all the children differently, so that they pronounce נודה with the accent on the second syllable which is how ArtScroll, Koren, and almost all the other siddurim have it?

Actually, this matter is not clear at all. I say this because if you open up a Tanakh to Psalms 79:13 and look at the words נודה לך you will find different versions. Some have the word נודה with the accent on the final syllable and others have the accent on the first syllable. The Aleppo Codex has the accent on the first syllable and puts a dagesh in the ל of לך. Although the practice of American children (and adults) pronouncing the word נודה with the accent on the first syllable has nothing to do with the Aleppo Codex, the fact that this pronunciation appears in such an important source means that there is no reason to change how the children are taught. However, this creates a problem because in the Amidah, in Modim, we say נודה לך ונספר תהלתך. If we are going to recite נודה of Birkat ha-Mazon with the accent on the first syllable, then we should be consistent and do the same thing in the Amidah, in ברוך הלעולם in ma’ariv: נודה לך לעולם, and also in the so-called “Three-Faceted Blessing” (ברכה מעין שלש Al ha-Mihyah): ונודה לך על הארץ.

Speaking of consistency, in Birkat ha-Mazon, the Amidahברוך הלעולם, and the Three-Faceted Blessing, both the regular ArtScroll siddur and Koren have the accent in נודה on the final syllable. However, in the Amidahברוך הלעולם, and the Three-Faceted-Blessing they both place a dagesh in the ל of ונודה לך and נודה לך, but do not place a dagesh in the ל of נודה לך in Birkat ha-Mazon. This makes no sense. If there is a dagesh in one there must be a dagesh in all of them. (In the Hebrew-only ArtScroll siddur they also put a dagesh in the in the ל of נודה לך in Birkat ha-Mazon.)

I think it is a mistake for ArtScroll and Koren to place a dagesh in לך in any of these instances. Since no exception with נודה לך is found in Tanakh, the only reason there would be a dagesh in לך is if the word נודה has the accent on the first syllable, as in the Aleppo Codex (and unlike what appears in ArtScroll and Koren), or if there is a makef between the two words.[8]

Regarding the word נודה, it is worth noting that in Ein Ke-loheinu there is no question that נודה is to be read with the accent on the final syllable (as the matter of where to put the accent in נודה only concerns the phrase נודה לך). Here is an example where the common tune, which puts the accent on the first syllable, cannot be defended grammatically.

I noticed two mistakes in the regular ArtScroll siddur which appear correctly in Koren. In the morning blessings we say אשר נתן לשכוי בינה. Where is the accent in the word לשכוי? ArtScroll puts the accent on the final syllable, and Koren puts the accent on the penultimate syllable, on the ש. Koren is correct as there is an explicit verse in Job 38:36: מי נתן לשכוי בינה. If you look at the trop on this verse you will find that the accent in לשכוי is on the penultimate syllable. Interestingly, in the Hebrew-only ArtScroll siddur they get this right.

The other mistake is that in Birkat ha-Mazon on Sukkot we say:

הרחמן הוא יקים לנו את סכת דויד הנופלת

ArtScroll puts a kamatz under the פ in הנופלת. Koren puts a segol and that is correct. We see this from the appearance of the word in Amos 9:11, and there is no change of vowel even on the etnahta.[9]

I also found an example where ArtScroll gets it right and Koren is mistaken. In ma’ariv, in the paragraph ואמונה כל זאת, we say העושה לנו נסים. Koren has העושה with the accent on the final syllable and the ל of לנו with a dagesh. Yet this doesn’t work. For there to be a dagesh in the ל, the prior word, העושה, has to have the accent on the penultimate syllable, which is how it appears in ArtScroll.

Another example where ArtScroll gets it right and Koren gets it wrong is in the morning blessings where we say שעשה לי כל צרכי. Koren puts the accent in שעשה on the final syllable. Yet this is a mistake, and as is correctly found in ArtScroll the accent is on the penultimate syllable, the ע.

Since I have been speaking about the ArtScroll siddur, let me add a couple of comments about the Yom Kippur Machzor. Here is how Shema Kolenu appears in my copy of the Yom Kippur Machzor (p. 596).

The instructions tell us that “the first six verses of the following prayer are recited responsively, chazzan then congregation.” The problem is that I have never seen a synagogue that says the verses beginning אמרינו and אל תעזבנו responsively. What all these synagogues do is say the following four verses responsively:

שמע קולנו
אל תשליכנו מלפניך
אל תשליכנו לעת זקנה

In my experience, not only does no one say the verses beginning אמרינו and אל תעזבנו responsively, but they don't say יהיו לרצון quietly either.

The text recorded by ArtScroll is the one found in many old Ashkenazic machzorim. So when and how were אמרינו and אל תעזבנו dropped from the responsive reading, or is it that from the beginning they were not included? As for יהיו לרצון, the old machzorim do not indicate that this is said quietly, so was there ever a tradition to recite it quietly or is ArtScroll simply trying to make sense of a verse that is found in the Machzor but no longer appears to be recited? If יהיו לרצון was originally part of the public reading, we again have to ask, why was it dropped?

Recognizing the problem, in the new edition of the ArtScroll machzor they made a change.

As you can see, אל תעזבנו has now been pushed to the next paragraph. We are also instructed that both אמרינו and יהיו לרצון are to be said quietly. Yet this doesn’t seem to make any sense, as those who are reciting Shema Kolenu responsively will not be saying these verses quietly. And again, I ask, is there any real tradition that these verses are to be said quietly, or is this something made up by people in an attempt to keep the traditional text of the Machzor while dealing with the fact that these verses are not part of the responsive reading? Unfortunately, when updating the Machzor, ArtScroll did not correct the instructions which still refer to the “first six verses” as being recited responsively, when instead it should say the “following four verses”.

Here is how Koren has the prayer.

This version, which puts אמרינו and יהיו לרצון before the final verse, is also attested to in prior machzorim, though the order found in ArtScroll appears to be the older version. 

To sum up, I am not sure what the best path for ArtScroll would have been. On the one hand, they could have adopted the version found in Koren, which solves all the problems. Keeping what appears to be the more authentic version, which they did, also makes sense, but then they were forced to add the instructions that certain verses are to be said silently. I have checked numerous old machzorim and there is no indication that these verses are to be said silently. Was there perhaps an oral tradition in this matter? Perhaps readers can comment on this. In any event, ArtScroll’s instructions are problematic, since, as mentioned, if people are reciting the prayer responsively, they are not going to be inserting two consecutive sentences quietly. 

I noticed another interesting change in the ArtScroll Yom Kippur machzor between the old edition and the new one. Here is והכהנים והעם in the old edition.

It reads היו כורעים ומשתחוים ומודים ונופלים על פניהם.

Here is the new edition, where the word ומודים has been deleted. ArtScroll neglected to change the English translation, so it still appears, now incorrectly, as: “they would kneel and prostrate themselves, give thanks, fall upon their faces.”

Why was the word ומודים deleted? Based on what I have been able to determine, the version without the word ומודים is more common, so presumably that is the reason. Although most people might just chalk this up to a different girsa, R. Soloveitchik saw great significance in the alternative versions, and explained their different implications.[10]

Here are a couple of random mistakes I found in ArtScroll. (I use the ArtScroll siddur every day of the week, which is how I have come across these. I am sure that if I used Koren, I would find mistakes there too.) In the ArtScroll siddur, p. 86 it reads:

ואל מאורי אור שעשיתיפארוךסלה

There is a dagesh in the ס of סלה. This means that the comma after יפארוך is a mistake, as you cannot place a dagesh in this ס if preceded by a comma.

Another mistake is found on p. 702, in the prayer for dew, which states בעם זו בזו. Its translation is correct: “Among this people, through this prayer.” However, I would have preferred if it appeared as follows: “Among this people, through this [prayer],” which would be a more accurate rendition of the few words. (This is indeed how it is translated in the ArtScroll Passover Machzor.) 

ArtScroll vocalizes these words be-am zu be-zu. Yet this is incorrect. בזו should be pronounced be-zo, referring to תפלה, the feminine Hebrew word for prayer. Koren gets this correct. This confusion of ArtScroll with zu and zo is also found on p. 202, where in the marriage service we find בטבעת זו and ArtScroll pronounces it zu, instead of zo. Again, Koren gets it right. (The word זו often appears in the Talmud, and the ArtScroll Talmud always pronounces it correctly.) 

Let me close with one final mistake in ArtScroll, or perhaps it is not a mistake; readers can decide on their own. The ArtScroll Ohel Sarah Women’s Siddur is a special siddur designed for women. On the very first page of the prayers, this siddur has מודה אני with a segol under the ד. In a women’s siddur doesn’t there need to be a kamatz under the ד so that it reads modah?

This might reflect a broader issue. My experience is that in co-ed kindergartens the girls are also taught to say modeh. This might not be surprising, but I was also told by a number of people that even in girls-only kindergartens, both Ashkenazic and even some Sephardic ones, the girls are taught to say modeh. No doubt recognizing this problem, R. Yitzhak Yosef makes a point of placing a kamatz under the ד so that people will know how women are to pronounce the word.[11] R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach likewise told the women in his family to say modah.[12] 

It is noteworthy that in one of the editions of Wolf Heidenheim's Siddur Sefat Emet, found on Otzar ha-Hokhmah, girls are instructed to say modah.

However, this edition appeared after Heidenheim's death, and unfortunately there is no way to determine exactly when. (The Basel 1956 date on the title page is just the date of the photo-offset edition, not the original.) As far as I can tell, none of the siddurim that appeared in Heidenheim's lifetime distinguish between men and women with regard to modeh-modah.

In response to questioners, R. Hayyim Kanievsky also stated that women are to pronounce the word as modah.[13] Despite this, when R. Meir Arbah asked Rebbetzin Batsheva Kanievsky, R. Hayyim’s wife, what she did, she replied that she pronounced it modeh![14]

The ArtScroll Women’s siddur also has שלא עשני גוי and not גויה and שלא עשני עבד instead of שפחה. This too would seem to be incorrect in a women’s siddur, but the standard version is defended by R. Shmuel Wosner, as he claims that the words גוי and עבד include both men and women.[15] More about this in the next post.

3. We all know that everything written by R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik is precious.[16] One area in which the Rav was very eloquent and forceful was with regard to the necessity of having a mehitzah in shul. In Baruch Litvin’s 1959 book, The Sanctity of the Synagogue, pp. 109-114, it prints a letter from the Rav to an RCA convention.

This letter has been reprinted in Nathaniel Helfgot, Community, Covenant and Commitment, pp. 139-142.

Moshe Schwartz found a copy of the original letter in the papers of his grandfather, R. Gedaliah Dov Schwartz. I think him for sending it to me.

One interesting point which is not found in the Litvin book is that the Rav’s letter, while intended for RCA members, was addressed to R. David Hollander, the president of the RCA at the time. This is important to note because in the second paragraph he is speaking personally to R. Hollander and praising him for his good works. However, the reader of the letter in Litvin’s book will mistakenly think that the Rav is speaking to the RCA as a whole.

Furthermore, some of what R. Soloveitchik included was deleted from the letter as it appeared in the Litvin book. This was apparently because his points were not specifically relevant to the mehitzah issue. I am happy to be able to present here the omitted words of the Rav which until now have never been published, and which present an important personal statement about the halakhic process. Readers should note the end of the second paragraph that is transcribed below, as it is criticism of certain members of the RCA. Similar sentiments are found earlier in the letter (Litvin, p. 110, first paragraph), where the Rav concludes his paragraph with the strong words: “However, many of our colleagues choose the derech ketzarah va’aruchah, the easy way which leads to doom and destruction.”

As chairman of the Vaad Halachah I intended to inform the conference about our activities during the past year. Since I am prevented from doing so I have asked my friend Rabbi Joseph Weiss to take my place.

Permit me to say the following. One of the fundamentals of my faith is that the Halachah is an all-inclusive discipline and system of thought capable of meeting any challenge of modern times and of confronting the most perplexing problems which a technically progressive and scientifically minded society may periodically pose. This optimistic formula, however, cannot always be successfully applied because of the limited knowledge and the imperfect intellectual capability of the human being. I for one, am not always able to behold the Halachic truth and to see the light under all circumstances. Many a time I grope in the dark, pondering, examining and re-examining an intricate Halachic problem – and find myself unable to arrive at a clear decision. Even the Talmud has not solved all problems and has not answered all questions. The Teiku is a very prominent and characteristic feature of Torah She-B’al Peh. We members of the Halachah Commission are not partners in a contracting firm whose task it is to provide every member of the Rabbinical Council of America with a clear-cut answer to his problems. Quite often the solution eludes us. We are beset by grave doubts. We face many alternatives not knowing which to choose since each is supported by sound logical reasoning. We cannot be guided in our decisions by emotional factors or pragmatic arbitrariness and hence we are impelled to employ in such situations the principle of “B’divrai Torah Haloch Achar Hamachmir” which seems to inconvenience some of our members.

Religious Jews have of late developed an intolerant attitude towards what they call the shyness and reluctance on the part of scholars to commit themselves on Halachic issues, not knowing that there is no omniscience in this world and that doubt is an integral part of the Halachic experience as it is of every scientific performance. A rabbi who thinks that he can solve all problems is implicitly admitting his own ignorance. I implore the convention to abstain from leveling charges of evasion at the Halachah Commission. Let us not repeat the complaints which are so common in religious circles in Israel about a lack of boldness on the part of the rabbinate. They come, for the most part, from people who are not conversant with Halachic scholarship. If there is in our ranks some one wise enough to undertake to answer all Halachic questions by return mail, I would not hesitate to relinquish my position as chairman to him.

In the last paragraph of the letter, as it appears in Litvin, p. 114, the following words that I have underlined are omitted (and this appears to be a simple mistake rather than an intentional deletion): “I realize your problems, I am cognizant of the temptations to which you are exposed and I also know the great work you have been doing in the remote parts of our country.”

In this case I think that the Rav is speaking to the RCA members as a whole, not to R. Hollander personally.

The P.S. found in the Rav’s letter is also of interest.

P.S., I would suggest that the convention adopt a resolution condemning the Humphrey Bill pertaining to humane method of slaughter. The convention should also send a letter of thanks to the State Department for the special attention of Assistant Secretary Herbert Hoover, Jr., for its stand against the proposed calendar reform.

4. In my previous post about young rabbis I neglected to mention another such rabbi. R. Yekutiel Yehudah Teitelbaum (born 1912) succeeded his father as rabbi of the town of Sighet, and also as leader of the local hasidic group, at the age of 14.[17]

5. In addition to being the posek of the OU, R. Hershel Schachter is also the one Kashrut Vaads all over America turn to for halakhic decisions. That being the case, now that R. Schachter has publicly declared that swordfish is kosher[18] (his private opinion has been known for a long time), how come no Vaads in the United States will certify it as kosher? (In the first half of the twentieth century Orthodox Jews in the U.S. ate swordfish. See my post here.) Does this mean that in the U.S. the practice of not eating swordfish is for all intents and purposes now regarded as binding, and cannot be overturned even by a great posek?

6. Last summer I spent time in Djerba, Tunisia. I hope to write up my impressions of this amazing community of over one thousand Jews, all of whom are shomer Shabbat. Djerba, and the nearby town of Zarzis which has around a hundred Jews, are the last Arabic speaking Jewish communities in the world. (In Tunis and Morocco the Jews speak French.) Here are some pictures from inside the R. Pinhas Yanah synagogue in Djerba, where you can see the signs in Arabic.

Here is a small learning group in one of the synagogues after ma’ariv. They invited me to participate but not knowing Arabic I couldn't follow.

When I came back one of my friends told me that I must share one particular story on the Seforim Blog, so here goes. There are fourteen different synagogues in Djerba. After visiting a number of them I noticed that had no women’s sections. I asked one of the rabbis about the lack of ezrat nashim. He replied, in words that must sound blasphemous to Modern Orthodox ears, “What do women have to do with a synagogue?” While in the U.S. we build “women friendly” mehitzot, so that as much as possible the women can feel part of the synagogue service, in Djerba women’s spirituality has nothing to do with the synagogue. While I later learned that three of the synagogues do have an ezrat nashim, women never attend on Shabbat, only on Rosh ha-Shanah, Yom Kippur, and Purim. The popular Modern Orthodox notion that it is important for women, especially unmarried ones, to attend synagogue on Shabbat is something the women of Djerba know nothing about.


[1] If I were writing the letter today, I would not refer to R. Ahron Soloveichik as rosh ha-rabanim and mara de-atra. I did so to give him respect, but it is not really accurate. While many people certainly did regard him as the leading rabbi of Chicago, and accepted his halakhic rulings as authoritative, this was by no means everyone’s opinion. Regarding R. Moshe Feinstein’s view permitting the non-Orthodox to use the community mikveh for their conversions, which is mentioned in my letter, it is important to note that this was only when the non-Orthodox institutions contributed to building the mikveh.
[2] The same mistake made by R. Yonah is also made by R. Yehudah Naki in his notes to R. Ovadiah Yosef, Ma’yan Omer, vol. 7, pp. 362-363, 390, 400-401.
[3] Ma’yan Omer, vol. 7, no. 38.
[4] Ma’yan Omer, vol. 7, no. 42.
[5] Beit Hillel, Adar 5770, p.
[6] R. Eliyahu’s responsum was sent to R. Gavriel Cohen, who has a beit din in Los Angeles. See here. This Beit Din also does conversions, and they have a very detailed curriculum for prospective converts. You can see a practice test of the 45 topics prospective converts are supposed to learn about here.

I have to say that until the last generation, converts were never required to have such detailed knowledge. Leaving aside all of the detailed issues of Jewish law the convert is instructed to learn about (including “Trumot and Maasarot, Challah, Bikurim, Maaser Ani and other types of charity”), does a convert really need to know about Elijah at Mt. Carmel or about “Tzedukim, Prushim, Charedim, Zealots (anti Romans and Greeks)”? Does a convert need to be able to “develop in detail” the following: Joshua, Judges (“mention at least 10 Judges and their stories”), Samuel, Saul, Jonathan, Isaiah, Jeremiah, the Twelve Prophets, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, to list just some of the topics required? And  what about Rif, Rosh, Rashba, Tur, Zohar, Kabbalah, Shabbetai Zvi, Orhot TzadikimMesilat Yesharim, etc.? Since when do converts need to know about these things?

In the section dealing with the history of converts, R. Cohen’s website mentions Nero and Antoninus as things to know. Does this mean that if the future convert does not believe that these Roman emperors actually converted to Judaism, that he will not be accepted? (My next post will discuss Nero and Antoninus.) On the positive side, if even yeshiva educated people knew all the things the converts are being asked about, we would be in very good shape.

Contrast all this with how Maimonides says that we deal with future converts, in words that today would be regarded as “non-Orthodox,” or presenting a very low standard. Issurei Biah 14:2 states: “He [the prospective convert] should then be made acquainted with the principles of the faith, which are the oneness of God and the prohibition of idolatry. These matters should be discussed in great detail; he should then be told, though not at great length, about some of the less weighty and some of the more weighty commandments.”
[7] See also here.
[8] See Israel Yeivin, Introduction to the Tiberian Masorah, trans. E. J. Revell (n.p., 1980), no. 404. See also R. Adir Amrutzi, Dikdukei Aviah (Tel Aviv, 2010), p. 146. Regarding the Aleppo Codex and use of the dagesh, the following point is also of interest. Many people wonder why in Hallel the words הושיעה נא and הצליחה נא, taken from Ps. 118:25, only have a dagesh in the נ in הושיעה נא. In fact, in the Aleppo Codex both occurrences of the word נא have a dagesh. Also of interest, since it goes against what one would expect from the grammatical rules, the Aleppo Codex puts the accent on the final syllable of both הושיעה and הצליחה, and there is no makef after either of these words. See Yeivin, Introduction to the Tiberian Masorah, p. 291.

Regarding the makef, ArtScroll has omitted it from its siddur. Yet once they do so, it appears to me that there are a number of corrections that need to be made. For example, in shaharit of Shabbat we read

מי ידמה לך ומי ישוה לך

ArtScroll tells us that ידמה and ישוה have the accent on the final syllable and ArtScroll also puts a dagesh in the ל of לך. Yet the Masoretes who told us that in such a case you put a dagesh in the ל, also told us that you would only do so if there is a makef connecting the word לך and the prior word. Since ArtScroll has deleted the makef, why should the dagesh be included, as there is no reason for one without the other? (Koren also includes the dagesh without a makef.)

For those who want to be technical, once the makef is removed we even have a problem with the word כלכל, meaning “all”, is only spelled with a kamatz (katan) when it is connected with a makef. However, when the makef is removed it is to be spelled with a holem. (The two exceptions are Ps. 35:10 and Prov. 19:7.) See Bayit Ne’eman 130 (15 Tishrei 5779), p. 5.

In biblical Hebrew there is even a word כל with a kamatz (gadol) and no makef. It is found in Isaiah 40:12:

וכל בשלש עפר הארץ

The passage means, “and comprehended the dust of the earth in a shalish-measure.” The word כל with a kamatz and no makef is from the root כול. The word כל with a kamatz and makef, which is the word we are all familiar with, is from the root כלל.
[9] This point was also noted by the Dikdukian here. For those who don’t know this website, it is a great resource for anyone interested in grammatical matters.
[10] Shiurei Ha-Grid: Kuntres Avodat Yom ha-Kippurim (Jerusalem, 2005), pp. 66-67.
[11] Otzar Dinim la-Ishah ve-la-Bat, ch. 1, no. 2 (p. 22), Yalkut YosefDinei Hashkamat ha-Boker, 1:9. It is noteworthy that R. Yom Tov Lippman Heller was also interested in ensuring proper pronunciation. Mishnah, Toharot 8:5 reads: שוטה אחת בעיר. Tosafot Yom Tov comments:

בקמץ הטי"ת כמו כי רועה היא (בראשית כט)

[12] Halikhot Shlomo, Tefilah, ch. 2 n. 17.
[13] Halikhot Hayyim, ch. 1 no. 1, Da’at Notah, vol. 1, p. 16. The very title of the last book mentioned is an example of what we are talking about, as it is more common for people to write “da’at noteh”, but this is not grammatical.
[14] Meir Oz, vol. 1, p. 27.
[15] Shevet ha-Levi, vol. 10, no. 8.
[16] I have been fortunate to discover a number of unknown letters by the Rav which I hope to publish.
[17] See Isaac Lewin, ed., Eleh Ezkerah (New York, 1961), vol. 4, p. 147. R. Jacob Elimelech Paneth was chosen to succeed his father as rabbi of Marosújvár at age fourteen, but he did not assume the office in practice until four or five years later. See Yosef Kohen, Hakhmei Transylvania (Jerusalem, 1989), p. 37. I thank R. Baruch Oberlander for informing me of the Hungarian name of the city R. Paneth served in.
[18] The interview with R. Schachter reprinted in this post is from April 20, 2018.

Seforim Blog 2.0: How You Can Help

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"שואה, מדוע אלו שנהרגו בה נקראו "קדושים

"שואה, מדוע אלו שנהרגו בה נקראו "קדושים

הרב משה צוריאל

הרבה חקרו בשאלה מה הוא המקור לכך שאומתנו מעניקה תואר-כבוד "קדושים" לנהרגים בשואה במלחמת העולם השניה. פשוט הדבר שהנהרג מפני שהוא מקיים אחת ממצוות התורה, והגוים הורגים אותו על כך, הוא נקרא "קדוש". אבל ההרוגים בשואה לא נהרגו מפני שקיימו מצוות. גם אם נגיד שנהרגו מפני שהיו יהודים, רק אם היתה להם אפשרות להכחיש יהדותם ולהמלט, ובכל זאת בחרו להודות ביהדותם, אפשר לכנותם "קדושים". אבל העובדה היא שלרובם של ההרוגים לא היתה שום אפשרות להמלט. ומפני מה נקרא להם קדושים"? והרי אין מקור לזה, לא בגמרא, ולא בספרי "ראשונים" ואף לא בספרי גדולי הדורות האחרונים.[1]1

הרב אליהו דסלר, בספרו "מכתב מאליהו" (ח"ג עמ' שמ"ח) כתב בשנת תש"ו (שנה אחרי המלחמה) "רבים שאלו ותמהו, מה בצע במיתות הללו? אילו מתוך גזירת שמד מתו, ומסרו נפשם על קדושת שמו, הלא דבר הוא. אבל הרוצחים הללו לא לאמונה דרשו, אלא להשמיד להרוג ולאבד כמאמין כמומר, ולהמית את כולם על שנולדו ויהודים, וכי מה ענין יש בזה? הן גם אפשרות לקדש את שמו ית' לא ניתנה להרוגים!ואם כן, על מה למה? תמיהה רבתי". [עכ"ל]

הרב יצחק ויינברג בספר "בכל נפשך" (ירושלים, תשס"ד, עניני קידוש השם, בסי' ע"ב) הביא בשם רש"ז אויערבך דהנהרגים בשואה אינם נחשבים שמתו על קידוש השם. לעומתו הרב מנחם ש"ך ("מכתבים ומאמרים" ח"ג סי' כ"ה) כתב כי הנהרג ע"י אומות העולם רק בגלל שהוא יהודי, הרי זה נחשב שנהרג על קידוש השם שאמרו חז"ל "אין כל בריה יכולה לעמוד במחיצתן" (בבא בתרא י'). ושם בעמ' פ"ו כינה להרוגים הללו בשם "קדושים". אבל לא הביא שום מקור לשימוש בכינוי זה.

בספר "בינה ודעת" של הרב מנחם אדלר, דן בנושא זה (עמ' תתסב-תתסג) והביא דברי הרב יהושע משה אהרונסון בספרו "עלי מרורות" (עמ' 306) ודברי אדמו"ר מסלונים בקונטרסו "ההרוגה עליך" (עמ' כה, לז) והפריך דבריהם. ונשאר ללא מענה על שאלתנו, מה הוא המקור לכנות כך את ההרוגים?

נראה לי שבעז"ה מצאתי מקור נאמן. מובא בספר דניאל פרק ח פסוקים יט-כד:
(יט) וַיֹּאמֶר הִנְנִי מוֹדִיעֲךָ אֵת אֲשֶׁר יִהְיֶה בְּאַחֲרִית הַזָּעַם כִּי לְמוֹעֵד קֵץ:
(כ) הָאַיִל אֲשֶׁר רָאִיתָ בַּעַל הַקְּרָנָיִם מַלְכֵי מָדַי וּפָרָס:
(כא) וְהַצָּפִיר הַשָּׂעִיר מֶלֶךְ יָוָן וְהַקֶּרֶן הַגְּדוֹלָה אֲשֶׁר בֵּין עֵינָיו הוּא הַמֶּלֶךְ הָרִאשׁוֹן:
(כב) וְהַנִּשְׁבֶּרֶת וַתַּעֲמֹדְנָה אַרְבַּע תַּחְתֶּיהָ אַרְבַּע מַלְכֻיוֹת מִגּוֹי יַעֲמֹדְנָה וְלֹא בְכֹחוֹ:
(כג) וּבְאַחֲרִית מַלְכוּתָם כְּהָתֵם הַפּשְׁעִים יַעֲמֹד מֶלֶךְ עַז פָּנִים וּמֵבִין חִידוֹת:
(כד) וְעָצַם כֹּחוֹ וְלֹא בְכֹחוֹ וְנִפְלָאוֹת יַשְׁחִית וְהִצְלִיחַ וְעָשָׂה וְהִשְׁחִית עֲצוּמִים וְעַם קְדשִׁים:

מדובר כאן על ארבע מלכויות שקמו נגד ישראל, ואחרון שבהם "עז פנים". כתב על כך מהר"י אברבנאל בספרו "מעיני הישועה" (מעין ט' תמר ח, עמ' שסג) "וכן רומי בגימטריא 'עז פנים' חסר אחד". וכן זיהה המלבי"ם על פסוק זה שמדובר ברומי. ולכן גם נאמר כאן "ובאחרית מלכותם" כי היא הרביעית מארבע מלכויות, והוא עולם המערב (אירופה).

ומה פירוש "והשחית עצומים ועם קדושים"? כתב הרב סעדיה גאון (במהד' תרגום הרב יוסף קאפח, עמ' קנט) "וענין 'ונפלאות ישחית' הוא מה שיתפלאו משחיתותו כאשר יארעו דברים שלא נראו כמותם. וכו'. וענין 'והשחית עצומים ועם קדושים' שיהרוג מנבחרי בני ישראל, והמוניהם" עכ"ל.

כלומר יהרוג מהחשובים והצדיקים, וגם יהרוג מההמון, כלומר אנשים שהם פשוטים. המלה "המון" איננה באה להגדיר כמות גדולה של אנשים, אלא אנשים שאינם בדרגא רוחנית גבוהה, וכשימוש רמב"ם ב"מורה נבוכים" (בתרגום הגר"י קאפח), בתחילת הפתיחה (עמ' ה) וכן שוב (בח"ג פרק נא, עמ' תד) "המוני אנשי התורה, כלומר עמי הארץ". וכאן בחזונו של דניאל קורא להם "עַם קדושים"!

מעין זה כתב רלב"ג בפירושו לספר דניאל (מהד' מוסד הרב קוק, "פירושי רלב"ג לנביאים ראשונים ח"ב וכתובים", על דניאל ח, כד) "ונפלאות ישחית, כי פלא יהיה איך יכול להשחית כל כך? ולא יבצר ממנו כל אשר יזם. והצליח ועשה כל אשר יחפוץ".

עד כאן גוף המאמר הנוכחי. מה שהקודמים אלי ניסו לחפש מקור למנהג קריאה זו בדברי גדולי הדורות, או בדברי התלמוד והמדרשים, דומני שמצאנו מקור בעזרת השם בדברי התנ"ך עצמו. הודו לה' כי טוב.

"לִבָּן של ישראל" (מדרש שיר השירים ה, ב)

להלן נושא מסתעף, שאין ענינו נחוץ להבנת הדברים שהיו עד כה. אלא יש בדברים דלהלן נסיון להבהיר הא כיצד המקרא יקרא "קדושים" לאנשים שלא היו שומרי מצוות התורה, ואפילו מחללי שבת בפרהסיא; וחלק מהם היו אף כופרים ביסודות האמונה.

לזה אנו צריכים ללמוד ממהר"ל, ובדורות אחרונים מר' צדוק הכהן, שהניחו לנו יסוד נפלא, שכל יהודי באשר הוא "רצונו לעשות רצון אבינו שבשמים" (ברכות יז, א) אלא "שאור שבעיסה" כלומר יצר הרע מבלבל אותו, ולכן חיצוניותו מכחישה את פנימיותו.

על מאמר חז"ל "רבון העולמים! גלוי וידוע לפניך שרצוננו לעשות רצונך. ומי מעכב? שאור שבעיסה [=ביאר רש"י: "יצר הרע שבלבבנו המחמיצנו"] ושעבוד מלכיות. יהי רצון מלפניך שתצילנו מידם ונשוב לעשות חוקי רצונך בלבב שלם" (ברכות יז, א) כתב ר' צדוק הכהן בספרו "ישראל קדושים" (אות י, עמ' 121):
"כי מעמקי לבבו של כל ישראל דבוק בהשם יתברך כמו שאמרו בברכות (יז, א) 'גלוי וידוע לפניך שרצוננו וכו' ומי מעכב' וכו'. ולפניך דייקא הוא גלוי, שאתה יודע תעלומות לב. רק שהיצר הרע היושב על שני מפתחי הלב שהם הפתחים שמשם יוצאים כוחות הלב לפועל ומעכב בעד התעלומות להתגלות. ועיקר החיות הוא בלב".

ולכן פסק רמב"ם שכל יהודי באשר הוא, אפילו אם הוא רשע מרושע, אם בית דין מצוה עליו לתת גט לאשתו, והוא סרבן, היו נוהגים להכות אותו מכות קשות עד שיגיד בפיו שהוא רוצה לתת לה את הגט. וזו לשון רמב"ם (הלכות גירושין סוף פרק ב):
"מי שהדין נותן שכופין אותו לגרש את אשתו ולא רצה לגרש בית דין של ישראל בכל מקום ובכל זמן מכין אותו עד שיאמר 'רוצה אני' ויכתוב הגט והוא גט כשר וכן אם הכוהו גוים ואמרו לו 'עֲשֵׂה מה שישראל אומרין לך!' ולחצו אותו ישראל ביד הגוים עד שיגרש הרי זה כשר. ואם הגוים מעצמן אנסוהו עד שכתב הואיל והדין נותן שיכתוב, הרי זה גט פסול.
ולמה לא בטל גט זה? שהרי הוא אנוס, בין ביד גוים בין ביד ישראל! שאין אומרין 'אנוס' אלא למי שנלחץ ונדחק לעשות דבר שאינו מחוייב מן התורה לעשותו, כגון מי שהוכה עד שמכר או נתן. אבל מי שתקפו יצרו הרע לבטל מצוה או לעשות עבירה, והוכה עד שעשה דבר שחייב לעשותו, או עד שנתרחק מדבר שאסור לעשותו, אין זה אנוס ממנו אלא הוא אנס עצמו בדעתו הרעה. לפיכך זה שאינו רוצה לגרש, מאחר שהוא רוצה להיות מישראל רוצה הוא לעשות כל המצות ולהתרחק מן העבירות, ויצרו הוא שתקפו. וכיון שהוכה עד שתשש יצרו ואמר 'רוצה אני', כבר גרש לרצונו" עכ"ל רמב"ם.

כתב מהר"ל בספר "נצח ישראל" (פרק ב עמ' יד):
"וזהו ההפרש שיש בין ישראל ובין האומות, כי ישראל מצד שהם בשלימות, רק כי היצר הרע מגרה בהם ומביא אותם אל הרע, ואין הרע בהם מגרה בהם. אבל האומות הם בעצמם בחסרון, ודבק בעצם שלהם, ואינו רק במקרה בשביל היצר שהוא בהם הרע, ומצד זה ימשכו עצמם לגמרי אל הרע, שהם פחותים ורעים, והרע להם טבעי. ונמצא כי לפי מדרגתם הפחותה שלהם ימצא הרע בעצמם בלא גרוי":

ועוד כתב: בספר "גבורות השם" (פרק ט, עמ' נז) בהשוואה מה בין חטאיהם של ישראל לחטאיהם של אומות העולם:
"ואין החטאים שוים, כי החטא אשר הוא במקרה לאדם, אינו שקול כמו החטא אשר הוא בעצם לאדם. ובזה הארכנו למעלה במה שחטא ישראל ראוי לכפרה ולסליחה, בעבור שעצמם ראוים הם לטהרה ולנקיות מן החטא, ולכך לישראל החטא מקרי להם, ולאומות החטא עצמי להם"[2].2.

כלומר, לפי פנימיות התורה, מי שהוא בא מצאצאי האבות, הטוב שבו מושרש. על ישראל נאמר שהם "מאמינים בני מאמינים" (שבת צז ע"א) ואם הם מדברים דיבורי כפירה, זה מפני פיתויי יצר הרע, אבל בתוך לבם עדיין הם מאמנים בהקב"ה ובתורתו. נביא מדברי המלבי"ם על תהילים פרק מד, פסוקים יח-כב:
(יח) כָּל זֹאת בָּאַתְנוּ וְלֹא שְׁכַחֲנוּךָ וְלֹא שִׁקַּרְנוּ בִּבְרִיתֶךָ:
(יט) לֹא נָסוֹג אָחוֹר לִבֵּנוּ וַתֵּט אֲשֻׁרֵינוּ מִנִּי אָרְחֶךָ:
(כ) כִּי דִכִּיתָנוּ בִּמְקוֹם תַּנִּים וַתְּכַס עָלֵינוּ בְצַלְמָוֶת:
(כא) אִם שָׁכַחְנוּ שֵׁם אֱלֹהֵינוּ וַנִּפְרֹשׂ כַּפֵּינוּ לְאֵל זָר:
(כב) הֲלֹא אֱלֹהִים יַחֲקָר זֹאת כִּי הוּא יֹדֵעַ תַּעֲלֻמוֹת לֵב:

הוא מפרש:
(יט) לא נסוג - והגם שלפעמים מפני כובד הגלות נטתה אשורנו מני ארחך, ולא יכלנו לקיים המצות כראוי, מכל מקום לא נסוג אחור לבנו - כי בלבבנו היינו שלמים עם ה' גם בעת אשר תט אשורנו מני ארחך - ולא זאת לבד [אלא]:
(כ) כי - גם בעת אשר דכיתנו במקום תנים - בעת שהיינו בין אכזרים כתנים, ותכס עלינו בצלמות - שהמיתו אותנו במיתות משונות ועינו אותנו ביסורים קשים לצאת מן הדת, גם בעת ההיא:
(כא) האם שכחנו שם אלהינו - הגם כי ונפרוש כפינו לאל זר - הגם שהיינו אנוסים לפרוש כפינו לאל זר; היה זה רק במעשה אבל בלב גם בעת שפֵּרַשְׂנוּ כפים לע"ג היה לבנו שלם עם יחוד ה' ואמונתו:
(כב) הלא אלהים יחקר זאת - שהוא יודע האמת מה שהיה בלבבנו, כי הוא יודע תעלומות לב[עכ"ל המלבי"ם]

אמנם אמת שהמלבי"ם (וגם רש"ר הירש, בפירושו לפסוקים אלו) כתבו כך לענין נסיון האנוסים שבספרד, ששמרו דברי תורה בסתר, אבל הדברים הם אמת גם לענין כפיה אחרת, של פיתויי הגוים וצרות גלותינו הנוראה, וכדברי רמב"ם בתחילת "אגרת תימן" (מהד' הגר"י קאפח, עמ' יט-כא) על נסיונות היציאה מהדת שלנו בעת גלותנו. כלומר הרעיון אמתי הנ"ל שבתעלומות לב יודע הקב"ה מה באמת רצונו של כל בן-ישראל, אפילו שהישראלי ההוא אינו מודע לכך. פסוקים אלו יהוו מעין רמז לשיטות מהר"ל ור' צדוק שאנו מביאים כאן.

ר' צדוק, ספר רסיסי לילה (אות י, עמ' ה' ע"ב):
"משל לאסא דקאי ביני חילפי אסא שמיה" (סנהדרין מד, א) שהמשילו חטאים הסובבים לאדם כקוצים הסובבים לשושנה, ואינו מעצם האדם רק שסובבים ומקיפים אותו מצד ההתפשטות של האדם. אבל מצד עצם נפש הישראלי אין בו חטא כלל".

ספר פוקד עקרים - אות ה
"להיותו יתברך שוכן עמם גם בתוך טומאתם ד'צור לבבי וחלקי אלהים לעולם'. ד'חלק ה' עַמו'. ולעולם קרויים עַמו יתברך, דאף על פי שחטא ישראל הוא (סנהדרין מד, א) ובכלל עַם ה'. ובאומות בהיפך, אפילו חסידי אומות העולם אינם בכלל עַם ה'; אלא אם כן יתגיירו ובשם 'ישראל' יכנו":

ספר רסיסי לילה – (אות כ, עמ' 23)
"אבל השביעית היא קדושת השבת דקביע וקיימא דנקרא שבת על שם השביתה מכל השתדלות ופעולת אדם שאין להם מבוא בזה דהוא שוכן גם בתוך טומאותם, ואף על פי שחטא ישראל הוא (סנהדרין מד.). כי כנסת ישראל בת זוגו דשבת והם דבוקים במידה זו שאי אפשר לנתקם כלל. כי מידה זו נקרא 'אמונה' (זוהר ח"ג רל.) וישראל נקראים (שבת צז.) 'מאמינים בני מאמינים'. וזרע אברהם יצחק ויעקב אי אפשר שלא יאמין כלל, כי זהו מצד קדושה דקביע וקיימא מהשם יתברך בתוך לבבות בני ישראל":

ספר רסיסי לילה (אות לז דף לב ע"א):
"וזה עיקר החילוק בין ישראל לעמים שאמרו ז"ל (ראש השנה ד.) 'האומר סלע לצדקה בשביל בשביל שיחיה בני וכו' הרי זה צדיק גמור' מה שאין כן באומות העכו"ם. כי חטאי ישראל נקראים אצל חז"ל (סנהדרין מד.) אסא דקאי ביני הוצי, שהם רק סובבים אותו אבל שורשו אין כך. והוא כמו כופין [אותו] עד שיאמר רוצה אני, דידוע טעם הרמב"ם (סוף פרק ב מהלכות גירושין). כך מה שעושה לכוונה אחרת דמתוך שלא לשמה, (היינו) [אבל] התוכיות ופנימיות הוא לשמה ולכך הרי זה צדיק גמור, כמו דהגט כשר ונחשב מרצונו הגמור. מה שאין כן אומות העולם (שורשם) [=שאין שורשם] כך":[3]3:

ספר תקנת השבין (אות טו, עמ' 156-157)
"ונראה דפירוש 'אין אש [של גיהנם] שולט בהם' (חגיגה כז, א) היינו בעצמיותו ושורש נפשו אין לו שום שליטה כלל, ואפילו להכאיב לו. ועיקר אור של גיהנום הוא לכלות ולבער הרע מן העולם. ואומות העולם 'קוצים כסוחים' (ישעיה לג, יב) משורשם, ובאש יצתו 'וליהט אותם היום הבא שלא ישאר מהם שורש וענף' (מלאכי ג, יט) שיכלו ויבוערו לגמרי. אבל בפושעי ישראל 'יתמו חטאים' כתיב ולא חוטאים כמו שאמרו בברכות (י' ע"א). כי שורש כל הנפשות דישראל דבוקים באלהים חיים, ש'חלק ה' עמו' (דברים לב, ט), וכמו שאמרו (קידושין ל"ו.) דאפילו לית בהו הימנותא ופלחי לעבודה זרה דיאמר להם לא עמי ולמראית העין כאילו אינם עמו [=עדיין נאמר בהם "בנים אתם לה' אלהיכם"], שהם חלק ה', מאמינים בני מאמינים, כמו שאמרו בשבת (צ"ז.). וזרע יעקב מטתו שלימה שאין בלבם אלא אחד כמו שאמרו בפסחים (נ"ו.). דהושע קראם 'לא עַמי' בשביל שאמרו לו 'החליפם באומה אחרת' כמו שאמרו שם (פ"ז ע"א) שהיה סבור שאפשר לנתק שם ישראל ושורש היהדות על ידי ריבוי החטאים חס ושלום. עד שאמר לו הקב"ה 'בני הם, בני בחוני הם'. וכו' וכו'. אבל בהתעוררות מדת הרחמים השיג ד'במקום אשר יאמר לא עַמי אתם יאמר להם בני אל חי'. דכאשר 'יתמו חטאים ורשעים עוד אינם' ונשאר השורש הטוב. כי כל חטאיהם הם רק מצד ההוצי וחוחים הסובבים לאסא ושושנה, ויצר הרע יושב על שני מפתחי הלב בפתיחה ובהתחילה וכמו שנאמר (בראשית ד, ז) 'לפתח חטאת רובץ'. והצדיקים שלבן ברשותן אין מניחין אותו ליכנס, והרשעים הן ברשות לבן שכיון שנכנס אף שתחילתו הלך ואורח בסוף נעשה בעל הבית שממלא כל חדרי הלב עד ששורש הטוב נעלם לגמרי ונעשה הוא בעל הבית וכאילו שורשו רע" [עכ"ל ר' צדוק]

סיכום –

על הפסוק "אני ישנה ולבי ער, קול דודי דופק" (שיר השירים ה, ב), מה שאמרה הרעיה, כנסת ישראל, אל הדוד, הקב"ה, מובא במדרש (שיר השירים רבה פרשה ה פסקה ב):
"אני ישנה. אמרה כנסת ישראל לפני הקב"ה: 'רבש"ע! אני ישנה מן המצות, ולבי ער לגמילות חסדים. וכו' וכו'. אני ישנה מן הקץ, ולבי ער לגאולה. אני ישנה מן הגאולה, ולבו של הקב"ה ער לגאלני. אמר ר' חייא בר אבא, איכן מצינו שנקרא הקב"ה לבן של ישראל? מן הָדֵין קרא, דכתיב (תהלים עג, כו) 'צור לבבי וחלקי אלהים לעולם".[4]4.

כלומר אפשר בהחלט שהמעשים החיצוניים אינם לפי הראוי. אבל בתוכיות לב של כל אחד מישראל שהוא מצאצאי האבות, יש בו ניצוץ אלוה חיים, ולכן ראוי לו להקרא "קדוש". וכל שכן אלו שנהרגו ע"י האומות, דוקא מפני שהם יהודים.
[1] היו מי שהביאו סמך מהגמרא "מת מתוך רשעו כיון דכי אורחיה קמיית לא הויא ליה כפרה נהרג מתוך רשעו כיון דלאו כי אורחיה מיית הויא ליה כפרה. תדע דכתיב 'מזמור לאסף אלהים באו גוים בנחלתך טמאו את היכל קדשך [וגו'] נתנו את נבלת עבדיך מאכל לעוף השמים בשר חסידיך לחיתו ארץ' (תהלים עט, ב) מאי 'עבדיך' ומאי 'חסידיך'? לאו 'חסידיך', חסידיך ממש. 'עבדיך' הנך דמחייבי דינא דמעיקרא וכיון דאיקטול קרי להו עבדיך" (סנהדרין מז, א) וכפי דברי אביי מדובר בהרוגי מלכות, ושלא כדין נהרגו.

אבל אין משם שום ראיה. [א] אפילו אינם נכללים לפי גמרא זו בשם "חסידיך" קל וחומר לא בכלל "קדושיך" שלא הוזכר. ועוד, [ב] אם נסמוך על מאמר זה, גם הנהרג בתאונת דרכים נייחס לו שם "קדוש" כיון שמת לא כי אורחיה?

והיה מי שהקיש הדבר להרוגי מלכות שאין כל בבריה יכולה לעמוד במחיצתן (בבא בתרא י ע"ב). אבל שוב, מה שאמרו אמרו, ולא אמרו שנקראו "קדושים".
[2] לא נכביר כאן בהבאת כל דברי מהר"ל, אבל המעוניין לראות כמה מהר"ל חזר על יסוד חשוב זה, שחטאיהם של ישראל הם רק מקרה, ולא עצם מהות שלהם, יראה ב"נצח ישראל" עמ' יד , סו, עב-עג, קצא, "גבורות השם", עמ' מה, "נתיבות עולם" ח"ב עמ' קפ.
[3] עיין "תקנת השבין", עמ' 142
[4] והדברים משתלבים עם דברי רמב"ן (בראשית ב, ז) "ויפח באפיו נשמת חיים", מאן דנפח מדיליה נפח. וכתב רמב"ן (על דברים לב, סוף פסוק כו) שמדובר בפסוק זה בהעברת נשמת-שדי לבני ישראל דוקא, ולא לאומות.

Foie Gras "Fake News": A Fictitious Rashi and a Strangely Translated Ethical Will

Foie Gras "Fake News": A Fictitious Rashi and a Strangely Translated Ethical Will
by Ari Z. Zivotofsky

Controversial topics can sometimes lead to contrived sources, i.e. fake news. That is certainly true with the effort by vegetarians to find traditional sources to support their position. In the past I have shown how a booklet claiming Judaism supports vegetarianism was full of misquotes (here here ) and how a "quote" of the Rema was fabricated ( here ). Here I will expose two fake quotes that have been used by vegetarians in the battle against foie gras.

Foie gras (pronounced "fwä-grä, meaning "fat liver" in French) is the fattened liver of a waterfowl that grew to 5-10 times its usual size due to gavage. Foie gras, a delicacy today rightly associated with the French who are indeed by far the largest producers and consumers of it, was for much of history an Ashkenazi Jewish expertise. This luxury item has been the subject of a great deal of controversy in recent years. Until its production was banned in 2003 by the Supreme Court, Israel was one of the leading producers in the world. Within the last year, kosher foie gras has begun to be produced in the US for the first time in history.

The issue driving the current debate is animal welfare, or in the Jewish world, tza'ar ba'alei chaim. For hundreds of years, in traditional Jewish sources "stuffed goose" was indeed controversial, but not because of animal welfare. The debate revolved around potential treifot due to possible damage to the esophagus caused during the feeding process. it was a widespread debate involving the greatest of authorities. The Rema (YD 33:9) notes that in his town they would stuff geese to make schmaltz and they would check the veshet of each bird. Rav Yoel Sirkis (Bach, YD 33) was in favor of banning force feeding because of this potential serious problem. The Aruch Hashulchan (YD 33:37) says they did not do force feeding in his town. The Chochmas Adam (16:10) preferred to ban the gavage process because of the concern for treifot of the veshet, but agreed that if done, it could potentially be kosher. In modern times the Tzitz Eliezer (11:49, 11:55, 12:52) and Rav Ovadia Yosef (Yabia Omer 9:YD:3) came out against foie gras, while Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv was reported as approving the foie gras that was being produced in 2005. The most famous posek to permit stuffed geese was the Chasam Sofer (2:YD:25; Chullin 43b).

Despite the centuries long debate, force feeding geese was extremely common among Ashkenazic Jews. Many of the greatest poskim lived in regions where they would have been personally exposed to the process and yet none of them ever suggested that it was cruel and bordered on tza'ar baalei chaim. The issue was not even raised for discussion until the late 20th century. The only place tzaar ba'alei chaim is mentioned in the context of fattened geese is in the opposite direction - the rabbis were aware that geese used to being fed in this manner would not eat any other way and thus, out of concern for tza’ar ba’alei hayyim, permitted, with certain stipulations, gavage for these geese on Shabbat (Mishna Berurah 324:27). This is as opposed to other chickens and geese, for which this is not permitted.

Despite efforts by some to demonstrate that force feeding geese is cruel and was recognized as such by Jews in previous generations, it's a common misunderstanding based on a mistranslation that seems to defy explanation, and one of these situations where people keep repeating an error because they didn't examine the primary source. In contemporary Jewish anti-foie gras literature, two "quotes" are regularly bantered about, even by scholars. One is a "quote" from Rashi and the other from a 14th century ethical will.

Both quotes can be found in the book "The Foie Gras Wars: How a 5,000-Year-Old Delicacy Inspired the World's Fiercest Food Fight" (2011) by Chicago Tribune reporter Mark Caro. On p. 26 he writes:

"Rashi interpreted the tale to mean that Jews would have to face the music 'for having made the beasts[geese] suffer while fattening them'."

And on p. 26-27 he writes:
"In a 14th-century ethical will, a dying man, Eleazar of Mainz, instructs: "'Now, my sons and daughters, eat and drink only what is necessary, as our good parents did, refraining from heavy meals, and holding the gross liver in detestation'."

The comment of Rashi sounds like it may indeed be a condemnation of fattening geese. It turns out that Rashi never wrote any such thing. First, the source for this "quote" is Bava Basra 73b and as is well known, on 29a of Bava Basra of our printed texts, there is a note in bold letters in the Rashi column that says: “until here is the commentary of Rashi zt”l, from here on in is the commentary of Rabbeinu Shmuel ben Rav Meir”, ie Rashbam. The first error is therefore that the comment was not written by Rashi but by his grandson. 

Nonetheless, even if Rashbam had written that, it would be of significance. But he didn’t.

The comment was made on the 10th of the fantastic, esoteric tales of Rabbah bar bar Chanah. The story is:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת בבא בתרא דף עג עמוד ב
ואמר רבה בר בר חנהזימנא חדא הוה קא אזלינן במדבראוחזינן הנהו אווזי דשמטי גדפייהו משמנייהו וקא נגדי נחלי דמשחא מתותייהואמינא להואית לן בגוייכו חלקא לעלמא דאתיחדא דלי גדפאוחדא דלי אטמאכי אתאי לקמיה דרבי אלעזראמר ליעתידין ישראל ליתן עליהן את הדין.

Rabbah b. Bar Hana also related: We were once travelling in the desert and saw geese whose feathers fell out on account of their [excessive] fatness, and streams of oil [fat] flowed under them. I said to them: 'Shall we have a share of your [flesh] in the world to come?' One lifted up its wing, the other lifted up its leg. When I came before R. Elazar he said to me: Israel will be held accountable because of them.

Commenting on the last line, Rashbam commented:

רשב"ם מסכת בבא בתרא דף עג עמוד ב
ליתן עליהם את הדין שבחטאתם מתעכב משיח ויש להם צער בעלי חיים לאותן אווזים מחמת שומנן.

According to the Rashbam, the Jews are responsible for the suffering of the geese in that the geese had to live extra-long with unnatural fat because the Jews sinned and thereby delayed the coming of the Messiah and the slaughtering of these geese. The Rashbam was discussing a fanciful story involving the suffering of mythical geese whose feathers fall out and whose fat drips off of them, i.e. who were clearly suffering and are different from a typical goose. Such geese he suggests may suffer due to their excessive fat. He makes no mention of the fattening process and says nothing about any suffering during that process or about the suffering of geese that his Jewish neighbors were raising.

And how about the ethical will? Hebrew Ethical Wills (JPS Library of Jewish Classics) (English and Hebrew Edition) [1976], Israel Abrahams (Editor), Judah Goldin (Foreword) is a facsimile edition of the 1926 original. Beginning on p. 207 is "The Ideals of an Average Jew (Testament of Eleazar of Mayence)" and on p. 212 it indeed says: "Now, my sons and daughter, eat and drink only what is necessary, as our good parents did, refraining from heavy meals, and holding the gross liver in detestation." 

From this it is not at all clear why liver should be so disliked, and it is certainly not obvious that he is talking about foie gras. It could be that he simply abhors liver (perhaps because, as Chazal note, it is full of blood). In an effort to better understand, I looked on the other side of the page, at the Hebrew text. And what a shock! It seems that when Israel Abrahams (Reader in University of Cambridge and a Senior Tutor at Jews' College) translated this text he used some poetic license, likely never suspecting it would be then adopted by the anti-foie gras activists. Here is what the Hebrew found in Abrahams says:

בניי ובנותי פחותו נא מאכילה ושתייה רק כדי צורךואל תבזבזו ממון לאכילה ולשתייהכן היו אבותינו החסידים אוכלים כדי הצורך ולא אכילה גסה ולמלאות כריסןלהיות כל ימיהם כחוש.

No mention whatsoever of liver! It appears that it is not an actual translation. It seems strange that Abrahams fabricated the liver in the English. He says the translation was made on the basis of two Hebrew texts. Maybe he translated straight off of them and the Hebrew in his edition is not accurate. The first is a text that is based in a Munich MS and appears on Moritz Güdemann's Quellenschriften (Berlin, 1891, reprinted by Philo Press in 1968).

There on p. 296 one finds an almost identical text:

בניי פחותו נא מאכילה ושתייה רק כדי צורך ואל תבזבזו ממון לאכילה ולשתייהכן היו אבותינו החסידים אוכלים כדי הצורך ולא אכילה גסה ולמלאות כריסן להיות כל ימיהם כחוש

The other manuscript is Bodleian MS cat Neubauer No. 907, fols. 164a-166a (not 166b as Abrahams erroneously wrote) and the relevant section is at the top of 165a (I thank Ezra Chwat for his assistance in obtaining this ms.). As can be seen the text is identical to that found in the Abrahams' book. 

There seemed to be a final possibility. In his introduction, Abrahams notes that a previous translation, into German, had appeared in the journal Jüdische Presse, Berlin 1870, p. 90.

The journal is available here (I thank Sharon Liberman Mintz for finding that link for me). In issue 11 (Sept 9, 1870) a translation appears on the 6th and 7th page of the issue, pages 90-91 of the volume, as can be seen in the figure below.

However, it is only a translation of the first half of the will, ending just before the relevant section. It says that it was to be continued, but unfortunately that was the first year of the journal and the next issue (12) is missing (as are several others such as 3, 7, 9, 10) from the digitized microfilm at that website and I have been unable to locate it in any Israeli library. the translation until that point seems to be accurate and it is hard to ascribe the insertion of the liver to the German translator (I thank Rabbi Dr. Seth Mandel and Prof Michael Segal for assistance with the German).

It thus seems clear the liver was inserted into the English transition for some inexplicable reason, but certainly does not appear in this 14th century ethical will.

Once an author is convinced of the authenticity of the sources they often embellish. In the academic work, Food and Morality: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery (2007) edited by Susan R. Friedland, there is a chapter called the foie gras fracas: sumptuary Law as Animal welfare? By Cathy K. Kaufman, a scholar-chef and Adjunct Chef-Instructor, Institute of Culinary Education, in New York City.

On p. 126 she writes: 
"The best written evidence for the medieval production of foie gras – and its ambiguous moral status – is found among the writings of the Ashkenazi Jews who spread throughout Europe. Rabbi (sic) Rashi …..."

But in fact we have shown that among the Jewish writings there is ZERO evidence regarding any ambiguous moral status!

Even the well-known American cookbook author Joan Nathan couldn't avoid this pitfall. 

Recently, in her King Solomon's Table: A Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking from Around the World (2017) on p. XXI she wrote: 
"Rashi was a thinker who knew both religion and agriculture. He condemned, for example, the force-feeding of geese to produce foie gras ….".

In 2013, an article in Moment magazine (here) stated: 
"More complex, however, were the ethical questions. In the 11th century, the French scholar Rashi warned Jews against the force-feeding practice, “for having made these beasts (geese) suffer while fattening them.” This went against Jewish law prohibiting tza’ar ba’alei chayim, suffering to animals, although some rabbis claimed that since none of the geese’s limbs were harmed and the geese did not feel discomfort in their throats, foie gras was not treyf, or forbidden. Other rabbinic scholars suggested that it is only permissible to inflict pain on an animal when the benefit of doing so is significant; since there are no real nutritional benefits to foie gras, the process of force-feeding was questionable."

One can only wonder who these "some rabbis" and "other rabbinic scholars" were who argued with this non-existent Rashi!

The book that is the source for many of these other articles is the beautiful coffee-table book Foie Gras: A Passion (1999) by Michael Ginor and Mitchell Davis. Ginor, an American who spent two years in the IDF and while in Israel discovered foie gras, co-founded, co-owns, and is President of NY based Hudson Valley Foie Gras and New York State Foie Gras, the most comprehensive foie gras producer in the world. His book is an absolutely comprehensive book on everything one could possibly want to know about foie gras. And there on p. 11 he quotes the non-existent Rashi and on p. 12 the English version of the strangely translated ethical will. I have no idea where he found those two quotes that have today become so common in the vegetarian literature. 

The fact that all one has to do is look in the Hebrew originals to see that these quotes are fake news, explains why they are found in English sources and I have not yet found them in any of the Hebrew works on animal rights.

Young Rabbis and All About Olives

Young Rabbis and All About Olives

Marc B. Shapiro

I am currently working on a book focused on the thought of R. Kook, in particular his newly released publications. A book recently appeared titled Siah ha-Re’iyah, by R. David Gavrieli and R. Menahem Weitzman. It discusses a number of important letters of R. Kook. In addition to the analysis of the letters, each of the letters is printed with explanatory words that make them easier to understand. We are also given biographical details about the recipients of R. Kook's letters. Here is the title page.

In reading the book, I once again found myself asking the question, how can intelligent people sometimes say nonsensical things? On p. 252 the book states that R. Menahem Mendel Cohen studied in yeshivot in Tiberias and Safed, and was appointed as chief rabbi of the Ashkenazic community of Cairo in 1896 when he was only ten years old!

How is it possible for anyone to write such a sentence, that a ten-year-old was appointed as a communal rabbi? Let me explain what happened here, but first, I must note that the name of the man we are referring to is not R. Menahem Mendel Cohen, but R. Aaron Mendel Cohen. Here is his picture, which comes from a very nice Hebrew Wikipedia article on him.

As for R. Cohen being appointed rabbi at age ten, whoever prepared the biographical introduction must have had a source which mistakenly stated that R. Cohen was born in 1886. Since this source also said that he became rabbi in Cairo in 1896, this means that he was ten years old was he was appointed rabbi. Yet we can only wonder how the authors did not see the obvious impossibility of a ten-year-old being appointed rabbi of Cairo, which should have led them to investigate a little further. Simply by googling R. Cohen’s name in Hebrew, the Wikipedia article will come up, and it tells us that R. Cohen was born not in 1886 but in 1866. Thus, instead of a ten-year-old rabbi he is now thirty years old.

With regard to young rabbis, let me repeat, with some slight edits, something I wrote in an earlier post here.

In terms of young achievers in the Lithuanian Torah world, I wonder how many have ever heard of R. Meir Shafit. He lived in the nineteenth century and wrote Sefer Nir, a commentary on the Jerusalem Talmud, when not many were studying it. Here is the title page of one of the volumes, where it tells us that he became rav of a community at the age of fifteen.

The Hazon Ish once remarked that the young Rabbi Shafit would mischievously throw pillows at his gabbaim![1]

Regarding R. Jacob Schorr [mentioned earlier in the original post] being a childhood genius, this letter from him to R. Shlomo Kluger appeared in Moriah, Av 5767.

As you can see, the letter was written in 1860 (although I can’t make out what the handwriting says after תר"ך). We are informed, correctly, that R. Schorr was born in 1853, which would mean that he was seven years old when he wrote the letter. This, I believe, would make him the greatest child genius in Jewish history, as I don’t think the Vilna Gaon could even write like this at age seven. Furthermore, if you read the letter you see that two years prior to this R. Schorr had also written to R. Kluger. Are there any other examples of a five-year-old writing Torah letters to one of the gedolei ha-dor? From the letter we also see that the seven-year-old Schorr was also the rav of the town of Mariampol! (The Mariampol in Galicia, not Lithuania.) I would have thought that this merited some mention by the person publishing this letter. After all, R. Schorr would be the only seven-year-old communal rav in history, and this letter would be the only evidence that he ever served as rav in this town. Unfortunately, the man who published this document and the editor of the journal are entirely oblivious to what, on the face of things, must be one of the most fascinating letters in all of Jewish history.

Yet all that I have written assumes that the letter was actually written by R. Schorr. Once again, we must thank R. Yaakov Hayyim Sofer for setting the record straight. In his recently published Shuvi ha-Shulamit (Jerusalem, 2009), vol. 7, p. 101, he calls attention to the error and points out, citing Wunder, Meorei Galicia, that the rav of Mariampol, Galicia was another man entirely, who was also named Jacob Schorr.

This is what I wrote in the prior post. Let me now add some additional information about R. Shafit, the fifteen-year-old communal rav. The first thing I want to point out relates to the city in which R. Shafit became rav at age fifteen. If you look at the title page you can see that its name is מיצד. This is actually an alternate way of spelling the city which is better known as מייצ'ט. Anyone who knows their Lithuanian rabbinic history will recognize this city as Meitchet (Molchad in English), made famous by the great R. Solomon Polachek, known as the Meitcheter Iluy. (R. Polachek was not actually born in Meitchet, but in a small town nearby.) There is so much to say about R. Polachek, but it will have to wait for a future post.

Returning to R. Shafit, although he is hardly a household name, in his day he was actually quite a well-known rabbi. He contributed to R. Israel Salanter’s journal Tevunah,[2] and those who study the Jerusalem Talmud know that his commentary is a very important work.[3] R. Adin Steinsaltz, who is from R. Shafit’s family, even took time away from his own work on the Talmud to publish from manuscript a commentary of R. Shafit on the Jerusalem Talmud. Here is the volume that appeared in 1979.


In the preface, R. Steinsaltz writes:

כל החכמים הלומדים בירושלמי בכל השיטות, למן חכמי בית המדרש נוסח ליטא העתיקה עד לאנשי המדע המובהקים, כולם כאחד הודו שפירוש "הניר" הוא מחשובי הפירושים שנכתבו אי פעם על התלמוד הירושלמי

I do not need go into more detail on R. Shafit since in 2014 Hillel Rotenberg published an entire book on him.[4] And while it is true that, as mentioned already, R. Shafit is not a household name, there are today people who celebrate his hillula. See here. In case you are wondering what a Lithuanian rabbi is doing with a hillula, R. Shafit was actually a Slonimer Hasid.

In response to my earlier comments about the young R. Shafit, Seforim Blog contributor R. Ovadiah Hoffman sent me another example of a young rabbi: Avigdor Aptowitzer. Aptowitzer, who was one of the twentieth-century’s leading academic scholars of rabbinic literature, is best known as the editor of R. Eliezer ben Joel Halevi's halakhic work Ra’avyah, concerning which he published another important volume as an introduction to the Ra’avyah, and a book called Hosafot ve-Tikunim le-Sefer Ra’avyah (Jerusalem, 1936). 

According to Abraham Meir Habermann, when Aptowitzer was around seven years old his father, the rabbi of Tarnopol, became ill. Young Avigdor took the place of his father as rabbi. During the week he taught students and on Shabbat people carried him to the synagogue so that he could deliver the derashah.[5] As far as I know, this makes Aptowitzer the youngest person ever to serve as a communal rabbi, even though he was never officially appointed to the position.

It is also reported that R. Shimon Sofer, the son of R. Abraham Samuel Sofer (the Ketav Sofer), was so learned as a child that he received the title חבר from R. Judah Aszod when he was only nine years old.[6]

In speaking about young rabbis, it is also important to mention a passage in R. David Abudarham’s[7] commentary on the Haggadah, s.v. אמר רבי אלעזר הרי אני כבן שבעים שנה. Abudarham cites the Jerusalem Talmud, Berakhot 4:1, that R. Elazar ben Azariah was appointed nasi of the Sanhedrin at age 13. Our version of the Jerusalem Talmud has "age 16", but the version cited by Abudarham appears in other early sources.[8]

Regarding age 16, R. Solomon Ibn Gabirol wrote his azharot for Shavuot when he was that old. At the beginning of the azharot he wrote (with great self-confidence, I might add):[9]

והנני בשש עשרה שנותי ובי שכל כמו בן השמונים

Avodah Zarah 56b tells about a child who learned Tractate Avodah Zarah when he was six years old. The Talmud describes how he was asked halakhic questions on the tractate, and his replies apparently signify that he was deciding halakhic matters at the age of six.

He was asked, ‘May [an Israelite] tread grapes together with a heathen in a press?’ He replied, ‘It is lawful to tread grapes together with a heathen in a press.’ [To the objection] ‘But he renders it yein nesekh [10] by [the touch of] his hands!’ [he answered], ‘We tie his hands up.’ [To the further objection] ‘But he renders it yein nesekh by [the touch of] his feet!’ [he answered], ‘Wine touched by the feet is not called nesekh.  

Although not an example of a child rabbi, I think it is worthwhile to mention R. Jacob Berab’s statement that when he was only eighteen years old, and did not yet have a beard, he was the rabbi and halakhic authority for a community of 5000 families in Fez.[11]

Returning to Aptowitzer, R. Meir Mazuz directs a comment at him in a recent issue of his weekly Bayit Ne’eman.[12] In discussing the proper size of a kezayit, R. Mazuz notes that the Ashkenazic rishonim did not have any personal knowledge of olives, and thus did not know how big they were.[13] He cites R. Eliezer ben Joel Halevi, the Ra'avyah, who writes as follows:[14]

וכל היכא שצריך כזית צריך שיהיה מאכל בהרווחה, לפי שאין אנו בקיאין בשיעור זית כדי, שלא תהיה ברכה לבטלה

You cannot get any clearer than this that R. Eliezer, who lived throughout Germany, had no idea how big an olive was.[15] Yet in Aptowitzer’s note to the words לפי שאין אנו בקיאין בשיעור זית, he writes:

כלו' אלא ע"י מדידה וחשבון, וכאן שבברכה אחרונה אנו עסוקין וכבר אכל ואי אפשר לחשוב ולמדוד, לכן יזהר שיאכל מתחילה שיעור גדול שאין להסתפק בו שהוא כזית

He explains the Ra’avyah to be saying that we do not know how large our portion of food is without measuring it. Since we are dealing with the final blessing and the food is already eaten and thus can no longer be measured, people should eat enough so that there is no doubt that they ate an olive’s worth and thus no problem with a berakhah le-vatalah.

It is hard to understand how Aptowitzer could have written something so obviously incorrect, as there is no doubt as to the passage’s meaning. R. Mazuz writes:

איזה "חכם", שנכון שאחרי שכבר אכל את הזית לא יכול למדוד, אבל לפני שאכל הוא רואה את הגודל אז למה צריך לאכול בהרווחה?! אלא לא היו מכירים את הזיתים

Here is something else relevant to Aptowitzer. Nahmanides, Commentary to Genesis 31:35, writes (Chavel translation):

The correct interpretation appears to me to be that in ancient days menstruants kept very isolated for they were ever referred to as niddoth on account of their isolation since they did not approach people and did not speak to them. For the ancients in their wisdom knew that their breath is harmful, their gaze is detrimental and makes a bad impression, as the philosophers have explained. I will yet mention their experiences in this matter. And the menstruants dwelled isolated in tents where no one entered, just as our Rabbis have mentioned in the Beraitha of Tractate Niddah: “A learned man is forbidden to greet a menstruant. Rabbi Nechemyah says, ‘even the utterance of her mouth is unclean.’ Said Rabbi Yochanan: ‘One is forbidden to walk after a menstruant and tread upon her footsteps, which are as unclean as a corpse; so is the dust upon which the menstruant stepped unclean, and it is forbidden to derive any benefit from her work.’”

Baraita de-Masekhet Niddah is a strange work, with all sorts of extreme statements not found in mainstream rabbinic literature. This is not the place to review in any detail the various scholarly views about the text’s origin.[16] Suffice it to say that Saul Lieberman thought that the author was a sectarian, but not a Karaite.[17] Aptowitzer, however, took issue with Lieberman and argued that Baraita de-Masekhet Niddah is a Karaite forgery designed to insert Karaite views into the Rabbanite community, and also to make the Sages look like fools. As an example of the latter, Aptowitzer quoted the “halakhah” recorded in Baraita de-Masekhet Niddah that a kohen whose family member  by which it means one he lives with  is a niddah cannot offer a sacrifice or perform birkat kohanim.[18] Aptowitzer concluded that it is “very unfortunate” that some rishonim were misled by this forgery, thinking it an authentic work.[19]

Aptowitzer’s work, Mehkarim be-Sifrut ha-Geonim, in which he expressed this judgment, was published by Mossad ha-Rav Kook. R. Hayyim Dov Chavel also published his commentary on Nahmanides with Mossad ha-Rav Kook, and on the just-mentioned passage of Nahmanides to Genesis 31:35, R. Chavel quotes Aptowitzer’s view.

It is easy to see why, from a traditional perspective, what Aptowitzer said is problematic. After all, he posits that Nahmanides, one of the greatest of the medieval sages, was taken in by a heretic’s forgery. His apology, as it were, that Nahmanides and other medieval sages were not critical scholars, and thus it is not a cause for wonder that they were fooled in this matter, is not the sort of thing that will be seen as respectful in traditional circles. It is one thing to write about more recent sages being fooled by Besamim Rosh and the Yerushalmi on Kodashim, but when dealing with a figure like Nahmanides such a position is bound to be more controversial.

This is exactly what happened, and R. Chavel must have been subjected to criticism for citing Aptowitzer in this matter. In the second edition of his commentary, vol. 1, p. 554, R. Chavel backtracks from what he wrote. Had he been able to reset the type and delete the entire note from the text of the commentary I am sure he would have done so. However, he had to settle for a comment in the hashmatot u-miluim, which most people never bother to look at. He writes as follows:

על דעת בקורתית זו יש להוסיף: אף כי חכם גדול היה ר' אביגדור אפטוביצר, ונאמן רוח לתורה ולחכמה, נתפס כאן לסברה בעלמא, שלא שזפה עינו החדה כי הברייתא הזאת (ברייתא דמסכת נידה) היא עדות מוכחת עד כמה גידרו קדמונינו עצמם להתרחק מטומאת הנדה. כטומאת הנדה היתה דרכם לפני (יחזקאל לו, יח). ואף שלא היו הדורות נוהגים למעשה בכל החומרות הנזכרות בברייתא זו, הלא כבר כתב ה"חתם סופר" [או"ח  סי' כג] שאולי נשתנו הטבעים והמקומות, או כיון שדשו בה רבים שומר פתאים ה

As readers can see, R. Chavel’s point is completely dogmatic without any scholarly argument. 

Returning to Nahmanides’ comment to Genesis 31:35, he tells us that he will have more to say on this matter. This is found in his commentary to Leviticus 18:19, where he writes that the blood of menstruation “is deadly poisonous, capable of causing the death of any creature that drinks or eats it.” He further states:

If a menstruant woman at the beginning of her issue were to concentrate her gaze for some time upon a polished iron mirror, there would appear in the mirror red spots resembling drops of blood, for the bad part therein [i.e., in the issue] that is by its nature harmful, causes a certain odium, and the unhealthy condition of the air attaches to the mirror, just as a viper kills with its gaze.

I find it noteworthy that such a great figure as Nahmanides, who was also a doctor, was able to be taken in by these fairy tales. He certainly had never seen any red spots showing up on a mirror so why did he believe such a story without attempting to confirm its accuracy himself? I realize that in medieval times people were much more credulous, and repeated all sorts of far-fetched things that they heard.[20] Nahmanides himself repeats that people in Germany would make use of demons, and he had no reason to doubt this report.[21]

שמעתי בבירור שמנהג אלמניי"ו לעסוק בדברי השדים ומשביעים אותם, ומשלחים אותם ומשתמשים בהם בכמה ענינים

He also believed a report that travelers to the east had discovered the Garden of Eden, but were then killed by the flaming sword that guards the Garden.[22]

 ובספרי הרפואות היונים הקדמונים, וכן בספר אסף היהודי סיפרו כי אספלקינוס חכם מקדוני וארבעים איש מן החרטומים מלומדי הספרים הלכו הלוך בארץ ועברו מעבר להודו קדמת עדן למצוא קצת עלי הרפואות ועץ החיים למען תגדל תפארתם על כל חכמי הארץ, ובבואם אל המקום ההוא ויברק עליהם להט החרב המתהפכת, ויתלהטו כלם בשביבי הברק, ולא נמלט מהם איש

However, when dealing with red spots on a mirror this was something that Nahmanides could have easily confirmed, and yet instead he relied on what he heard, or perhaps read. In seeking to understand how Nahmanides could have been misled in this matter, it helps to be reminded of Bertrand Russell’s famous comment made with reference to Aristotle’s assertion that men have more teeth than women.

To modern educated people, it seems obvious that matters of fact are to be ascertained by observation, not by consulting ancient authorities. But this is an entirely modern conception, which hardly existed before the seventeenth century. Aristotle maintained that women have fewer teeth than men; although he was twice married, it never occurred to him to verify this statement by examining his wives’ mouths.[23]

Returning to the matter of olives, it is noteworthy that the halakhic authorities, including those in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, who argued that olives have shrunk since the days of the Sages did not actually seek to prove this with historical evidence. Had they done so they would have found that the size of olives has not changed. However, concerning another measurement we find that the Steipler was indeed interested in what the historical record revealed. R. Avrohom Marmorstein and Jacob Djmal both called my attention to a letter of the Steipler that was recently up for auction. Here is the item from Kedem’s January 2018 auction catalog (catalog no. 59), pp. 269-270 (item no. 298).

This letter already appeared in Aleh Yonah (Jerusalem-Bnei Brak, 1989), p. 134.

We see that in trying to determine the size of a cubit, the Steipler actually wrote to the archaeology department at “the university” (i.e., Hebrew University). This sort of effort is exactly what is required when trying to investigate a matter such as this. Yet look what happened when this letter was published in the Steipler’s Karyana de-Igarta, vol. 2, no. 402. The section showing that the Steipler reached out to the academic world was simply deleted, with no indication given that anything has been removed from the letter.

Finally, it is worth mentioning the Hazon Ish’s position that although the various measurements go back to Sinai, the actual size of the measurements required in order to fulfill an obligation was established by the Sages. In other words, while the measurement of a kezayit is mi-deoraita, how big this olive is – as there are different size olives – was given to the Sages to be determined.[24]

וכשנאמרו שיעורין בסיני נאמרו על האומד ומה שנראה לו לאדם זהו שיעורו, ואמנם הדבר מסור לחכמים לקבוע גדרי השיעור לכל ישראל וכמו שאמרו חכמים כזית שנאמרו זה אגורי כשעורה זו מדברית כעדשה זו מצרית לא שנאמרה למשה כך אלא נאמרה סתם והיא הבינונית אלא חכמים עיינו בדבר וקבעו לכל ישראל שכזית אגורי ושעורה מדברית ועדשה מצרית הם הבינונים, וכשם שמסור לדעתו של רואה להכריע על הבינוני של הפרי בין חביריו הגדולים והקטנים כן מסור לחכמים לקבוע את המדידה שיש להגיד עליה שפירותיה הם הבינונים בהגלילים והארצות השונות

Regarding the kezayit measurement, there is one other point worth mentioning. Everyone knows that one is required to eat a kezayit of maror at the Seder. Nevertheless, the practice of the Ropshitz hasidim used to be precisely the opposite, as they were careful not to eat a kezayit of marorThis strange practice goes back to the founder of the Ropshitz dynasty, R. Naphtali Zvi Horowitz (1760-1827). (I don’t know if the practice continues today.) Not only is the lack of a kezayit problematic, but there is the other issue regarding whether one can even say a blessing on the maror with less than a kezayit

R. Aryeh Zvi Frommer deals with Ropshitz practice, and also mentions that he heard that R. Shalom of Belz and R. Ezekiel of Shinova also told people to eat less than a kezayit of maror and to make the blessing on it.[25] R. Frommer attempts to justify this practice halakhically, and he states explicitly that he is doing so in order that the actions of these hasidic masters not be in contradiction to the Mishnah, Pesahim 2:6, the meaning of which appears to be that a kezayit is the minimum amount required for maror.[26] He also notes that he wants to justify the practice of "most of Israel" who use horseradish for maror and also do not eat a kezayit. His justification is only of eating less than a kezayit of horseradish, so it does not seem that this will be of any help with regard to the view of the Ropshitzer, as his avoidance of a kezayit of maror apparently applied to all types of maror, even lettuce. 

Many people probably remember their grandparents telling them that in Europe they used horseradish for maror, but that unlike today there was no concept of being careful to eat a kezayit. If you had any doubts about what your grandparents reported, R. Frommer tells us the exact same thing. Are we to say that most Jews in Europe did not fulfill the mitzvah of maror? This is a conclusion that no rabbi wants to reach, and that is why R. Frommer is motivated to find some justification for the practice.

כנלע"ד ליישב דברי הצדיקים ז"ל שלא יסתרו למשנה מפורשת הנ"ל וליישב מנהג רוב ישראל שאוכלין למרור חריין פחות מכזית ומברכין עליו על אכילת מרור

R. Frommer was obviously concerned that what he wrote would be regarded as too radical. Thus, on the very last page of the book, where one finds the corrections, he stressed that his words were only a limud zekhut because most people do not eat a kezayit, but le-khathilah one cannot rule this way.

כ"ז כתבתי רק דרך למוד זכות מחמת שרוב ההמון ונשים נוהגין כן אבל לכתחלה אין להורות כן וכ"מ באבני נזר סי' שפ"ג

R. Frommer has another relevant comment on this matter:[27]

ביום ג' שמות חלם לי, שהגידו לי בשם הרה"צ ר' פינשע ז"ל מפילץ דאף מי שמגיע לו יסורים ר"ל, סגי ביסורים כ"ש [כל שהוא], דלא עדיף ממרור דלא בעי כזית, ומה"ת סגי במשהו כמ"ש הרא"ש פ"י דפסחים סי' כ"ה, כמו בזה סגי במשהו

There is no need for me to go into this matter in any detail, as it has been comprehensively analyzed in a wonderful article by Levi Cooper.[28] I would just like to call attention to some sources not mentioned by Cooper. 

1. R. Mordechai Shabetai Eisenberger, Berurei Halakhot (Netanya, 2006), no. 51, offers a halakhic justification for the Ropshitzer, and claims that it is only applicable to horseradish.

2. The following story, quoting R. Aaron Rokeach, the Belzer Rebbe, appears in Aharon Pollak, ed., Beito Na’avah Kodesh (2007), vol. 2, p. 482:

פ"א, בליל הסדר שנת תש"ט, נכח דודי הר"ר יוסף צבי וועבער ז"ל (לאחר שניצל מגיא ההריגה במלחמה  באירופה, וזכה לעלות ארצה אחר החורבן שם), והנה כ"ק מרן זי"ע נתן לו בידו מעט מאוד מה"מרור". אחד מן הנוכחים שם, הרהיב עוז והעיר למרן זי"ע, ש"זה רק כל שהוא". נענה מרן זי"ע והתבטא בלשונו "ער האט  שוין געהאט גענוג מרירות"! - (בשם בעל העובדא

3. The following story, that R. Joel Teitelbaum of Satmar refused to follow his father-in-law's practice of eating less than a kezayit of maror, appears in Aharon Perlow, Otzroteihem shel Tzadikim al ha-Torah ve-ha-Moadim (2006 edition), p. 323, quoting Moshian shel Yisrael, vol. 4, p. 17:

בליל התקדש חג הפסח בעריכת הסדר היה המנהג בבית דזיקוב לברך על אכילת מרור בשיעור פחות מכזית, וכן נהגו גם בפלאנטש. אולם רבינו (כ"ק מרן אדמו"ר מסאטמאר) ז"ל נהג כפשטות לשון הפוסקים וכנהוג בבית אבותיו הק' לאכול שיעור מרור כזית כדאיפסקא הילכתא. וכשהיה רבינו ז"ל סמוך על שולחן חותנו (מזיוו"ר – הרה"ק רבי אברהם חיים הורביץ מפלאנטש זצוק"ל) לא נתנו לו שיעור מרור כראוי. ורק פחות מכזית – כמנהגם – ולא רצו שרבינו ז"ל יתנהג אחרת ממנהגם. אבל רבינו ז"ל השכיל להכין ולהצניע מראש מקדם בכיס הגלימא שלו שיעור כזית לאכילת מרור, ובעת עריכת הסדר כשהגיע לקיים מצות אכילת מרור אכל רבינו כשיעור
4. Matityahu Gutman, Belz (Tel Aviv, 1912), p. 31, states:

רבי יהושע מבלז אמר: אבי היה פוסק, והוא אמר שאין צריך לאכול כזית מרור, ובתשובות הנדפסות בסו"ס אמרי נועם למועדים כותב שמקובל כך מזקנו הק' מרופשיץ וכן היו נוהגין כל בני ביתו, מחמת אי בריאות

The words I have underlined are how later generations mistakenly attempted to reconcile the practice of the Ropshitzer and his descendants with the halakhah.


Another proof that the medieval German sages never actually saw olives is provided by R. Hayyim Benish – the expert in all matters of halakhic measurements and times – in what is still probably the best discussion of the history and halakhah of the kezayit measurement (and he did not need an entire book to make his points). See Benish, “Shiur Kezayit: Berur Da’at ha-Rishonim ve-ha-Aharonim,” Beit Aharon ve-Yisrael 50 (Kislev-Tevet, 5754), pp. 107-116. 

R. Benish calls attention to a medieval Ashkenazic series of halakhic rulings published by Shlomo Spitzer in Moriah 8 (Sivan 5738). On p. 4, in discussing the size of an olive and the problem created by the medieval Ashkenazic assumption that two olives equal one egg, the unknown author writes:

ולי הכותב אינו קשה כי ראיתי זיתים בא"י ובירושלים אפילו ששה אינם גדולים כביצה

From this we see that the medieval Ashkenazic sages did not know what an olive looked like, and because of this they were mistaken in their assumption that two olives equal one egg. The author himself, who had journeyed to Eretz Yisrael and had seen actual olives, was able to correct his Ashkenazic contemporaries. Yet his statement that an olive is not even one sixth the size of an egg is not in line with the Rashba, Torat ha-BayitMishmeret ha-Bayit, Mossad ha-Rav Kook ed., vol. 2, col. 52 (bayit revi’i, sha’ar rishon), who had olives at his disposal and describes them as less than one fourth the size of an olive. (See R. Benish, p. 109, for the common view that according to Maimonides an olive is one third of an egg.) See also R. Jacob Moelin, Sefer Maharil, ed. Spitzer (Jerusalem, 1989), Likutim, no. 55, that whereas two olives equal one egg, three dried figs also equal an egg. In other words, he believed that a fig is smaller than an olive, which could only be said by someone who never saw an olive. Perhaps he never saw a fig either, but the measurement of three figs equaling one egg is held by the geonim and Maimonides. See R. Eliyahu Zini, Etz Erez, vol. 3, pp. 201-202.

There are, of course, different types of olives, and R. Benish, p. 114, has a chart with the different measurements. Regarding the anonymous medieval Ashkenazic author, who stated that an olive is not even a sixth the size of an egg, it is possible that when he returned to Germany he forgot the exact size, and recalled them as being smaller than they actually were.

The editor of Torat ha-Bayit, R. Moshe Brun, finds the Rashba’s statement that an olive is not even a quarter of an egg so significant that he remarks:

חדוש גדול חידש לנו רבינו בהלכות שיעורין, דיותר מד' זיתים בכביצה

R. Benish concludes that the size of a kezayit is 7.5 square centimeters. Recognizing that this is a good deal smaller than what people are told today, he concludes with the following important words which explain why a kezayit by definition must be a really small size.[29] What he says would appear to be basic to all of the Sages' measurements, but for some reason I was never taught this in yeshiva:

רבים יתמהו ודאי, האם בשיעור זעיר כל כך מקיימים מצוות אכילה הכתובה בתורה. תמיה זו יסודה בחוסר הבנה במושג שיעורי תורה בכלל, ובשיעור אכילה בפרט. בסיס השיעורים בכל מקום ומקום הוא השיעור המזערי ביותר שעליו ניתן לומר שיש לו מהות. וכמו שיעור רוחב אגודל במדות האורך  מדה מחייבת בענינים התלויים במדות אורך (כמו לאו דהשגת גבול. ראה רמב"ם הל' גנבה פ"ז הי"א), ושיעור פרוטה, שיעור מתחייב בממון, למרות שהוא שיעור זעיר ביותר . . , ואם יקדש אשה בשיעורי ממון זה  מקודשת. וכן הוא ה"כזית"  שיעור אכילה: השיעור המיזערי ביותר שיצא מכלל פירור ויש בו חשיבות אוכל . . . ואין תנאי במצות אכילה שיהיה בו שיעור מיתבא דעתא או שביעה

See also Beit Aharon ve-Yisrael 53 (Sivan-Tamuz 5754), pp. 91ff., where R. Benish responds to criticisms of his article. On p. 96 he mentions that one person criticized him by saying that the information he wrote about should not be made public!

והנה אמר לי חכם אחד: לא חידשת במאמרך מאומה, הדברים הינם ידועים, אלא שנאמרו, אפילו ע"י גדולי הפוסקים, מפה לאוזן, ואתה הוצאת זאת שלא כדין ושלא לצורך לרשות הרבים

Finally, no mention of the size of an olive would be complete without referring to R. Natan Slifkin’s essay on the topic available here.

One complicating factor in any discussion of the kezayit is that R. Joseph Karo, Shulhan ArukhOrah Hayyim 586:1, writes:

שיעור כזית יש אומרים דהוי כחצי ביצה

R. Karo knew what an olive looked like, so why in his codification of the Passover laws would he record the view that it is the size of half an egg? Furthermore, why does he ignore the views of R. Isaac Alfasi, Maimonides, and R. Asher who held that a kezayit is less than this? And finally, how come in Orah Hayyim 210 when he discusses the kezayit he does not define it as half an egg? 

These points are all raised by R. Hadar Yehudah Margolin in support of R. Benish’s position that when, in the laws of Passover, R. Karo mentions the view that a kezayit is half an egg, this is only to be regarded as a humra. However, R. Karo himself holds that the basic law is that a kezayit is really the actual size of an olive (which is certainly smaller than half an egg). See Beit Aharon ve-Yisrael 51 (Shevat-Adar 5754), p. 119.

In the recently published De-Haziteih le-Rabbi Meir (Jerusalem, 2018), vol. 1, p. 399, we see that R. Meir Soloveitchik did not like the suggestion that medieval Ashkenazic sages did not know how big an olive was.

אמר על כך הגר"מ שהרי ההגהות מיימוניות (פרק א' ממאכלות אסורות אות מ') מביאים שרבינו תם נתקשה בסימני עוף טהור, ואז עף אל שולחנו עוף טהור, ועל ידי זה ידע את הסימנים. ומזה רואים כמה סייעתא דשמיא היה להם שלא יטעו לומר דבר שאינו נכון, וא"כ איך אפשר לומר שכיון שלא ראו זיתים לכן לא ידעו מה שיעור כזית

* * * *

My Torah in Motion 2019 summer trips will be to Morocco, Central Europe, and Greece. Information about them will soon be up on the Torah in Motion website.


[1] A. Horowitz, Orhot Rabbenu (Bnei Brak, 1991), vol. 1, p. 364. Horowitz adds that he asked the Steipler how they could appoint a fifteen-year-old rabbi when it says in Shulhan Arukh, Hoshen Mishpat that a dayan has to be eighteen-years-old. The Steipler replied that a rabbi is not a dayan, as he only decides halakhic questions and is not on a beit din. Horowitz also asked the Steipler about what appears in the Beit Yosef, that semikhah should not be given to anyone under eighteen. The Steipler replied that this is only a general rule, but there are exceptions.

Regarding eighteen as the minimum age of a dayan, contrary to what Horowitz states, this is actually not recorded as halakhah in the Shulhan Arukh. R. Karo writes as follows inHoshen Mishpat 7:3:

יש אומרים שאינו ראוי לדון אלא מבן י"ח ומעלה והביא שתי שערות. וי"א דמבן י"ג ומעלה כשר ואפילו לא הביא שתי שערות

This is actually a case of יש אומרים ויש אומרים, and according to R. Yitzhak Yosef the general rule in such a case is that the second opinion is the one we accept. See Ein Yitzhak, vol. 3, pp. 438ff. (Kelalim be-Da'at ha-Shulhan Arukh, no. 28).

Sefer Meirat Einayim explains the position that allows a thirteen-year-old dayan as due to the fact that being a dayan is only dependent on חריפותו ובקיאותו .

R. Kook refused to give semikhah to a young man as he believed that semikhah should only be given to one who was knowledgeable in the entire Torah (!). See his responsum published in Peri ha-Aretz 5 (1982), pp. 6-9.
[2] Tevunah (1861), nos. 39, 40.
[3] Sections of this commentary that have not yet appeared in print were recently offered for sale at an auction. See here.
[4] Ha-Gaon ha-Hasid Rabbi Meir Marim Shafit. See also the very nice story about R. Shafit recorded here.
[5] Habermann, Anshei Sefer ve-Anshei Ma’aseh (Jerusalem, 1974), p. 139.
[6] R. Asher Anshel Yehudah Miller, Olamo shel Abba (Jerusalem, 1984), p. 181.
[7] The common pronunciation of his name as “Abudraham” is a mistake. See here.
[8] See R. Menahem Kasher, Haggadah Shelemah, p. 17 n. 141.
[9] Israel Davidson, Otzar ha-Shirah ve-ha-Piyut (New York, 1924), vol. 1, p. 303. As Davidson notes, this is the correct version of the text.
[10] This is how the words are pronounced, not yayin nesekh.
[11] See R. Levi Ibn HabibTeshuvot, no. 147 (Kuntres ha-Semikhah, no. 4), s.v. ומתחלה. R. Baruch Rabinovich, about whom I have written a good deal in recent posts (and more is to come) was appointed גאב"ד of Munkatch immediately upon his marriage, when he was only eighteen years old. See R. Nathan David Rabinowich, ed., Hashav Nevonim (N.Y.-Jerusalem, 2016), p. 9.

This post deals with young rabbis, not precocious children. However, regarding children wise beyond their years, I just came across the following from R. Hayyim ben Bezalel, Be'er Mayim Hayim (London, 1964), vol. 1, p. 165:

ואני בעודי נער כמו בן ז' שנים פעם אחת בליל שבת של פרשה זו הסיבו יחד זקנים בעלי הוראה ונתנו ונשאו בזאת הקושיא והייתי מקשיב לקולם לאחר דבריהם אמרתי לחוות דעי גם אני ברשותם . . . והודי לי רבותיי והנהתי להם מאד

[11] No. 99 (18 Shevat 5778), p. 6 n. 35. Regarding R. Mazuz, I think readers will enjoy the song devoted to him that recently appeared.


Here are other songs devoted to him



Here is Lipa Schmeltzer on Sukkot 2018 singing before R. Mazuz and R. Shlomo Amar. The first song he sings is a poem that R. Mazuz wrote about Maimonides.


[13] R. Mazuz also shows that the medieval French sages never saw a date, and this explains why they describe it incorrectly. See Bayit Ne’eman, Orah Hayyim, no. 25 (pp. 135, 137-138).
[14] Berakhot no. 107.
[15] See Excursus.
[16] Interested readers can consult the numerous sources listed by R. Eliezer Brodt, Likutei Eliezer, pp. 38ff.
[17] Sheki'in (Jerusalem, 1939), p. 22.
[18] See R. Moses Sofer, She’elot u-Teshuvot Hatam Sofer, Orah Hayyim, no. 23, who discusses the matter of birkat kohanim, as it is also quoted by Rabad in his commentary to Tamid 33b from Sefer ha-Mikzto’ot. R. Efraim Zalman Margulies, Beit Efrayim, Orah Hayyim no. 6, explains the Ashkenazic practice of not reciting birkat kohanim every day as due to the concern that there might be a niddah in a kohen’s house. With reference to the notion that a kohen does not recite birkat kohanim if there is a niddah in his house, which as just noted is quoted by Rabad from Sefer ha-Miktzo’ot, R. Joseph Kafih writes (commentary to Moreh Nevukhim 3:47, n. 31):

והדעות הללו חדרו גם לשכבות מסוימות של היהדות והחלו להתנהג במנהגותיהם, ראה לדוגמא פירוש הראב"ד למסכת תמיד הפרק האחרון בשם ספר המקצעות

In other words, R. Kafih is in agreement with Aptowitzer that this is an example of sectarian ideas finding their way into the writings of rishonim

The late Yaakov Elman even saw Zoroastrian influence in a practice that would become part of the Niddah laws. He wrote the following here:

As to the non-elitist Babylonian Jews, we have a report regarding the ordinary Babylonian Jewish women. Rabbi Zera reports that the “daughters of Israel had undertaken to be so strict with themselves as to wait for seven [clean] days [after the appearance] of a drop of blood the size of a mustard seed [although biblically they are required only to separate for seven days from the onset of menstruation]” (Berakhot, fol. 31a; Megillah, fol. 28b; Niddah, fol. 66a). It is clear from Niddah (fol. 66a) that this stringency was a popular practice and not a rabbinic prohibition, probably in response to a “holier than thou” attitude perceived by the populace as emanating from their Persian neighbors. It seems that Babylonian Jewish women had internalized their Zoroastrian neighbors’ critique of Rabbinic Judaism’s relatively “easy-going” ways in this regard.

[19] Mehkarim be-Sifrut ha-Geonim (Jerusalem, 1941), pp. 166-168.
[20] Of course, in modern times people can also be quite credulous. Since we are discussing menstruation, here is another myth repeated by R. Hayyim David Halevi, Mekor Hayyim, vol. 5, p. 70:

וכבר הוכח שאחיזת יד האשה הנדה בפרחים ממהרת נבילתם

[21] Kitvei Ramban, ed. Chavel, vol. 1, p. 381. See also ibid., p. 149, that he believed it is possible for necromancers to raise the spirits of the dead.
[22] Kitvei Ramban, vol. 2, p. 296. Nahmanides wrote this in the thirteenth century when all sorts of tall tales were believed. Yet I still recall how surprised I was when told by a high school rebbe in the 1980s that he believed that the Ten Tribes were hidden somewhere on earth, waiting to be discovered. Perhaps relevant to this, R. Aharon Leib Steinman writes that the reason we cannot find the Sambatyon river is because of hester panim. See Ayelet ha-Shahar, Devarim, p. 190.

In general, it never ceases to amaze me how even very great figures have been taken in by phony stories. For one example (and I could provide a very long list of similar examples), here is a story about the power of the evil eye that R. Joseph Zechariah Stern records inZekher Yehosef, vol. 4, Tahalukhot ha-Agaddot, p. 13a. It actually upset me when I saw this, as I am a big admirer of R. Stern and was disappointed that he, too, readily accepted a phony story as fact.

ובענין עין הרע שנמצא באגדות הנה גם אנשים שאין להם חלק בתלמוד מחכמיהם ענו אמן על התאמתם וכנודע ע"פ מ"ע [מכתבי עת] כי הרופאים בע"מ פ"ב [בעיר מלוכה פטרבורג] עשו נסיון מבחינה שעשו שהניחו ככר לחם לפני אחד מחייבי מיתות ושהרעיבו אותו שלש ימים מקודם, ואותו חלק מהלחם שהניחו לפניו מבלי ליתן אותו לנגוע בו רק במבטי עיניו נהפך אח"כ לסם המות

This source, and the one from R. Steinman mentioned earlier in this note, are referred to in the recently published Otzar Hemdah (n.p., 2018), pp. 81, 150. See also ibid., p. 219, which cites R. Elijah David Rabinowitz-Teomim, Over Orah (Jerusalem, 2003), p. 237:

כבר נודע שבעת פריחת הגפנים אז גם היין שכבר הוא מכמה שנים במרתפים תוסס, (וכן אנו רואים בעת פריחת התבואות אז העיסה תוססת), ודבר זה נעלם מחכמי הטבע, אבל הכל רואים דבר זה בחוש, וא"כ ודאי שגם מה שכשאומרים דבר שמועה בשמו גורם ששפתותיו דובבות בקבר אין להתפלא כלל, אף שאין אנו מבינים דבר

How is it that R. Rabinowitz-Teomim can write that everyone sees the phenomenon with grapes and wheat he describes when the entire description is completely without basis? Otzar Hemdah, p. 219, cites a similar passage from R. Hayyim Joseph David Azulai,Homat Anakh (Jerusalem, 1986), parashat Matot (p. 67a):

הלא תראה היין שהוא במרתף ומונח בחבית סתומה בעת שדורכים הענבים אף שהוא רחוק מאד היין שבחבית מתנועע והוא פלא

Again, we have to ask, how is it that so many people believed that they saw something which never occurred?
[23] The Impact of Science on Society (London and New York, 2016), p. 6.
[24] Hazon Ish, Hilkhot Shabbat 39:1 (Kuntres ha-Shiurim).
[25Eretz Tzvi, vol. 1, no. 85.
[26] I say the meaning “appears to be,” as there is a famous comment of R. Asher ben Jehiel, Pesahim, ch. 10, no. 25, which some understand to be suggesting a different approach to maror and the obligation of kezayit. See R. Aryeh Leib Gunzberg, Sha’agat Aryeh, no. 100; R. Mordechai Shabbetai Eisenberger, Berurei Halakhot (Netanya, 2006), no. 51; R. Samuel Pardes, Avnei Shmuel (Jerusalem, 1993), no. 13; R. Asher Weiss, Minhat Asher: Haggadah shel Pesah (Jerusalem, 2004), pp. 203ff.
[27]  Eretz Tzvi, vol. 2, p. 401.
[28“Bitter Herbs in Hasidic Galicia,” Jewish Studies Internet Journal 12 (2013), pp. 1-40.
[29] See also R. Naphtali Zvi Judah Berlin, Meromei Sadeh, Pesahim 39a, who states that a kezayit is very small:

וזה ברור דשיעור כזית המבואר בשו"ע הוא שיעור קטן מאד

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