Some Highlights of the Mossad HaRav Kook Sale of 2017By Eliezer BrodtFor over thirty years, starting on Isru Chag of Pesach, Mossad HaRav Kook publishing house has made a big sale on all of their publications, dropping prices considerably (some ...

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"the Seforim blog" - 5 new articles

  1. Some Highlights of the Mossad HaRav Kook Sale of 2017
  2. The Hanukkah Miracle
  3. Afikoman - “Stealing“ and Other Related Minhagim
  4. Book announcement: New edition of Avudraham and other works, R. Greensweig, etc.
  5. Dr. Shlomo Sprecher ז"ל: In Memoriam
  6. More Recent Articles

Some Highlights of the Mossad HaRav Kook Sale of 2017

Some Highlights of the Mossad HaRav Kook Sale of 2017
By Eliezer Brodt

For over thirty years, starting on Isru Chag of Pesach, Mossad HaRav Kook publishing house has made a big sale on all of their publications, dropping prices considerably (some books are marked as low as 65% off). Each year they print around twenty new titles. They also reprint some of their older, out of print titles. Some years important works are printed; others not as much. This year they have printed some valuable works, as they did last year. See here and here for a review of previous year's titles.

If you're interested in a PDF of their complete catalog, email me at

As in previous years, I am offering a service, for a small fee, to help one purchase seforim from this sale. The sale's last day is Tuesday. For more information about this, email me at Part of the proceeds will be going to support the efforts of the Seforim Blog.

What follows is a list and brief description of some of their newest titles.

1.      הלכות פסוקות השלם, ב' כרכים, על פי כת"י ששון עם מקבילות מקורות הערות ושינויי נוסחאות, מהדיר: יהונתן עץ חיים.
This is a critical edition of this Geonic work. A few years back, the editor, Yonason Etz Chaim put out a volume of the Geniza fragments of this work (also printed by Mossad HaRav Kook).

2.      ביאור הגר"א לנ"ך, שיר השירים, ב, ע"י רבי דוד כהן ור' משה רביץ
 This is the long-awaited volume two of the Gr"a on Shir Hashirim, heavily annotated by R’ Dovid Cohen.

3.      עיון תפילה, לר' יעקב צבי מקלנבורג בעל ה'כתב והקבלה', מהדיר ר' משה צוריאל
This is a new edition of the beautiful work on Siddur from the Kesav V'Hakabalah, which has not been available for a while.

4.      על התפילה, ר' דוד צבי הופמן, מאמרים על תהפילה ובית הכנסת שתורגמו ונערכו מהרצאותיו ע"י ר' יהושע ענבל, קסה עמודים
 This is a small work based on R’ Dovid Tzvi Hoffman's lectures on Tefilah (translated from German). Of course, being that it’s from R' Hoffman it’s important to own.

5.      העיקר חסר, ר' צבי רון, אוצר פירושים על החסרות ויתרות בתנ"ך, תקעד עמודים
This is a large collection from a wide range of sources on the interesting topic of Chasairos V'yeseiros in Tanach.

6.      קונטרס קידוש השם, ר' ירוחם יהודה ליב פרלמן, הגדול ממינסק, על סדר הרמב"ם הל' יסודי התורה, עם מראה מקומות, ביאורים ומפתחות ע"י ר' הלל דוצי'ן, רנד עמודים.
This is an annotated edition of the small work of the Minsker Godol on Kiddush Hashem. For the back story behind why this work was written, see the following passage from R’ Meir Halperin’s classic and extraordinary biography, Hagodol MiMinsk.

7.      וזאת התורה, ר' דר', חיים טלבי, מנהגי קריאת התורה בעדות ישראל, 640 עמודים
This is an extremely useful and well organized work, based on the author's PhD dissertation, dealing with many aspects of K'reiyas Hatorah before, during and after, such as Hagbah, the amount of Aliyos called, standing, selling of Aliyos and Shenayim Mikrah V'echad Targum.

8.      מבית לפרוכת, ר' אברהם סתיו, פשט, עיון ומשמעות בעבודת יום הכיפורים.
9.      עולם הקרבנות, ר' צבי אינפלד, ניתוח מעמיק ומקיף עניין הקרבנות.
10.  משפטיך תהום רבה, תגובות הגותיות אורתודוקסיות לשואה, עורכים: גרשון גרינברג אסף ידידיה, 355 עמודים.

This is a very useful collection of fifteen essays of Orthodox Theological Responses to the Holocaust. In 2007, Oxford University Press printed a book in English titled Wrestling with God: Jewish Theological Responses during and after the Holocaust edited by Steven T. Katz, Shlomo Biderman, and Gershon Greenberg (689 pp.). The Oxford volume includes almost of all the essays that appear in this new volume and a few additional important orthodox responses not found in this new Hebrew volume. Its rather strange that there is no mention of the Oxford volume in the various introductions and notes, even though Gershon Greenberg, one of the editors of the Hebrew volume was also one of the editors of the English volume. Moreover, in the Hebrew edition, Greenberg  never cites the Oxford volume; only his essays about each response.

I would just like to add one source to the bibliography about the essays of R’ Kalonymos Shapiro from his Eish Kodesh. Recently, Dr. Daniel Reiser published a beautiful facsimile edition of R’ Kalonymos' autograph manuscript of this classic  work alongside an annotated transcript. (TOC available upon request).

11.  מאמרי טוביה, רשימות ומאמרים לר' טוביה פרשל, א-ב.

Just a few years ago, the great Talmid Chacham, writer and bibliographer (and much more), R’ Tovia Preschel, was niftar at the age of 91. R’ Preschel authored thousands of articles on an incredibly wide range of topics, in a vast array of journals and newspapers both in Hebrew and English. For a nice, brief obituary about him from Professor Leiman, see here. Upon his passing, his daughter, Dr. Pearl Herzog, immediately started collecting all of his material in order to make it available for people to learn from. Already by the Shloshim a small work of his articles was released. A bit later, she opened a web site devoted to his essays. This website is constantly updated with essays. It’s incredible to see this man’s range of knowledge (well before the recent era of computer search engines). A few months ago, Mossad HaRav Kook released volume one (424 pp.) containing some of his essays, and right before Pesach volume two was released (482 pp.) This is an extremely special treasure trove of essays and articles on a broad variety of topics. It includes essays related to Halacha, Minhag, bibliography, Pisgamim, history of Gedolim, book reviews, travels and personal encounters and essays about great people he knew or met (e.g.: R’ Chaim Heller, R’ Abramsky, R’ Shlomo Yosef Zevin, R’ Meshulem Roth, R’ Reuven Margolis, Professor Saul Lieberman). Each volume leaves you thirsting for more. At least another two volumes are in preparation by his daughter, Dr. Pearl Herzog. I wish her much Hatzlacha in this great service for readers of all kinds all over the world. Here is a table of contents of the two volumes.

Vol. I:

Vol  II:


The Hanukkah Miracle

The Hanukkah Miracle

Marc B. Shapiro

In an earlier post I mentioned that I hoped to write about the nineteenth-century dispute about the historicity of the Hanukkah miracle of the oil. This dispute broke out after the publication of Hayyim Zelig Slonimski’s article claiming that Maimonides did not believe in the miracle. Fuel was added to the fire when R. Samuel Alexandrov publicly supported Slonimski and argued that the miracle of the oil was intended to be understood in a non-literal fashion, with the oil representing Torah. (He later retracted this view, presumably due to public pressure.) There is no longer a need for me to write in any detail about this matter after Zerachyah Licht’s recent comprehensive Seforim Blog post here, which also includes Slonimski's original article.[1]

However, there are a few points I would like to add.

In my post here I wrote:

To give an example . . . of how [R. Samuel Moses] Rubenstein's later thought broke with tradition, see his Ha-Rambam ve-ha-Aggadah (Kovno, 1937), p. 103, where he claims that the story of the miracle of Hanukkah is almost certainly a late aggadic creation, and like many other miracle stories in aggadic literature was not originally intended to be understood as historical reality:[2]

ספק הוא אם הנס של "פך השמן" הוא אפילו הגדה עממית קדומה, קרוב שהוא יצירה אגדית חדשה מבעל הברייתא עצמו או מאחד מבעלי האגדה, ונסים אגדיים כאלו רבים הם בברייתות וגמרא ומדרשים ע"ד ההפלגה כדרכה של האגדה. ולבסוף הובן נס זה למעשה שהיה. עיין שבת כ"ג א'. [טעם ברייתא זו הובא גם במגילת תענית (פ"ט) אבל כמו שנראה היא הוספה מאוחרת, ועיין (שם) ובפסיקתא רבתי (פיסקא דחנוכה) עוד טעם להדלקת נרות חנוכה[.

During the most recent Hanukkah I was using R. Joseph Hertz’s siddur, the Authorized Daily Prayer Book. Based upon how he describes the holiday and the lighting of the menorah, omitting any mention of the miracle of the lights (pp. 946-947), I assume that he also didn’t accept it literally. Note how he states that the lights were kindled during the eight-day Dedication festival, and this is the reason for the eight days of Hanukkah, rather than offering the traditional reason that the eight days of Hanukkah commemorate the eight days that the menorah miraculously burnt.

Three years to the day on which the Temple was profaned by the blaspheming foe, Kislev the 25th 165, Judah Maccabeus and his brethren triumphantly entered the Holy City. They purified the Temple, and their kindling of the lights during the eight-day festival of Dedication—Chanukah—is a telling reminder, year by year, of the rekindling of the Lamp of True Religion in their time.

Ad kan my words in the prior post. Some time ago I was asked if I know of any other traditional authors who deny the literalness of the Hanukkah miracle. It could be that R. Isidore Epstein should be added to the list, as in his classic work Judaism he describes Hanukkah and the kindling of lights, but mentions nothing about the miracle. However, unlike Hertz whose comments were in a siddur and directed to Jews, Epstein’s book is directed towards a general reader, and can still be used as a college text. Understandably, one would hesitate to include in such a book anything about a miracle. Yet I think it is telling that he does not even say something like, “according to tradition a cruse of oil with enough for one day burnt for eight.” 

Another traditional author who must be mentioned in this regard is R. Zev Yavetz. Here is his picture.

And to remind people of what Slonimski looked like, here is his picture.[3]

And here is a picture of R. Alexandrov.

Yavetz was one of the leaders (and founders) of the Mizrachi movement, and Kfar Yavets, a religious moshav, is named after him. After his death, R. Kook wrote about how Yavetz was able to combine Torah and secular wisdom without being negatively affected and distorting religious values.[4] Yavetz is best known for his writings on Jewish history. His magnum opus is his 14 volume Toldot Yisrael. In volume 4, pp. 89-91, he discusses the Hanukkah story.

As you can see, there is no mention of the miracle of the oil. The eight day holiday is portrayed as a commemoration of the original eight day celebration that took place when the Temple was rededicated. I don’t think there is any other conclusion that can be drawn other than that Yavetz did not regard the miracle of the oil as an actual historical event.

In 1900 R. Aryeh Leib Feinstein published his Elef ha-Magen. On p. 35b he writes that whereas R. Judah (bar Ilai) believed in the Hanukkah miracle, R. Yose and R. Judah ha-Nasi did not, and that is the reason why R. Judah ha-Nasi did not include the laws of the Hanukkah lights in the Mishnah.

חיוב נר חנוכה עתה אינו בשביל המלוכה רק מפני הנס שנעשה בפך השמן שהדליקו בו שמונה ימים, ואף שגם טעם זה תלוי במחלוקת שבין ר' יודא ור' יוסי בהוריות [יא ע"ב] שלדעת ר' יודא נסים רבים אירעו בשמן המשחה, ור' יוסי חולק עליו שלא היה בו שום נס, ומטעם זה ג"כ השמיט רבי דיני נר חנוכה, ולא הזכירו בשום משנה, רק מזכירו לענין ניזקין בשם ר' יודא שפוטר החנוני, לפי שר' יודא לשיטתו סובר שנר חנוכה הוא מצוה לזכר הנס שאירע בפך שמן המשחה. אבל רבי פוסק כר' יוסי לפי שנימוקו עמו. אך התלמוד אוחז בזה כר' יודא לפי שהנס מהשמן כבר נתפרסם בהאומה.

On p. 36a Feinstein refers to the dispute between Slonimski and the rabbis, and says that many good Jews adopted Slonimski’s position. He tells us that he informed Slonimski that the dispute between him and the rabbis was actually an old dispute.

ואחריו נמשכו עוד רבים וכן שלמים שמהרו ויחליטו כדבריו . . . והראיתיו לדעת שבאמת ענין זה כבר דשו בו רבים, ונחלקו עליו משפחות משפחות, וביחוד ר' יודא ור' יוסי בהוריות. אך בכ"ז רבינו הקדוש אף שנטה למלכות בית דוד ולדעת ר' יוסי, לא ערב לבו לנגוע במנהג ישן שקימו וקבלו עליהם הדורות שלפניו.

Not long ago I was listening to some recordings from R. David Bar-Hayim of Machon Shilo. One of them is entitled “The Story of the Macabees, part 2.” You can find it here. In this lecture, beginning at minute 27, R. Bar-Hayim explains that in his opinion there was no miracle of the oil, and it is simply a legend that developed in Babylonia, “because without that Hanukkah makes no sense for a Jew in galut.” Rather than attempt to summarize his perspective, it is preferable for readers to listen to his entire shiur.

Because of his originality, I would not have been surprised had R. Chaim Hirschensohn adopted the same sort of approach. Yet this is not the case, and R. Hirschensohn writes that the Hanukkah miracle was the final open miracle in Jewish history, by which he means that after this Jewish history is to be explained in a more naturalistic way, just like the history of other peoples. However, he adds that it must also be recognized that the very existence of the Jewish people over so many years in exile is itself a miracle.[5]

נר חנוכה הוא חותם הניסים בדברי ימי עמנו, כמלאכי חותם הנביאים.
אחרי נצחון החשמונאים החלו אצלנו דברי הימים כאשר לכל העמים, אם שאין ספק שגם מקודם היה לנו דברי הימים אבל המסופר לנו המה רק מעשה ניסים ובתוכם עלינו לבקש גרעיני דברי הימים, אבל המסופר לנו אחרי מלחמת החשמונאים כלו דברי הימים אבל הדברי הימים בעצמו הוא כלו מעשה נסים כי בארצות הגולה בנס אנו עומדים.

Since Slonimski claimed that Maimonides did not believe in the Hanukkah miracle, I think it is worth noting that although Maimonides could have stated that Hanukkah commemorates the military victory or the rededication of the Temple, he actually appears to say that the entire holiday is in commemoration of the lighting of the Menorah.[6] There are many sources[7] that state that the real miracle commemorated by Hanukkah is not the oil but the military victory, but this does not seem to be Maimonides’ perspective. Here is what he writes in Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Hanukkah 3:2-3[8]:

ב. וכשגברו ישראל על אויביהם ואיבדום בחמישה ועשרים בחודש כסלו היה ונכנסו להיכל ולא מצאו שמן טהור אלא פך אחד ולא היה בו להדליק אלא יום אחד בלבד והדליקו ממנו נרות המערכה שמונה ימים עד שכתשו זיתים והוציאו שמן טהור.
ג.  ומפני זה התקינו חכמים שבאותו הדור שיהיו שמונת הימים האלו שתחילתן מלילי חמישה ועשרים בכסלו ימי שמחה והלל ומדליקין בהן הנרות בערב על פתחי הבתים בכל לילה ולילה משמונת הלילות להראות ולגלות הנס וימים אלו הןן הנקראין חנוכה.

In fact, this is the talmudic perspective as well. Shabbat 21b asks what is the reason for the holiday of Hanukkah (מאי חנוכה), and rather than speak about the military victory or rededication of the Temple all it mentions is the miracle of the oil. Many will find this strange, since can this really be the reason for the holiday? It is one thing to say that this is the reason for the eight days of celebration, but can this be the reason for the holiday itself? The Sheiltot of R. Ahai Gaon[9] preserves another version of the talmudic text. Instead of מאי חנוכה it reads מאי נר חנוכה. With this as the question, the answer which explains about the miracle of the oil makes much more sense.[10]

Slonimski did not argue that Maimonides’ philosophy does not leave room for the Hanukkah miracle. He simply pointed out that when Maimonides records the talmudic story of the miracle he leaves out three words: נעשה בו נס. Here is the relevant section of the talmudic text in Shabbat 21b. I have underlined the crucial words:

וכשגברה מלכות בית חשמונאי ונצחום בדקו ולא מצאו אלא פך אחד של שמן שהיה מונח בחותמו של כהן גדול ולא היה בו אלא להדליק יום אחד נעשה בו נס והדליקו ממנו שמונה ימים לשנה אחרת קבעום ועשאום ימים טובים בהלל והודאה.

Here is what Maimonides writes in Hilkhot Hanukkah 3:2, and as you can see the underlined words do not appear.

וכשגברו ישראל על אויביהם ואיבדום בחמישה ועשרים בחודש כסלו היה ונכנסו להיכל ולא מצאו שמן טהור אלא פך אחד ולא היה בו להדליק אלא יום אחד בלבד והדליקו ממנו נרות המערכה שמונה ימים עד שכתשו זיתים והוציאו שמן טהור.

According to Slonimski, the omission of the words נעשה בו נס indicates that Maimonides does not believe that there was any miracle. Rather, Maimonides is telling us that since there was not enough oil to last for more than one day, they used a little of the oil on each of the eight days, until they were able to get more oil.

A weakness in Slonimski’s argument, which of course was pointed out, is that in the very next halakhah, 3:3, Maimonides appears to explicitly mention the miracle.

ומדליקין בהן הנרות בערב על פתחי הבתים בכל לילה ולילה משמונת הלילות להראות ולגלות הנס

It is hard to see the underlined words as referring to anything other than the miracle of the oil.

Needless to say, Slonimski would have been very happy to learn that these underlined words, although they appear in the standard printed editions of the Mishneh Torah going back to early printings, do not appear in manuscripts and are not authentic (and have thus been removed from the Frankel edition). Presumably, these words were added by someone to “correct” Maimonides’ omission of the miracle of the oil.[11] (Slonimski, who did not know that להראות ולגלות הנס was a later addition, was forced to claim that these words referred to the military victory.[12])

If this was all we had to go by, I might agree that Maimonides is hinting to us that he did not accept the historicity of the miracle of the oil. However, if we examine Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Hanukkah, chapter 4, we find that Maimonides mentions "the miracle," and again, the miracle he refers to appears to be that of the oil.[13]

In 4:12 he writes:

מצות נר חנוכה מצוה חביבה היא עד מאוד וצריך אדם להיזהר בה כדי להודיע הנס ולהוסיף בשבח הא-ל והודיה לו על הנסים שעשה.
In 4:13 he writes

הרי שאין לו אלא פרוטה אחת ולפניו קידוש היום והדלקת נר חנוכה מקדים שמן להדליק נר חנוכה על היין לקידוש היום הואיל ושניהם מדברי סופרים מוטב להקדים נר חנוכה שיש בו זכרון הנס.

Isn’t the most likely understanding that these two halakhot refer to the miracle of the oil? In 4:12 he first mentions “the miracle,” which I believe refers to the miracle of the oil, and then mentions “the miracles” in plural, which would also include the military victory. I don’t believe that Maimonides generally leaves esoteric hints in the Mishneh Torah, so I don’t think leaving out the words נעשה בו נס are intended to hint to us that he rejects the historicity of the miracle. In fact, since Maimonides denies the historicity of some events recorded in the Bible, regarding them as dreams or visions, it would not have been a theological problem for him to do so with the miracle of the oil, the source of which is a talmudic aggadah. However, as we have seen, he seems to explicitly affirm this miracle in the Mishneh Torah. Therefore, one who wants to claim that Maimonides did not believe in the miracle (despite what he says in the Mishneh Torah), will have to base this claim on an interpretation of Maimonides’ approach to miracles as set out in the Guide.

As mentioned, Slonimski’s rejection of the miracle of the oil created a great controversy, but what appears to be unknown is that he was not the first of the Hebrew writers to bring this matter to the fore. The newspaper Ha-Magid published articles by both maskilim and traditional Torah scholars. On December 9, 1868[14] Nahum Bruell[15] published an article which states: “In truth, the story of this miracle is not accepted by all sages of the Talmud and Midrash.” He then cites Pesikta Rabbati, ch. 2, which asks why we light נרות on Hanukkah. Its answer is not the story of the miracle but that after the Jews entered the Temple they took eight spears and put נרות on them.

נכנסו לבית המקדש מצאו שם שמונה שפודין של ברזל וקבעו אותם והדליקו בתוכם נרות.

Bruell also cites the medieval tosafist R. Isaac ben Judah ha-Levi who in his Pa’neah Raza,[16] in explaining why the Hasmoneans decreed lighting of the נרות, mentions nothing about the miracle:

נסמכה פרשת נרות לחנוכת המזבח וע"ז סמכו בית חשמונאי לתקן נרות בחנוכה

Although Bruell cited this text to show that not everyone accepted the Hanukkah miracle, I find it impossible to believe that R. Isaac (or any other medieval Ashkenazic sage) did not accept the traditional story of the miraculous burning of the oil. If I am correct that R. Isaac’s explanation is not in place of the Hanukkah miracle but only to offer an additional explanation, then perhaps even a text like Pesikta Rabbati cites the explanation it does, not because it did not know or accept the story of the miraculous oil, but because it wanted to offer another explanation, perhaps one not as well known.

Bruell further suggests that the talmudic aggadah about the Hanukkah miracle was never meant to be taken literally:

ואפשר גם בתשובתם על השאלה מאי חנוכה רמזו לנו כעיון גדול ועמוק כי אין מעצר לד' להושיע ברב או במעט ואם גם נמשכו כל כוכבי התקוה ורבים חללו את ברית קדש מ"מ מפך שמן טהור המונח בחותמו של כה"ג דהיינו משארית הצדיקים אשר יחזיקו במעזם ויבטחו בד' נעשה נס, יבא עזרם מעם ד' עשה שמים וארץ ועוד יזרח להם אור התשועה.

One more point worth noting is about the number 8. According to the traditional story of the miracle of the oil, what is special about the number 8? Most people have probably heard the reason, also accepted by Maimonides, Hilkhot Hanukkah 3:2, that in the days of the Hasmoneans this is how long it would take for those in Jerusalem to get new olive oil.[17] I never understood this explanation as why should getting new oil be a problem. It is not like olive trees are a rare thing in the Land of Israel. In any event, this explanation does not appear in the Talmud but is first found in a geonic responsum.[18]

למה אנו עושין שמונה ימי חנוכה מפני הנס שאירע שטמאו יונים וכו'. ומה טעם יש לשמנה לילות ולא הספיקו ממנו פחות או יותר.

מפני שהשמנים באים מחלקו של אשר כדכתיב (דברים לג, כד) וטובל בשמן רגלו ומקום היה לו שנקרא תקוע כדאמרינן תקוע אלפא לשמן שממנו השמנים יוצאים ומשם עד ירושלים היה מהלך שמנה ימים בין הליכה וחזרה והכי אמרינן במנחות ולפיכך המתין להם עד שיביאו משם שמן טהור וזה שנעשה להם נס לשמנת ימים.

There are a number of difficulties with this responsum. To begin with, we are told that olive oil came from the area of the tribe of Asher which is in the extreme north of the Land of Israel. This information is based on the fact that in Moses’ blessing for the tribe of Asher in Deuteronomy 33:24, he states, “let him dip his foot in oil.” This means that there would be lots of olive trees in Asher’s territory, but since there were plenty of olive trees closer to the Temple, why did they have to travel all the way to the land of Asher which, we are told, would require an eight day round trip. Even if one supposes (without any evidence) that normally they would go there since that was where the best olive oil was to be found, if they only had enough to light the menorah for one day, it is hard to imagine that they would not set out to find olive oil closer to the Temple.

The next point in the responsum is that there was a specific place in Asher’s territory called Tekoa, and that was where the oil came from. It cites Menahot 85b where the Mishnah states that “Tekoa ranks first for the quality of its oil.” Yet as I’m sure most people reading this know, Tekoa is near Jerusalem in the territory of Judah, not in the land of Asher. II Chronicles 11:5-6 states: “And Rehoboam dwelt in Jerusalem, and built cities for defense in Judah. He built even Bethlehem, and Etam, and Tekoa.”

As proof for the statement that it would take eight days to travel to the north and back in order to get the olive oil, we are told והכי אמרינן במנחות. Yet nowhere in Menahot is this information found. In Sefer Abudarham, Seder Hadlakat Ner Hanukkah, this geonic passage is quoted, but instead of referring to Menahot, we are told that the information is found in the Jerusalem Talmud. The same reference to the Jerusalem Talmud also appears in Hiddushei R. Yehonatan mi-LunelShabbat 21b, and Sefer ha-Eshkol, ed. Auerbach, vol. 2, p. 20. For those who assume that Auerbach’s edition of Sefer ha-Eshkol is a forgery, this reference is just another example of the work incorporating passages from other writings.

I don’t have an answer as to why anyone assumed that the oil had to come from the land of Asher, but as for the city of Tekoa, it could be that there was another city also named Tekoa, in addition to the one we know about in the territory of Judah. The Soncino Talmud, Menahot 85b, informs us that both Graetz and Bacher think that the Tekoa mentioned there is in the Galilee, which could be said to include part of the territory of Asher.[19] Furthermore, Samuel Klein, the leading geographer of the Land of Israel, also argues that there was a city named Tekoa in the Galilee.[20]

What about the Tekoa that Amos came from? If you look at R. David Kimhi’s commentary to Amos 1:1, he tells us that Tekoa was a large city in the land of Asher (see also his commentary to Amos 7:10). In his commentary to II Samuel 14:2, he writes, quoting the Talmud in Menahot 85b (except for the first four words):

העיר בחלקו של אשר דכתיב ביה וטוב בשמן רגלי שמושך שמן כמעין

The biblical story Radak is commenting on is when Joab fetched a wise woman from Tekoa and told her to go to King David and pretend to be a mourner. I am surprised that Radak would assume that Joab was summoning a woman from all the way in the territory of Asher. In his response to Radak, R. Profiat Duran (Efodi[21]) states that it is obvious that the story is dealing with a city near Jerusalem.[22]

והשכל הישר ישפוט כי תקוע היה קרוב לירושלם כי איך ישלח לקרות אשה מארץ אשר היה רחוק מירושלם.

Again we have to ask, just because a city named Tekoa happened to be known for its olive oil, why should anyone assume that it is in the territory of Asher? The fact that the tribe of Asher was blessed with having a lot of olive trees in its territory does not mean that the other tribes did not also have a good supply. In fact, it appears to me that the peshat of Menahot 85b, where the Mishnah speaks of Tekoa as having good olive oil, is that it is speaking about the Tekoa near Jerusalem.[23] It is true that in the talmudic discussion Tekoa and the land of Asher are mentioned regarding olive oil, but their only connection would seem to be this, not that Tekoa has anything to do with Asher’s territory.[24]

Jeremiah 6:1 states: “Gather the sons of Benjamin from the midst of Jerusalem, and blow the horn in Tekoa.” Here Jeremiah is telling the tribe of Benjamin, who lived near Jerusalem, to blow the horn in Tekoa in order to warn the people about the danger from the approaching enemy. Malbim on this verse comments that Tekoa is part of Asher. I don’t understand how Malbim could view this as peshat. Why would the people of Benjamin travel to the territory of Asher to blow the shofar? This territory was occupied by foreign troops, the local inhabitants having been deported a long time before. Here are Malbim’s words:

העיזו אתה בני בנימין התאספו מקרב ירושלים, כי בני בנימין לא היו מבני העיר ורצו לחסות שם בירושלים, אומר כי יתרחקו משם, וגם בתקוע שהוא בחלק אשר, תקעו שופר.

Based on Jeremiah 6:1, Efodi states that Tekoa is actually in the territory of Benjamin and not, as I mentioned before, in Judah’s territory.[25]

Returning to our discussion of the Hanukkah miracle, R. Sharon Shalom recently published a very interesting book entitled Mi-Sinai le-Ethiopia (Tel Aviv, 2012). This book, which is a code of halakhah for Ethiopian Jews, has haskamot from R. Nachum Rabinovitch and R. Shabtai Rappaport. It is significant in that it takes into account that it is not so easy for the older generation of Ethiopian Jews to entirely reject their traditions in order to become modern rabbinic Jews. As such, R. Shalom permits certain things that would not make sense in the larger Jewish world but are part of what he terms “Ethiopian halakhah.” For example, R. Shalom permits Ethiopian Jews, especially of the older generation, to carry items regarded as muktzeh when this is related to holy matters, for example, bringing money to synagogue on the Sabbath for charity. This was not regarded as prohibited in Ethiopia and R. Shalom allows the practice to continue today (pp. 170-171).

This is a fascinating book as it attempts to slowly ease the Ethiopian community into the wider halakhic community rather than requiring an immediate abandonment of long-standing practices, something that would certainly be demanded by haredi poskim. You can see R. Shalom discuss his book here, and he is introduced by R. Rappaport.


While the book deserves detailed analysis, I only want to call attention to one additional point that is relevant to this post. Here is R. Shalom’s discussion of Hanukkah, from pp. 214-215 in the book. There is no mention of the Hanukkah miracle in explaining why we celebrate an eight day holiday.

I would like to call readers’ attention to a short essay by R. Nosson Fried on Megilat Antiochus.[26] Here is the title page.

R. Fried points out that in the version of Megilat Antiochus that he published in Kovetz Beit Aharon ve-Yisrael[27] there is no mention of the miracle of the oil. He is quite surprised by this for as he says, “this is the central miracle in commemoration of which they established the lighting on Hanukkah.” He adds that this miracle is not mentioned in Al ha-Nisim or in Pesikta Rabbati which has a good deal to say about Hanukkah. He then notes that all of the Eretz Yisrael paytanim, which includes Yanai and R. Eleazar ha-Kalir, and some of the European paytanim also do not mention the miracle. (Other European paytanim, such as R. Menahem ben Machir, do mention the miracle.) How can this be explained?

R. Fried’s answer is quite unexpected (p. 8): “The sages of the Land of Israel in the time of the Talmudim and Midrashim knew nothing about the miracle of the cruse of oil.” He explains that the story of the miracle is a Babylonian tradition and thus was not known in the Land of Israel, or even by some of the early European paytanim. He writes (p. 9):

שכל אותן המקורות הקודמים, החל מספרי החשמונאים וכלה בפייטני א"י ומקצת מפייטני אירופה הקדמונים, לא ידעו כלל שאמנם היה נס בשמן . . . [הנקודות במקור] לשיטתם נקבע חג החנוכה לזכר הנצחונות והנסים שאירעו לבני חשמונאי במלחמותיהם נגד היונים.

Coming from a haredi writer this is quite surprising, and let me explain why. All of the scholars who have argued against the historicity of the miracle of the oil have pointed out that none of the oldest texts dealing with Hanukkah mention this miracle. This includes 1 and 2 Maccabees, the earliest version of Megilat Ta’anit, tannaitic texts, and Josephus. Josephus even suggests a different explanation for why the holiday is called “Lights.” Those who defend the historicity of the miracle have to explain why these sources chose not to mention it.

Before Fried, no traditional author had ever suggested that the miracle story was unknown to the tannaim and later rabbinic authors, and that is for an obvious reason. If you say that the tannaim did not know the miracle, to say nothing of the authors of the Book of Maccabees 1 and 2, the earliest version of Megilat Ta’anit, and Josephus, how is it possible that someone who lived a few hundred years later in Babylonia would know about the miracle? By saying that the people who lived in the Land of Israel close to the time of the events did not know the miracle, Fried is providing an argument that the miracle never happened and that the much later story recorded in the Babylonian Talmud is an aggadah which is not to be regarded as historical but rather teaches a lesson as many aggadot do. In other words, Fried’s argument leads to the same conclusion as Slonimski and R. Alexandrov, and for some reason he doesn’t see it.

R. Tuvyah Tavyomi has another approach to the matter.[28] He claims that since the miracle of the oil was only seen by a small group, the leaders of the generation were afraid that the masses, many of whom were hellenized, would not believe the story and thus not adopt the holiday. Therefore, they ordained the lighting of נרות without giving a reason, hiding the real reason from the people. The masses would believe that it was because of the military victory, while those who knew that holidays are only proclaimed for “out of the ordinary” miracles, they would find out about the story of the oil and would certainly believe it. According to R. Tavyomi, this explains why in the Al ha-Nissim prayer which is to be said by all people there is no mention of the miracle of the oil.

Finally, I was surprised that an article by Avraham Ohayon could be published in Shenaton Shaanan, the annual of Shaanan, a religious teachers college.[29] Ohayon’s article not only critically examines the story of the Hanukkah miracle, which he calls מיתוס נפ"ה (נס פך השמן)  (p. 59), but concludes that that it is most likely that the miracle never happened and was invented by the Sages for religious reasons. On pp. 58-59 he writes:

שתיקתם של המקורות ההיסטוריים, ובמידה מסוימת גם של חז"ל ומקורות הלכתיים בעניין נפ"ה – מעוררת שאלות בקשר למשמעות העובדתית של נס זה: האם הנס התרחש, וכתוצאה ממנו קבעו חז"ל את סממניו ההלכתיים, או שכדי לקבוע הלכות לדורות היה צריך קודם לסמוך להם נס?
חלק הארי של המקורות דלעיל – מחזק יותר את קיומה של האפשרות השנייה. . . .
חז"ל החילו שני שינויים במהותו של החג, ושניהם קשורים זה בזה:
האחד – שינוי עיקרו של הנס, מסגידה לניצחון הצבאי – לנס על-טבעי שהוא נפ"ה.
השני – הענקת צביון דתי לחג על-ידי קביעת איסורים שונים, תפילות מיוחדות ומצוות הדלקת הנרות שמונה ימים – כזכר לנפ"ה.

In a note on this passage, Ohayon cites Gedaliah Alon who explains what would have led the Sages to invent the Hanukkah miracle:

[אלון] תומך בדעה השנייה מן הטעם, שחז"ל רצו להשכיח את שם החשמונאים וגבורתם מזיכרון האומה, ואולם לא יכלו לעקור את חג החנוכה גופו. לכן קבעו טעם אגדי ובדרך זו "קיפלו" בו את תקופת החשמונאים, שהרי סיפור נפ"ה התחיל ממקורות חז"ל בלבד. הוא מביא גם נימוקים ליחס זה של חז"ל לחשמונאים.

Nothing Ohayon writes would be surprising if it appeared in a general academic journal, but as mentioned, his article appeared in a religious journal and that is what I find significant.

Returning to R. Samuel Alexandrov, who as mentioned at first supported Slonimski, Geulah bat Yehudah has a nice article on him[30] as does Ehud Luz,[31] and there is a master’s dissertation on him by Tsachi Slater.[32] Yet I would like to call attention to a few things that these authors have not mentioned. To begin with, R. Alexandrov reports that after the death of R. Shemariah Noah Schneersohn he was asked to take the latter’s place as rav of Bobruisk (R. Alexandrov's place of residence), yet he refused this offer.[33]

In Mikhtevei Mehkar u-Vikoret (1932), pp. 86-87, R. Alexandrov offers a provocative suggestion in explaining why Maimonides was so opposed to rabbis taking money from the community. He calls attention to Hullin 132b which states: “R. Simeon says. A priest who does not believe in the [Temple] service has no portion in the priesthood.” Rashi explains this to mean a priest who thinks the Temple service is nonsense and rather than having been commanded by God was invented by Moses. As for having no portion in the priesthood, Rashi explains that he does not receive a portion of the sacrificial meat.

Maimonides, Hilkhot Bikurim 1:1, codifies the law as follows:

וכל כהן שאינו מודה בהן אין לו חלק בכהנים ואין נותנין לו מתנה מהן.

According to R. Alexandrov, this is the key to understanding why Maimonides opposes rabbis taking money from the community. R. Alexandrov assumes based on what Maimonides writes in the Guide of the Perplexed that he did not really believe in the value of sacrifices. )R. Alexandrov himself did not believe that there would ever be a return to the sacrificial system.[34]) He further states that Maimonides realized that if he were a kohen he would have no portion in the priestly dues. Since the rabbinate, as the religious leadership of the community, replaces the old system of the kehunah, Maimonides reasoned that just as if he were a kohen he could not receive any priestly dues, so too as a rabbi he could take nothing from the community.

בספרו המורה הלא איננו מודה בקרבנות לפי המובן המורגל, ולכן חש בנפשו הנפש היפה שאין לו חלק במתנות כהונה . . . [הנקודות במקור] ובכן על פי טבעו ורוחו אוסר לקבל שכר רבנות, כי אמנם הרבנות הוא דמות זעיר אנפין של הכהונה בימים הקדמונים, כנודע.

R. Alexandrov also says a few things that some haredi readers will appreciate. For example, he explains Avot 2:2:  וכל תורה שאין עמה מלאכה סופה בטלה וגוררת עון in a very original fashion. He understands מלאכה to mean the work of creating Torah novellae! This passage in the Mishnah is always used against the Israeli haredi approach of shunning work in favor of study, and I have never seen a good justification offered as to why the Mishnah’s words can be so easily set aside. Yet with R. Alexandrov’s explanation, this is no longer a problem.[35]

ומה שאמר "כל תורה שאין עמה מלאכה סופה בטלה וגוררת עון", יש לכוין על מלאכת החדוש והפלפול וההגיון בתורתנו, ואומר כי תורה שאין עמה מלאכה ר"ל מלאכת החדוש סופה בטלה כי באמת רק כח החדוש הנותן פנים להתורה הקדושה בכל דור ודור לפי הרוח השורר אז, הוא הוא המקיים את התורה הישנה בעם ישראל.

* * * * *

1. Dov Weinstein called my attention to the following very significant responsum by R. Ovadiah Yosef that appeared in the journal Beit Yosef, Iyar 5776, no. 169. Over a century ago, R. Shalom Mordechai Schwadron suggested a way of “cleansing” a mamzer by having the husband send his wife a get and then void it before it is delivered. According to the Talmud, in such a case the marriage is to be regarded as annulled despite the fact that the husband voided the get. The problem the Sages had to deal with was if the husband was allowed to void a get after having sent it, the woman who received it would not know that it was invalid and would remarry. Although it would not be her fault, such a situation would result in her future children being mamzerim. The way around this was to decree that in such a case her original marriage was to be regarded as never having been actualized, something which the rabbis have authority to do. R. Schwadron’s originality comes in suggesting that this mechanism could also be used to solve the problem of mamzerut even after the fact, since if the original marriage is annulled in this fashion, by sending a get and then cancelling it before delivery, there is no subsequent adultery. This proposal, which was never put into practice by R. Schwadron, is discussed by R. J. David Bleich in Contemporary Halakhic Problems, vol. 1, pp. 162ff.

R. Ovadiah’s responsum is of great importance since his approach would solve the problem of mamzerut in many case. In earlier years, R. Isser Yehudah Unterman suggested that R. Schwadron's approach be followed in a particular case,[36] and R. Zvi Pesach Frank actually did so in another case.[37]

2. Is it significant that a haredi website recently published an article from a woman in which she argues that women should be able to become halakhic authorities? Was the website just looking to stir up trouble or is this a sign of something afoot even in the haredi world?

3. There has recently been a problem with the commenting whereby many comments that have Hebrew in them are rejected as spam. One of the rejected comments was by R. Moshe Maimon and is very insightful. Responding to R. Hershel Schachter’s point, discussed here, that Daas Torah authorities must be poskim, R. Maimon wrote:

Here is the Rambam's formulation of the ‘Daas Torah’ concept:
כן ראוי להמון שימסרו הנהגתם לנביאים בעלי העינים באמת, ויסמכו על מה שיודיעום שהדעת הפלונית אמתית והדעת הפלונית שקר. ואחר הנביאים - החכמים הדורשים יומם ולילה הדעות והאמונות, עד שידעו ויכירו האמת מן השקר.
I don't recall seeing this passage from אגרת תימן (Sheilat ed. p. 149) quoted in the various articles on the subject, but at any rate it seems to serve as a clear repudiation of Rav Schachter's view that only poskim can issue Daas Torah directives.

Regarding Daas Torah, someone challenged my statement in my post here that R. Kanievsky actually declared in a formal way that R. Steinman is to be regarded as the new leader. Readers can look at the actual words where R. Kanievsky indeed declares that everyone is “obligated” to follow what R. Steinman says. (An English translation is found here.) I don't know of any other such declaration in Jewish history. The gedolim have always been "created" by the religious community at large, and the gadol ha-dor (when there has been such a figure) emerged from this group of gedolim based on public acknowledgment. Yet here we have a declaration from one gadol establishing who the gadol ha-dor is and obligating everyone to follow his guidance. Will this be the new model in the haredi world for how to determine who the gadol ha-dor is?

Thanks to the person who doubted what I wrote, I was motivated to find R. Kanievsky's statement and I see that I did say something incorrect. I wrote that R. Kanievsky’s statement was made after R. Elyashiv’s death, but in fact it was made shortly before R. Elyashiv’s passing, when he was no longer in the position to serve as leader of the generation.

[1] One source not cited by Licht is a recent article by Yisrael Rozenson that focuses on R. Alexandrov and the miracle of the oil. “‘Asukh shel Shemen Ehad,’ Al Nes ve-Hukiyut be-Mishnato shel Shmuel Alexandrov,” Badad 30 (Elul 5775), pp. 103-116.
[2] There is a good deal of interesting material in R. Rubenstein’s Ha-Rambam ve-ha-Aggadah. Relevant to what I mentioned in the text is that R. Rubenstein claims that many aggadot are not intended to be viewed as historical, and he refers to a number of such examples. See e.g., p. 101, that when the Talmud states that Solomon came up with the idea of an eruv, this is not to be taken literally but only means that it is an old idea which was later attributed to Solomon.

והמצאת היתר זה נעשה בזמן מן הזמנים שלא נדעהו, ומפני שתקנה זו היא המצאה מחוכמת מאד מאנשים חכמים נתנו למיסדי התקנה שם שלמה ואמרו שבשעה שתקן שלמה ערובין וכו' והוא מאמר אגדי.

He also mentions that some aggadot about biblical figures were created for their dramatic effect and that those who take them literally are missing the point. See p. 94:

אבל באמת ספורים כאלו אינם מעשיות שהיו לא בהקיץ ולא בחלום אלא הן יצירות דרמטיות במעלי האגדה כיד השירה הטובה עליהם. ויצירות כאלו הרבה הן בש"ס ובמדרשים וביחוד מהאנשים הקדמונים שנזכרו בתנ"ך. עיין לדוגמא האגדה ע"ד האבן שבקש עוג מלך הבשן לזרוק על ישראל (ברכות נ"ד א' [צ"ל ב']) [מחזה התולי משונאי ישראל המבקשים להמיט רעה על ראשי ישראל וחוזר על ראשיהם עצמם בעטים של ישראל]. והאגדה ע"ד מיתתו של דוד שבת ל' א' [צ"ל ב']) [מחזה על יקרת ערך החיים]. והאגדה ע"ד מפלתו של המן (מגילה ט"ז א') [מחזה נקמי]. והאגדה ע"ד דוד וישבי בנוב (סנהדרין צ"ה א') [מחזה מרחמי האב על זרעיו . . .] כל אגדות כאלו אינן מעשיות שהיו אלא יצירות דרמטיות.

I know there are some people who treat aggadot as if they are historical, but when it comes to the sort of aggadot mentioned by R. Rubenstein, do any really disagree with his understanding? 
[3] It is perhaps noteworthy that Slonimski’s two sons apostatized and it appears that Slonimski himself, despite being an observant Jew, deserves some blame for this. See Eliyanah Tzalah, “Tenuat ha-Hitbolelut be-Polin,” in Yisrael Bartal and Yisrael Guttman, eds., Kiyum ve-Shever: Yehudei Polin le-Doroteihem (Jerusalem, 1997), pp. 344-345. See also Avraham Aryeh Akaviah, “HaZaS, Hayyim Yehiel Bornstein, Pesah Shapira,” Areshet 5 (1972), p. 387.
[4] S. Arnst, Sefer Yavetz (Tel Aviv, 1934), pp. 34-35.
[5] Apiryon 2 (1925), pp. 99-100.
[6] He also leaves no doubt that the obligation to light the menorah dates from the Hasmonean period. I say this even though R. Moshe Sternbuch argues that Maimonides agrees with R. Sternbuch's own view that the obligation for individuals to light the Menorah only dates from after the destruction of the Temple. See Moadim u-Zemanim, Hanukah, vol. 6, no. 89. For a rejection of R. Sternbuch’s position, see R. Simhah Lieberman, Bi-Shevilei ha-Nisim, p. 11. R. Lieberman’s many volumes encompass vast areas of Torah scholarship and show incredible erudition. Yet for some reason, I hardly ever see his works quoted, while other books which don’t approach his level of scholarship are quoted very often.
[7] See R. Simhah Lieberman, Bi-Shevilei ha-Nisim, pp. 52ff.; R. Menahem Kasher, Divrei Menahem, vol. 4, pp. 134ff.
[8] This point is made by R. Yaakov Koppel Schwartz, Likutei Diburim (Brooklyn, 2015), p. 159.
[9] Parashat Va-Yishlah, section 26 (p. 177 in the Mossad ha-Rav Kook edition with the commentary of R. Naphtali Zvi Judah Berlin). This source was noted by Nahum Bruell, “Mai Hanukkah,” Ha-Magid, Dec. 2, 1868, p. 373, and Jacob Reifman. See Reifman’s letter in Or ha-Mizrah 18 (Tishrei 5729), p. 95. Regarding this matter, R. Naphtali Zvi Judah Berlin mentions Bruell by name in Ha-Amek She’alah, vol. 1, p. 178. For some reason, the Netziv refers to Bruell as בעל המגי' which is strange, as Bruell only contributed articles to Ha-Magid but was not the editor.
[10] The Sheiltot, vol. 1, p. 178, preserves another important alternate text of the Talmud. Our version of Shabbat 21b reads: ולא היה בו להלדיק אלא יום אחד

The Sheiltot reads:  ולא היה בו להדליק אפילו יום אחד     

The word I have underlined means that the oil they found was not even enough for one day. This means that the burning of the oil for the complete first day was also a miracle, and thus provides an answer to the famous question why there is an eighth day of Hanukkah if there was enough oil for one day, meaning that the miracle was only for seven days. 

Of all the answers to this question, the strangest one has to be that of R. Yerahme’el Yisrael Yitzhak Danziger (1853-1910), the Rebbe of Alexander. He claims that the cruse of oil they found was completely empty, and this empty cruse produced enough oil for eight days. He says this even though the Talmud, Shabbat 21b, states explicitly that they found .פך אחד של שמן See R. Danziger, Yismah Yisrael (Bnei Brak, 2007), vol. 1, p. 98a  (Hanukkah, no. 58).
[11] Another addition that is not found in manuscripts is in 3:2 where Maimonides writes:

ונכנסו להיכל ולא מצאו שמן טהור אלא פך אחד

The standard printed versions read:  .ולא מצאו שמן טהור במקדש Even though the word במקדש is not found in manuscripts in this case for some unknown reason Frankel includes this mistaken word in his text and only in the textual note on the page informs the reader that it is not found in the manuscripts.

[12] Ha-Tzefirah, Nov. 28, 1892, p. 1069.
[13] R. Abraham Joel Abelson, the editor of the Torah journal Keneset Hakhmei Yisrael, which appeared from 1893-1900, polemicizes against those who deny the miracle of the oil. Yet interestingly enough, he accepts Slonimski’s point that Maimonides does not mention the miracle, and even explains why Maimonides omits it. Contrary to what I have written, he assumes that the miracle Maimonides refers to in Hilkhot Hanukah, ch. 4, is the military victory, as the lighting of the candles is a commemoration of this (Keneset Hakhmei Yisrael 6 [1896], p. 131.).

אין מקום כלל להקשות על הרמב"ם מה שלא הביא ביד החזקה מהנס של פך השמן, כי אין מדרכו לכתוב בכל הלכותיו טעמים עליהן כידוע, וגם נס פך השמן הלא רק כעין טעם על מה שקבעו הזקנים ימי החנכה לדורות . . . ועיקר הנס הלא הי' במלחמות החשמונאים שע"ז קבעו להדליק נרות חנכה גם לדורות ולהודות ולהלל לשמו הגדול.

[14] “Mai Hanukkah,” p. 382.
[15] Bruell was the grandson of R. Nahum Trebitch, chief rabbi of Moravia and predecessor to R. Samson Raphael Hirsch in this position. Bruell himself became rabbi of the Reform community of Frankfurt in 1870, succeeding Abraham Geiger.
[16] Beginning of parashat Be-Ha’alotkha.
[17] As we know, the oil in the Temple was made impure by the Greeks, as the Talmud, Shabbat 21b, states: טמאו כל .השמנים שבהיכל

What does this mean? How could the oil have been made impure and what about the halakhic principle of טומאה הותרה בציבור which would have allowed them to light the menorah even with impure oil? Daniel Sperber argues that when the word “impure” is used it does not mean טמא in a technical ritual sense. Rather, it means that the oil was uses for idolatrous purposes and in a colloquial sense it was regarded as טמא. See Sperber, “Al ha-Mesorot be-Hanukat ha-Bayit,” Sinai 54 (1964), pp. 218-225.
[18] Otzar Geonim, ShabbatTeshuvot, p. 23. See also Meiri, Beit ha-Behirah, Shabbat 21b; R. Nissim, Shabbat, p. 9b in the pages of the Rif, s.v. תנו רבנן.
[19] I haven’t found the reference in Bacher. For Graetz, see Geschichte der Juden (Leipzig, 1893), vol. 4, p. 183.
[20] Eretz ha-Galil (Jerusalem, 1967), pp. 20-21. R. Israel Horowitz also believes that there were two cities named Tekoa. See his Eretz Yisrael u-Shkenoteha (Vienna, 1923), index, s.v. Tekoa.
[21] Duran is known as Efodi because this is how his commentary on Maimonides’ Guide of the Perplexed was named by the first printer. Yet he actually referred to himself as Efod אפד, not Efodi. This is usually understood to be an acronym of אני פרופיאט דוראן. Yet Norman Roth sees this as unlikely. He assumes that the name Efod alludes to Arakhin 16a which states that the efod atones for idolatry, “i.e., he sought atonement for his own conversion and for others in his generation.” See Roth, Conversos, Inquisition, and the Expulsion of the Jews from Spain (Madison, 2002), p. 192. See also Maud Kozodoy, The Secret Faith of Maestre Honoratus: Profayt Duran and Jewish Identity in Late Medieval Iberia (Philadelphia, 2015), pp. 4-5, 20, 25-26.
[22] Ma’aseh Efod (Vienna, 1865), p. 199. See also Abarbanel, II Sam. 14:2, who cites Efodi.
[23] See R. Yehosef Schwartz, Divrei Yosef, vol. 3, pp. 14a-b.
[24] Regarding oil and the tribe of Asher, there is a theory that the Bene Israel of India, who for centuries were engaged in oil pressing, originated from the upper Galilee which was famous for its oil. See Shirley Berry Isenberg, India’s Bene Israel (Berkeley, 1988), p. 8.
[25] See Ma’aseh Efod, p. 199.
[26] Megilat Antiochus Murhevet (n.p., 1992).
[27] No. 38 (Kislev-Tevet 5752), pp. 111-121.
[28] Tal Orot  vol. 1, pp. 91ff. This source is cited by Yaakov Rosenblum in Datche 17 (27 Kislev 5768), p. 11.
[29]  “Nes Pakh ha-Shemen ve-Derekh Hatma’ato be-Halakhah,”Shenaton Shaanan 19 (2014), pp. 47-60.
[30] “Rabbi Shmuel Alexandrov,” Sinai 100 (1987), pp. 195-221.
[31] “Spiritualism ve-Anarchism Dati be-Mishnato shel Shmuel Alexandrov,” Da’at 7 (1981), pp. 121-138.
[32] “Leumiut Universalit: Dat u-Leumiut be-Haguto shel Shmuel Alexandrov” (unpublished master’s dissertation, Ben Gurion University, 2014). See also Slater’s recent article, “Tziyonut Ruhanit Datit – Dat u-Leumiut be-Haguto shel Shmuel Alexandrov,” Daat 82 (2016), pp. 285-319.
[33] Mikhtevei Mehkar u-Vikoret (Jerusalem, 1932), p. 56.
[34] See Mikhtevei Mehkar u-Vikoret (Vilna, 1907), p. 12, where R. Alexandrov writes as follows to R. Kook:

ואמנם כן היא שהמוסריות המתפתחת מעצמה באה להחליט כדעת האומר שכל הקרבנות בטלים . . . גם אנכי הנני מסכים כי כל הקרבנות בטלים מפני שלא היו קדושים רק לשעתן.

In Mikhtevei Mehkar u-Vikoret (1932), p. 24, he speaks of the abolishment of sacrifices as a natural result of humanity’s developing sense of morality:

הנה נודעה היא למדי השקפת הרמב"ם ע"ד עבודת הקרבנות איך היתה מוכרחת בזמן הקדום ואיך היא נבטלת לאט לאט מעצמה ע"י התפתחות הרוח של האדם, ובאופן שמין האדם מבטל מעצמו את מצות הקרבנות וכל אבזרייהו מבלי הופעה דתיית  משמי מרומים, והנה תקון דתיי כזה הוא תקון שהזמן עושה, כלומה זה נעשה על פי התפתחות המוסריית האנושיית התלויה בזמן, ובאופן שהכל נעשה יפה בעתו ובזמנו, ולו עמדו כעת מתקנים במין האדם הנאור שהיו חפצים להנהיג את עבודת הקרבנות מחדש אז היה החפץ הזה נדחה מפני המוסריות האנושיות המנגדת לעבודה דתיית כזאת בכל כחה, ואין כל ספק כי יד המוסרית תהיה על העליונה כי לכל זמן ועת לכל חפץ תחת השמים.

In another letter to R. Kook, Mikhtevei Mehkar u-Vikoret (1907), p. 15. Alexandrov explains that the reason why in their day so many of the Orthodox youth, including sons of rabbis, were “going of the derech,” is because they saw their fathers up close and this turned them off religion.

רואה אנכי כי הנסבה הראשית להרחקת בני הרבנים והחרדים מדרכי אבותיהם ואשר עפ"י הרוב הלכו למקום שלא ישובו עוד לנו הוא מפני שנסתכלו במעשי אבותיהם לפני ולפנים . . . כמובן מעצמו שישנם אבות ובנים יוצאים מן הכלל אבל הרוב הניכר הנראה לעינים ילמדנו דעת כי שחת ישראל דרכו מחטאת כהניו ונביאיו ודור לפי פרנסו.
[35] Tal Tehiyah (Vilna, 1897), p. 8a.
[36] Shevet mi-Yehudah, vol. 2, no. 12.
[37] Details of this will be provided in a future post.

Afikoman - “Stealing“ and Other Related Minhagim

Afikoman - “Stealing“ and Other Related Minhagim*
By Eliezer Brodt

One of the most exciting parts of Seder night for kids is the “stealing” of the afikoman. Children plan well in advance when the best time would be for them to steal it, where they will hide it, as well as what they should ask for in exchange for it. Not surprisingly, toy stores do incredibly good business both during Chol Hamoed and in the days following Pesach because of this minhag. In this article I would like to trace the early sources of this minhag and also discuss rabbinic responses to it.[1]

That the minhag of stealing the afikoman was observed widely in recent history is very clear. For example, Rebbetzin Ruchoma Shain describes how she stole the afikoman when she was young; her father, Rav Yaakov Yosef Herman, promised her a gift after Yom Tov in exchange for its return.[2] Raphael Patai describes similar memories from life in Budapest before World War II.[3] In another memoir about life in Poland before the war, we find a similar description,[4] and in Alexander Ziskind Hurvitz’s Yiddish memoir about life in Minsk in the 1860s, he writes that he stole the afikoman on the first night of Pesach, that his father gave him nuts in return, and that he was warned not to steal it on the second night.[5]

Interestingly, there were occasions when the stealing of the afikoman involved adults as well. For example, in his informative memoir about life in Lithuania in the 1880s, Benjamin Gordon describes stealing the afikoman with the help of his mother,[6] and going back a bit earlier, we find that Rav Eliezer Shlomo Schick from Hungary was encouraged by his mother to steal the afikoman and to ask his father for something in exchange.[7]

But even those who recorded this minhag occasionally referred to it in less than complimentary terms. For example, in 1824 a parody called the Sefer Hakundos (literally, the “Book of the Trickster”) was printed in Vilna,[8] which describes how the “trickster” has to steal the afikoman and claim that someone else stole it.[9] In fact, this custom is even found in the work of a meshumad printed in 1856.[10]

Opposition to the Minhag

Given the implication that this minhag not only encouraged stealing but actually rewarded children for doing so, there were many who opposed it, including the Chazon Ish,[11] the Steipler,[12] Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach,[13] the Lubavitcher Rebbe[14] and Rav Tzvi Shlezinger.[15] Rav Shemtob Gaguine writes that Sefardim do not have the custom of stealing the afikoman, and he explains that this is because it is forbidden to steal even as a joke since it encourages stealing.[16] And Rav Yosef Kapach writes that this was not the minhag in Teiman as it is forbidden to steal, even for a mitzvah.[17]

Rav Aron of Metz (1754-1836) protests against this minhag in his work Meorei Or, as the goyim will say that the Jews are trying to teach their children to steal, as they did in Mitzrayim.[18] The question is, what does he mean?

In the anonymous work of a meshumad printed in 1738, we find a detailed description of the stealing of the afikoman by the youngest child and how he tries to get a reward for it from his father. He writes that the reason for this minhag is to teach the child to remember what the Jews did in Mitzrayim—that they borrowed from the Egyptians and ran away with the items.[19] This was the concern of Rav Aron of Metz. It is possible that this is why Rabbi Yair Chaim Bacharach of Worms writes in Mekor Chaim that there is reason to abolish this minhag.

How far back can this minhag be traced, and what is the source for it?

In most of the Rishonim and early poskim, in describing the part of the Seder called Yachatz, we find mention of breaking the matzah. Some go so far as to say that the leader of the Seder puts it on his shoulders and walks a bit with it (others do this only later on, when they eat the afikoman).[20] Some mention putting it under a pillow to watch it,[21] but there is almost no mention of children stealing it. The earliest source for the custom of stealing the afikoman that I have located is the illustrated manuscript Ashkenazic Haggadah, known as the Second Nuremberg Haggadah, written between 1450 and 1500. On page 6b, the boy puts out his hand to get the afikoman from his father. Later on in the Haggadah (p. 26b), in the section called Tzafun, the leader asks for the afikoman that the boy had hidden.[22] However, in almost all the many works related to the Seder, we do not find such a custom mentioned.

Although it’s mentioned in the Second Nuremberg Haggadah, we do not find it mentioned again after that for many years. Worth noting, for example, is that in the famous illustrated Haggadah of Prague (1526), there is no mention or picture of such a thing.[23]

In the work Siach Yitzchak of Rav Yitzchak Chayes (1538-1610), which is a halachic work on the Seder night, first printed in 1587, there is mention of the stealing of the afikoman, but not exactly the way we do it today.[24]

Rabbi Yair Chaim Bacharach of Worms (1638-1702) writes in Mekor Chaim that the children had a custom to steal the afikoman.[25]

One of the earliest printed references can be found in the work Chok Yaakov on hilchos Pesach by Rabbi Yaakov Reischer (1660-1733), first printed in 1696 in Dessau. He wrote that in his area, children had the custom to steal the afikoman.[26]

Rav Yosef Yuzpha of Frankfurt also cites this custom in his Noheg Ketzon Yosef, first printed in 1717.[27] Rav Yaakov Emden (1698-1776) cites the custom as well.[28]

Where does this minhag come from? Many Acharonim[29] point to the Gemara (Pesachim 109a), which mentions that we are “chotef” the matzos on the night of Pesach for the children.[30] What does “chotef” mean in this context? The Rishonim offer different explanations.[31] The Rambam writes that on this night one has to make changes so that the children will notice and ask why this night is different, and one answers by explaining to them what happened. The Rambam adds that among the changes we make are giving out almonds and nuts, removing the table before we eat, and grabbing the matzah from each other.[32] Rabbeinu Manoach points to the Tosefta as the source for the Rambam that “chotef” means to grab.[33] Some Rishonim, quoting the Tosefta, write clearly that it means to steal.[34]

The truth is that, based on the Rambam, we can understand where this minhag came from. The night of Pesach is all about the children. The Seder night is a time when we do many “strange” things with one goal in mind—to get the children to notice and ask.[35] The purpose of this is to fulfill the main mitzvah of the night—sippur yetzias Mitzrayim. The mitzvah of zecher l’yetzias Mitzrayim lies behind many mitzvos. The reason for this, says the Chinuch, is that Yetzias Mitzrayim was testimony that there is a God Who runs the world, and that He can change what He wants when necessary, as he did in Mitzrayim.[36] Elsewhere, the Chinuch adds that the reason Yetzias Mitzrayim is related to so many mitzvos is that in doing a variety of activities with this concept in mind, we will internalize the importance of this historic event.[37]

“Strange” Things at the Seder

Following are some of the various minhagim that are intended simply to get the children to ask questions.

The Gemara (Pesachim 109a) mentions that they gave almonds and nuts so that the children should stay awake.[38] All the various aspects of the Karpas section of the Seder, according to many, are for the purpose of prompting them to ask[39] what’s going on—from washing before eating vegetables[40] to omitting a brachah on the washing,[41] dipping the vegetable into salt water, and eating less than a kezayis,[42] breaking the matzah at Yachatz,[43] lifting the ke’arah before saying “Ha Lachma Anya,”[44] switching to Hebrew at the end of “Ha Lachma Anya,”[45] removing the ke’arah before reciting the Haggadah[46] (or removal of the table), giving even the children four cups of wine, and pouring the second cup at the beginning of the Haggadah.[47] Although numerous reasons are given for these minhagim, one common reason is that they are intended to spark the children’s curiosity, which leads to a discussion of Mitzrayim and all the miracles that took place there.

According to the Rambam, this is what lies behind the stealing of the afikoman—it is yet one more thing that we do to get the children involved and prompt them to ask questions. All this can explain another strange custom. The Chida writes that at a Seder he attended during his travels, a servant circled the ke’arah around the head of each male at the Seder three times, similar to what many do during kaparos with a chicken.[48] There are even earlier sources for such a minhag.[49]

Additional Sources in Favor of “Stealing”

At the Seder of the Chofetz Chaim and his son-in-law, the children did steal the afikoman.[50] In Persia, we find that some had this custom as well.[51] Rav Yisroel Margolis Yafeh, a talmid of the Chasam Sofer, also defends the minhag of stealing the afikoman.[52]

Earlier, I mentioned that Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach was against stealing the afikoman. Interestingly enough, his rebbe, Rav Dovid Baharan Weisfish, did allow it.[53] Rav Avigdor Nebenzahl writes that he did not understand the reasoning of his rebbe, Rav Shlomo Zalman, since it did not encourage the children to steal but simply helped them stay awake.[54]

There is a much earlier work that offers a similar premise. Rav Yosef Yuzpa of Frankfurt writes in his work Noheg Ketzon Yosef that one should not discontinue the minhag that children steal the afikoman and get something in return from their father, as this keeps them awake and they discuss Yetzias Mitzrayim.[55] And as far as the argument that stealing is never permitted, Rabbi Weingarten points to Hilchos Purim, in which we find that some level of damage is permissible for the sake of simchas Yom Tov.[56]

Other Reasons for This Custom[57]

Rabbi Yair Chaim Bacharach of Worms writes in Mekor Chaim that the reason for custom is to teach children to cherish the mitzvos.

Related to all of this is an interesting teshuvah in the anonymous work Shu”t Torah Lishmah. The author was consulted by a talmid chacham who had visited a family on the Seder night, and the head of the household put out a stack of matzah before beginning the recital of the Haggadah so that everyone could recite it over a piece of matzah. When he brought out the matzah, everyone ran to grab a piece. The guest was upset about this, and they explained to him that the purpose was to demonstrate their love for the mitzvah. The guest felt that it was an embarrassment to the mitzvah to act in such a coarse way; in addition, there is an issue not to grab bread greedily. The author of Torah Lishmah pointed to the Gemara in Chullin (133a), which suggests that since they were doing it to show their love for the mitzvah, it was not a problem.[58]

Rav Moshe Wexler, in Birkas Moshe (1902), gives a simple reason for this minhag. We are concerned that we will forget to eat the afikoman; what better way to remember than to have a child remind you since he wants to get his reward?[59]

Deeper Message Behind the Minhag

One last idea about this minhag, which is very much worth quoting, comes from Rabbi Shimon Schwab:

“I personally do not care for the term ‘stealing the matzah.’ It is un-Jewish to steal—even the afikoman! The prohibition against theft includes even if it is done as a prank (see Bava Metzia 61b)... Notwithstanding the fact that children taking the afikoman is not stealing because it is not removed from the premises, it would still be the wrong chinuch to call it ‘stealing.’ Rather, I would call it ‘hiding the matzah,’ to be used later as the afikoman, which is called ‘hidden.’

“There is an oft-quoted saying, although not found in any original halachic source, that all Jewish minhagim have a deep meaning... Thoughtful Jewish parents of old, in playing with their children, always incorporated a Torah lesson into their children’s games. Similarly, the minhag of yachatz, whereby we break the matzah into a larger and smaller piece, with each being used for its special purpose, is also deeply symbolic. The smaller piece, the lechem oni, the poor man’s bread, is left on the Seder plate, along with the maror and charoses. However, the larger piece is hidden away for the afikoman by the children, who who will ask for a reward for its return, and it is then eaten at the end of the meal.

“I heard a beautiful explanation for the symbolism of this minhag from my father. He explained that the smaller piece of matzah, the lechem oni, represents Olam Hazeh, with all its trials and tribulations. This piece is left on the Seder plate along with the maror and charoses, reflecting life in this world, with all its sweet and bitter experiences. However, the larger, main piece, which is hidden away during the Seder, to be eaten after the meal as the afikoman, represents Olam Haba, which is hidden from us during our lives in this world. The eating of this piece after the meal, when one is satiated, is symbolic of our reward in Olam Haba, which can be obtained only if we have first satiated ourselves in this world with a life of Torah and mitzvos. The children’s request for a reward before giving up the afikoman is symbolic of our reward in Olam Haba, which is granted to us by Hakadosh Baruch Hu if we have earned it.”[60]

There is an additional widespread custom of saving a piece of the afikoman for after Pesach.[61] Where does this minhag come from?

In her memoirs, Pauline Wengeroff (b. 1833 in Minsk) wrote: “In some Jewish homes, a single round matzah was hung on the wall by a little thread and left there as a memento.”[62] Mention of this custom is found in the work of a meshumad printed in 1794,[63] and another from 1856.[64] Chaim Hamberger also describes witnessing someone breaking off a piece of the afikoman and saving it as a segulah.[65] The Munkatcher Rebbe used to give out a piece of the afikoman, which some would save for the entire year.[66] In Persia, some also had the custom of saving a piece of the afikoman.[67]

In a book[68] filled with humor, which received a haskamah from Rav Chaim Berlin, a rich man complains to his friend that the mice are eating his clothes. His friend suggests that he sprinkle the clothes with the crumbs of the afikoman that he saves each year. He guarantees that the mice will not eat the clothes as the halachah is that one cannot eat anything after the afikoman!

In an even earlier source, the Magen Avraham—Rav Avrohom Gombiner’s classic work on the Shulchan Aruch, first printed in 1692—he makes a cryptic statement in Hilchos Yom Tov (not in Hilchos Pesach) in a discussion of making holes in meat, saying that one should hang the afikoman in such a way that he can make a hole in it with a knife.[69] What is he referring to?

Rabbi Yaakov Reischer (1660-1733), in Chok Yaakov on hilchos Pesach, first printed in 1696, writes that there is a custom to break off a piece of the afikoman and hang it, and he points to this Magen Avraham as proof.[70] Neither of these sources gives us insight into the reason for the practice, but it is clear that it is a segulah done with the afikoman.

The answer may be found in another work of Rabbi Yaakov Reischer. He was asked about his thoughts on the Kitzur Shlah, who writes that there is a problem with hanging the afikoman since it is a bizayon [disgrace] for the food, which is a halachic issue.[71] Rav Reischer says that it is not an issue since it serves to remind us of Yetzias Mitzrayim. He adds that his father and teachers observed this custom.[72]

Rabbi Yair Chaim Bacharach of Worms also writes that the reason for the minhag to hang a piece of the afikoman is zecher l’yetzias Mitzrayim.[73]

But why isn’t there an issue of bizui ochlin? Perhaps we can understand it based on Rav Avigdor Nebenzahl’s[74] explanation of the general issur of bizui ochlin, which is that bread is a special gift that Hashem gives us from Olam Haba so it is prohibited to use it in an embarrassing way. However, here one is using it for the mitzvah of zecher l’yetzias Mitzrayim, so maybe that’s why Rav Reisher held that it was not an issue.

From these sources it appears that hanging the matzah has nothing to do with any segulah but is simply zecher l’yetzias Mitzrayim.

The Kitzur Shlah, however, suggests that if one wants to observe this minhag, he should not hang the piece of afikoman but should carry it around with him. He adds that this segulah is a protection from thieves.[75] Rabbi Yair Chaim Bacharach of Worms also mentions that the piece of afikoman is a segulah for protection when traveling, but he does not quote a source for this.

In other early segulah sefarim, we find different segulos associated with the afikoman. In a rare work first printed in 1646, we find that it protects one from mazikim. At the end of the same work, the author writes that it can protect one from drowning at sea[76]; Rav Binyamin Baal Shem makes the same statement.[77] Rabbi Zechariah Simnar’s Sefer Zechirah, first printed in 1709, states that the piece of afikoman protects one from mazikim. This last source is an additional reason for the widespread observance of the custom because the sefer was extremely popular in its time and was reprinted over 40 times.[78]

One famous personality who actually used this segulah was Sir Moses Montefiore. When he found himself in the midst of a terrible storm, he cast a piece of afikoman into the sea. His family used to commemorate this miracle each year.[79]

In the anonymous work of a meshumad printed in 1738, he says it is used to ward off the evil eye.[80] Rav Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal has a very interesting teshuvah on this segulah. He writes that in the Shulchan Aruch it appears that the afikoman has all the dinim of the korban Pesach; with that comes the problem of leaving behind even one piece. He says that one should leave a piece behind for this segulah only from the matzah of the second night. He says that the people in Eretz Yisrael should save a regular piece of matzah. He then cites the Yosef Ometz, who writes that he made sure not to lose one crumb of the afikoman, so how could one possibly save a piece for the entire year?[81] His suggestion at the end is that it is better to save a regular piece of matzah.

Rav Chaim Hakohen, a talmid of Rav Chaim Vital, writes in his work Tur Barekes that there is a special segulah to save and hang a piece of matzah for the entire year and that it protects one from mazikim.[82] This practice is also cited in the very popular anonymous work Chemdas Yamim, which was first printed in 1731.8[3] Rabbi Moshe Chagiz (1671-1751) writes the same about the segulah, [84] as does Rav Dunner.[85] All of these sources appear to say that the segulah is not specifically associated with a piece of the afikoman.

Until 2010, these was the array of earlier sources known for this custom. In 2010, a fascinating manuscript of Rav Chaim Vital (1543-1620) was printed for the first time—Sefer Hape’ulos.[86]

Rav Chaim Vital is best known in the realm of Kabbalah; he was the primary student of the Arizal, entrusted with disseminating his teacher’s works.

What makes Sefer Hape’ulos especially interesting is that we see Rav Chaim Vital in a different light than he was previously known. In the first part of this work we see him as a doctor of sorts. He provides remedies to people for all kinds of illnesses—asthma, infertility, headaches, toothaches and many other conditions. Much of his advice was based on segulos and the like. In this work, he shows a familiarity with medical procedures of that period. He quotes advice that he had read in various medical works. There is also a section on alchemy.

The whereabouts of the actual manuscript are a mystery.

Rumors are that it is being sold page by page as segulah, and each page fetches a large sum of money. But copies of the manuscript are accessible on various databases.

In this work, Rav Chaim Vital writes that to calm the sea in a storm, one should take a kezayis of the afikoman and throw it into the sea.[87]

According to this statement, we see that Rav Vital does not agree with the sources saying that the afikoman should be regarded as regular matzah. Furthermore, we see that he was not concerned with Rav Teichtal’s issues as he was in Eretz Yisrael and he still said the afikoman should be used.

Burning With the Chametz

One last aspect of the treatment of the afikoman comes from Rav Schick, who says that since the afikoman is eaten as a zecher of the korban Pesach, we should keep a piece of it to burn with the chametz in order to remind us that any leftovers of the korban Pesach were to be burned.[88] Rav Dunner did the same.[89] The aforementioned work of a meshumad, printed in 1856,[90] mentions this aspect of the custom.

* A version of this article was printed in April of last year in Ami Magazine.

[1] For sources on this topic that helped me prepare this article R’ Moshe Katz, Vayaged Moshe, pp. 118-120; R’ Moshe Weingarten, Seder Ha-Aruch 1 (1991), pp. 336-338; R’ Y. Lieberman, Chag Hamatzos, pp. 458-460; R’ Avrohom Feldman, Halacha Shel Pesach, pp. 299-302; R’ Chaim David Halevi, Shonah Bishonah (1986), pp. 144-148; R’ Tuviah Freund, Moadim Li-Simcha (Pesach), pp. 340-354 [=Tzohar 2 (1998, pp. 196-206]; Pardes Eliezer, pp. 158-172; S. Reiskin, Yedah Ha-Am, 69-70 (2010), pp. 114-121 [Thanks to R’ Menachem Silber for this source]. See also, R’ Melamed, Hadoar 69 (1990), pp. 13-14.
[2] Ruchoma Shain, All for the Boss, (Young readers edition) (2008), pp. 6-7.
[3] Raphael Patai, Apprentice in Budapest: Memories of a world that is no more (1988), p. 156.
[4] Norman Salsitz, A Jewish Boyhood in Poland: Remembering Kolbuszowa (1999), pp. 166-167.
[5] A. Z. Hurvitz, Zichronot Fun Tzvei Dorot (1935), p. 138.
[6] Benjamin Lee Gordon, Between Two Worlds: The Memoirs of a Physician (2011), p. 24.
[7] R’ Shlomo Tzvi Schueck, Seder Haminhagim, (1880) p. 69b. About R’ Schueck, see Adam Ferziger, “The Hungarian Orthodox Rabbinate and Zionism: The Case of R. Salamon Zvi Schück”, Eleventh World Congress of Jewish Studies (Jerusalem, Israel, July 1993). I hope to return to him in a future piece.
[8] See the critical edition of this work printed in 1997, p. 67.
[9] P. 64.
[10] H. Baer, Ceremonies of Modern Judaism (1856), p. 149.
[11] R’ Z. Yavrov (ed.), Ma’aseh Ish Vol. 5 (2001), p. 19.
[12] R’ A. L. Horovitz (ed.), Orchos Rabbeinu Vol. 2 ( p. 78.
[13] R’ Y. Turner & R’ A. Auerbach (ed.), Halichos Shlomo (Moadei Hashanah: Nissan-Av) (2007) p. 260; R’ T. Freund, Shalmei Moed, (2004) p.400.
[14] R’ M. M. Schneersohn, Haggadah Shel Pesach Im Likutei Tamim Vol. 1 (2014), p. 11. See also p. 179.
[15] R’ Y. Shlezinger, Meorot Yitzchak (2012) p. 345.
[16] R’ S. Gaguine, Keser Shem Tov Vol. 3 (1948), p. 176.
[17] Halichos Teiman (1968), p. 22. See also, R’ Razabi, Hagadah Pri Etz Chaim, p. 337-338; R’ Harari, Mikroei Kodesh, p. 209.
[18] Meorei Or, Od Lomoed, p. 178a. The Orchos Chaim (Spinka). 473:19 quotes this piece. See R’ Yisachar Tamar, Alei Tamar, Moed 1, p. 311. On this work see the important article of Yakov Speigel, Yerushaseinu 3 (2009, pp. 269-309. About this specific piece see Ibid, pp. 279-289; R’ Dovid Zvi Hillman, Yeshurun 25 (2011), p. 620.
[19] Gamliel Ben Pedahzur, The Book of Religion, Ceremonies and Prayers of the Jews, London 1738, pp. 54-55. On this work see C. Roth, Personalities and Events in Jewish History, pp.87-90, David B. Ruderman, Jewish Enlightenment in an English Key, Princeton University Press 2000, pp. 242-49.
[20] See Hanaghot HaMarshal, pp. 10-11; Magen Avraham, 473:22; Chidushel Dinim Mei-Hilchos Pesach, p. 38. See Rabbi Chaim Benveniste, Pesach Meuvin, 315; Vayagid Moshe, pp. 116-117. There are numerous sources for putting on short skits at the seder I hope to return to this in the future.
[21] See Rabbi Yechiel Heller, Or Yisharim, p. 3b; R’ Reuven Margolis, Haggdas Baer Miriam (2002), p, 26.
[22] The Haggadah is now online here ( See Bezalel Narkiss and Gabriella Sed-Rajna article about this Hagdah available there. Thanks to Rabbi Mordechai Honig for pointing me to this source.
[23] On this haggadah see Y. Yudolov, Otzar Haggadas, p. 2, # 7-8. See also Rabbi Charles Wengrov, Haggadah and Woodcut, (1967), pp, 69-71; the introduction to the 1965 reprint of this Haggadah; Yosef Yerushalmi, Haggadah and History, plate 13; See also Yosef Tabori, Mechkarim Betoldos Halacha (forthcoming), pp. 461-474. I hope to return to this Hagdah in a future article.
[24] Sich Yitzchack, p. 21a. About this Gaon see the Introduction of R’ Adler in his recent edition of his Pnei Yitzchchak- Apei Ravrivi.
[25] Mekor Chaim, Siman 477. This incredible work was first printed from manuscript in 1988.
[26] Chok Yaakov, 472:2. About him see S. Shilah, Asufot 11 (1998), pp. 65-86.
[27] Noheg Ketzon Yosef, p. 222.
[28] See his siddur, volume 2, p. 48. This comment is from the recent additions printed from the manuscript of his siddur.
[29] The first to tie it to this Gemarah was Chok Yakov (1696), R’ Yakov Emden; R’ Yedidya Thia Weil, Marbeh Lisaper, (1791), p. 7a; R’ Shimon Sofer (son of the Chasam Sofer), Mectav Sofer p. 110b; R’ Tzvi Segal, Likutei Tzvi, (1866) p. 28; R’ Shlomo Tzvi Schueck, Seder Haminhaghim, (1880) p. 69b; Sefer Matamim, p. 154; Meir Ish Sholom, Meir Ayin Al Seder Vehagadah Shel Leli Pesach, (1895), p. 34; Rabbi Yeshayah Singer, Mishneh Zichron, (1913) p. 180; R. Avraham Eliezer Hershkowitz, Otzar Kol Minhaghei Yeshrun (St. Louis, 1918), p. 136. See also Daniel Goldschmidt, Haggadah Shel Pesach (1948), p. 22 [This piece does not appear in his later edition]. See the interesting Teshuvah on this from R’ Munk, Pas Sudecha, Siman 51.
[30] Related to this, see Shu”t Torah Lishmah, #138 where he describes a custom on the Seder night.
[31] See Rashi; Rashbam; Riaz.
[32] Rambam, Chometz Umatzah 7:3.
[33] See R' Saul Lieberman's Tosefta Kifshuto, Pesachim, p. 653; R’ Yisachar Tamar, Alei Tamar, Moed 1, p. 311; Meir Ish Sholom, Meir Ayin Al Seder Vehagadah Shel Leli Pesach, (1895), pp. 34-35; Yosef Tabori, Pesach Dorot, p. 254; Shmuel & Zev Safrai, Haggadas Chazal, (1998), pp. 47-48.
[34] See Rashbam; Sefer HaMichtam; Maharam Halewa; Rabbenu Yerchem; Meiri. See also Ri Melunel and the Nimukei Yosef. See also Mahril, p. 114.
[35] This topic is dealt with at great length in Rabbi Mordechai Breuer’s Pirkei Mo’adot, pp. 171-192; Shama Friedman, Tosefta Atiktah, pp. 439-446. See also Rabbi Yosef Dubovick’s unpublished paper on the topic [many thanks to him for making it available to me]. See also Hagada Shel Pesach, Mesivtah, pp. 101-107. For more on this see the excellent recent work of Dovid Henshke, Ma Nishtna (2016), pp.271-299, 397-405.
[36]. See Chinuch Mitzvah 10.
[37] Chinuch Mitzvah 20.
[38] See R' Chaim Berlin, Nishmat Chaim, p. 179. Yechezkel Kotik describes in his memoirs (Ma She'ra'iti, p. 164) getting nuts on Erev Pesach. See also Pauline Wengeroff, Rememberings, p. 44 who also describes getting nutson Pesach.
[39] See R' Chaim Berlin, Shut Nishmat Chaim (Bei Brak), Siman 50.
[40] Chock Yakov, 473:28 see also Mahril, p. 98; Yosef Tabori, Pesach Dorot, (1996), pp. 212-244; R’ Yosef Schachar, Hod Vhadar Kevodo, pp. 124-125 [A Letter of Rabbi Chaim Berlin]; my Bein Keseh La-asur, pp. 148-153.
[41] See Yosef Tabori, Pesach Dorot, ibid.
[42] See Drasha of the Rokeach, p. 97
[43] Seder Hayom, p. 153
[44] Drasha of the Rokeach, p.98.
[45] Drasha of the Rokeach, p.98.
[46] See Drasha of the Rokeach, p. 9. But see Magan Avrhom 473:25 and Chock Yakov 473:33.
[47] See Magan Avrhom, 473:27; Seder Haaruch, 1, p. 388-390.
[48] Maagal Tov, pp. 62. On this work see my article in Yeshurun 26 (2012) pp. 853-874 and my earlier article in Ami Magazine, September 27, 2012 Is the Zoo Kosher?
[49] See the collection of sources in Rabbi Tovia Preshel, Or Yisroel 15 (1999),pp. 149-151; Rabbi Yisroel Dandorovitz, Yechalek Shalal (2014), pp. 92-98. It appears that the Barcelona Haggadah, produced after 1350, is the earliest record of the custom to place the Seder Plate on someone’s head during the recitation of Ha Lahma Anya [Thanks to Dan Rabnowitz for this source].
[50] Hagadas HaGershuni, p. 58
[51] Yehudei Poras, pp. 25, 26-27.
[52] Shut Mili D’avos (3:14).
[53] Orech Dovid, p. 107
[54] Hagadah Yerushlyim Bemoadeah,p. 55. See also R’ Harari, Mikroei Kodesh, p. 209
[55] Noheg Ketzon Yosef, p. 222.
[56] Seder Haaruch 1, p. 338. However see the Aruch Hashulchan 696:10 who says today we are not on such a level.
[57] For additional reasons see R’ Shimon Sofer (son of the Chasam Sofer), Mectav Sofer p. 110b; R’ Yisroel Margolis Yafeh, Shut Mili D’avos (3:14); Rabbi Yeshayah Singer, Mishneh Zichron, (1913) p.67a.
[58] Shut Torah Lishma, #138. On this work see: M. Koppel, D. Mughaz and N. Akiva (2006), New Methods for Attribution of Rabbinic Literature Hebrew Linguistics: A Journal for Hebrew Descriptive, Computational and Applied Linguistics; M. Koppel, J. Schler and E. Bonchek-Dokow (2007), Measuring Differentiability: Unmasking Pseudonymous Authors, JMLR 8, July 2007, pp.1261-1276; R’ Y. Liba, Shevet MeYehudah, pp. 213-236; R’ Yakov Hillel, Ben Ish Chai (2011), pp. 410-422; (excellent) intro-
duction to the new edition of this work; Levi Cooper, A Bagdadi Mystery: Rabbi Yosef Chaim and Torah Lishmah, JEL 14;1 (2015), pp 54-60.
[59] Birchat Moshe, pp. 15-16
[60] Rav Schwab on Prayer, pp. 542-543.
[61] R’ Menachem Kasher, Torah Shlemah, 12:286; Rabbi Moshe Weingarten, Seder Ha-Aruch 2 pp.244-245; Pardes Eliezer, pp.172-179. The most recent discussion of this custom is by R’ Bentzion Eichorn where he devoted a complete work called Simchat Zion (2008) (73 pps.) devoted to the many aspects of this minhag. See also D. Sperber, The Jewish Life Cycle, p. 585.
[62] Rememberings, p. 45.
[63] H. Isaacs, Ceremonies, Customs Rites and Traditions of the Jews, London 1794, pp. 111.
[64] H. Baer, Ceremonies of Modern
Judaism, Nashville 1856, p. 149.
[65] Tzefunot 11 (1991), p.97.
[66] Darchei Chaim Ushalom, pp. 193-194.
[67] Yehudei Poras, p.27.
[68] Osem Bosem, p. 35.
[69] Siman 500:7. For a possible early source for this dating to 1550 see Y. Yuval, Two nations in your Womb, p.245.
[70] Chok Yakov, 477:3.
[71] Kitzur Hashilah, p. 67a. See Hatzofeh Lichochmas Yisroel 9 (1925), pp.235-241 for an additional problem with observing this custom.
[72] Shut Shevous Yakov, 3:52.
[73] Mekor Chaim, Siman 477.
[74] Yerushalayim BeModeah (Purim), p. 258.
[75][76] Derech HaYashar, p. 8, p. 42.
[77] Amtachas Binyomin, p. 18.
[78] Sefer Zechira, p. 271. On this work see my Likutei Eliezer, pp. 13-25.
[79] See Cecil Roth, Personalities and Events in Jewish History, p. 85. See also Abigail Green, Moses Montefiore: Jewish Liberator, Imperial Hero (Cambridge, Mass. Harvard University Press, 2010, pp. 82-83 and 447 n.104. [Thanks to Menachem Butler for this last source].
[80] Gamliel Ben Pedahzur, The Book of Religion, Ceremonies and Prayers of the Jews, London 1738, p.78. Earlier on p. 55 he mentions some carry it with them as a segulah when traveling to stop a storm.
[81] Mishnat Sachir, # 122.
[82] See also R’ Dovid Zechut, Zecher Dovid, 3:27, p. 183.
[83] Chemdas Yomim, Pesach, p. 26 b. On this work see my Likutei Eliezer, p. 2.
[84] Eleh hamitzvos 19, p. 58.
[85] Minhagehi Mahritz Halevi, p. 167-168.
[86] On this work see Gerrit Boss, extensive article “Hayyim Vital’s Practical kabbalah and Alchemy; a 17th Century book of secrets” in the Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy, Volume 4, pp. 54-112. See also my Likutei Eliezer, pp.46-89.
[87] Sefer Hape’olot p. 241. In 2015 a beautiful haggadah, Hagaddas Medrash BiChodesh, (2015), was printed for the first time of R’ Eliezer Foah (died 1658) talmid of the Remah Mi Pano where he also brings this segulah of throwing it in to the sea (pp. 19-20). The editor incorrectly writes that this is the first source for this segulah.
[88] Siddur Rashban, 33b.
[89] Minhagehi Mahritz Halevi, p. 167-168.
[90] H. Baer, Ceremonies of Modern Judaism, Nashville 1856, p. 149.

Book announcement: New edition of Avudraham and other works, R. Greensweig, etc.

Book announcement New edition of Avudraham and other works
By Eliezer Brodt

אבודרהם, עם הגהות וביאורים תהלה לדוד, א, ירושלים תשס"א, שכא עמודים
אבודרהם, א, ירושלים תשע"ה, נערך מחדש על פי דפוס ראשון מוגה ומפוסק עם מקורת מלאים, מדור הערות הארות וביאורים מקורות ומקבילות לדברי רבינו, תפילות חול, 429 עמודים
אבודרהם, ב, ירושלים תשע"ו, כהנ"ל, תפילות שבת ומועדים, 625 עמודים
ר' אליהו גרינצייג, קרואי מועד, פסח, שעה עמודים
הנ"ל, קרואי מועד, ראש השנה, שלג עמודים
הנ"ל, קרואי מועד, ספירת העומר שבועות, רמט עמודים
הנ"ל, קרואי מועד, חנוכה, רצה עמודים
מקרא העדה, חידושים וביאורים על סדר פרשיות התורה, א, בראשית-חיי שרה, תקסד עמודים

Many years ago, while still a bochur learning in the Mir, a friend of mine took me along for a Shabbas meal, promising me I'd meet an amazing Talmid Chochum obsessed with seforim. This was my first encounter with R' Eliyhau Greensweig. My friend did not exaggerate in any way. The whole meal I simply sat there drooling at the wall-to-wall seforim library. Later I learned this was only part of his library. This was a collection which I had never before seen the likes of. During the meal we spoke about numerous seforim and random sugyos; I was simply blown away. From that Shabbas, I began visiting him every few weeks and we would speak for a few hours about different topics and seforim. His vast knowledge was, simply put, incredible. One additional attribute which always struck me while talking with R' Greensweig was his tremendous humility. Many times, when specific topics came up, he would say "I wrote a whole kuntres on this". Once, he took out a huge stack of papers and said to me "this is a work on Rambam Sanhedrin". Over time, it came out that he had ghost written numerous articles and works. Once I mentioned to him that I had noticed that a specific volume of a particular set of seforim has a different style than previous volumes and that whoever wrote the notes is familiar with "not the 'standard stuff'". He smiled at me and said "guess who wrote those notes…?" Still, much of his work has appeared under his own name. One of the main projects which he had worked on for many years was  Otzar Mifarshei HaTalmud from Machon Yerushalayim. Without getting into the pros or cons of this work, anyone familiar with it knows it has references to thousands of seforim. This was done long before many of the modern Torah computer programs came on to the playing field (which is beside the point, as R' Greensweig does not know how to use a computer search engine!). One description I had heard of him was "he was Mechon Yerushalyim's 'secret weapon'".

Over the past twenty five years various prominent Torah Journals, such as Yeshurun, Yerushaseinu,Beis Aharon V'Yisroel, Moriah, Kol Torah and others, have featured numerous articles authored by him. Some of the times he would print a section of the Avudraham with his erudite notes; other times the article was related to the Torah reading (Parsha) or an upcoming Yom Tov.

In 2001, an annotated edition of part of the classic work Avudraham appeared on the seforim market. Printed by the Or Hasefer Publishing house, it included an anonymous commentary called Tehilah Ledovid.

The significance of the Avudraham is well known and hardly needs mentioning here; just to cite the well-known Haskamah of the Nodeh Beyehudah to the Prague edition:
כבר נודע בשער בת רבים גודל מעלת החיבור ספר אבודרהם, ורוב מנהגי התפילות והברכות קדושות והבדלות על ספרו בנוים, ובטור אורח החיים מביאו הבית יוסף והאחרונים לרוב מאוד, והוא ספר יקר הערך ויש בו צורך, כי האחרונים העתיקו ממנו דברים בקיצור...

Avrhom E. Harkavy writes:
סי' אבודרהם יקר ונכבד הוא לנו כי בו שרד וימלטו דברים רבים מסדור רב עמרם גאון (שלא בא לידנו בתמונתו וצבינו) ומסדור רב סעדיה גאון ומשאר חבורים קדמונים. [חדשים גם ישנים, עמ' 237]
For anyone looking to learn through an enjoyable sefer about Tefilah and Yom Tovim - this the work for him.

The notes in the Or Hasefer edition impressed numerous experts and Talmedei Chachomim. However almost no one knew who the author was, as he chose to remain anonymous. The author is, of course, none other than R' Eliyahu Greensweig. Interestingly, the introduction of the 2001 volume "claims" to be based upon manuscripts, sadly however, this is not the case. This claim was something the publisher added by himself after he checked up a few things in manuscript; R' Greensweig himself never checked up manuscripts. The primary aim of his notes was to provide the sources for the material quoted (utilized) by the Avudraham and to cite those sources who discuss the sefer. Most accurately, the notes are encyclopedic and full of thousands of sources, many from rare seforim. The notes are also full of "Torah" and at times perhaps a bit lengthy (as is common these days). Additionally, it is clear from the material cited that the author has an excellent command of academic literature, as well. For the most part all these sources could be found in R' Greensweig's incredible library! However, despite the great value in this edition, until recently only one volume was available leaving many to wonder when the rest would (ever?) be completed.

In 2015, volume one was reissued in a limited edition with corrections and many additions by the Keren Re'em publishing house. One useful correction was that some of the longer notes were removed for the body and placed in the appendix. In the summer of 2016, volume two was released privately for the first time.

A few months ago the two volumes were released for sale to the public distributed by Yefeh Nof publishers, with the final volume, volume three, due to be released in the summer, BE"H. I highly recommend this work and am sure that many will benefit from these volumes.

Besides for this new work on Avudraham, as I mentioned previously, R' Greensweig has written voluminously over the years. Thanks to the efforts of his sons and some generous sponsors, some of his other works have just been printed. To date, four volumes on the Yom Tovim have appeared in a paperback edition, each one including the related section of the Avudrahamin the back, with R' Greensweig's invaluable notes. The most recent of the four seforim is on Pesach. A few weeks ago, a hard cover volume on the first half of Chumash Bereishis appeared, with a total of eighty pieces! All this material is pieces he wrote over the years; each week he would write on one topic, and then add to it when he found more material, with a small percentage of the articles having appeared in various journals throughout the years. One does not have to wait until Chumash Bereishis arrives to learn this sefer as the pieces are encyclopedic and useful all year around (see below for the table of contents). One weakness, pointed out in the introduction, is sometimes there can be a certain amount of redundancy and sometimes the pieces smack of a lack of proper editing. The reason for these drawbacks is that proper editing (and condensing the redundant pieces) would hold up and delay printing.

Here are the table of contents of some of these works, showing the wide range of topics discussed. A PDF sample piece of the Avudraham and of one article is available upon request, also available upon request is a much more in-depth Table of contents of the works.

Copies of the newly published two volume set of Avudraham should be available in regular stores. The paperback works on Yomim Tovim are available for purchase at Begieleisen in Boro Park and Judaica Plaza in Lakewood.

Dr. Shlomo Sprecher ז"ל: In Memoriam

Dr. Shlomo Sprecher ז"ל: In Memoriam

אין חכמת האדם מגעת אלא עד מקום שספריו מגיעין,
ולכן ימכור אדם כל מה שיש לו ויקנה ספרים, כי דרך
משל מי שאין לו ספרי התלמוד אי איפשר לו להיות
בקי בו, וכמו כן מי שאין לו ספרי הרפואה א"א להיות
בקי בה.

דרכי התלמוד לר' יצחק קנפאנטון

A person’s wisdom reaches only as far as his library. Therefore, a person should sell everything he owns and
acquire books. For example, one who doesn’t own a set of the Talmud cannot possibly master its content. Similarly, one who doesn’t own the basic medical books cannot possibly be expert in the field of medicine.

          It is with deep sadness that the Seforim Blog joins the thousands who mourn the death of our dear contributor and supporter, Dr. Shlomo Sprecher ז"ל. A distinguished תלמיד חכם and radiologist, R. Shlomo was a world renowned collector of books, who mastered their content, and spent a lifetime sharing his books and his knowledge freely with others. Doubtless, רבי יצחק קנפאנטון had the likes of R. Shlomo in mind, in the passage cited above.

          R. Shlomo was a מרביץ תורה and a מרביץ חכמה to a degree rarely seen in modern times. Despite a professional medical career that in and of itself would have exhausted others, he somehow found time ללמוד וללמד. He learned Torah incessantly, gave public שיעורים on a regular basis, and managed to arrange for others, often younger scholars, to give שיעורים and lectures in his neighborhood. He served with distinction on the editorial boards of ישורון and Hakirah, where he contributed his own studies and, and no less significantly, recruited, indeed cajoled others to publish the results of their research.

          R. Shlomo’s literary legacy includes such gems as:

1.   Introduction and table of contents for the reissue of R. Meir Dan Plotzki’s שאלו שלום ירושלים (New York, 1991).
2.   מבחר כתבי מו"ה מרדכי גומפל שנאבר הלוי לעווינזאהן ז"ל (Brooklyn, 1995). The  English section includes a lengthy introductory essay (by R. Shlomo and Mati Sprecher) on the life and times of Mordechai Gumpel Schnaber – not surprisingly, an eighteenth century rabbinic scholar and physician.
3.   בסתר בצל: קווים לדמותו הסמויה של הג"ר בצלאל בנו יחידו של המהר"ל מפראג זצ"ל” in
ישורון  2(1997), pp. 623-634.
4.   "הפולמוס על אמירת מכניסי רחמים" in ישורון 3(1997), pp. 706-729.
5.   Mezizah be-Peh – Therapeutic Touch or Hippocratic Vestige?”
in Hakirah 3(2006), pp. 15-66.
6.   A Gemeinde Gemeinheit,” (by R. Shlomo and Mati Sprecher), posted on the Seforim Blog, June 9, 2009. An earlier version appeared in a pamphlet distributed at the wedding of Uri and Rivi Sprecher on November 13, 2008.

    In common, all of R. Shlomo’s contributions are characterized by dazzling erudition, lucid presentation, and originality. They advanced discussion significantly. It will certainly be a measure of consolation – and an important contribution to Jewish scholarship – if the family will gather his published studies and publish them in a bound volume. 

Above and beyond R. Shlomo’s intellectual excellence was his excellence of character. Others, more talented than us, will have to write about it. For those of us who experienced it, no further descriptions are necessary. For those of us who never experienced it, we doubt that the breadth and depth of his excellence of character can be adequately described in mere words. R. Shlomo leaves a void that will not easily be filled.

חבל על דאבדין ולא משתכחין.

 Eliezer Katzman
 Shnayer Leiman 

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