Monday, July 24, 2006

A Flat or Round Earth and the Zohar

The Babylonian Talmud ("BT") clearly held the Earth was flat. R. Azariah de Rossi, in his Me'or Enayim devotes more or less a chapter to understanding the view of the BT on this issue.

De Rossi explains that there a various passages in the BT which assume a flat earth. For instance, De Rossi quotes the BT Baba Basra "the world is like an exadera [three sides are closed] and the north side is open. When the sun reaches the nothwestern side, it bends back and goes above the sky." De Rossi explains that "anybody who understands this passage correctly realizes that . . . the sun's circuit is not from above to below . . . and they agree that the nightly darkness is not caused by the sun being at that time below the horizon . . . this is all calcluated on the basis that the earth is flat and that the heavens only cover it like a roof of the exadera."

De Rossi after noting that this opinion is pervasive in the BT, it is based upon the understanding of some at the time the BT was complied. He explains, however, that if "the sages of blessed memory who believed that the world was flat . . . been informed of what has become known in our times, namely, how the Spaniards . . . discovered the New World in the Northern Hemisphere where the inhabitants have their rest opposite the place where we put our feet. And the same is true of the place under the equator and also beyond it to the south above and below. With one voice [the sages] would have acknowledged that the earth was spherical."

This last line, of course, was in part why De' Rossi was controversial. By claiming Hazal based some of their statements upon the science of the day and that had they been exposed to what we now know would have changed their minds was, and continues to be a touchy subject.

But to return to our topic at hand - the flat earth - De Rossi points out that although the BT held the earth was flat not everyone at the time agreed. Specifically, he notes that the Jerusalem Talmud as well as Berashis Rabba seem to imply the earth is round. Additionally, the Zohar states the earth is round. It is this last source, however, which is somewhat problematic. Assuming the BT held the earth was flat and that appears to have been the prevailing attitude, why then would the Zohar disagree. R. Jacob Emden used this passage in the Zohar as one of the many which points to a later dating of when the Zohar was written. R. Emden states succinctly "this opinion is not one shared by Hazal and instead comes from later science." Thus, according to R. Emden, the fact the Zohar assumes the earth is round lends itself to the notion it could not have been written (at least this part) by R. Shimon bar Yochi.

R. Emden's challenge of the Zohar was not left unrebutted. R. Moshe Kunits in his Ben Yochi which is devoted to rebutting R. Emden, attacks this statement of R. Emden. Although he attempts to refute R. Emden, one who is aware of the above discussion, realizes how hollow R. Kunits' argument is. R. Kunits agrees that the BT assumes a flat earth, but then he cites the two sources which do go with the round earth -Jerusalem Talmud and Berashis Rabba. In essence, Kunits is merely regurgitating De Rossi's sources. In fact, he cites De Rossi as being one who demonstrates that Hazal held the earth was in fact round. Of course, De Rossi's only sources were the Zohar and the others cited by Kunits. Thus, in the end, Kunits' arguments are circular. This fallacy is noted by R. Shlomo Yehudah Rappoport in his book to rebut Kunits - Nahlat Yehuda.

Finally, it appears that the idea of a flat earth persisted until at least the 18th century (and if the recently published book, Afeki Mayim, is an indication even until the 21st century). The person in the 18th century to follow this view is a rather surprising one in light of how knowledgable he supposedly was in secular wisdom (at least according to some). The Vilna Gaon is recorded as stating the earth must be flat in order to properly understand the verse in Job (38:13) "that it might take hold of the ends of the earth."

Sources: De' Rossi, Meor Einayim (ed. Weinberg) Imrei Binah, Section 1 chap. 11. Zohar, Vaikra, 10a; R. Jacob Emden, Mitpahat Sefarim; R. Shlomo Yehudah Rappoport, Nahlat Yehuda (Lemberg, 1873); R. Kunits, Ben Yochi. On the Vilna Gaon, see R. Y. Engel, Gilyoni HaShas, Shabbat, 74a and R. Reuven Margulies, Nitzozi Ohr on the Zohar cited above.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

17th of Tamuz and Edgar Allan Poe

The Mishna in Tannit records that 5 bad events occured on the 17th of Tamuz, one being the cessation of the daily sacrifice, the tamid. However, the Bavli does not as it does for the other four events, tell the story of what happened. Only in the Yerushalmi does the complete story appear.

There, in the Yerushalmi, the Talmud records that the Jews were obtaining the necessary animals for their offerings by paying the Romans. Everyday they would lower down a basket full of coins, and in its stead, the Romans would return the animal. As Jerusalem was under siege, this whole process took place from a distance. One day, the 17th of Tamuz, however, after the Jews gave the requisite money, instead of the correct animals the Romans replaced them with pigs. Thus, the Jews were unable to bring the tamid and the sacrifice stopped from that time on.

As mentioned, this story only appears in the Yerushalmi and not the Bavli. Further, Josephus does not record it either. Although these works do not record it, Edgar Allan Poe does. Specifically, he has a story titled "A Tale of Jerusalem" which, more or less, is this story repackaged. You can read the whole story here. But, basically, it describes the two priest whose job it was to lower the baskets of gold. Poe ends with the pigs being raised instead.

Not only does Poe use this somewhat obscure story, he even injects some detail that one would need to be versed in the orignal story to fully appreciate. The priest in question are who belonged to the sect called "The Dashers (that little knot of saints whose manner of dashing and lacerating the feet against the pavement was long a thorn and a reproach to less zealous devotees–a stumbling-block to less gifted perambulators)." This is a play on the talmudic description of the priests - that they are quick - kohanim zerizim hem.

Poe assumes familiarity with the Hebrew alphabet to a degree that one would know the letter yud is the smallest. As he says "thou canst not point me out a Philistine–no, not one–from Aleph to Tau–from the wilderness to the battlements–who seemeth any bigger than the letter Jod!"

The question is where in the world did Poe get this. Now, it seems Poe got this from another novel from "1828, Zillah, a Tale of Jerusalem, by Horace Smith (1777-1849). Poe incorporated whole phrases and sentences from Smith's story: "Poe's story is more than a parody; it is literally a collage of snatches of the Smith novel, cut out and pasted together in a new order." That being said, it seems that Poe was still more familar with this story than Zillah and we are left to wonder did Poe study Talmud? He wouldn't be the first famous American author to do so. Thomas Jefferson had a copy of a volume or two of the Bavli. Although, here, it would appear Poe one upped Jefferson by being a baki in Yerushalmi as well.

Listing of New Seforim

What follows is a list of new seforim I have recently purchased; for prior lists see the "New Books Lists" on the sidebar.

1. Indices To The Emden-Eybeschuetz Controversy Literature by Gershom G. Scholem. As the title implies, this is an index, divided by person, book, and geographic place. Additional, many of the abbreviations used (R. Emden constantly uses abbreviations, many obscure) are explained. This index was culled from Scholem's index cards where he kept these records. The editors have done nothing to update them nor have they attempted to ensure consistency. So, in essence they had these cards typeset and published.

But, as part of this publication Hebrew University has scanned all of the books and manuscripts covered by this index and put them on a CD. This is especially important, as many of these are very rare and hard to come by. This CD is supposed to be available directly from Magnes Press, however, I could find no other information on this on their website.

2. On the topic of Scholem there is a fairly recent book, Pithe 'Olam which is a critical edition of R. Solomon ben Samuel's work by that name. This is a work of kabbalah. However, perhaps the most interesting piece of this book in not the manuscript but what the editor, Rafeal Kohen, has appended to it. R. Kohen has included his own polemic against modern kabbalah scholars. He accuses them, among other things, to have stymied the publication of numerous manuscripts to benefit their own careers, racism against those not in academia, as well as plain sloppy scholarship. He backs some of these claims up with concrete examples. In particular he savages Paul Fenton's edition of R. Yosef b. Avrohom's Sheroshi HaKabbalah with numerous examples of errors and mistakes. R. Kohen, also goes University by University and points out who he has issues with. R. Kohen is particular of appending each of the names of the people he discusses with the ignominious abbreviation meaning שם רשעים ירקב ימח שמו וזכרון תימקן ותשחקן עצמות אוסר לעסוק בקבורתו or שר"י יש"ו תו"ע אל"ב at every single mention of their names. He covers Hebrew University, Bar Ilan, Sorbonne, and the Schechter Institute. It makes for some entertaining, if over the top, reading.

3. Journal Mayni HaYeshua from Biala Hassidim contains a 23 page article against Eliach's Sefer HaGaon.

4. Ziv haSemot or What's in a Name. This book on everything having to do with names and naming is perhaps the 4th book on this extremely important, life or death topic which has come out in the past few years. This one is in both Hebrew and English. Curiously, although there is a chapter on using a name that a wicked person had such as Yismael. The author does not cite to or quote the Shu't Besamim Rosh on the topic. Whose pronouncement has broad implications for naming. He says even if a evil person happen to have the name, if it is a nice name then you can use it.

I purchased these at Biegeleisen in Boropark.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Seforim For Sale

R. Landy of the Lower East Side has purchased a significant library and is now selling them. Unfortunately, I have yet to see these in person, however, from what has been related to me via telephone, he has some terrific books. If one wants to go, they should first call him at 917 676 0762. He is located at 264 east broadway C104.

R. Shabbtai the Bassist, the First Hebrew Bibliographer

The JNUL has just put up the first Hebrew bibliography, Siftei Yeshenim. This work is written by R. Shabbtai Bass. R. Shabbtai is perhaps most well known for his commentary on Rashi 'al haTorah titled Siftei Hakhamim.

R. Shabbtai was born in 1641 in Kalisz, Poland. When he was 14, both his parents were killed in a pogrom by the Cossacks. R. Shabbtai went to Prague. It was in Prague where he would gain his last name and begin his career as a printer. In Prague he began taking music lessons and became a bassist for the Altneushul. He, in all likelihood participated in that shul's choir which would weekly welcome in the Shabbat with musical accompaniment. [Later on, this music would become central to the debate of allowing for an organ in the Shul as well as playing music in any religious services]. R. Shabbtai took his musical calling seriously and the printers mark he used had musical elements to them. [The two relevant ones are reproduced on the side]. Additionally, he became known as alternatively, R. Shabbtai the Bassist Singer or just R. Shabbtai the Bassist. Aside from gaining an interest in music as well as his general Torah education, he also studied Latin while in Prague.

From Prague, R. Shabbtai, went west, eventually ending up in Amsterdam. It was during these travels he visited numerous libraries and began compiling his bibliography. [Although he did begin the project in Prague, it seems to have really taken off after he left.] In 1680, he published the bibliography in Amsterdam and titled it Siftei Yeshenim the lips of the sleeping ones. This title is appropriate for many reasons. First, it comes from Shir haShirim which has the highest density of book titles, and thus, I think is appropriate for a book listing books. Second, as R. Shabbtai points out in his introduction where he offers ten reasons for bibliography, just reciting the names of books the ignorant can earn a similar reward to those who actually study them. R. Shabbtai based this upon R. Isaiah Horowitz (Shelah).

This work lists about 2,200 titles. Of these, 825 were manuscripts. R. Shabbtai provides an index by category at the beginning of the book. Although the bulk of the lists are books by Jewish authors, he also included about 150 Judaica works by non-Jewish writers.

The work was "updated" in 1806 by Uri Zvi Rubenstein, however, he "demonstrated weak bibliographical abilities and his effort is to be considered a step backwards in the history of Jewish Bibliography." (Brisman at 13).

After spending about 5 years in Amsterdam, R. Shabbtai he moved to Dyhernfurth and opened his own press. He began to print works of Polish Rabbis and printed some of the seminal works on Halakha. He printed R. Shmuel b. Uri Shraga's commentary on Even Ezer, the Bet Shmuel as well as R. Avrohom Abeli's commentary, Mogen Avrohom.
While he was in Dyhernfurth, he hoped to reprint his Siftei Hakhamim which had been printed in Amsterdam in 1680. He had made extensive corrections and additions which he hoped to include. During the interim, he found out that the publisher in Amsterdam was also readying a reprint and had secured the normal copyright harems. Thus, R. Shabbtai was forced to buy out the Amsterdam printer so he could reprint he own book! This is of particular interest in one's understanding of copyright under Jewish law. It would seem from this case that the author does not automatically hold a copyright to his own works. Instead, copyright is dependent upon who has a money interest. Unfortunately, none of the many articles or books on Jewish law and copyright cite or discuss this case.

R. Shabbtai's commentary on Rashi has been reprinted many, many times, and now is standard fare even with Humashim which contain no other commentaries other than Rashi and Onkelos. However, this commentary is typically an abriged version - Ikar Siftei Hakhamim. This abrigment was done by the famed Romm Press in Vilna in the 1872 edition of their Torah Elokim. Although we don't know for certain who did the abrigment as the title page just allows "two talmdei hakamim" were the ones who did this. It is assumed these would have been editors at the Romm Press. At that time R. Mordechi Plungin was the editor at the press. He was involved with the printing of many "classics" such as the Eiyn Yakkov and the Shulkhan Orakh. In this last book, although he always remain anonymous and never takes any credit for anything he does, he included in Yoreh Deah a few comments under the title Miluim. Now, some don't like R. Plungin (he was a maskil) most notably the father of the Hazon Ish. Thus, in the Tal-man edition of the Shulkahn Orakh his comments were excised.

So, if one follows that opinion, one should view as important and sensitive task as abriging a commentary with some skepticism. Perhaps, as the editors remained anonymous this hasn't been noticed - yet. Or, the two talmdei hakamim were not R. Plugin. Be it as it may, R. Shabbtai, the bassist, printer, bibliographer, has left an indelible mark across numerous disciplines.

Sources. For biographical sources, you can look at any one of these as they all just regurgitate what the others prior to them do without adding much, if anything. EJ vol. 4 col. 313. Friedberg, B. History of Jewish Typography of Amsterdam et. al., Antwerp, 1937, 53-64; Y. Rafel, Sinai vol. 8 and 9 reprinted in his Rishonim v'Achronim; and the JE here. See also on R. Shabbtai and Jewish bibliograpy in general S. Brisman, "A History and Guide to Judaic Bibliography." It is worth reading Zinberg's nice biography of R. Bass in The History of Jewish Literature, vol. 6, pp. 150-52.

For his printers marks, see Ya'ari, Printers marks. On his Siftei Hakhamim see the new bibliography on Rashi commentary, P. Krieger, Parshan-Data, p. 41-46.

Finally, there is a discussion regarding the first edition of Siftei Yeshanim and why in some edition a Siddur is apended to it. For this, see H. Liberman, Ohel Rochel vol. 1 p. 370-71.

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