Friday, February 22, 2013

Talmudic Humor and Its Discontents


Talmudic Humor and Its Discontents
by Ezra Brand
In honor of Purim, I’d like to discuss a few aspects of humor in the Talmud[1]. But first, a short overview of topic of Jewish humor in general.
A lot has been written about Jewish humor[2]. A very good overview of Jewish humor in general is that of Avner Ziv in the second edition of Encyclopedia Judaica, under the entry “Humor”[3]. However, most of the piece is about Jewish humor from the eighteenth century and on, with only a little bit at the beginning about humor in Tanach, the Talmud, and the time of the Rishonim. He writes a fascinating few lines in the beginning of the entry:
What is generally identified in the professional literature as Jewish humor originated in the 19th century, mainly, but not exclusively, in Eastern Europe. Today in the U.S., Jewish humor is considered as one of the mainstreams of American humor.
At the beginning of the 19th century, sense of humor was not associated with Jewishness. Herman Adler, the chief rabbi of London, felt impelled to write an article in 1893 in which he argued against the view that Jews have no sense of humor. It is perhaps interesting to note that not only Jews but non-Jews as well consider today “a good sense of humor” as one of the noble characteristics of Jews.
Even H.N. Bialik had a similar sentiment about the lack of humor in earlier Jewish sources[4]: “To our great distress, there is very little humor in our literature. It is hard to find five continuous lines in Tanach with humor.” The above-mentioned Avner Ziv writes elsewhere: “Even in the Talmud there appear references (though few) to humor, but in total there is not a “treasury” of humor […] not until the end of the 19th century did there appear anything but a few references to Jewish humor.”
However, David Lifshitz begs to differ. In 1995, he wrote an entire doctorate on the topic of humor in the Talmud[5]. He wasn’t the first to collect pieces of humor from the Gemara. Efrayim Davidson collected humorous pieces from throughout Jewish literature in chronological order, starting from Tanach and ending with Modern Hebrew literature[6]. A few articles discuss different aspects of humor in the Talmud, and there are some seforim that collect humorous pieces from the Gemara[7]. However, by far the most comprehensive discussion is that of Horowitz.
As mentioned, Lifshitz wrote an entire dissertation on the topic, running to 312 pages. He writes that the view that there isn’t a substantial amount of humor in earlier sources is mistaken. He feels that this mistake stems from the fact that there has been little research done on the subject of humor in the Gemara, which in turn stems from the fact that humor is looked at as lowly “leitzanus.” Therefore, the great amount of humor in the Gemara was ignored.
Critical Humor
One specific aspect of humor in the Gemara is critical humor[8]. Although not necessarily the best example of humor in the Gemara, this genre of humor caused some uncomfortableness[9], which I will also discuss.
Here are some Gemaras where critical humor is used, taken at random. (Translations are from Soncino, with slight changes[10].)
1)      Kiddushin 79b[11]:
R’ Yosef son of R’ Menasia of Davil gave a practical ruling in accordance with Rav, whereupon Shmuel was offended and exclaimed, “For everyone [wisdom] is meted out in small measure, but for this scholar it was meted out in large measure!”
2)      Yoma 76a[12]:
And it long ago happened that R’ Tarfon, R’ Yishmael and the elders were seated and occupied with the portion referring to the manna, and also R’ Eleazar of Modi’in commenced [to expound] and said: “The manna which came down unto Israel was sixty cubits high.” R’ Tarfon said to him: “Modite! How long will you rake words together to bring them up against us?” --He answered: “My master! I am expounding a Scriptural verse.”
Beitza 24a[13]:
3)      R’ Yosef said in the name of R’ Yehuda in the name of Shmuel: “The halacha is as Rabban Shimon ben Gamaliel”. Abbaye said to him: “The halacha is [etc.], from which it would follow that they [the Sages] dispute it!” –He said to him: “What practical difference does it make to you?” –He replied to him: “It should be for you as a song” [Rashi: “This is a parable of fools […] ‘Study!’ the student says to the fool: learn both truth and mistakes, and it will be for you as a song!”].
A famous responsum of the Chavos Yair, R’ Yair Chaim Bachrach, discusses the harsh language sometimes used by one Amora against another[14]. This tshuva was made famous by the Chafetz Chaim, who printed it at the beginning of his Chafetz Chaim.[15] The Chavos Yair is at great pains to show how each “insult” is in fact a subtle compliment. For example, he says that when R’ Sheshes says, as he often does, on a saying of Rav, “I say, Rav said this statement when he was sleeping,” that this is fact a display of R’ Sheshes’ great respect for Rav that he never could haved erred so easily. A more difficult kind of attack to explain is the “ad hominem” attack, where one Amora attacks another Amora personally.
Interestingly, some want to say that these kinds of attacks are much more frequent in the Bavli than in the Yerushalmi. In a Hebrew article by Yisrael Ben-Shalom, “ואקח לי שני מקלות לאחד קראתי נעם ולאחד קראתי חבלים[16], the author shows many instances of negative criticism by Chachamim in the Bavli that don’t appear in their parallels in the Yerushalmi. Recently, R’ Achikam Kashet has drawn up a long list of 82 basic differences between the Bavli and the Yerushalmi in his very impressive אמרי במערבא (n.p. 2010). This difference is number 53 (page 889)[17].
Later, the Ra’avad was one of the more harsh attackers. When he disagreed, he did so in very strong terms. In general, he was most harsh in his hassagos on the Razah. The following is one of the harsher attacks[18]
הנה שם השם שקר בפיו וזאת עדות על כל שקריו ופחיזותיו אשר אסף רוח בחנפיו להנבא שקרים ולהתעות הפתיים והסכלים בעדיי אחרים אשר נתעטר בהם ספרי הסירוס אשר חיבר.
Closer to our own time, R’ Yitzchak Isaac Halevy, author of Dorot Harishonim, is famous for his harsh language he used against people he disagreed with. While in his magnum opus, Dorot Harishonim, this language is generally used against maskilim and non-Jews, his harshness was not limited to them. R’ Halevy’s biographer notes[19]:
While Halevy had his reasons which led him almost singlehandedly into battle against the foremost historians, he, in turn, became the target of a formidable list of critics [...] Undoubtedly, Halevy’s sharp pen was an added factor that irked many to retaliate in kind. Halevy’s inordinate style of writing might have been a carryover from a number of classic rabbinical works […] Thus Halevy’s correspondence relating to his own followers at times was penned in a tone which was similar to that reserved for the targets of his ire in the Dorot Harishonim.
After discussing many sources in Chazal of negativity, Efrayim Elimelech Urbach writes that although in the Beis Medrash the Chachamim could be very harsh with each other, in the “real world” a big stress was put on talmidei chachamim looking out for each other, and on the respect that a talmid chacham deserves.[20] It seems clear that although internally there were strong disagreements, towards the outside, there was strong cohesiveness, and the less disagreement and strife exhibited in public, the better[21]. In other words, what goes on the Beis Midrash, stays in the Beis Midrash! In our own time, one of the controversial passages in R’ Natan Kamenetski’s Making of A Godol was the story of R’ Aharon Kotler calling a red-headed student who interrupted his shiur with a question “parah adumah.” Marc Shapiro, in one of his recent posts (paragraph 3), makes the same point: that certain off the cuff remarks were never meant to be publicized.
To end off on a not-so-Purim-like note, I’d like to note a word of caution. In our own time, where recording devices are ubiquitous, talmidei chachamim must be far more careful about what they say and how they say it. Even if a talmid chacham says something in a setting where it is perfectly acceptable, such as in a “Beis Medrash”-like setting, with a recorder the statement can easily be spread outside these “walls.” We have reached a point where עין רואה ואזן שומעת, וכל מעשיך בספר נכתבין (Avos 2:1) is not just true in Shamayim, but on Earth also.






[1] In a previous post on the Seforim Blog, Eliezer Brodt discussed some parodies from Medieval times and on. Another previous post discussed some modern Purim parodies. Some of my favorite modern parodies are those by Moshe Koppel, a Professor of Computer Science in Bar-Ilan University, who has contributed to the Seforim Blog. Professor Kopple has produced a number of parodies of “pashkevillim.” (“Pashkevillim”—“broadsides” in English—are large notices stuck on walls in Chareidi neighborhoods, especially in Meah Shearim. They are often polemical, and written in a flowery Hebrew.) A sampling of these parodies, as well as an interview with Koppel, can be seen here. A parody of his about fundamentalist anti-science is a favorite of R’ Natan Slifkin.
[2] See the bibliography in Eli Yassif, The Hebrew Folktale, Bloomington 1999,  pg. 500 n. 96; see also the bibliography of the Encyclopedia Judaica article in the next footnote.
[3] Volume 9, pg. 590-599. It first appeared in the 1986-1987 Yearbook, one of the many yearbooks that were published as a supplement to the first edition of Encyclopedia Judaica.  I remember reading that the reason that there wasn’t an entry on “Humor” in the first edition of the Encyclopedia is because the editors couldn’t find someone someone qualified to write it. I could not find the source for this recently.
[4] ח"נ ביאליק, דברים שבעל פה, ספר ראשון, דביר, תל אביב תרצ"ה, עמ' קמד. This quote and the next are taken from Lifshitz, Humor (see next footnote), pg. 11.
[5] דוד ליפשיץ, איפיונו ותיפקודו של ההומור בתלמוד, חיבור לשם קבלת התואר דוקטור לפילוסופיה, רמת גן תשנ"ה. I have not read enough of the doctorate to get a feel for how good of a job he did. One major lack in this work is an index, especially since such a large amount of texts from the Talmud are quoted.  It is often difficult to find where a source is discussed.
[6] אפרים דוידזון, שחוק פינו, חולון תשל"ב. The layout is very similar to that of Bialik’s “Sefer Ha’agadah,” which Davidson was clearly influenced by. Many translations of passages from Aramaic to Hebrew are taken from Sefer Ha’agadah (with ascription).
[7] See, for example, בנימין יוסף פארקאש, עת לשחוק, הוסיאטין תרע"ד.
[8] These sources in the Gemara are brought by Lifshitz, Humor, pg. 158-183. See also a wide variety of sources in this vein which are brought and discussed by E.E Urbach in his Sages (Hebrew ed.), pg. 557- 564.
[9] R’ Yitzchak Blau, at the beginning of a lecture entitled “Does the Talmud have a Sense of Humor?” (available on YU Torah) only mentions the following categories “play on words”; “slapstick”; “sharp lines”. He does not mention critical humor, even though it is fairly common in the Gemara, for obvious reasons. As an aside most of the lecture is not about the Talmud and humor, but how someone should spend his free time. R’ Blau’s opinion on the matter has caused some controversy, see Hirhurim blog here and here.
[10] The Soncino translation is now available in the public domain, see Torah Musings blog here.
[11] Lifshitz, Humor, pg. 160.
[12] Lifshitz, Humor, pg. 165
[13] Lifshitz, Humor, pg. 172.
[14] Siman 152.
[15] In later editionsof Chafetz Chaim, this addition is generally printed at the end.
[16] In דור לדור: משלהי תקופת המקרא ועד חתימית התלמוד, ירושלים תשנ"ה, עמ' 235-250.
[17] R’ Kashet made a similar list of basic characteristics (in Hebrew “לשיטתם”), this time with specific Tannaim and Amoraim, in his earlier, just as impressive, קובץ יסודות וחקירות (Yerushalayim 2004). The issue of “Leshitasam” is a fascinating topic in its own right. Research into this topic only began in the mid-eighteenth century, especially with the publishing of R’ D.Z. Hoffman’s (German) Mar Samuel. This sefer/book caused a small storm in its time.
[18] Quoted by Twersky, Rabad of Posquierres, Cambridge 1962, pg. 121 n. 24. See Twersky there for more such examples. For a list of hassagos of this sort in the Ra’avad’s hassagos on Mishneh Torah, see Davidson, Moses Maimonides: The Man and His Works, Oxford 2005, in the chapter on Mishneh Torah.
[19] R’ Asher Reichel, Isaac Halevy, New York 1969, pg. 64-65.
[20] Pg. 564 (idem, footnote 10).
[21] The Gemara itself seems to say so explicitly. See the story in Sanhedrin 31a, where the Gemara first brings a halacha regarding a member of a beis din that has just paskened:
תנו רבנן מניין לכשיצא לא יאמר הריני מזכה וחבירי מחייבין אבל מה אעשה שחבירי רבו עלי תלמוד לומר (ויקרא יט, טז) לא תלך רכיל בעמך ואומר (משלי יא, יג) הולך רכיל מגלה סוד
The Gemara then goes on to bring the following story:
ההוא תלמידא דנפיק עליה קלא דגלי מילתא דאיתמר בי מדרשא בתר עשרין ותרתין שנין אפקיה רב אמי מבי מדרשא אמר דין גלי רזיא:
It is not clear what the nature of the “secret” thing that had happened in the beis medrash was. Rashi simply says that the talmid spoke lashon hara. It is possible that in the heated discussion in the beis medrash, someone had made an off the cuff remark that was not meant to be heard outside the walls of the beis medrash. When the talmid revealed what was said 22(!) years later, he was expelled from the beis medrash for his impropriety. Alternatively, it is possible that he had revealed some internal disagreement about a halacha that the Chachamim wanted to appear unanimous, similar to the case of the psak of a beis din brought before. Either way, the story proves our point. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Identifying Achashverosh and Esther in Secular Sources

Identifying Achashverosh and Esther in Secular Sources 
By Mitchell First 
This article is a summary of a longer article which will appear in his forthcoming book Esther Unmasked: Solving Eleven Mysteries of the Jewish Holidays and Liturgy (Kodesh Press), pp. 129-167.
     In this article, we will explain how scholars were finally able to identify Achashverosh in secular sources. We will also show that Esther can be identified in secular sources as well. Finally, we will utilize these sources to shed light on the story of the Megillah.

Before we get to these sources, we have to point out that an important clue to the identity of Achashverosh is found in the book of Ezra. Achashverosh is mentioned at Ezra 4:6 in the context of other Persian kings. The simplest understanding of Ezra 4:6 and its surrounding verses is that Achashverosh is the Persian king who reigned after the Daryavesh who rebuilt the Temple,[1] but before Artachshasta. But what about the secular sources? Was there any Persian king known as Achashverosh or something close to that in these sources?
     Until the 19th century, a search in secular sources for a Persian king named Achashverosh or something close to that would have been an unsuccessful one. Our knowledge of the Persian kings from the Biblical period was coming entirely from the writings of Greek historians, and none of the names that they recorded were close to Achashverosh. The Greek historians (Herodotus, mid-5th cent. BCE, and the others who came after him) described the following Persian kings from the Biblical period: Cyrus, Cambyses, Darius, Xerxes, and Artaxerxes.
    We were thus left to speculate as to the identity of Achashverosh. Was he to be equated with Artaxerxes? This was the position taken by the Septuagint to Esther. Was he to be equated with Cambyses? Or was he, as Ezra 4:6 and its surrounding verses implied, the king between Daryavesh (=Darius I) and Artachshasta (=Artaxerxes I). But why did the Greeks refer to him as Xerxes, a name at first glance seeming to have no relation to the name Achashverosh?
    It was only in the 19th century, as a result of the decipherment of Old Persian cuneiform inscriptions from the ancient Persian palaces, that we were able to answer these questions. It was discovered that the name of the king that the Greeks had been referring to as "Xerxes" was in fact: "Khshayarsha" (written in Old Persian cuneiform). This name is very close to the Hebrew "Achashverosh." In their consonantal structure, the two names are identical. Both center on the consonantal sounds "ch", "sh", "r", and "sh." The Hebrew added an initial aleph[2] (a frequent occurrence when foreign words with two initial consonants are recorded in Hebrew), and added two vavs. Interestingly, the Megillah spells Achashverosh several times with only one vav, and one time (10:1) spells the name with no vavs.
     Thereafter, at the beginning of the 20th century, Aramaic documents from Egypt from the 5th century B.C.E. came to light. In these documents, this king’s name was spelled in Aramaic as חשירש, חשיארש and אחשירש. The closeness to the Hebrew אחשורוש is easily seen.

     How did Khshayarsha (consonants: KH, SH, R, SH) come to be referred to by the Greeks as Xerxes?
  • The Greek language does not have a letter to represent the "sh" sound.
  • The initial “KH SH” sounds of the Persian name were collapsed into one Greek letter that makes the “KS” sound. A tendency to parallelism probably led to the second “SH” also becoming “KS,” even though “S” would have been more appropriate.[3] Hence, the consonants became KS, R, KS (=X,R,X).
  • The “es” at the end was just something added by the Greeks to help turn the foreign name into proper Greek grammatical form.[4] (It was for this same reason that the Hebrew משה  became “Moses” when the Bible was translated into Greek.)

  Identifying Khshayarsha/Xerxes with Achashverosh thus makes much sense on linguistic grounds. Critically, it is consistent with Ezra 4:6 which had implied that Achashverosh was the king between Daryavesh (=Darius I) and Artachshasta (=Artaxerxes I).[5]

    We have an inscription from Khshayarsha in Persian which lists the countries over which he ruled. Among the countries listed are "Hidush" and "Kushiya," most likely the Hodu and Kush of the Megillah.[6] 
    Now that we have identified Achashverosh in secular sources, we can use these sources to provide some biographical information. Xerxes reigned from 486-465 BCE, when the Temple was already rebuilt. It was rebuilt in the reign of his father Darius I in 516 BCE. According to Herodotus, Xerxes was the son of Darius by Atossa, daughter of Cyrus. Xerxes was also the first son born to Darius after Darius became king. These factors distinguished him from his older half-brother Artabazanes, and merited Xerxes being chosen to succeed Darius. At his accession in 486 BCE, Xerxes could not have been more than 36 years old (since he was born after the accession of Darius in 522 BCE).
    The party in which Vashti rebelled took place in the third year of the reign of Achashverosh (1:3), and Esther was not chosen until the 7th year (2:16). Why did it take Achashverosh so long to choose a replacement? It has been suggested that Xerxes was distracted by his foreign policy. In the early years of his reign, Xerxes ordered a full-scale invasion of Greece. Xerxes went on the invasion himself, which took him out of Persia commencing in the spring or summer of his 5th year and continuing through part of his 7th year.[7] This invasion ended in defeat.
     From the secular sources and a solar eclipse that took place in the battles, it can be calculated that Xerxes did not return to Susa until the fall of 479 B.C.E.[8] Tevet of Achashverosh's 7th year, when Esther was chosen, would have been Dec. 479/Jan. 478 B.C.E. Accordingly, Esther was taken to the palace shortly after Xerxes’ return.       
    Do we have any evidence in secular sources for the main plot of the Purim story, the threat to destroy the Jews in the 12th year (3:7)? We do not, but this is to be expected. No works from any Persian historians from this period have survived. (Probably, no such works were ever composed.) Our main source for the events of the reign of Xerxes is Herodotus and his narrative ends in the 7th year of Xerxes.[9]

    Interestingly, there is perhaps a reference to Mordechai in a later narrative source. The Greek historian Ctesias,[10] who served as a physician to Artaxerxes II, mentions a “Matacas” who was the most influential of all of Xerxes’ eunuchs. (Probably, “eunuch” was merely a term used to indicate a holder of a high position in the king’s court.) “Matacas” suggests a Persian name with the consonants MTC, which would be very close to the consonants of the name Mordechai, MRDC.[11]  The information provided by Ctesias bears a significant resemblance to the last verse in the Megillah, which records that by the end of the story, Mordechai was mishneh (=second) to the king.[12] (Perhaps we do not have to take mishneh literally; the import may merely be “very high official.”)

    Most interesting is what happens when we analyze the secular sources regarding the wife of Xerxes. According to Herodotus, the wife of Xerxes was named Amestris, and she was the daughter of a military commander named Otanes. (In the Megillah, Esther is described as the daughter of Avichail.) Ctesias records that Amestris outlived Xerxes. Moreover, in the further details that Ctesias provides, Amestris is involved in royal affairs even in the reign of her son Artaxerxes.[13] Neither Herodotus nor Ctesias use a term like “queen” for her, but their description of Amestris fits what we would call today the “queen.” Neither gives any indication that Xerxes had any other wife.
    Some postulate that Amestris is Vashti. But this is extremely unlikely since there is nothing in Herodotus or Ctesias to indicate any loss of status by Amestris. Others postulate (based on verses such as Est. 2:19 and 4:11[14]) that Esther was never the main   wife of Xerxes, but was one of other wives of a lesser status. See, e.g., Chamesh Megillot, Daat Mikra edition (published by Mossad Harav Kook), introduction to Esther, p. 6. The problem with this approach is that the clear impression that one receives from the Megillah is that Esther was the Persian wife of the highest status from the time she was chosen in the 7th year of the reign of Achashverosh through the balance of the years described in the book. See, e.g., verse 2:17 (va-yasem keter malkhut be-roshah va-yamlikheha tachat Vashti).        
    The approach that seems to have the least difficulties is to postulate that Amestris is  Esther and that Herodotus simply erred regarding her ancestry. Although Herodotus traveled widely in the 460’s and 450’s B.C.E., he probably never set foot in Persia. His information about Persia is based on what was told to him orally. Every scholar knows that he could not possibly be correct on a large percentage of the details he reports (whether about Persia or any matter). Also, the impression that one receives from the Megillah is that Esther did not disclose her true ancestry for several years. Whatever rumors about her ancestry first came out may be what made their way to Herodotus.[15]
    It is striking that the name Avichayil means military commander.[16] It is not so farfetched to suggest that Avichayil might have had another name which resembled the name Otanes.  The Megillah tells us that Esther had another name, Hadassah.   
   Herodotus tells a story depicting the cruelty of Amestris. Amestris takes revenge on another woman by cutting off her body parts and throwing them to the dogs. Ctesias writes that Amestris ordered someone impaled, and had fifty Greeks decapitated. But scholars today know not to believe all the tales told by the Greek historians about their enemies, the Persians. (Herodotus, known as the “Father of History,” is also known as the “Father of Lies.” The reputation of Ctesias as a historian is far worse; he is widely viewed as freely mixing fact and fiction.)    
    Although he never says it explicitly, one gets the impression from Herodotus that he believed that Amestris was the wife of Xerxes even in the first seven years of Xerxes’ reign. But it would be understandable that Herodotus might have had such a belief. According to the Megillah, Vashti was gone by the third year of Xerxes. Xerxes reigned 18 years after that. To Herodotus and his informants, Vashti may have been long forgotten.
    We have no Persian sources for the name of the wife of Khshayarsha. But close examination of the name "Amestris" supports its identification with Esther. The "is" at the end was just a suffix added to turn the foreign name into proper Greek grammatical form (just as "es" was added at the end of “Xerxes”). When comparing the remaining consonants, the name of the wife of Xerxes is recorded in the Greek historians as based around the consonants M, S, T, and R, and the name as recorded in the Megillah is based around the consonants S, T, and R. Out of the numerous possible consonants in these languages, three consonants are the same and in the same order! Probability suggests that this is not coincidence and that the two are the same person. Probably her Persian name was composed of the consonants M, S, T, and R, and the M was not preserved in the Hebrew. (One source in Orthodoxy that has suggested the identification of Esther with Amestris, without any discussion, is Trei Asar, Daat Mikra edition, published by Mossad Harav Kook, vol. 2, appendix, p. 3.)
                                                                      ----   
    Once we realize that Achashverosh is Xerxes, it becomes evident that the asher haglah  of Esther 2:6 cannot be referring to Mordechai. King Yechanyah was exiled in 597 B.C.E. If Mordechai was old enough to have been exiled with King Yechanyah, he would have been over 120 years old when appointed to a high position in the 12th year of Xerxes. Moreover, Esther, his first cousin, would not have been young enough to have been chosen queen a few years earlier. One alternative is to understand verse 2:6 as referring to Mordechai’s great-grandfather Kish.[17] Another alternative is to view the subject of 2:6 as Mordechai, but to read the verse as implying only that Mordechai came from a family that had been exiled.
                                                                     ---- 
   The identification of Achashverosh with Xerxes does not fit with the view of the Talmud. According to the Talmud (Megillah 11b, based on Seder Olam chap. 29), Achashverosh reigned between Koresh and Daryavesh. In this view, the Temple had not yet been rebuilt at the time of the events of the Megillah. (In the view of Seder Olam and the Talmud, the Persian period spanned the reigns of only three Persian kings. This is much shorter than the conventional chronology. The conventional chronology is set forth in the Table below. For more information about this discrepancy, see my Jewish History in Conflict: A Study of the Major Discrepancy Between Rabbinic and Conventional Chronology, Jason Aronson, 1997).
    That the king intended to be depicted in the Megillah was Khshayarsha/Xerxes is accepted by legions of scholars today, even if they question the historicity of the story. Within Orthodoxy, some sources that accept the identification of Achashverosh with Xerxes include: Chamesh Megillot (Daat Mikra edition), R. Isaac Halevy,[18] R. Shelomoh Danziger,[19] R. Avigdor Miller,[20] R. Adin Steinsaltz,[21] R. Yoel Bin-Nun,[22]  R. Yehuda Landy,[23] and R. Menachem Liebtag.[24]
    The Megillah (10:2) implied that we could search outside the Bible for additional information regarding Achashverosh. I trust that this search has proven an interesting one!
                                                             ------
     Table: The main Persian kings from this era and their dates (B.C.E.):

Cyrus              539-530
Cambyses [25]   530-522
Darius I          522-486
Xerxes            486-465
Artaxerxes I   465-424[26]
Darius II         423-404
Artaxerxes II  404-358
Artaxerxes III 358-338
Arses              338-336
Darius III       336-332

Mitchell First works as an attorney in Manhattan and lives in New Jersey, and is available to lecture on this topic. He can be reached at MFirstatty@aol.com




[1] Admittedly, this is an oversimplification, since the Daryavesh who rebuilt the Temple is mentioned both at Ezra 4:5 and at Ezra 4:24.  See further below, n. 5.
[2] Both the Elamite and the Akkadian versions of the name Khshayarsha also had an initial vowel. In Elamite,“i”, and in Akkadian, “a”. See Edwin M. Yamauchi, Persia and the Bible (1990), p. 187.
   The name of the king is found in Aramaic in the panels of the Dura-Europos synagogue (3rd century C.E., Syria) without the initial aleph.
[3] That the transmission of foreign names is by no means an exact science is shown by how the name of  the son of Xerxes was recorded by the Greeks. The Greeks preserved the “Arta” of the first part of his name, Artakhshaça, but then just tacked on “xerxes,” the name of his father, as the second part of his name!
[4] I.e., convert it into the nominative case.
[5] With regard to verse 4:24, the proper understanding of this verse is as follows. The author of the book of Ezra decided to digress, and to supplement the reference to accusations made against the Jews in the reigns of Koresh through Daryavesh with mention of further accusations against them in the reigns of the subsequent kings, Achashverosh (Xerxes) and Artachshasta (Artaxerxes I). Verse 4:24 then returns to the main narrative, the reign of Daryavesh. The role played by verse 4:24 is that of “resumptive repetition.” This is the interpretation adopted by the Daat Mikra commentary to Ezra (pp. 27 and 35) and by many modern scholars. See the references at Richard Steiner, “Bishlam’s Archival Search Report in Nehemiah’s Archive: Multiple Introductions and Reverse Chronological Order as Clues to the Origin of the Aramaic Letters in Ezra 4-6,” Journal of Biblical Literature 125 (2006), p. 674, n. 164. This understanding of verse 24 only became evident in modern times when it was realized that linguistically Achashverosh was to be identified with Xerxes.
[6] Roland G. Kent, Old Persian: Grammar, Texts, Lexicon, p. 151 (2d ed., 1953).
[7] Many find allusions in the Megillah to the preparation for the invasion and to the invasion. See, e.g., Esther 1:3 and 10:2.
[8] See, e.g., William H. Shea, “Esther and History,” Andrews University Seminary Studies 14 (1976), p. 239.
  In the Persian system of regnal reckoning, 485 BCE was considered year 1 of Xerxes. 486 B.C.E. was only the accession year.
[9] See Pierre Briant, From Cyrus to Alexander (2002), pp. 7 and 516. In his narrative of events up to the 7th year, Herodotus does make some tangential references to events after the 7th year. For example, he refers to Artaxerxes a few times, and he tells a story about something that Amestris did in her later years. (She had fourteen children of noble Persians buried alive, as a gift on her behalf to the god of the underworld.)
   Later ancient sources write about the assassination of Xerxes.
[10] The Persica of Ctesias only survives in quotations or summaries by others. For this particular section of Ctesias, what has survived is a summary by Photius (9th cent.)
[11] Another version of Photius reads “Natacas” here. But this difference is not so significant. “N” and “M” are related consonants, both being nasal stops; it is not uncommon for one to transform into the other.
[12] See also Est. 9:4.
[13] This means that Artaxerxes I (who empowered Ezra, and later Nechemiah) was technically Jewish!
[14] Est. 2:19 refers to a second gathering of maidens, after Esther was chosen. Est. 4:11 records that Esther had not been called to the king for 30 days.
[15] It is sometimes claimed that Esther could not have been the wife of Xerxes because Herodotus (3,84) tells of an agreement between Darius I and his six co-conspirators that the Persian king would not marry outside their families. One of the co-conspirators was named Otanes. But Herodotus nowhere states that the Otanes who was the father of Amestris was the co-conspirator Otanes. Briant writes that if Amestris had been the daughter of co-conspirator Otanes, Herodotus would doubtless have pointed this out. See Briant, p. 135. Therefore, implicit in Herodotus is that Xerxes married outside the seven families.
[16] I would like to thank Rabbi Richard Wolpoe who first made this observation to me.
[17] That the name Mordechai may be based on the name of the Babylonian deity Marduk also suggests that Mordechai was born in exile.
[18] Dorot ha-Rishonim: Tekufat ha-Mikra (1939), p. 262.
[19] “Who Was the Real Akhashverosh?,” Jewish Observer, Feb. 1973, pp. 12-15.
[20] Torah Nation (1971), pp. 40 and 42.
[21] Talmud Bavli, Taanit-Megillah, p. 47, ha-Hayyim, and p. 50, ha-Hayyim.    .
[22] Hadassah Hi Esther (1997), p. 49, n. 8. (This work is a collection of articles by various authors.)
[23] Purim and the Persian Empire (2010), pp. 40-42.    
[24] For additional sources in Orthodoxy that accept the identification of Achashverosh with Xerxes, see Jewish History in Conflict, pp. 178-79.
[25] Cambyses’ name was discovered to be “Kabujiya” in Persian. His name is recorded as כנבוזי in Aramaic documents from Egypt from the 5th cent. B.C.E. He did not reign enough years to be Achashverosh. Nor did he reign over Hodu. See Jewish History in Conflict, p. 167. Although he is not mentioned in Tanakh, his reign is alluded to at Ezra 4:5 (in the word ve-ad).
[26] Another king named Xerxes reigned 45 days after the death of his father Artaxerxes I.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Kabbalah of Relation by Rabbi Bezalel Naor book review


Book Review[1]
by Dovid Sears
Bezalel Naor, The Kabbalah of Relation (Spring Valley, NY: Orot, 2012)
Before discussing Rabbi Naor’s new book, I must say that anything with his name on the cover should be of interest to any explorer of Jewish mystical tradition. Despite some twenty first-rate scholarly works in English and Hebrew, Bezalel Naor remains a “hidden light,” perhaps too brilliant for many to gaze upon directly. He is one of the leading intellectuals in the traditional world of Jewish scholarship—as he would be in the academic world if, by the grace of God, we would be spared the ravages of intellectual climate change and the wind would shift. Bezalel Naor once described himself as a “frequent flyer of the corpus callosum connecting the left and right hemispheres of the brain.”
This work, jam-packed with creative thinking and the vast erudition we have come to expect from the author, deals with the male-female relationship from the standpoint of the Aggadah and Kabbalah, at the level of plain-meaning and at various levels of mystical allusion.
The departure point for the book is an oft-cited yet curious passage in the Babylonian Talmud (Eruvin 100b) which says that had the Torah not been given on Mount Sinai, then we would have learned various positive character traits from the animal kingdom. The most famous example given is that we would have learned modesty from the example of the cat. Surprisingly, most of the Talmud’s attention is lavished on the rooster, from whom a husband would learn that he must appease his wife before entering into marital relations with her. From the Talmud’s telling of the story, it turns out that the rooster lies to the hen, promising to buy her a coat (or in another reading, earrings) that he is no position financially to purchase! According to Naor, this “white lie” is the very secret of our finite, paradoxical existence in this world, and he then takes us, the readers, on a tour de force, as only he is capable, of our entire Judaic literature: Bible, Talmud, Medieval Philosophy, Kabbalah, Hasidism—and of course, the specialty of the house: Rav Kook.

Q. The book begins with an autobiographical description of Chagall’s youthful meeting (yehidut) with the Rebbe of Lubavitch, Rabbi Shalom Baer (Rashab). This raises the question of the artist’s connection to the teachings of Habad and the Hasidic world of his youth. Beyond this, one wonders about other encounters the Habad Rebbeim may have had with Jewish artists, for better or worse. Any thoughts?

DS: Marc Chagall is widely-embraced as the outstanding Jewish artist of the 20th century, who embraced his shtetl roots in his colorful, expressionistic and often surrealistic paintings. Many Jewish artists, both secular and religious, have used Chagall as a point of departure for their own brand of Jewish art. But actually the autobiographical vignette presented at the beginning of the book, which is patently insulting to the towering Hasidic thinker and tsaddik, Rabbi Shalom Dov Ber of Lubavitch (RaSHaB). is an eloquent testimony to Chagall’s chutzpah and am ha’aratzus (ignorance). Although he grew up in a traditional Hasidic environment in the village of Lyozno, famed for having once been the home of the “Alter Rebbe” (Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Habad), he didn’t seem to know a line of Tanya or Likkutei Torah—despite his fond memory of his mother’s Habad niggun (melody). Religiously, he was a pathetic figure.

As for the Rebbes and artists, I remember reading that one of the Kotzker Rebbe’s descendants was a painter. Nothing to do with Habad, though. I don’t know about earlier Rebbes in the Habad lineage, but this last Lubavitcher Rebbe zt”l had a positive relationship with a few artists: Jacques Lipschutz, Yakov Agam, Baruch Nachshon, and born-and-raised Lubavitchers Hendel Lieberman (who was the brother of the legendary mashpi’a Rabbi Mendel Futerfass) and my wonderful and unforgettable friend, the late Zalman Kleinman. But maybe that was part of Rabbi Schneerson’s kiruv (outreach) mission with its nuanced embrace of selective parts of modernism in order turn them around to kedushah (holiness)—which the kabbalists call “it’hapkha,” meaning transformation or reversal. Jewish fine art (as opposed to decorative art) is a relatively new thing if we begin with Camille Pissarro (1830-1903)—whose father was Jewish, although some claim that his mother was Creole (at any rate he was Jewish enough to be hated for it by Degas and Renoir)—or Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920), who was only a couple of years older than Chagall. So I’d be surprised if the early Hasidic Rebbes or their Mitnagdic counterparts had much exposure to it. But, of course, with Rebbes you can never tell…

Q. In The Kabbalah of Relation, Marc Chagall's paintings have been juxtaposed to this Talmudic-Kabbalistic text. Is the juxtaposition warranted, not to the point, or even unlawful?

DS: On the one hand, Rabbi Naor’s recognition of this correspondence was a brilliant observation. As such, it would have been hard to resist. On the other, I question whether it’s okay halakhically, particularly in a sefer, a volume of Torah. One or two of these paintings should definitely keep this volume off the shelf in Biegeleisen’s Seforim Store. But sometimes when we look at art, we enter another mental space and unconsciously set aside such considerations. We’re looking at imaginal reality, not the physical world in the conventional sense. Maybe there’s a faint glimmer of a heter (leniency) there—but maybe not.

Another question that this “tzushtell” (tie-in) raises is the legitimacy of Chagall as a Jewish mystic, which the book seems to propose (as with Chagall’s “Hasidim vs. Misnagdim” comment).

Although he was a towering creative artist, I don’t think Chagall was a Jewish mystic, as Rabbi Naor suggests, but a Jewish pagan. Erich Neumann might have fitted Chagall’s fertility symbolism very nicely into his huge Jungian opus, The Origins and History of Consciousness (which I actually read from cover to cover about 40 years ago). Chagall didn’t need Kabbalah or Hasidism for his images. These are archetypal ideas, as shaped by the artistic vision of a White Russian village Jew who somehow made it past the maitre d’ and into the high culture of Paris.

There was an early 20th century British critic and writer named T.E. Hulme who once famously remarked that “Romanticism is spilt religion.” There’s plenty of that in Chagall. But on the other hand, we see that for many religious Jewish artists, Chagall created a dreamy, surrealistic style that allowed them to weave together powerful mystical images. Examples are Elyah Sukkot, Baruch Nachshon, Shoshanna Brombacher and others. So in a way, the “spilt religion” can be channeled back to where it comes from.

Q. Is Naor's transition or extrapolation from a Talmudic text to Kabbalistic teachings traditional or non-traditional?

DS: I’d say that it’s brilliant, creative, and poetic in its way of linking ideas. The tone and texture of the hiddush (innovation) is not traditional, but the hook-up between nigleh (exoteric) and nistar (esoteric) is quite traditional and legitimate. One may object to this or that point, but that’s Torah, isn’t it? Not only halakhic issues are debated in the Gemara but also matters of Aggadah (theological and other non-legalistic teachings), as Abraham J. Heschel shows in Torah min ha-Shamayim. And besides, whatever a perspicacious thinker such as Bezalel Naor says deserves our attention, whatever its proximity to the edge of the cliff may be. 

Q. What is the essential difference between the Mitnagdic (Vilna Gaon) and Hasidic (Ba'al Shem Tov) approaches to interpreting Kabbalah, and how do we see this difference illustrated in the two solutions or "endings" offered in this book?

DS: In art, we often speak of classicism and romanticism. The classicists are (or more accurately “were”) the “straight-arrows.” They stressed academic training and were concerned with realistic depictions and fine technique; certain subjects were acceptable, while other were not, or were certainly overlooked. Emotional restraint, rational intellect and high culture were implicitly valued. Romanticism represented a radical break with this approach to life and art. Our old friend T.E. Hulme described it as being “informed by a belief in the infinite in man and nature” – although most of these artists were and are secularists. (Look at the way the Abstract Expressionists talked about their art! Especially Mark Rothko, who really missed his calling as a kabbalist—or at least a professor of Kabbalah. The art critic Katharine Kuh once published a book of interviews with a number of artists whose words often reflect this “belief in the infinite in man and nature.”[2])
Somewhat similarly, in their own way the Mitnagdim were religious classicists and the Hasidim were closer to the romantics. Maybe that’s what Chagall meant with his remark that the new artists of his day were like the Hasidim.

The clash between the Mitnagdim and the Hasidim was also a clash between two broad mindsets: a dominant (albeit faith-based) rationalism vs. a greater emphasis on intuition and passionate feeling; scholarly elitism vs. greater democracy of spirit, and even an inclusivism within the social strata of the close-knit fraternities we associate with the Hasidic movement.

In terms of Rabbi Naor’s book, the “Mitnagdic ending” (admittedly this is a gross oversimplification) is that the rooster, who represents the Creator, extends a garment of divine protection over the hen, who represents either the Shekhinah or the individual soul. By virtue of the holiness of the Torah and mitsvot (commandments), the extrication of the fallen souls on the lowest levels of creation is accomplished. All souls will be incarnated and refined of their spiritual dross; then the rooster’s promise to the hen that “the robe will reach down to your legs” will be fulfilled, and Mashi’ah will come. (This is based on a teaching of Rabbi Isaac Haver, representing the school of the Vilna Gaon, if I didn’t take a wrong turn along the way.)

In the Hasidic counterpart to this scenario (à la Reb Eizikl Komarner, fusing teachings of the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid of Mezeritch), the Shekhinah is “adorned with adornments that do not exist”[3]—that is, there is not only a cosmic restoration accomplished by our ‘avodat ha-birurim (spiritual work) throughout the course of time, but an advantage of some sort to creation. Something “extra” is delivered to the Creator, beyond the holiness of the Torah and mitsvot (commandments). And this is accomplished by the tsaddik who descends into the nether regions in order to procure those “adornments.”[4]

The author concludes his book on the following note:

What is certain is that in the process, the tsaddik will be beaten to a pulp. (In the words of the Rabbi of Komarno, “[God] chastises and beats the righteous.”) The crown of the just man and his wings—his entire spiritual profile—will be lowered. And yet, even in defeat the tsaddik is valiant and beloved to the Shekhinah.[5]

Q. Rabbi Naor contrasts Maimonides' view of human sensuality with that of the Kabbalists. How Judaic or Hellenic is Maimonides' view?

DS: The Zohar, Rabbi Moses Cordovero (RaMaK), the Reshit Hokhmah, the main schools of Hasidism that I’m familiar with, and certainly Rabbi Nahman of Breslov, all have a marked ascetic element. Sexuality is often sublimated to the spiritual plane, and kedushah (sanctity) in all such matters is stressed. Rabbi Nahman uses the term “yihuda tata’ah” (lower unification) to describe the ideal conduct of the married couple; sanctification of the marital relationship elicits the “yihuda ila’ah” (upper unification) on the sublime level (which brings about cosmic harmony).

Ditto the approach to the ko’ah ha-medameh, or imagination. The Breslov literature often contrasts the imagination of a spiritually-evolved human being with that of a coarse person who has the “imagination of a beast.”[6] Rabbi Nathan [Sternhartz] discusses these concepts in Likkutei Halakhot (beginning Hil. Sheluhin 5). There he states that the imagination can be a shali’ah (emissary) of the sekhel (reason)[7]; or it can be co-opted by the physical, which is to say, the animalistic side of human nature.

Rabbi Nahman’s lessons are extremely imagistic and poetic in their construction. “This is a behinah (aspect) of this; that is a behinah (aspect) of that.” In this way Rabbi Nahman builds connections between things and shows their underlying unity. And of course, there are Rabbi Nahman’s famous thirteen mystical stories, which anticipated surrealism by more than a century. All this is a demonstration of “birur ko’ah ha-medameh,” clarification of the imagination, so that it may express the essence of mind.

Although the kabbalists do not share the puritanical view of Maimonides toward the body and the conjugal act, as Rabbi Naor points out,[8] they are not so far apart in their attitudes toward hedonism—but not for the same reasons. The philosophers prized the intellect’s ascendancy over emotion and sensuality, and Maimonides may have been influenced by this attitude. The mystics, however, are more concerned with transcendence and sublimation (in the religious sense, not in the Freudian sense). Their bias is not due to a prejudice in favor of reason, but bespeaks the love and awe of God. 

Q. The morning blessing reads: "...Who has given understanding to the rooster to discern between day and night." Isn't the blessing reversed? Night precedes day. Certainly the blessing should read "to discern between night and day"!

DS: Based on teachings from the Zohar and Rabbi Isaac Luria (Ari),[9] the robe given by rooster to the hen may be said to correspond to the process of birur—the extrication of all souls from Adam Beli’al, or “Anti-Adam” —throughout the course of history. That is, the human body from the head to feet represents the yeridat ha-dorot, the spiritual decline of the generations. The “head,” beginning with Adam, is like day, while the “feet,” or later generations, are like night. In these final generations, the Shekhinah, which represents God’s immanence in creation, is positioned at the feet of Adam Beli’al. The rooster understands the spiritual decline at each stage of the game. We who live in the spiritual “twilight zone” can’t function like our noble ancestors (compared to whom the Talmud says we are as donkeys). Hence, the phraseology of the blessing, “between day and night.”

Postscript:

I’d like to add one more thought about the issue discussed at the end of the text. As mentioned above, Rabbi Naor quotes Reb Eizikl Komarner’s remarks about the fallen “letters” of creation, which the tsaddikim must elevate from what the Zohar calls “raglin de-raglin,” or “feet of feet”—the lowest levels. The Komarno Rebbe cites the Maggid of Mezeritch, who contrasts “adornments that did exist” with “adornments that did not exist.” The former are related to the Torah and mitsvot (commandments)—the holy—while the latter are related to the mundane and that which is most distant from holiness.

It strikes me as worth comparing this to Rabbi Nahman’s cryptic parable about a king who commissioned two fellows to decorate separate but facing halves of his new palace.[10] The first appointee mastered all the necessary skills and then painted the most beautiful murals depicting all sorts of animals and birds on the walls of his chamber. The second guy goofed off until the deadline was only a few days away—and became panic-stricken. Then he had a brainstorm. He smeared the walls with a substance (“pakst”) so black that it shined. Thus the walls were able to reflect everything in the other room. Then Decorator Number Two hung a curtain to divide between the rooms.

When the big day arrived, the king inspected his new palace, and was overjoyed with the murals of the first man, executed with such consummate skill. The other chamber was shrouded in darkness, due to the curtain. But when our “chevreman” drew back the curtain, there now shone into the room the reflection of everything that was in the first room directly across. (Here the Rebbe mentions birds specifically for the third time.) Even the elegant furnishings and precious objects that the king brought into the first chamber were reflected in the second. Moreover, whatever additional wondrous vessels the king wanted to bring into his palace were visible in the second chamber.

What were these “additional wondrous vessels” that had not yet been brought to the palace, but which the king desired? Moreover, it is not clear that the king meant to bring them to the first chamber, with its lovely murals and furnishings, thus to be reflected in the second chamber. What the text seems to state is that these desired “wondrous vessels” were already visible in the second chamber—“and the matter was good in the king’s eyes.”[11]

Maybe we can venture the interpretation that it is the tsaddik (righteous man) who diligently heeds the king’s command and decorates his half of the palace so beautifully, while it is the ba’al teshuvah (penitent) who creates the shiny black room. The ba’al teshuvah must receive an illumination from the tsaddik on the other side of the hall, who did everything “by the book.” Yet Rabbi Nahman indicates that the ba’al teshuvah has an advantage over the tsaddik.[12]

Perhaps this parable of Rabbi Nahman is cut from the same cloth as the Hasidic idea discussed at the end of Rabbi Naor’s book, that the tsaddik, through his willing and somewhat self-sacrificial descent to the lowest levels, brings to the realm of kedushah additional elements that could not otherwise have been obtained. It is this paradoxical descent of the tsaddik that ultimately brings the greatest delight to the Master of the Universe.


[1] "Based on remarks at The Carlebach Shul, Tuesday evening, November 20, 2012."
[2] In addition, see Robert Rosenblum’s Modern Painting and the Northern Romantic Tradition, if you can still find a copy. It’s a real “eye-opener,” both artistically and intellectually.
[3] See Naor’s endnote on p. 62, especially citing Rabbenu Hananel’s reading in the Gemara (‘Eruvin 100b) which is the departure point of the entire book.
[4] Cf. Likkutei Moharan II, 8.
[5] The Kabbalah of Relation, p. 39.
[6] For example, see Likkutei Moharan, Part I, lessons 25, 49; and especially Part II, lesson 8 (“Tik’u/Tohakhah”).
[7] I am loath to equate this with the rational faculty in the Maimonidean sense.
[8] See the discussion in The Kabbalah of Relation, pp. 42-45.
[9] Sources cited in The Kabbalah of Relation, p. 55.
[10] Hayyei Moharan, sec. 98; English translation in Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum, Tzaddik (Breslov Research Institute), “New Stories,” sec. 224.
[11] In Hebrew: “Ve-khen kol mah she-yirtzeh ha-melekh lehakhnis ‘od kelim nifla’im le-tokh ha-palatin, yiheyu kulam nir’im be-helko shel ha-sheni, ve-hutav ha-davar lifnei ha-melekh.” 
[12] Cf. TB, Berakhot 34b: “In the place where the penitents stand, the wholly righteous cannot stand.”

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

A Review of “Alo Na'aleh”


A Review of “Alo Na'aleh”

הרב מרדכי ציון, 'עלה נעלה: מענה לספר ויואל משה, תשובות מפי הרה"ג שלמה אבינר שליט"א', בית אל תשע"ב, 278 עמודים
By Ezra Brand

The opinion of R' Yoel Teitelbaum, better known as the Satmar Rebbe, opposing the State of Israel has recently received a resurgence of interest. With the shifting to the right of the Orthodox Jewish world in general, as well as attempts by some Israeli politicians to end Chareidi draft exemptions in particular, many Chareidim are now feeling sympathetic to the Satmar opinion. In any discussion online about Israel drafting Chareidim or cutting funding to yeshivas, there will always be one person commenting on the prescience of the Satmar Rebbe. I have heard that some people are using the Kahanist slogan in regard to this: “הרבי מסאטמאר צדק (“The Satmar Rebbe was right”)! Therefore, the appearance of a book intended as a response to the Satmar opinion is timely[1].

Alo Na’aleh is a response to the Satmar Rebbe's book, Vayo'el Moshe. To be more precise, it is a response to the first of the three parts of Vayo’el Moshe, which is titled “Ma’amar Shalosh Shevu’ot”. Alo Na’aleh is written by R’ Mordechai Tzion, in consultation with his Rebbe, R’ Shlomo Aviner[2]. It is published by Sifriyat Chava (ספריית חוה), the publishing house based in Beit El that publishes R' Shlomo Aviner's books. Vayo’el Moshe was published in 1961[3]. Although it might seem strange to write a response to a book so long after the book was originally published, the times seem to call for it.

There have been other attempted rebuttals to Vayo'el Moshe (including by R’ Aviner himself, see further), but Alo Na'aleh is probably the most comprehensive (though it is only on the “Ma'amar Shalosh Shevuos” part of Vayo'el Moshe). It is the most comprehensive both in the sheer amount of sources quoted, and in terms of the fact that every point made by Vayo’el Moshe is discussed and disputed (including the reason given by R’ Yoel for the title of his book!). Much of the earlier literature that responds to Vayo'el Moshe is quoted by Alo Na'aleh, but no bibliography is provided. I will therefore provide one here (including works not mentioned in Alo Na’aleh).

הרב חיים שרגא פייביל פראנק, בירור הלכה במעלת ומצות ישובה של ארץ ישראלתולדות זאב, ירושלים      תשכ"ד (ומילואים ב'המעין', טבת תשכ"ה)
הרב מרדכי עטייה, סוד השבועה, ירושלים תשכ"ה
הרב מנחם מנדל כשר, התקופה הגדולה, ירושלים תשכ"ט
הרב רפאל קצנלנבויגן, 'לא מרד אלא השבת גזילה לבעליו', שערים, כ' בסיון תשכ"ט
הרב משה מונק, 'שלושת השבועות', שערים, ד' בתמוז תשכ"ט
הרב שמואל הכהן וינגרטן, השבעתי אתכם, ירושלים תשל"ו
הרב חיים צימרמן, 'בענין שלש שבועות', תורה לישראל, ירושלים תשל"ח (available here)
מחבר אונונימי, פוקח עוורים, ירושלים תשמ"ד[4] (available here)
הרב שלמה אבינר, 'שלא יעלו בחומה', הלכות משיח לרמב"ם, ירושלים תשס"ג
הרב יעקב זיסברג, 'נפש עדה', נחלת יעקב, ב, הרב ברכה תשס"ה
הנותן ליעף כח: כ"ח קושיות על ויואל משה, הוצאת בני הישיבות (בעילום שם המחבר)
הרב אברהם ווייס, מחנה החרדי, גליון 341
חוברת "בעית זמננו" (א:ד)

The beginning of the introduction is fascinating. It attempts to find an ultimately uncomfortable middle ground between attacking the Satmar Rebbe for his harsh anti-Zionism, and respecting him for his greatness in Torah. The introduction begins by bringing a Radvaz (Shu”t 4:187), which says that it is prohibited to degrade a talmid chacham, even if that talmid chacham is “making a mistake in the foundations of the religion” (במקור: תלמיד חכם הטועה בעיונו בדבר מעיקרי הדת)[5]. While the author states clearly that despite their differences of opinion he will still repect the Satmar Rebbe, there is a silent polemic against the Satmar Rebbe's famously harsh attacks against his opponents.

The rest of the introduction of the book is gossipy. A string of juicy stories are told, portraying the negative attitude of various people toward Vayo’el Moshe. The book then gets down to business, responding to Vayo’el Moshe point by point.

Alo Na'aleh indeed lives up to its aspiration of pointing out the many (apparent) mistakes in “Ma'amar Shalosh Shevuos” of Vayo'el Moshe. The author even demonstrates that the Satmar Rebbe made some historical mistakes. For example, in the introduction of Vayo'el Moshe, the Satmar Rebbe explains why all the poskim didn't bring the Three Oaths in their halacha seforim: “This issue of the awakening of a movement to transgress these oaths, we have not found from the days of Ben Koziba until the time of the Rambam, which is about a thousand years, and so too from the time of the Rambam until the days of Shabsai Tzvi, and so too, from after the time of Shabsai Tzvi until now in these generations. Therefore the poskim in all these generations did not see any need to explain this issue in their times.” Alo Na'aleh correctly points out (pg. 15) that there were many other attempts by Jews to rebel against non-Jew in the time period discussed by the Satmar Rebbe.

However, true to form, Alo Na’aleh attempts to defend the Satmar Rebbe. Before discussing a particularly egregious misreading of a source in Vayo’el Moshe, Alo Na’aleh (pg. 172-3) claims that the misreadings of the sources exhibited in Vayo’el Moshe don’t stem from actual mistakes by the Satmar Rebbe. Rather, the Satmar Rebbe was convinced that Zionism was a terrible calamity, and was willing to twist sources in order to convince people that it is wrong. In other words, the ends justify the means. Alo Na’aleh finds a source permitting such tactics in the well-known Gemara in Pesachim 112a, where it says that הרוצה ליחנק היתלה באילן גדול, explained by Rashi there to mean that one is permitted to falsely quote his Rebbe if he knows the halacha to be true, and he won’t be listened to otherwise. However, Alo Na’aleh limits this heter to polemical works such as Vayo’el Moshe.

While Alo Na'aleh does identify mistakes exhibited in Vayo'el Moshe, it has many flaws itself. It is often long-winded, bringing paragraphs from pro-Zionist authors having nothing to do with the issue at hand. In addition, there is a lack of consistency in the writing style, as entire articles, or pieces of articles, are brought down verbatim in the main body of the text, without any kind of indentation or other helpful citation. Besides for ruining the literary consistency, it can take an effort to know when the quotation ends. It is for these two reasons that Alo Na'aleh runs to a long 278 pages.

Another issue is the lack of clear organization in Alo Na'aleh.  Often, the text will give one response to Vayo'el Moshe, move on to a different response, then return to the first response without any warning. This can make it difficult to follow.

A good amount of research has gone into Alo Na'aleh, and the responses to the Satmar Rebbe are the most comprehensive to date. But it is a work marked by flaws: technical errors, a propensity to go off on tangents, and a lack of clarity in its argumentation. A respectable effort that falls short of its promise[6].




* I would like to thank Eliezer Brodt for reviewing this post, and my father for editing it.
[1] Although the Satmar Rebbe (meaning R’ Yoel, as opposed to his father)  wasn’t the first to attack Zionism based on (pseudo-) halachic sources, he was the one to have the biggest impact. For a short scholarly discussion of the Samar Rebbe’s opposition to Zionism (focusing on his interpretation of the Three Oaths), see יצחק קראוס, שלש השבועות כיסוד למשנתו האנטי-צונית של ר' יואל טייטלבאום, עבודת גמר לתואר מוסמך בפילוסופיה יהודית, האוניברסיטה העיברית בבלטימור, תש"נ. A general history of discussion of the Three Oaths is given by Mordechai Breur: מרדכי ברויאר, 'הדיון בשלוש השבועות בדורות האחרונים', גאולה ומדינה, ירושלים תשל"ט, עמ' 49- 57. For a history of Eastern European Chareidi opposition to Zionism, see יוסף שלמון, 'תגובת החרדים במזרח אירופה לציונות מדינית', הציונות ומתנגדיה בעם היהודי, ירושלים תש"נ, עמ' 51- 73.
[2] R’ Tzion seems to claim at the end of his introduction (pg. 14) that the book basically consists of his writing down the responses of R’ Aviner; however, from R’ Aviner’s haskamah it is clear that the R’ Tzion had a much substantial part in the writing of the book.
[3] Shalmon (ibid., footnote 1), says that that was a second edition. I am not sure when the first edition was published, and what the difference was between the first and second editions.
[4] This book claims that a large part of Vayo’el Moshe was forged!
[5] The Radvaz proves this from the famous Gemara in Sanhedrin 99a, where R' Hillel says that Mashiach will never come, since there was only a one-time chance in the time of Chizkiyahu Hamelech. R' Yosef there responds to this statement of R' Hillel by saying, “Hashem should forgive him” (שרי ליה מריה), and does not degrade him. As to whether R' Hillel's statement makes him a heretic, see Marc Shapiro's Limits of Orthodox Theology. R' Tzion on page 10 quotes a responsum from R' Yehuda Hertzel Henkin, a grandson of R' Yosef Eliyahu Henkin, that Chazal even refrained from degrading the famous heretic Elisha ben Avuyah (Shu”t B'nei Banim 2:34). With respect to R' Henkin, I find this attitude of respect to one's enemies he attributes to Chazal does not  fit in with hundreds of examples throughout the generations of Torah leaders' harshness to enemies and heretics. Even Elisha ben Avuyah was branded “Acher” (“The Other”) by Chazal, which is not the most respectful title.

[6] The most comprehensive discussion if the Three Oaths that is also well organized is נפש עדה in נחלת יעקב, mentioned earlier in the bibliography.

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