Tuesday, March 21, 2017

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 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Churches, Ronald McDonald, and More

Churches, Ronald McDonald, and More

Marc B. Shapiro

1. In a recent post I mentioned R. Leon Modena, so let me note the following. In my article on entering churches,[1] available here, I mention that R. Modena entered churches to hear the sermons. I also quote R. Eliezer Waldenberg’s description of R. Modena as an איש הפכפך. Only after my article appeared did I find that R. Solomon Scheinfeld uses similar language in describing R. Modena[2]:
הוא היה גדול בתורה וחכמת העולם, היה גאון בטבעו, אבל כדרך הרבה גאונים שהם קרובים לפעמים אל השגעון, היה הפכפך, איש זר בכל דרכי חייו, איש שאין בו נכונה, אמונה וכפירה התרוצצו בו.
R. Scheinfeld’s point about some great Torah scholars (he actually says “many geonim”), that often they have, let’s call it “unusual” characteristics (R. Scheinfeld actually uses a different term), is certainly worthy of note. I first heard this almost thirty years ago from the late R. Herschel Cohen of West Orange, N.J., who in his youth had studied under R. Judah Leib Chasman. As a young man I used to visit him, and one day he showed me a certain sefer. He very much enjoyed the book, but also commented that the author was a “meshugena.” I replied: “But he is a gaon,” and R. Cohen shot back: “There is often a very fine line between a gaon and a meshugena.”[3] In this regard, I would add that R. Moshe Feinstein was wary of geniuses, commenting that אין לנו הרבה נחת מהעילוים.[4]

Regarding R. Modena, it is also worth noting that R. Mordechai Spielman, who knew exactly who R. Modena was, refers to him as הגאון ר' יהודה ארי' ממודינא ז"ל. This reference comes from R. Spielman’s Tiferet Tzvi, vol. 6, p. 99. I don’t know how many readers are aware of this significant work on the Zohar, and it is unfortunate that it is not found on either hebrewbooks.org or Otzar ha-Hokhmah. In fact, Tiferet Tzvi is one of the most important works of Torah scholarship not to be found on either of these two sites.

Regarding going into churches to hear sermons, it appears that this is mentioned by R. Isaac Arama. At the beginning of his introduction to Akedat Yitzhak, in speaking of Christian preachers speaking to the population, he writes:
ובני ישראל באו בתוך הבאים ושמעו אמריהם כי נעמו נתאוו להם להרים דגל כמותם. אומרים אמור היו יהיה חכמיהם ומביניהם שואלים ודורשים במדרשיהם ובבתי תפלתם ונתנם טעם לשבח על התורה ועל הנביאיםם  ככל חכמי הגוים לאומותם. 
In Hazut Kashah, beginning of sha’ar 4, he writes:
חכם אחד מחכמי הגוים בתוך דבריו אשר דבר במקהלות עם רב ובאזני קצת גוברין יהודאין אשר קרא לנו לשמוע מפיו דבר כמנהגם.
In the introduction to his edition of Akedat Yitzhak, note 6, R. Hayyim Joseph Pollak, suggests that R. Arama is referring to sermons that Jews were forced to attend, but in the first source this doesn’t seem to be what he is referring to.

Returning to my article on entering churches, I am honored that Rabbi J. David Bleich used some of the sources I collected and mentioned a couple of my comments in his own article on the topic that appeared in Tradition 44:2 (2011), pp. 73-101 (available here, and it has also just appeared in Contemporary Halakhic Problems, vol. 7).[5] I now have some additional sources to add. With regard to R. Modena, in my article I neglected to refer to his autobiography where he also describes being present for a sermon in the San Geremia church in Venice, which is very close to the Jewish ghetto.[6]

In my listing of those rabbis known to have entered churches,[7] I referred to R. Jacob Meir, who served as Rishon le-Tziyon. Unfortunately, one word (בכנסיה) was mistakenly omitted from the quotation, and readers might therefore have wondered why I assumed that R. Meir entered the church. Here is the full quotation, with the crucial word underlined. It comes from Gad Frumkin, Derekh Shofet bi-Yerushalayim (Tel Aviv, 1954), p. 294:
באותו זמן, נתתי דעתי בתחום אחר לגמרי, והוא למצוא ביטוי חגיגי ברוח לאומית לרגש אשר עטף אותנו לרגל שחרור ירושלים מעול העותומני, כצעד ראשון לגאולה השלימה. סיר רונלד סטורס, כמושל ירושלים, הנהיג לחוג ברוב פאר שנה שנה את יום כניסת צבאות אלנבי לירושלים, בתשיעי לדצמבר. בבוקר היו מתפללים לכבוד היום הזה בכנסית סט. ג'ורג', ולאחר הצהריים היה מקבל אורחים בביתו. גם היהודים השתתפו בטכס בכנסיה ובין הבאים היה הרב יעקב מאיר בתלבושתו הרשמית ענוד אותות הכבוד שנתכבדד בהם על ידי  השולטן ומלכי יוון ואנגליה.
In fact, the mistaken omission of the word בכנסיה created another problem. When I read over the article just before publication, I didn’t realize that the word בכנסיה had been mistakenly deleted. I therefore added a note that maybe the meaning of the passage is that R. Meir only went to the home of Ronald Storrs, who was the Jerusalem Military Governor. (R. Bleich quotes my mistaken assumption.[8]) I also changed my formulation prior to the quotation to say that R. Meir “appears” to have entered a church. However, as we can see from the passage, Frumkin is clear that R. Meir indeed entered the church for the event.

R. Immanuel Jakobovits was asked if he would go into a church. He replied: “Perhaps for a visit, but not during prayers or a religious ceremony.” He also recounted a time when while visiting Russia it seems that he got stuck in a church during a prayer service:
On Sunday I visited Zagorsk, the repository of the treasures of the Russian Orthodox Church, where there are wonderful cathedrals in which many choirs chant. They seated me at a pulpit, where it was difficult to leave in the middle of the service, apparently so I would cancel my visits to the refuseniks in Moscow later that afternoon.[9]
As mentioned in note 7, the British chief rabbis will enter churches for various official events. As R. Jakobovits wrote on another occasion, this policy has the approval of the London Beth Din.

Another relevant text is from R. Shlomo Riskin who wrote as follows[10]:
Am I allowed to attend my friend’s wedding in a church? Are Jews allowed to enter churches at all?
Evangelical churches do not have icons or statues and it is certainly permissible to enter Evangelical churches.[11] Catholic and most Protestant churches do have icons as well as paintings and sculptures. If you enter the church in order to appreciate the art with an eye towards understanding Christianity and the differences between Judaism and Christianity so that you can hold your own in discussions with Christians, then it is permissible.[12] Participating[13] in a church religious service is forbidden unless it is for learning purposes or unless it would be a desecration of God’s name if you don’t attend, as in the case of Chief Rabbi Sacks’ attendance at Prince William’s wedding.
R. Asher Weiss here provides support, bediavad, for R. Haskel Lookstein’s attendance at a prayer service in a church which was part of the celebrations following President Obama’s inauguration.

In my article on entering churches I refer to R. Joseph Messas’ responsum in which he mentions going into a church. I subsequently found that in his Otzar ha-Mikhtavim, vol. 1, no. 280 (p. 133), he tells of a visit to Malaga, Spain, where he also entered a church. Earlier, while still in Spanish Morocco, he explained to some non-Jews that Jews do not hold a grudge against Spain and do not hate contemporary Spaniards because of what their forefathers did. He then said something very strange (p. 131), namely, that contemporary Jews have to be thankful to the earlier Spaniards for how they persecuted the Jews of their time, since this enables everyone to see how connected Jews are to God, that despite the persecution they did not give up their faith! Is there any other rabbinic text that lets murderers “off the hook” so easily?
לדעתי, ראוי להחזיק טובה לאבותיכם על כל הרדיפות וכו', כי על ידם נודע, שאנחנו עבדים נאמנים לא-להינו, ואף כל מיני ענויים ומיתות משונות לא הפרידו בינינו ובין א-להינו.
R. Messas finds other ways to be “melamed zekhut” on those who persecuted and even killed Jews in Spain, and if I didn’t know that he was a truly great rabbinic authority,[14] I might think that what he writes comes from the pen of a Catholic apologist for the Spanish Inquisition.[15]
שכל הרדיפות היו מפני שנאת הדת, שהנוצרים היו אוהבים מאד את דתם, ולכן היו שונאים כל בעל דת אחרת, והיהודים מאהבתם ג"כ לדתם, לא ידעו [ל]כלכל את מעשיהם, והיו ההדיוטים שבהם אומרים בפה מלא, שדת יהודית היא האמת, וזולתה שוא ודבר כזב, וזה הוסיף אש ועצם על המדורה, ובפרט המומרים מאהבת הכבוד, או מאהבת נשים, אשר אחיהם היהודים הקילו בכבודם על תמורתם, הלשינו אותם ואת דתם בדברים שלא היו ולא נבראו, כדי לנקום מהם חלול כבודם, וא"כ הא למה זה דומה, למי שיש לו בן, הוא חביב עליו מאד, ודאי ישנא כל אשר ישנאהו וכל המדבר עליו תועה, ואם תמצא לאל ידו, יהרגהו, והנוצרים היתה לאל ידם, והרגו כל השונא את דתם שהיא חביבה עליהם כבן יחיד, ואף שאין זה שכל ישר, מ"מ דעת אנשי אותו הזמן היתה כך, ואין להאשימם.
Regarding entering churches, also of interest is the report of the sixteenth-century painter and writer, Giorgio Vasari, that Roman Jews would come on the Sabbath to the Church of San Pietro in Rome to stand before Michelangelo’s statue of Moses.[16]

A number of years ago, R. Dov Linzer gave a shiur on this very topic of entering churches. At the time, I called his attention to some responsa that do not deal with this matter, but which permitted Jews to donate money to assist in building a church. These responsa are R. Mordechai Horowitz, Mateh Levi, vol. 2, Yoreh Deah, no. 28, R. Isaac Unna, Shoalin ve-Dorshin, no. 35, R. Shalom Messas, Shemesh u-Magen, vol. 3, Orah Hayyim, nos. 30-31. When there is fear of enmity (and only in this circumstance), R. Yehudah Herzl Henkin, Benei Vanim, vol. 3, no. 36, also permits donating money for the building of a church, as long as the building can be built without the Jew’s donation or his donation is merely symbolic. R. Henkin also suggests that the person donating the money make it a condition that the money go to building the parking lot or something not connected to worship. (He concludes that these suggestions will also allow one to donate to a Reform or Conservative synagogue if not doing so could arouse enmity.) In the interest of full disclosure I should mention that the first responsum of R. Messas as well as R. Henkin’s responsum were sent to me.

Some time after I showed R. Linzer these responsa, there was an attack on a church in Charleston where nine people were killed. The very next day there was an arson attack by a radical Jew (or perhaps more than one individual) against a church in the Galilee. This followed other acts of vandalism directed against churches in Israel in recent years. R. Linzer sent out the following email.


Given the recent horrific attack in Charleston and the terrible burnings of churches that has occurred in the last few days, I encourage all of you to show your support for those who have been attacked, and to act in a way of kiddush shem Shamayim to counteract these terrible hate crimes.

One way you can do this is by donating money to help in the rebuilding of these churches. While there are poskim who rule otherwise (see Melamed li’hoyil 188:2), a number of recent poskim have dealt with this issue on a halakhic basis and ruled that it is totally permissible and at times even obligatory.[17] This is based on the widely accepted ruling that Christianity is not avoda zara for non-Jews. Thus, helping non-Jews in their permissible worship of God can in no way be considered מסייע לדבר עבירה, a form of aiding transgressive behavior. Some of these teshuvot have pointed out that church buildings are often repurposed as synagogues, and this again points to the non-halakhically problematic status of these buildings. Relatedly, Rav Moshe (YD 1:68) ruled that an architect can draw up the plans for the construction of a church, and that mi’ikar ha’din it is permitted to actually participate in the building of a church (and this is even without the argument that it is not avoda zara for them!).

There are some halakhic issues when giving to avoda zara directly implicates the giver in the avoda itself (see YD 149:4 and 143), but that is not relevant to this case.

I am attaching 3 contemporary teshuvot, all thanks to Marc Shapiro, who is the shoel of the teshuva of Rav Meshash [!], and who make the argument as outlined above.

I would like to quote in particular from the teshuva of the Mateh Levi, both the question and a section from the beginning and end of the answer:

ביום א’ של שבוע זה נאספו פה אנשים אשר לא בני בריתנו המה (קאטהאליקים) ובאסיפה זאת נגמר בדעתם לבנות להם בית תפילה בעירנו. ובאשר הם מתי מספר מעט מזעיר זאת העצה היעוצה להם לשאול מאת היהודים אשר פה נדבות אחדות לבנינם ובטח גם אלי יפנו בימים הבאים. לכן הנני בבקשתי שייטיב ידידי להודיעני אם מותר לתת נדבה לדבר זה כי קדוש ה’ הוא אחרי אשר הכהן הקאטהאלי מלא פיו שבח והודיה לנדבת לב בני ישראל לסמוך ידי אחיהם בדברים של קדושה. אמנם ללמוד אני צריך וכדבריו כן אעשה… דן בנרש 
תשובה: ידעת גם ידעת ידידי נ”י כי רבים וכן שלמים מגדולי הקדמונים התירו והקילו בענינים האלה משום דרכי שלום ומשום איבה וע”י כך נעשו בין האחרונים שתי דרכים נפרדות שאף אותם הגדולים שכתבו להחמיר לא כתבו רק להלכה ולא למעשה… ואני כל ימי ראיתי שאין אמת אלא אחת ומה שאינו עולה יפה למעשה גם להלכה אינו. על כן אני אומר אין אני זז מן האמת לא משום דרכי שלום ולא משום איבה. אבל לאחר העיון נראה שהדין דין אמת וכל דרכי התורה לאמתה דרכי נועם וכל נתיבות הדין שלום 
ועל כל הדרכים האלה נגיע לתכלית הדבר ופשוט אצלנו שאין כאן שום איסור כלל וכיון שאיסורא ליכא ממילא הדין עם ידידי נ”י שמצוה נמי איכא היינו מצות קדוש שמו הגדול [וידוע כי שר הגדול בישראל אשר לא ישכח שמו במחנה העברים כש”ת מוה’ משה מנטפיורע ז”ל קדש ש”ש ע”י זה שבנה להם בית תפלה ברמסגט] על ידי עמו ישראל ויראו כל עמי הארץ שאנחנו יהודים נאמנים עתידים בכל שעה למסור את נפשנו באהבה בעד קידוש השם שהוא ד’ אחד ושמו אחד ולהשליך את כל יהבנו ואת כל כבודנו בעולם הזה בעבור אמונתנו הקדושה…וכלנו מודים שכל מי שאינו ישראל יכול להיות אחד מחסידי וגדולי עולם ובני עולם הבא
R. Linzer was attacked after this email was sent out, and some people made it seem as if he had come up with a crazy idea. Yet the truth is that what he suggested – donating to a church – had already been approved by a couple of recognized gedolei Yisrael. Even his point about making a kiddush ha-shem has a precedent in R. Mordechai Horowitz, the Matteh Levi, who said exactly this in discussing Moses Montefiore’s donation to a church, and this is quoted in R. Linzer’s email.

Regarding kiddush ha-shem, even if we don’t go as far as R. Linzer, I think that one can make a good case that donating to a church can be a sanctification of God’s name if, as happened in Israel, the church was set on fire by a radical Jew (or Jews). We cannot have the spectacle of Jews burning down churches in Israel, and the damage this can do to Jews worldwide is immense. Would it be out of line to argue that if Jews burn down a church, that at least to prevent enmity Jews should also help rebuild it? It is easy to see how such an action can be regarded as a kiddush ha-shem, even if most poskim would see it as technically forbidden. (I wonder, can something be both a kiddush ha-shem and a violation of halakhah?) In fact, after the church was burnt in Israel, a number of rabbis, including the great R. Nachum Rabinovitch, helped raise money to repair it.[18] What this shows is that the matter is not as clear-cut as might appear at first glance.

Speaking of Jewish donations to churches, it is of interest that Mordechai Maisel (1528-1601), the leader of the Prague Jewish community, donated to the St. Salvator Church, which is very close to the Jewish Quarter. Rachel L. Greenblatt writes that this was “an alliance-seeking neighborly act not as unusual as it might sound.”[19] Yet I do not know of any other case like this in the sixteenth century or prior, so it certainly sounds unusual to me. Unfortunately, it is not known if any of the Prague rabbis approved of Maisel’s donation, which Maisel must have assumed would create a lot of good will with the non-Jewish population, good will that might later save the community from an expulsion or even a pogrom. Two hundred years later, Meyer Amschel Rothschild (1744-1812) donated money to build a church in Kassel. The local ruler required this in order for Rothschild to be regarded as a “protected Jew” in Kassel, where he often stayed while conducting business.[20]

I have a lot I would like to say about Christianity and its impact on Judaism, in particular when it comes to seforim. For  now, here is something that I very recently found and I am not sure if it is a conscious distortion. In R. Moses Hayyim Luzzatto’s Tikunim Hadashim (Jerusalem, 1958), p. 10, as part of his messianic vision he states as follows:
כלא יתקשר ברישא דברך יחידאה מלכא משיחא לשלטאה ביה על כל עלמא ולאתגלאה נהורך עד סופא  דכלא. וכל רע יתעבר מעלמא ויתהדר כלא לאשתעבדא קמך.
R. Mordechai Chriqui has edited numerous works of Ramhal. In 1986 he published Yesod Olam, which a short book on Ramhal’s life and thought. On p. 43 he provides the following Hebrew translation of part of the Aramaic text just cited:
והכל יתקשר בראש דבריך. המיוחד מלך המשיח שלוט על כל העולם.
Yet this translation is completely mistaken. I wonder if this is an innocent mistake or was intentional so that the reader not see a text that sounds Christian (although Ramhal was not referring to Jesus). What the Aramaic text really means, and I have underlined the crucial part, is that all will align themselves with your only son, the Messiah. I am curious to hear what readers think about this (and maybe someone will even want to defend Chriqui’s rendering).[21]

Further on the subject of Christianity, R. Chaim Rapoport published an interesting responsum by R. Hayyim Galipapa (fourteenth century) of Spain.[22] In this responsum, R. Galipapa states that the Trinity is not to be regarded as avodah zarah. (R. Rapoport claims that he only means that it is not avodah zarah for non-Jews, who are not obligated to have an absolutely pure conception of God, but is indeed to be regarded as avodah zarah as far as Jews are concerned.) Here are R. Galipapa’s words:
וענין השלוש לאו ע"ז היא, אלא שהא-להות אינו מקובל עליהם כראוי, ולדעת חז"ל נקראים הם וכיוצא בהם "קוצצים בנטיעות", וזה ברור. וכן פי' קצת המפרשים ע"ז [= על זה], ר"ל על השלוש, הכתוב בדניאל (י"א ל"ו): "ועל א-ל אלים ידבר נפלאות", כלו'[מר] שמדברים ומאמינים הם בא-ל אלים, רק שמדברים בו נפלאות ונמנעות והוא השלוש.
Finally, in my article on entering churches I noted that R. Jacob Meir, the Rishon le-Tziyon, wore a ceremonial medallion in the shape of a cross (I am not sure which government awarded this to him). 

You can see it here.

Here is an Israeli stamp with R. Meir on it, and you can see the medallion.

Yehudah Mirsky called my attention to this picture of R. Kook that is found in Mar’eh Kohen (Jerusalem, 2002), p. 52. The British medallion, awarded by King George V, is not completely showing.[23] I would assume, and Mirsky agrees,[24] that this was intentional.

2. In his post here, Eliezer Brodt mentioned the new book Ha-Gedolim (available here). My article in the volume is on the Steipler. As you can see from the table of contents posted by Brodt, they wanted to give each article a catchy title. One of the editors suggested Ha-Tamim for the title of my article, and I thought that this was a good suggestion. In traditional rabbinic literature תמים has the connotation of pure and unblemished, and this is how one can describe someone who has a simple, unquestioning faith. This, I thought, was a great description of the Steipler who was opposed to philosophical investigation of Judaism and even opposed polemicizing with the non-Orthodox for fear that this might expose readers to non-Orthodox ideas. (Chabad yeshiva students are also referred to as tamim.)

However, the word tamim can also have the connotation of “unsophisticated”. Even though this is clearly not what I had in mind, since at least a few people wondered about the word, I clarified it in a comment to Brodt’s post. I also asked if anywhere in rabbinic literature does the word tamim mean anything other than what I have written. From the responses I received, I have to say that the answer is no. While the word tam is used to mean “unsophisticated,” the word tamim only has a positive connotation. At least that is the opinion of everyone I have discussed the matter with. I also searched Otzar ha-Hokhmah where I found references to rabbis referred to as הגאון התמים. Otzar ha-Hokhmah also reminded me of how R. Jehiel Jacob Weinberg described his deceased student, R. Saul Weingort[25]:
בהנהגתו, באופני מחשבתו ובהילוכו עם הבריות הי' טיפוס נעלה של יהודי תמים ונאמן לאלוקיו ולתורתו.
The Maharal writes[26]:
והתמים הוא שהולך בדרך הישר מעצמו בלי שום התבוננות, רק הולך בדרכו בתמימות.
One of the Seforim Blog readers was helpful in sending a number of relevant texts, illustrating the original meaning of tamim. Among these texts is one from the 1980s by R. Shlomo Tzadok who actually laments how the word tamim, which is supposed to have a positive connotation, has been turned into a negative term.[27]
ומדהים לראות שאף המלה תמים שנקטה תורה כאן סולפה משמעותה האמיתית בפי ההמון, וכשרוצים לקרוא למי שהוא לאיזה אמונה בלי דעת וחכמה ובלי הבנה, אומרים לו תמים תהיה! (אולי בעקבות השמוש השלילי בלשון חז"ל באגדה, תם, היפך חכם).
2. Seth Rogovoy published an article in the Forward titled “The Secret Jewish History of McDonald’s.” What precipitated the article was the recent appearance of the movie “The Founder” about Ray Croc of McDonald’s fame. Rogovoy focuses on Harry Sonneborn, the first President of McDonald’s, who came up with the idea of turning McDonald’s into a real estate empire, by owning the land under the restaurants and leasing it to the franchisees.

There is another “secret” Jewish history of McDonald’s, one which I think is of much greater interest. Ronald McDonald is the world’s most widely recognized commercial mascot, and he has “a recognition factor among children equaled only by Santa Claus.”[28] How many people know that it was a Jewish man, Oscar Goldstein, who was responsible for Ronald McDonald? The story is told in a number of places, most comprehensively in John F. Love’s McDonald’s: Behind the Arches from which I am taking the following description.

The most successful McDonald’s operation in the company’s history is that of Goldstein and his partner John Gibson. In 1956 they made a deal with Kroc for an exclusive franchise for the Washington, D.C. area. Gibson was behind the scenes focusing on financial and real estate matters, while Goldstein was running the actual restaurants which eventually reached 53. (Love says that there were 43 restaurants, but I was given other information.) As part of Goldstein’s advertising campaign, he sponsored a television show in the Washington market called Bozo’s Circus. The person who played Bozo was none other than Willard Scott, who would later find fame on the Today show.

When Bozo’s Circus went off the air, Goldstein decided that he needed another clown to appeal to the children. His ad agency came up with a clown which it proposed to call Archie McDonald. Willard Scott suggested the name Ronald McDonald, which was chosen, and Scott played the first Ronald McDonald. (Scott has often claimed that he invented Ronald McDonald, while in truth all he did – significant in and of itself – is to come up with the name.)

By the mid-1960s, the McDonald's franchise in Washington was spending $500,000 a year on advertising – most of it on Ronald McDonald. It was more than any other local or national fast-food chain was spending on advertising, more than even McDonald's Corporation itself. Goldstein also used Ronald McDonald to open each new store it built, and his personal appearances never failed to create traffic jams.

By 1965, Goldstein was convinced that he had discovered in Ronald McDonald the perfect national spokesman for the chain, and he offered the clown free of charge to Max Cooper, the publicist who by then had been hired as McDonald’s first director of marketing. Surprisingly, Cooper turned him down. “I told him the outfit was too corny and not up to our standards,” Cooper recalls. “Goldstein reminded me that his was the most successful market in the system.” After reflecting on that, Cooper decided not to argue, and he proposed a national Ronald McDonald to Harry Sonneborn.[29]

Here is a picture from Love’s book. Goldstein is second from the right. Harry Sonneborn is on the far right. Ray Kroc is standing in the middle.

I am certain that other than members of my family and old friends, all other readers are wondering why I have such an interest in McDonald’s. The answer is that Oscar Goldstein was my grandfather, my mother’s father. Jews are well known for being responsible for so much in American culture, but for some reason, Ronald McDonald as a Jewish creation has slipped through the cracks. Hopefully that will now change.

One final point: Why do I say that my grandfather owned 53 stores when Love puts the number at 43? Because that is what I heard from my grandmother, Gwendolyn Goldstein Freishtat, who passed away in January 2015 at the age of 99. When I questioned if she was sure it was 53, she insisted that there was no doubt. “I knew every one of those stores,” she said.

3. In my recent interview in the fascinating Der Veker, available here, I mention that I have a forthcoming article dealing with Modern Orthodoxy and modern biblical scholarship. Once the article appears I will have more to say about it on the blog. For now, let me just note that in the article I try to show how in some segments of liberal Modern Orthodoxy there has been a reinterpretation of the core theological principle of Torah mi-Sinai so as to align it with modern scholarship. I see this as a major theological development. There is no need to speak more about this now, as once the article appears readers can evaluate the evidence and see whether they think I am on to something.

One significant publication that appeared too late to be mentioned in the article is a new book by Jerome Yehuda Gellman, This Was From God: A Contemporary Theology of Torah and History. This book is precisely the sort of evidence I cite in the article to illustrate the changes that have taken place in recent years. Rather than summarize the book, let me just quote the first two paragraphs.

Increasingly, well-informed traditional Jews may find themselves distrustful of the reliability of Torah as history because of the conclusions of scholarly research from natural science, history, linguistics, Bible criticism and archaeology. And, they may not be swayed by attempts to restore their trust. If they do not have a fitting theology for their new predicament, they may well give up on Judaism altogether or else give up on their traditional Judaism. Or, they may simply repress their difficulty because they see no way of dealing with it that will allow them to retain their traditional religious loyalty. They will carry on as if they believed in the historical veracity of the Torah, when in fact they do not.

As one who has lived with this problem, I want to now propose that a person with prior emunah, belief and faith/loyalty in God and in the holiness of the Torah remain faithful to keeping God and the holiness of the Torah at the center of his or her life. What is needed is a theology that appreciates the force of the challenge to Torah as history and preserves one’s traditional religious loyalty. That is the task of the present book.

Gellman’s arguments are original and he even makes use of hasidic texts. Particularly interesting is his critique of the so-called Kuzari Argument that is sometimes used in support of the revelation at Sinai.

I mentioned Gellman’s book to someone and expressed the opinion that even if another ten theologians were to write similar books, I don’t see this as having any real impact on the ground – although it will be appealing for certain intellectuals  because at the end of the day traditional Judaism is a religion of halakhah and its leaders are talmudists and halakhic authorities. If a new theological approach does not have the imprimatur of even one outstanding religious authority – gadol for lack of a better term – I don’t see how it can gain traction in the community at large. In previous years I have made the same point about changes in women’s roles and so-called partnership minyanim. These phenomena are also having trouble making headway because they too are lacking the necessary imprimatur. Interestingly, years ago someone responded to me that my point was not valid because I was operating under an outdated “paradigm” in assuming that changes in religious life, and now we can say in theology as well, needed the imprimatur of a gadol. Yet I would like to see one example of a significant change in theology or religious life that reached wide acceptance without such an imprimatur.

4. Among other new books worth mentioning is R. Yonason Rosman’s Petihat ha-Iggerot available here. This book goes through R. Moshe Feinstein’s Iggerot Moshe and records discussions and criticisms of R. Feinstein’s points. It is like the Likutei Hearot on the Hatam Sofer’s responsa with one crucial difference: R. Rosman does not limit himself to citing traditional rabbinic works, but he also refers to English language halakhic writings and even academic works. The Seforim Blog is also mentioned a number of times.

[1] Milin Havivin 4 (2008-2011), pp. 43-50.
[2] Olam ha-Sheker (Milwaukee, 1936), p. 44. R. Solomon Judah Rapoport thought very highly of R. Modena. See Iggerot Shir (Przemysl, 1885), p. 71. As a result of this, he was worried that if R. Modena’s autobiography was published, which showed that he was addicted to gambling, it would destroy his reputation. See ibid., p. 120, where he writes to Samuel David Luzzatto:

עוד הכני לבי פן תגלה ח"ו חרפת הבונה בקהל רב, על דבר תאותו אל השחוק, ותתן מקום לשחוק וללעוג באדם יקר אחד מאלף, ולבזות את הנכבד כפי נטות לבך. ואולי תשלחהו ח"ו לבעלי ציון לבנות ציון תמרור על חרבות גבר מצויין, ותתן קברו את רשעים השמחים אלי גיל ישישו כי ימצאו קבר לגבר אשר דרכו נסתרה עד כה בענין אחד, ויסך אלוקי בעדו, ותשפוך דם נקי בקרב ישראל.

Every summer for the last five years I have led groups to Venice where I tell the story of R. Modena. I tell part of the story when standing in front of his tombstone (his actual burial place is unknown). Rather than losing respect for R. Modena because of his gambling addiction, I think people learn to appreciate that even very learned rabbis can have weaknesses.
[3] When he used the term “meshugena,” he did not mean “insane” in a clinical sense. I mention this because there is some recent research supporting the notion that there is indeed a thin line between genius and mental illness. See here.
[4] R. Michel Shurkin, Meged Giv’ot Olam ( Jerusalem, 2005), vol. 2, p. 23. R. Shurkin also quotes R. Leib Malin as saying that it is not good to be an illui. See Mesorat Moshe, vol. 2, p. 404, where R. Moshe notes another problem with iluyim.
[5] In his article, p. 74, in speaking of shituf and the famous Tosafot concerning it, R. Bleich states that “in historical context, it is obvious that the doctrine which the Tosafot seek to legitimize for non-Jews is Trinitarianism.” I don’t know how R. Bleich can say “it is obvious” when not only do many halakhic authorities not interpret Tosafot in this fashion, but great scholars such as Jacob Katz, Louis Jacobs, and David Berger have also stated that they do not think that Tosafot is in any way legitimizing Trinitarianism for non-Jews, but only permitting a non-Jew to take an oath in which he associates another being, such as Jesus, with God. On p. 74 R. Bleich himself notes that R. Ezekiel Landau, Noda bi-Yehudah, Mahadurah Tinyana, Yoreh Deah, no. 148, has the same view as Katz, Jacobs, and Berger. I would only add that the responsum in Noda bi-Yehudah that R. Bleich refers to was not written by R. Ezekiel Landau but by his son, R. Samuel Landau. For Katz, see his Exclusiveness and Tolerance (Oxford, 1961), p. 163. For Jacobs, see his A Tree of Life (London, 2000), p. 82 n. 12. Berger has expressed his opinion orally on a number of occasions, and see also his “How, When, and To What Degree was the Jewish-Christian Debate Transformed in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries?” in Elisheva Baumgarten and Judah D. Galinsky, eds., Jews and Christians in Thirteenth-Century France (New York, 2015), p. 135 n. 31.

On pp. 80-81, R. Bleich states that R. Isaac Herzog’s acceptance of the Meiri’s view of the halakhic status of non-Jews was only a “hypothetical acceptance,” and he criticizes Itamar Warhaftig for assuming otherwise. In this matter, I see no way to read R. Herzog as R. Bleich has interpreted him, and thus agree with the understanding of Warhaftig that R. Herzog indeed accepted the Meiri’s view. On p. 81, R. Bleich interprets the words of R. Eliezer Waldenberg so that he also is not really accepting the Meiri. Here too, I see no way of reading R. Waldenberg as R. Bleich advocates, and I agree with David Berger's understanding (Berger is mentioned by R. Bleich.) See Berger, "Jews, Gentiles, and the Modern Egalitarian Ethos: Some Tentative Thoughts," in Marc D. Stern, ed., Formulating Responses in an Egalitarian Age (Lanham, MD, 2005), p. 100.
[6] Hayyei Yehudah, ed. Carpi (Tel Aviv, 1985), p. 63.
[7] R. Bleich, p. 98, writes: “Omitted from Shapiro’s list of rabbinic figures who have entered Christian houses of worship are the British Chief Rabbis who have done so on state occasions.” I did not mention the British Chief Rabbis as this is well known, and as I wrote I wanted to call attention to lesser known examples.
[8] Bleich mistakenly refers to Storrs as the High Commissioner of Palestine.
[9] Michael Shashar, Lord Jakobovits in Conversation (London, 2000) pp. 83, 103.
[11] If we assume that an Evangelical church is a place of avodah zarah, I do not see why the absence of icons or statues has any significance.
[12] Lots of people want to enter churches in order to appreciate the art or to understand Christianity. I have never heard of anyone doing so in order to be able to “hold his own” in discussions with Christians. If R. Riskin’s heter depends on this element being present, then according to him pretty much no one would be permitted to enter a church with icons or statues.
[13] I have no doubt that what R. Riskin meant to say is “Attendance at a church religious service,” since there is no possible way that a Jew is ever permitted to “participate” in a church religious service.
[14] R. Hayyim Amsalem’s just published book is titled Tokpo shel Yosef Messas. R. Amsalem sees R. Messas’ importance as providing a stellar example of the old Sephardic tradition, one that stands in opposition to the haredi ethos which has recently also taken root in some parts of the Sephardic world. For an example of what R. Amsalem is fighting against, here is a proclamation that appeared before Purim, signed by a number of Sephardic rabbis including a member of the Shas Council of Torah Sages. In addition to declaring that children cannot dress up as soldiers or policemen, it also states that “all the gedolei Yisrael” have forbid yeshiva students from enlisting in the army or in any program of national service.

This prohibition is not directed towards women but men. Can anyone imagine a Sephardic sage from earlier years declaring that it is forbidden for yeshiva students to enlist in the army or to do national service? It is this type of extremism, so far from the traditional Sephardic mentality, that has enabled R. Meir Mazuz to develop the largest following among the Sephardic masses. When R. Mazuz explains how important it is to bless the soldiers, as he did again the same week that the anti-army declaration came out, it is this sort of attitude that resonates with Israel’s Sephardic community, all of whom have family members who have served in the army. For the video of R. Mazuz’s most recent statement, see here.
[15] When reading what R. Messas wrote, I was reminded of R. Abraham Reggio’s strange claim that Christians should love Jews because according to them, the Jews’ killing of Jesus is what allowed Original Sin to be forgiven. See his letter to R. Mordechai Samuel Ghirondi published in Asupot 14 (2002), p. 306:

שיחוייבו לאהוב אותנו, יען כי בגללינו, לפי דעתם, נסלח עון אדה"ר [אדם הראשון] אחר פטרת משיחם, שאם לא היה נמצא אז בעולם מי שימיתהו, עדיין עונם על ראשם.

Just as strange are the reasons he gives why Jews must love non-Jews:

וגם אנחנו צריכים לאהוב אותם, שאילולי הם היינו חולים ומתים בשבתות ימי הקור, וגם ע"י שאוכלים כמה בעלי חיים האסורים ואילולי הם לא היתה הארץ יכולה להכיל כמה בהמות טמאות שרבו מארבה.

[16] Hermann Vogelstein, Rome, trans. Moses Hadas (Philadelphia, 1940), p. 263; Cecil Roth, The History of the Jews of Italy (Philadelphia, 1946), p. 195. R. Shlomo Goren recalled that on Tisha be-Av he used to pray on the roof of a church on Mt. Zion so that he could see the Temple Mount. He then began to have doubts about the appropriateness of using a church in this fashion so he moved to another place. See his autobiography, Be-Oz u-ve-Ta’atzumot, ed. Avi Rath (Tel Aviv, 2013), p. 217. (This book has recently appeared in English.) Regarding whether a synagogue can share the same building with a church, see R. Abraham Moses Fingerhut, She’elot u-Teshuvot (Jerusalem, 1964), no. 2.
[17] I don’t see where any of the teshuvot that permit donating to churches regard this as obligatory at times, unless we assume that when R. Horovitz writes that it is a mitzvah because of kiddush ha-shem that he means that it is obligatory. The only circumstance I can imagine where such a donation could be obligatory  would be if Jews themselves had damaged a church and posekim thought that to prevent enmity it was vital that Jews therefore help repair it.
[18] See here
[19] To Tell Their Children: Jewish Communal Memory in Early Modern Prague (Stanford, 2014), p.  25.
[20] See Amos Elon, Founder: A Portrait of the First Rothschild and His Time (New York, 1996), pp. 119-120.
[21] While on the topic of R. Moses Hayyim Luzzatto, R. Jeremy Rosten recently showed me page 14 n. 14 from the 1992 Bnei Brak edition of Kalah Pithei Hokhmah.

As you can see, material has been removed from the work on the advice of certain unnamed gedolim.

R. Rosten also showed me that a famous comment of Sforno to Lev. 13:47 has been censored.

In this passage Sforno states that most Jews, and all (!) non-Jews, are not subject to individual divine providence, but are only under general providence, just like the animal kingdom. These words were removed from the older Mikraot Gedolot.

At first glance, I thought that this censorship was because of the description of non-Jews. Rosten, however, believes that this is a theologically based censorship. In other words, Sforno’s view that most people are not subject to individual providence was viewed as religious objectionable and was thus deleted. My only problem with this suggestion is that even the censored version refers to the נרדמים, i.e., people who are not subject to individual providence, so the theological problem is not “solved” by what was removed.
[22] Se Or Yisrael 56 (Tamuz 5769), pp. 6ff.
[23] For details on R. Kook being awarded the medallion, see Natan Ophir’s note here (called to my attention by Mirsky).
[24] Rav Kook (New Haven, 2014), p. 172.
[25] Yad Shaul (Tel Aviv, 1953), p. 18.
[26] Netivot Olam, ed. Pardes (Jerusalem, 1988), p. 508.
[27] Shulhan Shlomo (Jerusalem, n.d.), p. 249.
[28] John F. Love, McDonald’s: Behind the Arches (Toronto, 1986),  p. 224.
[29] Love, McDonald’s, p. 223.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Parshat Tetzaveh. Greek letter Chi and Tav in Paleo-Hebrew

Parshat Tetzaveh. Greek letter Chi and Tav in Paleo-Hebrew
By Chaim Sunitsky

Rashi[1] on Parshat Tetzave writes that the priests were anointed with oil, poured in the shape of the Greek letter כי.[2] One would assume this is referring to letter Χ[3] – 22nd letter of the Greek alphabet which sounds somewhere between English K and H[4]. This letter spelled χῖ in Greek, is usually spelled “Chi” in English and indeed if one wanted to write it in Hebrew, he would probably transcribe it as כי (where Chaf is intended without dagesh). Moreover[5], when Hebrew names are transliterated into Greek, Chi is used for Hebrew Chaf. In addition, if the Talmud meant this letter it becomes clear why it didn’t use an example of any Hebrew letter, as this shape is not found in Ashuri script of Hebrew.

Despite all this evidence we find various other shapes offered by the Rishonim[6]. In fact in our printed editions of the Gemora only in Rashi on Kritot (5b) the printed illustration looks like an “X.” Some of Rambam’s editions (Kelei Hamikdash 1:9) also printed this shape, but the Frankel edition of Rambam[7] claims that neither Rashi nor Rambam had this shape in mind and it was changed later by some publishers[8]. Still, one is inclined to think that the correct explanation is that it is the letter X, and most Rishonim simply didn’t know Greek or have access to find out, and the correct tradition regarding the shape of “Greek Chi” was forgotten, despite the fact that it pertains to many halachot[9].

Before we go on, I’d like to make another interesting point: Greek X has the same shape as the last letter Tav in Paleo-Hebrew. Let us first examine the relationship of Greek letters to Phoenician[10] and Paleo-Hebrew[11]. R. Shaul Lieberman[12] brings a very interesting idea with regards to the letter Tav in Paleo-Hebrew. We find in Yehezkel (9:4) that Tav was marked on the foreheads of people to distinguish the righteous from the wicked who were sentenced to death. According to Hazal (Shabbat 55a) the mark was the actual letter Tav. As we mentioned this letter in Paleo-Hebrew looked like the Greek Chi (X)[13] and indeed became symbolic for a number of reasons[14]. R. Lieberman brings that the X shape was used for crossing out a debt and was therefore represented an annulment of a bad decree. On the other hand, Tav was pronounced similarly to Greek Theta, whose shape was also associated with a death sentence[15]. We thus have a double association of Tav (X) with Theta and with Chi. (Note in general that while most letters in Greek alphabet clearly come from respective[16]  letters in Phoenician[17], there are a few Greek letters, where it’s not certain which Phoenician letter they correspond to and the Greek X is one of them[18].)

R. Lieberman further proposes that originally the symbol of X written in blood was taken to mean forgiveness (crossing out the decree) while X in ink was symbolic of death sentence (verdict written in ink). However, since X has a shape similar to a cross, the early Christians started to utilize cross in blood as symbolic of atonement, and therefore our sages reversed that symbolism[19].

Coming back to the shape of “Greek Chi,” it seems logical that the Hazal’s tradition is based on an earlier tradition that the shape was that of letter Tav in Paleo-Hebrew[20] – the last letter of the alphabet. It’s also possible that there was some connection between the “sign” on the forehead in Yehezkel and the anointing of a High Priest. Though the correct shape of this letter became subject to multiple disputes over time, we may now be able to restore its ancient symbolism[21].

[1] On verse 29:7 based on the Talmud (Kritot 5b, Horayot 12a). He also brings the same shape in verse 29:2 in regards to the way oil was poured on the meal offerings.
[2] In some places instead of Chi Yevanit there are versions that say Chaf Yevanit, but the preferred girsa is Chi. While it is possible if the original version had Chi, some copyists changed it to familiar Chaf, but if the original was Chaf, why would someone change it to Chi? It is also possible that the Hazal themselves sometimes used an expression Chaf Yevanit and sometimes Chi Yevanit.
[3] See additions to Aruch by R. Benjamin Mussafia (Erech כי יונית) and Tiferet Yisrael on Menachot 6:3 and after the last Mishna in the 10th perek of Zevachim.
[4] The Russian letter Х (kha) also comes from it, and it is usually transliterated as kh into English (e.g. Mikhail Gorbachev).
[5] We will discuss this in the 17th footnote below. Similarly for those Greek words that made it into rabbinical Hebrew, כ is generally used for χ (e.g. אוכלוסא – populace – όχλος). However there are some exclusions, as קנקנתוס (or קנקנתום) has the first letter χ in Greek but for some reason is not spelled with כ but with ק.  
[6] See Rabeinu Gershom on Kritot 5b and Menachot 74b, Rashi (ktav yad) on Menachot 74b and Kritot 5b, Tosafot Menachot 75a, Rashi on Shemot 29:2, Rambam, Perush Hamishna Menachot 6:3, Rash and Rosh on Mishna Kelim 20:7, Meiri, Horayot 12a.
[7] In the end of Frankel’s edition they have a section where variant girsaot are brought.
[8] At least one of the “corrections” is based on “Mesoret Hashas” in Horayot 12a, but Frankel’s Rambam points out that Rashi’s explanation on the Gemora actually contradicts this shape. Indeed Rashi writes different explanations in various places and the shapes in our editions include that of Hebrew Chet (Horayot) and Tet (Menachot) and Nun (Torah commentary to Shemot, but Tosafot quote him as mentioning the shape of a Gimel there, see also the super-commentaries on Rashi, Shemot 29:2 and the English Artscroll where all the variant shapes of Rashi are explained). Tosafot (ibid) also mentions Kaf and that is the shape in some editions of Rambam. They also seem to understand Aruch to mean a shape like ^ (similar to a Greek Lambda). These shapes are reasonably similar, they all contain a type of semicircle (כ,ט,נ) with possibly a sharp angle (^) or two angles (ח), see Tzeda Laderech super commentary on Rashi ibid. None of these shapes look even remotely similar to X. (Note also that Lekach Tov on Shemot 29 apparently has a shape of Kappa, but I didn’t find anyone who agrees with this).
[9] See for instance Menachot 74b-75a regarding pouring oil on certain types meal-offerings; also this crisscross shape seems to be mentioned in Kelim 20:7, see TIferet Yisrael there. We find another shape based on the Greek Gamma used in various halachot (e.g. Kelim 28:7, Pesachim 8b, Baba Batra 62a, Zevachim 53b and many other places) which was preserved quite well (see commentators to these sugias).
[10] This is ancient Canaanite script very close to Paleo-Hebrew. Note that Ramban (Bereshit 45:12) and Ibn Ezra (Yeshayahu 19:18, see also his perush hakatzar to Shemot 21:2) knew that Canaanites spoke the Hebrew language, (though Hazal also thought that Hebrew was a somehow unique Holy Tongue used only by Avraham and his descendants, see for instance Sotah 36b).
[11] This ancient Canaanite Hebrew script is called Ktav Ivri, see Sanhedrin 21b. In times of Rishonim the shape of Ktav Ivri letters was not too well known (see Haara Nosefet printed in the end of Ramban’s Torah commentary, how when he was shown an ancient coin with Ktav Ivri he had to ask a Samaritan to read it for him). Still these letters apparently did retain some influence in certain communities. Some Yemenite Jews actually make Shin-Dalet-Yod with Tefillin straps on their hands in Ktav Ivri, not like the prevalent custom to make a Shin and Dalet in Ashuri script. R. Reuven Margolios proposed that our “four-headed” Shin on the left side of Tefillin Shel Rosh is actually based on the Shin in Ktav Ivri (which looks similar to English “W”).
[12] “Greek in Jewish Palestine”, pages 185-191.
[13] And interestingly both are the 22nd letters of their respective alphabets. 
[14] Besides being the last letter of the alphabet this letter is taken by Hazal to stand for life or death (Shabbat 55a), but the primary reason for its symbolism according to R. Lieberman is its shape.
[15] This tradition was also preserved in R. Bahye to Yitro (20:14) who discusses why there is no letter Tet in the 10 commandments and associates Tet and Theta with death: כי לשון טיט"א סימן הריגה, see also comments of R. Chavel ad loc. in the name of Emuna Vibitachon.
[16] On an unrelated topic I’d like to mention that R. Reuven Margolios (HaMikra Vehamesora, 22) wanted to prove, based on the shape of Paleo-Hebrew letters, that the so called Arabic numbers (that are assumed to have come from India) were actually invented by Jews. I find this theory far-fetched. If one looks at the Paleo-Hebrew alphabet only Bet, Dalet and Het seem to look like 2, 4 and 8 and moreover the shape of the “Arabic numerals” changed drastically over time and in the times “the Jews” could have possibly invented them, they didn’t look similar to the way we write them today. As for his other proofs that sometimes we find gematrias of numbers used together with the position of the digits as for example in Midrash (see Theodor Albeck edition of Bereshit Rabbah, 96) about the number of animals Yakov had: קבזר : מאה ותרתין רבוון ושבעה אלפין ומאתיין (1027200) that uses קב (102) then ז (7) and thenר  (200), at most this shows that for very large numbers they already started using some letters to indicate thousands and ten-thousands (רבבות) separately. Similarly we write for year 5776: תשעוה, but this is a far stretch from system developed in India where the value of each digit depends on its position. Indeed the Rishonim that R. Margolius himself mentions all attribute this to Indian system. (As a side point, just to illustrate the advantage of current mathematics symbols, look at the Rif on Pesachim, 23b, where he calculates the reviit in terms of cubic fingers. In current notation, his calculations taking half a page, would take one line: 3*243/(40*6*4*4)=10.8=2*2*2.7.)  
[17] Many of them look like Phoenician letters, except they are inverted vertically, since in Greek the writing is from left to right.
[18] Certainly this letter can’t come from Tav since it is pronounced completely differently. Note that the issue of correspondence between Greek and Phoenician letters is not related to the issue of how various Hebrew letters were transliterated in the Septuagint and other Greek translations of Hebrew writings. By the time these translations were made, the pronunciation of many letters changed both in Hebrew and in Greek. For example, Theta is usually used to transliterate Tav, and Tau to transliterate Tet, while their origins are the opposite: Tau came from Tav, and Theta from Tet, as their names and shapes indicate. Perhaps by the time of Septuagint the Tav without dagesh was pronounced in some areas closer to English “th” and so was Theta, and that’s why the translators chose to use Theta for Tav. Similarly, Mitchell First in an article “The Meaning of the Name ‘Maccabee,’ ” (available on this blog here), writes that Kuf is usually transliterated as Kappa and Kaf-Chaf as Chi, even though originally the Greek letter Kappa came from Kaf-Chaf. The reason for this might be similar, at the time of these translations, the pronunciation of Chaf and Chi was similar, while Kuf sounded like Kappa. (Other examples of this include Samech that is transliterated as Sigma, not as Xi which originally came from it, but sounded at the times of Septuagint like English X=KS, not S; similarly in Greek words used by Hazal, Sigma is transliterated not as Sin from which it came but as a Samech, possibly because at that time Sin and Samech were pronounced the same but since Sin is written as Shin, Samech was chosen to make it clear the sound is S, not Sh.)
[19] See the above-mentioned sugia in Shabbat 55a. We find occasionally that the sages had to change the explanation “keneged haminim,” see for example Sanhedrin 31b, see also Berachot 59a, 12a.
[20] It’s not surprising that they used a Greek letter rather than not well known Paleo-Hebrew. Moreover they sometimes used Greek letters instead of Ashuri, see Shekalim 3:2.
[21] It might be possible to suggest that in medieval times this shape was purposefully misrepresented, especially when dealing with the way anointing is performed. The associations regarding Messiah, “the anointed one,” with anointing an X on the High Priest’s head would certainly make many Jews living in Christian lands recoil. Later on, this may have influenced the Jews living in Muslim lands. Interestingly the Frankel edition of Rambam and R. Kapach (in his edition of Rambam’s Mishna commentary) bring that in the manuscript attributed to Rambam’s own writing (Kritot), the picture of Chi was blotted out.

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