Wednesday, July 29, 2015

ArtScroll and More

ArtScroll and More
Marc B. Shapiro
In an earlier post here I discussed ArtScroll’s use of a censored talmudic text.[1] This happens quite a bit and it is not always clear if the translators were aware that they were working with an inauthentic text. However, for many passages there is no question that they realize that what they are translating is not authentic but was added because of fear of non-Jewish reaction. Here is a chart someone drew up showing how the various new Talmud editions deal with the matter of censorship.

It is significant that even in the Hebrew ArtScroll the text that is used is censored. ArtScroll has never publicly explained why they have adopted this approach, but I think it is obvious that unlike other publishers, ArtScroll is still worried about creating anti-Semitism and thus continues to print a censored Talmud. While I think everyone agrees that the ArtScroll Talmud translation is a masterpiece, opinions will obviously differ as to whether ArtScroll made a mistake in not restoring the Talmud to its pre-censorship state.[2]
ArtScroll’s approach is different than that of other publishers who are very happy that they can now include the complete uncensored words of the Talmud. Ezra Chwat’s words express the feeling of every publisher other than ArtScroll.[3]
אין צורך להדגיש את החשיבות של הנגשת הסוגיה המקורית לעשרות אלפי הלומדים את הגמרא כפי שיצא מפיהם הקדושים של האמוראים, ושלא יסתפקו ב"גירסא" שאושרה על ידי הכנסייה.
Yet R. Leopold Greenwald had the exact opposite approach, and he was upset when he heard that a new Talmud was being printed that reinserted the censored texts. His words reflect the approach later adopted by ArtScroll [4]:
ומה מאד דאבה נפשנו בראותנו, כי מכריזים גם עכשיו על "המציאה הגדולה", כי בירושלים מדפיסים כעת תלמוד עם כל ההשמטות שהשמיטו הצנזורים במשך מאות שנים. ועל זה אנו קוראים: שקול טובתך! בני ישראל לא ישבעו עונג מהטובה הזאת, לא ספרותנו ולא חכמתנו יתעשרו מהשמטות הללו, לא בזמננו ולא בהדורות שאחרינו. כבר שבענו צרות ומכאובות. ולהיות בפי כל מחבל בודאי אסון הוא. איפוא הם חכמי ירושלים? האם אינם רואים כי מזה לא תושע יהודה וכי צוררי ישראל ישיגו חומר מסוכן חדש?

For those who are unaware of the details, let me just mention that I am not referring to a word here or there that was censored and has not been restored by ArtScroll. Sanhedrin 43a has a number of lines dealing with the execution of Jesus and his disciples. While the entire section is found in Soncino (in translation), Steinsaltz, Wagshal and Oz ve-Hadar, it is not to be found in ArtScroll. Both the English and Hebrew editions of ArtScroll tell the reader that a section has been deleted from the Vilna Shas. However, in Sanhedrin 67a, where another section has been deleted and is found in the other editions just mentioned, ArtScroll does not inform the reader of the deletion. 

An allusion to the Sanhedrin 67a text is found in Va-Avo ha-Yom el ha-Ayin, attributed to R. Jonathan Eybeschuetz. This explosive text, which remained in manuscript for almost three hundred years, has just appeared in print, edited by Pawel Maciejko.[5] Va-Avo ha-Yom el ha-Ayin is very important to understanding the controversy over R. Eybeschuetz. (I hope that the manuscript Gahalei Esh, a treasure trove of documents dealing with eighteenth-century Sabbatianism, will also soon appear in a scholarly edition.) Quite apart from the radical theological notions found in Va-Avo ha-Yom el ha-Ayin, Maciejko describes the work as follows: “[I]t is blatantly pornographic (in fact, it is possibly the only truly pornographic text ever written in the rabbinic idiom.)”[6]
Speaking of pornography let me add the following. Not long ago I was visiting a certain synagogue for Shabbat. When it came time for Torah reading I took out the chumash that was near me. It happened to be the one published by R. Aryeh Kaplan. I actually am not a fan of this chumash for use in synagogue as its focus is entirely philological, and doesn’t deal with any of the issues that a typical person would want explained in reviewing the Torah portion. But this was what I had so I used it. In Exodus 25:22 an unusual word appears: כומז. It means some sort of golden bodily ornament. The word also appears in Numbers 31:50. According to the Exodus passage, this was one of the items the Israelites in the desert donated at the time of the building of the Tabernacle. The passage is Numbers refers to booty taken from the Midianites. Among the different interpretations Kaplan offers for כומז is “a pornographic sculpture.” This is quoted in the name of R. Aaron Alrabi (fifteenth century). I was quite shocked when I saw this and later saw that this interpretation is also quoted by R. Kasher in Torah Shelemah, which must have been where Kaplan saw it.
Alrabi wrote a commentary on Rashi which was published in Constantinople in 1525. In this work, on Exodus 35:22, Alrabi writes:
יראה לי שהוא תכשיט מצוייר צורת רחם האשה כדי שישתוקק רואהו לפועל המשגל והצנועות היו מביאות אותו עליהן בחדריהם לתת תשוקה לבעליהן העין רואה והלב חומד בו, והיה זה לכונה טובה לכן הותרו לשרת בקדש
What this means is that the item in question had a picture of a woman’s private parts. The Israelite women would have their husbands look at it in order to sexually excite them before they had marital relations. Since this pornographic viewing was for a good purpose, it was permitted for these items to be donated for use in building the Tabernacle. Here is the original text.
Those who want to see the book in its entirety can view it here.
I find this explanation quite strange. I don’t know what led Alrabi to his original understanding and why he did not find any of the prior explanations compelling.
Incidentally, one of the other explanations cited by Kaplan is that כומז means a chastity belt. R. Ephraim ben Shimshon (12th-13th centuries) writes[7]:
הכומז היה כלי כמנעול שקושרת האשה פתחה שלא יודעו להם שם אדם, כי אם בעלה לבד, והוא גודר הערוה.
This is how he understands Shabbat 64a which states that כומז means דפוס של בית הרחם. Soncino translates this as “cast of the womb” and ArtScroll translates it the exact same way. Koren translates “a mold [in the shape] of the womb.” In general I would say that disagreeing with these three translations is not a smart thing to do, yet in this case I must do just that. The translations I have cited are incorrect as they do not reflect what the Talmud is saying. בית הרחם in Shabbat 64a does not mean “womb” but rather something else. In order not to cause problems for those with internet filters I won’t spell it out completely, but I think the reader already understands.[8]
Rashi, Exodus 35:22, in summarizing the Talmud leaves no doubt in this matter:
כלי זהב הוא נתון כנגד אותו מקום לאשה
The very text in Shabbat 64a also lets us know that this matter has nothing to do with a “womb”, as immediately following the explanation of דפוס של בית הרחם the Talmud explains that the wordכומז  is an acronym of כאן מקום זימה “here is the place of lewdness”, and there is no issue of lewdness with the womb. ArtScroll itself, in its note on this latter passage, explains the matter well: “The place encased by this ornament is the part of the body which is the focus of lewdness.” In other words, in its commentary ArtScroll tells us that we are not dealing with the womb at all, but with another part of a woman’s anatomy. As such, it was a mistake for ArtScroll in its translation to adopt Soncino’s rendering of כומז as “cast of the womb”.
In his commentary to Berakhot 24a s.v. תכשיטין שבפנים, Rashi explains that a כומז is a chastity belt. From the context of this talmudic passage we see that it also had ornamental significance:
כומז דפוס של בית הרחם שהיו עושין לבנותיהן ונוקבין כותלי בית הרחם כדרך שנוקבין את האזנים ותוחבין אותו כדי שלא יזדקקו להן זכרים
In its commentary, ibid., ArtScroll summarizes Rashi as follows: “The kumaz was an ornament that covered a woman’s private parts.” 
Let me return to Shabbat 64a where כומז is explained as being an acronym for כאן מקום זימה. The Maharal, Gur Aryeh, Ex. 35:11, writes:
מפני שהוקשה להם לרז"ל שאין דרך לשון הקודש לקרא שם מיוחד לדברים שהם ערוה . . . כל דבר ערוה אין הכתוב נותן לו שם מיוחד . . . וכאן למה קרא כומז שם מיוחד אל הכלי הזה שהוא דפוס בית רחם, ולכך דרשו רז"ל שהוא כאן מקום זימה והשתא אין שם מיוחד לכלי זה רק כאילו נקרא כאן זימה.
I don’t understand the Maharal’s point. Just because there are no words in leshon ha-kodesh for sexual organs, why should we assume that there is no name for an item designed to cover a sexual organ?
Returning to the matter of “pornographic viewing” as described by Alrabi, I wonder if this could also have halakhic significance. I mention this only because of the controversy some years ago by an answer given by R. Shlomo Aviner that in a she’at ha-dehak (i.e., there are serious marital sexual issues) it would be permitted for a husband and wife to together view explicit pictures in a book. See here.
The entire conversation with R. Aviner was a set-up, and the anti-Aviner website used it to attack R. Aviner, and portray him as permitting viewing of pornography. Yet it is obvious that he was referring to sexual self-help books (which would have explicit pictures) since he refers to books found in Steimatzky. R. Moses Feinstein had earlier permitted a soon-to-be-married man to read sexual self-help books.[9] There is no indication in R. Feinstein’s responsum that he is also including the viewing of pictures in such books, but I do not know if he would regard this as a problem if the pictures are not of real people but are drawings.
Let us return to the subject of chastity belts. In the Wikipedia entry for “Chastity Belt” one finds the following:
Gregory the Great, Alcuin of York, Bernard of Clairvaux and Nicholas Gorranus all made passing references to 'chastity belts' within their exhortatory and public discourses, but meant this in a figurative or metaphorical sense within their historical context.

The first detailed actual mention of what could be interpreted as "chastity belts" in the West is in Konrad Kyeser von Eichstätt's Bellifortis (1405), which describes the military technology of the era.

As we have seen, Rashi and R. Ephraim are not referring to chastity belts in a metaphorical sense. Thus, their mention of the item is of general historical significance, and Rashi (1040-1105) might be the earliest recorded example of someone referring to a chastity belt. Eric John Dingwall wrote an entire book on the subject of chastity belts entitled The Girdle of Chastity (Scranton, 1959). On p. 14 he writes: “There can be little doubt that the idea of such a device, at least in a somewhat modified form, was current at least as early as the second half of the twelfth century.” He then cites the late twelfth-century Guigemar Epic, written by Marie de France, as a source of this. Yet Rashi’s mention of the chastity belt predates this source by around a century.
See also here where as part of a museum exhibition on chastity belts it states:
Until the 12th century, there are no textual memories related to chastity belts at all (not even any allusions without actually using the term) where the reference is not in a theological or mythological context.
This sentence is incorrect, for as we have seen Rashi referred to chastity belts many decades before Marie de France, who is also cited in the museum exhibition as the first one to refer to the item. What we have here is a good example where scholars make judgments based exclusively on their knowledge of medieval Latin, Romance and Germanic literature. Exposure to what appears in medieval Hebrew texts would have caused them to alter these judgments.
Returning to ArtScroll, here is an example where I believe that ArtScroll has printed something that they know is incorrect, but did so in the interest of good Jewish-Gentile relations. I think it is a noteworthy example as it has nothing to do with a censored text, but focuses on the explanation of the Talmud. Avodah Zarah 6a states that according to R. Yishmael it is forbidden to do business with idolaters because of Sunday. Rashi explains that this means that one can never do business with idolaters since one cannot do business with them three days before and three days after their holiday, and this includes the entire seven-day week.
It doesn’t take much imagination to realize what the Talmud is referring to by "Sunday", and in the uncensored text it actually has  נוצרינוצרים or  יום הנוצרי instead of “Sunday”. Yet ArtScroll in its translation states that the Talmud is referring to “Babylonian pagans who observe a sun-worshiping festival every Sunday.” It is true that Meiri states as much.[10] Meiri also claims that when the Talmud uses the word נוצרים it does not mean followers of ישו הנוצרי, but refers to the use of the term in Jeremiah 4:16, which Meiri claims is derived from the word נבוכדנצר.[11] While it is true that R. David Kimhi also sees the word in Jeremiah 4:16 as related to נבוכדנצר, it is Meiri alone who claims that this is also intended when the Talmud refers to נוצרים.   
It is certainly appropriate that ArtScroll cited Meiri’s explanation in a note, but how is it that this is the only explanation cited, when other than Meiri everyone else has assumed, with good reason, that נוצרים refers to Christians? This can only be an example of ArtScroll shading the truth for apologetic reasons. People can debate the appropriateness of this, but there can be no doubt that ArtScroll is not being frank in its presentation here.
In the ArtScroll Hebrew edition it also quotes Meiri and states the that Talmud is not referring to Christians. Yet unlike in the English edition, in the Hebrew ArtScroll there is a note which states: “See Rambam, Hilkhot Avodat Kokhavim 9:4”. If you open up the Mishneh Torah what you find is that the Rambam states:
הנוצרים עובדי עבודה זרה הן ויום ראשון יום אידם הוא
In other words, by referring to the Mishneh Torah after mentioning Meiri, ArtScroll is alerting readers to the fact that the Rambam does not agree with Meiri and believes that the passage in Avodah Zarah 6a indeed refers to Christians. Yet this is never spelled out in ArtScroll, and you need to take their suggestion to consult the Mishneh Torah in order to learn that not everyone agrees that when the Talmud mentions those who make Sunday their holiday that it is referring to Babylonian pagans. (In fact, as already mentioned, only Meiri advocates this position.) Does the average person who learns daf yomi realize this?
In case anyone has any doubts as to what I am saying, please note the following. After referring to Maimonides, the note in the Hebrew ArtScroll calls attention to the Venice edition of the Talmud with Rashi, and to Dikdukei Soferim. Again, only one who examines these sources will learn that they offer an interpretation at odds with Meiri. If you look at the Venice Talmud or Dikdukei Soferim (or even Steinsaltz) you will find that in Avodah Zarah 6a Rashi explains:
נוצרי, ההולך בטעותו של אותו איש שצוה להם לעשות להם יום איד בא' בשבת
In other words, Rashi tells us, just like Maimonides, that when the Talmud refers to those who celebrate נוצרי יום it means the Christians who follow Jesus. 

I find it significant that even in the Hebrew edition ArtScroll feels the need to only allude to the explanation of Rashi and Maimonides, while presenting Meiri's explanation as the standard understanding of the text. ArtScroll certainly knows that this is not the standard understanding, and ArtScroll itself cannot believe that Meiri’s understanding is what the Talmud really means. After all, every other medieval commentator agrees with Rashi and Maimonides. In this case, the only explanation is that ArtScroll is following a long apologetic tradition, which was based on fear of what the non-Jews would say if they knew the true meaning of certain talmudic passages.
Another example of this tendency was called to my attention by R. Moshe Maimon. Ketubot 15a discusses the case of A killing B, when A actually intended to kill another person. In its discussion the Talmud refers to “Canaanites”, which in the current context simply means non-Jews. In fact, in all manuscripts and early printings what appears is not “Canaanites” but “goyim”.[12] “Canaanites” is simply a “correction” of the censor. Yet ArtScroll has a note explaining that “The Canaanites were the pagan people who lived in Eretz Yisrael before the Israelites entered the land.” The implication of this comment is that the halakhah stated in the Talmud was only applicable with the ancient Canaanites but not with regard to other non-Jews. This is false and ArtScroll knows it is false, but it is no different than the “note to reader” found in many seforim that all the halakhot about non-Jews only refer to the pagans in faraway places. In the latter case everyone knew (and knows) that these words are not to be taken seriously, but I would assume that the typical user of the ArtScroll English Talmud does not realize this. It is noteworthy that the ArtScroll Hebrew Talmud does not include the note about the Canaanites.[13]
In 1728, an era in which Jewish-Gentile relations were not the best, R. Jonathan Eybeschuetz printed Tractate Berakhot with many deletions, as this was the only way he was given permission to publish the volume. Here is the title page.
The volume can be found at here. True to form, R. Jacob Emden accused R. Eybeschuetz of being in league with the bishop of Prague and intent only on making money from his new printing.[14] There was also a lot of controversy about this edition, not only because of the many deletions but even more so because of the instances where the talmudic text was rewritten. While non-Jewish censorship has a long history, this latter practice, of Jews agreeing to rewrite sections of the talmudic text, was a new and more dangerous phenomenon. Other tractates were later printed, but R. Eybeschuetz had nothing to do with them, and in any event the controversy focused on Berakhot as the other tractates simply printed the censored text from the earlier Basel edition, but did not add anything new.[15]
In his recent outstanding study of this episode, which makes use of manuscript sources, Pawel Maciejko writes:
In both academic scholarship and Jewish collective memory, the best-known controversies concerning Rabbi Jonathan Eibeschütz (1690-1764) are those about his kabbalistic tract Va-avo ha-yom el ha-‘ayin . . . and about the allegedly Sabbatean amulets that he distributed to the members of the communities of Metz and Altona, Hamburg, and Wandsbeck in the 1750s. However, during his early years, the most important controversy concerning Eibeschütz was not the dispute surrounding his suspected Sabbateanism and the heterodox writings attributed to him but rather the outrage engendered by his friendly relations with the local Catholic clergy and his alleged involvement in the publication of heavily censored editions of the Pentateuch, the Talmud, and the prayer book. In the eyes of many contemporaries, the damage caused by the appearance of these latter publications vastly overshadowed any harm stemming from the heretical views expressed in Eibeschütz’s kabbalistic works and amulets.[16]

Maciejko notes that R. Moses Hagiz was so outraged by R. Eybeschuetz’s Talmud that he asked other rabbis to issue a ruling that it be burnt!
Shortly after the publication of R. Eybeschuetz’s Talmud someone wrote a defense of it, explaining why it was necessary to print a censored Talmud.[17] Raphael Kirchheim, who published this document, cites another who states that its author was none other than R. Eybeschuetz, since the author refers to R. Abraham Broda as his teacher.[18] R. Broda had served as rosh yeshiva in Prague, and later rav of Metz and Frankfurt.
While Maciejko also accepts this view,[19] the reference to R. Broda as the author’s teacher, מורי ורבי, would appear to show that R. Eybeschuetz could not have written the letter, since he was not a student of R. Broda.
We have good information about R. Eybeschuetz’s life, but there still is a lot we don’t know. Even though R. Eybeschuetz is not recorded as R. Broda’s student in the standard biographies, one could claim that it is possible that he studied for a short time under him, and for some reason this fact was not known to the biographers.[20] Yet in this case we can indeed make the definitive statement that R. Eybeschuetz did not study with R. Broda since R. Eybeschuetz tells us this himself. Some thirty years after R. Broda’s death in 1717 his Eshel Avraham was published (Frankfurt, 1747). Here is the title page.
Among those who provided an approbation was R. Eybeschuetz, who at that time was in Metz. His respect for R. Broda is great, but he leaves no doubt that he never studied with him:
ממש רובי חכמי ישראל בדור הזה השלימי' המה שותי מימיו ואף אני אם לא זכיתי לאורו לחזות לרבי מקמא כי בבואי לפראג שנת תע"ל כבר חמק דודי ופנה הודו לכאן ק"ק מיץ היא העיר אשר כעת אני יושב בה בתוך עמי, מ"מ נפתולי נפתלתי עם גדולי תלמידיו הרבני' וחכמי' מובהקים ושלימים במדע אשר נשארו שם ושמעתי' תמיד בבי מדרשי' בדיבוק חברי'
Returning to the document published by Kirchheim, it describes the history of the banning of the Talmud in the years before R. Eybeschuetz printed his volume. Interestingly, it tells about the confiscation of Jewish books from the Jews of Prague, which were then handed over to the Jesuits to be examined for anything against Christianity. From other sources we know that the Jesuits burnt the copies of the Talmud they confiscated, and “[i]n the 10 years from 1715 to 1725, very few copies (according to some sources, none) of the Talmud existed in Bohemia.”[21]
This need for copies of the Talmud explains why R. Eybeschuetz had to take the step he did. The document also tells of the punishment of a man from Nikolsburg who was caught smuggling Talmuds into the Prague ghetto. He was forced, in chains, to clean the streets for a year. The smuggled Talmuds were supposed to be burnt, but this was somehow prevented (probably with a good bribe).
The only way to print a Talmud in Prague was to remove everything the Jesuits viewed as offensive to Christianity. They also viewed certain aggadot as objectionable, such as the description of God wearing tefillin in Berakhot 6a, and these too had to be removed.[22] The document tells us that having the Church agree to publication of the Talmud, even with these restrictions, was regarded as a great achievement. It also tells us that all the important rabbis in Prague permitted the publication of the bowdlerized Talmud.[23]
וכאשר הגיעו לידינו רשימה אספנו להגאון מורנו ורבנו האב"ד ור"י נר"ו בצירוף כל חכמי רבינו [!] עירנו אשר ת"ל המה גדולים בחכמה ובמנין וטבעם יצא בכל ארץ לעיון במילין אם כשר ונאות לעשות כן אם לא ואחר הלנת דין פעמים ושלש ומשא ומתן עלתה הסכמה להדפיס מס' ברכות הנודע הגהתן וסדר זרעים אשר לא יחסר בו דבר, אך ממסכת שבת והלאה לא עבר הסכמתן כי לא נודע עדיין טיב הגהות נוצרים בו אם מעט אם רב

The document then quotes a statement issued by the scholars of Prague defending their decision, a statement that was only intended to be viewed by other learned Jews. In justifying their decision to publish a censored Talmud – since this was all they were permitted and it was a censored Talmud or nothing – we find the following very interesting passage:[24] 

ודאי שנכון הדבר לעשות לבלי כושל ועיכוב כלל כי ודאי שניתן הש"ס להצילו באחד מאיבריו ולא יהיה הש"ס חמור מג"ע וש"ד אשר ק"ל יהרג ואל יעבר קימו לן אם מיחדים על אחד ימסר להם ואל יהרגו וכ"ש הדבר בש"ס שבזמן שמיחדים לומר השמיטו דא מאתכם שיהא הנשאר לפליטה שישמיטו זאת ולא יצאו כולם לבית השריפה מבלי שריד באהלינו אהל תורה ובפרט כי חז"ל שיסדו התלמוד לא על זה יסדו להיותו בדפוס גלוי לכל עמים כי אם כתבוהו בכתיבה תמה ומסרו זאת לזרע אמונים להנחיל לבניהם אחריהם לחלקם ביעקב ולהפיץ בישראל.

The last sentence is making the point that there are certain things in the Talmud that should not be published for all to see, as these are the sorts of things that could create great problems with non-Jews. The Prague scholars then state that it is actually a good thing to cut out certain passages from the Talmud. In other words, they are acknowledging that even without Christian demands, it would be best in internally censor certain passages so as to prevent problems from arising. This is exactly what ArtScroll is doing today. No one is forcing them to self-censor, but they see matters as the sages of Prague who wrote (emphasis added)[25]:

וזה לערך ר' שנה שהחל להתפשט ספרינו בדפוס לתקנות אחינו למען יהיו להם הספרים בנקל ומצוי, אמנם בדברים כאלו תקנתם קלקלתם שגורמים סכנה לכל ספריהם ומטילים איבת הנוצרים עלינו ודאי ראוים שדברים אלו יהיו חוזרים לאיתנם הראשון מבלי לחוקקם בעט ברזל ועופרת.

They are not saying that the censored matters should be forgotten about. Rather, they should be only be passed on in a non-published form (“Torah she-Ba’al Peh”) to advanced students who study the Talmud; they should not be put down in print for all to see and thus create a Christian backlash. The sages of Prague make the same point about strange Aggadot that are not to be taken literally and can only be understood by a few, and which have become subject to Christian mockery. These too should be omitted[26] להציל דברי חז"ל. When possible, the Prague sages state, one should not delete an entire passage but simply change certain words. In this way the sense of the passage is not changed for any learned person, but problematic words are removed thus helping to blunt anti-Semitic attacks:[27]

ומכ"ש לשנות הלשון במילות ושמות נרדפים באופן שלא ישתנה הענין פשיטא שמותר

The Prague sages then state that if necessary it is even permitted to alter (i.e., falsify) halakhic rulings that appear in the Talmud in order to prevent anti-Semitism (which obviously could lead to real danger). They note that R. Solomon Luria disagrees but that the accepted practice is not in accord with what he wrote, a point that was later made by R. Moses Feinstein:[28]

דעת מהרש"ל להחמיר אף במקום סכנה. אמנם מעשים בכל יום שמהפכין הדין ומשנין מדרכי השלום בהפקעת הלואה וכדומה ולא שמענו פוצה פה לעולם וכן נראה היפוכו בדברי מהר"ם רבק"ש בש"ע ח"מ סי תכ"ה ודברים המה מועתקים בספרים רבים.

It is interesting that the Prague sages quoted the famous words of R. Moses Rivkes in his commentary to Shulhan Arukh, Hoshen Mishpat 425:5, who responds to a particular anti-Gentile law as follows:
The Rabbis said this in relation to the pagans of their own times only, who worshipped stars and the constellations and did not believe in the Exodus or in creatio ex nihilo. But the people in whose shade we, the people of Israel, are exiled and amongst whom we are dispersed do in fact believe in creatio ex nihilo and in the Exodus and in the main principles of religion, and their whole aim and intent is to the Maker of heaven and earth, as the codifiers have written. .  . . So far, then from our not being forbidden to save them, we are on the contrary obliged to pray for their welfare.[29]
Some, such as Jacob Katz,[30] have seen R. Rivkes’ words as reflecting a new tolerant approach. However, the sages of Prague, who were closer to the time R. Rivkes lived, saw his words as merely designed for non-Jewish eyes and not to be taken seriously by Jews. R. Rivkes’ comment would therefore be no different than the declarations found at the beginning of many seforim that all negative statements about non-Jews are only directed towards pagans but have nothing to do with the Christians of Europe who worship God and allow the Jews to dwell among them.
Unlike what has been described by the Prague sages, Maciejko does not view the "corrections" in R. Eybeschuetz's Talmud as simply defensive. He writes:
Eibeschütz believed that there was no final, fixed, and canonized text of the Talmud. . . . Eibeschütz put himself in the shoes of the ancient sages and saw himself not as expurgating but rather as creating the text of the Talmud.[31]
Maciejko further writes:
Eibeschütz seems to have been the only early modern Jewish author who believed that the talmudic sages needed to be edited for style. For themselves, such changes were only possible thanks to the editorial freedom Eibeschütz granted himself in his “Apology and Answer of the Rabbis Prague”: Eibeschütz considered the talmudic text open and unfinished and therefore felt free to “correct” it even in instances in which he experienced no external pressure from the church or from any other powerbrokers. As for the character of these changes, one thing can be said with certainty: most of them aimed to create a neater and simpler text of the Talmud, one that avoids intricate grammatical constructions or potentially misleading expressions.[32]
It is hard for me to accept that R. Eybeschuetz could have viewed himself as “updating” the Talmud. Yet Maciejko is correct that we are confronted with the fact that R. Eybeschuetz’s Talmud contains linguistic and stylistic changes that were not required by the censor. Unlike Maciejko, I would explain matters in the following way: Since the Talmud was already being published in a censored fashion, with numerous passages deleted or rewritten, R. Eybeschuetz saw no reason not to make other changes that would create a more user-friendly text. However, this has nothing to do with the talmudic text being “open and unfinished” as Maciejko puts it. It wasn’t that he was improving on the original Talmud or seeking to replace it, but since the Talmud he was publishing was already “damaged”, as it were, he did not see a problem making other changes if these changes could be of assistance to the reader. Furthermore, everyone who bought this Talmud knew that it was a she’at ha-dehak publication and that it was only to be used if one had no access to an uncensored text. I have no doubt that R. Eybeschuetz felt the exact same way, and thus I would need more evidence before accepting Maciejko’s theory.
Maciejko makes a further claim that R. Eybeschuetz’s “editing” of the Talmud hints to his secret universalist religious views that are also found in Va-Avo ha-Yom el ha-Ayin. This is a much more provocative claim than what I discussed in the previous paragraph, and I am curious as to what other scholars will have to say about it.
In addition to being given permission to print an expurgated Talmud, the non-Jewish authorities also permitted “strange” aggadic passages to remain if a good explanation could be provided for them. In R. Eybeschuetz’s edition of Berakhot such explanations are found at the back of the volume, and the reader is alerted to them by a note on the talmudic page.[33]
Until put the Prague edition of Berakhot online, it was a very rare book, and Maciejko knows of only three copies in existence.[34] In 1981 Professor Shnayer Leiman republished R. Eybeschuetz’s explanations to Berakhot.[35]
To be continued

[1] See also Jeremy Brown’s post here and regarding Brown’s post see David Zilberberg’s earlier post here.
[2] Only in the last year or so have I started to examine the ArtScroll Talmud on a regular basis and I am continuously impressed. This has to be one of the most significant Torah publications of the twentieth century. Since that is the case, I don’t see why such effort is being put into producing the new Koren Talmud. While it sometimes has points that do not appear in ArtScroll, I don’t know why anyone would prefer it over ArtScroll. I have had a chance to use both ArtScroll and Koren in reviewing some sugyot in Berakhot with my son, and in my mind ArtScroll always comes out on top. I even found one place where Soncino is to be preferred to Koren (although generally this is not the case). In Berakhot 29a it states: “Corresponding to what were these twenty-four blessings of the Amida prayer of the fast days instituted?” Unlike Soncino, Koren provides no note to this sentence and most people who read it will have no clue what it is talking about since when they look in the siddur they will not find twenty-four blessings in the Amidah on fast days (as they will assume that the fast days referred to are Yom Kippur, Tisha be-Av, etc.). ArtScroll helpfully explains as follows: “On certain public fast days decreed in times of drought, an additional six blessings, enumerated in the Mishnah in Taanis 15a, are added to the eighteen regular blessings of the Shemoneh Esrei, for a total of twenty-four blessings.” I would only add that the proper transliteration of עשרה is esreh, not esrei.
[3] See here where Chwat also posts a page of R. Hananel from the censored Sanhedrin 43a.
[4] See his letter in Moshe Chaim Ephraim Bloch, Heikhal le-Divrei Hazal u-Fitgameihem (New York, 1948), p. 8. For more opposition to publishing the censored talmudic texts, see Eliezer Zvi Zweifel, Saneigor (Warsaw, 1885), pp. 265-266
[5] (Los Angeles, 2014). Regarding the Sanhedrin 67a text, see Maciejko’s English introduction, pp. xlviii-xlix.
[6] P. xix.
[7] Perush ha-Torah (Johannesburg, 1950), p. 69.
[8] David Brodsky also discusses בית הרחם as a synonym for “va--na”. See A Bride Without a Blessing (Tübingen, 2006), pp. 55, 65, 84. In Alcalay’s English-Hebrew dictionary, s.v. va--na, it gives three Hebrew definitions, one of which is .בית הרחם
[9] Iggerot Moshe, Even ha-Ezer 1, no. 102. This appears in the second to last paragraph of the responsum. The last paragraph is where R. Moshe presents his famous view that living in the Land of Israel is not an obligatory mitzvah, a mitzvah hiyuvit, but rather a mitzvah kiyumit.

Here is a good time to cite an email I received from a Lakewood scholar which I think is quite insightful, and relates to the "immodest" title pages I discuss in my recent book. This scholar writes:
There is one comment that I want to make right now regarding the pictures of the topless women that appeared and then disappeared in seforim. In addition to a point that I already once made that perhaps in earlier times the breasts were associated more with breastfeeding than with romance (it certainly was associated with that as well as can be seen from the Song of Songs, but not exclusively as today; perhaps it was more like a woman's hair which can be seen in pictures), I would like to add a stronger point regarding these pictures. 
It would seem to me that before photography when it wasn't possible to produce real live looking pictures, people would be inclined to consider drawing an ערוה. But after the advent of real photographs, one gets the feeling that he is looking at a real image of a woman. It is for this reason, perhaps, that pictures of topless women became taboo. Once photographs began to be associated with ערוה, paintings and drawings followed since they are so similar to photographs. In other words, they became guilty by association. 
If there is any merit to this argument (or speculation) then one can go a step further and say that the advent of color motion pictures which is more alive caused further stringency in this area. A picture of a woman is not that "problematic", but to watch her video is already more like "mingling without a mechitza". Once the women are struck from the videos, it is natural that they should be expunged from the magazines as well. It is worth noting that both the laws outlawing pornography and the invention of photography coincided with one another. It would seem that it wasn't outlawed as long as it was only in the form of a drawing, painting, or sculpture.
While it is true that earlier sources do speak of the sexual nature of breasts (see my post here note 19), I think that my correspondent has put his finger on a very important point. It would appear that breasts were more commonly associated with breastfeeding which meant that it was not problematic to show them in pictures. We even find such a portrayal on two tombstones in the old Sephardic cemetery in Altona. Here are the pictures as they appear in Michael Studemund-Halevy and Gaby Zuern, Zerstoert die Erinnerung Nicht. Der Juedische Friedhof Koenigstrasse in Hamburg (Munich, 2002), p. 109.

There are also a whole series of paintings and sculptures showing the Virgin Mary breastfeeding, obviously showing that this was not regarded as immodest in Christian circles.

The non-sexual nature of breasts also explains Shabbat 13a:

 עולא כי הוי אתי מבי רב הוה מנשק להו לאחוותיה אבי חדייהו

(Perhaps because he found this text so strange, the Hatam Sofer interpreted it allegorically: היה מנשק החכמה. See Hiddushei Hatam Sofer, ad loc.)

In response to the email from the Lakewood scholar, S. commented as follows
Another point which I think needs to be brought up about nude art is just how ubiquitous it was in Europe, statues, frescoes, and title pages in books, etc., very much influenced by Classical culture, which was of utmost importance in European learning and culture. If you're in Venice or Prague or any major city in Europe you can't avoid seeing it. The style of title pages may have changed, as styles do, so it is not surprising that Jewish printing culture changed as well. And eventually these seforim became one, two, and three centuries old and were only seen by individuals. Nudity in art was not ubiquitous in Eretz Yisrael and America, and it is not surprising that we woke up in the 20th century in American and EY and found these things surprising. My point is that it doesn't necessarily have to do with them seeing breasts as sexual or not (what about thighs and bare midriffs? And seforim even depicted nude women bathing in the mikveh.) It is also important to note that in the writing of many great people they refer to specific editions they used, and it is clear that they saw it and neither defaced or said anything about it. So attitudes might be a European city vs. non-European city thing as well.
In an earlier post here I dealt with this picture which appears in the Venice 1574 edition of the Mishneh Torah.

Jacob D. called my attention to Shlomo Zalman Havlin's comment in Yeshurun 29 (2013), p. 791 n. 7. Here Havlin states that when he attended the Chevron yeshiva its library had the Venice 1574 Mishneh Torah, but the yeshiva attempted to keep this edition from students due to the "immodest" picture reproduced above. Havlin also notes that some great rabbis were involved in the publication of this edition of the Mishneh Torah, including R. Menahem Azariah of Fano and R. Moses Provencal.
[10] Meiri to Avodah Zarah p. 4.                
[11] Meiri to Avodah Zarah p. 4, Ta’anit 27b (p. 97). Regarding Meiri’s claim, see Lawrence Zalcman, “Christians, Noserim, and Nebuchadnezzar’s Daughter,” JQR 81 (1991), pp. 411-426. Zalcman argues that Meiri did not just make up his interpretation for apologetic reasons, but was aware of Mandaeans who were known as natzurai and were linked to Nebuchadnezzar.
[12] See Dikdukei Soferim ha-Shalem, ad loc.
[13] The Talmud pages used by ArtScroll in its most recent printings are taken from Oz ve-Hadar’s edition (minus certain notes that appear only in the Oz ve-Hadar Talmuds). This means that ArtScroll omits the Shitah Mekubetzet, citing Meiri’s and R. Jonathan of Lunel’s tolerant comments, which appears in the standard Vilna edition, Bava Kamma 38a and 113a.
[14] Hit’avkut, p. 2a.
[15] See R. Raphael Rabbinovics, Ma’amar al Hadpasat ha-Talmud, ed. Haberman (Jerusalem, 1952), pp.112ff.; David Leib Zuenz, Gedulat Yehonatan (Petrokov, 1930), vol. 1, pp. 12ff.
[16] “The Rabbi and the Jesuit” On Rabbi Jonathan Eibeschütz and Father Franciscus Haselbauer Editing the Talmud,” Jewish Social Studies 10 (Winter 2014), pp. 147-148.
[17] The defense was published in installments in Ha-Magid, May 9, 16, 23, 30, 1877. Sections of the document appear in  Zweifel, Saneigor, pp. 264-265, and in Saul Pinchas Rabinowitz’s edition of H. Graetz, Divrei Yemei Yisrael, vol. 8, p. 464 in the note. The complete document was published in Zuenz, Gedulat Yehonatan, pp. 135ff., but he does not identify its source, leading the reader to assume that he is quoting from a manuscript.
[18] See Ha-Magid, May 9, 1877, pp. 170-171. (The reference to R. Broda as his teacher appears on p. 171.) As we shall see, R. Eybeschuetz had a great deal of respect for R. Broda. Yet R. Jacob Emden's father, the Hakham Zvi, had a different perspective. See Yehezkel Duckesz, Ivah le-Moshav (Cracow, 1903), p. 14.
[19] “The Rabbi and the Jesuit,” p. 166.
[20] S. points out an interesting source which gives an unknown, but presumably true, biographical detail of R. Eybeschuetz's life in the spiritual autobiography of an apostate Jew named Salomon Duitsch, A Short Account of the Wonderful Conversion to Christianity of Solomon Duitsch ... Extracted from the Original Published in the Dutch Language (London 1771).

S. wrote to me as follows:
Prone to mystical visions and ascetic practices like fasting, he was regarded locally as a tzadik, but he eventually became convinced of Christianity. When this became known was forced to divorce his wife. After a period of wandering he ended up in Altona. He still looked Jewish and his issues were unknown there. He writes of meeting and staying the night at R. Eybeschuetz, who was very delighted to host him on account that R. Eybeschuetz was educated and taken care of as an orphan in the house of his great-grandfather in Nikolsburg. This information about a Nikolsburg period in R. Eybeschuetz's life, and who this great-grandfather might be, is not mentioned in the biographies, and is a reminder that much information about people's lives is not necessarily in books.

[21] Maciejko, p. 150.
[22] For details see ibid., pp. 169ff.
[23] Ha-Magid, May 16, 1874, p. 180.
[24] Ibid., May 23, p. 188.
[25] Ibid.
[26] Ibid., May 30, 1877, p. 199.
[27] Ibid. In my post here I discussed how R. Jehiel Michel Epstein engaged in self-censorship in the Arukh ha-Shulhan in order not to have problems with the non-Jewish authorities. Rabbi Shalom Baum called my attention to Arukh ha Shulhan, Orah Hayyim 480:1, for another example of this. I have underlined the words which any educated reader would understand were not to be taken seriously (since how could contemporary Jews ask God to pour out his wrath on the Babylonians who departed the historical stage over two thousand years ago?):

ואחר ששתו הכוס השלישי נוהגין לומר שפוך חמתך וגו' ולפתוח הדלת כדי לזכור שהוא ליל שמורים ובזכות אמונה זו יבא משיח וישפוך חמתו על הבבליים שחרבו בהמ"ק 

[28] Ha-Magid, May 30, 1877, p. 199. Regarding the views of R. Luria and R. Feinstein, see my Changing the Immutable, p. 42.
[29] I have used the translation in Jacob Katz, Exclusiveness and Tolerance (Oxford, 1961), p. 165.
[30] Ibid., pp. 164ff.
[31] “The Rabbi and the Jesuit,” p. 167.
[32] Ibid., pp. 173-174.
[33] I don’t know why this procedure was not required for the other tractates published in Prague.
[34] “The Rabbi and the Jesuit,” p. 179
[35] Or ha-Mizrah 29 (1981), pp. 418-428. Leiman’s publication remains valuable because of his introduction and notes.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Truth be Told[1] Comments on Changing the Immutable: How Orthodox Judaism Rewrites its History by Marc B. Shapiro

Truth be Told[1] 
by Aryeh A. Frimer*

Comments on Changing the ImmutableHow Orthodox Judaism Rewrites its History by Marc B. Shapiro (Oxford – PortlandOR: The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2015).

*Rabbi Prof. Aryeh A. Frimer holds the Ethel and David Resnick Chair of Active Oxygen Chemistry at Bar Ilan UniversityRamat Gan 5290002, Israel; email: He has lectured and published widely on various aspects of “Women and Halakha;” see here. His most recent paper is: “Women, Kri’at haTorah and Aliyyot (with an Addendum on Partnership Minyanim),” Aryeh A. Frimer and Dov I. Frimer, Tradition, 46:4 (Winter, 2013), 67-238, available online here.

            I found R. Prof. Marc Shapiro's new book Changing the Immutable a fascinating read and very hard to put down. The first seven chapters deal with censorship of halakhic and philosophical works, while the eighth focuses on lying and misrepresentation in pesak. As we know from his previous works, Shapiro has a very fluid writing style and the subject matter is always well researched. He does his best to be honest, unbiased and complete in his presentation. He is, moreover, intrigued with exploring the limits of the traditional consensus, which makes for some captivating reading. Yet, despite all these wonderful qualities – or perhaps, because of them, I found the present volume particularly unsettling and disconcerting.

R. Jacob J Schacter's classic article "Facing the Truths of History" had already sensitized me to the fact that publishers censor and even rewrite portions of the books they bring to press.[2] They do so because they find some of their author's positions "unacceptable" - views which don't fit the publishers' or the intended reader's "party line." That such censorship continues unabashedly in the 21st century is disappointing, but then "there is no shame anymore." But these are, by and large, sins of omission; somehow, with that I could live.

            But what I found particularly troubling with Changing the Immutable was the last chapter, which deals with lying in pesak. After going through the many examples Shapiro cites, the reader is left with one clear impression. One sometimes needs to be careful about trusting a Posek, since he may well be misrepresenting something in his ruling. It could be the source and authority of the prohibition. For example, is the prohibition based on a biblical commandment (positive or negative), rabbinic edict, custom or mere public policy (slippery slope) considerations? Alternatively, the expressed reason may not be the real grounds for the prohibition. In addition, the application may be much broader than halakhically permitted. To my mind these are shocking revelations: these are not sins of omission but commission; the perpetrators are scholars and religious leaders; and these deviations constitute intellectual dishonesty at its worst.

Our author is not insensitive to this dissonance. In an attempt to explain how these scholars justify not being fully honest in pesak, Shapiro writes in the last two pages of the book (pp. 284-285) about "redefining truth." He indicates that these decisors see nothing wrong in what they are doing, since their ultimate goal is the "higher good". As they see it, they have ultimately prevented their respective communities and congregants from sinning and deviating from the proper path of shemirat mitsvot. The fact that these scholars have bent the truth, and distorted Jewish law in the process, is of lesser importance. The ends in these cases, justify the means.

It is with these jarring observations that the book comes to an abrupt end, without any further comment or soul-searching. This is despite the fact that on page 239ff, Shapiro brings one citation from Hazal after another about the centrality of truth, and the seriousness of the sin of lying. After all, the Torah itself commands us: "mi-Devar sheker tirhak" – "From untruthfulness, distance thyself” (Exodus 23:7). If what the author writes in the last chapter is true, then Hazal's eloquent statements about the importance of honesty have become nothing but a mockery. It raises serious moral questions with insufficient and unsatisfying answers. How are we now supposed to educate our children and talmidim as to the cardinal nature of truth and truthfulness?! How are we to live with such a clash between theory and practice?

In the course of our own study of Women's Tefilla Groups, my brother R. Prof. Dov Frimer and I researched misrepresentation in pesak in the context of women's issues.[3] Many leading Rabbis were deeply and justifiably concerned that some of the feminist practices introduced were ultimately "bad for the Jews" on public policy grounds.[4] But instead of saying so clearly, some rabbis adduced reasons that were not halakhically sound. Our own research has led us to the clear conclusion that the vast majority of the gedolim do not condone this type of misrepresentation or that discussed in the last chapter of Changing the Immutable. Giving an erroneous ruling – despite one's good intentions, or even misstating the reason or source for a prohibition, violates the prohibition "mi-Devar sheker tirhak", if not a variety of other issurim.

We begin our discussion of this issue with the famous Pesak Din (halakhic ruling) promulgated by a conference of rabbis who met in Michalowce Hungary in 1865. This edict initially signed by twenty-five leading rabbinic figures and subsequently by many more, ruled that nine practices (including, inter alia, synagogue choirs, sermons in the vernacular, synagogues weddings, absence of a central bima, canonical robes for the Hazan) were halakhically forbidden. Leading rabbis Moses Schick and Esriel Hildesheimer and many of their colleagues refused to sign. The fundamental claim of Rabbis Schick and Hildesheimer was that, contrary to the impression given by the Pesak Din, the only grounds for some of the edicts were public policy (mi-gdar milta) - not halakhic - considerations.[5] The term “Pesak Din” (legal ruling) was in fact a conscious misnomer, an attempt to hide the truth, and, hence, a flagrant deviation from Jewish law with which they could take no part. R. Schick also argued that, since the Pesak Din was promulgated by a Jewish court, it violated bal tosif, adding a mitsva to the Torah.[6]

Similarly, R. Zvi Hirsch Chajes[7] argues that it is forbidden to call a rabbinic edict a biblical prohibition because it violates not only bal tosif but also mi-devar sheker tirhak. Similarly, R. Chayim Hirschensohn[8] charges those rabbis who forbid women to become involved in politics with violating both bal tosif and lying. R. Chaim Soloveitchik of Brisk[9], maintains that both Ra’avad and Rambam agree that “mi-devar sheker tirhak” forbids a posek from claiming that a rabbinic injunction is biblical. R. Jacob Israel Kanievsky,[10] refuting the suggestion that it is forbidden to take part in elections in the secular State of Israel, writes: “…And your Honor should know that even to be zealous, it is forbidden to teach Torah not according to the halakha (Avot V:8), and that which is not true will not succeed at all.” R. Haim David Halevi[11] prohibits a posek from misrepresenting halakha and/or giving an erroneous reason for a prohibition for two basic reasons: (1) the biblical prohibition of “mi-devar sheker tirhak” and (2) a total loss of trust in rabbinic authority would result should the truth become known (see more below). [See also the related opinions of Rabbis Ehrenberg, Rogeler and Sobel cited below.]

As Prof. Shapiro documents in Changing the Immutable, some posekim dissent. They argued, on various grounds, that “mi-devar sheker tirhak” is not applicable to cases where halakha is misrepresented so as to prevent future violations of Jewish law. Other scholars argue that the dispensation to modify the truth in order to maintain peace (me-shanim mi-penei ha-shalomYevamot 65b) also applies to misrepresenting halakha in order to maintain peace between kelal Yisrael and the Almighty. Yet others maintain that if a posek believes an action should be prohibited because of mi-gdar milta, he may misrepresent the reason for or source of a prohibition; since there will be no change in the legal outcome, mi-devar sheker tirhak does not apply.[12] Finally, some have argued that mi-devar sheker tirhak only refers to lying in court.[13]

But these arguments have been seriously and vigorously challenged. Thus, R. Joshua Menahem Mendel Ehrenberg[14] demonstrates that the consensus of posekim - rishonim and aharonim - is that mi-devar sheker tirhak applies in all cases, inside court and out. R. Ehrenberg further argues that this is true even if it is intended to promote a religious purpose (ve-afilu li-devar mitsva). Similarly, R. Elijah [ben Samuel] of Lublin[15] chastises a colleague for lying in a decision, even though his intentions were noble. R. Ovadiah Yosef[16] discusses at length whether a judge, maintaining a minority position on a three judge panel, can lie and say “I do not know what to rule,” - so that two more judges will be added to the panel and his minority opinion will have a chance to become the majority view; he concludes that it is forbidden. R. Solomon Sobel[17] explicitly states that me-shanim mi-penei ha-shalom only allows one to change the facts, not the halakha. Both R. Jacob Ettlinger and R. Reuben Margaliot[18] maintain that me-shanim mi-penei ha-shalom allows one only to obfuscate by using language which can be understood in different ways, but not to lie; hence, misrepresenting halakhic reasons or sources would also be forbidden.

Also unmentioned is the long list of posekim (including the Radba"z)[19] who maintain that even if one is theoretically permitted to misrepresent Halakha, under certain unique circumstances – one is nevertheless forbidden to do so in practice. This is because "the truth will out."   Not only will this revelation ultimately lead to a terrible hillul Hashem, but it will undermine peoples' trust in the rabbinic establishment. In this regard R. Benjamin Lau has observed:[20]
The rabbi is expected to know and present the various aspects of each issue and not to conceal those aspects that are inconsistent with his own point of view. If a rabbi is untrue to the sources and reaches his decision without taking account of conflicting views, he will be seen to be untrustworthy. And a lack of trust between a rabbi and his community of questioners will drive a wedge between that community and the Torah overall. Stating the truth, of course, does not require the decisor to remain neutral; his role requires him to reach a decision one way or the other. But the decision must be reached through disclosure, not concealment, of the alternatives….. Now, when everyone has access to the [Bar Ilan] Responsa Project data base and Google provides answers to all imaginable questions, everyone can check every responsum and examine its trustworthiness. A rabbi who rules in an oversimplified way, whether strictly or leniently, in a area of halakhic complexity will be caught as untrustworthy.
Having lived through the crises and confrontations of women's prayer groups, women on religious councils, women in communal leadership roles and women's aliyyot – I can testify that there is great need for both in-depth knowledge and truthfulness. The "hillul Hashem and loss of trust" argument is not just hype - but painfully all too accurate! Many of the rabbis in the 1970s lost control of the religious leadership of their communities because they were unprepared or unwilling to deal with the challenges honestly and head on. Many rabbis simply tried to stonewall the situation, while others were not forthright about the real reason for forbidding such practices. As previously noted, the Rabbis may well have been correct that many of the feminist practices introduced were halakhically unsound or "bad for the Jews" on a variety of public policy grounds.[21] But instead of saying so clearly (as Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik zt"l had urged and himself practiced), some rabbis waffled, while others prevaricated. But the halakhic truth quickly became known – a consequence of the "information age." And as a result, many balebatim lost trust in the religious leadership as a whole. For them the conclusion was simply: "Everything boils down to politics." 

            It is, therefore, critically important to reiterate that the cases cited by our author, exemplify neither pesak in general, nor the consensus view of the posekim. It is forbidden to misrepresent in halakhic rulings as a matter of law and policy.  In essence, then, Prof Shapiro's scholarly and well-documented book presents the reader with a most fascinating review of an approach within halakhic decision making, which has been rejected by mainstream pesak. Indeed, such cases need to be actively addressed if they are to be uprooted.

Response by Marc B. Shapiro

I understand why Professor Frimer is troubled by what I wrote, and to a large extent my conclusions diverge from his own. All I would say is that the matter is complex, and rather than attempt to simplify matters, as I feel Frimer has done, we must attempt to understand how the same Sages who spoke about the importance of truth could at times countenance departure from it. This is a challenge that requires sensitivity and nuance, and appreciation of changing times and values. When Frimer sees a text that permits false attribution, he sees prevarication and hypocrisy. But a historically attuned outlook would seek to understand rather than condemn. Ironically, it is Frimer who is judging the Sages and decisors, because if their ideas do not conform to his understanding then these ideas are regarded by him as problematic.

Thus, Frimer cites the famous 1865 pesak din of Michalowce and tells us that R. Moses Schick and R. Esriel Hildesheimer opposed it since they saw it as departing from the truth. While their position is certainly significant, what about the fact that among Hungarian rabbis they were a minority, and most of the leading Hungarian rabbis supported the pesak? How is my argument refuted by citing Rabbis Schick and Hildesheimer if they were opposed by most of their colleagues? Doesn’t the fact that most of the Hungarian rabbis opposed Rabbis Schick and Hildesheimer support my position? 

As for the various rabbinic opinions cited by Frimer, I don’t deny that these opinions exist, and in my book I refer to Frimer’s famous article on women’s prayer groups in which he cites these opinions. But I also make the point that there is an alternative tradition which allows much more leeway for authorities to at times diverge from the truth. I also believe, contrary to Frimer, that this is a mainstream position. Since this position is held by R. Ovadiah Yosef and R. Hayyim Kanievsky, I don’t see how it is possible for one to state that it is not a mainstream position.

The point of the chapter, however, was not to advocate for one position or the other, but to focus on the alternative tradition, the existence of which is more or less suppressed today. I was explicit that my aim was to show how far some were willing to go in sanctioning deviations from the truth, and I indicate that there are views in opposition to these. However, my intent was to study the views of those with a “liberal” perspective on the importance of truth. It is this tradition that I wished to explore, and to rescue it, as it were, from the well-intentioned apologetics. I never state that this is the only authentic position. On the contrary, one can find the opposite perspective presented in numerous articles. This is why I thought it was important to present alternative views, from the Talmud until the present, views which I think show that there is a rabbinic conception of the Noble Lie.

I also must dispute the following statement by Frimer: “R. Joshua Menahem Mendel Ehrenberg demonstrates that the consensus of posekim – rishonim and aharonim – is that mi-devar sheker tirhak applies in all cases, inside court and out. R. Ehrenberg further argues that this is true even if it is intended to promote a religious purpose.” How can Frimer state that R. Ehrenberg “demonstrates” such a thing? What R. Ehrenberg does is present an argument, and everyone can evaluate its cogency. The fact is that numerous authorities do not accept R. Ehrenberg’s position, which means that they would not agree that he has proven his case.

To Frimer, and others like him who have the same reaction after reading chapter 7, I can only say that modern views of how to understand texts, and what we today regard as truth, cannot be used as a measure with which to judge people who lived in a very different time and had a very different understanding of these sorts of matters. It is their understanding that I seek to explore, rather than foisting my own value judgments upon them. Unlike Frimer, who is involved in halakhic writing and attempting to influence the community in religious matters, I write from a more "objective" perspective, without such concerns. As such, while Frimer wishes to “uproot” what he regards as unacceptable views of certain poskim. I seek to understand the phenomenon and to describe it.

When, on p. 284, I speak about redefining truth, I am not speaking about poskim per se but about how to understand the entire phenomenon that I have documented in the book. The question is how does the importance of truth coexist with what we have seen, and it is in this context that I discuss how truth need not be seen as equivalent to factual or historical truth.

I agree with Frimer that none of the great poskim supported lying in pesak as a normative option on a regular basis. Yet as I have already indicated,  I believe that there is a tradition that allows for not being frank at certain times, when it is thought that other values are at stake. In the book I state that we should understand this position in a sympathetic fashion even if it is at odds with how today we generally approach matters.

Frimer asks how are we supposed to educate our children and students as to the importance of truth and truthfulness if what I say is correct. This is a good question with which educators need to struggle, but it is not a refutation of what I have written. If my position is correct, the world will not collapse. It will just be one more Torah matter, alongside Amalek, yefat toar, slavery, homosexuality, etc., that at certain times is not in line with contemporary values.

Here are some more comments relevant to the issue of truth.

1. Amichai Markowitz called my attention to a talmudic text that I overlooked. Nedarim 23b states: “The Tanna has intentionally obscured the law, in order that vows should not be lightly treated.” This relates to the issue of the truth not being made available to all. See also Kovetz Iggerot Hazon Ish, vol. 2, no. 78, that one should not reveal to the masses that the Sages forbade things that the Torah permitted.[22]

2. R. Joseph Ibn Caspi writes that at times it is appropriate for members of the intellectual elite to lie.[23] This explains how Joseph lied to his brothers when he accused them of being spies (Gen. 42:9). In support of this view Ibn Caspi cites both Maimonides and Aristotle.[24] The mention of Maimonides no doubt refers to the latter’s notion of “necessary beliefs”, but it is not clear where Ibn Caspi got his quote from Aristotle, since as far as I can determine Aristotle says no such thing.[25]
3. R. Abraham Arbel writes as follows[26]:
ואם מצא לנכון המגדל עז לשבח חכם כהרמב"ם שלא שקר והיה אמיתי, משמע דפשיטא ליה שגם אצל חכם בדרגתו אפשר למצוא שישקר משום כבודו.
R. Arbel also adds the following passage which I am sure will be very troubling to Frimer (as Frimer rejects the notion that “one sometimes needs to be careful about trusting a Posek”). R. Arbel’s words should be understood in line with the many sources I cite in the last chapter of my book.
וע"ע טהרת ישראל (סי' קפה אות סו) בדין אשה שאמרה שהחכם טהר לה הכתם ועתה מכחיש אותה החכם לומר שלא שאלה אותו, דחישינן שהחכם רואה עתה שטעה שטהר, ובוש לומר שטעה, ולכן משקר עתה לומר שלא שאלה אותו. וכ"כ בהפלאה (קונ' אחרון סי קטו סק"א( שהחכם לא נאמן להכחיש אשה, שאומרת שהחכם טהר, כשהכתם לפנינו והוא טמא, שהרי הוא נוגע בדבר שהרי טעה.
4. R. Ovadiah Yosef stated that if X tells you something he wrote, you can tell others that you read it in X’s book, and this is not considered a lie.[27]
5. In Changing the Immutable, p. 253, I cite a passage from Devarim Rabbah which states that for the sake of peace, even “Scripture itself” recorded something false. I should have also cited Midrash Tanhuma 96:7, which is even more striking, attributing the falsehood directly to God (as opposed to merely speaking of “Scripture”):
ארשב"ג גדול הוא השלום שהכתיב [שכתב] הקב"ה דברים בתורה שלא היו אלא בשביל השלום.
6. Let me offer another example of censorship in halakhic matters, the sort of thing that Frimer claims must be battled against and “uprooted” for the sake of Torah truth.[28] Here is page 141 from R. Yitzhak Zilberstein’s and R. Moshe Rothschild’s Torat ha-Yoledet.

The matter dealt with is whether a husband can be in the delivery room. The authors quote the opinion that if there is a need the husband can be in the room. In note 2, R. Moshe Feinstein, Iggerot Moshe, Yoreh Deah II, no. 75, is quoted as follows:
הנה אם יש צורך, איני רואה איסור. אבל אסור לו להסתכל ביציאת הולד ממש . . .
However, if you look at the actual text of Iggerot Moshe, what he says is something different.
הנה אם יש צורך איני רואה איסור ואף בלא צורך איני רואה איסור, אבל אסור לו להסתכל ביציאת הולד ממש . . .
I have underlined the words that are deleted by Torat ha-Yoledet. This deletion allows them to present R. Moshe Feinstein as saying that only if there is a need for the husband to be in the room can be there. Yet R. Moshe explicitly states that even if there is no “need”, he can still remain with his wife.

I know that there are some who are thinking that I am making a big deal out of nothing, and that it must have been an accident that the words were deleted as that no one would dare to purposely alter what R. Moshe wrote. I am sorry to say that this is not the case. Here are two pages from R. Pesach Eliyahu Falk’s Levushah shel Torah.[29]

From it we see that someone asked R. Zilberstein about the words that were deleted, and R. Zilberstein did not say that they were deleted in error. On the contrary, he tells the questioner that the words were deleted on purpose, after consultation with “gedolei ha-poskim”. In other words, these poskim disagreed with R. Moshe and therefore instructed R. Zilberstein that when he quoted Iggerot Moshe he should censor R. Moshe’s words so that people should not learn the extent of R. Moshe’s lenient view. After all that I have written in my book, I don’t think people will be surprised by this. Frimer, however, who has assured us that this sort of thing is not “mainstream”, and indeed is "forbidden", will have to explain how it is that a respected posek like R. Zilberstein, acting on the instruction of other great poskim, could adopt such an approach, an approach which stands as a refutation of Frimer’s point.
As I have said already, I am not claiming that this sort of distortion is an everyday phenomenon. But I do claim that many poskim believe that they have the authority to alter the truth when they think that this is necessary. We can’t pretend that the texts I have cited don’t exist.
7. In his post Frimer writes: “R. Elijah [ben Samuel] of Lublin  chastises a colleague for lying in a decision, even though his intentions were noble.” I don’t think the word “chastises” is appropriate in this case. R. Elijah disagrees with the other rabbi, but the disagreement is not strident. For example, R. Elijah writes as follows in Yad Eliyahu, no. 62:
ע"ד אשר האריך רום מעלתו בלשונו בשפת אמת להעמיד שפת שקר במקומי אני עומד שאינו כדאי להיות רגיל בכך ואף שמותר בו מאיזה טעם שיהיה.
8. In the next issue of Masorah le-Yosef my article on “necessary beliefs” will appear. In this article I discuss how Maimonides and other figures say things that do not reflect their true opinion, but are merely “necessary beliefs”, i.e., “beliefs” that the masses should accept but which are not really true at all. If these authorities think that the masses can be fed false ideas when it comes to theology, why should halakhah be any different?

9. See R. Mordechai Eliasburg, Shevil ha-Zahav (Warsaw, 1897), p. 27-28, who claims that both Nahmanides and R. Jacob Emden recorded things in their writings that they did not really believe.

10. R. Chaim Sunitzky called my attention to R. Israel Weltz, Divrei Yisrael, vol. 3, no. 170, who doesn't see such a problem with false stories if they lead people in a good direction.

.אין זה נורא כ"כ בספורי מעשיות כאלה כשהכוונה היא לטובה ללמוד ממנה מוסר ודרכי הי"ת
And now for some comic relief. A few weeks ago Ezra Glinter reviewed my book for the Forward. See here.
He used this opportunity to take some hits at the haredi world, focusing on matters that are not mentioned in the book. Rabbi Avi Shafran, who is paid to respond to this sort of thing, penned his own piece for the Forward available here.
The comedy starts in the first two paragraphs which read:
Psst! I’ve got a secret to share. It’s from deep inside the Orthodox Jewish world. Come closer… Okay, here it is: Orthodoxy changes!
It’s not much of a secret, actually. At least in these here parts. But it seems to be an unfamiliar concept for Marc Shapiro, a University of Scranton professor and author of the recent book, “Changing the Immutable: How Orthodox Judaism Rewrites Its History.”
It is obvious that Shafran has never even looked at my book and is only basing his comments on what appears in Glinter’s review. Those who have read the book know that a major theme of it is precisely how Orthodoxy changes. In fact, there is no one in the world today whose scholarship is more associated with the thesis that Orthodoxy changes than me. Much of the criticism of me is on precisely this point, that I have exaggerated the amount of change. Yet here Shafran comes and says that I am ignorant about how Orthodoxy changes. This is what I mean by comic relief.
Shafran then writes:
If a biography of Bertrand Russell can choose to elide the great philosopher’s serial marital infidelities and not be accused of rewriting the past, a hagiography of a great rabbi should certainly be permitted to overlook judgments he made with the best of intentions that in retrospect might seem misguided to some today. Such acts of civility are at times portrayed as scandalous by Shapiro and his reviewer.
A biography of Russel that chooses to omit his marital infidelities would indeed be rightly accused of rewriting the past. As for the second part of the sentence, I agree that a hagiography can leave out material of the sort Shafran mentions, but that is because it is a hagiography! If it intended to be a biography, then no, it cannot overlook mistaken judgments made by the subject, or else it ceases to be biography. I also do not think that it is an act of civility to refrain from writing about such mistaken judgments (as for example, R. Jehiel Jacob Weinberg’s early misjudgment of the Nazi regime).
Shafran provides a few examples of how practice in Orthodoxy has changed, none of which I disagree with. But then again, my book has nothing to do with this. He writes:
One opinion in the Talmud, for example, permits fowl and milk to be cooked together and eaten. Just try ordering milk-braised chicken in your local kosher eatery these days; they’ll sic the mashgiach on you in a Borough Park moment. Men using mirrors was once forbidden as a “womanly” act, a once-true assessment that, for most Orthodox men today, is no longer considered applicable.
Let us say that a new edition of the Talmud was published that deleted the lines that tell us that one opinion permitted fowl and milk to be cooked and eaten together? Would Shafran be OK with this? I assume not, and it is thus unfortunate that he doesn’t know that it is precisely this sort of censorship that my book is focused on. What we have here is not only criticism without having read the book, but criticism without having any clue as to what the book is about. 
And then, to top off the comic relief, Shafran ends his piece as follows:
“Why is that so hard for Orthodoxy’s critics to understand?”
I have been called some different things in my life, but this is the first time I have been referred to as one of “Orthodoxy’s critics”.

Let me also add that Changing the Immutable has sold very well in the haredi world, and this is not surprising since it is not an anti-haredi book at all.

[1] AAF would like to thank Dov I. Frimer, Shael I. Frimer, David A. Kessler and Joel B. Wolowelsky for their insightful comments and suggestions on previous drafts.
[2] R. Jacob J. Schacter, "Facing the Truths of History," Torah u-Madda Journal, 8 [1998-1999]: pp. 200-273.
[3] Aryeh A. Frimer and Dov I. Frimer, "Women's Prayer Services: Theory and Practice. Part 1 - Theory,” Tradition, 32:2 (Winter 1998), pp. 5-118. PDF available online
here. See in particular Addendum, part 6.
[4] See our discussion in Frimer and Frimer, supra note 3, Section E therein.
[5] R. Moses Schick in Likutei Teshuvot Hatam Sofer, R. Israel Stern, ed. (London, 1965), sec. 82, pp. 73-75; Meir Hildesheimer, “She’eilot u-Teshuvot Maharam Schick,” Tsefunot, 2:2(6) (Tevet 5750), pp. 87-95, at p. 93; Yona Emanuel, “Me’a Shana lePetirat haRav Azriel Hildesheimer Zatsal,” haMa’ayn, XXXIX, 4 (Tammuz 5759), pp. 1-7, “Al Kinus haRabbanim be-Mikhalovitch” pp. 2-4; Michael K. Silber, “The Emergence of Ultra-Orthodoxy: The Invention of a Tradition,” In The Uses of Tradition, Jack Wertheimer, ed. (New York, Jewish Theological Seminary, 1992), p. 23-84; Mordechai Eliav, “Mekomo shel Rav Azriel Hildesheimer be-Ma’avak al Demutah shel Yahadutr Hungariah,” Zion 27 (1962), 59-86; Nethanel Katzburg, “Pesak Din shel Michalovitch 5726,” in Perakim be-Toldot ha-Hevrah ha-Yehudit be-Yemei ha-Beinayim u-be-Et ha-Hadashah, Emanuel Etkes and Yosef Salmon, eds. (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1980), 273-286; Jacob Katz, The Unhealed Breach: The Secession of Orthodox Jewry from the General Community in Hungary and Germany (Hebrew), Jerusalem, 1994 – see especially Chapter 8.
[6] See Frimer and Frimer, supra note 3, Addendum, part 5.
[7]  R. Zvi Hirsch Chajes, Darkei Hora’asiman 6, first footnote,
[8]  R. Chayim Hirschensohn Resp. Malki baKodesh, II, sec. 4, p. 13.
[9] Cited in R. Zvi [Hershel] Schachter, Nefesh haRav (Jerusalem: Reishit Yerushalayyim, 1994), p.178.
[10] R. Jacob Israel Kanievsky, Keraina deIggarta, letter 203, pp. 219-220.
[11] Responsum to Aryeh A. Frimer, dated 7 Shevat 5756 and published in RespMayyim Hayyim, III, sec. 55.
[12] R. Chaim Kanievsky, Masekhet Kutim, 1:14, Me-taher, note 30, and conversation with Aryeh A. Frimer (February 20, 1995),
[13] R. Zelig Epstein, in a conversation with Aryeh A. Frimer and Noach Dear (March 8, 1996). R. Jerucham Fishel Perlau, Commentary to Rav Sa’adia Gaon’s Sefer HaMitzvot, I, p. 156b.
[14] R. Joshua Menahem Mendel Ehrenberg, Resp. Devar Yehoshua, I, addendum to sec. 19, no. 6 (see also V, Y.D. sec 12). See also R. Nahum Yavruv, Niv Sefatayyim (Jerusalem, 1989) Niv Sefatayyim, kelal 1; R. Eliezer Judah Waldenberg, Resp. Tsits Eliezer 15:12:2.
[15] R. Elijah Rogeler, Resp. Yad Eliyahu, sec. 61 and 62
[16] R. Ovadiah Yosef, Resp. Yabia Omer, II, H.M., sec. 3
[17] R. Solomon Sobel, Salma Hadasha, Mahadura Tinyana, Haftarat Toledot; cited in R. Jacob Yehizkiyah Fisch, Titen Emet leYa’akov (Jerusalem, 1982), sec. 5, no. 36.
[18] R. Jacob Ettlinger, Arukh leNer, Yevamot 65b, s.v. she-Ne’emar avikha tsiva” and “Ko tomeru leYosef,” and R. Reuben Margaliot, Kunteres Hasdei Olam, sec. 1061, at the end of his edition of Sefer Hasidim (Mossad haRav Kook: Jerusalem, 5724). See also R. Moses David Maccabbi Leventhal, “Shinui beDevar haShalom,” Zohar, 3 (Spring 5760), pp. 49-64.
[19] R. Yehuda Herzl Henkin, Resp. Benei Vanim, I, sec. 37, no. 12, argues that such misrepresentation most often results in gossip, hate, unlawful leniencies in other areas, hillul Hashem, and a total loss of trust in rabbinic authority should the truth become known. (This despite the fact that R. Y.H. Henkin maintains that when a posek upgrades a prohibition for a just cause, there is no prohibition of either bal Tosif or lying). Similar views are expressed by Resp. Torah liShma, sec. 371; R. Moses Jehiel Weiss, Beit Yehezkel, p. 77; R. Abraham Isaac haKohen Kook, Orah Mishpat, no. 111 (pp. 117-120) and 112 (pp. 120-129); R. Joseph Elijah Henkin, Teshuvot Ivra, sec. 52, no. 3 (in Kitvei haGri Henkin, II); R. Haim David Halevi, responsum to Aryeh A. Frimer, dated 7 Shevat 5756 – published in Resp. Mayyim Hayyim, III, sec.55; and R. David Feinstein, conversation with Aryeh A. Frimer and Dov I. Frimer, March 19, 1995. See also the commentary of Radbaz to M.T., Melakhim 6:3, where even normally permitted lying is forbidden lest it result in hillul Hashem should the truth be discovered. Similarly, in discussing Sanhedrin 29a and the cause of Adam and Eve’s sin, R. Hanokh Zundel, Eits Yosefad loc., s.v. Ma,” comments that one must be particularly careful how a stringency and its rationale are formulated, for if no distinction is drawn between a stringency and the original ordinance, any error found in the stringency may lead the masses to believe that there is an error in the original ordinance itself.
[20] R. Benjamin Lau, “The Challenge of Halakhic Innovation,” Meorot 8 Tishrei 5771, pp 43-57 at pp. 45-46, available online here.
[21] See our discussion in Section E of Frimer and Frimer, supra note 3.
[22] It could be that the Hazon Ish would not be opposed if this information was revealed in a responsible way. I say this since his language is

והבא להכריז בין המון העם כי חכמים גזרו עלינו דברים שהתורה לא אסרתן כונתו ידועה . . . והתוצאות ידועות

(Emphasis added) This might mean that it is only objectionable if someone makes a big deal out of the fact that a certain prohibition is only rabbinic
[23] Mishneh Kesef (Cracow, 1906), vol. 2, to Gen 42:12 (pp. 93-94).
[24] His quote of Aristotle is: נכון לגדול הנפש שיכזכ בהיות זה הכרחי
[25] See Jane S. Zembaty, “Aristotle on Lying,” Journal of the History of Philosophy 31 (1993), pp. 7-29.
[26] Ahoti Kalah (Jerusalem, 2007), p. 149.
[27] Eliyahu Sheetrit, Rabbenu (Jerusalem, 2014), p. 266.
[28] This example, and also R. Falk’s Levushah shel Torah, were called to my attention by R. Yonason Rosman.
[29] (Jerusalem, 2007), vol. 2, pp. 783-784.

Print post

You might also like

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...