Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Strange Shape of the Marcheshet Pan

                             The Strange Shape of the Marcheshet Pan
                                                             By Eli Genauer

“The underlying basis of our work is that pictures are an organic part of the commentary, and it possible that Rashi even allowed himself to limit his explanatory words when a picture was available to the reader. This is in the sense of "a picture is worth a thousand words". The picture is an integral part of the written book, no less important than the words.” 

                                                               Dr Ezra Chwat
                                                     Department of Manuscripts, National Library of Israel
                                                      Giluy Milta B'Almah Blog
                                                           January 15, 2017

There were many vessels used in the Beit HaMikdash. Nevertheless, without pictures or diagrams drawn contemporaneous to their existence, there remains some doubt as to exactly what they looked like. I would like to discuss one vessel used quite often in the Temple and see what the diagrams of the Rishonim can tell us about its makeup. I would also like to analyze a diagram in Rashi’s commentary to Talmud Bavli and see how it fits into our discussion.

Massechet Menachot 63a
האומר הרי עלי במחבת, לא יביא במרחשת; במרחשת, לא יביא במחבתמה בין מחבת למרחשת--אלא שהמרחשת יש לה כסוי, ולמחבת אין לה כסוי, דברי רבי יוסי הגלילי; רבי חנניה בן גמליאל אומר, מרחשת עמוקה ומעשיה רוחשין, ומחבת צפה ומעשיה קשין
One who says, “I take upon myself [to offer a grain offering prepared] on a griddle, he must not bring [one baked] in a pan. If [he says “I take upon myself to offer a grain offering prepared] in a pan,” he must not bring [one prepared] on a griddle. What is the difference between a griddle and a pan? The pan has a lid to it, but the griddle has no lid – [these are ] the words of Rabbi Yose Hagili; Rabbi Hanina ben Gamliel says : a pan is deep and what is prepared is spongy, a griddle is flat and what is prepared is hard.[1]

Leaving  aside the opinion of Rabbi Yossi Haglili, let us concentrate on the statement of Rabi Chanina ben Gamliel

We would imagine that the Marcheshet is a deep vessel, and the Machvat is flat, as it is described as a griddle.  Perhaps like this:


The Gemara then cites a Braita which deals with the following situation.  If a person takes a vow saying “I take upon myself a Marcheshet”, it remains unclear whether he meant he will bring the vessel called a Marcheshet, or the normal Korban Mincha that is brought in a Marcheshet. Beit Hillel is of the opinion that since there was a specific vessel in the Beit Hamikdash called a Marcheshet, we understand that he is talking about that vessel and we require him to donate it to the Beit HaMikdash.[2] Here are the words of the Braita which describe in some detail the appearance of this Marcheshet pan:
כלי היה במקדש ומרחשת שמה ודומה כמין כלבוס עמוק וכשבצק מונח בתוכם דומה כמין תפוחי הברתים וכמין בלוטי היוונים
There was a vessel in the Temple called Marhesheth, resembling a deep mould, which gave the dough that was put into it the shape of Cretan apples and Grecian nuts. (The Soncino Hebrew/English Babylonian Talmud)

Rashi goes to great lengths to explain this uncertain statement and includes a diagram in his commentary. This diagram first appeared in printed form in the early 18th century but unfortunately, it does not align with the words Rashi uses to describe the overall shape of the pan.  Additionally, It does not match the diagram we have in a manuscript of Rashi nor diagrams in manuscripts of other Rishonim.

But first some background

The diagrams we have today in the Vilna Shas in Rashi and other Rishonim come from earlier printed editions. The first printed edition of the entire Talmud to contain diagrams was the Behrmann Shas printed in Frankfurt on Oder, 1696-98.[3] Raphael Natan Nata Rabinowitz posits that by the time diagrams were included in the printed text, there were very few manuscripts around because most had been placed in Genizah.[4]  He therefore concludes that manuscripts were not used in the early 18th century as a source for diagrams. What was the source of those diagrams for the Behrmann Shas ? According to the editors of the Behrmann Shas, they mostly came from the Chochmat Shlomo of 1582.[5] It’s an extremely reliable source because it was written by Rav Shlomo Luria who specifically wrote it to correct the text of the Bomberg Shas and to insert the relevant diagrams. Rav Shlomo Luria lived at a time when there were still many manuscripts around, so either he used those manuscripts for his textual emendations and as a source for his diagrams, or he used his own capabilities to come up with his changes and additions. Since most of our present day diagrams follow from the Behrmann edition, they have an aura of authenticity attached to them.[6]

The problem arises when we discover that Chochmat Shlomo does not include all the diagrams we have today. For example, in our case, there is no Chochmat Shlomo on Menachot.

Let us now take a look at the diagram in Rashi on Menachot 63a.

The first time it appeared in print was in the Frankfurt am Main edition of 1722, exactly 200 years after the diagramless Bomberg edition. We know its source was not a manuscript of Rashi nor was it the product of the Maharshal.

Putting aside the diagram for a moment, let us concentrate on the words of Rashi as he tries to describe the Marcheshet:
כלבוס - גלואו"ן שם כלי עשוי כעין מחבת שלנו והדופן באמצעות כלפי פנים כזה  ומצוייר תוכו גומות גומות וכשהבצק מונח בתוכו [נכנס] הבצק בגומות:
Rashi concentrates on the word כלבוס as the Gemara itself says that a Marcheshet is shaped like a deep כלבוס. Rashi first gives us an old French word which is normally translated as “tongs”.[7] He says that the Marcheshet is like his present day Machvat pan and that the “wall in the middle faces the inside, like this”. The problem is that the diagram does not seem to show a wall in the middle facing the inside. Additionally, if a כלבוס is a pair of tongs, and the shape of the vessel looked somewhat like a pair of tongs, how does that align with the diagram which is circular?

The Shita Mekubetzet which is included on the standard page of the Vilna Shas has a completely different diagram.

Notice that the word Dofen is in the middle of the diagram just as Rashi says והדופן באמצעות כלפי פנים

The volume of the Bomberg edition that belonged to Rav Betzalel Ashkenazi the author of the Shita Mekubetzet contains the exact same diagram inserted in the blank space of the Rashi.

Jerusalem - The National Library of Israel Ms. Heb. 4°79 (link).

In his book Dikdukei Sofrim on Menachot (Munich, 1886) R.N.N. Rabinowitz writes about the importance of the comments of the Shita Mekubetzet as they were addressed to the Bomberg edition of 1522 and relied heavily on manuscripts which included a Rashi manuscript.[8] The Acharit Davar printed at the end of the Vilna Shas also extols the importance of the Shita Mekubetzet on Kodshim as it came from a manuscript and was based in part on a manuscript misidentified but actually of Peirush Rashi.[9]

Going back in history, we can get an idea if a diagram did in fact exist in Rashi manuscripts by looking at the first printed edition of Menachot which was Bomberg 1522. Its source had to be from manuscripts because no printed edition preceded it.

You can see that the Bomberg editors included the word “כזה” in the text of the Rashi and left 2 spaces indicating that their manuscript included 2 diagrams. This may explain why our present diagram does not reflect the shape of the overall pan as there may have been one diagram depicting its shape and a second one depicting the apple like insets. In fact, a notation in the Oz Vehadar edition states quite clearly that our diagram just illustrates the words “גומות גומות”.

As mentioned before, the words of Rashi seem to support the idea that the Marcheshet pan was semicircular in nature. In addition, the shape of the vessel is likened to a כלבוס which is an item dealt with a number of times by Rashi

For example this Rashi on Shabbat 59b:

Rashi states that an item worn by women called a “מנקתא פארי” ( starting with the letters “וי״מ” for ויש מפרשים) is “כּמין חצי עגול עשוי כמין כלבוס” and then draws your attention to a diagram of a semi circle.

Fortunately I was able to find a manuscript of Rashi on Menachot which is identified as Vatican 487  and is from the 13th century. (Made available by the Polonsky Digitization Project) It pictures the Marchseshet pan in a semicircular shape and thus fits in more with the words of Rashi.

It’s clear that the diagram included only deals with the semicircular nature of the vessel and not the little depressions inside the “Tocho Shel Kli”. This diagram is very similar to the one in the Shita Mekubetzet and it is possible it served as a source for the Shita Mekubetzet.[10]

We are confronted with another diagram of the Marcheshet pan in what is known as the Peirush Rabbeinu Gershom first printed in the Vilna Shas. This Peirush describes the vessel being shaped like a כלבוס and then says it is “כמו פגום”, which means incomplete. One would expect to see a vessel like in the Shita Mekubetzet and in the Rashi manuscript which is not either completely circular or square in nature. Nevertheless, the diagram in the Vilna Shas depicts this vessel as being square like this
In the Achrit Davar the editors of the Vilna Shas state that they had a manuscript of this Peirush Rabbeinu Gershom however the following manuscript shows the pan as having an indentation and not being square.

Roma - Biblioteca Angelica Or. 1 (link):

It could be they that had a manuscript depicting a square pan, or it is possible that their manuscript had a pan with an indentation and this was not transferred successfully to the printed page. Certainly the words of the Rabbeinu Gershom indicate the latter.


Nowadays it is easy for us to transfer an image from a manuscript to a printed or electronic page. All we have to do is point, shoot, copy and paste. The result is an exact duplicate of what is on the manuscript, and it is even easier to work with than the original. But hundreds of years ago it was not so simple. A woodcut or an engraving of the image could be made and then transferred to the printed page, but that was time consuming and expensive. Because of this, images such as diagrams were just left out, and when they were added, they were often misleading and sometimes even incorrect. The printing revolution was a giant step forward for the dissemination of Jewish knowledge, but, at least at its beginning, played havoc with many important diagrams.

[1] English translation from
[2] The Rambam Paskens according to Beit Hillel. Since Beit Hillel speaks about the Marcheshet being different than a Machvat,  and not just having a cover) it is clear that the Rambam holds like Rav Chananya ben Gamliel
[3] Maamar 'al hadpasat ha-Talmud with Additions, ed. A.M. Habermann, Mossad ha-Rav Kook, Jerusalem: 2006, p.41. The Soncino family printed individual editions of the Talmud between 1483- 1518, but not an entire set. Some of those editions such as Eiruvin did contain diagrams and some did not. The first complete set of the Talmud was the Bomberg edition 1519-1522. That edition did not contain diagrams, only empty spaces which were to indicate where diagrams were to go (the only exception was Sotah 43a). There were numerous full editions of the Talmud printed between 1522-1697, but these also did not contain diagrams. 
[4] Printing the Talmud: A History of the Earliest Printed Editions of the Talmud, Marvin J. Heller, Im Hasefer 1993 p.6 states as follows: “Rabbinovicz attributes the dearth of Talmud codices to the manner in which they, and many other manuscripts, had been written; without any commentaries, with errors and erasures, and lacking even lines. Rashi and Tosafot (additions by Ashkenazic luminaries after Rashi) were separate manuscripts, suffering from the same conditions. As a result, learning must have been difficult, with the reader having to continuously peruse three different works, assuming that he owned them. Therefore, when the Talmud was printed with Rashi and Tosafot, “men no longer learned from their manuscripts, but considered them as utensils without further value, placing them in genizahs, so that they no longer exist.”
[5] Other sources mentioned by the editors of the Behrmann Shas are Maharsha and Maharam Lublin. Neither of those sources contain diagram for our Rashi.
[6] A good summary of the subject of where our present day diagrams came from can be found in the introduction to the Shas Nehardea, under the heading of "המקור לציורי הש"ס". (Vagshal Publishing Ltd, Jerusalem, 2008, p.5 of the introduction. The overall section on diagrams starts on page 4 of the introduction under the heading "מבוא לציורי הש״ס".)There are a few diagrams that are not in the Berman Shas but first appear in the Frankfurt am Main edition of 1720-1722. Here too, the editors of that edition say that the source of their diagrams was the Chochmat Shlomo.
[7] All the Meforshim understand that Beit Hillel is saying that the Marcheshet pan is shaped like a כלבוס, meaning the pan is shaped like a pair of tongs.  I would imagine tongs to look like this, with the top part being semicircular especially in the open position

Jastrow renders our Braita saying that a Marcheshet is “a baking form in the shape of forceps with cavities”
[8] Rabbinowitz writes on page 1 of his introduction that when he wrote his emendations on Menachot that “I had in my hand a handwritten manuscript of the Shita Mekubetzet by Rav Betzalel Ashkenazi…..And he wrote his comments on the 1522 Venetian edition including Gemara, Rashi and Tosafot with the help of handwritten manuscripts he ( Betzalel Ashekenazi) had in his hands”
[9] Achrit Davar at the end of Masechet Nidah, p.6
[10] The Oz VeHadar edition of the Talmud actually changes the diagram inside the Rashi to the diagram of the Shita Mekubetzet

Sunday, September 03, 2017

There is No Bracha on an Eclipse

There is No Bracha on an Eclipse
By Rabbi Michael J. Broyde

Rabbi Michael Broyde is a law professor at Emory University School of Law and the Projects Director in its Center for the Study of Law and Religion.  His most recent Torah sefer is entitled "A Concise Code of Jewish Law For Converts".  This letter was written to someone after a shiur on why there is no bracha on seeing a solar eclipse.

1.      You are correct that I said that I thought there was no bracha on an eclipse.  I had not seen Rabbi Linzer’s teshuva at the time that told that to you this, as it was not circulating on the internet at the time that I prepared for my shiur and I did not see it until Sunday, the day after the shiur.  I try to cite as much as relevant in these classes and his thoughts are clearly relevant.  He is a stellar writer on interesting topics of halacha and I read his material consistently.  I had seen that Rabbi Eliezer Melamed in Peneni Halacha Laws of Brachot 15:6 and note 5 which does permit a bracha on an eclipse.
2.      Having said that, I would not change my mind at all in light of Rabbi Linzer’s teshuva and remain opposed to reciting a bracha over an eclipse for many reasons explained below.
3.      First, as many have noted, the giants of halacha are quite divided over the question of whether the listing in the Shulchan Aruch is paradigmatic or particular.  Some make no blessings other that for matters listed in the codes and other treat them as examples.  That dispute alone inspires me to be cautious, although I could be persuaded that the paradigmatic approach is correct and one could then make a bracha on a waterfall.  I have yet to see a clear proof that such a view is correct, but it does seem more intuitive.[1]  Yet, safek brachot lehakel is present.
4.      Second, and more importantly, if you look closely in the classical achronim, you see not a single achron who actually endorses saying a bracha on an eclipse.  Not a single one.  It is true that there is a dispute about whether the list in the Mishna is all inclusive or not (as many note, see Shar HaAyin 7:6), but even those who are of the view that the Mishnah’s list is merely examples, not a single achron actually endorses making a bracha on an eclipse as opposed to a volcano or some other natural wonder, which some clearly do permit a bracha on.  The group that favors expansive brachot on natural wonders endorse stalagmite caves, waterfalls, water geysers, volcanoes and many more: but not eclipses.  If you look, for example in Shar HaAyin 7:6 (the classical work on this topic) one sees this most clearly: even those who endorse making brachot on waterfalls, or other amazing facets of creation are uncertain נסתפק)) if one make a bracha on an eclipse, and we all know that when a posek is נסתפק, that posek does not make a bracha.[2]
a.       This contrast is made clear in the context of Rabbi Shmuel Halevi Wosner -- who is the most clear and direct articulator of the view that list of wondrous sightings in the Shulchan Aruch are just examples, and one makes the bracha of oseh maaseh bereshit even on other wonders.  In Shar HaAyin page 431 he states directly that one makes a blessing on many wondrous things unlisted in the codes and he explains that “Volcanos are not present in our lands and thus are unmentioned in the Shulchan Aruch” and that it is “obvious” that one makes a blessing on them.  However, on eclipses he states “solar eclipses are mentioned a few times in the Gemera, and thus on the question of whether one needs to make a bracha when one sees them, needs more thought.[3]”  He does NOT endorse making a bracha on an eclipse. In fact, I am unaware of anyone other than Rabbis Melamed and Linzer who actually endorse the view in favor of making a bracha on an eclipse, (rather than merely ponders the possibility of such a bracha).  Rabbi Wozner’s point is important: this is not a modern issue – eclipses were well known for a few millennium, and silence in the Jewish Law codes is telling.  To the best of my knowledge the dispute about the eclipses is between two views: (1) Absolutely Not and (2) Maybe.  There is no (3) Yes view in the classical rabbinic literature for eclipses.  (That is why the listing of reasons why an eclipse might be different from other wonders below is important.)

5.      Why is an eclipse different from a stalagmite cave or a volcano?  I could think of a few reasons from a halachic perspective, even to those who believe that the Mishna’s list is not inclusive.
a.       Many perceive them to be a siman raah – a bad sign, either because of superstitious reasons or because darkness in the middle of the day is practically bad – and there is no blessing on bad omens (as Rabbi Moshe Feinstein is quoted in Mesorat Moshe 2:51).
b.      Because one sees nothing in an eclipse (as it is an absence of light, rather than a presence) and we do not make brachot on absences.
c.       Because the bracha of oseh maaseh breseshit does not apply to things whose existence can be mathematically predicted, but are merely rare: eclipses are not anomalies, but a product of the universes’ cycle of life, and more under the berkat hachama rule.
d.      Because full eclipses are exceedingly rare and partial eclipses are almost impossible to “see” without modern eclipse glasses (a 75% eclipse hardly is noticed on a functional level) and are naturally invisible.
e.       For other reasons that are less obvious related to the fact that these have to be wonders from “creation” and these are not from creation.
f.       Because some thought that eclipses were punishments and thus no blessing was ordained.[4]
6.      Based on all this, one can say that eclipses could be different from all other created natural anomalies as a matter of Jewish law and are not covered by the general idea of a wonder such that a blessing should be made. To my surprise, even as the primary source of the view that one can make a bracha on wonders beyond the Mishna’s list is Rabbi Wozner and he explicitly notes that eclipses are different from volcanoes, waterfalls, geysers and many other rare natural phenomena, the secondary codifiers of the last generation have completely missed this distinction.  Instead both Shar HaAyin 7:6 and Penenia Halacha Laws of Bracha 15:5 link the dispute about volcanoes and waterfalls with eclipses and state that one who permits a bracha for volcanoes and waterfalls would do so for eclipses as well, when in fact that is incorrect.  Eclipses were known in Talmudic times and yet no bracha was noted: that bothers Rabbi Shmuel Wozner, who permit a bracha on an erupting volcano, not to permit a bracha to be recited on an eclipse, by noting that he is uncertain if a bracha is proper.[5]
7.      Additionally, let me add a thought of my own about modern times and bracha’s over wonders.  The Shulchan Aruch OC 228:3 limits even the mountains that one can make a bracha on to such mountains in which the hand of our Creator is clear and apparent. (ולא על כל הרים וגבעות מברך, אלא דווקא על הרים וגבעות המשונים וניכרת גבורת הבורא בהם.)  I think in our modern times, with modern science explaining all of these events, no mountains or valleys ever meet the criterial of make it clear (to normal people) that God is in charge of the universe.  Based on this, I would not make any extensions of this halacha beyond its minimums recorded in the Shuchan Aruch because I think that the test for determining whether we can add to this list is and make a bracha is וניכרת גבורת הבורא בהם.  Given the secular environment we live in, I think no natural astrological events meets that bill in modern times so I only – at most -- make such brachot on the things that the halachic tradition directly directs me to do, like lighting or thunder or great mountains and certain rivers. I would not make such a bracha on an erupting volcano or a solar eclipse, as seeing such does not cause normal people in my society to experience God.  (There are two formulations of my claim, each slightly different.  The first is experiential, in that I think that most people in my society do not sense any awe of God at an eclipse.  Second, even if any particular person does (and I do not doubt that some do), they cannot make the bracha since most people in America do not so sense God through these events and that is the halachic test found in the Shulchan Aruch.  The sense of wonder has to be obvious to normal people and that is lacking in the world we live in.
8.      Finally, all attempts to actually endorse making a bracha on an eclipse run directly against the combined force of both (1) the minhag, which is not to make a bracha and (2) the rule of ספק ברכות להקל. These two together make it difficult for any moreh horah to argue convincingly that there is clear proof that bracha should be made.
9.      I have consciously not engaged with Rabbi Linzer’s very worthwhile point (which I more or less agree with) that “we strive to bring our religious lives and our halakhic lives in sync” exactly because (as he himself notes) this calculus is limited to cases where there is a dispute between poskim about what to do.  Here, to the best of my knowledge, there is no dispute and since there is no classical halachic authority who actually says “yes make a bracha on an eclipse” there is no grounds to examining very important meta issues used to resolve disputes (since there is no dispute).
10.  Based on all of this, I would not make a bracha on an eclipse.
11.  Having said that, I am happy to endorse other forms of religions veneration for one who feels such wonder.
a.       One can certainly say this bracha without שם ומלכות.
b.      I am also somewhat comfortable with someone making this blessing in Aramaic (see Shulchan Aruch OC 167:10, 187:1 and 219:4) although I am aware of the view of Iggrot Moshe OC 4:20:27, but find the view of the Aruch Hashulchan OC 202:3 more analytically compelling.
c.       Both the suggestions of Rabbi Chaim David Ha-Levi (Responsa Aseh Lecha Rav, 150) that one recited va-yevarech david (Chronicles. 1:29:10) and adding “who performs acts of creation” at the end and of Rabbi David Lau, current Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Israel, to recite Tehillim 19 and 104 are completely reasonable as well.
d.      Other innovative non-bracha based solutions are also reasonable.
12.  On the other hand, those who attended an eclipse – I myself traveled to Rabun Georgia, an epicenter for the total eclipse and sat in total darkness at for three minutes in the middle of the day and did not feel any closer to the Almighty as Creator of the World during the eclipse than I did after or before -- can feel free to engage in no innovative religious observance at all without feelings that they are deficient in any way.
13.  I welcome readers to direct me to a source written by an achron which directly discusses eclipses and permits a bracha.  (Please feel free to email me.) So far, I have only seen that the group that permits a bracha for an eclipse does so based on a putative ruling of Rabbi Wozner and others to permit such a bracha, which upon closer examination is not present.  I am willing to ponder the possibility that there is an achron who permits such a bracha even as others do not – that posek argues that all wonders deserve a bracha and the listing in paragraph 5 above about why eclipses are different from other wonders is incorrect – To the best of my knowledge, that is a theoretical position that is not actually adopted.

[1] I am inclined to the more expansive view because the formulation in the Beit Yosef in Tur OC 228.
[2] This is an important point.  Rabbi Wozner has the right as a morah horah to assert that he rules that the mishna’s list is not inclusive and that volcanoes get a bracha (which is exactly what he says, as does Rabbi Nissan Karletz in the same work on page 466).  When one asks him “how can he rule that a bracha needs to be recited, others disagree, and then the matter is in doubt”, Rabbi Wozner responds by stating that he sees no doubt and thus he feels a bracha should be recited.  When Rabbi Wozner states that he has doubt about this matter, he is being clear that this is exactly a case of doubt and no blessing should be recited.
[3] Let me add that eclipses are discussed in the rishonim and codifiers as well, with no mention of a bracha.  See Darchai Moshe on Tur OC 426 and the works cited by Rabbi Linzer in footnote 2 of his teshuva (see here).
[4] It is clear from the recounting of the Chafetz Chaim that he did not say a bracha on an eclipse.  See here.
[5] This is found both Shar HaAyin and Penine Halacha as well as Rabbi Linzer’ teshuva.  Shaar Haayin 7:6 is strict on the whole matter and does not permit a bracha practically on even volcanoes an water falls, so the mistake in that work – linking volcanoes and eclipses -- is merely one of conceptual classification, but Peninia Halacha rules that המברך לא הפסיד (“one who makes the blessing is doing nothing wrong” for “volcanic eruptions, geyser, waterfalls and both lunar and solar eclipses” when it is clear to this writer that the source he is sighting – he cites Rabbi Wozner! – does not adopt that view.  (On page 466 of Shar HaAyin, Rabbi Nissan Karlitz is asked “Is the blessing oseh maaseh bereshit similar in that things that are wonders and not found in the Shulchan Aruch like an erupting volcano or a spouting geyser or other similar phenomena, also requiring a bracha” and Rabbi Karlitz answer “Logic indicates that such is the case also,” but no explicit discussion of eclipses, which could be different.

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