Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Self-Censorship in the Arukh ha-Shulhan, ArtScroll’s Latest Betrayal, and Other Assorted Comments

Self-Censorship in the Arukh ha-Shulhan, ArtScroll’s Latest Betrayal, and Other Assorted Comments
Marc B. Shapiro

1. R. Mordechai Rabinovitch has recently published the second volume of his commentary on the Arukh ha-Shulhan, dealing with the laws of Hanukkah. I strongly encourage anyone who prepares for the holiday by studying the halakhot in the Arukh ha-Shulhan to use R. Rabinovitch’s valuable work.

Interestingly, R. Rabinovitch vocalizes the work as Arokh ha-Shulhan. This is based on the fact that these words, with this vocalization, appear in Isaiah 21:5. Yet this is incorrect. As R. Eitam Henkin has pointed out, when the work was published by R. Epstein himself, the title in Russian also appeared on the binding. R. Epstein knew Russian very well, and the Russian reads “Arukh”. Henkin also notes that in the edition published in Vilna by his daughter, the title appeared in Latin letters. Once again we see that it was pronounced “Arukh”.[1] This latter point might have been known to some long-time readers of the Seforim Blog, as this page with the Latin letters was reproduced in this post from 2007. Here it is again.


The Arukh ha-Shulhan was the subject of a dispute between R. Shaul Yisraeli, a member of the Supreme Rabbinic Court (Beit Din ha-Gadol) and Menachem Elon, of the Israeli Supreme Court. The context was that France had requested that Israel extradite a criminal. Elon argued that this was permitted according to Jewish law. In support of this he cited Arukh ha-Shulhan 388:7, which states that there is no law of mesirah when dealing with a civilized government and legal system, such as in Czarist Russia[!] and England. Here is the text.


When challenged by R. Shaul Yisraeli that the text in the Arukh ha-Shulhan was written with an eye to the anti-Semitic government, Elon defended his position that the text is R. Epstein’s authentic opinion.[2] I don’t wish to get into this dispute at present,[3] and readers interested in the topic can consult R. Michael Broyde’s article “Informing on Others for Violating American Law: A Jewish Law View”, available here

R. Rabinovitch’s new commentary is also relevant to this debate, since he identifies examples of what he regards as self-censorship in the Arukh ha-Shulhan, and these are in areas not as potentially problematic as the halakhot dealing with mesirah. In his discussion of the Hanukkah story, Arukh ha-Shulhan 670:3, R. Epstein writes: שכשנכנסו אנשי אנטיוכס להיכל. Yet in the Talmud it states שכשנכנסו יוונים להיכל. R. Rabinovitch suggests that this is an example of self-censorship.[4] At first I thought that this was somewhat far fetched. I didn't think that there was any reason to fear that government officials would be offended by a simple historical description that mentions the ancient Greeks. However, S. wrote to me as follows.
Yevanim was a particularly loaded term in Russia (for historical purposes this includes regions outside of Russia proper, like Ukraine), because Jews called the non-Jews Yevanim. They did so because many Ukrainians were of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (the Russian Orthodox Church is an Eastern Orthodox Church and in that way 'related' to Greece as well). It is for this reason that Hanover called his account of the Khmelnitzky massacres Yeven Metzula, and refers to the Cossacks as yevanim - but we can see it from other sources, too. For example, see attached for a horrifying account of a massacre on the second day of Pesach 1655. You can see he calls the Cossacks yevanim (from here).
Supposedly it was also a play on the name Ivan, but I'm not sure if that's just folk etymology. But more importantly, we can see that some works took it seriously and changed yevanim to something else, to avoid offending the censor. See here where changing yevanim to "yehirim" in Maoz Tzur was a somewhat common change.
And see here where it documents in the 1840s that Jews called the Russians yevanim  - and doubtless you can show it from many Yiddish sources, too. See here where I discuss how the Slavuta Talmud actually changes a gemara; "Rabbi said, why speak Syriac in Eretz Yisrael? Speak Hebrew or Greek!" to "Speak Hebrew or Akum!" 
So in my view the Arukh Ha-Shulchan definitely deliberately wrote Antiochos.
We can argue about whether this or that particular halakhah in the Arukh ha-Shulhan is an example of self-censorship, but there can be no doubt about the basic fact that R. Epstein did indeed censor himself for fear of the Czar. All one needs to do is see his fawning essay “Kevod Melekh”, at the beginning of Arukh ha-Shulhan, Hoshen Mishpat, to get a sense of the environment he had to operate in. In this essay he tells the reader how much the Jews love the Czar, and that is why they pray for him and his family every Shabbat and Yom Tov.

R. Eliyahu Zini,[5] whose books I hope to discuss in a future post, points to a clear example of the Arukh ha-Shulhan’s self-censorship in Orah Hayyim 329:9. There he writes:

לסטים שצרו על בתי ישראל אם באו על עסקי ממון . . . אבל אם באו על עסקי נפשות להרוג ולאבד או אפילו באו סתם והיינו שאין ידוע לנו על מה באו הוה ג"כ כבבירור על עסקי נפשות דסתם לסטים הם הורגי נפשות יוצאים עליהם בכלי זיין ומחללין עליהם את השבת ובזמן הקדמון בזמן שבהמ"ק היה קיים ובאו לעיר העומדת על הגבול. . . .

This halakhah is derived from Eruvin 45a, but in this text there is no mention of bandits – לסטים. Rather, the Talmud is speaking of non-Jews – נכרים (an alternate reading cited by Dikdukei Soferim is גוים). Secondly, there is nothing in the Talmud about the last halakhah I quoted only applying in the era when the Temple stood. These changes made by R. Epstein were due of fear of creating problems with the government. I think this is as clear as it can be, which makes it very surprising that R. Ovadiah Yosef took the Arukh ha-Shulhan at face value that the latter halakhah only applied in the days of the Temple. R. Ovadiah then points out that the Shulhan Arukh disagrees, seeing the halakhah as also applying in contemporary times.[6]

R. Zini cannot contain himself at this (mis)understanding of R. Ovadiah, and as he often does, he rejects R. Ovadiah’s point very strongly.[7]

ומי פתי הוא זה שלא יבין שבעל ערוך השלחן "צינזר את עצמו" מפחד הצאר, כפי שעשה בעשרות מקומות בספרו זה . . . ופלא נשגבה ממני איך הגר"ע יוסף שליט"א לא הבחין בכך?!

As mentioned already, the Talmud, Eruvin 45a, uses the word נכרים. This means non-Jews, and only non-Jews. Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I saw that the Soncino translation has the following: “If foreigners besieged Israelite towns.” Since there is no way that the translator, who was a learned man, could have made such a mistake, I can only assume that this translation was also designed to avoid any non-Jewish ill will.

Since the author of the Arukh ha-Shulhan, R. Jehiel Michel Epstein, was the brother-in-law of R. Naftali Zvi Judah Berlin, now is a good place to note the problem with one of the titles of R. Berlin’s works. His commentary to R. Ahai Gaon’s She’iltot is העמק שאלה. How should these words be pronounced? Some scholars write Ha-Amek She’alah, basing themselves on Isaiah 7:11. However, Gil S. Perl argues that the correct pronunciation is Ha-Amek She’elah. As he puts it, if the pronunciation in Isaiah was intended, “the title would mean ‘sink to the depths,’ the ‘depths' (from the word she’ol) being a reference to the netherworld or Hell—a rather strange title for a work of halakhic commentary.” Perl therefore suggest that the Netziv “intended his title as a play on those words from Isaiah pronounced Ha’amek She’alah, meaning ‘delve into the question” or perhaps ‘delve into the She’ilta.’”[8]

Speaking of proper pronunciation of titles, ArtScroll might play a positive role in this. Since today so many people studying Talmud are using ArtScroll, they will see that the tractates are pronounced “Arachin”, not “Eruchin”, and “Horayos”, not “Horiyos”. So I hope that these yeshivish pronunciations will soon be a thing of the past, at least among English speakers, and if so this will be thanks to ArtScroll. Furthermore, since their edition of the Midrash Rabbah has started to appear people in yeshiva circles will begin to use it, and slowly the pronunciation “Medrish” may go by the wayside (at least we can hope so). Now if we could only rid people of the pronunciation “ikrim” instead of “ikarim”.

Having said all this, it is also the case that general convention can sometimes trump proper grammatical pronunciation. For example, take the words נודע ביהודה which appear Psalms 76:2. These words are pronounced Noda Bihudah, yet when referring to the book by this title the convention is to write Noda bi-Yehudah, even though this is not the correct pronunciation.

For those who want to see a bit of “Sephardic supremacy” when it comes to pronunciation, see this video where R. Ovadiah really lets the Ashkenazim have it.


Returning to the Arukh ha-Shulhan, its significance has declined in the last two generations. While figures such as R. Joseph Elijah Henkin, R. Moses Feinstein, and R. Yaakov Kamenetsky regarded the Arukh ha-Shulhan as more authoritative than the Mishnah Berurah,[9] not many poskim still have this perspective. Whereas the Arukh ha-Shulhan used to stand on its own, in our day we have seen the publication of an edition of the Arukh ha-Shulhan accompanied by the pesakim of the Mishnah Berurah, the point of which is to let the reader know that while one can study the Arukh ha-Shulhan as a theoretical work, when it comes to practical halakhah one must follow the Mishnah Berurah.[10]

The truth is that one can use the Arukh ha-Shulhan as a work of practical halakhah just like one can use the Mishnah Berurah. This reminds me of an experience I had many years ago when I believe I was still in high school. I was at a shiur where the rabbi was learning Mishnah Berurah. After reading one halakhah in the Mishnah Berurah he pointed out that “we don’t hold like this”. A member of the audience asked how one who learns the Mishnah Berurah by himself is supposed to know when that is the case, that is, when “we don’t hold” like it. The rabbi replied that this is why it is important to have a rav, so that you will know when we follow the Mishnah Berurah and when we don’t.

Even though I was quite young I thought that this was a mistaken reply, and the many years subsequent have not changed my mind. It is of course important to have a rav, but not for the reason the rabbi said. There is absolutely nothing wrong with someone learning the Mishnah Berurah (or Arukh ha-Shulhan) and following everything in it. One doesn’t need, and it would be an impossible task, to ask his rabbi about each and every halakhah if this is what “we follow”. One who lives in an Orthodox community will learn that sometimes the community practice is more lenient than what appears in these works, and sometimes it is more strict. It is in those circumstances that I think that one should consult one’s rav, and ask him if despite common practice it makes sense to be lenient in accord with either of these texts, or if one should be strict as recommended by either the Mishnah Berurah or Arukh ha-Shulhan even though the common practice is not like this. But as a general rule, and I have never had a teacher who thought otherwise, one can rely on either of these classic halakhic texts.

2. Many people were distressed to see the sources from great pre-modern poskim that spoke about all sorts of physical mutilation, including R. Asher ben Jehiel agreeing that an adulteress’ nose could be cut off. I have mentioned in the past, but it bears repeating here, that the various punishments seen were also found in the contemporary non-Jewish society.[11] I know this may be troubling to some readers, to see that leading rabbis had an approach to punishment that today people regard as barbaric. Yet there really is no alternative, as to a certain extent, every generation reflects the general values of society at large. Halakhah and Jewish thought are often likewise affected in this way. I have provided numerous examples of this throughout the years, so there is no need to go through it again.[12]

3. In a question “ripped from the headlines", I was asked if I know of any past examples of someone secretly observing women in the mikveh. I don’t of any such cases, although in the anti-hasidic text Shever Posh’im[13] it quotes a hasidic author as follows:

ואני אומר דראוי לעמוד בשעת טבילה. ויאמין לי שפעם אחת עמדתי בעת שטבלה אשה אחת וראיתי באותו מקום ודי עלי כאוות ולא כלום. ולאחר שהלכתי משם שרי עלי קדושה גדולה.

I have never heard of such a mikveh, where men would bathe on one side and women immerse on the other. In fact, I wouldn’t pay this text any mind, since I find it hard to believe that anyone who examines the citations from the work, which are supposedly notes on the Tur, will not conclude that it is a forgery designed to make the Hasidim look bad.[14] There are so many outrageous things said in the text that nothing else makes sense. Did any hasid, even the most extreme, ever say that one who prays properly need not fast on Yom Kippur ?[15]

כתב הטור: יוה"כ אסור באכילה ושתי'. וכתב המין: ומי שיוכל לכוין בתפלה כתיקונה מותר בכל, ואין אכילה רק שיהא עם רוחניות ולא עם גשמיות כידוע ליודעי חן.

It is difficult even to record the following shocking text,[16] but we are not in the business of censorship here, and as mentioned, I have no doubt that this is a forgery.

כתב הטור: דבעל קרי מותר האידנא בתפילה . . . וה"ה אף להוציא זרע מחמת גודל החימום הק"ש והתפילה כי זהו העיקר לכבוד השי"ת, כידוע לחכמים השלימים.

Speaking of authentic texts, however, R. Joseph Hayyim does deal with a case of voyeurism and prescribes a teshuvah for this. I don’t want to get any more explicit, so for those who read Hebrew here is the text from Od Yosef Hai: Halakhot, parashat Shofetim, no. 51[17].



I am aware of only two times that a woman (other than one’s wife) can be seen without her clothes. One is the sotah, when her top is removed.[18] R. Judah states that if her breasts are attractive, they are not exposed,[19] but his opinion is not accepted. The other time is that the kohen must examine both men and women for tzara’at, and in both cases they are to be naked.[20]

As for the current controversy about whether dayanim need to see a female convert immerse, no one has yet referred to the following responsum from Kitvei R. Weinberg, vol. 1, no. 10. When I published this book I decided to have this short responsum translated from German, although I wasn’t sure if it was worth the trouble since all R. Weinberg was doing was repeating the halakhah as it appears in the Shulhan Arukh. Recent attempts to alter the traditional method of womens’ conversion, by arguing that the dayanim should not see the actual tevilah, show that even a simple responsum like this one can have value. I am very happy that it was translated and included in the sefer, so that it can now be part of the public conversation. 




Regarding the sources that have been cited in support of changing the traditional practice, no one has yet referred to a responsum by R. Isaac Herzog in which in the specific case he discusses (and I don’t think it can be used le-khathilah for other cases) he allows that only women see the tevilah.[21]

Also worth noting, even though in my opinion it has no halakhic significance, is Masekhet Gerim 1:4 which states:

האיש מטביל את האיש והאשה מטבלת את האשה

R. Hayyim Kanievsky points out, in his commentary ad loc., that this implies that men did not see any part of the immersion (unlike the current practice).

משמע שהאנשים לא יראוה כשהיא טובלת . . . משמע שאין רואין טבילתה רק הנשים.

R. Aryeh Leib Grossnass, Lev Aryeh, vol. 2, no. 11, argues that the beit din does not actually have to see the immersion in order for the conversion to be valid. It is this responsum that R. Moses Feinstein is responding to in Iggerot Moshe, Yoreh Deah vol. 2, no. 127.

S. also called my attention to this document from 1844 signed by Isaac Leeser and currently on auction at Sotheby's (link). It records how the conversion of a girl was only witnessed by two women, not by the beit din.

4. Simcha Goldstein was kind enough to send me these pictures from a Passover Haggadah sent out to donors by Yeshiva Torah Vodaath. It hardly needs to be said that such pictures (check out how the women are dressed), not to mention the Zionist theme as a whole, would never appear today in anything sent out by this yeshiva. 













Regarding Yeshiva Torah Vodaath, in the book Mi-Pihem shel Rabbotenu (Bnei Brak, 2008), p. 49, there in an interview with R. Don Ungarischer who states that when R. Reuven Grozovsky came to the United States during World War II, Torah Vodaath was the only yeshiva in America. This is incorrect and I am not just referring to the existence of Yeshivat R. Yitzchak Elhanan or Beit ha-Midrash le-Torah in Chicago, as Yeshivat R. Chaim Berlin also existed during this period. 

5. The second volume of Haym Soloveitchik’s collected essays has just been published. This is a very important work, especially since nine of the essays have never before appeared in print. Among these newly published essays are those that put forth a new thesis about the origins of Ashkenazic religious culture. There is so much learning in this book, and it is written in such an engaging style, that anyone with an appreciation for the history of halakhah will be spellbound.

The essay “The ‘Third Yeshivah of Bavel’”, where Soloveitchik elaborates on his new thesis, is a particular favorite of mine. It could be that in the end the scholarly community will reject his position. Yet just to read how he develops his argument, and attempts to create an entirely new paradigm, is a treat. Here is one lengthy paragraph from the essay that I found quite significant (p. 161).

Shift back now to the mid-tenth century and the original characteristics of Ashkenaz. I have noted that the new settlers saw no difference between the aggadic sections of the Talmud and the halakhic ones and exegeted both in equal detail. We take this, too, for granted because we find a commentary on both sections on every printed page of the Talmud that we have seen since early youth. Think, however, what this entails lexically. The halakhic portions of the Talmud are strongly formulaic, as is any unpunctuated text. If one knows some thirty to forty idiomatic phrases in Jewish Babylonian Aramaic, most halakhic passages will pose few linguistic problems. (Understanding their legal content is a different matter.) However, the aggadic narratives entail a wide-ranging and detailed knowledge of the Aramaic language—all the terms of different household utensils, farm equipment, agricultural practices, domestic animals, flora and fauna, to mention just a few areas of life that are reflected in the narratives of the aggadeta. We are talking about a vocabulary of some 10,000-12000 words, if not more. (Actually, much more, as one should count meanings rather than words or roots [shorashim]. Most words have multiple meanings, and commanding a language means precisely controlling the numerous meanings of its words, as well as its idioms.) Unless these settlers had a vast dictionary, alongside which the Sefer he-Arukh would seem a Berlitz phrase book, and unless this enormous dictionary and even the memory of it got lost in the Mainz academy within one generation, we must conclude that these immigrant founders of Ashkenazic culture were Aramaic speakers. Precisely because Aramaic was their native tongue, they could readily undertake what the scholars of Kairouan, Fez, and Lucena (all native Arabic speakers) could only attempt with trepidation, namely, to exegete the entire Talmud, leaving no phrase, halakhic or aggadic, unexplained.

6. The most recent issue of Milin Havivin has appeared. My article “Torah im Derekh Eretz as a Means of Last Resort” can be seen here.

I also published a letter from R. Jehiel Jacob Weinberg and part of another letter he wrote.


These are important letters as they show R. Weinberg’s strong belief that in the modern world rabbis need to have a secular education in order to be effective. Those who read Hebrew will see very clearly where R. Weinberg stood on this issue, and that for all his love and respect for the haredi roshei yeshiva, intellectually and spiritually he was not part of their world.

7 Finally, we come to what I have termed ArtScroll’s latest betrayal. These are harsh words, but I believe them to be entirely justified. It is one thing to censor R. Zevin, or to cut out passages from other recent works. But to do this with rishonim is a completely different matter. After my book appears, I will discuss a number of examples of censorship that for one reason or another I did not include in the book, as well as examples that I only became aware of after the book was in press. However, this is such an important example that I did not want to wait. Its importance is such that I have no doubt that according to halakhah, anyone who demands a refund from ArtScroll is entitled to his money back, as what I will show you is nothing less than a betrayal not only of the reader, who paid good money to get what he thought was a complete mikraot gedolot chumash, but also of one of the greatest rishonim, R. Samuel ben Meir (Rashbam).

Soon after Rosh ha-Shanah 2014, ArtScroll released the first volume of its mikraot gedolot chumash. It is a beautifully typeset edition, completely punctuated. The response was so positive that within a month the volume was reprinted, and it would not be a surprise if the ArtScroll mikraot gedolot became the new standard.

One of the new elements of this edition is that Rashbam to Genesis chapter 1 is included, which is not the case with the old mikraot gedolot chumashim. (It is found in the Mossad ha-Rav Kook Torat Hayyim mikraot gedolot). As you can see on this page, the Rashbam’s commentary is taken from the Rosin edition (which is where the commentary to Gen. ch. 1 first appeared).


In his commentary to chapter 1 Rashbam advances the notion that according to the peshat of the Torah, the day does not start in the evening, but in the morning. This is only one of many examples where Rashbam’s commentary explains biblical verses in accordance with the peshat, and in opposition to the rabbinic understanding. He even states that according to the peshat the commandment of tefillin in Exodus 13:9 is not to be understood literally.[22] Of course, Rashbam put on tefillin, but in this case he was only explaining what he thought the peshat was. Similarly, he began Shabbat in the evening, not in the morning, but this did not stop him from offering a peshat that differed from the halakhah.

For some reason, ArtScroll finds this difficult to take, and therefore decided to delete all of Rashbam’s “problematic” comments regarding the beginning and end of the day. I repeat, since I know this will be hard for people to believe: ArtScroll omitted portions of Rashbam’s commentary from its mikraot gedolot.

Here is Rashbam’s commentary on Gen. 1:4 and 1:5 in the Rosin edition.


Now look at ArtScroll’s version of Rashbam’s commentary to Gen. 1:4 and 1:5. Entire sections of his commentary to each of the verses have been omitted!


Here is Rashbam’s commentary to Gen. 1:8 in the Rosin edition.


Here is how the commentary to Gen. 1:8 appears in ArtScroll.


Again you can see that a section of the commentary has been deleted.

Here is Rashbam’s commentary to Gen. 1:31 in the Rosin edition.


ArtScroll completely omits this short comment.

It is not only in Genesis chapter 1 that Rashbam’s that has been tampered with. I only skimmed a few other places and I found the following problem with Gen. 49:16. The first words in ArtScroll’s version of Rashbam commentary are המפרש על שמשון.


Yet look at the Rosin edition where the first word is המפרשו.


Small emendations such as this are obviously not acceptable, but they are in an entirely different category than the censorship in Genesis chapter 1.

I also found problems with ArtScroll’s punctuation of Rashbam. For example, in his commentary to Gen. 37:2, which is one of his most famous passages, Rashbam states that he heard from his grandfather (Rashi) that if he had time he would write new commentaries לפי הפשטות המתחדשים בכל יום. The word הפשטות is to be vocalized as ha-peshatot, i.e., the plural of peshat. ArtScroll has the mistaken vocalization ha-pashtut. Later in this verse Rashbam writes (in the Rosin version) לפי דרך ארץ קורא אחיו. ArtScroll has קרא, changing the verb from participle to perfect. I have not gone through even one chapter of the book, comparing Rosin’s edition to ArtScroll (not to mention other commentaries). If I were to do so, I am sure many more such examples would be revealed.

This post does not need any long conclusion, as the evidence speaks for itself. I would only add that when modern publishers feel that they can start deleting commentaries of rishonim, then we have reached a new low. Will students of Torah, those who treasure the words of Rashbam, tolerate this betrayal? I think (hope) not, which is why it is imperative that in the next printing ArtScroll reinsert the words of Rashbam.



[1] “Sifrei Arukh ha-Shulhan – Seder Ketivatam ve-Hadpasatam,” Hitzei Giborim 7 (2014), p. 518.
[2] See Elon, “Dinei Hasgarah be-Mishpat Ivri,” Tehumin 8 (1987), pp. 263-286, id. “Bisus ha-Ma’arekhet ha-Mishpatit al Dinei ha-Torah,” ibid., pp. 304-309; R. Yisraeli, “Hasgarat Avaryan le-Shiput Zar,” ibid., pp. 386-297. (also found in Yisraeli, Havot Binyamin, no. 23). R. Eliezer Waldenberg agreed with Elon. See Tzitz Eliezer, vol. 19, no. 52 (end).
[3] Among those who agree with R. Yisraeli is R. Menasheh Klein, Mishneh Halakhot, vol. 17, no. 108. (Look who this responsum is addressed to.)



Since I just mentioned R. Klein, let me present another responsum of his, from 1987, which unlike the others he sent me was not included in Mishneh Halakhot. It is published here for the first time.



The reason he did not include it in his responsa was undoubtedly because the “letter” he disputes is by none other than R. Kook, and R. Klein did not want to be associated with R. Kook even if he disputes with him. That explains why he won’t even mention his name here. In fact, when R. Klein cites a book published by Mossad ha-Rav Kook, he simply writes הוצאת קוק. See Mishneh Halakhot, vol. 10, p. 382. See also vol. 8, p. 78 where he writes הוצאת רמב"ן קוק.

Here is the letter from R. Kook to which R. Klein is responding (Iggerot ha-Re’iyah, vol. 1, pp. 99-100).


[4] See also p. 20 n. 13, where R. Rabinovitch points to another example where he thinks that R. Epstein’s formulation was influenced by fear of the government.
[5] Eretz Hemdatenu (Haifa, n.d.), p. 139.
[6] Masa Ovadiah (Jerusalem, 2007), p. 341.
[7] Eretz Hemdatenu, p. 139.
[8] The Pillar of Volozhin (Boston, 2012),  pp. 17-18, n. 37. This too is perhaps not the best transliteration, as in most texts the ayin in העמק has a sheva. In a minority of texts it has a hataf patah.
[9] Regarding R. Henkin, see my post here.

After that post appeared a member of R. Moshe Feinstein’s family wrote to me as follows:
I spent a great deal of time learning with and talking to Reb Moshe, both on the East Side and in the mountains.  He unambiguously told me exactly what you quote from Rav Henkin.  He explained that the Aruch Hashulchan was a Rav, while the Mishna Berura was a Rosh Yeshiva, and the psak of a Rav is better authority.  Therefore, when he was unwilling to make his own determination, he would follow the AH over the MB.  I mentioned this story to Rabbi Dovid Zucker, Rosh Kollel of Kollel Zichron Shneur in Chicago, and he told me that he heard precisely the same thing from his Rebbi, Rav Yaakov Kaminetzki.
R. Yehudah Herzl Henkin wrote to me as follows:
I notice in Seforimblog from Jan. 26 '08 that you quote R' Ratzabi, concerning the superiority of MB [Mishnah Berurah] over AH [Arukh ha-Shulhan], as stating  that the CI [Chazon Ish] wrote that MB is 'like the Sanhedrin.' He is undoubtedly referring to Igrot CI pt. 2 no. 41 which is widely misquoted in this regard. The CI says only that a ruling of the Bet Yosef and MA and MB all together-- and that no one disagrees with-- is like a ruling of the Sanhedrin, ayen sham. (The CI could hardly have thought that MB alone is like the Sanhedrin, as he disagrees with him in practice dozens of times.) By coincidence, I wrote this in Hatzofeh on Feb. 8 '08. Incidentally,  R' Menashe Klein, in comments in BB [Bnei Banim] vol.1 p. 225, attributed the popularity of MB almost to a bat kol. I expressed my surprise. Later when he reprinted his comments in Mishne Halachot he omitted the term.
[10] See R. Eitam Henkin’s (unsigned) review of this edition in Alonei Mamre 120 (2007), pp. 119-124. The Hafetz Hayyim was aware of the fact that the popularity of the Mishnah Berurah led to a decline in study of the Magen Avraham. See Meir Einei Yisrael (Bnei Brak, 2004), vol. 5, p. 403.
[11] One reader called my attention to Tory Vandeventer Pearman, Women and Disability in Medieval Literature (New York, 2010), p. 80, who discusses how cutting off the nose of an adulterous woman was a common punishment and parallel to male castration. R. Menachem Sheinkopf reminded me of Hut ha-Meshulash (Munkacs, 1984), p. 38a, which records how the Hatam Sofer in his youth witnessed the sentencing to death of an informer. This text was deleted from the next edition of Hut ha-Meshulash. See Meir Hildesheimer, “The Attitude of the Hatam Sofer toward Moses Mendelssohn,” PAAJR 60 (1994), p. 155 n. 50. It is also reported that as a youth, the Hatam Sofer personally killed an anti-Semite. See Siah Sarfei Kodesh (Bnei Brak, 1989), vol. 4, p. 154. (I don’t think that this report has any substance).
[12] One example I have often given to illustrate this was that today every rabbi will be happy to speak about how Judaism opposes slavery, and that the slavery mentioned in the Torah was far removed from the slavery in pre-Civil War days. Yet two hundred years ago, plenty of rabbis would have found nothing objectionable with Southern slavery. (When I write “every rabbi” in the first sentence of this note, it is an exaggeration. See my post hereSee also R. Avigdor Miller, Q&A, vol. 2, p. 12, that it was a mistake for Lincoln to free the slaves, as they could have used another 50 or 100 years of slavery in order to “civilize” them.)
[13] Published in Mordechai Wilensky, ed., Hasidim u-Mitnagdim (Jerusalem, 1970), vol.. 2 p. 117. This strange passage is mentioned by David Biale, Eros and the Jews (Berkeley, 1997), p. 125.
[14] Wilensky leaned in this direction, see ibid., p. 112.
[15] Ibid., p. 120.
[16] Ibid., p. 119.
[17] (Jerusalem, 1910), p. 51b (second pagination)
[18] Mishnah, Sotah  1:5.
[19] Ibid. Although the Mishnah states אם היה לבה נאה this is obviously a euphemism for breasts. As is to be expected, R. Jacob Emden, Lehem Shamayim, ad loc., has something to say on this passage. How does the kohen know that she has attractive breasts, to know whether or not they can be revealed? Emden states that he heard as much from her husband. But this answer does not satisfy him, for סתם אשה כל יופי שלה שם הוא. As support for this notion, he cites Berakhot 10b שאחזה בהוד יפיה, which Rashi explains to mean “breasts” If he was more of a fan of the Zohar perhaps he would have cited Zohar, Bereshit 45a: ושפירו דאתתא באינון שדים . Zohar, Shemot 80b, states

ר' אבא פתח (שיר השירים, ח,ח) אחות לנו קטנה ושדים אין לה מה נעשה לאחותנו ביום שידובר בה. אחות לנו קטנה דא כנסת ישראל דאקרי אחות לקב"ה. ושדים אין לה היינו דתנינן בשעתא דקריבו ישראל לטורא דסיני לא הוה בהון זכוון ועובדין טבין לאגנא עלייהו דכתיב ושדים אין לה דהא אינון תקונא ושפירו דאתתא ולית שפירו דאתתא אלא אינון

See also R. Yitzhak Ratsaby, Olat Yitzhak, vol. 2, p. 390. The second quote from the Zohar shows the importance of understanding the literal meaning of Song of Songs in order to appreciate the allegory.
[20] See Mishneh Torah, Tum’at Tzara’at 9:12.
[21] Pesakim u-Khetavim, Yoreh Deah no. 99 (p. 327). On this page R. Herzog also states we should require all ba’alei teshuvah, especially public Sabbath violators, to immerse themselves in the mikveh. This is the upshot of the Vilna Gaon’s comment to Shulhan ArukhYoreh Deah 268:30.
[22] Commentary to Ex. 13:9.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Was Professor Saul Lieberman “Orthodox” or “Conservative”? [1]

Was Professor Saul Lieberman “Orthodox” or “Conservative”? [1]
by David Golinkin

Saul Lieberman (1898–1983) is universally regarded by Talmud scholars as the foremost talmudist of his generation, and some regard him as one of the foremost talmudists of all times.
Immanuel Low wrote to him in Hebrew in 1938: “In the depth of your articles there are many sparks of the spirit of the Gaon of Vilna.” E. S. Rosenthal wrote in Hebrew in 1963: “... until we can almost say about him: there was no king like him before him, according to his custom and his method.” Jacob Neusner, who later attacked Lieberman after Lieberman had panned Neusner’s Yerushalmi translation, wrote to Lieberman on December 10, 1981: “I am enjoying Hayerushalmi Kifshuto so much, that I wanted to tell you so.... It reminds me of why I have long ago concluded you are the greatest exegete of rabbinic texts of the twentieth century and among the true greats among the ones I have studied and used—of all times.” Yitzhak Rafael wrote in Hebrew in 1983: “I am not authorized nor do I dare assert that Professor Rabbi Saul Lieberman z”l was the greatest Talmud scholar in recent generations, but it seems that no one would attempt to dispute this assertion.” David Weiss Halivni wrote in 1986: “Professor Lieberman was not only a yahid b’doro, unique in his generation, but a yahid b’dorotav, unique in all generations.” Elijah Schochet wrote in 1988: “Rabbeinu Eliyahu, the Gaon of Vilna, was born on the first day of Pesah, 1720. Rabbeinu Shaul, our own Gaon, was laid to rest on the eve of Pesah, 1983. Between them, there was no other like Saul Lieberman.”[2]
Finally, in 2002, Israel Ta-Shema recounted an amazing story that took place in 1981, in which he asked Professor Lieberman a riddle about the Yerushalmi. Ta-Shema had heard the riddle from Rabbi Shlomo Goren in 1961 and since then had been unable to find the answer. Professor Lieberman spent about three minutes in silence, during which he opened one volume of the Yerushalmi and closed it. Finally he returned to the bookshelf, pulled out Yerushalmi Sotah 2:1, and showed Ta-Shema the correct answer. Lieberman later explained to Ta-Shema that “in my youth, I would have answered immediately that the answer is not in the Yerushalmi at all. But now that I am old, I do not rely on my memory, which is already weakened; and therefore I decided to flip through all the pages of the Yerushalmi in my mind, in order to make certain that it is not found in any place. And when I arrived at chapter 2 of Sotah, I found the place and showed you.” Ta-Shema concluded the story: “I had the merit over the course of the years to be a frequent visitor to the houses of quite a few of the greatest talmidei hakhamim [scholars] of the generation and among the beki’im [those who possess encyclopedic knowledge] in their generation ... but [bekiut] of such magnitude I have never seen, not before and not after, and the memory of that Shabbat has not departed from me until today.”[3]
In addition to his amazing memory and breadth of knowledge, Lieberman was one of the most prolific Talmud scholars of all times. He published 225 books and articles, for a total of approximately 11,500 pages—devoted, for the most part, to the explication of rabbinic texts.[4] Finally, he published books and articles related to almost every area of Jewish studies, including Bible, Dead Sea Scrolls, Mishnah, Tosefta, Yerushalmi, Bavli, ancient piyyut, Hellenism, Greek, Latin, and medieval rabbinic literature.[5] Therefore, it is not surprising that over eighty books and articles have been devoted to Lieberman and his œuvre between 1948 and 2008.[6] Indeed, three entire books have been published about Lieberman since 2002.[7]
This essay will respond to the most recent monograph, Marc Shapiro’s Saul Lieberman and the Orthodox.[8] Professor Shapiro has shown in his writings that he is adept at archival research.[9] This monograph is no exception; it quotes and/or publishes at least twenty-five letters related to Lieberman. Indeed, it should be entitled “What the Orthodox Thought of Saul Lieberman,” since it quotes the opinions of Rabbis Yaakov Halevi Herzog, Yitzhak Nissim, Shlomo Goren, Isser Yehuda Unterman, Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook, Meir Ben-Zion Hai Uziel, ayim Ozer Grodzinsky, Isaiah Karelitz, Pinchas Hirshprung, Meshulam Rathe, Mordechai Gifter, Yehiel Yaakov Weinberg, Yehudah Leib Maimon, Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky, David Zvi Hillman, Yaakov Kamenetski, Aaron Kotler, Menahem Mendel Kasher, Shlomo Yosef Zevin, Menahem Mendel Shneerson, Ze’ev Wolf Leiter, Samuel Belkin, Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, and She’ar Yashuv Cohen. We are in debt to Marc Shapiro for this very useful anthology based on archival sources.
However, it would appear that Shapiro has missed the mark regarding three critical points: (1) the character of the Jewish Theological Seminary from 1940 and following, (2) Lieberman’s motives for accepting a position at JTS and remaining there, and (3) whether Lieberman consider himself “Orthodox” or “Conservative.” This essay will address these three critical issues in Lieberman’s biography.
The Character of the Jewish Theological Seminary from 1940 and Following

Shapiro’s basic assumption is that Lieberman was “Orthodox” and JTS was “Conservative.” Thus, he writes: “It can be imagined what a shock it was for the Orthodox when in 1940 the internationally renowned Jerusalem illui Saul Lieberman accepted an invitation to join the Seminary faculty.”[10] This assumption about JTS, which repeats itself throughout the monograph, is basically incorrect, for the following nine reasons:
1.   During most of the years that Lieberman taught at JTS (1940–1983), almost all of the Talmud faculty at JTS were “Orthodox” or strictly observant Jews, including Rabbis Alexander Marx, Louis Ginzberg, Louis Finkelstein, Moses Hyamson, Abraham Sofer, Moshe Zucker, H. Z. Dimitrovsky, A. S. Rosenthal, Yehezkel Kutscher, Mordechai Margaliot, Jose Faur, David Weiss Halivni, Dov Zlotnick, Israel Francus, and Shamma Friedman.
2.   During the 1940s and 1950s, most of the students at JTS were observant Jews; a large percentage of them came from Orthodox homes and/or were graduates of Yeshiva College. This point is stressed by Schochet and Spiro in their recent biography of Lieberman, and more importantly, it is stressed by Shapiro himself: Between 1946 and 1957, 60% of JTS rabbinical students came from Orthodox homes and 30% were graduates of Yeshiva College.[11] Similarly, both Rabbi Isaac Klein and my father, Rabbi Noah Golinkin z”l, began their studies at Yeshiva University in the 1930s and then transferred to JTS. Rabbi Klein said that he did so in order to learn the critical methodologies of Professor Louis Ginzberg. Indeed, he received s’mikhah yoreh yoreh yadin yadin from Ginzberg. He certainly was not looking for a more lax halakhic approach.[12]
3.   From 1940 to the late 1950s, the division between Orthodox and Conservative Judaism was not at all clear. Indeed, this was pointed out by Shapiro himself as well as by other scholars, such as Jonathan Sarna.[13]
4.   Beginning in the 1950s, the mehitzah become the main dividing line between Orthodox and Conservative Judaism,[14] but the Seminary synagogue maintained separate seating for men and women from the days of Solomon Schechter until Professor Lieberman passed away in 1983.[15]
5.   During all of the years that Lieberman taught at JTS, the Seminary synagogue did not use any of the siddurim produced by the Rabbinical Assembly and edited by Rabbis Silverman, Hadas, or Harlow. It used, instead, a rather obscure Orthodox prayer book edited by Rabbi A. Th. Philips. Indeed, I was informed by someone who prayed in the Seminary synagogue with Professor Lieberman for nine years that at one point, two of the students told Professor Lieberman that the Philips siddurim were falling apart. They, of course, wanted to replace Philips with a more modern siddur. Professor Lieberman said that he would take care of the problem. He then proceeded to purchase two boxes of brand new Philips siddurim! [16]
6.   From 1940 until 1959, Higher Criticism of the Bible was not taught at JTS.[17] This opposition began way back in the days of Sabato Morais, who headed JTS from 1887 until 1897.[18] Solomon Schechter, who served as president of JTS from 1902 until 1915, called Higher Criticism “Higher Anti-Semitism.”[19] Cyrus Adler, who was president of JTS from 1915 until 1940, was also opposed to Biblical Criticism; in his day, Bible was taught at JTS with medieval Bible commentators.[20] Finally, Louis Finkelstein, who headed JTS from 1940 until 1972, was also opposed to Higher Criticism.[21] In 1944, he asked Lieberman to “gently” tell H. L. Ginsberg to write his article on biblical history in a proposed volume entitled Judaism and the Jews “from an extremely conservative point of view,” so as to “avoid various pitfalls of higher criticism.”[22]
7.   Furthermore, in the 1940s when Lieberman started teaching at JTS, the rabbinical students dressed just like rabbinical students at Yeshiva University.[23]
8.   More importantly, Louis Finkelstein, who together with Louis Ginzberg invited Lieberman to teach at JTS in 1940, saw JTS—as had Solomon Schechter and Cyrus Adler before him[24] —as an institution for k’lal yisrael, the collective Jewish people, and not just of the Conservative Movement. Finkelstein stated in 1941: “If someone calls us traditional, orthodox or conservative, it is he who makes a division in Judaism, not us ... I think that the members of the faculty generally prefer the term ‘traditional Judaism’....”[25] After quoting this passage, Schochet and Spiro add: “Finkelstein preferred viewing JTS as an umbrella institution for all traditional Jews, which he hoped would attract to it Orthodox Jews, rather than one reflecting a specific denominational ideology. Finkelstein made no secret of the fact that he hoped that Orthodoxy would eventually find a home at the Seminary. He would therefore counsel his associates, ‘Let’s not be too Conservative; let’s not prevent [Orthodox Jews] from coming.’”[26]
Indeed, Shapiro himself stresses[27] that when Haim Zalman Dimitrovsky came to study with Lieberman at JTS in 1951, he did not even know that JTS had a connection with the Conservative Movement!
9.   Finally, Shapiro himself[28] quotes a letter written by Rabbi Yehiel Yaakov Weinberg in 1948, when he was informed by someone supposedly “in the know” that Finkelstein was interested in him joining the faculty, alongside Ginzberg and Lieberman. Weinberg wrote to his friend Samuel Atlas (in Hebrew): “How could it be possible that they are asking me, when they have two great teachers like L. Ginzberg and Sh. Lieberman?” Weinberg did not say that he could not teach at JTS because it was Conservative or heretical; he simply said that they did not need him, because they already had Ginzberg and Lieberman.
Thus, from 1940 when Lieberman began to teach at JTS, until 1959—and, to a large extent, until 1972, when Louis Finkelstein retired—it was difficult to call JTS a Conservative institution. The faculty and students were mostly Orthodox or traditional; the lines between the movements were not clearly drawn; the Seminary synagogue maintained separate seating and used an Orthodox prayerbook; Higher Criticism was not taught; and the students at JTS even dressed like the students at YU. Louis Finkelstein viewed JTS as an institution for k’lal yisrael and even Rabbi Weinberg had no ideological objections to teaching at JTS.
Thus, there is no basis for Shapiro’s surprise that an “Orthodox” Jew like Lieberman accepted a position teaching at a “Conservative” institution.
Lieberman’s Motives for Leaving Israel, Accepting a Position at JTS, and Remaining There Until the End of His Life

Shapiro says[29] that Lieberman’s main motives were economic security, which he did not have in Jerusalem, and a desire to draw the students at JTS nearer to Torah and Judaism. These points are undoubtedly true, but I believe that there are at least six reasons why Lieberman left Israel, came to JTS, and stayed there for forty-three years:
1.   Saul Lieberman could not earn a living in Jerusalem. This is what Rabbi Meir Bar-Ilan, Lieberman’s father-in-law, told Rabbi Aaron Pechenik and others,[30] and this was the reason that Lieberman later gave Pechenik for remaining there.[31] Indeed, while in Israel (1927–1940), Lieberman worked as a clerk at the Tel-Aviv Chamber of Commerce, as a teacher in Herzlia, as a part-time lecturer at the Mizrahi Teachers Institute.[32] as a secretary at Yeshivat Shaar Hashamayim, as a Talmud teacher at Hebrew University (from 1932–1937, a position from which he was fired and only received severance pay a year later),[33] and as Dean of the Harry Fischel Institute for Talmudic Research.[34]
2.   Shapiro also says that Lieberman wanted to draw the students at JTS closer to Torah and Judaism,[35] as indicated by his brother Meir, by Pnina Herzog, and in a letter to Gershom Scholem from 1941. Furthermore, Lieberman himself said this in a Hebrew letter to Hapardes in 1945, which Shapiro published in 2003. There he says: “Young Jewish men are innocent (t’mimim) and there is nothing that will influence them more than the light of Torah planted by a teacher who believes in the holiness of the Torah.”36] 
3.   At Hebrew University, Lieberman’s Talmud course in the 1930s shrank from six to two students, he was fired, and Hebrew University refused to award him a Ph.D. for Talmuda Shel Kisrin or Tosefet Rishonim.[37] The Harry Fischel Institute, which Lieberman headed for five years, was not an academic institution. Indeed, Lieberman himself spelled out in 1937 the requirements for Talmud scholarship; the students at Harry Fischel did not possess many of those qualifications.[38] In other words, at Hebrew University he had scholars to talk to but no job, while at Harry Fischel he had a job but no one to talk to. Thus, in 1940, JTS was the only serious academic center of Jewish studies in the world, as Lieberman himself wrote to Louis Ginzberg in Hebrew on April 30, 1940: “And I also hope that I could bring benefit to your Bet Midrash, which is now the only scientific institution [i.e., of Jewish studies] in our world.”[39]
4.   In 1940, and for most of the years that Lieberman taught there, JTS had the best Jewish library in the world, with a large collection of manuscripts and Genizah fragments.[40] Schochet and Spiro relate that Seminary librarian, Nahum Sarna, advised Menahem Schmelzer, his successor, to open the Rare Book Room at any time so that Lieberman could consult the thirteenth-century manuscript of the Mishneh Torah, which was placed on a table there especially for his use.[41] 
5.   Lieberman had a very warm relationship with Louis Ginzberg of JTS.[42] They met in 1929 when Ginzberg served as visiting lecturer at Hebrew University and Ginzberg asked Lieberman to prepare for publication Ginzberg’s lecture, “The Significance of Halakhah for Jewish History.” They then corresponded from 1930 to 1940. Louis Finkelstein explicitly praised Ginzberg for his indefatigable efforts to persuade Lieberman to come to JTS. This special relationship is evident from a Hebrew letter from Lieberman to Ginzberg from 1940.[43]
6.   Finally, Lieberman had an incredibly close relationship with Louis Finkelstein, who gave Lieberman whatever he needed and treated him like a king. Their relationship has been dealt with at length by Schochet and Spiro.[44] A few examples will suffice: Rabbi Bernard Mandelbaum, long-time Vice President of JTS, said: “Finkelstein gave Lieberman whatever he needed.”[45] Lieberman said as much in his Hebrew introduction to Hilkhot Hayerushalmi in 1947: “And last but not least is my friend, Rabbi E. A. Finkelstein, the President of our Bet Midrash, who provides me with special conditions for Talmud Torah and work with all possible convenience.”[46]
But their relationship went way beyond one of providing scholarly needs. Finkelstein viewed Lieberman as the most important Talmud scholar in the world and he told him so, both privately and publicly, on a regular basis. He referred to Lieberman’s arrival in the United States as “a historic one in the development of American Judaism ... Even if the Seminary across the years had done nothing else than lay the foundation for such a work [=Tosefta Kifshutah on Zera’im], the institution would have justified itself.”[47] Finkelstein further stated that “Professor Lieberman does not exist for the Seminary; the Seminary exists for Professor Lieberman.” Faculty member Professor Judah Goldin once said, “Finkelstein believed in God and worshipped Lieberman.”[48] 
On December 1, 1959, Finkelstein informed Lieberman that he would become Rector of JTS, with all the powers and no administrative responsibilities: “It seems obvious to me that with your increasing preoccupation with the Tosefta Kifshutah (which ...will turn out to be probably the most significant single accomplishment of the Seminary) ...”[49] In a letter to Edward B. Lawson, American Ambassador to Israel, in 1955, Finkelstein introduced Lieberman as “Professor of Talmud in the Seminary and one of the most learned men in the world.”[50] Finally, when Finkelstein got Lieberman involved in the agunah dilemma in 1953, he introduced the Lieberman ketubah at the Rabbinical Assembly Convention in hyperbolic terms and compared it to the accomplishments of the tannaim.[51]
Thus, it appears that Lieberman came to JTS and stayed there for six reasons: because he could not earn a living in Jerusalem; in order to draw the students closer to Torah and Judaism; because JTS was the only scientific institution of Jewish studies in the world; because JTS had the best Jewish studies library in the world, to which he had open access at all times; because of his warm relationship with Louis Ginzberg between 1929 and 1953; and because of his unique relationship with Louis Finkelstein from the 1930s until 1983.
Did Lieberman Consider Himself “Orthodox” or “Conservative”?

Shapiro claims that Lieberman “regarded himself as an Orthodox Jew”[52] and he faults me[53] for categorizing Lieberman as a Conservative rabbi,[54] but he himself writes: 
In 1959, Lieberman became rector of the Seminary, and one of his responsibilities was “guarding the general religious policy of the institution.” Thus, there is certainly justice in the assertion that whatever his personal religious commitments, Lieberman had become part and parcel of the Conservative Movement and was assisting it at the time that the Orthodox were attempting to expose what they regarded as the Conservatives’ distortion of halakhah.[55]
Shapiro’s confusion is well-justified; I myself have debated whether Lieberman considered himself Orthodox or Conservative.[56]
On the one hand, he taught at the only Conservative rabbinical seminary from 1940 until 1983, and he served as its rector from 1959 until 1983. When he proposed his takkanah regarding the ketubah to the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly in 1953, he attacked “the Orthodox rabbis”:
I saw that some of you were accused of being frightened by the Orthodox rabbis. I want to tell you that I am not frightened by them at all. I want, therefore, to give you a point of information. In truth, they were frightened, and I want you to know why they were frightened. They weren’t afraid that the Bet Din would issue some takkanot. No, not at all. They were afraid that the Bet Din will issue takkanot in accordance with the law.
As a matter of fact, one of the very important members of the Orthodox rabbis said so in many words: If this Bet Din of the Rabbinical Assembly will issue atakkanah, that will be takkanato kalkalato. It will be a great misfortune because they will get authority and that is the reason why they oppose this. Many of them think that [if] that Bet Din will begin to move in this line, the movement can become strong and it will affect them.[57] 
When, during the negotiations about a Joint Bet Din, the Orthodox insisted that the RA sanction rabbis who perform a wedding even without aget, “Lieberman’s spontaneous response was that the Conservative Jews do not like inquisitions ...”[58] He also wrote a letter that enabled Rabbi Theodore Friedman, a leading Conservative rabbi, to receive permission to perform weddings in Jerusalem, and another letter to Chief Rabbi Unterman in 1964, which defended the gittin performed by Rabbi Israel Silverman and other Conservative rabbis.[59]
On the other hand, Schochet and Spiro cite an undated interview in the Jerusalem Post in which “Lieberman explicitly stated that he himself was not a Conservative Jew; however, he praised Conservative Jews for their sincerity and their success in appealing to young people.”[60] Furthermore, in 1974, the Israeli daily Maariv published an article claiming that Golda Meir had asked Lieberman to influence the Conservative Movement to accept a compromise on the “Who Is a Jew” issue. Lieberman was described there as “one of the leaders of the Conservative Movement and as the Vice-President of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.” Lieberman wrote an indignant letter to the editor in Hebrew in which he denied the whole story and in which he said:
I am not one of the heads of the Conservative Movement and I am not, nor have I ever been, the Vice President of the [Jewish] Theological Seminary. I teach Torah to the Jewish people and I don’t understand much about politics.[61]
Finally, when a group of Seminary professors, graduates, and students held a “Conference on Halakhic Process” in 1979 in order to urge JTS not to ordain women, Lieberman wrote a letter to the Conference praising them for deciding to discuss “how to guard the last spark of the halakhah, that it should not be extinguished.”[62]
There are three possible ways to interpret this contradictory data. The first approach is followed by Hillel Goldberg, who, in a nasty review of Schochet and Spiro’s biography, would have us believe that Lieberman was Orthodox and taught and stayed at JTS simply because it was a cushy job which allowed him to do his research.[63] This approach contradicts everything we know about Lieberman’s piety and integrity, and barely merits a response. The second approach is put forth by Marc Shapiro, who maintains throughout his monograph that Lieberman was “Orthodox.” When he defended Conservative rabbis during the attempts to set up a joint Bet Din, “Lieberman was only reflecting on the mindset of the Conservative rabbinate, not describing his own feelings.”[64]
There is, however, a third way to interpret the data. I agree with Shapiro that Lieberman did not consider himself “Conservative.” However, neither did he consider himself “Orthodox.” An “Orthodox” Jew would not have spoken about Orthodox rabbis in the third person and in such a critical tone as Lieberman used in the 1950s. Furthermore, neither Shapiro nor Schochet and Spiro adduce even one text in which Lieberman himself calls himself “Orthodox.” Shapiro[65] simply refers to Schochet and Spiro.[66] but the latter offer no such proof. They quote Rabbi Berel Wein, who said that Lieberman “was personally an observant Jew.” They quote Rabbi Emanuel Rackman who said that Lieberman was “a Jew whose Orthodoxy was beyond question.” They themselves say: “These citations from prominent Orthodox rabbis reflect the common perception that Saul Lieberman was indeed ‘Orthodox’ in his religious practices” (emphasis added). They then cite numerous instances of “his firm adherence to halakhic practice and accepted custom.” They later quote someone who said that Lieberman “stressed that he wanted to be known as ‘Orthodox’ (note 266), but Lieberman himself never wrote such a thing.”
Furthermore, Shapiro mistranslates a key passage in Lieberman’s important Hebrew letter to Hapardes from 1945, which Shapiro himself published in 2003. Shapiro writes:
In his letter, Lieberman states that at the Seminary he is permitted to teach what he wishes. He also mentions that if another two or three Orthodox teachers joined the faculty (italics added), they could turn it into a wonderful place.[67]
However, that is not what Lieberman wrote. He wrote:
זהו מוסד חשוב שלו היו נכנסים לשם עוד שנים שלשה מורים משלומי אמוני ישראל היו מהפכים אותו לבית ספר למופת
This is an important institution. If two or three teachers “who seek the welfare of the faithful in Israel” [cf. II Samuel 20:19] would enter it, they would turn it into an exemplary school.[68]
Similarly, in his 1964 letter to Rabbi Unterman defending the gittin of Rabbi Israel Silverman.[69] he states that “Rabbi Silverman, when he was my student, observed Torah and mitzvot as is fitting.”
היה שומר תורה ומצוות כראוי וכיאות
He goes on to say
that it is essential to arrange matters related to gittin in America, and if there is good will on all sides, it is possible to arrive at a mutual agreement. Otherwise, I am afraid that chaos will take over this profession too and we will come to a similar situation to giving a hekhsher to a treif kitchen in an Israeli boat. And behold this hekhsher was not given by the Conservatives (who rejected the offer with disgust), but by an irresponsible group which calls itself Orthodox, and this group also performs gittin!
The picture that emerges from Lieberman’s letter to Hapardes in 1945, from his attempt to set up a joint Bet Din in 1953, and from his letter about gittin in 1964, is that Lieberman meant exactly what he said in his letter to Maariv in 1974: “I teach Torah to the Jewish people and I don’t care much about politics—that is: I am neither ‘Orthodox’ nor ‘Conservative.’ There are “Conservative” rabbis who are halakhic and there are ‘Orthodox’ rabbis who are not. I care that the teachers at JTS should be sh’lomei emunei yisrael and that the students and graduates should beshomrei torah u-mitzvot ka-rauy v’khayaut.” Lieberman did not care about labels but rather about substance, and in this he was a true disciple of Rabbi Judah the Prince who said: Al tistakkeil ba-kankan, ella b’mah she-yeish bo—do not look at the vessel, but rather at its substance.[70] 
Notes

[1] 
This article is based on a lecture given in Hebrew in Jerusalem on Professor Lieberman’s 30th Yahrzeit, 9 Nisan 5773 (2013). It originally appeared in Conservative Judaism 65 (Summer 2014), pp. 13-29, published here with the permission of The Rabbinical Assembly.
[2] The first quotation is from Elijah J. Schochet and Solomon Spiro, Saul Lieberman: The Man and His Work (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 2005), p. 303 (and cf. pp. 53, 139). The other quotations are from David Golinkin, “The Influence of Seminary Professors on Halakhah in the Conservative Movement, 1902–1968,” in Jack Wertheimer, ed., Tradition Renewed: A History of the Jewish Theological Seminary, vol. 2 (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1997), p. 473, n. 36. For Lieberman’s attack on Neusner’s translation of the Yerushalmi, see Journal of the American Oriental Society 104:2 (April–June 1984), pp. 315–319. For Neusner’s counterattacks against Lieberman, see History and Theory 27:3 (1988), pp. 241–260 = Jacob Neusner, Wrong Ways and Right Ways in the Study of Formative Judaism (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988), pp. 3–27; and idem, Why There Never Was a Talmud of Caesarea: Saul Lieberman’s Mistakes (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1994).
[3] Ta-Shema in Meir Lubetski, ed., Saul Lieberman (1898–1983): Talmudic Scholar and Classicist (Lewiston, Queenston, Lampeter: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2002), pp. 88-90 = Israel Ta-Shema, Knesset Mehkarim, vol. 4 (Jerusalem: 2010), pp. 337–339 (Hebrew). See Shamma Friedman in Lubetski, pp. 91–95, for an explanation of the riddle.
[4] A. S. Rosenthal wrote in Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research 31 (1963), Hebrew section, p. 1, that Lieberman wrote 10,000 pages. A careful count of Tuvia Preschel’s 1993 bibliography of Lieberman in Shamma Friedman, ed., Sefer Hazikaron L’rabbi Shaul Lieberman (New York and Jerusalem: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1993), pp. 1–28, adds up to approximately 11,500 pages.
[5] See Preschel’s bibliography (above, n. 4) as well as the essays in the Lubetski volume.
[6] See Golinkin, pp. 472–473, n. 35, for a listing of thirty items and Elinor Grinet, “A Bibliography About Saul Lieberman: The Man and His Work,” in Lubetski, pp. 91–96, for seventy-seven items (some of them overlap). More recent works include: Aviad Hacohen, Madda’ei Ha-yahadut 42 (5763–64), pp. 289–301; a letter from Lieberman to the editor of Hapardes from 1945, published by Marc Shapiro in Kitvei Ha-Gaon Rabbi Yehiel Yaakov Weinberg, vol. 2 (Scranton: University of Scranton Press, 2003), pp. 449–450; review of new edition of Hayerushalmi Kif-shuto edited by Menahem Katz (New York and Jerusalem, 2008), by Yehoshua Schwartz in Makor Rishon Hatzofeh,April 11, 2008, pp. 10, 13; Naomi G. Cohen, “In Memoriam: Chana Safrai (1946–2008), Friend and Colleague,” in Nashim 15 (Spring 5768/2008), pp. 198, 201. For reactions to Schochet and Spiro’s book, see: Hillel Goldberg, Tradition 40:3 (Fall 2007), pp. 69–75; Aaron Rakefet, Tradition 40:4 (Winter 2007), pp. 68–74; and Bernard Septimus and David Horwitz, Tradition 41:1 (Spring 2008), pp. 114–115.
[7] The books are Lubetski (n. 3 above), Schochet and Spiro (n. 1 above), and Shapiro (n. 8 below).
[8] Marc B. Shapiro, Saul Lieberman and the Orthodox (Scranton: University of Scranton Press, 2006).
[9] See, for example, his book Between the Yeshiva World and Modern Orthodoxy: The Life and Works of Rabbi Jehiel Jacob Weinberg, 1884–1966 (London and Portland: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 1999); Kitvei Ha-gaon Rabbi Yehiel Yaakov Weinberg, 2 vols (Scranton: University of Scranton Press 1998 and 2003); and “Scholars and Friends: Rabbi Jehiel Jacob Weinberg and Professor Samuel Atlas,” in The Torah Umadda Journal 7 (1997), pp. 105–121.
[10] Shapiro, p. 16.
[11] Schochet and Spiro, p. 22, and Shapiro, p. 16. Both base themselves on Jeffrey S. Gurock, “Yeshiva Students at the Jewish Theological Seminary,” in Wertheimer (n. 2 above), vol. 1, p. 473.
[12] Regarding Rabbi Isaac Klein, see what I wrote in my introduction to his Responsa and Halakhic Studies, second revised and expanded edition (Jerusalem: Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, 2005), p. xii.
[13] Shapiro, pp. 14–15; Jonathan Sarna, American Judaism: A History (New Haven and London:Yale University Press, 2004), pp. 237ff. Shapiro, pp.14–15.
[14] See my book The Status of Women in Jewish Law: Responsa (Jerusalem: Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, 2012), pp. 14–15, and n. 27; p. 31, n.3; pp. 308–340.
[15] See JTS Semi-Centennial Volume (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1939), p. 59; Jonathan Sarna, “The Debate Over Mixed Seating in the American Synagogue,” in Jack Wertheimer, ed. The American Synagogue: A Sanctuary Transformed (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), pp. 379–380; David Golinkin, ed., The Responsa of Prof. Louis Ginzberg (New York and Jerusalem: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1996), pp. 85–100; Wertheimer, vol. 1, p. 395, Harvey E. Goldberg, “Becoming History: Perspectives on the Seminary Faculty at Mid-Century”, Schochet and Spiro, p. 22.
[16] Personal communication from Dr. Baruch Schwartz, April 13, 2008. The siddur was entitled Daily Prayers with a Revised English Translation (New York: Hebrew Publishing Co., 1914), and reprints.
[17] David Ellenson and Lee Bycel, “A Seminary of Sacred Learning: The JTS Rabbinical Curriculum in Historical Perspective,” Wertheimer, vol. 2, p. 559.
[18] Ibid., pp. 536, 656.
[19] Solomon Schechter, Seminary Addresses and Other Papers (New York: The Burning Bush Press, 1959), pp. 35–39 and cf. pp. 1–7.
[20] David Ellenson and Lee Bycel, “A Seminary of Sacred Learning: The JTS Rabbinical Curriculum in Historical Perspective,” Wertheimer, vol. 2, p. 546.
[21] JTS Semi-Centennial Volume, p. 25.
[22] Schochet and Spiro, p. 29.
[23] Compare the pictures in Jeffrey Gurock, The Men and Women of Yeshiva (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), after p. 120; to the pictures in Baila R. Shargel, “The Texture of Seminary Life During the Finkelstein Era,” Wertheimer, vol. 1, pp. 527, 535.
[24] Regarding Schechter, see Mel Scult, “Schechter’s Seminary,” in Wertheimer, vol. 1, pp. 58–59; Michael Panitz in Robert Fierstien and Jonathan Waxman, eds., Solomon Schechter in America: A Centennial Tribute (New York: The Joint Convention Committee, 2002), p. 14; and Solomon Schechter, Seminary Addresses and Other Papers, pp. 48–49. Regarding Adler, see Schochet and Spiro, p. 17, which is based on Mel Scult (in Wertheimer, vol. 1), pp. 85–88.
[25] Schochet and Spiro, pp. 21–22.
[26] Ibid., p. 22. Regarding Finkelstein’s desire for JTS to serve all denominations, see Michael B. Greenbaum, “The Finkelstein Era,” in Wertheimer, vol. 1, pp. 163ff.; Jack Wertheimer, “JTS and the Conservative Movement,” in Wertheimer, vol. 2, pp. 419–420; and Michael B. Greenbaum, Louis Finkelstein and the Conservative Movement: Conflict and Growth (Binghamton: Global Publications, 2001), pp. 48, 60–67. Ibid., p.22.
[27] Shapiro, p. 48.
[28] Ibid., p. 9, n. 30.
[29] Shapiro, pp. 17–18.
[30] Ibid., p. 17.
[31] Ibid.
[32] See Saul Lieberman, Mehkarim B’torat Eretz Yisrael, ed. David Rosenthal (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1991), pp. 601–602, for a beautiful vignette from that period of time.
[33] Schochet and Spiro, pp. 8–10.
[34] Ibid., pp. 10–11.
[35] Shapiro, p. 18.
[36] Shapiro, Kitvei Ha-gaon Rabbi Yehiel Yaakov Weinberg, vol. 2 (Scranton: University of Scranton Press, 2003), p. 449.
[37] Schochet and Spiro, pp. 9–10.
[38] Ibid., pp. 10–11; and cf. Lieberman’s English introduction to Harry Fischel Institute Publications, Section III, Rishonim, vol. 1 (Jerusalem: Harry Fischel Institute Press, 1937), pp. vi-viii, where he spells out the qualities necessary to do scientific talmudic research. My thanks to Professor Shamma Friedman, who called my attention to this passage a number of years ago. Cf. Preschel (n. 4 above), who lists this article in item 36 even though the Hebrew and English introductions to that volume are totally different. Ibid., pp.10–11.
[39] Shapiro, Hebrew side, p. 17, also quoted in the English side, n. 64.
[40] Regarding the Seminary library, see Alexander Marx in The JTS Semi-Centennial Volume, pp. 87–120; Menahem Schmelzer, ed., Alexander Marx, Bibliographical Studies and Notes, (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary and Ktav, 1977); Herman Dicker, Of Learning and Libraries: The Seminary Library at One Hundred (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1988); and Menahem Schmelzer, “Building a Great Judaica Library—At What Price?” in Wertheimer, vol. 1, pp. 678–715.
[41] Schochet and Spiro, p. 16.
[42] Ibid., pp. 9, 18–20.
[43] Shapiro, Hebrew section, pp. 17–18.
[44] Schochet and Spiro, pp. 23–39.
[45] Ibid., p. 16.
[46] Saul Lieberman, Hilkhot Hayerushalmi L’harambam (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1947), p. 3
[47] Schochet and Spiro, p. 24.
[48] Both quotations are from Schochet and Spiro, p. 26.
[49] Ibid., p. 37.
[50] Ibid., p. 40.
[51] David Golinkin, ed., Proceedings of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Conservative Movement 1927–1970 (New York and Jerusalem: The Rabbinical Assembly and the Institute of Applied Halakhah [of the Schechter Institute], 1997), vol. 2, pp. 825–829.
[52] Shapiro, p. 26.
[53] Ibid., p.20, n. 72
[54] Golinkin, Proceedings, vol. 1, p. v.
[55] Ibid., p. 24.
[56] Golinkin, “Influence,” pp. 451–452. Golinkin, “Influence,”pp.451–452.
[57] Shapiro, pp. 26–27 = Proceedings of the Rabbinical Assembly 17 (1953), pp. 75–76 = Golinkin, Proceedings, vol. 2, pp. 810–811.
[58] Rabbi Wolfe Kelman, unpublished letter to Sheldon Engelmayer, May 14, 1987. I received a copy from Professor Jack Wertheimer and I gave a copy to Marc Shapiro, who quotes from the letter in his monograph, p. 20.
[59] Golinkin, “Influence,” p. 452, n. 55. Shapiro published the second letter on the Hebrew side of his book, pp. 33–34.
[60] Schochet and Spiro, p. 99, end of n. 163.
[61] I quoted this letter in Golinkin, “Influence,” p. 452. Shapiro published the entire letter in Shapiro, Hebrew side, pp. 35–36 and discusses it on the English side, p. 20, n. 72.
[62] Shapiro, Hebrew side, p. 40.
[63] See above, n. 5.
[64] Shapiro, p. 20, n. 72.
[65] Ibid.
[66] Schochet and Spiro, pp. 66 ff., 99 n. 163.
[67] Shapiro, p. 22.
[68] Shapiro, Kitvei Ha-gaon Rabbi Yehiel Yaakov Weinberg, vol. 2 (Scranton: University of Scranton Press, 2003), pp. 449.
[69] Shapiro, Hebrew section, pp. 33-34
[70] Pirkei Avot 4:20.

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