Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Two Editions of R. Chaim Berlin's Responsa: An Egregious Example of Censorship

Two Editions of R. Chaim Berlin's Responsa: An Egregious Example of Censorship
by Eliezer Brodt

R. Chaim Berlin, Sefer Nishmat Hayyim, She'elot u-Teshuvot, R. Ya'akov Kosovsky-Shachor ed., Beni-Brak, 2002, 412 pp.

R. Chaim Berlin, Sefer Nishmat Hayyim, Mamorim u'Mechtavim, R. Ya'akov Kosovsky-Shachor ed., Beni-Brak, 2003, 424 pp.

R. Chaim Berlin, Otzar Reb Hayyim Berlin, Shu"t Nishmat Hayyim, Jerusalem, 2008, 4 vol., 446, 462, 449, 298 pp.

R. Chaim Berlin (1832-1912), the son of the R. Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin (author of the Netziv), although well known until recently none of R. Chaim's extensive torah has been published. To be sure, some of R. Chaim's torah can be found scattered throughout the seforim of his time, but never in a book of its own. In 2002, R. Kosovsky-Shachor ("R. KS") published a collection of R. Chaim's responsa entitled Nishmat Hayyim. These responsa were collected from various manuscripts in many collections as well as correspondences which R. KS found in the Rabbinic literature from R. Chaim's era. A year later R. KS printed a second volume of letters, derashot, articles and approbations of R. Chaim Berlin also entilted Nishmat Hayyim. In the back of the volume of responsa, R. KS includes a nice historical write up of R. Chaim Berlin's life (corrections and additions to the biography appear in the back of the second volume).

A few months ago another collection of R. Chaim Berlin's respona were published by Yeshivat ve-Hegaditah le-Vinkha entitled Otzar Reb Hayyim Berlin. This version was published in four massive volumes on all areas Shulchan Orach, Shas and more. In this post I will discuss a bit about the two versions, some of the interesting teshuovs found in them and many instances of censorship in the later edition. Regarding these examples of censorship, I can only assume that there are many more examples as I haven't compared every line of the four volumes with the original. But, as will be apparent, the examples provided below are fairly egregious. Additionally, these works touch on the important topic of the reason behind the closing of Volozhin Yeshiva.

For purposes of this post, I will refer to the Nishmat Hayyim as the older edition and the Otzar Reb Hayyim Berlin as the new edition. The earlier edition contains about 200 responsa while the new version has well over 800 responsa. In the earlier edition they printed a volume of letters and haskamos which the new version did not do yet include but promises to print shortly. The newer version has an excellent index based on the order of shas and topics. Just a quick glance shows the tremendous wealth of topics discussed. They also included a list of all the people R. Chaim corresponded a veritable "who's who" of the gedolim from that time period.

Some Highlights

Amongst the many interesting teshuvos there is one about riding on a train on Shabbas (1:171-172), creating something via the Sefer Yetzira on Shabbas (1:418), asking an agent to give a Get via a phonograph (4:39), throwing grass when one leaves the cemetery (2:359) and burning dead bodies as opposed to burial (2:353-355).

In the new edition there is a lengthy discussion (1:70-77) about answering Amen when one is in middle of davening. In the midst of this responsa (1:73) R. Berlin notes a very interesting thing :

נראה לענ"ד שאף במקום שמותר להפסיק בפשיטות ואין שם בית מיחוש כלל להחמיר כמו להפסיק מפסוקי דזמרה לקדושה, אין זה אלא רשות שמותר להפסיק אבל לא חיוב, וטעמא דידי, משום דקי"ל העוסק במצוה פטור מן המצוה....

Another interesting statement found in a correspondence between him and R. Sholomo Hakohen where R. Shlomo writes (#67 in the old edition and # 191 in the new edition):

כן שמעתי מפי אביו הצדיק זצ"ל (הכוונה להנצי"ב) שאמר בשם חמיו זקנו הצדיק מו"ה חיים מוואלזין זצ"ל שיש לומר פירוש בלשון הרמב"ם והשו"ע אם הוא עולה ע"פ ההלכה אף שבודאי לא כוונו לזה משום שרוח הקודש נזרקה על לשונם, וכן מצאתי כעין זה ממש בס' בית אלוקים להגאון המבי"ט זצ"ל בסוף פ' ס"ד ע"ש".

While discussing the topic of gramophones, R. Chaim Berlin (#1 in old edition) writes that they had these already in the time of Chazal:

ובזה נראה לי לפרש לשון הש"ס בפ' ראוהו ב"ד רה"ש כ"ח ב' דמשני הש"ס על הא דתנן הי' עובר אחורי בית הכנסת ושמע קול שופר או קול מגילה, אם כיון לבו יצא ואם לאו לא יצא מאי לאו אם כיון לבו לצאת, ושמע מינה מצות צריכות כונה, ומשני לא לשמוע, והא שמעי, סבור חמור בעלמא הוא, ופירש רבינו חננאל בש"ס החדשים דפוס ווילנא אם כיון לבו לשמוע ולהבחין אם הוא תקיעת בן אדם או צהלת סוס, ותמוה דהא ניחא בקול שופר שיש לטעות שהוא צהלת סוס, אבל בקול מגילה דלא שייך לטעות שהוא צהלת סוס, מאי איכא למימר, ותפשוט מינה דמצות צריכות כונה, וכבר תמהו בזה הטורי אבן במקומו, והפרי חדש או"ח (סי' תר"צ סעי' י"ג). ונראה דבימי הש"ס הי' כלי זו של הגרמפון עשויה כצורת חמור והליצנים היו משתמשין בו, וזהו חמרא דאכפא דאמר ר' אבהו בפ' במה אשה שבת ס"ו ב' ופירש"י חמור הנישא בכתפים והליצנים עושים אותו ובמקומנו נקרא ארדפיסא, ותרגם בש"ס החדשים דפוס ווילנא שזה קומנדינט או פארשטעלונג, וביותר היו עושין כן בפורים לבדח ולשמח את ההמון, והיה הדבר מצוי לשמוע מהחמור הזה גם קול מגילה, ומבואר דאם הוא קול החמור הזה, אינו יוצא ידי חובתו, כנלע"ד, וה' יודע האמת

Another nice point is found while dealing with the issue of reciting the tefilah of Birkat Rosh Chodesh in light of the general prohibition against praying for one's livelihood on Shabbos. R. Chaim Berlin writes (#23 old version):

ע"ד אשר שאל, היאך מצלינן בשבת שמברכין החודש על חיים של פרנסה, לפלא שלא שאל גם על נוסח מי שברך שאומרים בכל שבת אחר יקום פורקן, דמצלינן וישלח ברכה והצלחה בכל מעשי ידיהם, וגם על נוסח בריך שמי' שאומרי' בהוצאת ס"ת דמצלינן יהא רעוא קדמך דתוריך לן חיין בטיבותא. אבל כבר כתבו האחרונים ליישב מנהג ישראל, שלא אסרו לתבוע צרכיו בשבת, אלא ביחיד העושה לעצמו תפלה מיוחדת על איזה מקרה, הנחוצה לו באותה שעה לפרנסה או לרפואה וכדומה, אבל נוסח תפלה הקבוע לכולם בשוה בנוסחא אחת, אין קפידא בזה, וגם זה נכלל בלשון הירושלמי טופס ברכות כך הוא.

Another nice piece (# 52 old version) I found is in regard to the famous discussion for those who observe gebrucks how can they make kneidel on Chol Hamoed Pesach?

והנה, קרבו ימי המועד לבוא, אשר לא אאחוז עט בידי לכבודו משך שמונת ימים, ע"כ אמרתי להודיעו מה שעוררתי את בני עדתי בדרשת שבת הגדול העבר, ע"ד האנשים הנזהרים ממצה שרוי' כל ימי הפסח לבד מיום האחרון, ויש גם נשים הנזהרות בזה. ואותן הנשים שנזהרות בזה ואין להם משרתת בבתיהם ואופות ומבשלות בעצמן, הנכון שיזהרו בשביעי של פסח מלהכין תבשילי מצה שרויה על יום המחרת, מאחר שאין התבשילין הללו ראויין להן ביו"ט, ואפי' אם יקלעו להם אז אורחים ביו"ט שביעי של פסח, ג"כ לא יתנו להם מצה שרוי', הרי לא מהני עירוב תבשילין בזה, כמש"כ הרמ"א בסי' תקכ"ז סעי' כ' לענין מי שמתענה ביו"ט ועי' מגן אברהם שם.

It is also apparent from this teshuvah that R. Chaim did not even write Torah on Chol Hamoed.

Another very interesting Teshuvah (new edition 3:1-3) is where he deals with the Tzavas R. Yehudah Hachassid, as he was asked about marrying someone where it would be against one of the statements in the Tzavah. To which he replied:

מכאן נלמוד לכל האזהרות שהזהיר רבינו החסיד ז"ל בעניני זיווגים, שאם אין בדבר זה שום מצוה, אלא שחפץ בה לשם ממון או לשם נוי, ודאי יש ליזהר בכל אזהרותיו, אבל מי שעושה מעשיו לשם שמים, ומכוין למצוה, עליו לא הזהיר החסיד כלל.

Another interesting piece found (#24) is about a piece of the Netziv in the journal of Rav Kook, Iyutur Seforim where the Netziv wrote that it is permissible to read newspapers on Shabbas. Regarding this point R. Chaim Berlin wrote:

ועל דבר לעיין בשבת בהרהורא בעלמא בלי קריאה בפה באגרות רשות ובמכתבי העתים לא הי' כלל דעת מר אבא הגאון שליט"א, לקבוע מסמרים בהלכה זו ככל דבריו שבעטור סופרים, ולא בא אלא ליישב מנהג העולם שקוראים במכתבי העתים בשבת שסומכים בזה על משמעות תלמודא דידן עפ"י דעתם, שמפרשים דתלמודא דידן פליג בזה על תלמוד ירושלמי, אבל להלכה גם הוא יודה דקיי"ל כהירושלמי, וכה"ג מצינו בהרבה מקומות שכתבו הפוסקים ליישב מנהג העולם, שסומכים על דעה יחידית אף שלא כהלכה.

The Netizv defends his opinion in the Shut Bikurei Shlomo (1:2). Interestingly enough there is testimony to the contrary from R. Baruch Halevei Epstein who writes how on Shabbas his uncle the Netziv used to read the Hebrew newspaper, Hamagid (Mekor Baruch 4:1794). R. Meir Bar-Ilan echoes R. Baruch Halevi's testimony about his father the Netziv that he would read newspapers on Shabbas (Me-Volzhin LeYerushalim 1:138).

Much has been written about how the responsa literature can aid in reconstructing the history of the period, this sefer also shows us this. Just to cite one example in volume one (p. 88) of the newer version (which shockingly was not edited out) someone wrote to R. Chaim:

גלוי וידוע לכבודו עד כמה פשתה הנגע בארצינו וביתר שאת בארצות אוירפפה ושדה תיכלה כמעט בכל בנות ישראל שוע ודל אשר גם בעליהן ואבותיהן המה משלומי אמוני היהודים המחזקים בדתינו הקדוש והמה גם הנה אינן ח"ו מפורקי עול בדרך כלל, ובכל זאת עברו ושנו ונעשה להן כהתיר לילך בגליות שער ראשיהן אחת המרבה ואחת המטמעטת, עיר ועיר ומדינה ומדינה כמנהגה וכפי חוקות המאדע שלה. ולא ישמרו את נפשותיהן מזה לילך כן גם בבתי כנסיות ובבתי מדרשות ובמסיבות אנשים שרים סביב לשלחן בעת סעודות נשואין שבת ויום טוב...

We see from this that the well known phenomena of woman not covering their hair in previous generations. The question which was posed to R. Chaim was what one should do about saying berokhot or Shema in front of such a woman. To which R. C. Berlin replied:

לענין קריאת שמע גופא יש מקילין בזמן הזה שכבר נהגו לגלות ראשן ודומה לשער שמחוץ לצמתן... ומעתה למעשה בזמן הזה, מי שאינו מחפש למצוא לו יתד על מה לסמוך, ומקלו יגיד לו, יוכל לסמוך על המקילין. ומי שהוא ירא חטא, ורוצה לצאת ידי שמים גם בסתר כבגלוי, ודאין אין לו לסמוך על המקילין.

This is similar to the famous controversial pesak of the Aruch Hashulchan (O.C. 75:7):

עתה בואו ונצווח על פרצות דורינו בעוונותינו הרבים שזה שנים רבות שנפרצו בנות ישראל בעון זה והולכות בגילוי הראש וכל מה שצעקו על זה הוא לא לעזר ולא להועיל ועתה פשתה המספחת שהנשואות הולכות בשערותן כמו הבתולות אוי לנו שעלתה בימינו כך מיהו עכ"פ לדינא נראה שמותר לנו להתפלל ולברך נגד ראשיהן המגולות כיון שעתה רובן הולכות כך והוה כמקומות המגולים בגופה... וכיון שאצלינו גם הנשואות כן ממילא דליכא הרהור

Censorship in the New Edition

Of course this post would not be complete without mentioning some censorship in the new edition. Although I mentioned that the later edition has much more material than the first edition it seems a few teshuvos got "lost" in the later edition. [The family involved with the printing of this sefer is the same one mentioned by Dr. Gil S. Perl, in his Emek ha-Neziv, A Window into the Intellectual Universe of Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehudah Berlin (PhD, Harvard, 2006), on pages 49-50, in light of Dr. Perl's comments, it is of no surprise that they edited out these particular teshvot].

In the first edition (# 135, see volume 3:5 of the new edition) there is a discussion about shaking woman hands which has been a very controversial topic [See the recent Bina Ve-das p. 117]. Perhaps shockingly to many R. Chaim Berlin replied:

ואשר שאל על דבר נתינת ידו לרשעים או לנכרית, הנה ליתן יד לפושעים אין שום איסור בזה אם אין בזה הודאה וחיזוק להנהגותיהם בשרירות לבם. ולתת יד לאשה לשון הש"ס הוא ברכות ס"א א' המרצה מעות לאשה מידו לידה כדי להסתכל בה, מבואר דאם אינו מכוין לשום דבר וכש"כ שאינו עושה כדי להסתכל בה כמו מעלתו שכל מעשיו לשם שמים אין איסור בזה לרצות מעות מידו לידה. ודאי אם יוכל להזהר בזה מה טוב, אבל אם אי אפשר לו להנצל מזה כגון אם הנכרית הקדימה והושיט לו את ידה ואין דעתו לשום הרהור ח"ו אין להחמיר בזה, ודרכיה דרכי נועם, ואהבת את ה' אלקיך אמרו חכמים יומא פ"ו א' שיהא שם שמים מתאהב על ידך, ולא יאמרו על יראי ה' שהם משוגעים ואינם בעלי דרך ארץ.

Two other pieces edited out from that same teshuvah in the new edition I am not sure as to why, are:

ועל דבר כסוי ראש האשה במטפחת אחת, אם אין שערה נראין אין בזה שום איסור, ועדיף טובא מפיאה נכרית, ואין צריך כלל שני כסויין, ואם אך אין השער נראה בחוץ די בכסוי אחד אף ברשות הרבים, ורשאי גם לקרות ק"ש כנגדה, ואין להחמיר עוד בזמן הזה.

ולדבר עם אשה בשוק לא נאסר אלא לתלמיד חכם ולא למי שאינו מוחזק בתלמיד חכם, וכשם שתלמיד חכם המדבר עם אשה בשוק גורם בזה חלול השם כן מי שאינו מוחזק לתלמיד חכם הנזהר בזה שלא לדבר עם אשתו לעיני הבריות הוא מיחזי כיוהרא, ויש בזה גם כן חלול השם...

Another very interesting statement which was edited out of the second edition is about Chasidim (# 7 in the old edition) where he writes:

ולהתפלל בבית הכנסת של החסידים אין שום חשש בזה, וגזירת רבינו הגר"א ז"ל לא הי' אלא בזמנו שהקילו אז בכבוד תלמידי חכמים לומדי תורה, ולא כן בימינו שהחסידים חולקים כבוד לכל לומדי תורה והם יראי ה' ושומרים תורה ומצוה. אך על דבר שינוי נוסחת התפלה, אסור לשנות בפרהסיא ממנהגיהם ומנוסחאותיהם ובנוסח הקדושה יאמר קדושת כתר בשביל שנאמרת בקול רם ויש בזה איסור לא תתגודדו, וגם שלא לעורר מחלוקת ח"ו, אבל בתפלה בלחש לא ישנה כבודו ממנהג אבותיו וממנהגו מעולם, ויתפלל שמונה עשרה בלחש כנוסח אשכנז.

Another piece which was censored out although I am not sure what is so bad with it (#200 in the old edition) where he writes that there were additions to Mishnayos after Rabeenu Hakodesh edited it:

שביארתי מאמרם ז"ל התמוה מאד בשלהי מס' סוטה מ"ט ב' על משנתינו משמת רבי בטלה ענוה ויראת חטא א"ל ר"י לתנא לא תיתני ענוה דאיכא אנא א"ל ר"נ לתנא לא תיתני יראת חטא דאיכא אנא. והתמיה מפורסמת איך אמוראים קדושים כאלה ישבחו עצמם בענוה ויראת חטא, והמלך החכם אמר יהללך זר ולא פיך. וביארתי בס"ד על פי מש"כ הרע"ב ז"ל על האי בבא משמת רבי בטלה ענוה שתלמידיו של רבי הוסיפו וכתבו זה במשנה, וכ"כ בתוס' רע"ק בשם הרמב"ן בחי' ע"ז ל"ז א' שהוא תוספת שהוסיף בר קפרא או לוי במשנה, והמה היו תנאים אחרונים תלמידי רבי. ואמרתי שהוא הוא התנא שדברו עמו רב יוסף ורב נחמן, שרב יוסף א"ל לזה התנא שהוסיף במשנה משמת רבי בטלה ענוה א"ל לא תיתני ענוה שאתה מסתיר מדותיך הטובים ושונה במשנה משמת רבי בטלה ענוה ואנא ידענא שגם אתה ענוותן כרבי ועדיין לא בטלה ענוה משמת רבי, וכן א"ל רב נחמן לזה התנא שהוסיף במשנה משמת רבי בטלה יראת חטא א"ל לתנא לא תיתני יראת חטא שאתה מסתיר מדותיך הטובים ושונה במשנה משמת רבי בטלה יראת חטא ואנא ידענא שגם אתה ירא חטא כרבי, ועדיין לא בטלה יראת חטא משמת רבי, כן ביארתי זה המאמר לפי חומר הנושא.

This censorship or editing goes the other way as well. In the first edition there is a piece (#120 old edition) about being a vegetarian but the whole question is not included for some odd reason but in the new version (#222) the whole question is printed out in full. R. Chaim Berlin was asked by R. Menashe Grossburg:

אם ראוי לישראל להיות מהחברה צער בעל החיים, ואם מותר לאכול בבית מרזח שלהם, שאין אוכלים אפילו חלב ובצים. לדעתי נראה לי בחפזי לפי מה שכתב הט"ז כמה פעמים דמה שמפורש התיר בתורה אין כח לשום אדם לאסור ובתורה מפורש התיר לאכול בשר מזמן נח. והם אומרים שכשם שאסור רציחה באדם גם כן אסור בבהמה אפילו בשחיטה, וזה נגד דעת תורתנו. ועוד ששמחת יום טוב מצות עשה גם בזמן הזה בבשר.

To which R. Chaim Berlin answered:

נראה דעד כאן לא אמר הט"ז אלא דאין כח ביד חז"ל לגזור איסור לכל ישראל על דבר שפירשה התורה בפירוש להיתר, אבל מי שירצה לאסור על עצמו אכילת בשר, אין זה בכלל דברי הט"ז, והרי הוא ככל הנדרים שכתבה תורה בפירוש איש כי ידר נדר או השבע לאסר אסר על נפשו לא יחל דברו, אלא שחובה להתרחק מן הנדרים, והנודר כאלו בנה במה, ונקרא רשע כדתנן בפ"ק דנדרים ט' א' כנדרי רשעים, וביו"ד סי' ר"ג.

This teshuvah was a list of questions from R. Menashe Grossburg to R. Chaim Berlin which the old edition broke up and put it in the different places and never even included the name of R. Menashe Grossburg [at one time the editor makes it as if someone else asked the question (see p. 104)].

Some Final Points

When talking about the Malbim in a hesped (printed in volume two of R. KS Nishmat Chaim p. 14) R. Chaim Berlin said:

לחזק תורה שבעל פה כהגאון המלבי"ם ז"ל, ובענין זה לא הניח כמותו, ממלא מקומו, כי הניח כל החריפות והפלפולים שמילדותו והקדיש כל כחותיו להראות איך התורה שבעל פה מבוארת בבאר היטב בתורה שבכתב, אשר הענין הזה נחוץ ביותר בזמנינו...

In another teshuvah we see how much he respected the Marsham as he (#19 old version) writes:

ואני אין רצוני להיות מדייני גזירות, אם לא שיבוא האיסור גם מרבנים זולתי כמו מהגאון ר' שלום מרדכי הכהן מברעזאן וזולתו, אז יוכל לצרף להם גם את שמי ולא באופן אחר.

His very close friend the Adres also felt the same way about the Marsham as the Adres even asked him to be his Rebbe in Halacha after R. Yitzchak Elchanan died (see Rabbosenu she-begoleh 1:13-125 and R. E. Katzman in his introduction to Chidushei Hagoan Hadres pp. 25-26).

I write that the Adres was very close to him based on two things. One, besides for the Netziv and other family members the most correspondences are with the Adres. Two, in his Tzevah he writes:

מקום קבורתי, קניתי בחיי, על יד קבר אהובי הרב ר' אלי' דוד ראבינאוויץ תאומים ז"ל.

[On the friendship between Adres and R. Chaim Berlin see also the letter printed in the most recent volume of Shnos Dor Vedor (3:355-356).]

In a letter from the Adres (new edition 1:382) to R. Chaim Berlin the Adres describes to him when he first met the Netziv. The Netziv got up and made a Shecheaynu! [The Adres also records this incident in his now rare, autobiography Seder Eliyhu p. 85]. [On the friendship between Adres and Netziv besides for what Adres writes there in his autobiography (ibid) see the letter printed in the most recent volume of Shnos Dor Vedor (3:485-486).]

In a letter to a friend written when he first got to Yerushalim R. Chaim Berlin writes:

והנני מברך בכל יום בשמחה רבה שלא עשני עב"ד (אב"ד).

He also writes this statement in a short history of himself which he sent to R. Eisenstadt for his Doros Achronim (1:71-72). [This short history is included in the new edition of Nishmat Chaim p. 8 without providing their source.] [On this "Beracha" see R. S. Askenazi in his Alpha Beta Kadmita Deshmuel Zeria p. 469 where he shows five places where R. Yakov Emden said this.]

In the newer edition of R. Chaim Berlin they write that they did not include a biography of R. Chaim Berlin in light of R. Chaim's opposition to such biographies or histories:

The Closing of Volozhin

But they did include one historical thing which they felt was very important to be printed, the statement of R. Chaim Berlin about the closing of the Volozhin Yeshiva (based on a copy of the manuscript) where he writes:

מה שהזהירני וצוה עלי מר אבא הגאון זצלל"ה הכ"מ קודם פטירתו. על דבר שמסר נפשו על ענין ישיבה דוואלוזי'ין, שלא להכניס לתוכה שום לימוד חול ולסיבה זו נסגרה הישיבה ומזה נחלה בחוליו אשר לא עמד ממנה. וצוה לי באזהרה שלא להסכים לענין זה בלא שום הוראת היתר בעולם. ואמר שהקב"ה רמז כל זה בתורה. שאמר להבדיל בין הקודש ובין החול היינו שכל עניני חול המתערבים בקודש בלי הבדל. לא די שאין עניני למודי חול מקבלים קדושה אלא אף זה שעניני למודי קדש מתקלקלים מהם. ע"כ לא ירע לך בני מה שהענין זה גרם לי לצאת מן העולם כי כדאי הוא הענין הגדול הזה למסור נפשו עליו. כל זה דיבר אלי ביום ג' כ"ו מנחם אב תרנג בוורשא עכ"ל.

This piece has been printed before in many places (at times even an exact picture of it see S. Roz in his Tzadik Yesod Olam pg 142 and from there R. Eliach in Hagoan pg 629; see also Yeshurun 7:675). The letter was called into question as to its authenticity see R. Ben Zion Yadler in his Betov Yerushlaim pg 388-389. [These sources escaped Professor Stampfer's notice see his book Hayeshiva Halitais Behishavetah pg 224].

The topic of the closing of Volozhin has been the subject of much discussion especially the often quoted article of Jacob J. Schacter, "Haskalah, Secular Studies and the Close of the Yeshiva in Volozhin in 1892," Torah u-Madda Journal 2 (1990). See even more recently the interesting discussion by R. N. Kamenetsky in his Making of a Godol (1: 442-455). Although we have this statement of R. Chaim Berlin about the closing of the Yeshiva but based on historical facts it can not be true. While it was very true that the government and maskilim had been making terrible trouble for years about learning secular studies in the Yeshiva and for the most part were unsuccessful. We do have clear documentation that Secular studies were taught in Volozhin on some scale a few years before its closing. ]See Hayeshiva Halitais Behishavetah p. 223.] The various theories discussed in these articles attribute the close of the Volozhin Yeshiva to the fight of R. Chaim Berlin taking over his father's position as the Rosh Hayeshiva. R. M. Shapiro in R. Moshe Shmeul Vedoro (an eyewitness to the closing) also writes that one factor in the closing of the Yeshiva was the rebellion against R. Chaim Berlin (p.76) [This excellent book was not used by R. KS in his writing up about R. Chaim Berlin.] Most recently all this has been reexamined by two people especially based on new evidence - documents that have been discovered after the Iron Curtain fell.

What I find interesting is how two people can see the same documents and came to completely different conclusions. A few years back R. Frank printed a book on yeshivas Volozhin called Toldos Beis Haskem Bevolozhin. This book deals with the history of the Yeshiva from the beginning until the end including a brief history of all the Roshei Hayeshiva. Although the book is weak on quoting sources it has many important discussions about the topic of Volozhin. One of the real new important things printed here is government documents dealing with the closing of the Yeshiva (pp. 274-96). Although he edits out many parts due to respect for R. Chaim Berlin and R. Chaim Solovetick he prints parts and concludes that the maskilim and a few renegade bochrim influenced by the maskilim caused the government to close down the Yeshiva and it revolved learning secular studies in the Yeshiva. A few years later Professor Saul Stampfer reissued his excellent book Hayeshiva Halitais Behishavetah with many important additions and corrections amongst the additions were these same documents but unedited. The picture one gets from these documents (as he shows pp. 245-66) is something else entirely. Specifically, the cause for the government closing down the Yeshiva was not because of learning secular studies, instead the closure was because of the whole terrible and disgusting controversy about the succession of R. Chaim Berlin for his father the Netziv to be the Rosh haYeshiva of the Yeshiva. The bochurim got the government involved and they were very unhappy how the whole thing was dealt with so they shut down the Yeshiva.

One of the things the Bochrim did was interrupt the shiur of R. Chaim Berlin constantly bombarding him with many questions. According to some, they used many seforim borrowed from R. Chaim's vast library to stump him. This terrible act was done a few times before in Volozhin. Once when R. Alexander Moshe Lapides visited the Yeshiva the bochrim did the same thing to prove a point (see Yeshivos Lita, Pirkei Zicronos pp. 75-77). [This account is not included in the otherwise excellent edition of R. Alexander Moshe Lapides writings called Torah Hagoan R. Alexander Moshe.] When R. Yitzhkach Elchanan Spektor visited the yeshiva at a different time they tried the same thing but were unsuccessful in stumping him (see Toldos Yitchack p. 61 see also Harishon Leshalshles Beis Brisk pp. 128-32).

As an aside in researching this topic I was (and still am) horrified about this whole controversy how the bochurim (even if it was not the majority of the Yeshiva) could do all the terrible things they did during the whole fight. Ultimately causing the close of the Yeshiva and the premature death of the Netziv!

In the Derech Etz Chaim, Y. Meltzer (pp. 51-52) prints a letter of someone (he edits out the name) (see also Nishamt Chaim old edition 2:122) who asked mechilah from R. Chaim Berlin for making him trouble when he was supposed to take over Volozhin and R. Chaim Berlin writes back:

אנכי עפר ואפר ואין אני כדאי לפני המקום יתברך שמו, כי יענש חס ושלום שום אדם בסיבתי. ובר מן דין, כבר באותם הימים שצערוני אמרתי בכל לילה כמר זוטרא מגילה כח א' שרי ליה לכל דצערן לי ואין לו לחוש כלל לדרוש ממנו מחילה כי מצדי כבר מחלתי. אמנם מאי דשקליה למטרפסי ונענש מן השמים זה בשביל שני דברים: אחד בשביל חילול ה' הגדול שגרם... ב. בשביל צערו של רבו המובהק, מר אבא הגאון מאור הגולה זצוקל"ה, שגרם לו אז כמובן... ובפרט שיכול להיות שמהצער הגדול הזה שגרם לו היה התחלה למחלתו האחרונה, שנפטר על ידה מן העולם...

Another famous piece printed in Nishmat Chaim (volume two of the old edition pp. 380-83) is the dream he had after his very close friend R. Yitchack Blazaer died and R. Chaim Berlin gave a hesped although he requested that there be no hespedim. R. Chaim Berlin described the dream as follows:

נשמע אליו בזה שלא לספר בשבחו כלל, אולם על שלא נבכה על ההעדר לא צוה כלל... בא המונח אצלי בחלום ואמר לי יישר כח על שלא הגדתי שבח. ושאלתי ממנו מה נעשה בדינו בעולם ההוא, ואמר לי שדין של מעלה הוא חמור מאד שאי אפשר לשום אדם בעולם הזה לשער כלל, וביחוד מקפידים מאד על דבורים האסורים שנדברו שלא כהוגן...

Another thing which R. Chaim Berlin was very famous for was his massive library which consisted of thousands of volumes. [See R. KS in Nishmat Chaim p. 376, vol 2 pp. 398, 352]. There are even some nice letters of his to his (and his fathers) friend E. Harkavy thanking him for some recent volumes from the Mikitze Nerdamim society with some comments on the seforim. This letter was printed in the first volume of Shnos Dor Vedor (p. 199) and than again in the second volume of the Nishmat Chaim of R. Kosovsky-Shachor. In the recent version of Nishmat Chaim (4: p. 45 part two) only part of the letter was printed. In the edited out piece R. C. Berlin wrote:

זה שנתים ימים, אשר הריצותי כסף שלומים, בעד שנת מקיצי הנרדמים חמשה רו"כ שלמה ליד בחיר החכמים, ידידנו הגאון ר"מ שטראשון ז"ל, ויענני במכתב, כי הריץ את הכסף לידדנו הרב הד"ר א' ברלינר הי"ו בברלין...

I am not sure why it's a problem to acknowledge that R. Chaim Berlin liked R. Strashun but it's not a problem in regard to R. Harkevey. As an aside we see R. Chaim Berlin wrote respectfully about A. Berliner contrary to the recent complaint voiced by someone in the recent Yerushenu (3:396).

This library also consisted of manuscripts one of which was the Seder Hadoros with the comments of the Radal. [There is a teshuvah (new edition 1:96) of his to the Radal someone who his father was also very close with] When R. Chaim Kahana was working on the Seder Hadoros R. Chaim Berlin gave him this sefer. R. Kahana included these notes which are very valuable to the topic in his Kochvei Or (available here ).

The bulk of this library passed on to R. Isser Zalman Meltzer. In Derech Etz Chaim, Y. Meltzer brings a few stories of how R. Isser Zalman Meltzer made use with it (pp. 451-52) and even had the editors of Otzar Haposkim use it (p. 328). Although Y. Meltzer writes that in the Tzevah of R. Berlin it said that if a Talmid Chaham moves into my apartment after my death he should get it (p. 50) but in the version of the Tzevah printed in Nishmat Chaim (vol. 2 pp. 403-05) it does not say any such thing. [See Nishmat Chaim volume one (old edition p. 376).]

R. KS brings a story (2:377) to show his incredible yedios which I find hard to believe. Someone asked R. Chaim Berlin where is the first time that the name Chaim is mentioned in our literature as its not found in Talmud, Medrash or the era of the Geonim. R. Chaim Berlin replied the first time the name is found is in Tosfos and than he started listing the rest of the people with that name. The reason I find it hard to believe this story is we do find this name in the era of the Geonim. As R. Sherirah Gaon and Ravad in Sefer haKabalah [Cohen ed. p. 41] bring that Rav Zemach Goan father was Chaim. A look at the index of Moshe Gil's Bemalchut Yishmael Betekufos Hageonim (volume 4 p. 853) shows that the name Chaim was fairly common in the era of the Geonim [thanks to M.M. Honig for this source]. R. Chaim Palgai (Kol Hachaim 8:15) cites a Medrash in Bamedbar (14) that shows an Amorah had the name Chaim. But it seems to be a printing mistake as in our edition it says Chiyah [see also Kesser Shem Tov vol 1 pg 300].

I mentioned that R. KS collected the Haskomos of R. Chaim Berlin reaching over 140 but at least one is missing a haskamah to a reissue of Seder Hadoros that R. Yeruchem Leiner brother of the Radziner Rebbe started working on with many additions.

One weakness both editions have which E. Katzman in his introduction to Chidushei Hagoan Hadres (p. 42) already complains about, is that the older edition left out all the sources for the pieces. The second edition at times does quote the sources from where they found the pieces but more often than not they do not quote their sources.

In conclusion, to obtain the full version of R. Chaim Berlin's responsa, both edition are necessary, and definitely worth owning.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Tevie Kagan: The Enigmatic R. David Lida Part I

The Enigmatic R. David Lida Part II
by Tevie Kagan

R. David of Lida and Sabbateanism

The case for Sabbatean leanings in R. David ben Aryeh Leib of Lida's works are somewhat cloudy. The first clear accusation in this regard is from R. Yaakov Emden in his Toras Hakanaos. [1]Specifically, R. Emden, dealt with the conclusion of one of Lida's poem's entitled Shir Hillulim, which was printed with his Migdol David. Shir Hillulim was written in honor of a torah dedication in Amsterdam in 1680. It was comprised of verses to be recited by the congregation and cantor. The letters at the end that are enlarged spell out "Tishbi," and says "Tishbi, he will redeem us." In traditional Jewish literature, Tishbi (Elijah) is referenced as a forerunner for the messiah. Emden saw this as an allusion to Shabbetai Zevi, as the letters in "Tishbi" form "Shabbetai" when transposed. Emden continues and notes that the letters between the last lines (spelling out "David") demonstrate that Lida was attempting to equate David with Tishbi, and, consequently, with Shabbetai Zevi.

There are those who argue with Emden's assertion that Shir Hillulim displays Sabbatean tendencies. Specifically, they note that David de Castro Tartas, who routinely printed prayer books and other works of sabbatean nature, [2]printed Shir Hillulim. Eisner, for example, postulates that Tartas added the problematic lines and that Lida knew nothing about it. [3] However, as Heller [4]points out, it would seem unlikely that a printer would modify such a small work, and that of the chief rabbi, meant for immediate distribution. Even more so, if this were the case, why would Lida use the same printer again, as he did with for his Shomer Shabbos in 1687?

Indeed, it is especially difficult to determine whether a work is Sabbatean in nature.  Within Sabbatean writings there are certain recurring themes. There is often a thematic fixation on the Messiah. The writings often focus on King David, and explain how he did not sin with Bat-Sheba (Samuel II, Chapter 11). They also frequently discuss the concept of "mitzvah ha-ba'ah be-averah," the notion of reinterpreting biblical figures actions as foreshadowing Shabbetai Zevi's acts (particularly Esther or King David), and the rabbinic dictum that "greater a sin done for heavens sake than a commandment done other than for the sake of heaven." Writing about any one of these topics alone does not deem one to be a Sabbatean. However, a recurring reference to these beliefs within ones writings, combined with a less then stellar character, may deem one suspect.  Coupled with actual accusations from one of the foremost experts on Sabbateanism (R. Yaakov Emden), one must be wary and investigate further.

Aside from the obvious reasons for not overtly stating the sabbatean nature of a work, inherent in Sabbateanism is the notion of a "dual nature."  Scholem describes this dualism as having one side bordering on nihilism and another that is outwardly religious. Elsewhere, [5] Scholem states that "[a] double-faced nature came to be seen as a characteristic trait . . . [to] live in a high tension between outward orthodoxy and inward antinomianism." This corresponds with the paradox that the followers of Shabbetai Zevi were left with after he apostatized in 1666. This also follows Sabbatean teachings that corrupted the Lurianic doctrine of tikun, using sin as the preferred medium for rectification, as opposed to mitzvoth. Shabbetai Zevi sought to abolish many commandments, stating that since it was the messianic age they no longer were applicable. He instead preached a doctrine of "mitzvah ha-ba'ah be-averah," asserting that the path to a mitzvah is through a sin.[6] This is one of the many ways that Shabbetai Zevi's followers attempted to rationalize his apostasy.  They argued that he was merely gathering "sparks" from within the broken shards that reside in the Islamic faith. Shabbetai Zevi advocated certain sins outright, such as eating chelev, the forbidden fat of an animal, and abolishing the fast of the 9th of Av (Tisha B'Av"). Thus, it is unsurprising that it is difficult to uncover what truly is a Sabbatean work and what is not.  
 
Migdol David was Lida's first major work that was disseminated widely. It was written on the book of Ruth and seeks to explain the Davidic lineage. Migdol David does have messianic tones; yet, if the author was truly a Sabbatean, one would expect to find it overflowing with Sabbatean references. Oddly enough, though, through most of the work there are few Sabbatean references.  The ending lines are what lead to its Sabbatean suspicion, as they include the words "שבתי בבית ה'" This verse is in of itself not problematic, but the choice of  "שבתי" would fit with a common trait of Sabbatean writing to identify ones work to those who knew of certain code words. This was a fairly common tactic as can be adduced from Emden's list in Toras Hakanaos, where many books were banned for similar reasons. [7]
 
Within Lida's Sod Hashem, a manual of the rules of milah (circumcision)  with a running commentary called Sharbit Hazahav, there are a couple of problematic themes. While describing the kabalistic reasons behind mila, Lida explains that the foreskin is as an offering to Samael and, because of the phrase "nachash efer lachmo," the foreskin is placed in dirt. Sabbatean Kabbalah often equates the nachash (snake) with the messiah, as both have the same numerical value. This does not mean that every reference to the nachash is suspect; in this case, though, clearly equating it with Samael and the offering is odd. Slightly more problematic is the quote [8]from R. Yehoshua Heshel from Vilna that discusses the verse: "Abraham was ninety-nine years old and the Lord appeared to him" (Gen. 17:1). He proceeds to give an interpretation explaining its significance within the sefiros of the numbers involved. Now, one would assume this to be the same R. Heshel under which Lida studied. However, it is R. Heshel Zoref[9] (c.1663-1700), the noted Sabbatean Kabbalist, and supposed prophet of the Sabbatean movement in Poland, to whom Lida is referring. Zoref wrote the Sefer Ha-Zoref where, among other things, he proclaimed himself Messiah b. Joseph and Shabbetai Zevi as Messiah b. David. Lida's quoting of Zoref is not a damning piece of evidence on its own, as it is one isolated quote, and as Naor points out,[10] classic works such as Kav Hayashar contain quotes from Zoref as well.  Still, this does not help Lida,s case.
 
Quite possibly the most egregious piece of suspect Sabbateanism that Lida published is the homily at the beginning of his Be'er Esek. [11]After discussing the Medrash that the Yalkut Shimoni brings in Samuel (151) that David climbed the olive crop and cried, Lida goes into detail about why David would cry and why these do not suffice as reasons. Lida brings quotes from the Zohar and Peliah that say that David did not sin with Bat-Sheba, but that rather she was prepared for him from the six days of creation and that, indeed, it was a good thing that he had relations with her. David saw himself as Adam, Bat-Sheba as Eve, and Uriah the Hittite as the nachash. By having relations with Bat-Sheba, David rectified the sin of Adam and the act of the Snake having relations with Eve, ultimately bringing death to this world. Next Lida equates David, Adam and Messiah, explaining how David did not sin, but in fact effected a great tikun (rectification). Lida continues in this vein for at least another page and a half, equating his own travails with David being maligned for taking Bat-Sheba and running from Absalom.[12] This work is ostensibly setting out to clear his name of all Sabbatean charges, yet within the work Sabbatean charges are never mentioned, and the work opens with the epitome of a Sabbatean sermon!
 
Lest one think this is an isolated instance, one has but to look at much of Lida's Ir David to see this is more the norm than the exception. Ir David was Lida's magnum opus. He was only able to bring the first third to print, as he states in the introduction. Lida's son Pesachya ended up printing the entire work in Amsterdam in 1719, through the press run by Solomon Proops.[13] In the introduction Lida discusses the rabbinic claim that when the messiah comes all holidays will be nullified except for Purim. This saying had become a popular adage among the Sabbateans, since Shabbatai Zevi had abolished all holidays (including the 9th of Av), as he believed he was the Messiah. Lida proceeds to expound on a passage (#143) in the Megaleh Amukos (by R. Nathan Nata Shapiro) that the Merkavah Chariot is alluded to in the letters שב"ת implying, therefore, that the redemption is connected to the Jews keeping shabbos. Lida proceeds to equate this using the gematria  שין, בית, תיו and אליהו משיח בן דוד   which equal 496. The equation of these two sets of words is suspect, since a popular "pastime" of Sabbateans was to show that Shabbetai Zevi's name was numerically similar to the numerical value of the word "messiah." If we suppose that Lida had a Sabbatean mindset, than one more passage in the introduction is suspect as well. Lida bring uses a statement from R. Isaac Luria, the Ari, that states that all souls stem from the same 248 souls, which are mired in impurities and kelipot, except those of certain individuals, one of them being the messiah. Scholem, in his article on Shabetai Zevi in the Encyclopaedia Judaica, explains how Sabbateans viewed the messiah's soul within their own kabalistic view:[14]
"He is essentially different from all those souls which play their part in the process of tikkun. In fact, he was never under the authority of the Torah, which is the mystical instrument used by the power of the thoughtful light and the souls connected with it. He represents something utterly new, an authority which is not subject to the laws binding in the state of cosmic and historic exile. He cannot be measured by common concepts of good and evil and must act according to his own law, which may become the utopian law of a world redeemed. Both his history and his special task explain his behavior after he had freed himself from the prison of the kelippah."
This can be used as a rationale for Shabbetai Zevi's apostasy, for if his soul was not from among the "regular souls," it could not be influenced by the impurities inherent in regular souls. Accordingly, he had the ability to save those who needed to be saved. Lida ends with one of his favorite verses, "ושבתי בבית ה'" with, once again, his "favorite letters" standing out. As mentioned previously, all of this is innocuous on its own, but taken within the larger picture, gives one pause.
Within Ir David there are certain recurring pieces. As in his Be'er Esek, the concept that King David didn't sin with Bat-Sheba is an important and recurrent trope. In part 42,[15] for example, Lida argues that the reason David was perceived to have sinned was to inspire the concept of repentance in individuals. Similarly, the Israelites were perceived to have sinned by the golden calf to inspire repentance among larger groups. In part 54, Lida explains that David came to replace Adam and rectify the snake's relations with Eve. This discussion continues in part 55 where Lida discusses two interpretations of what happened with the snake and Eve, and how this affects, depending on the interpretation, our interpretation of whether or not David sinned. Lida continues with this theme in part 58, which also combines one of Lida's favorite aspects of David's life, that of David being persecuted by Absalom (perhaps a reference to Shabetai Zevi or Sabbateans being persecuted). In part 64 we are reminded that King David knew he was not sinning and that, on the contrary, he was eventually rewarded with a spot in the merkavah with the forefathers. Part 86 continues this theme by asserting that David, Moses, and the Israelites all did not sin because their motivations were right; through this, Lida sets forth the concept of "better a sin done for the sake of heaven than a mitzvah done with the wrong intention." Finally, part 88 references the Talmud in Shabbos 56 that asserts that anyone who says David sinned is wrong, as well as referencing a passage in the Assarah Maamaros that discusses why David's name is not invoked in prayer.
 If one views Lida as a Sabbatean, then David is not the one speaking, but rather the Messiah, Shabbetai Zevi.[16] This further complicates much of Lida's sermons, since this implies that he is no longer merely using Psalms as a springboard for simple rabbinic-homiletic discourse; on the contrary, this gives everything he states a double meaning.
           
It cannot be disputed that Lida was a great scholar and a prolific author. Whether he plagiarized works or held Sabbatean beliefs remains up for discussion. However, much of his writing lends proof to the fact that he did. Why his works are still in print today, as opposed to the works of other possible Sabbateans, has more to do with the luck that Lida had of being reprinted early on by the Hasidic Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh of Liska (1808-1874) (and why a Hasidic rabbi chose to latch on to such a controversial figure may have to do with the similar ideological mindset of early Hasidism and Sabbateanism).[17]
*The author would like to thank the editors of the seforim blog who make this great forum available. I would like to thank Professor S.Z Leiman for helping me with the idea for this post and guidance throughout, and Efraim Keller at the Habad Library who helped with attaining Eisner's Toldos of Lida. and Achron Achron Chaviv Eli Meir Cohen who has been a tremendous asset with his wealth of knowledge of everything seforim related especially getting out of print items.
 

 


[1] Emden, Toras Hakanaos (Amsterdam, 1752), 71b
[3] Eisner, Toldot ha-Goan Rabbi Dovid Lida, pg.12
[4] pg.123
[5] 'Shabbetai Zevi," Encyclopaedia Judaica, pg.1251
[6] See Scholem, Mitzvah Habah Beaverah: Mechkarim Umekoros Letoldos Hashabsaut Ugilgoeha (Jerusalem, 1982)
[7] For an examination/explanation of Emden's list, see S.Z. Leiman, Sefer Hazikaron R. Moshe Lipshitz (New York, 1996)
[8] David Lida, Sod Hashem (Kiryath Joel, 2002), pg. 25
[9] Strashun, Mivhar Kesavim (Jerusalem, 1995), pg.128, n 2
[10] Betzalel Naor, Post-Sabbatian Sabbatianism (Spring Valley, 1999), pg.43
[11] Aaron Freimann, Sefer Hayovel for Nahum Sokolow (Warsaw, 1904), pg. 464
[12] While this is most probably just a standard writer's convention, it lends credence to Emden's contention that Lida may have had some messianic aspirations. See Emden's Toras Hakanaos, discussing Shir Hillulim.
[13] For more about Solomon Proops, see Richard D. Abraham, "Selomoh Proops, Corrector or Copyist?" Hispanic Review, Vol. 43, No. 3. (Summer, 1975), pp. 317-320; Quaerendo, Volume 37:2 (April, 2007), pg. 96-110; Marvin J Heller, Printing the Talmud: A History of the Individual Treatises Printed from 1700
[14] pg. 1242
[15] All numbers refer to the paragraphs assigned in Amsterdam edition.
[16] See Naor, Post-Sabbatian Sabbatianism, pg. 168, n 16
[17] See Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (New York, 1967), "Ninth Lecture- Hasidim: The Latest Phase"

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