Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Abraham's Chaldean Origins and the Chaldee Language

ABRAHAM’S CHALDEAN ORIGINS AND THE CHALDEE LANGUAGE

by Reuven Chaim (Rudolph) Klein

Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein is the author of the newly published Lashon HaKodesh: History, Holiness, & Hebrew [available here]. His book is available online and in bookstores in Israel and will arrive to bookstores in America in the coming weeks. Rabbi Klein published articles in various journals including Jewish Bible Quarterly, Kovetz Hamaor, and Kovetz Kol HaTorah. He is currently a fellow at the Kollel of Yeshivas Mir in Jerusalem and lives with his wife and children in Beitar Illit, Israel. He can be reach via email: historyofhebrew@gmail.com.

For the purposes of this discussion, we shall divide the region of Mesopotamia (the area between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers) into two sub-regions: the southern region known as Sumer (Shinar in the Bible) and the northern region known as Aram. Under this classification, Sumer incudes Babylon and the other cities which Nimrod (son of Cush son of Ham) built and ruled in southern Mesopotamia (Gen. 10:8–10). The northern Mesopotamian region of Aram includes the city of Aram Naharaim, also known as Harran, and Aram Zoba, also known as Aleppo (Halab). Both regions of Mesopotamia shared Aramaic as a common language.

ABRAHAM WAS BORN IN SUMERIAN UR


In painting the picture of Abraham’s background, most Biblical commentators assume that Abraham was born in Ur and that his family later migrated northwards to Harran. The Bible (Gen. 11:28; 11:31; 15:7; Neh. 9:7) refers to the place of Abraham’s birth as “Ur Kasdim,” literally “Ur of the Chaldeans.” Academia generally identifies this city with the Sumerian city Ur (although others have suggested different sites).[1]

According to this version of the narrative, Abraham’s family escaped Ur and relocated to Aram in order to flee from the influence of Nimrod. The reason for their escape is recorded by tradition: Nimrod—civilization’s biggest sponsor of idolatry—sentenced Abraham to death by fiery furnace for his iconoclastic stance against idolatry.[2] After Abraham miraculously emerged unscathed from the inferno, his father Terah decided to relocate the family from Ur (within Nimrod’s domain) to the city of Harran in the Aram region, which was relatively free from Nimrod’s reign of terror (Gen. 11:31). It was from Harran that Abraham later embarked on his historic journey to the Land of Canaan (Gen. 12).

Josephus in Antiquities of the Jews mentions a similar version of events. He quotes the first-century Greek historian Nicolaus of Damascus who wrote that Abraham, a “foreigner” from Babylonia, came to Aram. There, he reigned as a king for some time, until he and his people migrated to the Land of Canaan.[3]

NAHMANIDES: ABRAHAM WAS BORN IN HARRAN

Nahmanides (in his commentary to Gen. 11:28) offers a slightly different picture of Abraham’s origins and bases himself upon a series of assumptions which we shall call into question.

He begins by rejecting the consensus view that Abraham was born in Ur Kasdim by reasoning that it is illogical that Abraham was born there in the land of the “Chaldeans” because he descended from Semites, yet Chaldea and the entire region of Sumer are Hamitic lands. He supports this reasoning by noting that the Bible refers to Abraham as a “Hebrew” (Gen. 14:13) not a “Chaldean.” 

He further proves this point from a verse in Joshua (24:2) which states, Your forefathers always dwelt ‘beyond the River’, even Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nahor. The word always (m’olam) in this context implies that Abraham’s family originated in the “beyond the river” region, even before Terah. Similarly, he notes, the next verse there (24:3) states And I took your forefather Abraham from ‘beyond the river’ and led him throughout all the land of Canaan, which also implies that Abraham is originally from the region known as “beyond the river.” For reasons we shall discuss below, Nahmanides assumes that the term “beyond the river” favors the explanation that Abraham was originally from Harran, not Ur Kasdim.

Nahmanides further proves his assertion from the fact that the Bible mentions Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife and he went forth with them from Ur Kasdim to go into the land of Canaan and they came unto Harran and dwelt there (Gen. 11:31). In this verse, the Bible only mentions that Terah travelled to Harran with Abraham, Sarah, and Lot, yet elsewhere, the Bible mentions Nahor lived in Harran (see Gen. 24:10 which refers to Harran as the City of Nahor). Nahmanides reasons that if Abraham’s family originally lived in Ur Kasdim and only later moved to Harran without taking Nahor with them, then Nahor would have remained in Ur Kasdim, not in Harran. Hence, the fact that Nahor lived in Harran proves that the family originally lived in Harran, not Ur Kasdim.

Elsewhere in his commentary to the Bible (Gen. 24:7), Nahmanides offers another proof that Abraham was born in Harran and not Ur Kasdim. He notes that when Abraham commanded his servant to find a suitable bride for his son Isaac, he told him, Go to my [home]land and the place of my birth (Gen. 24:4), and the Bible continues to tell that the servant went to Harran, not to Ur Kasdim, implying that Harran is the place of Abraham’s birth. He further notes that it is inconceivable that Abraham would tell his servant to go to Ur Kasdim to find a suitable mate for Isaac, because its inhabitants—the Chaldeans—were Hamitic and are therefore unsuitable to intermarry with the family of Abraham (who were of Semitic descent).

Abraham’s early travels according to Nahmanides

In light of his conclusion that Abraham was born in Harran, not in Ur Kasdim, Nahmanides offers a slight twist to the accepted narrative. He explains that Abraham was really born in Aram, which is within the region known as “beyond the river,” and is well within the territory of Shem’s descendants. He explains that Terah originally lived in Aram where he fathered Abraham and Nahor. Sometime later, Terah took his son Abraham and moved to Ur Kasdim, while Nahor remained in Aram in the city of Harran. Terah’s youngest son, Haran, was born in Ur Kasdim. Based on this, Nahmanides explains that when the Bible says Haran died in the presence of his father Terah in the land of his birth, in Ur Kasdim (Gen. 11:28), the Bible means to stress that Ur Kasdim only was the city of Haran’s birth, but not the city where Abraham and/or Nahor were born. After living in Ur Kasdim, Terah and his entourage eventually left and returned to Harran (when Abraham was en route to the Land of Canaan).

The Talmud (TB Bava Batra 91a) mentions that Abraham was jailed in the city Cutha and identifies that city with Ur Kasdim. Nahmanides also cites Maimonides (Guide to the Perplexed 3:29) quotes the ancient gentile author of Nabataean Agriculture[4] who writes that Abraham, who was born in Cutha, argued on the accepted philosophy of his day which worshipped the sun, and the king imprisoned him, confiscated his possessions, and chased him away. Nahmanides explains that researchers have revealed that the city of Cutha is not in Sumer, the land of Chaldeans, but is, in fact, located in the northern Mesopotamian region of Aram between Harran and Assyria. This city is considered within the region of “beyond the river” because it lies between the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers (making it “beyond the Euphrates” if the Land of Israel is one’s point of reference).[5] Thus, argues Nahmanides, the Talmud also shares his view that Abraham was born in Aram, not Sumer.

Based on his view of Abraham’s early life, Nahmanides explains an inconsistency addressed by the early commentators. When God commanded Abraham to go to the Land of Canaan, He told him to leave from your [home]land and from the place of your birth and from the house of your father (Gen. 12:1). The early commentators (see Rashi and Ibn Ezra ad loc.) address the following question: If Abraham had already left Ur Kasdim, the presumed place of his birth, and had moved with his father to Harran, then why did God tell him again to leave the place of his birth? Nahmanides answers that according to his own understanding, this question does not even begin to develop because Abraham was not born in Ur Kasdim, he was born in Harran and later moved to Ur Kasdim, only to return to Harran from where God commanded him to go to the Land of Canaan.

In addition to what Nahmanides wrote in his commentary to Genesis, he repeats this entire discussion of Abraham’s origins in his “Discourse on the words of Ecclesiastes.”[6]

QUESTIONING NAHMANIDES’ ASSUMPTIONS

As we have already mentioned, Nahmanides’ position is based on several assumptions, each of which needs to be examined. Firstly, Nahmanides asserted that it is illogical to claim that Abraham was born in Ur Kasdim because the inhabitant of Sumer were Hamitic peoples, yet Abraham was a Semite. This claim is unjustified because there is no reason to assume that only Hamites lived in Sumer, only that Sumer was, in general, a Hamite-dominated principality. Furthermore, even according to Nahmanides’ own internal logic, this argument is certainly flawed because Nahmanides himself admits that Abraham and his family did live in Ur Kasdim at some point, thus he clearly concedes that Semites could live there.

Secondly, Nahmanides maintains that while Terah and his two eldest sons were born in Harran, he later relocated with Abraham alone to Ur Kasdim. Nahmanides fails to explain Terah’s rationale for moving with Abraham Ur Kasdim and why he did not take Nahor with him. This vital part of the story should have been explained by the Bible or at least by tradition. Abarbanel (to Gen. 11:26) raises this issue as one of five difficulties with Nahmanides’ approach. He compounds the difficulty by arguing that if Terah’s family originally lived in Harran and only later moved to Ur Kasdim, then the Bible should read and he went forth with them from Ur Kasdim to go into the land of Canaan and they returned to Harran and dwelt there, to imply that they had once lived in Harran. Yet, instead the Bible says and they came unto Harran and dwelt there, implying that they reached Harran for their first time.

Furthermore, Nahmanides proves that Abraham’s family originated in Harran not Ur Kasdim from the fact that after Terah took Abraham, Sarah, and Lot from Ur Kasdim to Harran—leaving Nahor where he was—Nahor was also found in Harran, even though he did not come there with his father. However, this proof is also unjustified and had already been addressed by Ibn Ezra (in his commentary to Gen. 11:29). Ibn Ezra writes that it is likely that Nahor arrived to Harran either before or after his father and for that reason he is not listed amongst Terah’s entourage when relocating from Ur Kasdim to Harran. In fact, there is Biblical precedent for Ibn Ezra’s first suggestion, for when Jacob and his family relocated from the Land of Canaan to Goshen in Egypt, Judah was sent there ahead of the rest of his family (see Gen. 46:28). In the same vein, it is likely that when Terah relocated his family from Ur to Harran, Nahor was sent ahead of everyone else.

In addition, Nahmanides proves from Abraham’s incarceration at Cutha that he lived in Aram at the time; however, contemporary scholars seem to agree that Cutha is actually in Sumer, not in northern Mesopotamia as Nahmanides mentions in the name of other researchers.[7] Nonetheless, to Nahmanides’ credit, there is some proof that Cutha is in northern Mesopotamia, not in Sumer: The abovementioned Talmudic passage (TB Bava Batra 91a) notes that in addition to his incarceration at Cutha, Abraham was also jailed at Kardu. Where is Kardu? When the Bible tells that the Ark of Noah landed at the mountains of Ararat (Gen. 8:4), all the Tagumim (Onkelos, Jonathan, Neofiti, and Peshitta) explain that Ararat is Kardu. This leads to the conclusion that the location of Abraham’s imprisonment was Armenia, north of Assyria and northeast of Aram, the region in which the Ararat mountains lie (in present-day Turkey). In fact, the name Kardu is preserved by a contemporary nameplace in that region: Kurdistan and its inhabitants who are called Kurds.[8] Based on this, one can argue that if Abraham was incarcerated at Kardu, then Cutha is also likely in that same general area, placing the city closer to Aram than to Sumer.

R. NISSIM OF GERONA AND ABARBANEL DISAGREE WITH NAHMANIDES

R. Nissim of Gerona (1320–1376), in his commentary to the Torah, quotes Nahmanides and then proceeds to disagree. He argues that even if Ur Kasdim is in Sumer as Nahmanides assumes, the verse Your forefathers always dwelt ‘beyond the River’ is still not true. This is because the word always implies that Abraham’s family never lived elsewhere, yet even Nahamanides freely admits that the family lived in Ur Kasdim, which he does not consider within the region of beyond the river. R. Nissim reasons that if Haran and Lot were born in Ur Kasdim, then Terah’s family must have stayed there for at least thirty years (a reasonable age of fatherhood in the post-Babel era, see Gen. 11:10–26) for Haran to be born, mature, and father Lot.

Instead, R. Nissim proposes that Ur Kasdim is, in fact, considered beyond the river. Accordingly, he understood that Ur Kasdim is actually located in northern Mesopotamia [9] and Abraham was born there, as were Haran and Lot, before the family relocated to Harran, which is also within the same region. According to this explanation, Your forefathers always dwelt ‘beyond the River’ literally means that Abraham’s family never left that region, even when they lived in Ur Kasdim.[10] This view is also adopted by Abarbanel.[11]

In addition to the two difficulties mentioned above and R. Nissim’s question, Abarbanel points out two more difficulties with Nahmanides’ approach. He quotes the verse And Abram and Nahor took for themselves wives... (Gen. 11:29) and notes that by grouping together Abraham and Nahor’s respective marriages, the Bible implies that Abraham and Nahor married their wives together—at the same time and place. If so, this passage is at odds with Nahmanides’ explanation who understood that at that time, Nahor was in Harran while Abraham was in Ur Kasdim.

Abarbanel’s fifth and final difficulty is with Nahmanides’ assumption that Ur Kasdim is not considered beyond the river. He cites two Biblical verses which together imply that Ur Kasdim is considered beyond the river. When God identified Himself to Abraham He said unto him: 'I am the LORD that brought thee out of Ur Kasdim, to give thee this land to inherit it' (Gen. 15:7). Quoting God, Joshua says I took your father Abraham from beyond the River, and led him throughout all the land of Canaan, and multiplied his seed, and gave him Isaac (Josh.24:3). When analyzing these two verses collectively, one concludes that Ur Kasdim and beyond the river are synonymous, casting suspicion on Nahmanides’ view that Ur Kasdim is not considered beyond the river. (Nahmanides himself addresses this issue by differentiating between being “brought out of” Ur Kasdim and being “taken” from beyond the river, a distinction which Abarbanel rejects.)

WHO WERE THE CHALDEANS?

Another issue with Nahmanides’ abovementioned explanation (although not necessarily crucial to his position on Abraham’s birthplace) is his assumption that the Chaldeans were Hamites who did not live together with Semites and would certainly not marry them. This assumption is clearly at odds with other early commentators who assume that the Chaldeans were indeed Semitic peoples. Furthermore, the Bible never explicitly mentions the “Chaldean” people in connection with Sumer until the time of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon; thus, there is no reason to assume that the Chaldeans occupied Sumer in the time of Abraham.

The notion that the Chaldeans are Semitic peoples has its roots in early works. Josephus writes in Antiquities of the Jews that the Chaldeans descend from Arphaxad, the son of Shem,[12] an assertion echoed by R. Gedaliah Ibn Yahya (1515–1587).[13] Interestingly, the last three letters of Arphaxad’s name (KHAF-SHIN-DALET) spells Kesed (Chaldea), the eponym of the Kasdim (Chaldeans).

Ibn Ezra (to Gen. 11:26) writes that while Abraham was born in Ur Kasdim, the city was not yet known under that name in his time because Kasdim are descendants of Abraham’s brother Nahor.[14] It seems that Ibn Ezra understood that in Abraham’s time, the Chaldeans had not yet developed into a nation. Similarly, Radak (to Gen. 11:28) writes that Ur Kasdim was not actually called “Ur of the Chaldeans” at the time that Terah’s family lived there because the Chaldeans did not yet exist. He explains that the Chaldeans are descendants of Terah’s grandson Kesed, son of Nahor (mentioned in Gen. 22:22, see Radak there) who was born later. Radak mentions this a third time in his commentary to Isaiah 23:13 where he notes that the Chaldeans, who descend from Kesed, son of Nahor, conquered the cities originally built by Assur and his descendants.

Maharal of Prague (1520–1609) explains[15] that the Chaldeans were mostly descendants of Assur (a son of Shem, see Gen. 10:22) but were called “Chaldeans” because the descendants of Kesed conquered them. Maharal also equates the Chaldeans with the Arameans, implying that the Chaldeans were not a Hamitic nation, but rather a Semitic nation descending from Aram, another son of Shem (see Gen. 10:22). By equating the Chaldeans with the Arameans, Maharal understood that the Chaldeans were not a Hamitic nation; but were Semitic. Maharal elsewhere[16] also identifies the Chaldeans with the Arameans and notes that his explanation is inconsistent with the words of Nahmanides in Parshat Hayei Sarah, but does not specify what Nahmanides says or even to which passage in Nahmanides he refers. Given our discussion, it seems that Maharal refers to the passage in question in which Nachmanides writes that the Chaldeans are descendants of Ham. In fact, Maharal in his commentary to the Torah (Gur Aryeh to Gen. 24:7) explicitly rejects much of what Nahmanides there writes.[17]

In short, most commentators understand that the Chaldeans were actually Semitic peoples, unlike Nahmanides’ assumption that they were Hamitic. Nonetheless, there is some support for Nahmanides’ position in the apocryphal Book of Jubilees (11:1-3) which tells that Reu, the great-grandfather of Terah, married the daughter of Ur, son of Kesed, who founded the city Ur.[18] While according to Radak, the Chaldeans descend from Kesed, a grandson of Terah, Jubilees seems to maintain that the Chaldeans descend from an earlier person named Kesed who already lived in the time of Reu, Terah’s great-grandfather, and merely married into the Semitic family.[19] Either way, there is certainly no validation of Nahmanides’ assertion that the Hamitic Chaldeans and the Semites were completely separate.

NEBUCHADNEZZAR THE CHALDEAN WAS A HAMITE

There is one Talmudic source which, by reasonable extension, might serve as a source for Nahmanides’ assumption that the Chaldeans were Hamitic peoples. The Talmud (TB Hagiga 13a) states that Nebuchadnezzar was “a son of a son of Nimrod.” As explicitly noted in the Bible, Nimrod was a Hamite (a son of Cush, son of Ham).[20] Prima facia, the Talmud explains that Nebuchadnezzar was a grandson of Nimrod, thereby making Nebuchadnezzar a Hamite. Although the Bible never mentions explicitly that Nebuchadnezzar was a Chaldean, it certainly implies such by calling his subjects in Babylonia “Chaldeans.” Furthermore, the Talmud calls Nebuchadnezzar’s granddaughter Vashti a Chaldean (see below), implying that Nebuchadnezzar himself was also Chaldean. All of this together raises the likelihood that the Talmud understood that Chaldeans are Hamites.

Rashi (to TB Pesahim 94b) endorses a somewhat literal reading of the Talmud and explains that Nebuchadnezzar was not really Nimrod’s grandson; he was simply a descendant of Nimrod (a view shared by Tosafot to TB Yevamot 48b). Rabbi Aryeh Leib Ginzberg (1695–1785) favors this approach in his work Turei Even (to TB Hagiga 13a), giving credence to the notion that Nahmanides took this Talmudic passage literally as well.

However, the Tosafists (there) reject a literal reading of the Talmud. They argue that since there is no source to the notion that Nebuchadnezzar was a descendant of Cush (Nimrod’s father), then the Talmud must not mean that Nebuchadnezzar was literally a grandson or even descendant of Nimrod.[21] Instead, the Tosafists explain that the Talmud was simply drawing an analogy between Nimrod, who was a wicked ruler of Sumer and persecuted Abraham, and Nebuchadnezzar, who was also a wicked king there and persecuted the Jews, as if to imply that Nebuchadnezzar was his “spiritual” heir. Furthermore, there is a Jewish legend which states that Nebuchadnezzar descended from the union of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.[22] According to this legend, Nebuchadnezzar was certainly not paternally Hamitic.[23] Finally, some commentators understand that the Talmud does not mean that Nebuchadnezzar was literally a genealogical descendant of Nimrod, rather that he was a reincarnation of Nimrod.

All in all, there is no clear proof from the Talmud’s assertion about Nebuchadnezzar that the Chaldeans were Hamites.

THE LANGUAGE OF THE CHALDEANS

We shall now turn to a discussion concerning the Chaldean language, which may help us better understand the origins of the Chaldean people and whether they were Hamitic or Semitic.

The prophet Isaiah relates that God said, I will rise up against them—the word of God, Master of legions—and I will discontinue from Babylonia its name and remnant, grandchild and great-grandchild—the word of God (Isa. 14:22). The Talmud (TB Megillah 10b) tells that R. Yonatan would expound this verse as an introduction to the Book of Esther. The Talmud understood that this verse refers to the Chaldeans (the people of Babylonia) who destroyed the First Temple. R. Yonatan would explain that its name refers to their script, remnant refers to their language, grandchild refers to their monarchy, and great-grandchild refers to Vashti—the last scion of the Babylonian royal family who was wed to the Persian king Ahasuerus and was executed at the beginning of the Book of Esther. Accordingly, declares the Talmud, the Chaldeans are a nation that has neither script nor language.[24]

However, in actuality, the Chaldeans did have a language, for the Chaldeans spoke Aramaic. Why then does the Talmud not reckon with the fact that they spoke Aramaic? This question is asked explicitly by the Tosafists (to TB Megillah 10b, Avodah Zarah 10a) and is addressed by many commentators.

Rashi[25] explains that the Talmud does not mean that the language spoken by the Chaldeans would cease to exist, but rather that the Chaldeans borrowed their language (Aramaic) from other people (Arameans). According to this understanding, the Chaldeans were the inhabitants of Southern Mesopotamia (i.e. Sumer, where Babylon lies), while the Arameans were the inhabitants of Northern Mesopotamia (i.e. Aram) and are not the same people, they simply shared a common language. Although Rashi fails to explain the significance of the fact that the Chaldeans borrowed Aramaic from the Arameans, his explanation does shed light onto the Talmud’s declaration that the Chaldeans do not have a language; the Talmud means that the Chaldeans do not have their own language.

The Tosafists (there) offer another answer. They explain that the when the Talmud states that the Chaldeans have neither language nor script, this does not refers to a common language and script, but rather to a royal language and script. That is, the Talmud acknowledges that the Chaldeans spoke Aramaic, but understood that they are to be “discontinued” in that their royal class would no longer have a special language of its own. It seems that the Babylonian royalty originally spoke a separate language (perhaps Akkadian[26] or the even older Sumerian) than did the rest of the nation, and this language was eventually lost as punishment for their role in the destruction of the First Temple.[27]

R. Shlomo Alkabetz (1500–1580) proves this explanation in the introduction to his work Manot HaLevi (a commentary to the Book of Esther). He shows from the fact that Nebuchadnezzar and all the Babylonian kings after him spoke Aramaic—by then the dominant language in the Ancient World—that the original Chaldean language fell into disuse. In fact, he notes, the Bible tells that the Chaldean language had to be taught to members of the royal household (see Dan. 1:4), proving that it was by then relegated to obscurity. It is unlikely that the “Chaldean Language” referred to is actually Aramaic because one would assume that members of the royal court in Babylon already knew Aramaic![28] R. Alkabetz further notes that by the time of Ahasuerus, king of Persia, the Chaldean language was almost extinct and with the demise of Vashti, the language completely died, allowing Ahasuerus to declare each man shall rule over his house and speak the language of his nation (Est. 1:22), marking the utter end of the language of Babylon.

Interestingly, R. Moshe Ashkenazi Halpern (c. 1555)[29] writes in his work Zikhron Moshe (to Est. 1:22) that Vashti justified her impudence by claiming not to understand the language of Ahasuerus. He explains that this is the meaning of the verse the queen Vashti refused to come at the king's commandment (Est. 1:12) which can super-literally be translated as the queen Vashti refused to engage in the king’s words. Because of this, upon executing Vashti, Ahasuerus proclaimed that each man should be able to speak the language of his nation, i.e. without his wife claiming not to understand him.

Maharsha and R. Yehuda Aryeh Leib Alter (1847–1905)[30] reject a literal reading of the Talmud and instead explain it esoterically. They understand, in slightly different ways, that when the Talmud mentions that the language of the Babylonians would be discontinued, it does not refer to their actual language but to the “essence” of their existence, which their language represents. They are therefore not bothered by the question of the Tosafists that Aramaic continued and continues to exist as a spoken and written language because they understood that the Talmud was not actually talking about the discontinuation of their language, it was discussing the discontinuation of their core essence. Once their core essence disappeared, they needed to adopt the “essence” of other nations in order to continue to exist, thereby losing their own identity. If this meta-physical reality was mirrored by physical reality (a point which is unclear in those sources), it would probably mean that the Chaldeans originally spoke Akkadian and/or Sumerian, but when their “essence” was lost, they needed to borrow Aramaic from the Arameans, their northern neighbors (similar to the understanding of Rashi).

However, Maharal, who similarly interpreted this passage esoterically[31] and understood that the Chaldeans and Arameans are one and the same (as mentioned above), would certainly not agree with this theory. Instead, Maharal cites a Talmudic passage (TB Sukkah 52b) which relates that God “regretted” that He created the Chaldeans. Because of this “regret,” the Chaldeans are considered non-existent, personae non grata. If the Chaldeans do not exist, then their language, Aramaic, is to be considered equally non-existent, lingua non grata. For this reason, explains Maharal, Aramaic is not counted in the seventy languages.[32]

THE CHALDEAN LANGUAGE IN PERSPECTIVE

To summarize, according to Maharal, the Chaldeans and the Arameans are one and the same, so the Chaldean language is to be identified with Aramaic. This explanation precludes the view of Nahmanides who maintains that the Chaldeans were Hamitic people (as opposed to the Arameans who were Semitic). In fact, we have already shown that Maharal explicitly disagrees with Nahmanides on this issue.

On the other hand, Rashi (and perhaps others) understood that the Chaldeans took Aramaic from the Aramean inhabitants of northern Mesopotamia. According to this explanation, the Chaldeans are a distinct people from the Arameans. This explanation leaves open the possibility for Nahmanides’ view that the Chaldeans were the original Hamitic inhabitants of Sumer, albeit their Semitic neighbors to the north influenced them linguistically.

Similarly, according to the Tosafists, the Chaldean language was spoken by the royal court in Babylon in tandem with Aramaic. This explanation also leaves open the possibility for Nahmanides’ explanation that the Chaldeans were the Hamitic inhabitants of southern Mesopotamia, and despite their acceptance of Aramaic (which originated from their neighbors to the north and had spread throughout most of the civilized world), they also maintained a distinct Chaldean language to be used by the ruling class.

IN SUMMATION

In short, Nahmanides proposes a new theory that Abraham was actually born in Harran (in the northern Mesopotamian region of Aram), before his family relocated to Sumerian Ur and eventually returned to Harran. Nahmanides offers several justifications for his theory, most significant of which is the notion that Sumerian Ur, which was inhabited by the Chaldeans, was Hamitic territory and it is therefore unlikely that Abraham’s family, who were Semitic, originated there. We cast doubt on this proof by noting that even if the Chaldeans occupied Sumer at that time, they were not necessarily Hamitic peoples and certainly there is no justification for arguing that non-Hamitic families could not live there. Additionally, we explored the possibility of Hamitic origins for the Chaldean by surveying various commentators’ understandings of the “Chaldean Language” mentioned in the Talmud. While some of those explanations definitely allowed room for Nahmanides’ position, none of them directly support it. Finally, each of the proofs that Nahmanides offers for his view is based on certain assumptions and we have shown that each of those assumptions is not universally agreed upon.




[1] A. Marcus, Keset HaSofer (Tel Aviv, 1971) pgs. 296–297 writes that Ur Kasdim was definitely in the southern region of Mesopotamia, close to the Persian Gulf.
[2] TB Pesachim 118a, Bereishit Rabbah §38:13, Targum Jonathan (to Genesis 11:28), and more.
[3] See Kitvei Yosef ben Matityahu, Kadmoniut HaYehudim Vol. 1 (Jerusalem: Reuven Mass, 1939) pg. 31.
[4] The work Nabataean Agriculture was written in Arabic by the 9th century Muslim philosopher Ibn Wahshiyya. It is supposedly an Arabic translation of an ancient Syriac text describing the beliefs of the Sabian religion. However, academia believes this work to have been forged (at least in part) by Ibn Wahshiyya himself.
[5] Interestingly, several popular maps place Ur Kasdim southwest of the Euphrates River, meaning that it is on the same side of the Euphrates as is the Land of Israel, technically outside of Mesopotamia, albeit still within the same general vicinity. This lends credence to Nahmanides’ view that Aram is considered “across the river” while Ur Kasdim is not, even though both are in the general region of Mesopotamia. See A. Kaplan, The Living Torah (New York: Maznaim Publishing Corporation, 1985) pg. 42; Ramban Al HaTorah Bereishit Vol. 1 (Artscroll/Mesorah Publications, 2004) pg. 593; and Y. Elitzur & Y. Keel (eds.), Atlas Da’at Mikra (Jerusalem: Mossad HaRav Kook, 1998) pg. 66.
[6] C. Chavel (ed.), Writings of the Ramban, Vol. 2 (Jerusalem: Mossad HaRav Kook, 1963) pp. 202–203.
[7] M. Berenbaum and F. Skolnik (eds.), “Cuth, Cuthah,” Encyclopedia Judaica 2nd ed. Vol. 5. (Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007) pp. 344–345.
[8] Y. Elitzur & Y. Keel (eds.), Atlas Da’at Mikra (Jerusalem: Mossad HaRav Kook, 1998) pg. 386.
[9] P. Berlyn, “The Journey of Terah to Ur-Kasdim or Urkesh,” Jewish Bible Quarterly Vol. 33:2 (Jerusalem: Jewish Bible Association, 2005) suggests that Ur mentioned in the Bible is actually Urkesh, an ancient city in Northern Mesopotamia. Other than that, she accepts the narrative proposed by Nahmanides (that Terah originally lived in Harran where Abraham was born, relocated to Ur, and later returned to Harran), without mentioning him by name.
[10] L. A. Feldman (ed.), Pirush HaRan Al HaTorah (Jerusalem: Machon Shalem, 1968) pp. 153–154.
[11] See there for an explanation of why Ur is associated with the “Chaldeans” if it is located in Aram. Rabbi Eliezer Ashkenazi (1512–1585) disagrees with Nahmanides’ narrative and instead proposes that Abraham never lived in southern Mesopotamia. He argues that Abraham’s family moved from within northern Mesopotamia from Aram Naharim to Harran (which he understands to be two separate places) and all references to Ur of the Chaldeans do not refer to a southern Mesopotamian city named Ur but rather to the Chaldean (Sumerian?) dominion over northern Mesopotamia in Abraham’s time. See Ashkenazi’s Maasei HaShem (Warsaw, 1871) pp. 78a–79a .
[12] Kitvei Yosef ben Matityahu, Kadmoniut HaYehudim Vol. 1 (Jerusalem: Reuven Mass, 1939) pg. 27.
[13] Shalshelet HaQabbalah (Jerusalem, 1962) pg. 218.
[14] A. Marcus, Keset HaSofer (Tel Aviv, 1971) pgs. 296 criticizes Ibn Ezra for confusing Kesed son of Nahor with Kesed of the family of Arphaxad.
[15] Gur Aryeh to Deuteronomy 32:21.
[16] Gevurat HaShem (Ch. 54).
[17] See also “Galut V’Geulah” (by Rabbi Chaim Wallin of Baltimore) printed in Kovetz Yeshurun Vol. 7 (New York-Jerusalem: Machon Yeshurun, 2000) pg. 572 who elaborates on what Maharal writes there.
[18] E. Yassif (ed.), The Chronicles of Jerahmeel (Ramat Aviv: Tel Aviv University, 2001) pg. 121 gives “Milcah bat Ruth” as the name of Reu’s wife.
[19] Nonetheless, Jubilees (9:4) mentions that Arphaxad’s land includes Chaldea, which implies that the Chaldeans are descendants of Arphaxad (as Josephus understood).
[20] Rabbi Gershon Chanoch Heinich Leiner (1839–1891) discusses Nebuchadnezzar’s lineage in light of his previous position at the court of the Assyrian king Sannechreb. See Rabbi Leiner’s Petil Tekheilet, (Lublin, 1904) pp. 137–138.
[21] R. Hayyim Yosef David Azulai (1724–1806) in his work Petah Einayim (to TB Hagiga 13a) notes that a contradiction between selections of Tosafot to differing tractates is not considered a contradiction because they were authored by different people. However, Tosasfot HaRosh, which was ostensibly written by one person, namely R. Asher ben Yehiel (1250–1327), also contains this contradiction: In Tosafot HaRosh to TB Hagiga 13a, he writes that Nebuchadnezzar was not literally a descendant of Nimrod, while in Tosafot HaRosh to TB Yevamot 48a, he writes that he was. This contradiction has yet to be resolved.
[22] See Rashi to I Kgs. 10:13 and J.D. Eisenstein (ed.), Otzar Midrashim (New York, 1915) pg. 46 and Rabbi David Yoel Weiss’ Megadim Hadashim (to TB Hagiga 13a).
[23] Nonetheless, it is possible that his Hamitic lineage comes from his maternal genealogy, for Sheba is listed as a grandson of Cush (Gen. 10:7). However, it is equally plausible that the Queen of Sheba herself was Semitic as the name Sheba also appears twice in Semitic genealogies, namely as a son of Joktan (Gen. 10:28) and as a grandson of Abraham (Gen. 25:3).
[24] The Talmud elsewhere (TB Avodah Zarah 10a) makes a similar comment about the Romans (who destroyed the Second Temple), see the commentators there.
[25] To TB Megillah 10b, as explained by R. Yosef Hayim of Baghdad (1832–1909) in his Talmudic work Ben Yehoyada (there).
[26] If, in fact, the "lost language" to is Akkadian, then it is much easier to understand how and why Aramaic suddenly superseded Akkadian as the lingua franca of the Ancient world and why rabbinic literature seemingly never refers to that language.
[27] Azulai in Petah Einayim (to TB Megillah 10b) quotes an anonymous scholar who explains the juxtaposition of the lack of a royal language and the death of Vashti. He explains that because Vashti rejected Ahasuerus’ request to appear before him unclothed by publicly responding to him a disrespectful way, Ahasuerus had no choice but to execute his wife in order to save face. Had there been a royal language used internally by the ruling class, Vashti’s insolence would not have created such an impact because she would have responded to her husband in that language, limiting the knowledge of her disrespectful response to her husband and his royal courtiers, while the other attendees at the party would not have realized what transpired.
[28] Ibn Ezra (Daniel 2:4) writes that when the Bible says that Nebuchadnezzar’s necromancers spoke to him in Aramaic, this refers to the Chaldean language, which was spoken by the king. See also M. Amsel, Shut Hamaor Vol. 1 (Brooklyn, 1967) pp. 472–474.
[29] R. Halpern was either the father-in-law or brother-in-law of the more famous scholar R. Shmuel Eliezer Eidels (Maharsha). See Zikhron Moshe (Jerusalem: Zichron Aharon  Publications, 2003) pp. 7–9 for further discussion.
[30] Sfat Emet (to TB Megillah 10b).
[31] In the introduction to Ohr Hadash (a commentary to the Book of Esther).
[32] See Tiferet Yisrael (Ch. 13), Gevurat HaShem, (Ch. 54) and Chiddushei Aggadot (to TB Sotah 33a).

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

How many children did Michal have? Explanation of a Talmudic passage in light of the writings of Josephus Flavius

How many children did Michal have? Explanation of a Talmudic passage in light of the writings of Josephus Flavius[1]
 By Chaim Sunitsky

The following Talmudic passage appears in Sanhedrin 19b (we are using mostly Soncino translation):

R. Yossi was asked by his disciples: How could David marry two sisters while they were both living? He answered: He married Michal after the death of Meirav. R. Yehoshua ben Korha said: His marriage to Meirav was contracted in error, as it is said, Deliver me my wife Michal whom I betrothed unto me for a hundred foreskins of the Philistines. How does this prove it? — R. Papa answered: Because he said, My wife Michal but not ‘my wife Meirav’. Now, what was the error in his marriage [with Meirav]? [It was this:] It is written, And it shall be that the man who kills [Goliath], the king will enrich him with great riches and will give him his daughter. Now he [David] went and slew him, whereupon Shaul said to him: I owe you a debt, and if one betroths a woman by a debt, she is not betrothed. Accordingly he gave her to Adriel, as it is written, But it came to pass at the time when Meirav, Shaul's daughter should have been given to David, that she was given to Adriel the Meholatite to wife. Then Shaul said to David, ‘If you still wish me to give you Michal to wife, go and bring me hundred foreskins of the Philistines.’ He went and brought them to him. Then he said: ‘You now have two claims on me, [the repayment of] a loan and a perutah’. Now, Shaul held that when a loan and a perutah are offered [as kidushin], he [the would-be husband] thinks mainly of the loan; but in David's view, when there is a loan and a perutah, the mind is set on the perutah. Or if you like, I will say, all agree that where a loan and a perutah [are offered], the mind is set on the perutah. Shaul, however, thought that [the hundred foreskins] had no value, while David held that they had value at least as food for dogs and cats. How does R. Yossi interpret the verse, Deliver me my wife Michal? He explains it by another view of his. For it has been taught: R. Yossi used to interpret the following confused passage thus: It is written, But the king took the two sons of Rizpah the daughter of Ayah whom she bore to Shaul, Armoni and Mephiboshet, and the five sons of Michal, the daughter of Shaul, whom she bore to Adriel the son of Barzillai, the Meholatite etc. But was Michal really given to Adriel; was she not given to Palti the son of Layish, as it is written, Now Shaul had given Michal, David's wife, to Palti the son of Layish . . .? But Scripture compares the marriage of Meirav to Adriel to that of Michal to Palti, to teach that just as the marriage of Michal to Palti was unlawful, so was that of Meirav to Adriel. Now as to R. Yehoshua ben Korha, surely it is written, And the five sons of Michal the daughter of Shaul whom she bore to Adriel. R. Yehoshua [b. Korha] answers thee: Was it then Michal who bore them? Surely it was rather Meirav who bore them! But Meirav bore and Michal brought them up, therefore they were called by her name. This teaches you that whoever brings up an orphan in his home, Scripture ascribes it to him as though he had begotten him.

The accepted understanding of this passage is that according to Rabbi Yossi David married Michal only after her sister had five children from Adriel and died. Michal later brought up the five children as her own. The commentators[2] ask how Meirav could possibly have five children within just two and a half years of Shaul’s reign and answer that she was pregnant with twins twice, and once with the fifth child.  However, according to the calculation of all the events that had to occur before David married Michal and after he ran away from Shaul, there is not enough time left for three pregnancies of Meirav[3]. We need to look for a simpler understanding of the Talmud.

The difficulty of the Gemara is with the following verse from the end of David’s life (Shmuel 2:21:8): “And the king [David] took two sons of Rizpah daughter of Ayah whom she bore to Shaul, Armoni and Mephiboshet, and the five sons of Michal, the daughter of Shaul, whom she bore to Adriel the son of Barzillai, the Meholatite …” Five children of Michal and Adriel are mentioned in this verse. All the commentators follow the explanation of our Gemara that the children were born to Meirav and Michal only raised them. But a careful reading seems to reveal that R. Yossi is not the one who holds that the five children were Meirav’s. This explanation is provided by the Gemara later according to Rabbi Yehoshua ben Karcha. If so, R. Yossi must hold that indeed Michal was the one to have the five children. Since David only took her back seven years after he became king, there was plenty of time for her to give birth to five children. But Michal was never married to Adriel, she was “married” to Palti. It’s important to understand what Rabbi Yossi is implying by his words “confused passage” (מקראות מעורבין literally mixed up verses). Apparently he means that while Michal married Palti, the verse is using the expression “married to Adriel” to teach us that the marriage of Michal to Palti was just as sinful as the marriage of Meirav to Adriel. Both marriages were based on an incorrect decision of Shaul and his Bet Din. David's Kidushin with Meirav was declared invalid and his later Kidushin with Michal was declared invalid again[4]. Indeed Josephus Flavius (Antiquities 7:4:3) says that Michal had five children from Palti.

Now we can offer a simple understanding of the entire Talmudic passage. The students asked R. Yossi, how could David marry two sisters? They are obviously assuming that some form of Kidushin was involved when Shaul offered his (presumably older[5]) daughter to the one who kills Goliath[6]. If David was technically married to Meirav he could not marry Michal even if Meirav was incorrectly given to a different man. R. Yossi answered that Meirav died before David married Michal. R. Yehoshua ben Karcha however holds that there was no kosher Kidushin between David and Meirav. He learns it from the words in a verse: “my wife Michal”, meaning only Michal is my wife, Meirav is not. The Gemara goes into the technical explanation of why Michal’s Kidushin was valid and not Meirav’s according to R. Yehoshua ben Karcha. R. Yossi however only learns from this verse that Michal was David’s wife meaning her Kidushin was valid just as Meirav’s, and giving her to Palti was incorrect. He learns that the verse (Shmuel 2:21:8) describing David’s giving five children of Michal and Adriel to Givonim[7] were really Michal’s children from Palti and is using the expression “mixed up verses” to teach us that Michal’s Kidushin with David was valid just like Meirav’s was.[8] R. Yehoshua ben Karcha however says the verse in Shmuel 2:21:8 is not talking about Michal’s children but about Meirav’s children whom Michal raised. The Gemara goes on to give other examples where children raised by someone are considered like one’s own children.




[1] Note that this article does not claim to research the words of Tanach but only the Chazal’s explanation of it. In particular we are trying to offer a novel explanation of R. Yossi’s shita in the Gemara. We will use a novel idea supported by Yosef ben Matityahu. While he was a controversial person at best, he had excellent Jewish education and his traditions are largely reliable and generally represent the opinions of Tanaim of his time. He is quoted numerous times in Daat Sofrim and other traditional commentaries.
[2] Yad Ramah, Tosafot Harosh.
[3] See Margoilyot Hayam. He therefore concludes that we must accept the shitah of Rabeinu Yeshaya on Shmuel (1:13:1) that the two and a half years that Shaul had ruled are only considered until the time David was anointed. However this shitah is in contradiction with Seder Olam which is a product of Rabbi Yossi himself. In the commentary of Gaonim on Sanhedrin another possibility is offered that Shaul himself did not realize that Meirav had been married to Adriel when he offered her to David. Incidentally modern scholarship supposes that Shaul ruled over Israel for more than two years and possibly the word “thirty” is missing in Masoretic text before the word “two” in Shmuel 1:13:1: “[thirty] two years he ruled in over Israel.” Abarbanel has a different explanation of our text according to which Shaul also ruled longer.
[4] It is also possible (though this is not R. Yossi’s shita) that Palti was the same person as Adriel and Shaul first gave Meirav to Adriel and later when she died soon after this marriage and David was running away from Shaul and was considered a rebel, Meirav’s sister Michal was given to Adriel who was now called Palti.
[5] See Tosafot Kidushin 52b.
[6] As to the nature of this Kidushin, we do find some cases where “work” performed is counted as Kidushin as well as saving from danger (see Kidushin 8b, in particular “saving from a dog” in 30:11). Apparently both R. Yossi and his students don’t question that some kind of Kidushin happened here, and if Meirav was no longer minor it must be that she either agreed on Shaul’s proposal or made Shaul her shliach to accept such a Kidushin as saving from a “dog” (incidentally Goliath is in fact compared to a dog, see Sota 42b).
[7] Note that according to David these children were mamzerim.
[8] As mentioned previously neither R. Yossi nor his students had any doubt that Meirav’s Kidushin was valid. Therefore the verse used that Kidushin to compare to Kidushin of Michal and emphasize that giving Michal to Palti was just as sinful as giving Meirav to Adriel. The verse therefore means: “And the king took two sons of Rizpah daughter of Ayah whom she bore to Shaul, Armoni and Mephiboshet, and the five sons of Michal, the daughter of Shaul, whom she bore to [Palti to whom she was given incorrectly just like Meirav was given to] Adriel the son of Barzillai, the Meholatite”. This may be similar to Chazal’s explanation of Zecharia 12:11: “On that day the mourning will be as great in Yerushalaim as the mourning of Hadadrimon in the valley of Megiddo”. There is no known tragic incident in our history that is related to Hadadrimon and the valley of Megiddo. The Talmud (Megilah 3a) quotes the Targum adding a number of words and relating this verse to two different events: “On that day the mourning will be as great in Yerushalaim as the mourning of [Ahab who was killed by] Hadadrimon [and the mourning of Yeshayahu who was killed] in the valley of Megiddo.

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.

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