Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Masechet Purim

I know that Purim is still a long way away, but I just discovered this fact (in the very interesting book Printing the Talmud: From Bomberg To Schottenstein

Nowadays, a spoof of a current event has to be made within a few hours, or at most a few days, otherwise it loses its bite. However, it wasn't always so.

The first complete set of Talmud Bavli was printed by Daniel Bomberg in Venice and completed in 1543 (it took 23 years to put out the entire set)

It was bound in pigskin (which was the best quality leather for binding) and the first printing was of 1500 copies. It was reprinted several times and was a 'best-seller'.

But only 9 years later the first 'spoof tractate' was printed in 1552, also in Venice. It was entitled "Masechet Purim" and was printed together with Sefer Havakbuk Ha-Navi (a parody of Habakuk Ha-Navi - which translates as "The Book of the Bottle Prophet")

You can download a copy from the amazing HebrewBooks.org - save it for Purim and learn it with your friends and family. Or condemn it for being leitzanus.

It just amazes me that someone invested the time and money to create and print a spoof talmudic tractate - especially when printing was so new and still quite rare.

Noach and the Flood

*** Possible potential heresy warning ***

Over on his blog, Dovbear asks what an Orthodox Jew is supposed to do with the story of Noah and the flood. He provides several answers, and to be honest, none of them are totally satisfactory.

I would add another difficulty to the story, which is the great similarity of the wording to the Epic of Gilgamesh. In the words of James Kugel:

the Bible’s Flood story is nowadays generally held to be a recasting of an ancient Mesopotamian legend – one that even retains some of the original wording (“smelled the pleasing odor” and so forth) of the text from which it was copied

(If you look in his book "How to Read the Bible" he discusses this in greater detail)

In other words, not only is there a lot of evidence that the flood did not actually take place as reported in the Torah, but it also looks as though the 'author' of the Torah copied and pasted from the earlier Epic.

I wonder (and I'n not sure if this is heretical or not) whether Rashi provides us with an answer to solve these issues. In Gittin there is an argument between Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish as to how the Torah was given to Moshe Rabbeinu.
א"ר יוחנן משום רבי בנאה תורה מגילה מגילה ניתנה שנא' אז אמרתי הנה באתי במגילת ספר כתוב עלי ר"ש בן לקיש אומר תורה חתומה ניתנה שנאמר לקוח את ספר התורה הזאת

R. Johanan said in the name of R. Bana'ah: The Torah was transmitted in separate scrolls, as it says, Then said I, Lo I am come, in the roll of the book it is written of me. R. Simeon b. Lakish said: The Torah was transmitted entire, as it says, Take this book of the law.

(Tosefot points out, quoting from Rashi's commentary on Chumash, that Reish Lakish also agrees with Rabbi Yochanan's basic premise that the stories were given independently. The argument between them is whether they were given in the order in which they were to be written, or in a different order, and were later compiled into the order in which they appear in the Torah)
תורה חתומה ניתנה. תימה דכתיב (שמות כד) ויקח ספר הברית ויקרא באזני העם ופרש"י בפי' חומש דהיינו מבראשית ועד כאן ונראה לפרש דלא קאמר חתומה ניתנה שלא נכתבה עד לבסוף אלא שעל הסדר נכתבה דיש פרשיות שנאמרו תחילה לפני אותם הכתובים לפניהם ולא נכתבה עד שנאמר לו אותה שכתובה לפניה וכותב זאת אחריה

Rashi there expains Rabbi Yochanan's view:
כתוב עלי. מאז ניתנה התורה הוזכרתי בה ואת שתי בנותיך הנמצאות (בראשית יט) בזכות דוד שעתיד לצאת מרות המואביה ונעמה העמונית אמו של רחבעם כתיב הכא הנמצאות וכתיב התם (תהלים פט) מצאתי דוד עבדי אלמא מגילה איקרי משום דמתחילה נכתבה מגילת בראשית והדר מגילת נח והדר מגילת אברהם והיינו דקאמר במגילת אברהם כתוב עלי:

... First the 'Scroll of Genesis' was written,then the 'Scroll of Noach', then the 'Scroll of Avraham'...

Here is my question - why did Rashi not simply explain (based on his own commentary on chumash cited by Tosefot above) that the entire book of Bereishit and the beginning of Shemot were given to Moshe at once. And the argument between Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish is only about the remainder of the Torah - whether it was given at once, or piecemeal.

Rashi specifies that before the Torah was actually written there was something called 'Scroll of Genesis' etc. Is it possible that G-d told Moshe to take existing stories from other the ancient world, and transform them into Torah through editing etc. Everything that happens in the world is ultimately from G-d, so the fact that these stories may have originally been written in other mythologies does not mean that they do not contain an element of G-dly truth.
Perhaps Moshe was told by G-d to take certain ideas from the Epic of Gilgamesh, and other works, which teach us ultimate and eternal truths, (and obviously to discard those parts which are not true). This would explain the similarity of wording between the Torah and the Epic.
We know that there were earlier works which the Torah expects us to be familiar with. for example, Bamidbar 21:14 states:
עַל-כֵּן יֵאָמַר בְּסֵפֶר מִלְחֲמֹת ה': אֶת וָהֵב בְּסוּפָה וְאֶת הַנְּחָלִים אַרְנוֹן
wherefore it is said in the book of the Wars of the LORD: Vaheb in Suphah, and the valleys of Arnon

There is also mention of Sefer HaYashar and others.

And if you will grant me that G-d told Moshe to copy and edit earlier texts - is it possible that the key thing from those texts was the ethical/moral message? Perhaps the historicity of the event was irrelevant to G-d and Moshe. Perhaps the fact that people were aware of this myth, and it became part of Torah, was sufficient. Whether it 'actually' happened the way it was written or not may not be the issue that G-d was concerned with.

It seems to me that if someone does not believe that there was a literal (whatever that means) revelation at Sinai they are putting themselves outside the traditional faith of Judaism. But perhaps Rashi in Gittin (and the gemara itself) is alluding to the fact that the earlier parts of the Torah are based on other texts, and only became 'the word of G-d' once G-d told Moshe to put them into the Torah.

What do you think? Is this a valid reading of the gemara/Rashi? Does it help to answer the flood questions? And is it heresy?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Missing vav in Parshat Noach

There seems to be a vav missing from my Chumash in parshat Noach. Can anyone help explain to me where it has gone?

Let me explain what I mean (I am really no expert in these things, so there may be a really obvious answer):

In Bereishit 9:29 the verse (in my chumash) reads:
וִיהִי, כָּל-יְמֵי-נֹחַ, תְּשַׁע מֵאוֹת שָׁנָה, וַחֲמִשִּׁים שָׁנָה; וַיָּמֹת.

Which means (according to KJ):
And all the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years; and he died.

I looked in my tikkun korim, and it says the same thing.

However, if you look in Onkelos, he writes:
והוו, כל יומי נוח, תשע מאה וחמשין, שנין; ומית.

If my rudimentary grasp of Aramaic grammar is correct, והוו is plural. So the Hebrew should say וַיִּהְיוּ instead of וִיהִי.

If you look in the Leningrad Codex (which I think is the oldest text we have, since the Aleppo Codex is missing most of Chumash) the word is with a vav:

And if you look in the first printed mikra'ot gedolot, printed by Daniel Bomberg in 1525 it also seems to have the vav.

As far as I know, this is the text from which all other chumashim were taken. So how come my chumash today does not have the vav?

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Four Suns

Sorry - couldn't resist this one:

The media is reporting a planet that was discovered that has four suns! I thought Tatooine was cool with two suns (I actually spent an hour once at a bar mitzvah discussing with a physicist whether or not that was possible, and what shape its orbit would be - I guess it is possible!). But four suns!

Imagine what their Pesach Seder must be like:

(the wise sun, the wicked sun, the naive sun and the sun who does not know how to ask)

Boom boom (I'll get my coat)

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Open Minded Siyum

Mazel Tov to all those who are learning daf hayomi and made a siyum today on Masechet Berachot. I don't think Hallmark have yet made a card for this milestone event, but mazel tov to all of us, and may we continue to learn, to teach, to observe and to keep the mitzvot.

(I still agree with my brother's post that daf hayomi is not necessarily the best use of a person's learning time, but the strength of the community and being part of a worldwide learning program does give daf hayomi a unique power).

We made the siyum in the Sukkah this morning, and the mesayem quoted a piece from Rav Kook (found in Olat Harayah on the relevant section of the Siddur (p.330):

“Rabbi Elazar said: Torah scholars increase peace in the world, as the verse states, “All your children will be learned of God, and there will be great peace for your children.” Some people make the mistake of thinking that world peace will only be possible through a single unity of thought and understanding. Therefore, when they see Torah scholars investigating the wisdom and knowledge of Torah, and through their investigations come up with different views and opinions, they think that this causes arguments and is the opposite of peace. The truth is the opposite. For the real peace cannot come to the world except through the value of increasing ‘peace’. Increasing peace means to see all the sides and all the views, and to see that there is room for all of them, each according to its own values, place and ideals. Conversely, those things that appear irrelevant or contradictory can only be understood when the true wisdom is revealed in all its facets. Only by gathering all the parts and the details, all the opinions which appear different, and all the different areas of knowledge, only through that can the light of truth and justice be perceived, along with the knowledge of the fear and love of God, and the light of true Torah. Therefore Torah scholars increase peace, because when they broaden, explain and give birth to new words of wisdom, in many different ways, which leads to many differing ideas, in this way they increase peace.

It struck me as a very different approach from the one I have often heard about Da'as Torah. In fact, just yesterday I was reading Baruch Pelta's article (linked to on Rationalist Judaism) which discusses how Rav Soloveitchik and his views were sidelined by the American 'Gedolim' because his views did not conform to their Da'as Torah. He brings one example, a book review by Rabbi Joseph Elias, the Observer's book reviewer since its founding. He reviewed a volume of sermons by Modern Orthodox Rabbi Shubert Spero and quotes one such speech on Sukkos as teaching the lesson that:
...we have a responsibility toward the Jewish people as a whole...to work out a realistic policy of 'integration' which, while saving us from the pitfalls of separatism, will enable us to uphold...Torah truth"...For the reader interested to know what such a policy should be, Rabbi Spero provides a footnote at this point, referring him to an article of his in Tradition in which he takes issue with the Psak Din on Synagogue Council of America membership issued a dozen years ago by the Brisker Rav, Reb Aaron Kotler, and the other Gedolei Hador! In other words, the "realistic policy of [sic] integration" which the author considers the lesson of Sukkos, does not agree with what the Gedolim have taught on the subject.

I have no idea what the 'real' (or authentic) message of Sukkot is, but may we all merit to learn much Torah, and to develop our Torah ideas, and merit to understand and respect the views of others, so that we can all increase peace in the world, and sit together in the rebuilt Sukkah of David HaMelech. (I won't mention the meal of Leviathan there - I'm vegetarian. Though look what Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch says about it in his piece on Sukkot. Apparently he does not believe we will actually be eating whale when Mashiach comes. That's fine with me. And probably the Greenpeace people as well).