Tuesday, January 17, 2017

When a Prominent Chassidic Rebbe Sanctioned the Opinion of a Prominent Karaite Exegete (Against a Prominent Rabbinic Exegete).

This is not something you see every day.

I've already written  innumerable times about how Rabbinic authorities studied and even encouraged the study of Karaite works.

However, in this one, we have a prominent Chassidic Rebbe, namely Rabbi Menachem Mendel Scheneersohn (not to be confused with his namesake, the last Rebbe of Chabad), known for his magnum opus Zemach Zedek. This is doubly unusual because one would not expect this from a member of such a conservative denomination of Judaism --and because he takes the side of a Karaite against a (somewhat) traditional Rabbanite: Abraham Ibn Ezra (who himself often quotes Karaite exegetes) on the meaning of a Biblical verse. As you can see from this comment by an adherent of Chabad- Rabbi Aharon Chitrik- this left some of the Rebbes followers somewhat baffled. 

הרב אהרן חיטריק
תושב השכונה

ב'ספר החקירה' להצ"צ (דף צו, א) מביא פירוש האב"ע שבו מביא פי' מ'יפת' הקראי, - אלא שהאב"ע דוחה אותה, אבל הצ"צ מבאר פירושו, וז"ל הצ"צ: "אבל הראב"ע בפ' וישלח כ' אכפרה פניו לשון אכסה ואסתיר, הנה פי' אכפרה ע"ד וכפרת וע"ד כפורת, שהוא לשון כסוי. וכ"כ עוד בפ' תרומה ע"פ ועשית כפרת, כי כמוהו לכפר עליו כמו כסוי חטאה. אך פי' זה כ' בשם יפת, והוא ז"ל עצמו חלק ע"ז - שמלת לכפר עליו מגזרת כפר נפשו. והביא ראיה מר"פ תשא: כופר נפשו; לכפר על נפשותיכם. והנה לדברי יפת - י"ל שהוא ע"ד על כל פשעים תכסה אהבה, א"כ האהבה היא כסוי חטאה", עכ"ל הצ"צ.
והנה, 'יפת' היה אחד מגדולי הקראים בפי' המקרא, וכל הרבנים שלחו חיצים נגדו ופירושו. וזה שהצ"צ מביא ראי' לפירושו - צריך עיון.

- דרך אגב: בספר הליקוטים ממאמרי הצ"צ העתיקו הקטע הנ"ל, ועל שם 'יפת' הוסיפו הערה - שהכונה לספר "יפת תואר" (sic יפה תואר), שהוא פי' למדרש!!



The Rebbe of Chabad cites two variant explanations for the etymology of the cognate k/p/r/ כפר
Ibn Ezra explains that it denotes 'covering' or 'hiding' and that it shares common etymologicl roots  with the word כפורת (Kaporet) which was the name given to the golden lid that was placed on the Ark of the Covenenant. However [the Karaite exegete] Yefet ben Ali contends that it is related to the word כפור which denotes 'atonement' (as in Yom Kippur).  The Rebbe seems to attempt a rapprochement between the two seemingly different opinions namely that Ibn Ezra's opinion jibes with Yefet's, based on the verse על כל פשעים תכסה אהבה trans. On all sins, love is a cover. In other words, atonement and covering up both mean the same thing in this context [in the Rebbe's words: the love serves as a covering up for sin].

Rabbi Chitrik is taken aback by all this and states incredulously: this Yefet was one of the Karaite greats and all the Rabbis sent barbs toward his direction and this that the Zemach Zedek butresses his [Yefet's] opinion requires a deeper investigation.

Chitrik adds:

Incidentally, In Sefer haLiqutim (which consists of sayings from the Zemach Zedek) they excerpted this passage and added the 'explanation' that 'yefet' here refers to the commentary on Midrash Rabbah, Yefeh (not Yefat!) Toar.

Kudos to Rabbi Chritrik for implicitly calling out the ridiculousness of the editors of the aforementioned Sefer. These types of apologetic revisionist explanations are not uncommon. For instance see this:


בפרשת בא [שמות יב ה] "שה תמים זכר בן שנה יהיה לכם" ומה שכתב על זה הראב"ע וז"ל "אמר ר' ישועה: כי יש הפרש בין בן שנה ובין בן שנתו. כי בן שנה עלתה לו שנה ובן שנתו כמשמעו. [והשיג עליו הראב"ע שאין נכון הדבר:] והנה בקרבן הנשיאים: כבש אחד בן שנתו. ובאחרונה כתוב: כבשים בני שנה."
ובמהרי"ל דיסקין מובא "אמר רבי יהושע" במקום שמו של הקראי ישועה, ויש שם אריכות גדולה ביותר בפלפול בדברי חכז"ל כדי ליישב שיטת 'רבי יהושע' על אפניו, ולהגן עליו מפני קושייתו של הראב"ע עליו. ואיני יודע איך ליישב דבר תמוה כזה


As you can see, Rabbi Diskin changed the name of Yeshua ben Yehuda (another prominent Karaite exegete) to Rabbi Yehoshua, the famous Tanna!

I am indebted to my colleague ישבב הסופר for pointing this out to me.



It is interesting to note that the Zemach Zedek had some dealings with the Karaite of this day.

One of my favorite scholars, Golda Akhiezer recently published, for the first time, a letter from Hakham Avraham Firkovich's personal archive. This document is highly unusual and very interesting. It is addressed to none other than the third Rebbe of Chabad Lubavitch, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Scheneersohn. The issue at hand was a squabble within a Chabad family and the estrangement of a father toward his son. It is not immediately clear why Firkovich, of all people, was chosen to be the referee here. Of particular interest is the manner in which he addresses the Rebbe; with flowery titles and beautiful prose. I have blogged about Firkovich many times and the man was anything but a harmonious individual. If in this letter he takes upon himself the mantle of national peacemaker and extolls Chassidus etc., in many other instances he is involved in squabbles of his own, some of which included physical altercations(!) with Chassidic personages no less. See my blog post here read Akhiezer's article here

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