Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Anyone wanna weigh in as to (my difficulty) why there was no חשש לפשיעותא in the case of Herod destroying and then rebuilding the Temple?


Both explanations of Chashash apply there (1. there is no other place to worship/do the avodah and 2.how could they trust someone like herod that he would actually rebuild it. This is the same Herod that just before his grandiose reconstruction plan, had all the Hakhamim massacred almost to a man!
--
בענין סתירת בית כנסת על מנת לבנותה מחדש
רמי בר אבא הוה קני ביה כנישתיה (היה בונה בית כנסת)
הוה ההיא כנישתא עתיקא (והיה שם בית כנסת ישן)
הוה בעי למיסתריה ולאתויי ליבניה וכשורי מינה ועיולי להתם (היה רוצה לסותרו ולהביא ממנו קורות ולבנים ולקובעם בבית הכנסת החדש)
יתיב וקא מבעיה ליה הא דרב חסדא (ישב והסתפק בהוראה הבא של רב חסדא)
דאמר רב חסדא לא לסתור ביה כנישתא עד דבני בי כנישתא אחריתי (אין לסתור בית כנסת עד שבונים אחר במקומו)
התם (רב חסדא הורה כן שם)
משום פשיעותא (יש מחלוקת מה כוונת הגמ' בזה עי' להלן)
כי האי גוונא מאי
אתא לקמיה דרב פפא ואסר ליה
לקמיה דרב הונא ואסר ליה – מגילה כו ע"ב
הגמ בבא בתרא ג ע"ב אמר רב חסדא וכו' בהערת ארטסקרול שם: אמנם אסור לסתור ביהכ ואפילו חלק ממנו משום שהוא נקרא מקדש מעט והנותץ אבן של ביהמק עובר על "לא תעשון כן לה' אלהיכם" אולם לסתור על מנת לבנות מותר שנתיצה זו בנין הוא (תשב"ץ א' ב' ומשאת בנימין לג ומרדכי על מגילה פרק ד תתכו ושוע אוח קנב וביאור הגרא שם)
...אבל כשאין להם מקום אחר להתפלל בו בינתיים לדברי הכל אסור לסתור את הישן עד שיבנו את החדש אפילו במקרה שאין חשש פשיעה
ממשיך הגמ בב: ולא אמרן (האיסור של הריסת ביכ"נ) אלא דלא חזי בה תיוהא (כאשר לא נראו סדקים במבנה) אבל חזי בה תיוהא (באופן שיש חשש לנפילתו) סתרי ובני (אפשר לסתור ולבנות מחדש במקומו)
שם: כי הא דרב אשי חזא בה תהיוא בכנישתא דמתא מחסיא סתריה ועייל לפורייה התם ולא אפקיה עד דמתקין ליה שפיכי
וממשיך:
ובבא בן בוטא היכי אסביה ליה עצה להורדוס למיסתריה לבית המקדש (איך השיא עצה להורדוס לסתור את בית המקדש כדי לבנותו מחדש?) והאמר רב חסדא כו! (בהערה שם "שאף בסתירת ביהמ"ק היה חשש שיארע להם אונס ויפשעו ולא יבנוהו. והרמ"ה שגם החשש של דוכתא לצלויי היתה שם שכן כשסתרו את הישן ועדיין לא נבנה חדש לא היה להם מקום להקרבת קרבנות [שזה מקביל להעדר מקום לתפלה לגבי ביהכ] (אולם במשנה בעדויות ח ז למדנו שלדעת רבי יהושע מקריבים אף על פי שאין בית ראה תורת חיים ורש"ש)
מכאן נראה שאף כשרוצים לבנות את החדש באותו מקום של הישן אין לסתור את הישן אלא לאחר בניית החדש וכן אף כשרוצים לבנות את החדש ברוב פאר ויופי ולכן אע"פ שבנין הורדוס נבנה באותו מקום של קודמו וברוב פאר ויופי מקשה הגמ' שלכאורה היה אסור לסתור את קודמו לפני שהחדש נבנה (שער הציון שם ג-ד)
וממשיך הגמ': אי בעית אימא תיוהא חזי ביה (שבבא בן בטא ראה סדקים במקדש ואע"פ שעבודת המקדש בטלה בינתיים)
איבעית אימא מלכותא שאני דלא הדרה ביה (שאינה חוזרת בה מדבריה [כענין את הניתן אין להשיב...] דאמר שמואל אי אמר מלכותא עקרנא טורי (אם אמר המלכות אעקור הרים) עקר טורי ולא הדר ביה (תעקור הרים ולא תחזור מדבריה ולכן לגבי המלכות לא שייכת הוראותו של ר חסדא ובהערה מוסיף "רק לגבי סתם בני אדם יש חשש פשיעה והתרשלות בביצוע המוטל עליהם אבל לגבי מלכות אין חשש כזה שכן למלכות יש את כל האמצעים והיא גם מקפידה לקיים את דבריה [תשובה זו עונה רק על החשש לפשיעה שלגבי מלכות לא שייך אבל אינה עונה על ביטול עבודת הקורבנות בינתיים ץ הגמ' אינה חוששת לקושי זה לפי הטעם השני בהוראת ר חסדא (משום חסרון מקום אחר להתפלל) כי ההלכה היא כטעם הראשון (יד רמ"ה אולם לדעת רבינו יונה שכשאין להם מקום אחר להתפלל לכו"ע אסור להסתיר, בהכרח סתירת המקדש לא ביטלה את עבודת הקורבנות בינתיים כמו שכתבו תורת חיים והרש"ש
אבל עדיין קשה שלא חששו שמה מחשש לפשיעותא הרי הגמרא ממשיכה לספר על אודות אותו הורדוס שקם קטלינהו לכולהו רבנן ושבקיה לבבה בן בוטא ליטול עצה ממנו! (מפני שדרשו על הפסוק מקרב אחיך תשים מלך למעט עבדים כהורדוס וצאצאיו כמסופר למעלה על מה שאמרה אותה ינוקתא מבית חשמונאי)
אף על גב שרצה למחול על עונו ונמלך בבא בן בוטא שהוא זה שייעץ לו לשקם את המקדש! כבה של עולם ילך ויעסוק באורו של עולם (או בגירסא השנייה של הסיפור)
ושם מסופר שהורדוס ענה לבן בוטא מסתפינא ממלכותא (דהיינו הוא ירא מן מלכות רומי לה אני כפוף שיסתכלו בעין רע על הדבר) והלה יעץ לו עצה שיעשה בתחבולות הרי לקחו שם סיכון והרי גם היה חשש שמא חמת מלכות רומי יגמור לכך שבסוף לא יהיה בית כלל (כי לא ביקש רשות)
ובסוף הודו חכמים מי שלא ראה וכו'
באנצק תלמ ראיתי:
אסור לסתור ביה"כ אפילו כדי לבנות ביהכ"נ אחר (מגילה כו עב, רמבם תפילה פיא היב טושוע או"ח קנב )במקומו או במקום אחר (רמבם שם) ואפילו כשרוצה לבנות החדש מאותם העצים והאבנים של הישן (מגילה שם, ירוש' שם פג הא) ואפילו אם רוצה לבנות החדש מפואר יותר ויפה יותר מהראשון (מ"ב קנב על פי ב"ב ג ב בבנין הורדוס) אלא בונים את האחר תחלה ואח"כ סותרים את הישן
ברמבם הלכות תפלה פיא הלכה יג אבל אם חרבו יסודוסיו או שנטה בתליו ליפול סותרין אותו מיד ומתחילין לבנותו במהרה ביום ובלילה שמא תדחק השעה וישאר חרב
בטעם האיסור נחלקו בגמרא יש אומרים משום פשיעה (מגילה ובב) היינו שמא יארע להם אונס ולא יבנן האחר או שיתרשלו ולא ימהרו לבנותו (נמוקי יוסף ושיטה מקובצת ב"ב שם בשם רשב"א) ויש אומרים משום שעד שיבנו את החדש לא יהיה להם בינתיים מקום להתפלל (בב שם) ויש הבדל בדין בין הטעמים: כשיש להם מקום אחר להתפלל, שלטעם הראשון מכל מקום אסור לסתרו ולטעם השני מותר (גמ שם)
אם יש בינתיים ביהכ אחר להתפלל בו נחלקו על זה הטז שמתיר והמגן אברהם אוסר בכל מקרה וכן גם דעת האגודה ככ באליה רבה
היה להם ביהכ"נ קבוע אחר להתפלל בו, יש אומרים שמותר אף לטעם הראשון שלא אסרו אלא כשיש להם סתם מקום שאינו ביהכ"נ קבוע להתפלל (תוס ד"ה ואם לגי,: דוכתא לצלויי, נמוקי יוסף שם, מאירי מגילה שם, טז סימן קנב ס"ק א) לפי שאין החשש שלא יבנו לעולם אלא שמא בימים שבינתיים יתרשלו קצת והמקום העראי יתבטל ולא יהיה להם מקום להתפלל (נמוקי שם ועי מחצית השקל ס"ק א). ויש אומרים שלטעם הראשון אף ביש להם בי"כ קבוע אסור והלכה כטעם הראשון: משום פשיעה (רמבם כסמ וטושע שם) ויש מן הראשונים שפסקו כטעם השני (אור זרוע חלק ב סימן שפה)
אפילו כשכבר גבו כסף לצורך ביהכ"נ החדש ואפילו כשכבר קנו לבנים והן מסודרות ומזומנות לתתן לבנין אין סותרין את הישן שמא יזדמן להם פדיון שבויים וימכרו הלבנים לצורך המצוה (בב שם) ואפילו אם בנו את החדש ולא השלימו קירויו ינם רשאים להסיר קורות ולבנים מהישן ולתתן על החדש אלא יגמרו קודם את החדש (מאירי מגילה שם) גמרו את החדש אף על פי שעדיין לא התפללו בו סותרים (!) (עי תוס בב בב שם ד"ה אי הכי ושמ"ק שם)
אף אם באו להרחיב את ביהכ"נ ולסתור כותל אחד בלבד בונים מקודם הכותל החדש בצד הישו ואח"כ סותרים את הישן ויש מהראשונים שהתירו לסתור קודם אם אי אפשר בלאו הכי
אבל אם חרבו יסודותיו עיין ברמבם
צא וראה כמה חמור הדבר שלא נתנוה לרמי בר אבי לבנות בית כנסת חדש וזיל מרבנן לרבנן ולא התירו לא והדבר קצת תמוה ואומר אני הצעיר שפליאה דעת ממני שחששו בו משום פשיעותא כלל וכלל
ועוד הרי בית כנסת שחרב נשאר בקדושתו שעדיין לא עבר זמן מצותו וראוי לשפצו ולבנותו (רמבן מגילה כו ע"ב)
כפי שאיתא להלו במגילה כח עא ועוד אמר ר יהודה בית כנסת שחרב כו' ואין מספידין בו ואין מפשילים בו חבלים...ואין שוטחים על גבו פירות. כשם שנוהגים בהם כבוד ביישובם כך נוהגים בהם בחורבנם (רמבם תפלה פ"יא ה"יא) ומניחין לעלות בהם עשבים (ברייתא מגילה כח ב)...כדי שיראו אותם ותהיה להם עוגמת נפש! (משנה שם א גמ שם כט א ועי בפיהמ"ש להרמב"ם) או שיבקשו רחמים שיחזרו לקדמותם (רש"י שם) או תיכנע נפשם וישובו אל השם אם לא יכלו לבנותם (פיהמ"ש שם)

What is it with early Christians and fish? And Do Fish Require Shekhita?

http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/8429-jacob-of-kefar-neburaya?fb_action_ids=10152529474487170&fb_action_types=og.comments

"He decided (1) that the rules of sheḥiṭah should be applied to fish".
If it is true that he embraced the new Christian faith, this makes him the only known Rabbi (who is cited in the Talmud and Midrash) to have done so (legends about Rabban Gamaliel, Peter and Paul aside).
Eccl. Rabbah:
קהלת רבה (וילנא) פרשה ז ד"ה ג אשר היא
טוב לפני האלהים ימלט ממנה זה יוסף וחוטא ילכד בה זה פוטיפר, דבר אחר טוב זה פנחס, וחוטא זה זמרי, דבר אחר טוב זה פלטי, וחוטא זה אמנון, ר' איסי דקיסרין פתר קרייה במינות, טוב זה ר' אלעזר, וחוטא זה יעקב איש כפר גבוריא, ד"א טוב זה אלעזר בן דמא, וחוטא זה יעקב איש כפר סאמא, ד"א טוב זה חנניא בן אחי ר' יהושע, וחוטא אלו בני כפר נחום, ד"א טוב זה יהודה בן נקוסא, וחוטא אלו המינים, ד"א טוב זה ר' נתן, וחוטא זה תלמידו, ד"א טוב זה ר' אליעזר ורבי יהושע, וחוטא זה אלישע.

Also interesting to note, the sectarian ancient document known as Damascus Document likewise seems to imply that fish require shekhita:
‘They shall eat no fish unless split alive and their blood poured out’ (R. H. Charles edition 14:13).
והדגים אל יאכלו כי אם נקרעו חיים ונשפך דמם

Yaakov Ish Naburaya is considered an Amora here and his grave is listed among the other holy sites in Israel.

On the issue of whether he may have been a victim of mistaken identity see here.

Erik Larsen is One of My Favorite Non-Fiction Writers

Bestselling author Erik Larsen is one of my favorite contemporary non-fiction writers. Some of you know how difficult it is for me to put down any of his books once I begin reading them. I've recently decided that when I grow up, I want to be just like Erik Larsen and pen thick non-fiction best sellers...
Anyway, Larsen is known for his penchant for going off on lots of fascinating tangents (which he acknowledges and weakly apologizes for in the preface to his books). The question on my mind (and on everyone else's it turns out) is how does it he do it? How does he amass such a a gargantuan amount of material and put them all in their proper places in such a skillful and artful manner?
Here's Larsen:

http://eriklarsonbooks.com/2015/06/its-all-in-the-details/

By the way, while he hasn't tackled any exclusively-Jewish material just yet (here's to hoping that he will in the near future), his recent book IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS was a fascinating look at the lives of an American family of diplomats in Hitler's Berlin. 

Epistle of Rabbi Jochanan Ben Zakkai an Obvious Forgery? And Was He of Davidic Descent?

The "Epistle of Rabbi Jochanan Ben Zakkai" which is (allegedly) based on the last will and testament of his teacher Rabban Gamaliel is an obvious forgery.
The epistle was alleged to have been by Ben Zakkai to the Jews of Rome warning them about the heretical new sect called Christians. It mentions Peter who is called "wine son of vinegar", a reference to his having been a disciple of R' Gamaliel (I thought that was supposed to be Paul....).
Interesting reading, nonetheless.

http://www.hebrewbooks.org/37982

Paranthetically, where does the OU get this?

He was a descendant of the House of David and his family has kept alive through the ages the hope of the People of Israel for the arrival of their Anointed King, the Mashiach, may he arrive soon, and in our days.

My comments on Leor Jacobi's post on Sefer Hahilukim


People of the East do not wash [= ritual immersion] after experiencing a seminal emission or after relations (since they reason that “we are in an impure land”). Residents of the Land of Israel (do wash after a seminal emission or relations, and) even on the Day of Atonement (for they maintain that those who have seen emissions should wash in secret on the Sabbath and on the Day of Atonement) as a matter of course, [which they learn] from the example of Rabbi Yosi bar Halafta, who was seen immersing himself on the Day of Atonement.
shooting from the cuff here but we all know about tebhilat ezra (discarded by the amoraim and then 'brought back' by the Kabbalists, esp. Lurianists and Chassidim). There is an article in Ta Shema (pub. Alon Shvut) about an old Minhag Ashkenaz that forbid menstruating women from attending Synagogue (perhaps an influence of MEY..). In addition you may well know that Karaites continue to be stringent about tuma'a and tahara and forbid a man who has had a seminal emission from attending the beit knesset until sundown (like sadducees I don't think they hold of 'tebhul yom' either). I can elaborate more on Karaite dinim of tuma'a and tahara if you find this subject one of interest.
11.
People of the East say that a menstruating woman may perform all types of household duties except for three things: mixing drinks, making the bed, and washing his face, hands, and legs. According to the residents of the land of Israel, she may not touch anything moist or household utensils. Only reluctantly was she permitted to even nurse her child.
I can see why Karaites made extensive use of this work. 'Wahabbi' Karaites to this day have menstruating women sit in a separate quarter, taking her meals separately from the rest of the family (well it could be worse, among the Beta Israel, the women in question is put in a special hut). A humourous anecdote from an interesting book on the matter (niddah was one of the main things that have defined egyptian karaites vis a vis their rabbanite brethren, up until the creation of the state, where a large majority turned traditional-secular) http://books.google.co.il/books…
14.
People of the East have mourners come to the synagogue each day. Residents of the Land of Israel do not allow him to enter, with the sole exception of the Sabbath.
I did not check on current minhag but it seems to me that everyone accepted minhag babhel on this (though abhelim do usually have a minyan in their own place of residence. But I always thought that this is done for convenience sake rather because of any prohibition of an abhel to enter a Synagogue. Heck a met himself is often brought to the Synagogue to be eulogized (iirc, in EY this too was done for a great person. In addition some Cohanim would be metame themselves for a Rebbe, they considered a real 'sorva derbanan', ; the Talmidim of R Judah Hanassi is one example).
Now among contemporary Karaites, this issue continues to generate controversy. It used to be the custom that abhelim were strictly forbidden from entering their batei knesset for the duration of the shibhat yemei abhelut. Only recently has the Karaite Rabbinate (I know..Oxymoron..) introduced some leniences on the issue, especially in the case of the elderly and childless.
18.
People of the East (only) check the lungs. Residents of the Land of Israel (check) eighteen types of disqualifications.
The very stringent Hilkhot Shekhita among Karaites come to mind. More avilable upon req.
23.
People of the East will not slaughter a newly-born animal until the eighth day. Residents of the Land of Israel will slaughter even a newborn, for [they maintain that] the prohibition of the eighth day applies only to sacrifices.
On this point Karaites (and I presume other sectarians as well) diverge sharply. In fact among Karaites, it is strictly forbidden to slaughter animal before seven days have passed since its birth, following the biblical proscription of
שׁוֹר אוֹ כֶשֶׂב אוֹ עֵז כִּי יִוָּלֵד וְהָיָה שִׁבְעַת יָמִים תַּחַת אִמּוֹ וּמִיּוֹם הַשְּׁמִינִי וָהָלְאָה יֵרָצֶה לְקָרְבַּן אִשֶּׁה לַה
although one may rightfully ask that in this case Karaites are not following Biblical law to the letter (esp. the last part, as per Babhlim..).
25.
A ring does not sanctify marriage according to people of the East. Residents of the Land of Israel consider it [sufficient to] fully sanctify a marriage.
I am admittedly an am ha'aretz of the highest calbre but there seems to be much missing here. The Harei At recited when the bridegroom puts the ring on his bride's finger, what is that? merely minhag? I should think that everyone follows minhag babhel on this. If not it would make perfect sense.
Another interesting thing to note about the ring. Some Karaite purists seem to reject the entire ring ceremony (I am not sure if this is a relatively modern phenomenon or not).
there seems to be this notion that wedding rings (in general) are of idolatrous origin, I'm not sure where it comes from but this is what Karaite Hakham Qanai told me when queried on the issue "the wedding band was originally a pagan symbol (the endlessness of the risen man-god)."
See also here:
http://www.bibleviews.com/wr.html
30.
People of the East forbid bread baked by a gentile, but will consume gentile bread if a Jew threw a piece of wood into the fire. Residents of the Land of Israel forbid it (even with the wood, for the wood neither forbids nor permits. When are they lenient? In cases when there is nothing [else] to eat, and already a day or two have passed without consuming anything. It was thus permitted to revive his soul so that his soul should be maintained, but only from a [gentile] baker who has never brought meat into his bakery, even though it considered a [separate] cooked dish.)
I need to get up on my knowledge of hilkhot bishul akum but as we all know current sephardim follow beit yosef who forbids the cooking by a gentile-even if a jew is the one lighting the flame (which is ashkenazic custom of course). Now I'm not sure if andalucian Sephardim who follow Rambam are also stringent about this or not.
42.
People of the East forbid the Kohanim from blessing the congregation if they have long, unkempt hair. [Alternatively: with their heads uncovered]. Among residents of the Land of Israel Kohanim do () [in fact bless the congregation with long, unkempt hair.]
I am unsure if the intent here is to convey that in EY Cohanim actually grew their hair long or that it merely was not considered an impediment. Now we know that while the Temple stood, Cohanim were forbidden to grow their hair long and unkempt. It's interesting that davka in EY, they weren't makpid on this.
52.
(Residents of the Land of Israel permit the consumption of
daytra fats. Residents of Babylon forbid it.)
Here Karaites cannot claim any influence, since their laws on helev are very stringent. Rashi explains that daytra is fat surrounding the stomach iirc. see here where he mentions this hilluk
http://www.hebrewbooks.org/pag…/hebrewbooks_org_6809_101.pdf
58.
People of the East fast before Purim. People of the Land of Israel [fast] after Purim, based on Nikanor. (17:4, from Tosefta)
According the JE, Anan b. David (not the founder of Karaism, but rather the founder of his own group of schismatics, instituted new fasts, one of which fell on the actual day of Purim itself!
In addition to the legal fast-days appointed by the Bible, Anan, by means of word-analogies instituted the following: The seventh day of every month; the 14th and 15th of Adar instead of the rabbinical fast of the 13th, including thus the Purim festival; also a seventy-days' fast from the 13th of Nisan to the 23d of Siwan; including Passover and Shavuot as times of fasting when neither food nor drink could be partaken of by day.
69.
People of the East do not transfer bones of the dead from little caves to small holes in caves [where presumably whole cadavers could not fit,] in order to bury other dead. People of the Land of Israel do transfer [bones]. (Rav Hai Gaon, as cited by
Ramban, in Torat ha-adam)
This is well known of course; the practice of transferring bones from a gluskema to an ossuary (and then sealed in a kukh), once the flesh was rotted. As someone who recently excavated a grave here in Israel, this is something that is of particular interest to me. What is the reasoning behind the difference among the Babhlim? Is it about kabhod hamet or perhaps that was just the custom? Also I cannot help but drop a sardonic remark about how some current residents of EY obv. follow babhli minhag on this and not at all the lenient EY one..
72.
People of the East do not mention “dew” during the summer. People of the Land of Israel do mention it. (PT Ta'anit ch. 1, Berakhot ch. 5)
Interesting that Davka Minhag Sephardim follow the EY on this.
2.
In Zoan, Egypt, which is called Fustat [today part of old Cairo], there are two synagogues: one for the people of the Land of Israel, the
al-Shamiyin congregation [=the "Yerushalmi", this name is still used today to refer to a Jewish Yemenite branch] (It is named after Elijah, of blessed memory [?, see below]). The other is the congregation of the people of Babylon, the
al-Iraqiyn congregation. They do not observe the same customs. (Selections from Yosef Sambari,
Seder HaHakhamim, Neubauer I, p. 118. On page 137 it states that the congregational synagogue then still in use was built before the destruction of the second temple in Jerusalem.) One, (the people of the Land of Israel) stands during
kedusha, while the other, (that of the residents of Babylon) sit during kedusha. (Rabbi Avraham ben HaGra,
Maspiq l'ovdei hashem.
The Al Shami'im of course refer to Damascus and mean the entire region once referred to as Coele-Syria. Minhag Eretz Yisrael is also known as 'shami' minhag. It is def. an interesting topic. I am particularly fascinated how there were EY minyanim in the lion's den itself (babhel) and conversely, Babhli minyanim in EY and other locales in the near east (as Goitien points out in his first vol. of Mediterranean Society
Which bring me to your next passage:
Margulies accepts the claims regarding the basic "Yerushalmi" orientation, but understands the purpose more subtly. Rather than taking a confrontational stance, the work merely seeks to explain and rationalize the local customs and decisions to the new Babylonian immigrants who were not aware or respectful of the locals. No attempt is made per se to reject the validity of the Babylonian customs themselves and at times the author troubles himself to explain them only.
As if it wasn't bad enough that Babhlim refused to give the Eretz Israelites the time of day on calendrical matters (see Evyatar Gaon and Pirekei Dr;' Eliezer's stern take on this specific matter), many babhlim persisted in their minhagim even after ascending to EY. This was a clear violation of following minhag hamaqom and smelled of yhara among other things. I should thing that this problem became particularly pronounced when Sura was under the kingship of Yehudai Gaon and his notorious disciple Pirkoi...
Of special interest is following the disputes from the Geonic period until the end of the period of the Rishomin signified by the publication of the Shulhan Arukh. In general, the Babylonian side prevailed as their hegemony increased, but in a number of cases, the position native to the Land of Israel in fact dominated, especially when it did not contradict any explicit statements in the Babylonian Talmud. This tradition was especially strong in Tsarfat and Ashkenaz (France and Germany) as opposed to Sepharad (Spain), which historically remained tied to the Babylonian Geonim. The influence of the Land of Israel side is especially noticed in the house of study of the great Rashi and his students
...Geographic location was clearly a major factor. In France and Provence use was much more pronounced than in Spain.
Another interesting tidbit which point to many possible connection between early Minhag Ashkenaz and Sarefat on the one hand, and Minhag EY on the other.
I can't help but quote and comment on your last part re: Minhag Ashkenaz and also Karaite usage of the book:
One reason for the neglect of this work may have been it's brevity. [For example, the usual explanation for the grouping of the twelve prophets in one scroll, and today in one volume, is so that the small books would not become lost.]
Personally I don't buy the brevity argument. Bahag is pretty brief. Sheiltot as well.
However, a more compelling reason appears to be the negative impression that the work made on certain authorities, most notably, Nahmanides, Ramban (Avodah Zara 35b). It was (correctly) perceived that the work contains material which contradicts the Babylonian Talmud, already considered supremely authoritative.
Have you had a chance to read Talya Fishman's book where she convincingly (I am..) shows that the Babylonian Talmud was from from a 'said all' until the end of the Geonic Period. Geonim themselves in their own responsa conspicuously omit mention of various gemarot. The Talmud was still seen as a book of notes and commentary, rather than a canonical work (almost on a par) with Tanakh.
Methods of study which stressed a proper historical understanding of all legal points of view would become common in rabbinic circles well before the modern period, but at the time they were not yet developed. If an opinion could not be utilized for determining the halakha, it was not deemed worthy of further inquiry. Nahmanides is the only early Spanish sage who even mentions the work, so it is not at all surprising that he considers it outside the pale of legal precedent.
Possibly, the Spanish Sages resisted the work as a result of the utility that Karaites received from it and quoted from it. They may have suspected the work of being a Karaite forgery.
This makes little sense. As I have pointed out in my previous email; many halakhot in the hilluk explicitly contradict Karaite interpretation of Halakha
In contrast, early Provencal authorities made ample use of the work. They
 9. Use of the book by Karaites
Karaites took a much keener interest in the disputes than Rabbanites. This is not at all surprising. The Rabbanites claimed to possess an authoritative Talmudic tradition handed down from the earlier sages. Every known dispute amongst the Talmudic sages themselves was utilized in order to argue against these claims. From Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai to disputes amongst the Babylonian Geonim themselves, the Karaites seized upon the disputes between East and West eagerly.
The first Karaite sage to quote the work is
Jacob Qirqisani
(10th century). Since he cites the work in an overtly apologetic manner (read: missionary), he was wont to exaggerate and even forge sections of the work. Thus, it goes without saying that his work cannot be utilized uncritically. Nevertheless, despite this cautionary note, his early explanations can at times be very useful in understanding the nature of the disputes themselves.
He explains his interest in the disputes very clearly. According to him, the disputes between East and West were more extensive than the disputes between the Rabbanites and the Karaites,
An odd claim...
but nevertheless, claims of heresy were never leveled and a spirit of tolerance reigned between the communities. So too, the Karaites should be accepted by the Rabbanites .
This brings to mind a passage from the famous epistle from Sahl b. Mazliah Hacohen cited in Nemoy's Karaite Anthology where he points out the Rabbanites of EY were very conciliatory toward many of his positions (!)
"Sahl was especially interested in calendric questions, and in one of his writings reviews the whole controversy between Rabbi Meïr of Jerusalem and Saadia in order to draw attention to the conciliatory disposition of the Palestinian Jews"
s a dispute which Qirqisani appears to have invented out of whole cloth, an out and our forgery not attested to in any other versions of the work:
“People of Babylon do not permit one to betrothe a woman with [the fruit of] the seventh year. People of the Land of Israel permit this. Therefore, the betrothals of that year in the Land of Israel are not considered by the Babylonians to effect marriage, and their children are not valid.”
[According to Mordekhai Akiva Friedman (Madaei HaYahadut 31), a maculation of
taba'at
to
shevi'it
resulting from graphic similarity between the letters
tet
and
shin
From Qiqisani's time on, Karaites have continued to utilize the work in their own disputations with Rabbanites. As we saw earlier, this may have led to the work's falling out of favor among Rabbanites in regions where Karaites were active.

New Rav Kook Book

Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935) served as the Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Erets Israel during the period of the British mandate. Rav Kook was a polymath, equally talented as a Talmudic legalist and rationalist philosopher, on the one hand, and as a mystic and poet, on the other. Today, we would say that he was both “left and right hemisphere.”
The present collection brings together in English translation Rav Kook’s contributions to the field of Jewish history, though perhaps “historiosophy” would be the better word. Rav Kook joins the ranks of those great Jewish thinkers who preceded him in interpretation of history: Maharal of Prague, Moses Hayyim Luzzatto and Zadok Hakohen of Lublin.
If Rav Kook’s philosophy were to be summed up in a single word, it would be: Kelaliyut or universality. Whereas most of us are held captive by individual events, Rav Kook has a great gift for the overview of history. He brings this gift to bear in his ability to provide perspective on the modern rebirth of Israel against the backdrop of mankind’s ongoing spiritual evolution. In the latter regard, his vision has sometimes been compared to that of Teilhard de Chardin and Sri Aurobido, or more recently Ken Wilber.
Contained in this collection are Rav Kook’s eulogy for Herzl and Rav Kook’s remarks at the opening of Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The essays are placed in historic context and provided with copious scholarly endnotes.





How Common Was It For Rabbis to Invoke Har Gerizim?

Interesting how some Rabbis would invoke Mt. Gerizim to declare a ban on those they deemed outside the pale. How common is this terminology?
מסירת מודעה על הר גריזים לברכה
(Rabbi David Oppenheim 1664-1736, Prague)



What Became of the Temple Vessels?

Here are a smattering of sources I have come across that may shed light on one of history's most enduring mysteries.

According to II Maccabees (2:4-6), the prophet Jeremiah hid the Ark of the Covenant on Mount Nebo (Deut. 32:49).
I came across an interesting reference in Eusebius' "De Iudeias" in his "Praeparatio Evangelica" where he quotes the Hellenic writer Alexander Polyhistor:
"Nabuchodonosor the king of the Babylonians, heard of the prophecies of Jeremiah...Later he also took Jerusalem and took captive Jonachem, King of the Jews. The gold found in the Temple ...he picked out and sent to Babylon. Apart from the Ark an the Tables found in it which were kept by Jeremiah".
Maccabees II is though to have been written in circa 124 BCE. Polyhistor flourished in the first half of the first century BCE. The latter may have had access to Maccabees II or perhaps both drew from an earlier source. Interesting thoughts to ponder.
Yet another possible location for the elusive Temple vessels...
חיים הורביץ הזכיר את המקום בספרו "חבת ירושלים" (1844):[6] "עין-כחל לדרום צפת, סמוך לעכברא, בדרך שהולכים מצפת לטבריא יש בקעה גדולה ועמוקה מאוד ולמטה מעין מים טובים זקוף וגבוה מאוד ולמעלה בראשו חצוב מעט בעובי ההר, כדמות שער וסתום, ונקרא עין-כחל, ועוברים דרך עליו ויש שם כמה בתים. ושם נגד מזרח יש הר ואומרים שבזה ההר נגנזו כלי בית-המקדש, והלא המה בכתובים ב'מסכת כלים' של בית-המקדש.

The Galil seems to have been the place where the exiled of Jerusalem sought to reconstitute and reorganize themselves. You have the 24 Mishmerot Kehuna scattered across various towns and villages in the Galilee, several Sanhedrins, Houses of Study and prayer and now apparently hiding places for Temple vessels as well.

Josephus mentions a Samaritan tradition that locates the Ark in a cave on Mt. Gerizim.
And then there's Ethiopia. See here

I also enjoyed this fascinating book.

Also read this paper

and this.

An Early Example of a Nossach Achid

This is an early example (one of many) of kibbutz galuyot, where a community of Jews, from so many diverse backgrounds, actually got together and agreed on something (now if that aint something, I don't know what is...). Also, it would be interesting to dig a bit more into the figure of R. Moshe Hagolah, he plays a role in Khazarian and Karaite history as well. From here 


Kaffa was the center of Crimean Jewish life; Jews lived there long before it came under Ottoman control. In the 1420s, the town had both Rabbinite and Karaite communities, each with its own synagogue. Onomastic evidence suggests that Kaffan Jewry came to include immigrants from Italy (Lombrozo, Piastro), the Mediterranean Sephardic diaspora (Konort, Tabon), Turkey (Izmirli, Stamboli), and Georgia (Gurji). The arrivals were overwhelmingly Rabbinites
According to data of the late seventeenth to early eighteenth centuries, Kaffa was at that time one of the Crimean towns where Jews were involved in slave trade. Conversely, they often served as intermediaries in ransoming people held captive by the Tatars, and ransomed East European Jewish captives. Some of those who were ransomed settled among their redeemers. This explains the appearance among Krymchaks of such names as Bershadskii, Varshavskii, and Lekhno (originating from the land of Lakhs, i.e., Poles). Many other members of the Krymchak community were also, according to family tradition, of East European Ashkenazic extraction, though their surnames are Crimean Tatar. The proportion of Krymchaks of Ashkenazic extraction at the beginning of the twentieth century is disputed but most likely did not exceed 25 percent.
One of the ransomed East European Ashkenazic Jews was the Talmudic scholar Mosheh ben Ya‘akov of Kiev, known as Mosheh ha-Goleh (the Exile; 1449–ca. 1520). He spent the last years of his life in Kaffa, where he proposed to its Rabbinite community a new liturgical rite that came to be known as nusaḥ Kafa. This system represented a compromise between the Romaniot rite of the old settlers and those of the latecomers, mainly the Ashkenazi rite. The format was accepted first by Kaffan Rabbinites and shortly later by all Rabbinite Jews of Crimea. The ritual homogenization of Crimean Rabbinite Jewry thus occurred during the sixteenth century.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Did Jews Once Use Incense in the Synagogue?

The simple answer is yes, at least apparently so, although sources are somewhat scant.


Check out this archaeological discovery from Israel (see also here for more cool photos).
I find the incense shovel especially interesting since most people seem to be unaware of the post-temple use of incense in Jewish Synagogues across the Mediterranean.

Below is a copy of an exhibit of artifact from Jewish Egypt. 



In the Middle Ages we have the famous exhortation from the medieval Karaite sage Sahl ben Mazliah Hakohen against the Rabbanites who pray and light incense at the grave of Rabbi Yose Haglili
 ואיך אחריש ודרכי עובדי עבודה זרה בין מקצת ישראל, יושבים קברים ולנים בנצורים, ודורשים אל המתים, ואומרים: "יא ר' יוסי בגלילי (בדלתון) רפאני, הבטינני (תן לי הריון)", ומדליקים הנרות על קברי הצדיקים ומקטרים לפניהם על הלבנים וקושרים עקרים (או עקדים) על התמר של הצדיק לכל מיני חלאים וחוגגים על קברי הצדיקים המתים ונודרים להם נדרים וקוראים אליהם ומבקשים מהם לתת להם חפצם."
'
Translation:

How can I keep silent when Jews follow the custom of idolaters? They sit among graves of saintly persons and spend nights among tombstones, while they seek favors from dead men, saying, “Oh Jose the Galilean, grant me a cure!” or “Vouchsafe me a child!” They light lamps at the graves of saints and burn incense upon the brick altars before them and tie bowknots to the palmtree bearing the name of the saint as a charm for all kinds of diseases. They perform pilgrimage rites over the grave of these dead saints and make vows to them and appeal and pray to them to grant their requests. (Quoted in Nemoy, Leon, Karaite Anthology pp. 115-16)

As you can see, from this book by Richard Freund, during the time of the Karaite Hakham Daniel Al-Qumisi, there was a Rabbanite-Karaite polemic regarding the use of incense in the Synagogue (although the whole thing seems unclear and somewhat bizarre; I am not averse to the possibility of Freund having committed an error here)



I find it very hard to believe that this conflict has anything to do with the Temple incense (i.e. that the Rabbis were contravening an explicit written [and oral!) injunction that prohibits using the temple formula outside of the temple). So what was this all about?

Also interesting is the mention in the Talmud of the burning of ketoret as part of the mourning ritual for Rabbi Yehuda Hanassi.



KAVKAZI JEWS AND PURIM

I once posted about the name hannukah among Karaites here. It turns out that purim was similarly utilized as a surname among the Jews of Sukhumi, the Capital of Abkhazia in the Caucasus:
>>Unlike Derbent, the Jewish population of the Abkhazia capital is not large, about 3.5 thousand people, according to the 1989 census, and had appeared there relatively recently. In 1985, most of them were Georgian Jews; there were also Ashkenazi, Mountain Jews from Vartashen (six families) and Krymchaks. There is little known about the history of the Sukhumi Jews and I haven’t encountered any related studies. The relative literature only mentions the existence of a small Jewish community in Sukhumi. I visited the so called “old” Jewish cemetery. According to Sukhumi Jews, it is the chronologically first Jewish cemetery in the town.
Considering the scarce information available about the Krymchaks, in general, and the almost complete absence of any information about the Sukhumi Krymchaks, in particular, I believe that the cited below list of Krymchak surnames found on the epitaphs of the Sukhumi cemetery might be rather interesting (in parenthesis are the dates of burial or decease):
...........
Purim (1959, 1976)
<<
Source:
http://eajc.org/page34/news23479.html
-----
Parenthetically, In Derbent the Jews celebrated two days of Purim, as is recorded in Rabbi Yosef Schwartz's Tevuot Haaretz:
טרבנת (ירושלמי מגילה פרק ד' [הלכה ה'] רבי שמעון ספרא דטרבנת). עד היום עיר גדולה בשפת ים כספי המערבית ושם בנינים גדולים חומות ובריח מימי קדם, ואומרים שהם מזמן אלכסנדר מוקדון (וקוראים המגילה (מגילת אסתר) בי"ד ובט"ו). בשנת תר"ב חפרו בה מצד חרבה אחת ומצאו בארץ מנעול רגל בן אדם, ישן ובלוי שארכו יותר משלשה רביעית אמה (ובו נדע ערך גדלות בני האנשים בימים ההם).
See here

Rabbi Schwartz, it should be pointed out, is most likely conflating two very different town with similar names. While it is true, that in Derbent, the Jews read the Megillah on the 14th and the 15th, the Ammora mentioned in the Jerusalem Talmud most likely refers to a native of this town in the Galilee.

A rare list of Sephardic heads of households from Zamość, Poland 1588-1650



I've blogged about this remarkable community before here 

This document brings this chapter in Jewish history to life.

Appended to some of the names on this list are some interesting biographical details. For instance, Solomon Marcus and Avraham Mizrahi arrived from Venice, Italy. Yehuda Zakuta is referred to as Jewish native of the sephardic nation. Efraim Kastiel was likewise born in Sepharad. Hanna Campus Italica, it is pointed out, married a local Ashkenazi man named Yaakov Bar. Samuel Jakubowitz appears to have arrived to Zamocz from Constantinople. Meshulam Cohen is called turcicus (the turk). 


From לתולדות הספרדים בפולין מאת נ.מ. גלבר
נדפס ב"אוצר יהודי ספרד" , ספר ו' ירושלים 1963
Trans:

"History of the Sefaradim in Poland" by N.M. Gelber
Printed in "Otzar Yehudai Sefarad", volume 6, Yerushalayim, 1963

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

Monday, January 16, 2017

Seneor's Sons; The Story of a Sephardic Clan That Settled in Hungary (and then Prague and Vilna et al).

 Shlomo Seneor and his Descendants

The first Sephardic Jew recorded to have settled in Buda is one Shlomo ben Efraim Seneor (Senior) who escaped from Spain after the expulsion of its Jews in 1492 (According to this, he was a close relative of Abraham Seneor, leader of the Spanish Jewish community during the period of the expulsion. Abraham who became a celebrated convert to Catholicism apparently left Jewish progeny- who are active in Sephardic causes to this day- at least according to this article). A copy of one of the books in his library is still extant and the inscription on it reads, “my name is Shlomo Seneor, I learned Torah and Torah became my wealth.” Seneor quickly ingratiated himself into the Hungarian upper class, changing his name to Etil (Atilla) and learning the Hungarian language. He eventually became close to the King, Lajos (Louis) II who appointed him as chancellor of the treasury. However a scandal soon erupted when it was discovered that he carried on an affair with a Christian woman. In order to avoid punishment, and or to further his career, he had himself baptized in circa 1510. His new Christian name was now “Imre Szerencses” (later Emericus Fortunatus) . He left his Jewish wife and two sons, married a Christian woman and retained his position as the King's treasurer.  It wasn’t long before he made some powerful enemies in the king’s court, who blamed him for various things that went wrong, including a series of defeats at the hands of Hungary's implacable foes: the Ottoman Turks.


A Commentary on Genesis by the famed Sephardic Rabbi Nissim of Gerona (which was formerly under the ownership of the famed Shlomo of Dubna) is inscribed With Shlomo Seneor's Name. Seneor left behind many such manuscripts as well as a personal notebook inscribed in Hebrew. (Courtesy of Jewish Budapest: Monuments, Rites, History By Kinga Frojimovics, Géza Komoróczy)

Seneor was eventually caught up in yet a new scandal that involved the debasement of Hungarian coinage- minting money worth about half its face value- in 1521. The king had Seneor imprisoned and, before long, a death sentence loomed on the unfortunate man. However he was released after a large sum of money was paid on his behalf. After his release, he celebrated at his house with friends and family. The raucous celebrations soon attracted an outraged mob  which proceeded to attack and ransack his house. Remarkably, Seneor was able to convince the magnates that he is able to restore the financial situation of the royal court and, as a result, he was entrusted with the profitable copper mines at Fuggers. A few weeks before the Battle of Mohacz (which was to end in a historic Turkish conquest of the city), he donated a large amount of money to support the city’s defenses against the Turks. The date of his death is uncertain but it is assumed that he died around the time of the aforementioned battle.

Interestingly enough, a contemporary rabbinical responsum later claimed that in the hour of his death, crying and praying in the presence of several Jews, he returned to the Jewish faith.

But the story does not end there. Still in his lifetime, a Halachic dispute arose as to his status. Seneor’s two sons from his Jewish wife, Avraham and Efraim, who remained part of the Jewish community, would be called up to the Torah by their grandfather’s name rather than that of their apostate father. The sons did not like this state of affairs one bit. Only after the death of Shlomo did the Rabbi of Buda at the time, Naftali Hacohen (Katz), allow the name ben shlomo to be used again when calling the sons to the Torah.

The foremost Halachic decisor of that time, Rabbi Meir Katznellenbogen (the progenitor of a large portion of Eastern European Ashkenazi Jewry) gave his halachic sanction to this decision and claimed that if the kings and nobles who certainly are not Jews, can be mentioned in blessings in the Synagogue, so too can the name of Seneor (adding that according to all reports, Seneor retained his affections to his former co-religionists and showed them favor).

A Sephardic Rabbi in Istanbul goes even further in portraying Seneor in what can only be described as "glowing terms". Eliyahu ben Benjamin Halevi of Istanbul described him as a person of great generosity who would give charity to poor Jews every Friday and who spared no money and effort to save the Jewish community when it was in danger (most notably during a blood libel). One of his sons wrote that his father warned the Jews in a secret Hebrew letter that they were in danger— thereby saving their lives. He also reportedly prevented the expulsion of Jews from Prague, when the city was under Hungarian rule.

From that point on, the attitude toward Seneor changed drastically. It was 'universally' accepted that his apostasy was never sincere and that he did so for the good of his people. It was announced in Synagogues that whoever maligned his Jewishness would be “punished in person and in his belongings by the prefect”. The decision to rehabilitate Seneor’s reputation was given halachic sanction by Rabbi Moses Isserles, a major authority on Jewish law, known as“Rama”. Isserles based his opinion on the earlier ruling by Rabbi Katznellenbogen and concluded “once he [Katznellenbogen] gave his permission, who can have a word after the king?”.

The two Jewish sons of Seneor, apparently still uneasy about being reminded of their scandalous familil past, left Buda after the Battle of Mohacz and changed their name to Zaks (Sachs). The name is supposed to be an abbreviation of “zera kadosh seneor”, literally,  “holy seed of Seneor”. One of his sons, Abraham settled in Kismarton (Eisenstadt) with his family. Some of his descendants were to be found later as far away as Vilna among other places.

Marc Chagall's Praying Jew and the origins of the Jewish People.


The latest edition of Segula Magazine features an interview with Aharon Melamed, a former Haifa District Judge. One of the illustrations caught my eye. It was a reproduction of Marc Chagall's famous painting Praying Jew. As you can see from the caption, the subject of the article is convinced that it is based on a true live portrait of his direct ancestor. This, incidentally, does not jibe with Chagall's own recollections as recorded in his autobiography My Life see here

In his 1931 autobiography, My Life, Chagall related how, while visiting Vitebsk (present-day Belarus), the city in which he was born, he realized that the traditions in which he had grown up were fast disappearing and that he needed to document them. He paid a beggar to pose in his father’s prayer clothes and then painted him, limiting his palette primarily to black and white, as befit the solemnity of the subject.

Be it as it may, the painting reminded me of the now widely discredited book The Thirteenth Tribe by Hungarian Jewish novelist, Arthur Koestler. This painting graces its cover. As you can see, the painting on the cover differs slightly from the other one. This is because Chagall made three different versions of it see here

Chagall often painted variants or replicas of works he particularly loved. The Art Institute’s Praying Jew is one of three versions of this composition. He painted the original canvas in 1914, and when he traveled back to Paris in 1923, he took this painting with him. He learned upon his return that much of the work he had left in France had been lost during World War I. This prompted him to make two versions of The Praying Jew before it left his studio: they are the present work and another in the Ca’ Pesaro, Venice; the original is now in the Kunstmuseum, Basel. The later compositions differ from the original only in small details.

If Aharon Melamed is indeed correct, however, it magnifies Koestler's ironic choice of jacket design. The Melamed family is one of those old established 'litvak' families who descend from the earliest Sephardic and Ashkenazic families.



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