Tuesday, October 14, 2014

That Time When the Cohen Gadol Was Pelted With Etrogim

(Photo reproduced from The Temple Institute. All rights reserved to The Temple Institute)

Jewniverse has a witty blog post about an incident that is mentioned in Tractate Sukkah 48B

"תנו רבנן, מעשה בצדוקי אחד(! ) שנסך על גבי רגליו ורגמוהו כל העם באתרוגיהן ואותו היום נפגמה קרן המזבח והביאו בול של מלח וסתמוהו וכו'" (סוכה, מח' ב').

The Talmud describes a Kohen Gadol who openly mocked the mitzvah of nisuch hamayim, the water libations by pouring the golden pitcher of water on his feet rather than on the altar. The incensed crowd (who evidently were composed mostly of Perushim[cf. Josephus that most of the common folk were perushi sympathizers]) began pelting him with their etrogim and on that day a corner of the altar was damaged and required repair.

Now this story requires some elucidation:

1. Is there another aspect to this story, other than the obvious Zadoki disdain for what they perceived to be a made-up mitzvah?

2. Etrogim are hardly the stuff that would cause damage to a solidly built altar made of metal. What gives?

To understand the background to this strange and macabre tale, one must understand the mindset and beliefs of the Sadduccees/Zadokim, a Second Temple sect who rejected much of what we consider Torah Shebaal Peh and championed belief solely in the Torah Shebiktav.

The commandment of water libations are indeed never explicitly mentioned in the Torah. Chazal deem this Halakha L'moshe Misinai and bring several verses that are an 'asmakhta' see here
This became a sticking point (one among many) between the Zadokim and the Perushim. And on one occasion it led to the outright violence described in the story under discussion.

So how did the altar incur such severe damage from the shower of citrons? Rashi and the Aruch L'ner offer that it wasn't just etrogim that were thrown but rather rocks. The Aruch L'ner writes that the crowd threw their citrons and when they were done with that, they picked up rocks and began throwing them in the direction of the Kohen who was still standing on the altar (some commentators claim that he was etrogged to death but this doesn't seem to have been the case, as will be seen later).

This event was so traumatic that the Rabbis instituted new protocols for the performance of this mitzvah. From then on, the Kohen Gadol was supposed to raise his hands high--in order to provide the crowd with a good view--while performing the libation.
"ולמנסך אומר לו הגבה ידך, שפעם אחד נסך אחד על גבי רגליו ורגמוהו כל העם באתרוגיהן" (סוכה צ"ז).

Who was this renegade Kohen Gadol? He seems to have been no other than the Hasmonean Monarch Alexander Yannai. Josephus in Antiquities describes the episode thus:

"בימים ההם קשרו היהודים על ינאי המלך קשר ובחג הסוכות בעלות המלך (בתפקידו ככהן גדול) על מזבח הפנימי להקריב עולת החג השליכו עליו רבים מבני העם את האתרוגים אשר בידם, ויחרפוהו ויתנו עליו בקולם: "צא, צא בן חללה! לא לך לגשת אל מזבח השם כי אמך הייתה חללה (השווה קדושין סו' א'), 
ויקצוף המלך מאד וחמתו בערה בו ויט ידו מעל המזבח ויקרא: "חרב, חרב על פרושים! " וישלפו גדודיו שומרי ראשו את חרבותיהם ויהרגו בעם כששת אלפים איש מעדת הפרושים, ויצו המלך לנגוח חומת עץ בבית ה' להבדיל בין חצר העם לבין חצר הכוהנים הפנימי לבל יוסיפו עוד המורדים להרגיזו בבואו לעבוד את עבודת הקודש. גם שכר לו אנשי צבא מבני פיזיציה וקיליקיה להיות תמיד סביב לו ולשמרו בכל אשר ילך" (קדמוניות היהודים יג),

As to Alexander, his own people were seditious against him; for at a festival which was then celebrated, when he stood upon the altar, and was going to sacrifice, the nation rose upon him, and pelted him with citrons [which they then had in their hands, because] the law of the Jews required that at the feast of tabernacles every one should have branches of the palm tree and citron tree; which thing we have elsewhere related. They also reviled him, as derived from a captive, and so unworthy of his dignity and of sacrificing. At this he was in a rage, and slew of them about six thousand.

The ensuing slaughter can easily be seen as the cause for the safeguards put in place later, probably under the reign of his successor: his wife-- a friend of the Pharisees, the Queen Salome Alexandra (Shlomziyon).

But there is an added dimension to this story that I believe has been overlooked by scholars. Namely the symbolism of the citron. Interestingly, there is no mention of lulavim being thrown (though one may imagine that one could do more damage with its prickly jaggedy leafs). This, in my opinion, is because in addition to the Zadoki opposition to nisukh hamayim, the former also objected to the taking of the arba minim in hand. They interpreted the Torah's mandate to take the four species in order to construct booths (it is a legitimate lone opinion cited in Tractate Sukkah--albeit in addition to taking them in hand). Therefore, the crowd pelted him with the citrons, thus demonstrating that they knew what he did there and they had his number.

**Hebrew citations from Talmud are provided courtesy of the Daat website. With special thanks to them


1.) On references to the identification of 'peri eitz hadar' with the etrog in Rabbinic literature see here (better yet, read Zohar Amar's book).

2). On various sectarian interpretations of the four minim, see here and here

What I found particularly interesting is the Ethiopian Jews who do not take the four minim in hand yet  follow the Apocryphal Book of Jubilees on most important matters of religious law.

 There are special prayers but the Falashas do not make the booths required by scriptures. The reason given for the disregard of this ordinance is that the huts in which they live may be regarded as booths symbolical of Israel’s sojourn in the wilderness. They spread leaves of various trees, such as palm and a variety of weeping willow, over the floor of their houses and the Synagogue.
…..The first and last days are called holy and no work is allowed during the whole festival. On the last day, the priests or the deacons carry the Torah in the Synagogue and the people dance…

(Falasha Anthology, p. xxxii).

On Sukkot, Jubilees has this to say:

ספר היובלים ט"ז כ"ט-לא: "על כן הוקם בלוחות השמים על ישראל כי יהיו עושים את חג הסוכות שבעת ימים בשמחה בחודש בשביעי ויהי לרצון לפני ה' חק עולם לדורותם בכל שנה ושנה. ואין לזה קץ הימים כי לעולם הוקם לישראל לעשותו וישבו בסוכות ושמו כתרים על ראשם ולקחו ענף עץ עבות וערבי נחל. ויקח אברהם לבות תמרים ופרי עץ הדר וסבב מדי יום ביומו את המזבח בענפים שבע ליום ובבוקר יהלל ויודה לאלוהיו על הכל בשמחה".
For this reason it is ordained on the heavenly tables concerning Israel, that they shall celebrate the feast of tabernacles seven days with joy, in the seventh month, acceptable before the Lord--a statute for ever throughout their generations every year. 2 30. And to this there is no limit of days; for it is ordained for ever regarding Israel that they should celebrate it and dwell in booths, and set wreaths upon their heads, 3 and take leafy boughs, and willows from the brook. And Abraham took branches of palm trees, and the fruit of goodly trees, and every day going round the altar with the branches seven times

Interestingly enough the Karaite polemicist, Daniel Al-Qumisi mocked the modern-day custom of circling the tebha/bima (Hoshaanot) with the four minim:

"והכרתי פסילך". כי כל עבודתך אשר לא מן התורה הם כפסילים. וכן כל #בראני#. "ומצבותיך". איה היום מצבות בין ישראל חוץ מן התבות אשר בכל כנסיות בגלות. ומציבים לנגדם להשתחות לפניה וקוראים בשם ארון. וגם בימי חג הסכות לוקחים לולב ומסובבים סביב. וגם נשאים על כתפם בהודות והלל סביבות הכניסת במועדים. ולולי הוא כדברי איהם מצבות בישראל.

(I heartily thank my good friend Shawn Lichaa for providing me with this source).

3). Notice how Dr. Lawrence Schiffman (an Orthodox Jew) seems to infer that Rabbinic tradition about the usage of the four minim does NOT conform to Nehemiah but is a result of midrashic exegesis. Pretty radical..

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Aliyah L'regel Continued Long After the Destruction of the Temple

Aliyah l'regel refers to the thrice-yearly Biblically mandated pilgrimages to the Temple in Jerusalem. As with many customs that are thought to have become obsolete with the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, this continued to be done long after (see also my post here)


After the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem, the ritual of the biblical pilgrimage festivals continued on, especially on the seventh day of the Succoth (Hoshaʿna Rabba), with processions and litanies on the Mount of Olives as the last residence of the Shekhinah. During the Crusader period, the Mount of Olives was replaced by a series of individual stations where recollection of the biblical past, mourning for the destroyed temple, and messianic eschatology (Messiah: III) were combined, sometimes in polemical debate with Christian pilgrims. Pilgrimage sites outside Jerusalem are named in the itineraries of Jewish pilgrims from Christian Europe who visited the Holy Land in the wake of the Crusaders, along with the tombs of biblical figures (Cave of Machpelah in Hebron, Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem), and the graves of rabbis, especially in Galilee. In the case of the latter, site locations were often more stable than their association with particular individuals. In the Diaspora, especially in the Muslim world, graves also became pilgrimage sites during the Middle Ages, along with synagogues that were associated with biblical figures (Moses, Elijah, Ezra) or housed Torah scrolls or biblical codices of ¶ particular antiquity. To date almost no attention has been paid to references to similar pilgrimage practices among the Ashkenazim (Mainz, Worms, Regensburg) in the Middle Ages and early modern period (Judaism: II)
The Old Testament contains references to pilgrimage traditions in a wide variety of historical and religio-historical strata. Besides some traditions represented only vestigially (e.g. 1 Sam 1:3ff.; 9:11ff.), the major pilgrimages are regulated precisely: in Israel they are associated with the three great annual (harvest) festivals (Feasts and festivals: II; III) of Passover, the Feast of Weeks, and the Festival of Booths (see II, 1 below). On these occasions “every male” was initially required simply to “appear” before the Lord (Exod 23:17; 34:23; Deut 16:16), which meant visiting a (local) sanctuary and offering produce of the harvest. Association with a pilgrimage to the Jerusalem temple probably emerged in the process of cultic centralization.

Gaza has a long Jewish history. It also served as a substitute to Jerusalem when the city was off limits to Jews. According to Yaari:

עדות על חשיבותה של עזה בימי הכיבוש הביזאנטי כמעין תחליף לירושלים, יש לנו ממקור קראי, ממנו לומדים שבאותם ימים היו היהודים עולים לרגל לעזה בגלל האיסור שנשאר מימי הרומאים לעלות לירושלים. (אברהם יערי, ‘זכרונות ארץ ישראל’, עמ’ 62).


The importance Gaza (to the Jews) during the Byzantine occupation (of Eretz Israel), during Medieval times, we learn from a qaraite source. An old Genizah document reveals that many Jews would ascended to Gaza during the thrice-yearly Biblically mandated festival pilgrimages (this was/is done even sans Temple, though it was/is no longer [temporarily] mandatory), as the Roman edict barring Jews from Jerusalem was still in effect.

A fascinating archeological find that sheds more light on the term 'regel':

"The discovery of these 'foot' structures opens an entirely new system of linguistic and historical perceptions," Prof. Zertal emphasizes. He explains that the meaning of the biblical Hebrew word for "foot" - "regel" – is also a "festival", "holiday", and ascending to see the face of God. As such, the source of the Hebrew term "aliya la-regel", literally translated as "ascending to the foot" (and now known in English as a pilgrimage), is attributed to the "foot" sites in the Jordan valley. "Now, following these discoveries, the meanings of the terms become clear. Identifying the 'foot' enclosures as ancient Israeli ceremonial sites leads us to a series of new possibilities to explain the beginnings of Israel, of the People of Israel's festivals and holidays," he stated.
 According to Prof. Zertal, the "foot" constructions were used for ceremonial assemblies during Iron Age I (and probably after). When the religious center was moved to Jerusalem and settled there, the command of "aliya la-regel" (pilgrimage) became associated with Jerusalem. The source of the term, however, is in the sites that have now been discovered in the Jordan valley and the Altar on Mt. Ebal. "The biblical text testifies to the antiquity of these compounds in Israel's ceremonials, and the 'foot' structures were built by an organized community that had a central leadership," Prof. Zertal stated. He stressed that there is a direct connection between the biblical ideology, which identifies ownership over the new land with the foot and hence with the shape of the constructions.   


*The common Karaite appellation/surname 'yeru' is short for 'yerushalmi' ( 'al-qudsi' is a variation of this name, e,g, Karaite historian Murad Al-Qudsi), apparently these appellations were added to one's name, after completing a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. This is not dissimilar to the 'haj' ritual of Muslims (the haj is most likely derived from jewish practice).

It stemmed from the age-old Karaite desire to live in Yerushalayim as an אבל ציון in order to help bring on the גאולה . Since it became impractical and/or financially unaffordable to move one’s family there, people would always aim, if they could, to at least spend some time (anywhere from a few months to a year or more) there and the taking of the name Yerushalmi was meant to show that the returnee actually felt Yerushalayim to be his true home and his place of dwelling outside the land as just a temporary residence. Making the trip was a very expensive thing and most people could only dream of doing so. Most of those that did make the trip had to save up for many years to afford it. The situation was different for Karaites in Syrian and Egypt from which the cost of travel to Yerushalayim were much less than for those in Istanbul, the Crimea, Ukraine, Lithuania, Poland, or Central Asia. Many would move back and forth between Eres Yisrael, Syria, and Egypt, depending on conditions and employment opportunities. For example, Hakham Mosheh Ben-Avraham al-Qudsi (originally ad-Dimashqi) was born in Yerushalayim. His father had moved there from Damacus and became the Hakham Rashi of Yerushalayim. Hakham Mosheh moved to Cairo and eventually became the Hakham Rashi there. Hakham Mosheh’s older brother Dawid became the Hakham Rashi after his father and, when he died in 1872, Hakham Mosheh returned to Yerushalayim to become the Hakham Rashi after him (I thank Hakham Rahmiel Qannai for this insight).

Interesting to note that some Ashkenazi rabbanites also had the surname 'yerusalimski', some later changed it to yerushalmi (e.g. the famed historian  Yosef Haim Yerushalmi);
יוסף חיים ירושלמי נולד וגדל בארצות הברית. שני הוריו היגרו מרוסיה; אמו הגיעה לארצות הברית מפינסק ביחד עם סבתו, אחיה ואחיותיה הגיעו לאמריקה לפניה. אביו נולד בגולסקוב שבאוקראינה למשפחה יהודית-ציונית ששמה ירוסלימסקי

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Bar Kokhba's Favorite Holiday

at my other blog

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Graffiti By an Eretz Yisrael Ammora?

Could this be the handiwork of the EY Ammora, Rabi Hiyya Bar Abba?

אנא חייא "I am Hiyya".
(Scholars believe that the rest of the graffiti was left by a different individual)

With the Synagogue in Dura Europos now in the hands of ISIS a closer look at an often overlooked treasure trove of Jewish history is warranted.

Note 1: The traditional dating for the completion of the construction of the Synagogue at Dura Europos is circa 244 CE. Rav Hiyya's death is said to have taken place at 230 CE (give or take. In my case I'd rather give some..).

Note 2. The reason why I've chosen this Rav Hiyya is because he is known to have traveled from his hometown in Tiberias to various communities-both in EY and in the Diaspora including Syria (see JT Peah, 8, 6). He is also said to have appointed archons  (Ibid). During his travels in the Diaspora he was active in strengthening Jewish identity and raising money for the poor (including for himself). The Jerusalem Talmud (Hagiga 1, 8) relates that he received a personal letter of approbation, from the Nassi (not dissimilar to what is shown today by 'meshulakhim' from Israel, who knock on your door right at that moment when you're about to sit down and enjoy dinner after an exhausting day at work, but I digress..) attesting to his great personal worth. The contents of the letter was: הרי שלחנו אליכם אדם גדול.
Perhaps on a stop over at Dura Europos, Rabi Hiyya decided to etch his great name in stone...
Be it as it may, this blog makes for some fascinating reading:

free counters