Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Nishma_Parshah: Rosh Hashanah and Ha'azinu

Take a look at what's on
for Rosh Hashanah and Parshat Ha'azinu

Haftarah -Scheduling of Shuvah and Dirshu

Parsha: Ha'azinu, "He Measured the Seas in the Hollow of His Hand"


Meaning of Yom Teruah

From RRW

Guest Blogger: Mitchell First

                                           What is the Meaning of “Yom Teruah”?

                   The Torah gives very little explanation of the holiday that we call today Rosh Ha-Shanah. The Torah calls it only “yom teruah” (in parshat Pinchas) and “zikhron teruah” (in parshat Emor).What are the meanings of these brief terms “teruah” and “zikhron teruah”? What is the plain sense understanding of this reason for this holiday?  Neither of the above Biblical sections even mention the word “shofar” or  the concepts of judgment or new year!
                    The word “teruah” (root: Resh, Vav, Ayin) points us in various directions. While it clearly means a loud sound, sometimes it is a loud sound of war or threats, and other times it is a loud sound of joy or praise. (The word “teruah,” in its various forms, appears over thirty times in Tanakh.) Other examples of its use are Numbers 10:5, where it is a signal for the tribes to move, and Numbers 23:21, where it is a sound of homage to the king (“u-teruat melekh bo”).
                 I am now going to give a sample of the different approaches to understanding the “yom teruah/zikhron teruah” holiday.
                 Samuel David Luzzatto takes the approach that the fundamental meaning of the holiday is that a teruah is blown to announce the new year. He notes that in the case of the jubilee, the Torah records a blowing of “shofar teruah” in Tishrei (on the 10th) to declare the beginning of that special year. So by analogy, our blowing of a teruah in Tishrei is also likely done to proclaim a new year. (As to “zikhron,” Shadal interprets it to mean something like “declaring,” citing Is. 12:4.)
                 Radak (comm. to Ps. 81:4) suggests that the blowing of a teruah can symbolize the freeing of slaves (e.g., the case of the jubilee year, Lev. 25:9). He theorizes that our ancestors in Egypt must have been freed from work on the first day of Tishrei, even before they left in Nissan. He believes that this event is what our blowing on the first day of Tishrei was enacted to commemorate.
               Rav S.R. Hirsch (comm. to Lev. 23:24 and Num. 29:1) sets forth the following interesting approach to the holiday. He translates “zikhron teruah” as a teruah which causes one to retrospect on one’s life. Just as the seventh day of the week invites us to reflect weekly, so too this holiday on the seventh month was set up for reflection/introspection. He writes that the yearly teruah on this day calls us to a spiritual yovel, just as the teruah of the fiftieth year calls us to a social yovel. Our yearly teruah is a call for repossession of those spiritual measures that were originally our very own and which we have parted from. Because the day is in essence one of self-introspection, this explains why the verses state little else about it.
             Ramban first focuses on the phrase “zikhron teruah.”  At Num. 10:10, the Torah refers to the Israelites’ blowing of chatzotzrot with their holiday sacrifices and states that this blowing will result in a zikaron before God. (See also 10:9.) By analogy, Ramban suggests that the phrase “zikhron teruah” in our context must also be a reference to a blowing which produces a zikaron before God.
            But then he asks the obvious question. The Torah has not explained why we have to produce a zikaron before God on this day. He concludes that because the holiday is in the same month as Yom Kippur, it must be that we are producing this zikaron because it is a Yom Din. (The idea of Rosh Ha-Shanah being a Yom Din is found in Mishnah Rosh Ha-Shanah 1:2.) Ramban does not say this explicitly, but he implies that the purpose of the zikaron we are producing is to act as a reminder to God to judge us favorably on this day of Yom Ha-Din. See similarly Bereshit Rabbah 56:9.
            (Note that in our tefillot, Rosh ha-Shanah is called Yom Ha-Zikaron. This term for the holiday is very ancient. It is already found in the Dead Sea Scrolls! It probably even originated well before this.  Maybe whoever inaugurated the use of this term for our holiday had something like the Ramban’s view in mind, i.e., viewed the meaning of “zikhron teruah” as a “teruah” that produces a “zikaron.” But without knowing in what early century and by what early group the term “Yom Ha-Zikaron” first came into use, it is hard to get into the minds of its authors.)
             Many others also view the words “zikhron teruah” as the key to understanding the holiday. But they interpret the phrase differently. They interpret this phrase as indicating that the holiday is in essence a commemoration of that famous earlier shofar blast described in Exodus chapter 19, the one associated with the giving of the Torah. This interpretation is first found in Philo (1st century C.E.) But many others over the centuries have taken this approach. (But note that Exodus 19 does not use the word “teruah.”) 
               It bears pointing out that the root Z-Ch-R can mean both a “mentioning/proclaiming” and a “remembering.” Some of the above approaches are focusing on a meaning like “mentioning/proclaiming” and others are focusing on a meaning like “remembering.”
             I would now like to mention a completely different approach to understanding the Torah’s brevity when it comes to this holiday. I first saw this approach in an article by Rabbi Michael Berger, “The Moadim of Parashat Emor,” in the periodical Alei Tziyyon (5756). But it is also implicit in the Rambam in his Moreh Nevukhim. The suggestion is that the Torah does not give a specific theme to this holiday on the first day of the seventh month because the holiday is, in essence, merely an adjunct and preparatory holiday for Yom Kippur. The Torah recognizes that we cannot do proper teshuvah on Yom Kippur without a ten day period of repentance. Yom Teruah is merely the inauguration of this period and the beginning of preparation for Yom Kippur. That is why no independent theme is expressed for the holiday! The concept of the Ten Days of Repentance, in this reading, is already implicit in the Torah itself.
                  Here are the words of the Rambam, in the Friedlander translation from the Arabic (chapter 43): “The day is, as it were, a preparation for and an introduction to the day of the Fast...”    
                    It is also interesting to investigate how the Karaites observed the holiday. In general, their observances were based on the Biblical verses alone, without our Oral Tradition. One Karaitic approach was not to have any ritual blowing because “yom teruah” was understood to mean “the day where we raise our voices joyfully [in prayer].” (But there were varying Karaitic approaches to the holiday. See Daniel Sperber, Minhagei Yisrael, vol. 7, page 228, n. 19.)
                 I will close with one more insight. When one opens up a standard daily Siddur, e.g, ArtScroll, p. 111, one sees the following choices for the recitation of Yaale ve-Yavo: Rosh Chodesh, Pesach, and Sukkos. But do you think it is possible that Yaale ve-Yavo might have been composed for one particular holiday first, and was later adjusted so it could include the others? What particular holiday could that have been? Let us look at its text: ve-yipaked, ve-yizakher, zikhroneinu, u-fikdoneinu, ve-zikhron avoteinu, ve-zikhron mashiach...ve-zikhron yerushalayim...ve-zikhron kol amkha… zakhreinu Hashem…u-pakdeinu... Almost certainly, this prayer was originally composed for Yom Ha-Zikaron!  Admittedly, there is no proof for this, but it seems evident based on the above language. I first saw this insight in an article by Prof. Meir Bar-Ilan. 
               Yaale ve-Yavo is found in the Rosh Ha-Shanah zikhronot section in the Siddur of R. Saadiah Gaon. (See, p. 223.) Perhaps the zikhronot section of Rosh Ha-Shanah was what it was originally composed for!
               (When I quoted the text of Yaale ve-Yavo above, I quoted the text in the ArtScroll Siddur, because that is the text we are all familiar with. I should have quoted the text in the Siddur of R. Saadiah. But his text is very similar to what we recite today.)
Mitchell First is a personal injury attorney and Jewish history scholar. His most recent book is: Esther Unmasked: Solving Eleven Mysteries of the Jewish Holidays and Liturgy. He can be reached at MFirstAtty@aol.com. He wishes everyone a meaningful “Yom Teruah” and “Zikhron Teruah,” in whatever interpretation they adopt for these terms.


Monday, 18 September 2017

Responding to "I can ‘do Jewish’ on just $40,000 a year"

The Times of Israel blogpost entitled

I can ‘do Jewish’ on just $40,000 a year

seems to have created quite a storm. Almost everyone I run into, if I mention the article, seems to have already read it -- and the response is quite mixed. There are points with which people agree and points with which people disagree. It clearly has touched a nerve in the community -- on many different levels. (In the meantime, the author has since penned another post in response to the many comments he received. That post, entitled A Jewish Father responds to his critics is also on Times of Israel.)

While I could address many of the matters presented in the article -- some voicing agreement and some voicing strong critique -- there was one issue that really hit me -- albeit its subtle underpinning within the context of the presentation. This was the unspoken question of: what was the very need or purpose of Jewish education?  The author states that he spent $80,000 annually on Jewish day school education for his children until he took them out of the day school and put them in a non-Jewish private school at a great saving. But what was the non-monetary cost of this? It seems from the author that there was none or is none. In fact, the implication is that even aside from the financial benefit, the move was good for the kids. The question is not only: what this says about the value of Torah education in the eyes of this person? The greater question is: what does this say about the very perception of the value of Torah education in our world?

The author actually, somehow, addresses this issue and, from the answers he presents, one can see both what he may have personally thought to be the goal of a Jewish education and how society presents the reason. He speaks, for example, of fluency in Hebrew -- challenging the success of day schools in his world in this regard. Is this, though, the purpose of a Torah education? He also addresses the subjects of intermarriage and 'off the derech', two items often presented as important reasons for maintaining a day school education. He wonders, though, if both of these negative consequences are actually overcome with a day school education. The fact is that many kids who completed a day school education still went 'off the derech' so the argument may not actually be as strong as generally indicated. In regard to intermarriage, in fact, when I spoke to a person who was involved in the original research that showed that there was less intermarriage involving day school graduates, the researcher, in response to some of my questions, told me that while there was clearly a correlation between day school attendance and lower intermarriage, the actual causal reason f or this was still unclear. Was is because of the day school education or because the families who would send their kids to a Jewish day school were more personally committed to their Jewish identity and passed this on to their kids at home? Are the reasons for a Jewish education, though, to prevent a negative consequence -- simply to maintain Jewish identity and/or Orthodox identity?

This is to me the most frightening aspect of this article. Education should be about improving one's ability to function in the realm defined by the education. The purpose of a medical education is to teach one how to function and then function better as a doctor -- the better the education, the better the doctor. This author did not seem to see this. Is this because of a failing within our Torah educational system or some mis-perception regarding Jewish education and, as such, Judaism, in the author? I venture to believe the former. For Torah education to truly work -- and its cost to be recognized as having necessary value -- it must be seen as necessary in order for one to fully function, to the best of his/her ability, as a Jew. This means that the education -- all of it, through all the years and beyond -- must be seen as a practical necessity for living as a Jew.  One could only develop an argument to leave Jewish education if one did not believe it to be necessary. Is that a problem in the author of this article -- but then how could someone so involved in Torah observance possibly come to that conclusion? It may be that this author is informing us of something really problematic in present Jewish education as it may not only not be perceived as having practical importance in the totality of our Jewish lives but it actually is missing in this objective.

Torah education is a necessity. It is a problem if it is not seen as such. This must call upon us to make sure that the practical necessity of all the years of Torah education -- and beyond -- is recognized as necessary to live our lives as Jew.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Aleinu and Tikun Olam

From RRW

Guest Blogger: Mitchell First

                                     Tikun Olam and Aleinu
                    It is routinely taken for granted that the concept of tikun olam is integral to Aleinu. It turns out that this is probably not the case. This column will explain that a very strong case can be made that the original version of Aleinu read “le-tacen olamwith a caf (=to establish the world under God’s sovereignty), and not with a kof (=to perfect/improve the world under God’s sovereignty). If so, the concept of tikun olam has no connection to the Aleinu prayer.

                     Most likely, Aleinu was originally composed as part of the Rosh Ha-Shanah (=RH) Amidah, as an introduction to the malkhuyyot verses, and was authored by Rav, early 3rd cent. C.E. (See Jerusalem Talmud Avodah Zarah 1:2 and RH 1:3.) But no text of Aleinu is included in Tannaitic or Amoraic literature.

                    When we look to the later available texts of Aleinu, we find that the reading with a caf is found in the text of the RH Amidah in the Siddur of R. Saadiah Gaon (d. 942), and in the text of the RH Amidah in the Mishneh Torah of Rambam (d. 1204) (end of Sefer Ahavah). I have looked at the following editions of the Mishneh Torah: Or ve-Yeshuah, Frankel, Mechon Mamre,  and the editions published by R. Yitzchak Sheilat and by R. Yosef Kafah. All print it with a caf. (Neither R. Saadiah nor Rambam recited Aleinu daily.)
                   In the standard printed Mishneh Torah (end of Sefer Ahavah) only the first ten words of al kein nekaveh were included (up to uzekha).  That is why the Rambam’s reading with a caf was not well-known.

                   Caf is also the reading in almost all of the texts of Aleinu that have been recovered from the Cairo Genizah. (The Cairo Genizah texts generally date to the 10th-13th centuries.) Also, the caf reading survives in Yemenite siddurim to this day. (I would like to thank Yehiel Levy for pointing this out to me.)

                   Admittedly, the Ashkenazic texts from Europe from the time of the Rishonim spell le-tacen with a kof. See, for example, the following texts of Aleinu: 1) Machzor Vitry of  R. Simchah of Vitry,  daily shacharit and RH, 12th century, and 2) Siddur Hasidei Ashkenaz, ed. Moshe Hirschler, p. 125 (daily shacharit), and p. 214 (RH) (compiled by the students of R. Judah he-Hasid, d. 1217).
                   Also, the three main manuscripts of Seder Rav Amram Gaon spell it with a kof. But these manuscripts are not from the time of R. Amram (d. 875); they are European manuscripts from the time of the later Rishonim.

                    I cannot prove based on the manuscripts that the caf reading was the original reading. But this seems very likely, as it is by far the better reading in the context. We see this by looking at all the other scenarios that are longed for in this section:
                  Lirot meheirah be-tifereret uzekha
                  Le-haavir gilulim min ha-aretz
            Ve-ha-elilim karot yikareton
            Le-tacen olam be-malkhut …  
               Ve-khol bnei vasar yikreu bi-shmekha   
                  Le-hafnot eilekha kol rishei aretz
                  Yakiru ve-yeidu kol yoshvei tevel ki lekha tikhra kol berekh tishava kol lashon
                  Lefanekha…yikhreu ve-yipolu
                  Ve-likhevod shimkha yekar yitenu
                  Viykablu khulam et ol malkhutekha
                 Ve-timlokh aleihem meheirah le-olam va-ed
                 Ki ha-malkhut shelkha hi  
              U-le-olmei ad timlokh be-khavod

                Beginning with le-haavir, every clause expresses a hope for either the removal of other gods or the universal acceptance of our God. With regard to the first line, lirot meheirah be-tiferet uzekha, properly understood and its mystical language decoded, it is almost certainly a request for the speedily rebuilding of the Temple. The idiom is based on verses such as Psalms 96:6 (oz ve-tiferet be-mikdasho) and 78:61 (va-yiten la-shevi uzo, ve-tifarto ve-yad tzar). This interpretation of lirot meheirah be-tiferet uzekha is adopted by the Abudarham. Taken together, this whole section is a prayer for the rebuilding of the Temple and the establishment God’s kingdom on earth. This fits the caf reading perfectly.

                  That this section of Aleinu is fundamentally a prayer for the establishment of God’s kingdom makes sense given that, most likely, this section was composed as an introduction to the malkhuyyot section of the RH Amidah (as was the first paragraph of Aleinu as well).                                                        

                  Moreover, we can easily understand how an original caf reading might have evolved into kof. The term tikun ha-olam, with a kof, is widespread in early rabbinic literature. It is found thirteen times in the Mishnah, and seventeen times in the Babylonian Talmud. The alternative scenario, that the original reading in Aleinu was with a kof and that this evolved in some texts into a caf is much less likely.                                                                

                 Classical rabbinical literature includes many references to the concept of tikun ha-olam, both in the context of divorce legislation and in other contexts. The purpose of this column was only to show that it is almost certainly a mistake to read such a concept into the Aleinu prayer, a prayer most likely composed as an introduction to the malkhuyyot section of the RH Amidah, and focused primarily on the goal of establishing God’s kingdom on earth. Even if we do not fix the text of our siddurim, we should certainly have this alternate and almost certainly original reading in mind as we recite this prayer.

              Regarding the authorship of Aleinu, there is a statement found in many Rishonim that Joshua was the author of Aleinu. This statement first appears in a commentary by R. Judah he-Hasid (d. 1217). But he does not claim to be reporting an earlier tradition. Rather, this is merely something that he stated on his own. Once he gave this opinion, it became widely quoted. But it is easily seen from the language of Aleinu that it could not date as early as the time of Joshua. For example, ha-kadosh barukh hu was not yet an appellation for God in the Biblical period. Moreover, the term olam did not mean “world” until the late Biblical period. Finally, Aleinu cites and paraphrases verses found in the book of Isaiah. Isaiah lived many centuries after Joshua.  (Also, as stated earlier, lirot meheirah be-tiferet uzekha, is almost certainly a request for the speedily rebuilding of the Temple.)

             The ArtScroll Siddur claims that even earlier, R. Hai Gaon (11th century) wrote that Aleinu was composed by Joshua. Admittedly, there is such a statement in a responsum of R. Hai Gaon. But scholarship has shown that the relevant statement was not originally included in the responsum and was added centuries later.

               The above article is an abridged version of an article originally published in Ḥakirah, vol. 11 (2011), and revised and published in my book Esther Unmasked (Kodesh Press, 2015). This would be a good time to remind all readers that they can purchase my book (paperback and very affordable). It covers all the major holidays throughout the year.


Mitchell First is a personal injury attorney and Jewish history scholar. His most recent book is Esther Unmasked: Solving Eleven Mysteries of the Jewish Holidays and Liturgy. He can be reached at MFirstAtty@aol.com.  He allows himself the liberty of recommending his own book once per year, and asks mechilah for doing so.