Thursday 29 August 2019

Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin Cut a Deal 80 Years Ago This Week That Triggered World War II

From RRW

Meaning of "Va-Yinafash"

From RRW
Guest Blogger: Mitchell First

                                   What is the Meaning of “Va-Yinafash” (Ex. 31:17)?

                In our kiddush every Shabbat morning we recite the following phrase from Ex. 31:17:  “For six days God created the heaven and the earth and on the seventh day shavat va-yanifash.” We know the meaning of “shavat.” But what is the meaning of that last word?
                 At the outset, I have to point out that the letters N-P-Sh are used as a noun over seven hundred times in Tanach.  But only three times do they function as a verb. Aside from our verse, one of the other occasions is II Samuel 16:14: “The king and all the people that were with him came weary (ayefim), ‘va-yinafesh sham.’ ”  (The reference is to king David at the time of the rebellion of Avshalom.)
                The other occasion is Exodus 23:12: “Six days you shall do your work and on the seventh day you shall rest (tishbot) so that your ox and donkey shall rest (yanuach), ve-yinafesh the son of your handmaid and the stranger.”
                    As a noun, common meanings of N-P-Sh in Tanach are: “life,” “living being,” and “person.” But the noun also has the meaning “throat” in Tanach. (The evolution seems to be:  throat > life> living being > person. Probably the word started out as a noun, and not a verb. The original concrete meaning was likely “throat, gullet,” the organ used for breathing and eating.)    

                For examples of the throat meaning:
                  -  Isa. 5:14: “Sheol has opened wide its throat and parted its mouth to a measureless gap.”
                  - Ps. 69:2 and 124:4: “Water reached to the throat.”
                  -  Ps. 105:18: “His feet were subject to fetters, an iron collar was put on his throat.”

                In other Semitic languages, N-P-Sh is a verb that often means “breathe.” (It also means throat as well.) In Tanach itself, we have:  “nafsho gechalim telahet”=his breath kindles coals. Job 41:13 (referring to Leviathan).
                The Tanach also has the expression “K-Tz-R” nefesh several times. This may have the literal meaning of “shortness of breath” on at least one of these occasions. See Numbers 21:4, and Chizzekuni and S.D. Luzzatto there. See also H. Tawil, An Akkadian Lexical Companion for Biblical Hebrew, p. 245.
                   I have also seen the suggestion that perhaps every time the Tanach uses “nefesh” to mean “person,” it literally means “breather”!
                   After that lengthy introduction, how has our word at Ex. 31:17 been understood over the centuries?
                 Onkelos:  “Shavat va-yinavash” is translated as “shevat ve-nach.”
                Rabbi S.R. Hirsch:   “With the seventh day [He] ceased to create and withdrew unto Himself” (in contrast to working on something external to one’s self).     (R. Hirsch gives a similar explanation at Ex. 23:12 regarding the son of the handmaid and the stranger: they “come to themselves.” See his further elaboration there.)
        R. Aryeh Kaplan: “He ceased working and withdrew to the spiritual.”
         Brown-Driver-Briggs: This work makes two suggestions. One of the suggestions is “refresh oneself.” This suggestion is followed by many, including The Complete ArtScroll Siddur: “was refreshed.” It was also the translation in the King James Bible (1611).
        Rambam: “Ya-yinafash” means: “That which He desired was accomplished; What He wished had come into existence.” See Moreh Nevukhim, 1:67.  Rambam arrives at this interpretation because “nefesh” sometimes means “will” and “desire.” See his discussion earlier at 1:41 and the verses he cites to support this.                                                                                    
        But as you may suspect from my lengthy introduction, the best answers give our word a “breathing” meaning.
         One suggestion is “catch one’s breath.” See Hertz Pentateuch on Ex. 23:12. (The commentary does not make any comment on the “va-yinafash” of 31:17.) Also, Rashi on 31:17 uses the phrase “she-meshiv nafsho ve-neshimato.”  Also, Ibn Ezra explains “ke-mi she-yiga ve-yashiv nafsho.  (See his shorter commentary). As Rashi and Ibn Ezra explain, even though God’s creations were with words and not through physical effort, the Torah speaks be-leshon bnei adam. It is as if God stopped His work and took time to catch his breath!
       But perhaps a bit more simply, we should translate that “God ceased his work and breathed easily.” (As we might say colloquially today, “He took a breather!”). See, e.g., Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, vol. 9, p. 504 and M.Z. Kaddari, Milon Ha-Irvrit Ha-Mikrait, p. 723. (See also Brown-Driver-Briggs, second interpretation: “take [a] breath.”)
       Tawil, in his An Akkadian Lexical Companion for Biblical Hebrew, translated “va-yinafash” as “relax.” In English, we have the expression: “rest and relaxation.” This sounds a bit like “shavat va-yinafash.” But “relax” is not exactly a word related to “breathing.”                                                                 -
         Finally, let us take a new look at Gen. 2:7:  “God formed Man, dust out of the ground, va-yipach be-apav nishmat chayyim, va-yehi ha-adam le-nefesh chayah.” How should we translate the last four words? Perhaps the correct translation is: “Man became a living breather!”     
         Sometimes in Tanach, “nefesh” means something like “soul.” Professor Richard Steiner, who taught at Yeshiva University for decades, wrote a monograph on this for the Society of Biblical Literature, disagreeing with the prevalent scholarly view that the “soul” meaning is a post-Biblical meaning. (I thank Rabbi Moshe Schapiro for informing me of this and sending me the link to it. I can send the link to anyone who contacts me. The article focuses particularly on the meaning at Ezekiel 13:18.)                     
Mitchell First is a living and breathing personal injury attorney and Jewish history scholar. He can be reached at


A year of weaponized words, antisemitism, and revisionist history

From RRW

Saturday 24 August 2019

Mussar: Is Frumkeit reducing Ehrlichkeit?

originally posted on Apr. 5, 2014

There used to be a saying in Europe that "Frumkeit" [Piety] was for Catholic Monks and that Jews were meant to be Ehrlich [Honest]. Has the recent emphasis on Frumkeit actually reduced our Ehrlichkeit quotient?

Kol Tuv,

Thursday 22 August 2019

The Myth of Jewish Influence in the Democrat Party

From RRW

Logical fallacies or fallacies in argumentation

From RRW

Critical Thinkers
please be aware of these fallacies!

Book Review: Bukharan Jews and the Dynamics of Global Judaism by Alanna Cooper

From RRW
Guest Blogger: Mitchell First

        Book Review:  Bukharan Jews and the Dynamics of Global Judaism by Alanna Cooper

   Did you ever wonder if there really was a single Jewish people? What do we in New Jersey and New York have in common with Jews from exotic places? Alanna Cooper, an educator with a PhD in cultural anthropology, has written a book on this topic. While the book is focused on Bukharan Jews, what motivates the author are the larger questions about Jewish peoplehood.
     The term “Bukharan Jews” refers to the Jews in two adjacent countries: Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. These countries are very far east. Tajikistan borders on China. These two areas were part of the Soviet Union before it collapsed in 1991.
     The Jews in these areas lived mainly in two cities: Bukhara and Samarkand. Perhaps their origin lies as early as the exile of the Ten Tribes. Probably the Jews moved eastwards over time, as merchants on trade routes. Our first reference to the Jews in Samarkand is a reference in the 12th century traveler Benjamin of Tudela. He mentions 50,000 Jews there. (This number may be an exaggeration.)   Our first reference to the Jews in Bukhara is a 13th century Arab chronicler. These Jewish communities spoke a language called Judeo-Tajik, one of the many variants of Tajik, a Persian language.
      Bukhara was only one city in Soviet Central Asia, but at the beginning of the 20th century the general term “Bukharan Jewry” became applied to all the Jewish communities there. (This happened as the result of a fundraising project that the communities undertook to build their own neighborhood in Jerusalem. It is too hard to explain the details here.) 
       In 1989 there were still 50,000 Bukharan Jews living in Soviet Central Asia. But as soon as the USSR dissolved, these Jews began emigrating to Israel and to the U.S. Today, no more than several hundred remain behind.    
      The author first had contact with former members of this community when she taught at a yeshiva in Queens in 1993. The yeshiva presented the story of Bukharan Jewry as a rescue of a lost Jewish community and a bringing them into the Torah fold, but the Bukharan students had a very different take on what happened. She was very intrigued by their stories. Her students advised her that she should travel there before the community died out, and she did.
         What intrigued her most was the curious sense of familiarity that she, an American and Ashkenazi Jew, felt among them. She writes that she was “easily and readily welcomed into the homes of people from another cultural world, whose historical experiences had been utterly different from my own, and who were total strangers, except for the fact that they commonly identified as Jews. And once inside their homes, synagogues and schools, I was struck by the ways in which their religious practices and categories felt so foreign to me, and yet so familiar.”
         The author writes: “Is there a single Judaism and Jewish people? And if so, how might these entities be defined in light of the great diversity of Jewish forms that developed across the far reaches of the diaspora?” (She points out that these questions arise in the other world religions as well.)
          The author points out that Jewish history has traditionally been written as if there was an agreed-upon definition of “center” and “periphery.” The groups in the “center” followed certain accepted texts and are characterized as followers of “Rabbinic Judaism.” The groups considered to be on the “periphery” are viewed as Jews that either lost, forgot, misread, misunderstood, or ignored these texts. But the author shows that the categories “center” and “periphery” are not givens, and evolve through political struggles and economic forces.
        A very interesting chapter explains how biased definitions of center and periphery influenced the way that the history of Bukharan Jewry was written. A main event in this history was the arrival of an emissary from Israel at the end of the 18th century. The version of the story that was told by modern historians, and which came to be accepted, depicts the emissary as having found these Jews to be religiously ignorant and on the brink of assimilation. Through the emissary’s work, they were reeducated and reconnected with the Jewish world. But there is another version of this story which was told among Bukharan Jews themselves. In this version, Bukharan Jewry had long been connected to parts of world Jewry prior to the emissary’s arrival. They had great Torah scholars in every generation. They followed the customs of the Persian Jews, which were similar to the customs of the Jews of Yemen. But because those modern historians who wrote the history of Bukharan Jewry and the emissary episode had their own biased view of the way Jewish history should be written, the alternative version was ignored.
         In 1897, Elkan Adler, son of Britain’s chief Rabbi, traveled to Bukhara and Samarkand and acquired  books from them, many printed hundreds of years earlier. From his list of books acquired, we can see that these Jews had connections with the rest of world Jewry. See his article in JQR, vol. 10 (1898).
         As an alternative to the “center vs. periphery” model, the author suggests that we can perhaps look at Jewish history differently, with an “edah” model. In this model, we can view Judaism as composed of different tribes, each with their own validity.
        Another interesting section raises the issue of what happens when a portion of Bukharan Jewry  moves to Israel? Does the leader of Bukharan Jewry in Israel suddenly become the leader of world Bukharan Jewry and the person that diasporan Bukharan Jewry is supposed to turn to?
        At the conclusion of the book, the author provides a few metaphors to help understand how Jews scattered across the world maintained themselves as a single people.  One metaphor imagines the Jewish people as a rope.  The rope contains diverse strands, all bound together, but each runs only for some portion of its length. Another metaphor imagines a tapestry. The tapestry is made up of interconnected threads of many colors, some of which “run through almost the whole” while some “are threads that hang loose, were snipped off, or morphed into a different form.” The author proposes a different metaphor, a conversation metaphor. Over all periods, Judaism is a continuing “conversation.” “As this conversation unfolds across great distances and historical eras, every given moment carries each preceding moment with it….[and becomes] intimately connected to each party’s sense of who they are in the world...”
         The author is exceptionally talented. Every serious student of Jewish history should read this book. The author teaches at Case Western Reserve University and is the sister of Dr. Benjamin Cooper of Teaneck. The book was published by Indiana University Press in 2012.
Mitchell First can be reached at He limits his travel to reading books. He once stayed for many months on Rechov Ha-Bukharim in Jerusalem. He had no idea of the interesting background to this street name!