Thursday, June 30, 2005

Words of Prayer

I'm not one to normally quote Heschel, but Richard John Neuhaus quotes this great story from Abraham Joshua Heschel:
Heschel had a great appreciation of the embodiment of truth in tradition. He was fond of telling the story of a woman who approached him in the synagogue, complaining that the service did not say what she wanted to say. "Madam," he responded, "you have it precisely backwards. The idea is not for the service to say what you want to say but for you to want to say what the service says."

New Feature

Readers can now sign up for the Hirhurim Yahoo Group to receive new Hirhurim posts as either individual e-mails or daily digests.

Slifkin's Big Lie

Last night, R. Natan (Nosson) Slifkin spoke in Brooklyn on the subject of "The Terror of Dinosaurs: Confronting the Challenges of Creation, Dinosaurs, and the Age of the Universe." During his speech, he said that everything he was saying can be found in his book. I may be mistaken, but I think I heard something that is not in his book The Science of Torah.

R. Slifkin asked why God created the dinosaurs. What was the point of creating and then destroying them, long before people came onto the scene? Good question! This can, and has, been asked about the vast universe and the extensive ecosystems in far corners of the earth that only experts know even exist.

[WARNING: Spoiler here. Don't read this if you are going to hear R. Slifkin speak on this topic.]

R. Slifkin had an excellent answer about dinoaurs, albeit admitting that we can only speculate about God's reasons for such things. He first pointed out that the various theories about the extinction of dinosaurs, whether through meteors or other catastrophic events, would all be described in contemporary terminology as acts of God. Indeed, I can attest from my insurance training that standard insurance policies would not cover a global destruction caused by a meteor striking the earth.

Just like many empires that rose and fell, the dinosaurs mightily ruled the earth for a long time and, by an act of God, were quickly destroyed. It is He who controls whose reign will rise and whose will fall. The message of humility and mortality from the extinction of the powerful dinosaurs is quite striking, and I thank R. Slifkin for making me aware of this excellent mussar lesson.

Pesak and Heresy

R. Hayim Elazar Shapira, the Munkaczer Rebbe in the early twentieth century, was asked about studying kabbalah. He answered (Minhas Elazar 1:50) that in this pre-messianic era we must study it, especially one who desires to. However, he adds, the proper way to go about doing this is to first study the important introductory works such as Sha'arei Orah and Shomer Emunim. He cautions, though:
But in the end of Shomer Emunim, regarding Providence, one should skip [this section]. It is forbidden to read it. May [the author's] Master forgive him for this stumbling block, that he made generalities and details about Providence, with specifics against our belief in Individual Providence from God on every single detail. However, the rest of his book is pleasant and appropriate to enlighten...
This is quite an astounding statement. The Minhas Elazar found a section in Shomer Emunim, a classic work on kabbalah (mentioned in Shem Ha-Gedolim), that he considered heretical. However, he did not suggest that the book be burned or banned. He did not determine that the author was a heretic. Instead, he concluded that the book is wonderful and readers should just skip the objectionable section.

I believe that this is another example of my conclusion in my review essay of Dr. Marc Shapiro's book (PDF), that a posek can decide that an idea that was once legitimately held is now deemed heretical. This does not invalidate those who held the idea in the past, but does invalidate those who hold it today. Granted, though, other decisors can differ with the Minhas Elazar's conclusion. He was, in his time, known as one wont to oppose many relatively mainstream views.

POSTSCRIPT: At the end of last volume of Minhas Elazar there are later additions by the author to his earlier responsa. To this responsum, the Minhas Elazar added:
I did not write these words from my heart [i.e. I did not make them up]. Do not be surprised, my friend, if you find similar views to [the Shomer Emunim] regarding Providence in books that preceded him. The tradition I received from tzaddikim and hassidim, that is received from our teachers and my grandfather [the Bnei Yissaschar], is that one should skip [this section]...

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Spectator Sports

Avodah Zarah 18b (Soncino translation):
Our Rabbis taught: One should not go to theaters or circuses because entertainments are arranged there in honor of the idols. This is the opinion of R. Meir. But the Sages say: Where such entertainments are given there is the prohibition of being suspected of idolatrous worship, and where such entertainment is not given the prohibition is because of being in 'the seat of the scornful.'
According to the Sages, there are two reasons to prohibit attending theaters and circuses: 1) the idolatrous practices that were attendant at ancient celebrations, 2) Moshav letzim, "the seat of the scornful," which is a phrase taken from the first verse of Psalms. This latter reason seems to apply even when there is no idolatrous aspect to the proceedings (see the Rashash's gloss to Rashi, sv. nasa ve-nasan). This point is made further by the Magen Avraham (224:3) who prohibits attending theaters and circuses run by Jews, that entirely lack idolatry (cf. MA 338:8).

What does it mean to be in "the seat of the scornful"? One might be tempted to say that it refers to wasting time rather than studying Torah. However, the Maharsham (glosses to Shulhan Arukh 224:1) states that this prohibition applies to women, who are not obligated in consistent Torah study. Clearly, it refers to being in an inappropriate environment, as the Seder Ya'akov (Avodah Zarah, ad loc.) elaborates.

With all this in mind, is it permissible for any of us to go to the theater, circus or even a sporting event (as a spectator)? Every rabbi with whom I have discussed this seriously told me not to pursue the issue further. In other words, they have no good answer but don't want to say not to go. Last year, word came out of Lakewood that kollel families should not go to circuses. This was roundly mocked (or, perhaps, "scorned"), but sounded to me quite reasonable. That is, after all, the standard halakhah.

R. Asher Meir, the Jewish Ethicist, tackles this issue and also doesn't really have a good answer.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Slifkin in Brooklyn II

Reminder: Rabbi Natan Slifkin will be speaking tonight and tomorrow night at the Young Israel of Flatbush, Ave. I & Coney Island Ave. at 8pm (more info here).

I will BE"H be there both nights.

Abortion IV

Haaretz has an article about the new issue of Tehumin.
An article that appears in the latest volume of the halakhic journal, Tehumin, argues to the contrary: "Most poskim [halakhic arbiters] in our generation have permitted the aborting of a fetus, even when there is no danger to the mother." The author of the article, Rabbi Moshe Tzuriel, a former mashgiah ruhani (spiritual mentor) at the Sha'alabim hesder yeshiva, argues, "It is incorrect to state unequivocally and authoritatively that the ban [on abortion] is absolute," and that in a case of a disagreement among poskim, it is appropriate in this case to follow those with a permissive approach.

Among the prominent poskim who in certain cases permitted aborting a fetus that will develop a severe illness is the late head of the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva, Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli - who permitted abortion due to the great anguish that may lie ahead for the parents "who will see the fruit of their womb suffering and living a life that is not a life"; a former member of the Supreme Rabbinical Court, Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg and the head of the Institute of Halacha and Technology, Rabbi Levy Yitzhak Halperin.

The article, which will certainly prompt quite a bit more controversy, appeared in the 25th volume of Tehumin.
This is not new or controversial.

The Spies and the News

I saw that R. Yehuda Henkin (Hibah Yeseirah on Numbers 13:31, in the back of Bnei Banim vol. 2 p. 67) has a very interesting insight into the story of the Spies. The Spies returned from touring the land of Israel and reported to Moses and the nation (Numbers 13):
27 Then they told him, and said: "We went to the land where you sent us. It truly flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. 28 Nevertheless the people who dwell in the land are strong; the cities are fortified and very large; moreover we saw the descendants of Anak there. 29 The Amalekites dwell in the land of the South; the Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the mountains; and the Canaanites dwell by the sea and along the banks of the Jordan."

30 Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said, "Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it."

31 But the men (anashim) who had gone up with him said, "We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we." 32 And they gave the children of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, "The land through which we have gone as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great stature. 33 There we saw the giants (the descendants of Anak came from the giants); and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight."
R. Henkin points out that even after reporting both good and bad about the land, and after Caleb's opposing interjection, the Torah (v. 31) still refers to the Spies as "anashim" (men). Rashi, on 13:2, explains that the word "anashim" (men) implies importance: "Anashim in Scripture always refers to distinction. At that time they were righteous." Since, even after giving their report, the Spies are again called "anashim," by implication they were still righteous at that time! It was only afterwards, when they gave their opinion that the nation could not conquer the land and then exaggerated (or lied) to support their viewpoint, that they sinned by giving a "bad report."

Their offering of a balanced report and even their honest evaluation of the possibility of conquering the land was not sinful. It was their subsequent exaggeration to support their point that was their sin. Gathering intelligence is allowed. Honest reporting of the information is permitted. However, analyzing the facts in anything other than an entirely honest fashion is a great sin.

Aggada Index

Lamed directs us to an index of commentaries on Talmudic aggados by the Halacha Brura Institute.

This is a great idea. However, looking at the list of books utilized in creating the index, and seeing that neither Moreh Nevukhim, Sefer Ha-Ikkarim nor Or Hashem were used, makes me question the list's value.

Monday, June 27, 2005

New Azure

Azure is trying something new. In addition to putting its entire journal on its website, it has just started e-mailing advance PDFs of the journal to select contacts (I don't know how many are on the list, but I am). Very cool!

I haven't had a chance to read it, but I'll post the table of contents below. Right now, three things look very interesting: An article by Natan Sharansky (one of the few living heroes the Jewish people has) about the political legacy of Theodor Herzl, an article by someone I don't know about Rosenzweig and Heidegger, and a letter from R. Aaron Levine about halakhah, globalization and Nike's business practices.

Table of Contents:

Ella Florsheim - Giving Herzl His Due
Alain Finkielkraut - The Religion of Humanity and the Sin of the Jews: Europeans remake the Jews in their own image.
Yoram Hazony - Judaism and the Modern State: Why Hobbes learned Hebrew.
Dan Diker - A Return to Defensible Borders: Time to revive the classic security concept.
Natan Sharansky - The Political Legacy of Theodor Herzl: Before the melting pot, a differentvision of the Jewish state.
Robert S. Wistrich - Cruel Britannia: Anti-Semitism in Britain has gone mainstream.
Samuel G. Freedman - Golden State Warriors: GI Jews by Deborah Dash Moore and Company C by Haim Watzman
Jerome E. Copulsky - Star-Crossed: Rosenzweig and Heidegger by Peter Eli Gordon
Jonathan Marks - Shades of Enlightenment: The Roads to Modernity by Gertrude Himmelfarb
Jerome A. Chanes - American Idyll: American Judaism by Jonathan D. Sarna
Tod Lindberg - Getting to Denmark: State-Building by Francis Fukuyama
Correspondence - Robert Bork, Aaron Levine, and others.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

The Sayings of Baruch

I wrote this a few months ago and submitted it to a magazine, and it was recently rejected. So here it is. Please do not insult the subject of this review in the comments. Thank you.

The Sayings of Baruch: A Contemporary Experiment in Moral Education

A Review of Rabbi Baruch Simon's Imrei Baruch (Hebrew; Privately published, New York, 2004) [To order, call the Beigeleisen store: 718-436-1165]

The educational obligations of a Jewish parent or teacher towards a child go far beyond merely teaching "Reading, Writing and Arithmetic" and even past instruction in the study of Torah. In addition to the above, or perhaps prior to it, a young Jew must be taught two things -- how to be a mentsch and how to be a Yid. The latter includes training a student to be an observant Jew, dedicated to the fulfillment of his religious obligations in letter and in spirit. This is no small task, and is something with which parents and teachers often struggle. The former, however, is so fundamental that it is all too often overlooked. It involves enabling a student to grow into an emotionally mature and ethical person, something that is frequently taken as guaranteed in the Orthodox Jewish community but, as studies and anecdotal evidence demonstrate, incorrectly so. Other than modeling this behavior so that children and students can observe and, hopefully, emulate it, what can parents and teachers do to instill mentschlichkeit, basic interpersonal ethics, in their charges?

Contemporary educational experts have arrived at a number of different experimental techniques for doing so, but these experts were long preceded by others who were very concerned with just this question and who experimented with techniques. They were the nineteenth century Mussarites, starting with Rabbi Israel Salanter and continuing with his disciples and followers. Rabbi Israel, an exemplar of the scholarly talmudic tradition, believed in the necessity of experimentation to find the ideal methods to train people – both children and adults – in the art of devotion to religious and interpersonal ideals. The methods of Rabbi Israel and his disciples were legendary and infamous, sometimes yielding phenomenal success and other times abysmal failure. Most importantly, though, they revealed a profound concern for moral education and an openness to any educational technique that will yield results. Unfortunately, the Holocaust all but ended the experimentation of the Mussar Movement and its legendary institutions of higher learning. In the aftermath of this decimation, the moral education of children fell second to the more basic needs of individual and communal survival. However, many now recognize that this neglect has gone on for too long and valiant efforts must be made to reinstate moral education to its important position.

One of the dilemmas of ethical instruction is the paradox that the very same growing independence of early adulthood that provides a need for ethical guidance also creates tension between young men and women and their would-be instructors. The dilemmas of the late teen years are not related only to ethical matters, but they are frequently potentially life-altering as they define who this person will be for the rest of his life. My own such dilemma, which might initially seem unrelated to this topic but is actually quite relevant, occurred in my senior year of high school, a decade and a half ago. My parents wished me to go to the prestigious Columbia University and I desired to attend the less distinguished but still highly respected Yeshiva University. This was not merely a debate about which school I would attend but what path I would take in life – how far to the "religious right" I would move – and we all recognized this. My dispute with my parents was respectful but intractable. Neither I, the stubborn teenager, nor they, the worried parents, would budge. And then, with an unexpected suddenness, a conclusion was reached with the help of an unanticipated and unwitting ally.

I went with my family to Boston for a weekend to attend the bar mitzvah of a cousin at the Young Israel of Brookline. That same Shabbat, a young rabbi from Yeshiva University was the scholar in residence, a man whose name I recognized as being the same as a counselor in the Torah-study camp some friends of mine had attended. After the bar mitzvah festivities, I easily convinced my obliging father to accompany me to an afternoon lecture given by this young scholar on the intricate laws of the building of mikvas. The speech was dazzling, articulate, well over both of our heads but still impactful. After the lecture, I told my father that despite the vibrant Jewish life at Columbia, I would never become anything like this young scholar unless I attend Yeshiva. And that was the end of the discussion. This young rabbi, who later became a friend and a mentor, who unwittingly enabled me to spend the most formative years of my life in Yeshiva University, is named Baruch Simon.

Rabbi Simon is a walking encyclopedia of obscure rabbinic texts. When I entered Yeshiva, Rabbi Simon was still known simply as "Baruch" and was, in the study hall (the "beis medrash"), the local address for difficult talmudic questions. Inevitably, he had already seen every question in one book or another and had the answer offered by that book's author ready at his fingertips. He was not only the answerer of tough questions, he was also the gentle-mannered encourager of budding scholars, always ready with a smile and a kind, heartening word at every hour of the day and night. To his friends –- and later students, Rabbi Simon was the perfect model of a humble confidence, the mark of a healthy spirit, and a profound concern for the physical and spiritual well-being of others.

After a number of years teaching in Yeshiva College's affiliated yeshiva study program, Rabbi Simon has finally published some of his Torah insights in a book, conveniently coming to print just weeks before his much anticipated wedding. To my great surprise, this volume is not representative at all of the "Baruch" that I knew. Imrei Baruch on Genesis is not a collection of sharp talmudic insights into textual problems, the kind of book that would have been expected in this day from an established rabbinic figure. It is a bold venture into uncharted territory, a quest for psychological insight from a vast eclectic base of Hasidic, Mussar, Zionist and every other type of rabbinic writing.

Early Hasidic masters were known for their keen psychological insights, often drawn from stories and parables but frequently extracted from Scripture with dubious, neo-Midrashic methodologies that yielded clever adages. Rabbi Simon is, surprisingly, a master of this literature and heavily utilizes such insights into the human condition that remain relevant today. With the unfortunate absence of an index of sources I can only estimate that the most frequently quoted text is Kedushat Levi of the Hasidic master Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev. This is most unexpected in the writings of an instructor in a traditional Lithuanian-style yeshiva. But neither Yeshiva University nor Rabbi Simon are typical.

One of the innovations of the traditional Mussar proponents, such as the brilliant prodigies Rabbi Israel Salanter and Rabbi Isaac Blaser, was the appropriation of talmudic methodologies and applying them to theological concepts. The lecture style of seemingly unsolvable talmudic questions and brilliant flashes of insight were applied to afterlife, reward and punishment, repentance and other related topics. In this way, they allowed the sharp minds of yeshiva students to excitedly meditate on their obligations in this world and, presumably, act accordingly. This was modified by later Mussarists and eventually evolved into a style of streaming midrashic interpretations, one leading into another and all emphasizing an abstract character trait such as modesty or humility.

Rabbi Simon weaves together these two methodologies into an entirely new tapestry. He imports the very sensitive and penetrating Hasidic insights – and many culled from non-Hasidic material – into a traditional yeshiva lecture so that he ends up reflecting on the pitfalls that lie ahead of students in a question and answer format full of exciting challenges and ingenious solutions. What was Noah's great flaw that led him astray? Seamlessly navigating from one text to another, Rabbi Simon explains that Noah lacked self-confidence in his own achievements. Why was Abraham so successful in spreading his message of monotheism? As demonstrated from multiple rabbinic texts, Abraham maintained a high level of personal consistency with his religio-ethical teachings that exuded sincerity. The relevance of such insights to young students is obvious, but established adults also need to be reminded of such fundamental messages.

That traditional talmudic methodologies are being used to transmit such important psychological and behavioral messages not only adds to their religious impact but also transforms the study of Torah into a process of personal and ethical maturation. In this way, Rabbi Simon addresses the need of ethical instruction by taking tried and true talmudic styles of teaching and using them to offer psychological and ethical insights into the daily dilemmas of his avid listeners. If coming from someone with clear emotional or ethical flaws, these essays would seem contrived, a false piety. However, combined with the honest model of their author, the lectures pierce straight through to the listening heart.

However, eclectic works such as this, regardless of the value of their message, are rarely worth reading. They too frequently clumsily unite concepts that are theologically incompatible, resulting in a hodgepodge that solves the author's immediate problems but inadvertently, and often ignorantly, create much larger problems. The importation of Hasidic concepts into foreign systems of thought is particularly fraught with peril. Many have tried this route and failed. Those who have succeeded, such as Rabbi Abraham Kook and Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, have very consciously attended to these thorny problems.

Rabbi Simon, however, cleverly sidesteps this entire issue by ignoring metaphysics, much like the philosophy departments of most universities today. Major theological issues are not at the forefront of Imrei Baruch and, indeed, with one exception (Providence) are entirely absent. Instead, Rabbi Simon stays fairly consistently on his main topic – the developmental issues of a Torah-dedicated Jew. By doing this, he avoids the conflicting theologies of his sources and utilizes only the ideas that relate to the universal phenomena of the human condition.

As the introduction states, the generally short essays were taken from Rabbi Simon's lectures to his students at Yeshiva. A quick perusal of the very detailed table of contents (that almost makes up for the inexplicable lack of a subject index) reveals that these essays are not random rabbinic ramblings but very relevant insights for students and adults of today's generation. One is not surprised by the repeated emphasis on the importance of studying Torah, something with which students struggling with the double curriculum of Yeshiva must grapple, as must adults working full-time jobs but still desiring to grow in Torah scholarship. Nor is one surprised at the importance given to the land of Israel in Rabbi Simon's thought. However, other topics that receive treatment are less expected, such as the obligation to recognize and appreciate what others have done for you; the importance of consistency in behavior; the need to act pleasantly to others; managing spiritually with wealth and plenitude; and, particularly emphasized, the value in accomplishments that are achieved through great difficulty and patience.

I remember one time in yeshiva, a particularly proud moment for me, when I had solved a question posed by the formidable R. Aryeh Leib Gunzberg, the "Shages Aryeh." When the enormity of my accomplishment had dawned on me, and I failed to find a flaw in my proposed solution, I took it to the one person who could verify the achievement – "Baruch." The mind that evaluates the most complex talmudic arguments has devoted his first book not to the important area of talmudic research but to the more critical area of personal development. That, in itself, is a statement of the author's priorities in life and in his unstated goal of educating his students in derech eretz, something even more primary than Torah. By modeling a healthy and ethical life and creatively lecturing on the methods of growth into such a person, Rabbi Simon is creating a lasting impact on his students. Readers of this book who have never met the author will be moved by it, and those who know him will be transformed.

Friday, June 24, 2005


I'm still trying to figure out why the blog has this big empty space in it.

--Fixed, more or less.

Professor Nahum Sarna

Menachem Butler reports that Prof. Nahum Sarna has passed away.

Life Insurance

From Bi-Mehitzas Rabbeinu Ha-Ga'on Rabbi Ya'akov Kamenetsky (Feldheim: 2005) by R. Moshe Tzvi Jacobs, p. 160:
Over the years our rabbi held a life insurance policy worth $5,000 for his wife's sake. When he reached the age of 80, he calculated that, because of his age, it was not worth it for him to continue the policy. He cancelled the policy and gave his wife the money returned to him due to the cancellation. In addition to this, every year he also gave her the premium he would have otherwise paid to the insurance company.

Readers should be wary about most books like this. However, this book comes with a haskamah from R. Shmuel Kamenetsky and, according to the introduction, was reviewed entirely by R. Daniel Neustadt, who married R. Ya'akov Kamenetsky's granddaughter and is the editor of the Emes Le-Ya'akov series.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Maharsha Index

I was in a bookstore today and saw what I think is a new book - Me'oros Ha-Maharsha (I can't remember the author's name and, bizarrely, it has no publication date). It is a topical index, really a collection of excerpts indexed to topic, of the Maharsha's voluminous commentary to the Talmud. I did not buy it (this time) but it seems that a book like that is way overdue. It should make for some interesting and important studies into the Maharsha's worldview.


Let me offer readers the secret to a successful hagbahah, lifting of an open Torah scroll after (for Ashkenazim) completing its reading. Make sure that, before you lift it, the scroll is already open as much as you want it to be and completely taut. If you do that correctly, the actual lifting is a piece of cake.

daat y adds: Also, pull the sefer Torah down some and then lift. (shorter lever-physics principle)

Downloading Music

I have been asked a number of time to write about the downloading of music from the internet. So here are my thoughts, albeit not accompanied with the usual citations. The reason for that is that, more than most other posts, this is not something on which I want to give the impression of offering a definitive position. Ask your rabbi about this. The following are just my musings:

I think the issue boils down to two points, the latter for which there are three positions.

I. Dina De-Malkhusa Dina

Generally speaking, albeit with many details and exceptions, the law of the government is religiously binding on Jews based on the Talmudic principle of Dina De-Malkhusa Dina -- the law of the land is law. Since downloading music (without permission) is illegal, it should therefore be prohibited.

However, the principle of Dina De-Malkhusa Dina only applies to laws that are enforced. Obscure rules that happen to be on the books but no one follows and the government does not even bother to enforce are not religiously binding. For example, I have witnessed more than once R. Hershel Schachter cross the street (while walking) against a red light when there are no cars coming. Is that technically illegal? Is it enforced? Not in New York; everybody does it. While "everybody does it" is not an excuse to violate a religious law, unenforced governmental laws are entirely different.

When it comes to copying tapes and CDs for personal use (as opposed to copying them for sale, i.e. bootlegging), there is absolutely no enforcement of the "no copying" rule. Furthermore, I am not aware of anyone who was sued for copying CDs and giving them away to some friends. That seems to be entirely unenforced. In my limited knowledge, downloading music illegally is similarly unenforced, with the exception of a few high profile lawsuits a few years ago. If that is the case, it would seem that Dina De-Malkhusa Dina does not apply.

II. Halakhic Copyright Violations

Since secular law seems to offer no practical position on this issue, it moves to the hahakhic realm. If halakhah also provides no barrier, then downloading music without permission would be permissible. This issue was made most famous in regard to copying tapes. After I purchase a tape and it belongs to me, am I allowed to make copies of my tape for my friends? After all, once I buy the tape it is mine to do with as I wish. If I want to smash it to pieces or throw it off the Brooklyn Bridge, I can. So why can't I copy it? On this, I have heard three positions from my rabbe'im.

1. The tape is mine and I can copy it if I want. Conditions that some companies put on the sale, that if I copy it the sale is void, are just plain silly. What that means is that I can buy a tape or CD, copy it, and then return it to the store and demand my money back because the sale is void. I have heard this in the name of important contemporary posekim, but I will not name them unless I know that they have expressed this position in writing.

2. I have heard in the name of R. Moshe Feinstein that there is a separate problem of causing financial harm to another. Copying/downloading per se is not problematic. However, if it reduces a company's sales then it is considered causing damage and, therefore, prohibited. Anyone even remotely familiar with the current state of the music industry knows that illegal copying and downloading has caused huge financial damage to the entire industry. Therefore, copying/downloading is only permitted if you would otherwise not buy the tape/CD. Presumably, if you aren't sure then you should be strict. This approach is that taken by R. Yisroel Belsky.

3. R. Zalman Nehemiah Goldberg, in an article in Tehumin that I have somewhere in my files but cannot currently find, posits that sellers can retain certain right to the objects that they sell. In other words, a company can sell you a CD but not sell you the right to copy it or post it to the internet. Therefore, copying it or posting it is actual theft of the company's portion of the CD.

In conclusion, there seem to me to be three positions regarding illegally downloading music from the internet. Assuming that the government does not enforce the law against it, halakhah either permits it entirely, allows it only if you would otherwise not buy the music, or entirely prohibits it. So ask your rabbi.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Limits of Orthodox Theology V

Following up from this post, it seems my review essay of Marc Shapiro's book is now available for free online:

Course in Mussar

A new session of "The Course in Mussar" begins October 30, 2005. Registration is limited and now open.

The curriculum of The Course in Mussar focuses on cultivating some of the most important soul-traits, including patience, gratitude, generosity, equanimity, silence, trust and truth.

Here is what participants in previous sessions have said about their experience:

"This Mussar Course has been a wonderful development for me. My heart and soul are both more aware, and for this I am grateful!" – Y.W., New Jersey

"This work is truly food for my soul" – L.G., Marin, CA

"This process has been incredibly rich, far exceeding my expectations." – T.L., Seattle, WA

"The course is powerful and exactly what I need at this time in my life." – J.C., Winnipeg, MB

The Course in Mussar includes:

- weekly readings and personalized practice assignments
- regular participation in a small Mussar support group (va'ad), face-to-face if locally available, otherwise by telephone
- another student as a learning partner (chevruta)
- periodic interactive progress reports
- 2 thirty-minute personal one-on-one conversations and guidance with Alan Morinis or another experienced Mussar guide

See here for more details.


Last week, I was asked why I believe. So here are my thoughts:

1. You have to differentiate between difficulties and doubts. There is no easy way to identify something as a doubt or a difficulty, but when you have enough difficulties they cumulatively turn into doubts. The more I learn Torah, the more truth I find and the less significant the difficulties that I have become. I believe in the general structure of Torah -- Torah She-Bi-Khsav, Torah She-Be-Al Peh, the need for commandments and a structure to conservatively develop halakhah over time (this last point is confusing and requires elaboration; I contend that almost everyone would agree with it if said in the right way). I see the profundity in even the most obscure aspects of Torah and the multiple ways of reading the Torah. I delight in the creativity of the greatest Torah scholars of all generations, and the relative intellectual freedom that they had to be so creative. Of the people I have seen lose faith, they usually spend day and night thinking about the difficulties and nothing else, so that these problems grow in their minds into insurmountable barriers. If they would take a step back and look at the big picture, the difficulties would shrink in perspective.

2. Humility. When I was in yeshiva, I was the katan she-ba-haburah (the least of the group). Commenters and readers here like to congratulate me on my blogging brilliance but I know better. I know where my "peers" are and how great they have grown. I left yeshiva at the age of 22; some are still in yeshiva, learning and teaching strong. I have been fortunate enough to have spent time with some truly brilliant students and scholars, many of them with very different skills and interests, and to see how frumkeit need not be sacrificed for intellectual curiosity and creativity. Yes, all of the people of whom I am thinking have very different paths in life and have often reached very different conclusions in their thinking. That is part of my point. I have been blessed by having seen and been taught multiple paths in Torah. That, alone, solves most problems that frum people face.

Additionally, time and again over my short life, I have faced difficulties that I thought were unsolvable, only later to discover a solution. Sometimes it took a few years, sometimes days. Sometimes I just had to ask someone while other times I searched through libraries. I have been convinced enough times that something was wrong, only to be later convinced that it is correct, to develop patience and humility. Some things are entirely false and some problems are unsolvable. But my inability to solve a problem is not a definitive evaluation.

3. Proofs. I don't need to prove Judaism. Personally, I have never been interested in the whole "Age of the Universe" or Evolution issues, even if you would not be able to know that from reading this blog. It is not even a difficulty for me, certainly not a doubt. But I don't believe any single proof that I have seen for Judaism. I remember once in college, a professor, R. Asher Ziv (whom I've been informed is still alive and well and was recently spotted in Teaneck), quoted an article in an old journal that supposedly proved the Divine origin of the Torah. So, using the wonderful library resources that YU has, I tracked down the article to finally have proof to present to others. Nothing. The same old arguments that don't stand up to critical questioning.

The closest thing that I have found to a proof, really more of an argument, is the existence of the Jewish people after thousands of years. It is, indeed, quite stunning. I know, plenty of arguments can be given, not least of which is that the changing of a national name does not mean that the people have disappeared off the face of the earth. Still, with all that considered, it is still quite amazing. Sociological reasons just don't sufficiently explain it.

More importantly, I am not an empiricist. I believe in things that cannot be proven, because to do otherwise is absurd. Proof has high standards that cannot always be reached. But just because something cannot be proven does not mean that it is not true. Ask any prosecuting attorney. Additionally, there is more than one way to learn things. Rational thought is only one way. Intuition and emotion are important methods that we all use in arriving at truth (see this post), even if we like to pretend that we are purely rational beings.
I think the following excerpt from an essay by R. Aharon Lichtenstein is worth quoting. It can be found in his Leaves of Faith, vol. 2 p. 365-367 and is also in The Jewish Action Reader:
Newman has emphasized the difference between difficulty and doubt, noting that of all his beliefs, the existence of God was the most fraught with philosophical questions, and yet none was borne in his mind and heart with greater certitude. This is the crucial distinction between judging faith and its tenets as an outsider or probing its contents while firmly ensconced within. The bulwark of my mentors' support assured that my own situation would be the latter: Tuv ta'am ve-da'at lamdeni ki be-mitzvotekha he'emanti (Tehillim 119:65). Answers, I of course continued -- and continue -- to seek, and have found many. But commitment has not been conditioned upon them. I have never been attracted to fideism and I regard Tertullian's credo quia absurdum est as alien to the spirit of Judaism. Clearly, however, faith cannot be contingent upon having all the answers. Its essence is implied in Rav Yohanan's rejoinder to a student who had initially ridiculed a palpably implausible statement but who then recanted upon finding empirical support for it: "Ne'er-do-well, had you not seen, you would not have believed. You ridicule the words of the wise" (Bava Batra 75a)...

The greatest source of faith, however, has been the Ribbono shel Olam Himself.

At the level of rational demonstration, this is, of course, patently circular... Existentially, however, nothing has been more authentic than the encounter with Avinu Malkeinu, the source and ground of all being. Nothing more sustaining, nothing more strengthening, nothing more vivifying...

This will obviously provide too little guidance for those to whom attaining encounter is precisely the problem. To those "struggling to develop faith," one can, however, proffer first the reassuring assertion of the religious significance of the quest per se, as, in the footsteps of Avraham Avinu, they have already become mevakshei Hashem; second, the prospective hope of successful resolution, as "The Lord is good until them that yearn for Him, to the soul that seeketh Him" (Eikhah 3:25); and third, the counsel to focus persistently, in terms of coleridge's familiar distinction, upon faith rather than belief, upon experiential trust, dependence and submission more than upon catechical dogmatics. Intellectual assent is normative and essential; but, at the personal level, it is generally not the key. In the final analysis, the primary human source of faith is faith itself.

Solomon and the Disengagement

There was an article a few days ago in Haaretz by Dr. Mordechai Cogan, an associate professor of Jewish History at Hebrew University. He points to an interesting, and briefly mentioned, biblical transfer of land from Jewish to Gentile control:
[T]here is one recorded incident in which an entire section of land was transferred to foreign rule.

King Solomon transferred "20 cities in the land of the Galilee" to Hiram King of Tyre (1 Kings 9:11-13), apparently in order to erase the debt he owed Hiram for his assistance in building the Temple. These were 20 cities with their land and their inhabitants - the entire Acre Valley up to Rosh Hanikra, which became the property of the Phoenicians. This was recorded in the Tanach without any criticism on the part of the writer of the chronicles of Solomon, and the explanation for that is clear: There is no prohibition whatsoever in the Torah against handing over territories to someone who is not a member of the Israelite nation. The ownership of territories in Eretz Israel by the Jewish nation has always reflected the political and military circumstances of the period.
Dr. Cogan's observation is both cogent and entirely dismissive of the Jewish commentarial tradition that is so important the religious opponents of the Disengagement. Commentators noted two biblical passages that seem to contradict each other:
And it came to pass at the end of twenty years, wherein Solomon had built the two houses, the house of the Lord and the king's house--now Hiram the king of Tyre had furnished Solomon with cedar-trees and cypress-trees, and with gold, according to all his desire--that then king Solomon gave Hiram twenty cities in the land of Galilee. And Hiram came out from Tyre to see the cities which Solomon had given him: and they pleased him not. And he said: 'What cities are these which thou hast given me, my brother?' And they were called the land of Cabul, unto this day.
(1 Kings 9:10-13)

And it came to pass at the end of twenty years, wherein Solomon had built the house of the Lord, and his own house, that the cities which Huram had given to Solomon, Solomon built them, and caused the children of Israel to dwell there.
(2 Chronicles 8:1-2
According to 1 Kings, Solomon gave the cities to Hiram/Huram, while according to 2 Chronicles it was the other way around. The standard commentators, chief among them Radak (R. David Kimhi), explain that there was a mutual trade of cities as a show of trust and partnership. Hiram gave Solomon cities and Solomon then transferred other cities back. It was a zero-sum trade in which neither kingdom diminished from its size, and perhaps important is that Hiram gave his cities first.

R. Yitzhak Abrabanel, in his commentary to 1 Kings, disagrees with this interpretation for the following reasons:
- The text should have mentioned both actions together, not in different books.
- Hiram's complaint about the cities he received would have been a slap in Solomon's face, and not a show of friendship.
- Solomon would have had violated a Torah commandment by giving the cities.

Instead, Abrabanel suggests that Solomon annually gave Hiram wheat and oil (cf. 1 Kings 5:25) as payment for his work and material. After the Temple was finished, Solomon designated specific cities in the bountiful Galilees whose output was given directly to Hiram. It is not that their sovereignty was handed over to Hiram, just their annual bounty. Perhaps, Abrabanel suggests, Hiram's servants even worked the fields in those cities. (This is actually a very wise form of risk transfer, but that is another long discussion.)

The point: Dr. Cogan has no proof, certainly not from a traditional perspective of biblical commentary. Quite the opposite: Abrabanel points out the very biblical prohibition that Dr. Cogan is claiming does not exist.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Slabodka and Secular Studies

In the current issue of Jewish Action, R. Pinchas Stolper reviews David Kranzler's biography of R. Solomon Schonfeld titled "Holocaust Hero." I flipped through my in-laws' copy of the book soon after it was published and found the following surprising fact:

On page 30, Dr. Kranzler writes that in 1932 or 1933, R. Schonfeld was studying for semikhah in a yeshiva in Slabodka (I think Knesses Yisrael) and, simultaneously, studying for a doctorate in a nearby university.


I finally received the newest issue of Jewish Action. Don't they know that bloggers should be at the top of their mailing list, not the bottom? R. Yitzchok Adlerstein (a contributing editor to JA, by the way) seems to have beaten me to the punch on an interesting exchange in the magazine which, oddly enough, has not been uploaded to the magazine's website.

A letter-writer, Howard Shapiro in the name of R. Chaim Eisen, makes some strong points against Dr. Nathan Aviezer's approach of reconciling Torah and science:
Since we can only observe "customary conjunction" (i.e., correlation) but can never definitively establish causality, the ultimate causes of natural phenomena must remain scientifically unknowable. Historically, this conclusion had been manifest repeatedly, as one hypothesis supersedes a hitherto universally accepted, successful one, only to give way in turn to another, in the relentless and endless evolution of modern science. As Thomas S. Kuhn (and many others) amply demonstrated, the historical development of scientific understanding is predominantly through such destructive succession rather than mere accumulation of knowledge and theories... Every scientific paradigm is provisional by definition.
Dr. Aviezer replies:
Every competent scientist can distinguish between the more speculative theories and those that are firmly anchored by a vast array of scientific evidence. The latter have an excellent record for longevity. For example, since their inception nearly a century ago, the theory of relativity and quantum theory have enjoyed unqualified success in explaining hundreds of diverse phenomena.

The excellent track record of well-established scientific theories was emphasized by Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg (Dreams of a Final Theory [New York, 1993], 102):

One can imagine a category of experiments that refute well-accepted scientific theories that have become part of the standard consensus of physicists. Under this category, there are no examples whatsoever in the past hundred years.

Since not a single well-established scientific theory has been refuted within the past hundred years, we can feel confident about the future.
I don't know nothing about this stuff, but Dr. Aviezer seems to be echoing what I wrote in this post about distinguishing between science and pseudo-science.

Judeo-Christian Bioethics

Eric Cohen has an opinion piece in the current issue of First Things titled "A Jewish-Catholic Bioethics?" Basically, he argues that we Jews should be following the Catholic position on bioethical issues.

He starts off with this:
The term "Judeo-Christian" has entered our civic vocabulary for good reason. On many of the deepest issues of human life--the meaning of sex, the dignity of the family, the creation of human beings--Jews and Christians stand together against the secular image of man.
My first reaction was, "Eh, no! We disagree with Catholics on those issues." Then I realized that what he meant was not that Jews and Catholics agree entirely on these issues, but that we disagree with secular approaches. OK. We all agree that we have to acknowledge God's and sanctity's roles in these matters. Call that "Judeo-Christian" if you want but that does not mean that we arrive at the same answer on all, or even many, of the aspects of these topics. Just see R. David M. Feldman's classic Birth Control in Jewish Law for some major distinctions in attitude and in practice.

Jews, Cohen points out, have overwhelmingly supported embryonic stem-cell research--from the Reform through the Orthodox. Some Jews, including R. Yitzchok Breitowitz, are even in favor of reproductive cloning in certain cases.

But Cohen's point seems to be that, regardless of what Jewish tradition indicates and the majority of Jewish experts seem to think, we should be following the Catholic position. He ends:
But on most things that count--including embryo research--faithful Jews should stand alongside their Catholic friends as Judeo-Christians, opposing together the imageless image of man that secularism offers. I only hope that my Jewish friends, for Jewish reasons, will become more reasonable than they sometimes are.
In other words, in order to oppose the secularists, we need to take a religious stance. So let's take the Catholic position. Huh? Let's take the Jewish position, wherever that leads us! Being "Judeo-Christian" is not an end in itself. When it happens that there is a mutual position, we can join forces with our Catholic friends. When not, we respectfully part ways and follow our religion.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Da'as Torah III

Before commenting, please read this excerpt carefully and keep in mind that the author is a brilliant Talmudic scholar, a successful rosh yeshiva and a profound thinker. In a short phrase, his answer is "Yes, but..."

Previous posts on this topic can be found here, here and here.

R. Aharon Lichtenstein, "Legitimization of Modernity: Classical and Contemporary" in Leaves of Faith (Ktav: 2004), vol. 2 pp. 294-298:
[T]here are many apologists who contend that the primary issues are matters of haskafah [Jewish thought rather than practice], to which authority per se is far less relevant, and with respect to which classical sources are arguably self-sufficient. This brings us to the familiar shibboleth of da'at Torah. This concept is generally in disrepute among votaries of modern Orthodoxy, who have sought to challenge both its historical progeny and its philosophic validity. I must confess that I find myself, in principle, more favorably disposed to the idea. I readily concede that the concept, in its more overarching permutatioins, is of relatively recent vintage...

Moreover, I freely concede that one's faith in the concept is periodically put to a severe test. As but one instance, the doyen of [then-]current rashei yeshiva, R. [Elazar Mann] Schach, proves the value of Torah as the self-sufficient repository of all knowledge by asking, rhetorically: "Whence did Hazal know that the earth was forty-two times larger than the moon, and that the sun was approximately one-hundred-and-seventy times larger than the earth (as explained in the Rambam, Hilkhot Yesodei Hatorah 3:8), if not from the power of the Torah?"[24] In raising this question, he is wholly oblivious not only to the rudiments of astronomy but also of the fact that the selfsame Rambam explicitly states, with respect to these very issues, that they are beyond the pale of Hazal's authority:
Do not ask of me to show that everything they have said concerning astronomical matters conforms to the way things really are. For at that time mathematics were imperfect. They did not speak about this as transmitters of dicta of the prophets, but rather because in those times they were men of knowledge in these fields or because they had heard these dicta from the men of knowledge who lived in those times.[25]
To my mind, the strain is palpable.

Nevertheless, I find the alternative view, that gedolei Torah are professional experts whose authority and wisdom can ordinarily be regarded as confined to the area of their technical proficiency, simply inconceivable. Our abiding historical faith in the efficacy of Torah as a pervasive, ennobling, informing, and enriching force dictates adoption of the concept of da'at Torah in some form or measure. Still, contrary to the historical course of the idea, I find it less applicable today than heretofore. At a time when many gedolim do not spring organically from the dominant Jewish community to whose apex they rise, and instead distance themselves from it; and when the ability to understand and communicate in a shared cultural or even verbal language is, by design, limited, the capacity of even a gadol to intuit the sociohistorical dynamics of his ambient setting is almost inevitably affected. And while the quasi-mystical element of Sod Hashem Li-Yrei'av U-Veriso Le-Hodi'am [the secrets of the Lord are for His fearers, and His covenant to inform them] always remains applicable, that, too, presumably is not wholly independent of circumstances...

These considerations aside, however, even if it were wholly licit to sever all links with contemporary gedolim... such a course would be grossly mistaken... A person, and not only the ordinary layman, needs a gavra rabba [great person], to serve in part as a role-model if possible, and in part as a realization of what Whitehead called "the vision of greatness"; to lift one's sights and aspirations -- extending the bounds of what he strives to achieve, and suffusing him with appreciation and admiration for what he senses he cannot achieve; to guide, on the one hand, and inhibit, on the other. This is not a matter of popular hagiolatry or Carlylean hero-worship. It is a spiritual necessity, all the more so within our tradition, for which an adam gadol [great man] is the embodiment of the mesorah [tradition], and of Torah she-b'al-peh [the Oral Law].
[24]Rav E.M. Schach, quoted in Toda'ah 48:2 (Nissan 5752).
[25] Guide of the Perplexed, trans. S. Pines, III:14; p. 459. The question raised by the passage is self-evident; but the Rambam's position, in any event, is clear.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Slifkin in Queens

In addition to his two appearances in Flatbush, R. Natan Slifkin will also be speaking at the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills on Wednesday, July 6th at 8pm. Admission is tentatively set at $10.

Please spread the word.

If I Were Called Before A Jerusalem Beis Din...

Let's say that I, living in Brooklyn, have a disagreement with someone living in Lakewood. He feels that I have acted improperly and, therefore, contacts a Beis Din (religious court) in Jerusalem and has them summon me to a civil trial. I believe that I have acted properly and question why he went to a Beis Din all the way in Jerusalem. Here are my options:

1. I can assume, probably naively, that he went to a Jerusalem Beis Din, rather than one in Brooklyn, Lakewood or anywhere in between, out of some Zionist fervor and submit to their ruling. I would then have to fly out to Israel and stay there throughout the civil trial, hoping that they do not have some unusual policy that makes them more sympathetic to my litigant's claim in this particular case. Probably not the smartest move.

2. The Rema (Shulhan Arukh, Hoshen Mishpat 14:1) rules that one litigant cannot force another to travel a long distance to go to a Beis Din if one is available locally, even if the distant Beis Din is better qualified. This is the case so that one litigant cannot force the other to spend a large amount of money to travel. If this were not the case, one could simply summon another to a civil trial in a distant town and the other would prefer to settle for a small amount rather that lay out a large amount for travel expenses.

The Arukh Ha-Shulhan (14:3, 26:5) is very explicit that, when the two litigants live in different cities, the one who calls for the trial must travel to the other litigant's city and that if one litigant refuses to utilize a particular Beis Din in favor of another, he is not considered to be refusing to utilize the Beis Din system in general.

Therefore, I would have the option to state that I refuse to travel to Israel for a civil trial and insist on using a local Brooklyn, established Beis Din.

3. The Shulhan Arukh (Hoshen Mishpat 3:1, 13:1) rules that if one is called to trial, even in his own town, and does not like the Beis Din that was chosen, he has the right to perform a Zabl"a. This means that each litigant chooses one judge and then the two selected judges choose a third. This does not work in a community in which there is one established Beis Din that oversees all religious trials. However, that certainly does not exist in America today.

Therefore, I would have the option to choose a court using the Zabl"a method.

As always, ask a competent rabbi before acting on anything you see here.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

The Flood Narrative II

(continued from here)

II. Bipartite Thematic Approaches

There are essentially two ways in which to deal with the findings of source critics without accepting the conclusion that the passage has multiple sources. One is to deny the inference that there are needless repetitions and changes of style in the passage. The other is to embrace the duality in the narrative but to explain it in a way other than it being based on the redaction of multiple documents. We will present attempts at this latter approach first, and then efforts at the former.

The earliest scholar I found to present such an approach is R. Meir Leibush (Malbim) Weiser.[3] He compares the two addresses by God to Noah (6:13-22; 7:1-5) and notes the different names of God and the different numbers of animals. He suggests that the two speeches represent two reasons for which God was saving Noah from the flood. As a matter of justice, God was ensuring that life would continue in the world. For that reason, God saved Noah's family and two of every species. That is why the first address utilizes the Divine name Elokim, which in rabbinic theology represents Divine justice. That is also why only two of every species is mentioned--nothing more is needed to continue the existence of those species.

The second address, however, is directed toward the righteous Noah. It is said with the Divine name of Mercy and refers to God saving things that Noah needed for himself--his personal possessions ("you and all your household") as well as extra animals for his consumption.

Nechama Leibowitz[4] takes this a step further and suggests that this distinction can explain other differences between the language of the two addresses. The first address refers three times to "למינהו" (according to their kinds), while the second address does not do so even once. In general, the first is much more specific regarding the animals that are to be brought. That, presumably, can be explained based on the above. The first address was about saving the animal life of the world and, therefore, is more specific. The second is about Noah's private needs and did not include all of the many animals that needed to be preserved.

R. Elhanan Samet[5] continues along a similar line and utilizes this type of approach to explain the two covenants discussed in the passage. The first command to enter the ark, in the first address to Noah (6:13-22), is based on God's covenant--"But I will establish my covenant with you; and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons' wives with you" (6:18). The second command to enter the ark, in the second address (7:1-5), is based on Noah's personal merit--"Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you alone are righteous before me in this generation" (7:1).

Commentators[6] explain that the covenant in the first address refers to God's covenant to maintain the world. In this section, Noah is being informed of God's saving the world through him, despite the destruction He is about to unleash upon it. This part of the narrative, along with its continuations in the bipartite passage, refer to God's covenant with the world.

The second address, however, is about Noah being saved because of his own personal righteousness. Even had God chosen someone else to be the continuation of the human race, Noah would still have deserved to be saved because of his proper behavior.

Like Malbim, R. Samet uses this double-message to explain the different languages and numbers about the animals to be saved--one version refers to the animals saved as part of the continuation of the world and the other version refers to the animals saved for Noah's needs--as well as the change in the name of God:
In the first speech, God reveals to Noach within His attribute of justice, as burdening him with the obligation of fulfilling the ancient covenant. Therefore, this speech demonstrates no special closeness or Divine grace towards Noach. But the second speech, which addresses Noach as a "righteous man before God," reflects Divine grace and the attribute of mercy; it is through the attribute of mercy that Noach merits to be saved from the punishment of the Flood.[7]
R. Samet then addresses the end of the narrative. Unlike the standard source-critical approach, R. Samet sees four covenant sections at the end of the story rather than two. He divides the covenant establishment sections as follows:

8:20-22 Noah's Reaction
9:1-7 Mutual Covenant
9:8-11 Flood Covenant
9:12-17 Rainbow Covenant

As explained, there already was a covenant on God's behalf not to destroy the world. That is one of the reasons why He saved Noah's and the animals. These sections deal, then, not with the establishment of a covenant but with extensions of the original covenant.

The first section is Noah's reaction after surviving the most horrific and terrifying destruction ever unleashed upon the world. The sacrifices that Noah offered were a plea to God to never destroy the world like this again, to allow Noah to rebuild the society that had just been destroyed.

The next three sections are God's responses to Noah's plea. God first establishes obligations on humanity in exchange for security. Just as God pledges to never destroy the world, so too man must pledge to treat his surroundings with respect and responsibility.

God then, in specific response to Noah's plea, specifies that not only will He never destroy the world, He will never unleash a flood like the one just witnessed. Furthermore, in response to the psychological state of the survivors, God concretizes the covenant by offering a visible symbol of its endurance--the rainbow. This was briefly mentioned in the first section above, Noah's Reaction, to clarify what Noah's actions meant. In this section, God's response is described in detail.

This approach, while innovative, fails to explain all of the repetitions and differences between the redundant sections. However, it clarifies enough of the difficulties to render the split into separate sources unnecessary. Once enough of the repetitions are explained thematically, the other issues raised by source critics can be answered individually, as reflecting concerns of the unique place within the narrative and not any global issue. This type of approach will be further pursued in the next section.

However, before we address that approach, it is worth presenting the view of R. Yitzhak Etshalom in his forthcoming book Between the Lines of the Bible[8]. R. Etshalom finds a continuous dual theme throughout the early chapters of Genesis of man's obligation to the world and to himself. Quoting R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik[9] as explaining the two stories of Creation as discussing these two aspects of human life, R. Etshalom ably applies these two themes to the two accounts of the flood as well.

God destroyed the world for two reasons--because man failed in his obligation to maintain order in the world (6:11-12) and because man failed to develop his own spirituality (6:5). Noah walked with God (6:9), i.e. he followed God's path of promoting righteousness in the world, and he was also "righteous before Me" (7:1).

Noah's offering of sacrifices after the flood is a reflection of his righteousness, and God responds by pledging to never alter the seasons (8:20-22). However, God also interacts with Noah as the representative of humanity, demanding of him basic standards of behavior and offering an official sign of their mutual commitment (9:1-17).

R. Etshalom[10] further points out that, as described above, chapter 8 is usually broken down into two versions, with 8:1-5, 15-19 being part of one version and 8:6-14, 20-22 part of another version. However, the language from both sets of verses bears a striking similarity to the Creation story in Gen. 1 as follows:
  • Day 1: ". . . and the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters" (1:2).
    After the Flood: "God made a wind to pass over the earth" (8:1).
  • Day 2: "'Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters'" (1:6).
    After the Flood: "the fountains also of the deep and the windows of heaven were stopped, and the rain from heaven was restrained" (8:2).
  • Day 3: "'Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear'" (1:9).
    After the Flood: ". . . in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, were the tops of the mountains seen" (8:5).
  • Day 3: "'Let the earth put forth grass, herb yielding seed, and fruit-tree bearing fruit after its kind, wherein is the seed thereof, upon the earth'" (1:11).
    After the Flood: "And the dove came in to him at eventide; and lo in her mouth an olive leaf freshly plucked; so Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth" (8:11).
  • Day 4: "'Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years'" (1:14).
    After the Flood: "'While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.'" (8:22). (Note also that in 8:11, the dove comes to Noah "at eventide," the first mention of any distinct time of day after the flood; evidently, night and day were blurred during the entire cataclysm.)
  • Day 5: "'Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let fowl fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven'" (1:20).
    After the Flood: "And he stayed yet other seven days; and sent forth the dove; and she returned not again unto him any more" (8:12) (i.e., the dove returned to its earlier station as a "bird that flies above the earth").
  • Day 6: "'Let the earth bring forth the living creature after its kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after its kind' And it was so. . . . 'let us make man in our image, after our likeness . . .'. And God blessed them; and God said unto them: 'Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that creeps upon the earth'" (1:24, 26, 28).
    After the Flood: "'Go out from the ark, you, and your wife, and your sons, and your sons' wives with you. Bring out with you every living thing that is with you, of all flesh, both fowl, and of cattle, and every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth; that they may swarm in the earth, and be fruitful, and multiply upon the earth'" (8:16–17).
The message is clear: The world after the flood was re-created after its destruction. However, notice how this subtle theme is continued in both versions and they both echo Gen. Chapter 1, which itself is supposed to be only one of two versions of the Creation. Furthermore, this explains why some of the repetition is necessary--to advance this theme.

Another way to respond to the findings of source critics... (b"n more to come)
[3] Ha-Torah Ve-Ha-Mitzvah (Warsaw, 1874-1880), Gen. 7:1 ff.
[4] Gilyonot Le-Iyun Be-Parashat Ha-Shavu'a, Noah 5707 (1946). I thank Marvin Stiefel for providing me with a copy of this paper.
[5] "Two Covenants to Preserve the World":
[6] Midrash Ha-Gadol, Abrabanel and Ha'amek Davar to Gen. 6:18; Umberto Cassutto, Mi-Noah Ad Avraham (Jerusalem: Hebrew University Press, 1949), pp. 46-47.
[7] R. Samet, ibid.
[8] Yashar Books, 2005. Chapters 7-8.
[9] The Lonely Man of Faith (New York: Doubleday, 1992).
[10] Ibid., Chapter 6.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Flatbush Eruv

The anti-Flatbush eruv sentiment is growing vocal, in response to a pamphlet recently published that advocates a "new" (about 2 years old) eruv in Flatbush. I received this expensive Hebrew/English, multi-page and multi-color anti-eruv pamphlet in the mail. And I live outside the "new" eruv! I also saw multiple copies spread out in the shul in which I learned on Shavu'os night, and the rabbi in my father-in-law's shul spoke against the eruv twice over the holiday.

I took issue with some of his points, though. But I agree that if you did not use the old Flatbush eruv, like the majority of the "Black Hat" world who implicitly or explicitly accepted the rulings of R. Moshe Feinstein and R. Aaron Kotler that any eruv in Flatbush is invalid, then you should not be using the new one either.

(Full document available here -- large PDF)

The rabbis pictured are:

R. Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, R. Aharon Leib Shteinman, the Gerrer Rebbe, R. Shmuel Wosner and R. Chaim Kanievsky

R. Shmuel Berenbaum, R. Aharon Schechter, R. Dovid Feinstein, R. Feivel Cohen and R. Hillel David

(I should add that it is clear that publications of this sort are frequently blatant lies. I suspect that this one is not, but who really knows?)

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Converts and Blessings

A convert is not technically descended from Jewish ancestors. Therefore, the Mishnah (Bikkurim 1:4) says that when a convert brings his first fruits to the Temple (i.e. Bikkurim), he does not recite the formula specificied in Deut. 26:3, 5-10 because it contains the phrase "I have come to the country which the Lord swore to our fathers to give us" (Deut. 26:3). Since, technically, this convert's fathers did not receive this vow from God. Therefore, even though he is a fullfledged memeber of the Jewish people, he cannot state an untruth.

However, the Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhos Bikkurim 4:3) rules like R. Yehudah in the Talmud Yerushalmi, who states that a convert can recite this passage. The Rambam writes:
A convert brings [the first fruit] and recites [the formula] since it says to Avraham "I have made you a father of many nations" (Gen. 17:5), which means that he was the father of all those who enter under the Divine canopy. The vow [referenced in the formula] was originally said to Avraham, that his descendants would inherit the land...
This Rambam is also the reason why a convert can recite the beginning of the Shemoneh Esreh prayer that refers to God as "The God of our fathers." Since converts are spiritually descended from Avraham, they may state this in full truth.

However, every morning we recite a blessing thanking God for making us Jewish and obligated in all of the many commandments, rather than being a Gentile and having to search on our own for a way to reach out to God. Can a convert thank God for not making him a Gentile? After all, God did make him a Gentile!

The Rema (Orah Hayim 46:4) writes that a convert may not recite this blessing. The Ba'er Hetev (ad loc. 8) quotes four opinions on exactly what a convert should say: 1) He should recite a blessing thanking God for making him a convert, 2) He should recite a blessing thanking God for allowing him to enter into the Divine canopy, 3) He should not recite any blessing on this subject, 4) He should recited the standard blessing thanking God for not making him [permanently] a Gentile.

My impression is that the standard practice is like the fourth view above. If anyone has information to the contrary, I would appreciate your leaving a comment.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Slifkin in Brooklyn

Best-selling author R. Natan Slifkin will be speaking in Brooklyn at the end of June. Please spread the news.

Perek Shirah: The Spiritual Secrets of Nature's Song
Tuesday, June 28th, 8 pm at the Young Israel of Ave. I in Flatbush (1012 Ave. I, near Coney Island Ave.)
Admission: $10
(download poster here - PDF, the poster now has the correct date)

The Terror of Dinosaurs: Confronting the Challenges of Creation, Dinosaurs, and the Age of the Universe
Wednesday, June 29th, 8 pm at the Young Israel of Ave. I in Flatbush (1012 Ave. I, near Coney Island Ave.)
Admission: $10
(download poster here - PDF, the poster now has the correct date)

This is probably the last post until after the Shavu'os holiday. Enjoy.

The Last Newsweek

I've been reading Newsweek for more than half my life. I started as a kid, reading my parents' copy. As I got older, and left home, I would take away all the accumulated Newsweeks with me when I would visit. My parents had long stopped reading it, but continued their subscription for me. I never read the whole issue, and sometimes didn't read anything. But for many periods in my life, it was my only source of news. Eventually, after I was married and had children of my own, my parents stopped their subscription and told me to get my own. So I did (actually, my wife did).

I remember once in high school, a history teacher (Mr. Schweidel, who was not religious but also taught in Breuers and thought that Rabbi Schwab was the best rabbi since Moses) asked me what periodicals I read. When I answered Newsweek, he said that they have a good business section. I told him that I always skipped that section. As I got older and entered the corporate world, the business section eventually became my favorite section. I also greatly enjoy George Will's and Fareed Zakaria's columns.

But over the years, and particularly over the last few years, the news coverage has seriously deteriorated. It has become much, much more partisan. Especially during the most recent election, the news articles read like Op-Eds. Why did this week's coverage of Deep Throat have to be anti-Bush? Newsweek has also shortened its news articles and added in a lot more fluff/personal interest material. That doesn't interest this person.

Moreover, over the past two years there was a devastating heatwave in France and a series of devastating hurricanes in the US. My wife only found out about them long after the events because they were never mentioned in Newsweek. That was the last straw. My wife never forgave Newsweek for not mentioning the thousands of deaths due to the heatwave in France.

So we decided to end our subscription. Our last issue arrives within the next few weeks. This was a decision that took years and is the end of an era in my life. In July 2005, I will be Newsweek free.

My question to readers:

Which weekly should we get instead?

US News & World Report?
An ultra-Orthodox newspaper like Yated or HaModia?
A weekend subscription to the NY Times or The Wall Street Journal?

Please help us out in the comments section.

How Many Jews Left Egypt?

Some kid asked on Frumteens:
We all no that Yetziat Mitzraim is a core foundation in Judiasm. So how is that scientists have found no reminants from the Jews leaving Egypt or traveling in the sinai desert? A mass exodus of at least 600,000 people would have greatly effected Egypt. Why are there no remenants or proofs that this happened? The desert is the best place to find such things b/c of the dry air, why have no archeological artifacts been discovered from the jews?
What this says to me is that this person found an article or a website that points to the dearth of any evidence whatsoever of the multi-million exodus from Egypt and 40-year stay in the desert.

To this question, the Moderator responded:
There is actually tons of archeological and historical evidence of Yetzias Mitzrayim. Rabbi Kelleman's book is a good place to start - he lists much archeological evidence ofthigns like the 10 makos which were written down by Egyptians lamenting their fate at the time, as well as the exodus itself. But there is also history - the fact that Egypt suddenly "disappeared" off the historical map as a superpower for a few centuries has bothered secular historians for a very long time. Check out a book called Ages in Chaos by Immanuel Velikovsky, where he demonstrates that the sudden and inexplicable disappearance fo Egypt as superpower coincides perfectly with the Biblical account of Egypt getitng their country decimated by the Makos and their entire army wiped out at the Yam Suf.
Then he later posts:
Its not as if they went looking in the desert for these bones - maybe they will find them.

But more likely, I would imagine that the remains of those people who miraculaously died were swept up by the ananei hakavod and buried miraculously, or somethgin to that effect. Their deaths were of course a miracle, so their burials could very well have been also. Who knows.
Anyone familiar with such esoteric websites like Google will quickly discover that this is a terribly inadequate answer that can only distance inquisitive Jews from Judaism. The Moderator quotes Lawrence Kelemen's Permission to Receive. While there is much to praise about this book, the author's discussion of archaeology is significantly lacking. While he might simply be outdated in his knowledge, he relies almost entirely on the state of the field thirty years ago and totally ignores the strong Minimalist challenge to the historicity of the Torah. Anyone with even a remote knowledge of archaeology, such as someone who once took an introductory course on the subject or has read one of the many websites on the subject, can only wonder how he can make such sweeping statements and totally ignore the evidence to the contrary.

Here's the simple truth: The single largest question about the historicity of the Torah is how so many people could leave Egypt and stay in the desert for so long without leaving any trace.

It is not an unsolvable problem. However, denying it just makes us look foolish. The Minimalists are arguing in the media that the Exodus never happened (remember David Wolpe's Passover sermon in LA a few years ago?). Our response cannot be: "There's plenty of evidence that it happened. Just read Velikovsky and Kelemen." Velikovsky was a crackpot (not to mention a kofer -- see Google Hador's post on this). Kelemen is outdated.

Most experts currently believe either that the Exodus never happened or that it happened on a much smaller scale than we believe. I emphasize "currently" because one new discovery can change that completely. But, please, let's not deny a reality that can be easily checked with a Google search or a simple e-mail (a few years ago I e-mailed a prominent archaeologist and he responded within a day -- and told me to ask my rabbi! Not all archaeologists are that religiously sensitive.).

Representing the Minimalist position, Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman write (The Bible Unearthed [NY: The Free Press, 2001], p. 63):
The conclusion -- that the Exodus did not happen at the time and in the manner described in the Bible -- seems irrefutable when we examine the evidence at specific sites where the children of Israel were said to have camped for extended periods during their wandering in the desert (Numbers 33) and where some archaeological indication -- if present -- would almost certainly be found.
It is not sufficient to respond to this with a quote from Albright or the like from the 1970s. The field has developed far beyond that.

James K. Hoffmeier, in his 1996 book defending the historicity of the Exodus Israel in Egypt (pp. 3-4), writes:
For centuries the Israelite exodus from Egypt has been considered to be a historical event central to the formation of ancient Israel as a nation and its faith... [H]owever, the tide has shifted toward historical minimalism and led to the questioning or denial of the historicity of the events of Exodus...
Note that 1996 was also the year in which Lawrence Kelemen's Permission to Receive was published, which contains the following quote (p. 108):
Even Dr. William Stiebing, professor of history at the University of New Orleans, confesses, "Most biblical scholars, archaeologists, and historians -- even one like myself... who are generally skeptical about the accuracy of biblical traditions concerning Israel -- usually agree that an exodus took place.
Regardless of the accuracy of this quote at the time of the writing of Kelemen's book, it certainly is no longer accurate. There are currently plenty of scholars, and very vocal ones at that, who deny that the Exodus ever occurred.

Furthermore, and this is the critical part, to my knowledge there are no historians who believe that millions of Jews left Egypt. None. Kelemen and the Frumteens Moderator glossed over this. The scholars who "usually agree that an exodus took place" do not concede that it was anywhere near as large as described in the Torah.

Kenneth Kitchen, who is one of the biggest opponents of the Minimalists (see here), writes (On the Reliability of the Old Testament [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003], p. 266):
For the last century or more, commentators have fought shy of the statement that "about 600,000 went out on foot, plus women and children" (Exod. 12:37), with its seeming implication of an exodus of two million people or so, along with parallel census figures in Num. 1-2, 3-5, and 26...
Kitchen goes on to suggest that eleph, thousand, really means "families of," so that instead of 600,000 men there were 598 familes totalling 5,500 men. This is not acceptable to me on a number of levels. However, the problem remains. How did so many Jews leave Egypt?

No historian accepts that figure and I don't have an answer to the question. But we don't die from a question. Much worse is pretending that the question doesn't exist.

When someone asks how 2+ million Jews could leave Egypt, the answer is not "There is actually tons of archeological and historical evidence of Yetzias Mitzrayim." At best, this is technically somewhat accurate but totally misleading. There is possibly evidence of a small exodus from Egypt. The real answer is "That's a good question. The current state of history does not accept a large exodus but perhaps that will change as we learn more about the ancient world. The field is constantly changing and this might change someday too."

(Note that Aish HaTorah's two articles on the subject -- I & II -- dance around this topic also)
PS Let me make it clear that I believe (with perfect faith) that 600,000 men and their families left Egypt. But since I can't prove it, perhaps some would consider that faith to be meaningless.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Orthodox Rappers

This morning, I followed some links on Blog in D minor to two other blogs that discuss an Orthodox rapper who recently became a J4J. I now see that The Forward has an article on it also.

Wow! There are Orthodox Jews who are rappers?

Yes, that's my take-away from this story. I must be only a few years older than them, yet I had little clue that such a subculture existed within the Orthodox world.

My only thought is... There is such a thing as combining Torah with contemporary culture, but hanging out in bars and clubs is not something an Orthodoxobservant (of any denomination) Jew should be doing. Peritzus, leitzanus, nivul peh, not to mention drugs and alcohol. Come on, guys. Get yourselves to a beis midrash, drop your ghetto slang and stop pretending that doing "shlock rock" to whatever music is currently hip is some sort of mitzvah. There is no kiddush Hashem in being more Britney than Britney (or whichever musician is cool nowadays).

Readership Vote

Are posts getting too long? Please answer in the comments.

Former Chief Rabbi: Do Not Disobey Orders

According to Haaretz, Former Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu publicly told soldiers to obey their orders to evacuate settlements, albeit "while crying, in tears and with a broken heart."

Does this make him a zaken mamre (rebellious elder) for ruling against the Sanhedrin?

(thanks to The Town Crier)

Creativity and Individuality

R. Mordechai Willig on this week's Torah portion:
The creativity of thought exhibited by the nesi'im serves as a model for the sublimation of the irrepressible human creative spirit for the service of Hashem. It is not necessary to deviate one iota from a specific and complex halachic norm, such as the divinely mandated nasi offering, to be innovative and individualistic...

The Medrash (1:3) likens the flags to those of the angels. Am Yisroel yearned to have flags like the angels, and Hashem provided them so that each shevet should be individually recognizable like the angels. Each angel has a particular mission. Each member and shevet yearned for individuality and creativity in avodas Hashem, just as angels have individual missions. Hashem acceded to the request and confirmed the legitimacy of the motivation – k'dei sheyihyu nikarim, so that each person and group be recognizable.

However, such creative license and individuality is permissible, and even laudable, only for one whose sense of mission reflects that of the angels. They all accept the Kingdom of Heaven, and view their respective roles as critical to the fulfillment of the divine mandate and the sanctification of Hashem. Their words and deeds are unadulterated by ulterior motives.

Indeed there are many legitimate paths in the service of Hashem. The shevatim thought, and later acted, differently. Mutual respect for others whose way of Avodas Hashem differs from one's own is critical (see Meishiv Davar I, 44). The fundamentals of belief, reverence for Torah texts and personalities, and strict observance of halacha must serve as the unifying forces for a multifaceted community.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

The Flood Narrative

I. Multiple Source Theory

The flood narrative (Gen. 6:5-9:17) is considered by many to be the quintessential passage subject to division of sources according to the Documentary Hypothesis. Herman Gunkel called the analysis of this story "a masterpiece of modern criticism."[1] As we will see, there are clear distinctions between seeming repetitions of pieces of the narrative. This, it is claimed, is indication of an amalgamation by a redactor of multiple sources. This essay will explore other options and will suggest that the Documentary Hypothesis is not the simplest nor most plausible explanation of the evidence.

Gordon Wenham[2] notes three main points that indicate different sources: 1) differences between the name of God used and other linguistic usages (e.g. whether the pairs of animals should be "male and female" or "husband and wife"), 2) whether Noah brought 1 pair of each animal or 7 pairs of clean animals and 1 pair of unclean animals and 3) whether the rain fell for 40 days after 7 days of waiting, or the water rose and fell for 150 days. Additionally, there appear to be repetitions of the story. Thus, we are told twice of the corruption of man (6:5, 6:11-12), the command to load the ark (7:1-3, 6:18-21), the entry to the ark (7:7, 7:13), the arrival of the flood (7:10, 7:17) and the promise of no future flood (8:21-22, 9:11-17).

What this all seems to indicate is that there were two sources for the flood with different accounts that were molded together into one complete, albeit redundant, story. This would lead one to the conclusion that the sources break down as follows:

VERSION 1 (Identified as P):
  The reason for the flood: 6:9-12
  God's address to Noah: 6:13-22
  Entering the ark: 7:6-9
  Beginning of the flood: 7:10-12
  End of the flood: 8:1-5
  Exit from the ark: 8:15-19
  Covenant: 9: 1-17

VERSION 2 (Identified as J):
  The reason for the flood: 6:5-8
  God's address to Noah: 7:1-5
  Entering the ark: 7:13-16
  Beginning of the flood: 7:17-24
  End of the flood: 8:6-14
  Covenant: 8:20-22

In other words, there are essentially two complete narratives of the flood that are mixed together into the biblical passage we see.

However, when one looks closer at the repetitions one notices two things: 1) the separation into two sources does not explain all of the differences between accounts and 2) the two sources occasionally defy the expectation based on the assumption upon which the separation was made. Let us look carefully at some of the differences and we will see.

1. Differences Between the Names of God

Version 1 (P) consistently uses the Divine name Elokim and Version 2 (J) uses the Tetragrammaton. Well, almost consistently. Version 1 (P) has Elokim in 6:9, 11, 12, 13, 22; 7:9; 8:1, 15; 9:1, 8, 12, 17. Version 2 (J) uses the Tetragrammaton in 6:5, 6, 7, 8; 7:1, 5, 16; 8:16, 21. However, there is one verse that uses both names: והבאים זכר ונקבה מכל בשר באו כאשר צוה אותו אלקים ויסגר יקוק בעדו "So those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him; and the Lord shut him in" (7:16). This throws a monkey-wrench into the neat division based on Divine names and requires one to suggest either an uncharacteristic interpolation by the conservative editor, who supposedly merely cut and pasted two accounts without bothering to combine them into one account, or the influence of one version on the other.

2. Number of Animals

There are four places in which the number of animals is listed in the flood narrative: 6:19-20, 7:2-3, 7:8-9, 7:15-16. The first (6:19-20), third (7:8-9) and fourth (7:15-16) mention only two of each type of animal, while the second (7:2-3) mentions seven (pairs) of the clean animals and two of the unclean animals. Note that if one were to attribute this difference to versions, then the third (7:8-9) should also mentions seven pairs of clean animals. It does not. One must, therefore, suggest that this portion originally had this distinction and it was removed by an editor, or it was entirely written by an editor.

It is also telling to compare the exact formulation of each list:

1. (in a Version 1 section) 6:19-20: ומכל החי מכל בשר שנים מכל תביא אל התבה להחית אתך זכר ונקבה יהיו. מהעוף למינהו ומן הבהמה למינה מכל רמש האדמה למינהו שנים מכל יבאו אליך להחיות.
"And of every living thing of all flesh you shall bring two of every sort into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. Of the birds after their kind, of animals after their kind, and of every creeping thing of the earth after its kind, two of every kind will come to you to keep them alive. "

2. (in a Version 2 section) 7:2-3: מכל הבהמה הטהורה תקח לך שבעה שבעה איש ואשתו ומן הבהמה אשר לא טהרה הוא שנים איש ואשתו. גם מעוף השמים שבעה שבעה זכר ונקבה לחיות זרע על פני כל הארץ.
"You shall take with you seven each of every clean animal, a male and his female; two each of animals that are unclean, a male and his female; also seven each of birds of the air, male and female, to keep the species alive on the face of all the earth."

3. (in a Version 1 section) 7:8-9: מן הבהמה הטהורה ומן הבהמה אשר איננה טהרה ומן העוף וכל אשר רמש על האדמה. שנים שנים באו אל נח אל התבה זכר ונקבה...
"Of clean animals, of animals that are unclean, of birds, and of everything that creeps on the earth, two by two they went into the ark to Noah, male and female..."

4. (in a Version 2 section) 7:15-16: ויבאו אל נח אל התבה שנים שנים מכל הבשר אשר בו רוח חיים. והבאים זכר ונקבה מכל בשר באו...
"And they went into the ark to Noah, two by two, of all flesh in which is the breath of life. So those that entered, male and female of all flesh..."

Note that 1 & 2 have the phrasing of "שנים" (two) while 3 & 4 have the phrasing of "שנים שנים" (two by two). This different way of saying the same thing should be a marker for different sources. If 1 & 4 are from the same version, one would expect them to have similar phrasing. 3 also distinguishes between the clean and unclean animals, like 2 and unlike 1 & 4, but is supposed to be from a different version. Notice also that 1 & 3 mention "רמש" (creeping thing) while 2 & 4 do not. Additionally, only 2 uses the phrase "איש ואשתו" (husband and wife) while the other 3 use the phrase "זכר ונקבה" (male and female). Not only does the Documentary Hypothesis fail to explain these anomalies, it implies that they should not be there.

3. Chronology of the Flood

The chronology of the flood, for how many days did the rain fall, is said to be a marker for different versions. Thus, Version 1 (P) has the flood lasting for 40 days (7:12, 17) and Version 2 (J) has the flood lasting for 150 days (7:24, 8:3). The difficulty with this, however, is that 7:17 is part of the second version, not the first. Adherence to the Documentary Hypothesis requires one to split verse 17 in half, attribute the first half to Version 1 (P) and the second half to Version 2 (J), and assume that the first half of the verse was inserted into the middle of a passage of Version 2 (J).

Furthermore, this entire exercise assumes that there is an inconsistency in the chronology of the flood. There actually is not. It is complicated, but it is also consistent. Wenham (p. 179) writes: "If on other grounds the presence of J and P [sources] can be demonstrated within the flood story, one might accept that two chronologies have been amalgamated. But that still leaves the problem of understanding the redactor's chronology, which, as has often been pointed out, is quite coherent." (See here for two approaches to the chronology.)

Not only does the chronology flow smoothly without the need to split the narrative into separate sources, it flows poetically. As we will address on a larger scale later, the chronology of the flood is strikingly symmetrical. Many modern commentators note the following chiasm of timing:

7 days of waiting for the flood (7:4)
  7 days of waiting for the flood (7:10)
    40 days of flood (7:17)
      150 days of water prevailing (7:24)
      150 days of water waning (8:3)
    40 days of waiting to send raven (8:6)
  7 days of waiting to send dove (8:10)
7 days of waiting to send next dove (8:12)

It seems that the text intentionally made the chronology complicated in order to create this chiasm that focuses on the central section of this passage.

In terms of dates, there are 6 places in which dates of varying styles are given. Tellingly, 2 of the times are during the onset of the flood (7:6, 11), 2 during the flood (8:4, 5) and 2 after the flood (8:13, 14). Of these 6 dates, 4 are in Version 1 (P) and 2 in Version 2 (J). The 2 most complete dates (7:11 בשנת שש מאות שנה לחיי נח בחדש השני בשבעה עשר יום לחדש "On the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month," 8:13 ויהי באחת ושש מאות שנה בראשון באחד לחדש "And it came to pass in the six hundred and first year, in the first month, the first day of the month"), which mark the beginning and the end of the flood and are unique in the Torah in their precise detail, are supposed to be from 2 different sources!

4. Stylistic Issues

There are also typical styles that are said to be unique to different sources. Version 1, the Priestly source, is said to be more interested in issues relating to sacrifices and detailed measurements. It is, therefore, surprising to discover that the distinctions between the clean and unclean animals and between 2 pairs of animals and 7 pairs are in the other version. Additionally, the actual sacrifices themselves are not in the version attributed to the Priestly source.

5. Conclusion

There is much more to be said on this subject. What I have pointed out should not be taken as a disproof of the reduction of the flood narratives into separate narratives. What it does is challenge the simple hypothesis originally presented by source critics. One can proceed from this challenge by either revising the hypothesis into one more complex, in which various passages throughout the narrative are identified with different sources and having been influenced by the other source, or to proposing another solution that solves the problems and does not resort to suggesting different sources for the material. Those of us with theological considerations (there is no need to deny those) certainly prefer the latter option. However, many modern scholars continue on the road of source criticism and build larger and more complex theories to explain the difficulties in the text. Wenham (p. 167) provides the following division of sources that is "widely accepted":


This is not a simple breakdown of the text and is no longer the "masterpiece of modern criticism" that Gunkel praised so highly. Indeed, Ockham's Razor might just point to a different explanation of the textual difficulties that led scholars to originally propose the source-critical approach to this passage. The rest of this essay will be dedicated to looking for an alternative explanation to the textual issues that source critics raise but does not suffer from the overburdened complexities that current versions of the Documentary Hypothesis contain.

There are essentially two ways in which to deal with the findings of source critics without accepting the conclusion that the passage has multiple sources... (b”n to be continued)
[1] Genesis, p. 137: "ein Meisterstuck der modernen Kritik."
[2] Gordon J. Wenham, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 1 pp. 167-168

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