Monday, 16 May 2022

The Nachmanides Supremacy

 

 

Maimonides - Moses ben Maimon (1138–1204), commonly known by his acronym the RambaM , is one of the greatest mediaeval Rabbis and halachic authorities. Also a great scientist, doctor, astronomer and a notable philosopher.  His younger near contemporary,  Nachmanides – Moses ben Nachman (1194–1270) was referred to as RambaN and perhaps almost as celebrated as his illustrious predecessor. Nachmanides was more mystically oriented, in some respects, and an early Kabbalist, but still took a rational approach to Torah.  My personal view is that he was more rational in his plain reading of the Torah, at least in his commentary on the plain meaning of verses.

 

Rambam wrote a  vast Halachic opus which he calls the “Mishneh Torah” , and  based on the following verse from Devarim 17:

 

11According to the law they instruct you and according to the judgment they say to you, you shall do; you shall not divert from the word they tell you, either right or left.

 

יאעַל־פִּ֨י הַתּוֹרָ֜ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר יוֹר֗וּךָ וְעַל־הַמִּשְׁפָּ֛ט אֲשֶׁר־יֹֽאמְר֥וּ לְךָ֖ תַּֽעֲשֶׂ֑ה לֹ֣א תָס֗וּר מִן־הַדָּבָ֛ר אֲשֶׁר־יַגִּ֥ידוּ לְךָ֖ יָמִ֥ין וּשְׂמֹֽאל:

 

 

 

he claims (Hil. Mamrim Ch. 1; 1-2) that this Torah verse commands us to adhere to all laws and decisions enacted by the Phariseeic Sanhedrin, namely all aspects of the Oral law . This is despite the fact that the verse is referring only to a dispute where the disputants are unable to reach agreement locally, and they take their dispute to the High court – i.e. only the specific judgement for the case.

 

And here is where Nachmanides takes issue with Maimonides.  He points out, that even according to the Talmud,  rabbinic law is inferior to Torah law, in certain situations, eg in case of a doubt , one takes a leniency for rabbinic law, but is strict to observe the Torah law.  According to Maimonides, all rabbinic law has Torah status, at least in his abovementioned statement.

 

Nachmanides is rejecting the claim that the verse from Devarim obliges us to keep rabbinic (oral) law.  Apparently,  Nachmanides does not claim that there is a Scriptural basis for rabbinic law! The implication for Bnei Mikra is quite obvious,  that Nachmanides  is essentially accepting the fundamental claim of Karaites!

 

Hence, the title of this post,  relative to Maimonides and many other rabbis, we see the Nachmanides Supremacy. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, 27 February 2022

Rabbi Meir Simcha HaKohen of Dvinsk – Greatest Rabbinical Thinker

 

 

 

The great Rabbi, Meir Simcha of Dvinsk, also known as the Ohr Sameach, and the Meshech Chochmah (by the titles of his famous books), was a unique thinker, who was at once amongst the greatest Rabbis of strict orthodoxy, and at the same time an individual thinker, who went against the grain of  strict Orthodoxy in his interpretations of the Torah.

 

One might ask why I have designated him as the greatest Rabbinical thinker, at least in his era? There were Modern Orthodox thinkers such as Rabbis Kook, Soloveitchik, Goren, Sacks, as well as the philosopher Rabbis Eliezer Berkovits and Emanuel Rackman.

 

Rabbi Meir Simcha was not part of Modern orthodoxy, but was more radical than anyone within Modern Orthodoxy.  He was not part of the religious Zionist movement, but was fundamentally more Zionist  than many in that world.

I will try to present the case that he certainly was not a Karaite, but in some ways was one of the greatest Karaite thinkers too.

 

In his commentary on Bereishit-Genesis, we see an amazing interpretation , which has implications that go well beyond the topic of Adam and the forbidden fruit.

 

https://outorah.org/p/44190/

 

Quoting from the above summary:

 

The First Mitzvah and the Etz Hada’as

וַיְצַו ה' אֱלֹקִים עַל הָאָדָם לֵאמֹר מִכֹּל עֵץ הַגָּן אָכֹל תֹּאכֵל. וּמֵעֵץ הַדַּעַת טוֹב וָרָע לֹא תֹאכַל מִמֶּנּוּ.

Hashem God commanded man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, do not eat thereof.” (2:16-17)

It is possible to sum up the contents of these two pesukim by stating that Hashem told Adam that while he may eat from any of the trees on the garden, one tree – the Etz Hada’as – remained forbidden. As such, the first mitzvah ever given to man was a negative one, i.e. a prohibition. However, the Meshech Chochmah states that this is not the case. The first mitzvah was in fact a positive one – to eat from all the other trees in the garden, for the words “אָכֹל תֹּאכֵל” as stated regarding those trees was also a mitzvah![4]

The implications of this understanding are twofold.

Firstly, it reflects the idea that benefiting from and enjoying this world is not merely something which is permitted; it is a positive expression of Hashem’s will and, as such, a mitzvah. This idea is summed up in the statement of the Yerushalmi[5] that a person will have to give a reckoning in the future for not having partaken of the enjoyments of this world which were permitted to him.

However, there is a further element. One of the properties of mitzvos is that they help protect a person from committing aveiros. As such, the mitzvah of eating from the other trees in the garden should likewise have protected Adam and Chava from sinning with the Etz HaDa’as. Why did this not happen?

The answer to this question will come from considering Chava’s words to the snake:[6]

מִפְּרִי עֵץ הַגָּן נֹאכֵל. וּמִפְּרִי הָעֵץ אֲשֶׁר בְּתוֹךְ הַגָּן אָמַר אֱלֹקִים לֹא תֹאכְלוּ מִמֶּנּוּ וְלֹא תִגְּעוּ בּוֹ

Of the fruit of any tree in the garden we may eat. Of the fruit of the tree which is in the center of the garden God has said: “You shall not eat from it nor shall you touch it.”

We note that Chava does not mention Hashem’s name in connection with eating from the other trees. It is only with reference to not eating from the Etz HaDa’as that she prefaces: “אָמַר אֱלֹקִים – God said.”[7] This means that when Adam informed her regarding eating from the other trees, he neglected to tell her that this was also a mitzvah.

 

 

We see that for the verses  Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, do not eat thereof.” (2:16-17)

The Meshech Chochmah is saying there is a positive commandment here , to indulge in the almost unending number of trees and their unique fruits, thus to avoid the single forbidden fruit.  He further argues that  Eve did not quite grasp this concept and that she therefore was unable to defend herself from the snake and its seduction or deception.

 

The Bereishit system of Law is centred on a single restriction, i.e. the fruit of the forbidden tree (of knowledge of Good and Evil).  To balance this, there are hundreds, or thousands of trees, perhaps also vegetables , that bear fruits of different flavours.

The later Torah from Sinai has a larger number of restrictions than what existed in Eden. But they are not infinite. The world still provides many “trees” that bear fruit.

It has been the systematic Rabbinic project to add to restrictions, and more and more restrictions.  And this has been for the purpose of self-mortification. It also led – historically to the destruction of the 2nd Temple.

 

Rabbi Meir Simcha is telling a truth that applies to rabbanism – which he must have subconsciously been aware of.  Namely, that the Torah did not command anyone to add restrictions, and in fact forbade it.

Saturday, 19 February 2022

Don't Believe Everything They Tell You

 

In   1 Kings  13, a prophet is sent to Bethel to warn Jeroboam about the altar he had set up, against the Laws of the Torah.   That same prophet is also instructed not to eat bread or drink water of the locals, and to return home via a different route.

 

 

Later on, an older prophet meets the prophet sent by God, and invites him to eat and drink at his local house. Initially he (young prophet) refuses. The older prophet says the following.

 

 

v.18

 

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר ל֗וֹ גַּם־אֲנִ֣י נָבִיא֮ כָּמ֒וֹךָ֒ וּמַלְאָ֡ךְ דִּבֶּ֣ר אֵלַי֩ בִּדְבַ֨ר יְהֹוָ֜ה לֵאמֹ֗ר הֲשִׁבֵ֤הוּ אִתְּךָ֙ אֶל־בֵּיתֶ֔ךָ וְיֹ֥אכַל לֶ֖חֶם וְיֵ֣שְׁתְּ מָ֑יִם כִּחֵ֖שׁ לֽוֹ׃ “I am a prophet, too,” said the other, “and an angel said to me by command of the LORD: Bring him back with you to your house, that he may eat bread and drink water.” He was lying to him.

 

 

 

He fails to maintain his resistance, and accepts the invitation of the older (dishonest) prophet.  For this, he is later on punished, and killed by a lion on his way back home.

 

 

 

There is contained within this story not only a philosophy of prophecy, but also a philosophy of religion.  Here are a number of inferences we can make:

 

 

a)      Even an old prophet can make up lies, if it suits him, eg for prestige, power, or any other personal gain.

b)      The fact that somebody claims to be a prophet, a mystic, a receiver of visions or traditions, in way verifies his claims.

c)      The exclusion of new traditions and revelations, no matter how impressive the replacers are – replacement theology beyond the Tanakh , no matter by whom, is out of bounds. 

 

Thursday, 6 January 2022

Chareidi Child Abuse – the Depth of Depravity

 

 

Numerous cases of child abuse, rape, homosexual abuse have occurred in Rabbinic institutions – yeshivas, or by supposedly Orthodox people, observant of both the Written and Oral law sets.  This has not been unlike what has happened in the Catholic Church for many years.

 

The response to these terrible crimes has often been suppression, denial, and threats against the accusers or publicisers, and calls of “informer”. Some changes have occurred in recent years. In the Religious Orthodox Zionist world, which was also hit by such scandals, a forum of leading rabbis was set up to tackle this problem, and they boldly took down some people who were even heads of yeshivot.  In the Ultra-orthodox (Hareidi) world  the leaders have at last advised any victims to go directly to the police. 

 

A current scandal is so contorted that it has to be explained in several steps:

 

1)      A Chareidi author, who wrote many books for children, as well as being a rabbi, also became a self-appointed child therapist.  He was accused of multiple rapes and abuse of children put in his care for “therapy”, as well as conducting adulterous affairs with married women. All this from a Bnei Brak “rabbi”.

2)      2 courageous Rabbinic courts, one of Rabbi Eliyahu, the Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Safed,  and another in Bnei Brak itself , under  the auspices of leading Ashkenazi rabbinic Dayanim , attempted to deal with this problem.

3)      The alleged paedophile, by the name or Chaim Walder, refused to cooperate with either Beit Din,  and in the meantime removed himself from public life.

4)      The Safed Bet Din received testimonies form 22 different people, who all accused Walder of various types of sex abuse, rape and adultery. 

5)      It was rumoured that the Police had received reports of these accusations, and had contacted Walder. 

6)      A recording of a phone conversation between a married woman and Walder was leaked to Haaretz newspaper, who originally broke the story. In this conversation, Walder appears to be telling his married lover who to lie her way through everything, the way he does. She was going through divorce proceedings as a result of her adultery, which was carrying on for 6 years.

7)      Some 5 weeks after the story broke, Walder had acquired a gun, and shot himself dead, leaving a suicide note, placing the blame of Rabbi Eliyahu of safed, and rabbi Silman of Bnei Brak, and claiming a fair trial is not possible in this world , and hence he is summoning these Dayanim to the great bet din in the sky!  Suicide is strictly forbidden in Orthodox Judaism, and is considered to be equivalent to murder.

8)      In the Orthodox Rabbinic world, several  groups have emerged, with varying opinions on this whole shameful episode:

 

 

  The Modern and Zionist orthodox have largely backed Rabbi Eliyahu, as have essentially the entire Sephardi world, whether modern or Chareidi.  I should add that secular Israelis who have followed the story also support Rabbi Eliyahu.

 

The Chareidi Ashkenazi world has split into several parts. The “modern” end of the hareidi spectrum, together with Chabad Lubavitch  have tended to back rabbi Eliyahu.   The leading Ashkenazi rabbi Gershon Edelstein has made 2 contradictory statements. The first one accused people who publicised  the matter of having shamed Walder, and ultimately are guilty of “murdering” him. A few days later, this statement was retracted, and attributed to other people. He then made a more measured statement, saying people should go direct to the police if they have suffered abuse, and also notes that suicide is strictly forbidden.

However, an extremist sector in the Chareidi world, has only accepted the first statement, i.e. blaming the press, and the court of Rabbi Eliyahu (whilst also ignoring the Bnei Brak court) of being guilty of “murdering” the mass rapist, Chaim Walder.  Also,  some “religious Zionist” rabbis, who are somewhat closer to the Chareidi world view, but not entirely, have also joined in the anti-Eliyahu  chorus.

 

 

 

The problems that this scandal raise are quite troubling. The Rabbanites, and the Chareidim in particular, are obsessed with the separation of the sexes, “modesty” eg in dress,  closing off the outside world, eg movies, TV, smartphones etc.

Yet, when their own people behave in the most depraved manner, they deny, cover, or even justify and consider them to be righteous.   Adultery, suicide, rape, which are severe crimes, are brushed off as being insignificant compared to those who speak “loshon hara”  - gossip.

 

The fixation on laws of “loshon hara” and embarrassing another person, are stifling them from doing what the Torah commands, eg to do justice, to plead the cause of the widow and orphan, to drive out evil from the Land etc.  At the same time, many Hareidi rabbis have no problem in embarrassing and speaking against those who don’t agree with their interpretations or politics.

 

 

Despite claims to the contrary, these episodes show that  even highly organised religion of Rabbanite Orthodoxy is subject to the same psychological drives as any other group of people. What occurs in the Catholic church , also sadly occurs in the orthodox yeshiva – and the psychological reasons are most likely the same.  Restriction heaped upon restriction has not managed to control this type of behaviour, and it is in fact not even a matter of great concern to some in that world.  Also , the other myth, that Talmud study is a cure all, and that mental illness is not so prevalent in the Orthodox world, appear to be completely false. 

 

Do the overly strict laws and regulation of the rabbanites cause mental harm? Or is the kind of mental illness that leads to such depravity something that is more genetic, and not learned form the environment?  Or would a relaxation of many restrictions actually make things worse?  These are important questions, but would require a systematic research programme, which I am unable to do at this moment.

Tuesday, 7 September 2021

Minority Opinions in the Talmud - match those of Karaites

 Here is an interesting article by Rabbi H. Shachter of Yeshiva University

 

http://www.torahweb.org/torah/2006/parsha/rsch_vaeschanan.html

 

In it , he discusses the prohibition of intermarriage, and  how Jewishness is determined.

 

He mentions several opinions in the Talmud (without proper citations) , the minority opinons seem to be also held by Karaites -  namely, that Jewishness is determined  either by both parents being  Jewish, or either of them  (father or mother) being Jewish.

 

Below is a copy of the article:

 

Intermarriage

In one possuk at the end of parshas Va'eschanan (7:3) the Torah prohibits both forms of intermarriage: a Jewish man may not take a non-Jewish woman, nor may a Jewish woman marry a non-Jewish man. In Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 157:61) the opinion of the Ramban (Milchamos, Sanhedrin 74) has been adopted, that there is a big difference between the two aforementioned cases. Because in the case of a Jewish man taking a non-Jewish wife the children will not be Jewish, this prohibition is considered more serious; it is considered as if the man had become a "mechuttan" with the avodah zarah. This is the end of the line! The tradition of Jewishness transmitted from Mt. Sinai from generation to generation will not be able to continue. But when a Jewish woman marries a non-Jewish man, the children will be Jewish; the transmission of Jewishness will continue. The woman has violated a serious aveira, but this is not a case of yehoreig ve'al ya'avor.

In Europe the common practice was that when a Jewish man would marry a non-Jewish woman, this was considered equivalent to his converting to another religion (shmad). However when a Jewish woman married a non-Jewish man, the custom was not necessarily so. This aveira was not considered the equivalent of shmad.

Whenever there is a "mixed" marriage between two Jews, for example when a Kohein or a Levi marries a girl who is not a Kohenes or a Leviah, the status of the children is determined by the father. The same is true when there is a "mixed" marriage between two non-Jews. Amaleki, Edomi, Mitzri, and Canaani each have a special status according to the halacha. When there is a mingling between two nationalities, the halacha declares that all the children follow the nationality of the father. This halacha is based on the possuk in Parshas Bamidbar (1:2) "l'mishpechosom l'beis avosom", which implies that in cases of a conflict, the mishpacha of the father is to be followed. The only exception is where there is a mixed marriage between Jew and non-Jew. In Talmudic times none of the rabbis felt that in these cases the status of the children should be determined solely by the father. One opinion felt that in order to be Jewish one must have both a father and a mother who are Jewish. A second opinion held that with either parent being Jewish, all the children would be considered Jewish. And the accepted opinion is that the issue is determined solely by the mother[1]. This position was arrived at based on the Rabbi's careful reading of the pesukim (7:3-4) at the end of our parsha. The Reform movement's renunciation of this position was a rejection of a tradition that has been accepted for over 1,500 years.

It is interesting to note that in a marriage between a Jew and a non-Jew none of the rabbis felt that the status of the children should be determined by the father. If in the other two types of mixed marriages (where both parents are Jewish or where the parents come from two different non-Jewish nations) the halacha established that everything is determined by the father, what motivated the rabbis to assume that the same should not be the case when a Jew and non-Jew marry?

The answer lies in the wording of the possuk in Bamidbar (ibid). The status of the children is determined solely by the father when we're dealing with an issue of "mishpacha". Being a Kohein or Levi is an issue of mishpachas kehuna or mishpachas leviah. The same is true regarding Amaleki, Edomi, etc. we colloquially refer to these groups as "nationalities", but strictly speaking (halachically) they are merely "mishapchos". In order to be a member of a certain mishpacha, you must have yichus (genealogical lineage) of ben achar ben through your father. Being Jewish, however, is not a function of which mishpacha one belongs to. This is illustrated by the institution of geirus (conversion). After conversion, a ger belongs to no mishpacha, but nonetheless is just as Jewish as all the other Jews. Being Jewish is a function of belonging to the Jewish people (Am Yisroel). The Jewish people are the only ones called a nation as such! "Umi ke'amcha Yisroel goy echad ba'aretz" (Shmuel II 7:27)[2].

The rabbis apparently assumed that since "mishapacha" and "am" are fundamentally different, it must be that inclusion in each one will be determined by different factors in the case of a mixed marriage. A major difference between a mishpacha and a nation is that a mishpacha consists of a collection of individuals who relate to each other in a special way, while the term "goy" (nation) comes from the word "geviah" (body). Klal Yisroel is considered "one body". We must adopt this attitude and act accordingly.


[1] Tosafos Yevamos 16b, s.v. oveid kochavim, and Rabbi Akiva Eiger (Gilyon Hashas ad loc.)

[2] See "Chilul Hashem" where we explained in a similar vein why the actions of one Jew are seen as a reflection on all Jews, as opposed to other nations where the actions of an individual are not understood as such.

 

 He then tries to point out that there was not a rabbinical opinion which claimed that Patrlineal descent is what determines Jewishness. 

however, he as admitted that it can be either patrilineal of Matrilineal, according to one of the unnamed rabbis.

 

In any case these minority views have never been accepted as Rabbinic halacha,  but nevertheless it is interesting that such views existed.



 

 

Sunday, 29 August 2021

Rambam’s Suicide Option

 

 

The following is a logical analysis of what Maimonides wrote in his halachic Magnum Opus – the so-called Mishnah Torah.  My arguments will not be accepted by Rabbis, because a) they are unable to think logically, and b) they presume the truth of their beliefs as being facts, and cannot accept any challenge to them.  Howeve,r a logical analysis brings us to some strange conclusions – first the text:

 

 

 

Maimonides Hilchot Teshuvah - Chapter Three

8)

Three individuals are described as Epicursim [heretics, with no place in the next world]

a) one who denies the existence of prophecy and maintains that there is no knowledge communicated from God to the hearts of men;

b) one who disputes the prophecy of Moses, our teacher;'

c) one who maintains that the Creator is not aware of the deeds of men.

Each of these three individuals is an Epicurus.

There are three individuals who are considered as one "who denies the Torah": [do not have a portion in the world to come.]

a) one who says Torah, even one verse or one word, is not from God. If he says: "Moses made these statements independently," he is denying the Torah.

b) one who denies the Torah's interpretation, the oral law, or disputes [the authority of] its spokesmen as did Tzadok and Beitus.

c) one who says that though the Torah came from God, the Creator has replaced one mitzvah with another one and nullified the original Torah, like the Arabs [and the Christians].

Each of these three individuals is considered as one who denies the Torah.

 

 

 

This section of CH 8 deals with various types of heretics , according to Rabbinic thought. The “heretics” lose their share in the next world, according to this system. What is interesting is that some of these heresies, if looked at logically and applied to rabbinic /Talmudic approach to the Torah, fall back on themselves.  It is no surprise that that they claim the Sadducees to be heretics for denying the Oral Law and the Rabbinic interpretation of the Torah. And this is clause b) of his “deniers of Torah” category, underlined in the above quotation.

 

However, Maimonides had verbalised, and in fact put to paper a problem, which affects no only him, but all his rabbinic brethren who base themselves on the Talmud’s interpretation of the Torah.

 

 

Firstly, he states that “one who disputes the prophecy of Moses” is an epicurean – heretic.   But the mainstream Talmud disputes a large portion of the Torah, giving it an interpretation contrary to the plain, obvious meaning.

For example, Moses clearly says we must count the Omer from the day after Shabbat – namely a “Sunday”.   He say we must not add. He says we must follow the Kohanim.  And many other things which I have attempted to show in this blog.

 

Then , in definition c) of deniers of Torah (Kofrim) ,  he attacks those who have replaced the Torah with a new testament  i.e. a replacement mitzvah / commandment system which does away with the original Torah. This is what the Talmud  does.  There are many laws  which are non existent in the Torah, and there are others which have been replaced , either by definition, or by changes – eg spices used in the Temple, when to count the omer, the laws of Sukkot (especially the Water Libation),  ritual impurity and implementation of the Red heifer ashes – are all replacement mitzvoth which go against the original Torah instructed by Moses.

 

Thus, Rambam has embarked  - unwittingly, on a suicide mission. Whilst he casts 1 so-called heresy category at the Sadducees, he has unleashed 2 more at himself.

 

 

 

Monday, 23 August 2021

Koheleth - Ecclesiastes - words of the Wise King Solomon

 The highly philosophical book  Koheleth, which is part of the writings - Ketuvim , constians much wisdom.


A brief quote from Ch. 7 :



טז אַל-תְּהִי צַדִּיק הַרְבֵּה, וְאַל-תִּתְחַכַּם יוֹתֵר: לָמָּה, תִּשּׁוֹמֵם. 
 
16 Be not righteous overmuch; neither make thyself overwise; why shouldest thou destroy thyself?
 
יז אַל-תִּרְשַׁע הַרְבֵּה, וְאַל-תְּהִי סָכָל: לָמָּה תָמוּת, בְּלֹא עִתֶּךָ.
 
 17 Be not overmuch wicked, neither be thou foolish; why shouldest thou die before thy time?
 
 
 
The Torah Temimah - a modern Rabbinic commentary, on v. 16 brings the prohibition of imposing extra strictures upon oneself  and adding laws to the Torah.  This, in fact is cited by Maimonides in his Hilchot Deot - and is a view found in the Jerusalem Talmud - as opposed to the Babylonian talmud.

To me, the Koheleth book includes a number of purposes - one was the author's own attempt to write a guide to good living for himself.  This is interesting, because it means he is explicitly rejecting any concept of Shulchan Aruch - although the followers of the Shulchan Aruch might suggest that all he was lacking was a Talmud or Shulchan Aruch.



Sunday, 28 February 2021

Shabbat - an Essay by Ami Hertz

 

Shabbat

Ami Hertz

13 January 2004
Original: 3 September 2003

Abstract

Shabbat ("sabbath") is a Jewish weekly holiday. This essay discusses the reasons for Shabbat and its observance. It also discusses why several activities, which are often thought to be forbidden on Shabbat, are not actually forbidden.

Contents

1  Summary
2  Reasons and scope
3  Meaning of "work"
4  Activities that are not forbidden
    4.1  Leaving one's "place"
    4.2  Carrying
    4.3  Using electricity
    4.4  Gathering
    4.5  Writing, etc.
5  Questions

1  Summary

Shabbat is a weekly holy day. It gives us a chance to rest and recover from our work. In this rest, we can grow spiritually by reflecting on God and the Universe. In particular, observing Shabbat reminds us that God is the Creator and Ruler of all. Shabbat begins every Friday at sundown and ends on Saturday at sundown. During this time, we are commanded to abstain from certain activities, usually called "work" or melacha. Both doing the work and inducing others to do it are forbidden. Of course, the prohibition against work does not apply if performing it is necessary to preserve life. The forbidden activities are:
  • business- or work- related activity: anything by which the person earns money or sustains his livelihood;

  • commerce;

  • sowing, pruning, reaping, and gathering (but see 4.4);

  • cooking; and

  • lighting a fire.

During Shabbat, do not plan for these activities or wish that the holy day might be over so you can start doing them again. For a more detail discussion of work, see section 3 below.
Cooking
How do you eat a normal meal if fire and cooking are forbidden? You can eat a hot dinner on Friday before sunset, and on Saturday after sunset. Saturday breakfast and lunch can be cold: cereal, sandwich, fruit, and so on; or, a warm soup from a thermos that was heated Friday before sunset.
Physical Activity
Whether a physical activity is allowed depends not on its intensity, but on its purpose. For example, working out to improve your health is fine; moving boxes for work is not.

2  Reasons and scope

Shabbat is mentioned as early as Genesis 2 in connection with Creation: "God blessed the seventh day, and hallowed it" (Gen 2:3). As it is thus mentioned outside of any covenant with the Jews, and, in fact, before any such covenant, Shabbat is clearly pertinent to all humanity. The particular laws of Shabbat might apply only to Jews, but the day itself is important for everyone. By remembering Shabbat, we acknowledge that God is the Creator of all things. The first listing of the Ten Commandments, in Exodus 20:11, recalls Genesis 2 by saying that the reason for the observance of Shabbat is to commemorate the act of God's creation. Since God created all, He is the one and only Master of the Universe. In Moses's retelling of the Ten Commandments, the reason for Shabbat observance is stated a bit differently, but the point is the same. Many times, the Bible makes the point that a person is either a servant to God, in which case he is free, or a servant to something else, such as a person, ideology, or state, in which case he is not free. Deuteronomy 5:15 says "Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt and YHWH your God freed you from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm". Thus, by observing Shabbat, we stress that we are servants only to God. This indicates both God's Mastery and the observer's true freedom. Though Shabbat is pertinent to all humanity, its particular laws are only applicable to Jews and to anyone who lives in a territory governed by Jews, such as Israel. This is plainly stated in the Ten Commandments: laws of Shabbat apply to "you, your son and daughter, your male and female slave, your cattle, and the stranger who is within your settlements". Observing Shabbat is a sign between God and the Jewish people: "Nevertheless, you must keep My Shabbats, for this is a sign between Me and you throughout the ages, that you may know that I, YHWH, have consecrated you. You shall keep the Shabbat for it is holy for you." (Ex 31:13) The observance must be done regardless of location. (Leviticus 23:3)

3  Meaning of "work"

To understand what the activities forbidden on Shabbat are, we must examine all of the Shabbat prohibitions. Here is a list of the relevant passages:
  • Manna was a gift of God to the Jews while they wondered in the desert. Jews had to gather it every day for food. But on the sixth day, they would gather an amount sufficient for two days. And on the seventh day, they were forbidden to gather manna. (Ex 16:26)

  • Six days a week, people are allowed to "labor and do all your work", but on Shabbat, "you shall not do any work". This prohibition applies to "you, your son and daughter, your male and female slave, and your cattle, and the stranger who is within your settlements" (Ex 20:9) "so that your male and female slave may rest as you do" (Deut 5:14).

  • The first and seventh day of Passover are "a sacred occasion": "no work at all shall be done on them; only what every person is to eat, that alone may be prepared for you" (Ex 12:16).

  • "Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall cease from labor, in order that your ox and your ass may rest, and that your bondman and the stranger may be refreshed" (Ex 23:12).

  • Bezalel and Oholiab were charged with making the necessary ritual objects. Yet, they too had to cease from this work on Shabbat (Ex 31). Jews "shall keep the Shabbat, observing the Shabbat throughout the ages as a covenant for all time" (Ex 31:16).

  • "On six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a Shabbat of complete rest.... You shall kindle no fire throughout your settlements on the Shabbat day" (Ex 35:3). Fox translates this as "You are not to let fire burn throughout all your settlements on the Shabbat day".

  • When the Temple exists, the people are to present an offering by fire every single day (Num 28:3), including Shabbat (Num 28:10).

  • When Jews are in the land of Israel, they may perform agricultural work for six years, "but in the seventh year the land shall have a Shabbat of complete rest". All agricultural work is forbidden: sowing, pruning, reaping, and gathering. "But you may eat whatever the land during its Shabbat will produce - you, your male and female slaves, the hired and bound laborers who live with you, and your cattle and the beasts in your land may eat all its yield" (Lev 25:2).

  • A man was gathering wood on Shabbat. He was put on trial, since it was not immediately clear whether this was a crime. God informed the people through Moses that, in fact, this man was guilty of transgressing Shabbat (Num 15:32).

  • The ancients understood conducting trade as included in the definition of forbidden work (Neh 10:32, 13:15).

Shabbat is a day of complete rest from all weekday work activities, including trade. It applies to everyone within the household, to servants, and to non-Jews who live in an area controlled by Jews. People must cease from work even if the product of that work is used for a religious purpose. The commandment related to manna is not directly applicable today since we do not have manna today. However, it does illustrate the principle: that food production or acquisition on Shabbat is forbidden. This is confirmed by the Passover prohibition which states that on Passover no work may be done except preparation of food. This implies that preparation of food is normally included in the definition of "work". As we see with the Shabbat year, food that is passively produced by "itself" is fine, but exerting oneself in any way to produce food is forbidden. There is a further prohibition against fire; in ancient times, food could only be prepared with fire. When the man gathering wood was apprehended, he was not immediately found guilty. The people suspected that he might be guilty but they weren't sure. From this, we see that gathering in and of itself is not a sin. If it was, the people would be sure that the man was guilty. If it is not the action itself which was wrong, it must be that it was wrong because of its intent. In context, if the man gathered wood as, for example, a form of relaxation, that would have been fine; but if he needed the wood for something, then it was work and was therefore forbidden.

4  Activities that are not forbidden

There are many activities which are not forbidden on Shabbat, but might appear to be forbidden. Here, I go through some of these and explain why they are not forbidden.

4.1  Leaving one's "place"

In Exodus 16:29, God says "Let everyone remain where he is: let no man leave his place on the seventh day". Based on this, some people think that it is forbidden to leave one's "place" on Shabbat. This leads to further discussions of what specifically one's place is, and to controversies over "private domain" and "public domain". In fact, there is no prohibition to leave one's place. To see this, we must simply read the whole passage, not just half a verse. Exodus 16, from 16:13 to 16:36, tells about a "fine and flaky substance" that God gave to the Jews in the wilderness every day as a food. The substance, which the Jews called man ("manna" in English), appeared every morning, after the dew lifted. The people had to gather it every morning and eat what they gathered the same day. No matter how much each person gathered, in the end, he had as much as he needed to eat in one day. What they did not gather would melt every day under the hot sun. Of the manna that they did gather, if they left any for the next day, it would become infested with maggots. On the sixth day of the week, that is, on Friday, Jews gathered a double portion of manna. God told them that they should leave some from Friday to Shabbat. They did leave it and it did not spoil. God further told the Jews not to gather any manna on Shabbat. God did not give any manna on Shabbat and Jews were forbidden to go out and try to gather it. But some people broke this commandment:
Yet some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather, but they found nothing. And YHWH said to Moses, "How long will you men refuse to obey My commandments and My teachings? Mark that YHWH has given you Shabbat; therefore He gives you two days' food on the sixth day. Let everyone remain where he is: let no man leave his place on the seventh day". (Ex 16:27-29)
Here, God is chastising the people for not following His command which He has already given. Yet, God has never before forbidden them to leave their place. Therefore, it's impossible that He is criticizing them for doing so. Instead, as is plainly obvious from the story, the sin was that the people went out to gather manna on Shabbat, whereas God told them specifically not to do so. "Let no man leave his place" means "let no man leave to gather manna", which has already been forbidden.

4.2  Carrying

Some people think that "carrying" is forbidden on Shabbat. By this they mean that it is forbidden to move anything within the "public domain" or from "private domain" to "public domain". As evidence, they bring Jeremiah 17. There, God commands the prophet to go to all the gates of Jerusalem and to tell the people thus:
Guard yourselves for your own sake against carrying burdens on the Shabbat day, and bringing them through the gates of Jerusalem. Nor shall you carry burdens from your houses on the Shabbat day, or do any work, but you shall hallow the Shabbat day .... If you obey me - declares YHWH - and do not bring in burdens through the gates of this city on the Shabbat day, but hallow the Shabbat day and do no work on it, then [good things will follow]. But if you do not obey My command to hallow the Shabbat day, [bad things will follow]. (Jer 17:21-27)
First, all of God's law has already been stated by Moses. Later prophets can reiterate the law, but they cannot add any new law. Studying Prophets and Writings is useful for seeing how the law was understood by the ancients. Their understanding must be given a lot of weight because they lived in the historic and cultural context in which the commandments were given. However, since they do not introduce any new laws, if a prohibition on carrying exists, it must have been mentioned by Moses. But Moses does not mention any such prohibition. Second, Jeremiah's admonition is akin to the one made by Nehemiah:
At that time, I saw men in Judah treading winepresses on the Shabbat, and others bringing heaps of grain and loading them unto asses, also wine, grapes, figs, and all sorts of goods, and bringing them into Jerusalem on the Shabbat. I admonished them then and there for selling provisions. (Neh. 13:15)
Nehemiah uses language very similar to Jeremiah's. But, as we can see, Nehemiah's problem was not that the people carried things; it was that the people engaged in trade, which was just the type of weekday business activity that is forbidden on Shabbat. Third: at first glance, there are thus two approaches to the passage from Jeremiah. One approach is that "burden" refers to anything; another approach, motivated by Nehemiah, is that "burden" refers to merchandise brought in for sale. Taking the first approach, Jeremiah says that we are forbidden:
  1. to carry things on Shabbat;

  2. to bring things through the gates of Jerusalem;

  3. to bring things outside the house; and

  4. to do any work.

But those who believe that it is forbidden to "carry" distinguish between different domains, whereas (1) is a general prohibition without reference to any domains: "Guard yourselves for your own sake against carrying burdens on the Shabbat day". And why does Jeremiah specifically forbid carrying things into the city? After all, the area outside the city is also "public domain". Finally, why is "carrying" equated to work? Is carrying keys out of one's house really "work"? Taking the second approach, Jeremiah says that we are forbidden:
  1. to carry around merchandise;

  2. to bring merchandise into a city (at that time, the only conceivable reason for doing so was to sell it);

  3. to bring merchandise outside one's house (same reason); and

  4. to engage in any business, such as trade.

This second approach makes sense and fits in the context of prohibitions given elsewhere. The first approach does not.

4.3  Using electricity

Some people think that electricity is forbidden because it is somehow similar to fire. To make a proper analysis, we must first try to understand what about fire is forbidden and what is not. We can make the argument that it is the flame that is forbidden. If this is the case, then electricity is not the same as fire and is allowed. Others say that electricity is forbidden because, in most cases, electricity is generated with fire. In my opinion, as long as my activities do not increase the amount of fire, those activities are allowed. Thus, if electricity is already being produced at the power plant, then my electricity use does not increase the amount of fire, and electricity use is allowed. This is the case in most situations in the modern world. If, however, there would have to be more fire to produce electricity for me, then it would be forbidden. This would be the case if, for example, I used so much electricity that another power plant would have to be brought online.

4.4  Gathering

From Numbers 15:32 and Leviticus 25:2, it looks like gathering, and other related activities, are forbidden on Shabbat. As already discussed in section 3, an activity is forbidden if it is done for work. If it is done for relaxation and does not induce anyone else to do work, then it is allowed.

4.5  Writing, etc.

Some people believe that there are many other Shabbat prohibitions, such as writing, or even moving a pen. There is no Biblical basis for any of these.

5  Questions

I still have not fully resolved some questions:
  1. Why is fire forbidden on Shabbat? What can we learn from this prohibition?

  2. Numbers 28 commands us to bring sacrifices on Shabbat. Yet sacrifices involve fire, cooking, and work for a ritual purpose, all the things that are normally forbidden. How can this conflict be resolved?

  3. What is the status of electricity?

Monday, 16 November 2020

Lord Rabbi Sacks and the Cambridge Footlights

 

One thing that the late Jonathan Sacks has in common with Monty Python, is they they all studied at Cambridge University. There is no record of Rabbi sacks having been in the Cambridge footlights, which is where the  Monty Python team began their comical career.

 

However, later on in their careers, there is another intersection between these highly successful Englishmen from Cambridge university.

 

In one of his articles, Rabbi Sacks  brings an argument to buttress the oral law,  based on a Talmudic story.

 

https://rabbisacks.org/covenant-conversation-5770-mishpatim-the-meaning-of-texts/

 

 

“Hillel made no protest, and told the man to come to him for instruction. The first day, Hillel taught him he first four letters of the Hebrew alphabet: aleph, bet, gimel, dalet. The next day he taught him the same letters in reverse order: dalet, gimel, bet, aleph. “But yesterday,” protested the man, “you taught me the opposite.” “You see,” said Hillel, “you have to rely on me even to learn the alphabet. Rely on me also when it comes to the Oral Law.” (Shabbat 31a). Without agreed principles, there can be no teaching, no learning, no authority, no genuine communication.”

 

 

The argument goes that Hillel, or anyone else representing the Rabbinic tradition, does not require logical consistency.  Since a convert is relying on the teacher for x, then he must also rely on him for y.   The weakness of  this story is quite manifest. Firstly, there is no logical requirement for him to rely on the teacher Y simply because he relied on him for X.  Second,  a convert by definition will not have a large knowledge base on the subject – so he is easy prey for manipulation.  Third, this does not actually  transpire as a proof for the oral Law – it is more a  preaching to the converted  (or about to be converted).

 

If the story, as rabbi Sacks claims, supports the need for and validity of the Oral Law, then the disproof comes from his Cambridge colleagues – Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

 

One of the funniest sketches of the entire Monty Python series was the Hungarian Phrase Book.  A man had devised a phrase book for those with no knowledge of Hungarian. In it, he inserted some false translations, which would often leave the user embarrassed by what he said.

 

According the genuine holders of the Torah, the Priests (who were opposed by the Pharisees),  this was the precise method of the Pharisees – to mistranslate the Torah.

A rational analysis of the Torah will lead to the same conclusion.

 

 

 

Monday, 2 November 2020

The Prophets, the Rabbis, and Abraham Ibn Ezra

 Maimonides pushed hard to restrict interpretation of Torah laws to the hands of the ruling rabbis.  The Scriptures reject his view,  and surprisingly, so do certain other great rabbis.

 

In the Book of Zechariah, the prophet is asked a legal question regarding the new fasts which were instituted after the destruction of the 1st Temple.   In ch.7  of Zechariah, the question is asked of the Prophet, and the answer is give directly to him from God (v.4)

In the following  verse, 5 we see an unexpected reply:

 

אֱמֹר֙ אֶל־כָּל־עַ֣ם הָאָ֔רֶץ וְאֶל־הַכֹּהֲנִ֖ים לֵאמֹ֑ר כִּֽי־צַמְתֶּ֨ם וְסָפ֜וֹד בַּחֲמִישִׁ֣י וּבַשְּׁבִיעִ֗י וְזֶה֙ שִׁבְעִ֣ים שָׁנָ֔ה הֲצ֥וֹם צַמְתֻּ֖נִי אָֽנִי׃

Say to all the people of the land and to the priests: When you fasted and lamented in the fifth and seventh months all these seventy years, did you fast for my benefit?

 

This is the spoken word of God, who is asking these people  if they fasted for Him!

The great commentator, Abraham Ibn Ezra writes the following commentary:

 

על כן צמתוני –

 

צמתם בעבורי או לכבודי, כי אני לא צויתי אתכם לצום.

 

The explanation is that God did not command them to fast!

This commentary of Ibn Ezra sounds more like a Karaite commentary than a rabbinic one – it is essentially saying that the added fasts have to no basis in Torah law.

 

However, the  language he uses has even deeper implications.

Deuteronomy 18  provides a dual approach towards Prophecy and claims of prophecy. On the one hand, we must follow what a prophet says, and on the other, a false prophet who can claim  many things, is not only to be ignored, but also to be killed.


The methodology of testing a prophet is an interesting subject unto itself, and beyond the scope of this article.  However, a very poignant verse appears here  in the Torah:

Deut 18: 20

 אַ֣ךְ הַנָּבִ֡יא אֲשֶׁ֣ר יָזִיד֩ לְדַבֵּ֨ר דָּבָ֜ר בִּשְׁמִ֗י אֵ֣ת אֲשֶׁ֤ר לֹֽא־צִוִּיתִיו֙ לְדַבֵּ֔ר וַאֲשֶׁ֣ר יְדַבֵּ֔ר בְּשֵׁ֖ם אֱלֹהִ֣ים אֲחֵרִ֑ים וּמֵ֖ת הַנָּבִ֥יא הַהֽוּא׃

But any prophet who presumes to speak in My name an oracle that I did not command him to utter, or who speaks in the name of other gods—that prophet shall die.”

 

אֲשֶׁ֤ר לֹֽא־צִוִּיתִיו֙    is the phrase which is adapted and adopted by Ibn Ezra on his commentary to Zechariah 7:5 .

 

The implication is not just that the added fasts are false – it is also applying the verse from Devarim 18:20  about the false prophet, to the rabbinic claim that the Oral Law, and its additions to Torah law fall under the category of the false prophet.

 “But any prophet who presumes to speak in My name an oracle that I did not command him to utter, or who speaks in the name of other gods—that prophet shall die.”

 

The false claims of extra scriptural prophecy by the Pharisees is akin to any other false prophecy.   This stunning admission by Ibn Ezra may be his most revealing comments on the entire Tenach – although the rest are also very informative and praiseworthy!