Sunday 30 April 2023

427) Keset haSofer: The story behind the guide to writing a Sefer Torah


A manuscript on Bava Batra in the handwriting of R. Shlomo Ganzfried (1804-1886)

I came across a fascinating piece of little-known Halachic history uncovered by Hadassah Wendl who is a PhD researcher on Halakhic history at the Free University of Berlin. It’s about how a now well-known guide to writing a Sefer Torah, entitled Keset haSofer (The Scribe's Inkwell), came to be. 

Before R. Shlomo Ganzfried (1804-1886) became the famous author of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (Abridged Code of Jewish Law) he was a businessman in Eastern Hungary, selling wines. One day, while looking at some books in a Jewish bookshop in Debrecen, in Hungary’s Northern Great Plain region, he chanced upon a book entitled Bnei Yona. 

Sunday 23 April 2023

426) Developing R. Hayim Soloveitchick's view on the "controlling role of the text"



This article, based extensively on the research by Professor Adiel Schremer,[1] explores the rather provocative notion that contemporary religious Judaism has adopted a new approach which was unknown to previous generations. Schremer builds on the thought and observations of Rabbi Professor Hayim Soloveitchick[2] (the only son of R. Joseph Ber Soloveitchick, known as the Rav, who served as Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshiva University) who maintained this was due to an unhealthy obsession with the text - and he shows historical parallels of similar elevation of 'text above tradition' which were always reactionary to the former tradition.

Sunday 16 April 2023

425) Challenging G-d in rabbinic writings


Tanchuma-Yelammedeinu named after the common phrase Yelamedeinu rabbeinu: "Let our master teach us." 


This article is based extensively on the research by Professor Dov Wiess[1] and discusses the changing rabbinic perspectives on the permissibility, or otherwise, of arguing with, or challenging G-d. The Torah is replete with references to Avraham, Moshe, Job, Jeremiah, Habakkuk and even some Psalms challenging and protesting various actions of G-d. Talmudic and Midrashic literature followed on a similar path by an expansion of this style of protest writing, where the rabbis placed additional confrontational words into the mouths of the biblical characters they commented upon. Thus, biblical and rabbinic literature is overwhelmingly in favour of humans directing challenges to G-d when they feel they have been unjustly treated. These bold and challenging rabbinic texts flourish and peak particularly at the end of the Talmudic period (around the seventh century). 

Sunday 2 April 2023

424) Avraham Ibn Chasdai's references to 'a certain Chacham'


The thirteenth-century Moznei Tzedek by R. Avraham bar Chasdai,


I have based parts of this article on the research presented in ‘Judaism Adventures,’ and have additionally included some of the original Hebrew texts as well as other observations. For contextualisation, I have drawn on Peter Cole’s The Dream and the Poem.[1] 

Sefer Moznei Tzedek is a fascinating thirteenth-century work by R. Avraham bar Chasdai, also known as Ibn Chasdai, which gives us a rare window into rabbinical writings from around the time of Maimonides. Like Maimonides, Ibn Chasdai quotes Aristo (Aristotle) and he also is well-acquainted with Islamic teachings. He even cites sections of the Quran. 

Ibn Chasdai, was a staunch follower of Maimonides, and fought against R. Yehuda ibn Alfakhar and R. Meir haLevi Abulafia to withdraw their opposition to the Moreh Nevuchim (Guide for the Perplexed). This is interesting because Ibn Chasdai went on adapt or translate a work by the Islamic mystic, al-Ghazali, which we shall soon explore.