Sefer Ha-Hayim Blog
Friday, January 26, 2007
SOY Seforim Sale
The world-famous SOY Seforim Sale begins this Sunday and continues through February 19th. If you are in the NEw York area, be sure to stop by and check out all the books from Yashar. If you need any help finding them, ask the staff. In particular, look for:
  • The Rabbis' Advocate: Chacham David Nieto and The Second Kuzari by David Nieto, translated by Meir Levin
  • Bach: Rabbi Joel Sirkes: His Life, Works and Times by Elijah J. Schochet
  • The Challenge of Creation: Judaism's Encounter with Science, Cosmology & Evolution by Natan Slifkin
  • The Legacy of Maimonides: Religion, Reason and Community by Yamin Levy and Shalom Carmy
  • Man and Beast: Our Relationships with Animals in Jewish Law and Thought by Natan Slifkin
  • Between the Lines of the Bible: A Study from the New School of Orthodox Torah Commentary by Yitzchak Etshalom
  • My Yeshiva College: 75 Years of Memories edited by Zev Nagel and Menachem Butler
  • Gray Matter volume 2 by Chaim Jachter with Ezra Frazer
  • Where There's Life, There's Life by David M. Feldman
  • Medicine and Jewish Law volume III edited by Fred Rosner and Robert Schulman
  • Moral Issues of the Marketplace in Jewish Law by Aaron Levine
  • The Students' Guide through the Talmud by Zevi Hirsch Chajes, translated, edited and critically annotated by Jacob Shachter
  • Rabbi Israel Salanter: Religious-Ethical Thinker by Menahem G. Glenn
  • The Right and the Good: Halakhah and Human Relations (Expanded Edition) by Rabbi Daniel Z. Feldman
  • Bnei Banim vol. 4 by Yehuda Henkin

  • AND, AVAILABLE TOWARDS THE END OF THE SECOND WEEK OF THE SALE, The Pursuit of Justice and Jewish Law: Halakhic Perspectives on the Legal Profession by Michael J. Broyde

The Seforim Sale's calendar

Directions to the sale

Tuesday, January 23, 2007
Orthodox Bible Scholarship, in Print
Orthodox Bible Scholarship, in Print

An Interview with Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom from Yeshiva College's undergraduate newspaper, The Commentator

Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom, who studied at RIETS in the early 80's, recently published his first book, Between the Lines of the Bible: A Study of the New School of Orthodox Torah Commentary, which will be available at this year's SOY Seforim Sale. Rabbi Etshalom agreed to sit down with The Commentator to discuss the publication.

Commie: What makes Between the Lines unique?

YE: Between the Lines presents a systematic program for reading Tanakh within the general framework of Masorah, while allowing breadth to enhance depth. In other words, by utilizing every possible tool available to us, we are able to discover new readings of the text, and that's what I tried to accomplish. This first volume deals with the book of Genesis.

Continued here

Tuesday, January 16, 2007
Pamphlet about Chacham David Nieto
The English Hebraica blog has an interesting post about a pamphlet published by the London Bet Din in 1705, defending Chacham David Nieto against charges of heresy. He was defended by none other than R. Tzvi Ashkenazi, author of the Chacham Tzvi. See the post and download the pamphlet here: link

Sunday, January 14, 2007
Ruling from the Shulchan Arukh II
(Note that this post is not meant to imply that the Shulchan Arukh is not currently binding, as explained in this post. This current post is of an historical nature, and not halakhic.)

From Bach, Rabbi Joel Sirkes: His Life, Works and Times (pp. 67-70):
Sirkes thus speaks eloquently of the erudition and influence of Joseph Karo (d. 1575) upon the Jewish scholarly world.
…for he enlightened the eyes of all Israel…and opened for us the gates of justice and truth … enabling us to understand the method of the great legal authorities.

How great was his strength in (understanding) all of the Talmud, earlier and later legal authorities, and responsa. How great is his merit, for due to his compositions wise men and their disciples have gathered together and strengthened themselves.
When disagreeing with Karo, Sirkes usually employs only the most respectful phraseology: “an error escaped from the pen of the Beth Joseph”, “his learning overcame him”, “God should forgive him”, “An error escaped from before the ruler Joseph, who distributes sustenance to all of the people of the land.”

What complicated Sirkes’ attitude toward the writings of Joseph Karo was the latter’s Shulh'an Arukh.

Click here to read moreA full decade after the publication of the Beth Joseph, Karo’s massive commentary and codification of Jewish law, the author issued a radically abridged version which he entitled the Shulh'an Arukh. Its purpose was to serve as a handbook of law, with all sources omitted and only the final decisions recorded. It was meant to be a brief compendium for scholar and layman alike.

Objections to the Shulh'an Arukh were immediate and intense for a variety of reasons: Mordecai Jaffe characterized the Shulh'an Arukh as a “table well set with all manner of refreshments, however the dishes are tasteless, lacking the salt of reasoning which is able to cause the broth to boil and to warm the individual.”

The extreme brevity of the Shulh'an Arukh and its lack of any commentary or interpretative material was held to be a grave deficiency in the work.

Karo was criticized for his great independence in rendering legal decisions and for the fact that he would occasionally incorporate decisions without taking into consideration the differing opinions of many great authorities. Moses Isserles comments that Karo is not always faithful to his own ground rules for rendering halakhic decisions. Many also objected to the Shulh'an Arukh on the grounds that it neglected to cite Ashkenazic practices, reflecting Sephardic patterns to the exclusion of those of the Franco-German school. Virtually all Polish rabbis are understandably critical of this tendency.

Joel Sirkes no doubt concurred with all of these objections. He, too, considered the Shulh'an Arukh to be too brief and sparse a work and found fault with many of Karo’s decisions. But these critiques, of and by themselves, fail to explain the intensity with which Rabbi Joel attacks the Shulh'an Arukh and its devotees.

Furthermore, although Sirkes was well aware of Karo’s Sephardic bias, it is doubtful that this was the crucial factor in his objection to the Shulh'an Arukh. He does not object so vehemently to the Beth Joseph which reflects similar Sephardic emphasis in far greater detail.

Sirkes’ central criticism of the Shulh'an Arukh stemmed from his conviction that a Code of Law, any code of law, is by definition insufficient. Prerequisite to the rendering of any legal decision is a thorough knowledge of all primary sources. There are no short cuts in determining laws. Sirkes writes:
In the majority of instances it is impossible to render legal decisions from the Shulh'an Arukh … he who is not well versed in the study of Talmud is incapable of correctly adjudicating cases.
In even stronger language, he asserts that:
…those who determine laws according to the Shulh'an Arukh are teaching not according to the Halakha…

In Sirkes’ lifetime there developed around the Shulh'an Arukh a cult of admirers whose enthusiasm for the work became a source of considerable concern to Rabbi Joel. Sirkes takes to task his colleague, Joshua Falk Cohen, for the latter’s great reliance upon the work, and objects vehemently to the sentiment expressed by a younger contemporary that “it is forbidden to change one thing in the Shulh'an Arukh, for it is as the Torah of Moses.”

Sirkes was exceedingly disturbed by this idolization of the Shulh'an Arukh, a book which he regarded as simply the work of one man, and not an authoritative exposition of Halakha. He objected, not so much because of the misinformation which he felt it to contain, but because of the fear he had that it would detract from the study of the Talmud. Sirkes was concerned lest the Shulh'an Arukh render the study of Rabbinic sources obsolete by becoming itself a source book of Halakha!

Rabbi Sirkes was not alone in entertaining such apprehensions. Samuel Edels, Rabbi Joel’s contemporary, describes rabbis rendering decisions directly from the Shulh'an Arukh without analyzing the Talmudic sources. He accuses them of failing to fully understand the legal cases they adjudicate...

However, Sirkes did not place any blame upon Karo personally for the excessive enthusiasm of his followers and their occasional neglect of the proper legal sources. On the contrary, he refers to Karo as cautioning his disciples not to rush into any legal discussions until such time as they have familiarized themselves with the necessary sources.

It is interesting to note this striking comment of Rabbi Judah Loew of Prague:
Had the authors (Karo and Isserles) known that these compositions (Shulh'an Arukh and Mappah) would cause some to desist entirely from the study of Talmud and render verdicts solely from these compositions, they would never have composed them…it is better and more proper to render a decision from the Talmud, even where there is cause to fear that it may be an erroneous decision…than to render a decision from one such work without truly understanding the case at hand.
The aforementioned objections notwithstanding, Sirkes was not as bitterly opposed to the Shulh'an Arukh as he has been made out to be. He refers to its rulings often, both in the Bayit H adash and in his responsa. He makes mention of the fact that he had begun to write his own commentary upon the Shulh'an Arukh, and he refers to an occasion at the Lublin Fair when the only book he chose to bring with him was the Shulh'an Arukh. He obviously felt it to be an excellent guide book for legal discussions, in spite of its limitations as an expositor of sources.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007
The Rabbis' Advocate
A new book defending the Jewish oral tradition is now available from Yashar:

The Rabbis' Advocate
Chacham David Nieto and the Second Kuzari

by R. David Nieto, translated by R. Meir Levin

Matteh Dan, or Kuzari Hasheini, is a defense of the Jewish oral tradition against attacks by Karaites and skeptics. Rabbi David Nieto, Chacham of the Sephardic congregation in London in the early eighteenth century, responded to criticisms of the rabbinic tradition by writing this wide-ranging defense of the Talmud and the Oral Law. Matteh Dan is widely considered a classic of Jewish apologetics in the best sense of the term and is still widely studied and quoted, even into our day. Although the field of heresy has unfortunately undergone much growth and development since R. Nieto’s time, his contribution remains important, and his arguments continue to ring true today.

Rabbi Meir Levin has translated this important work into a readable English and added explanatory footnotes to make the book even more accessible. The book comes with rabbinic approbations from R. Mordechai Willig, R. Simcha Schorr and R. Moshe Faskowitz.

More about the book here. You can buy the book here. And an excerpt from the book can be downloaded here (PDF).

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