30 August 2007

Who Were the Boethusians?

Indeed, who were the Boethusians? A year and a half ago at the YU library, I found the May 1995 PhD dissertation of Raymond Harari, entitled Rabbinic Perceptions of the Boethusians. For now, I just wanted to quote an excerpt from the introduction and an excerpt from the conclusion.
From pp. 11-12 in the introduction:

In all, however, it appears that the Baytusim may be authentically traced to twelve different contexts. Some of these contexts include two rabbinic sources that mention the Baytusim, while some have parallel passages that do not refer to the Baytusim at all. In sum, the Baytusim passages include one from the Mishnah, seven from the Tosefta, two from the Palestinian Talmud, four from the Babylonian Talmud, two from the Scholion to Megillat Ta’anit, and one from Avot de-Rabbi Natan.

The traditions assign, often with polemical overtones, views or actions to the Baytusim or to one of the members of the group on a broad array of topics. While most of the traditions present views or actions of the Baytusim on halakhic matters, at least one tradition presents the argument of the Baytusim in what may be regarded as a theological context. The halakhic contexts within which we find the views or actions of the Baytusim expressed include Temple-related items such as the incense-offering of the high priest on the Day of Atonement, judicial issues such as the punishment deserved by the zomemim (refuted) witnesses and ritual issues such as the willow branch ceremony celebrated in the Temple on Sukkot (Tabernacles).

and from pp. 320-322 in the conclusion:

In search of some unifying characteristics, some historians have proposed sociological explanations of the views of the Baytusim. More often, however, the Baytusim have been portrayed as having taken a literalist approach to Biblical verses and as having rejected the general validity of the Oral Law. Virtually every rabbinic passage which refers to the Baytusim has been interpreted in this light. The Baytusi interpretation of three Biblical verses in the Scholion to 4 Tammuz clearly presents the Baytusim as advancing a literalist position. The ARN portrayal of the Seduqim and Baytusim as having departed from the Torah has also been taken as equivalent to a rejection of the Oral Law. Moreover, most of the other traditions – dealing with the status of the Baytusim with respect to ‘eruv haserot, their understanding of the manner of incense offering on Yom Kippur, their rejection of the sages’ Sukkot ceremonies, their alternate dating of the ‘omer ceremony and the festival of Shavuot, and their disagreement with the sages regarding two court procedures – have also been understood as emanating from a general rejection of the Oral Law. This approach has found support amongst medieval commentators as well as modern historians.

In truth, however, while it is clear that the conclusions of the Baytusim are presented as differing from those of the sages or the Perushim, it is not clear that rabbinic sources view the Baytusim as having offered a sweeping rejection of the Oral Law and as having adopted a consistently literalist approach to the reading of the Bible. First, two of the three literalist interpretations attributed to the Baytusim in the Scholion are offered by tannaim elsewhere in rabbinic literature. Secondly, the ARN assertion that the Baytusim “departed form the Torah” appears to mean that they departed form the mainstream of the sages; it does not appear to imply any rejection of a general methodology or direction. Thirdly, in each of the other passages, there is never even an allusion to a rejection of the Oral Law. Rather, the arguments of the Baytusim are presented as independently-formulated opinions with which the sages or the Perushim took issue. Fourthly, in at least one case – T. Kippurim 1:8 and P. Yoma 39a-b – historians have recognized that the opinion of the Baytusim is not more literal than that of the sages. Finally, if the Baytusim were indeed viewed by the rabbis as being literealists, it is somewhat puzzling to understand why they are not presented as citing and explicating more Biblical verses. In point of fact, the Baytusim are perceived as having offered Scriptural proof in only three instances: the Scholion to 4 Tammuz, T. Kippurim 1:8 and P. Yoma 39a-b, and the Scholion to 8 Nisan. Indeed, even the parallel passage to the Scholion to 8 Nisan – B. Menahot 65a-b – does not cite the Biblical verse.

29 August 2007

Follow-Up From Yesterday's Post on the Anti-Semitic Women on YouTube

It seems the story about the anti-semitic women on YouTube I posted yesterday (HT: Columbus Dispatch) has developed a little bit (btw, apparently Matthew Marx and Dean Narciso, who composed that article, got the story off of tv news reporter, Maureen Kocot) (also, it seems that on the Jblogosphere, Life of Rubin picked up the story from VIN, which has run a series of three posts on the topic: 1, 2, 3). Firstly, Kocot did a further piece (last night's big story on WBNS).
Also, as far as my suggestion that someone contact the ADL in yesterday's posting, it seems that the Ohio ADL's regional director responded by saying
We were deeply disturbed by the message of these videos, which is anti-Semitism, racism and hate. It is frightening that such hateful views would be held by a member of the Columbus force.
As it stands, it seems that the police officer has been reassigned as there is an investigation under way. What is one of the interesting things about this (aside from a discussion of the first amendment) is the discussion about a possible bifurcation of on-the-job behavior and personal conduct (as can be seen in the previous link).

28 August 2007

Oy, Anti-Semitism on the Internet

Maybe in part because I have resided in New York City for the past few years, but I don't run into anti-Semitism that much. Anyways, a couple of women have made a few videos ("The Jews", "The Jews Part II", and "The Jews Part III") that are, you guessed it, horribly anti-semitic (HT: CD (see also CU)). I would embed the videos here were it not for how simply distasteful they are. I wonder if the ADL knows about this yet....

Bedtime Shema' Piece

With still trying to get things in order around our new apartment and with the new school year here, I've been a bit busy and, thus, my posting has dropped off. However, I wanted to briefly post something here. YCT's annual Torah journal, Milin Havivin will hopefully be coming out sometime this fall for the third volume. In there, I have an article on the blessing before going to sleep (that I have mentioned initially here and subsequently here) which is in its final stages of being edited for publication. This particular posting is about one of two appendices I had appended to the article but now will not be a part of the paper (hopefully, the other appendix (on the phrase "my bed" in Rabbinic literature) will remain in...). I thought I would post it up for anybody who may be interested in it. It is a brief three-page piece on the bedtime Shema'. Because I did very little with this piece, just copying it into a new file, there are a couple of references that are subsequent to earlier references in the paper, itself, so they are incomplete. (Update: I have now fixed those references.) A lot of it is a rehashing of part of my paper in last year's regarding the bedtime Shema'. There are a couple of neat little points, such as in footnotes 6 & 8, but not much else. Ah well, it's a neat little piece.

20 August 2007

'Ishto Kegufo (His Wife Is Like Himself)

I know that I've been on quite the blogging hiatus on account of my recent wedding last Sunday and I hope to get back into it, especially on the woman's head/hair-covering topic. Anyways, in the meantime, I wanted to blog about the Talmudic phrase אשתו כגופו - his wife is like himself (lit. his wife is like his body). A schoolmate of mine's wife just gave birth this past week (the bris is this Friday) (yes, mazal tov!) and, earlier in the summer, I would inquire when he/they were due, he would respond, "I'm not pregnant - my wife is." Upon this answer, I would respond, "אשתו כגופו", though I'm fairly sure he wasn't convinced. Nevertheless, this was my impetus to look up where the phrase was used in Talmudic literature and how it was used.
The origin of this term is tannaitic and is found in a beraisa that is quoted on both Yevamos 62b-63a and on Sanhedrin 76b (text used here is from MS Munich 95 for the Yevamos text):

האוהב את אשתו כגופו, והמכבדה יותר מגופו, והמדריך בניו ובנותיו בדרך ישר', והמשיאן סמוך לפירקן - עליו הכתו' או' "וידעת כי שלום אהלך."

האוהב את שכיניו, והמקרב את קרוביו, והנושא את בת אחותו, והמלוה סלע לעני בשעת דוחקו - עליו הכתו' או' "אז תקרא ויי יענה תשוע ויאמר הנני."

One who loves his wife like himself, and one who honors her more than himself, and one who guides his sons and daughters on a proper path, and one who marries them off just directly prior to their reaching puberty - upon him Scripture says "And you will know that your tent is peace" (Job 5.24).
One who loves his neighbors, and one who draws close his relatives, and one who marries his sister's daughter, and one who lends a sela to a poor person in the hour of his need - upon him Scripture says "Then you will call and God will answer; you will cry and He will say, 'Here I am'" (Isaiah 58.9).
Both of the two halves of this text each start out with "one who loves", has four actions, and has a Biblical verse speaking to the meritoriousness of the actions. For our purposes here, we will focus on the first half of this text. The first two pieces are about a husband's actions and the second two are about a father's actions. Achieving to love his wife like himself and to honor her more than himself are no easy tasks.
However, from the above text, there is no comparison being made between a husband and a wife, except that, for a man to love his wife like himself, he is reached a special level, so to speak/type.
The other two uses of the phrase "his wife is like himself" are each used by the stammaim (the later, redactorial layer of the Talmud). One use is found on Berakhos 24a and the other on Bekhoros 35b. Both of them are found within discussions, though I've tried to excerpt some of the discussions, so as not to be too lengthy.
Here is the Berakhos text (from MS Munich 95):

בעא מיניה רב יוסף בריה דרב נחמיה מרב יהודה: "שנים שהיו ישנים במטה אחת - מהו שיחזיר פניו ויקרא ק"ש ויחזיר זה פניו ויקרא ק"ש?"

א"ל הכי אמ' שמואל: מותר, אפי' אשתו עמו."

מתקיף לה רב יוסף ולא מיבעיא אחר.

אדרבה: אשתו כגופו, אחר לאו כגופו.

Rav Yosef, son of Rav Nehemiah, inquired of Rav Yehudah: “Two people who are sleeping in one bed – should one turn his face and read out the reading of the Shema’ and the other turn his face and read out the reading of the Shema’?”

He said to him: “Shmuel said: ‘It is permissible – even if his wife is with him.’”

Rav Yosef pointed out a difficulty: And it’s not necessary to say another.

On the contrary: his wife is like himself – another is not like himself!
The Bekhoros text (from MS Vatican 120):

ודוקא בנו ובתו, אבל אשתו – לא.

מאי טעמ'?

אשתו כגופו דמיא.

And specifically his son or his daughter, but his wife – no.

What is the reason?

His wife is compared as himself.

In these two latter texts (yes, I know there are gaps between each of the lines - if someone knows how to fix that, please let me know), the stam borrows the language from the beraisa out of its context into a different context that suits his needs within a given discussion. However, that isn't to suggest that the stam necessarily misunderstood or misread the original term/phrase, but rather creatively appropriated it for his/their uses in an argumentative framework.

I hope you enjoyed. I think the stammaitic usage of the term is, however, a "fun" way to employ the term, even if not everybody appreciates or accepts its employment.

08 August 2007

Head & Hair Covering For Women (Pt. 1)

Last month, R' Sedley (I only found out about his blog through a Google blogsearch on this topic) posted on the topic of head/hair covering for Jewish women, starting off with:
I have been asked by someone about the sources for women's hair covering. Why do they have to cover their hair? Who has to cover her hair? When does the hair need to be covered? How much? and Where does it say so in the Torah?
He then proceeds to not answer the questions.

In the Talmud, there are essentially just two [albeit separate] pericopes which discuss head and hair covering: one at Kesubos 7.6 (both Mishnah & the Tosefta) with the Talmudic commentary thereupon (in both Talmuds) and the other at Berakhos 24a (click here for these Talmudic sources).
Yesterday, I sat down with Rabbi Josh Yuter to read through some of the halakhic sources on head and hair covering for women, focusing on the Talmudic excerpts, though also reading briefly through the relevant passages on the topic in the Mishneh Torah and the Shulhan Arukh. As generally married Jewesses cover their heads/hair, it is pretty relevant for me, as I am getting married in four days to a young lady who has asked me about this particular topic.
While Josh emphasized the distinctness to me between these two pericopes which have been conflated in the halakhic literature (and I agree), I cannot entirely separate these two entirely in a descriptive fashion as they most certainly somehow be related. In other words, what it was that caused Rav Sheshes to read into the verse "your hair is like a flock of goats" (SoS 6.5 & 4.1) in order to make his hermeneutical read of "A woman's hair is a nakedness" (Berakhos 24a)? The book of Song of Songs is filled with a number of statements of the recognition of feminine beauty and yet only a few are selected to depict, in this section of Talmud, "nakednesses". I think there must have been something in the culture that not only was for a woman to contain her hair, but also a covering of it. Nevertheless, maintained Josh, was that, halakhically, these are separate discourses, which is certainly interesting.
Aside from the nakedness discussion is that of not covering it would be one of the things which goes against Jewish custom (one of four things [in the Mishhah] and one of five things [in the Tosefta]). In both Talmuds, the discussion takes on a spatial dimension as to where she must cover her head or not (and how). Thus, there is clearly a social (socio-religious(?)) element to a Jewish woman covering her hair (perhaps indicating that she is married(/taken))?

I see that JOFA has a listing of various articles and such on this topic and I hope to read through them in the future.

07 August 2007

College Papers From My Old Computer

Continuing in a similar vein from my earlier post about files from my college computer, I have now uploaded various papers I wrote for assignments in college (now in pdf format). All of these are from my last three semesters at IU, upon my return back from YU. The only non-Jewish studies one of these is this little sheet. Keep in mind that they are specifically undergrad pieces and not grad work.
Two papers that I composed for my anthropology class in fall 2002 were "Male Initiation to Torah Education" and "Modern-day Jewish Traditional Wedding Ceremonies in America".
In the following spring, I used the Chicago style of citation in my printing press paper. I also took another anthropology course on Jewish women, wherein I wrote a couple of papers on Jewesses
(one - two) and another couple on mikveh use (one - two). For our final assignment, a classmate and I worked on a paper on the two women rabbis in town (also uploaded is a rough draft of a piece of work that was intended by me to be included in the work (but it was not to be so) on rabbinic reasons for women not to be rabbis).
The following semester, I wrote a piece on Spinoza's method of Biblical interpretation. More significantly was my last paper in college, "Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik’s Philosophy of Halakhah’s View of Evil".
While glancing at some of them, I noticed various typos and other errors, so the reader may now consider oneself warned. Interestingly, another thing I noticed is the style of my discourse concerning Judaism and halakhah.

06 August 2007

5 Days Left Until My Wedding

Yup, only 5 days left until my/our wedding. Two things about it that I wanted to discuss. The first of which is our gift registries. We are registered at Bed Bath & Beyond and Crate & Barrel. We are also registered with two separate knife registries: Warther Knives and Cutco (for Cutco, you will have to search for our names). Although the last two knife registries were added much later, it has been interesting that a lot has been bought off of our BB&B registry and not as much off of our C&B registry - my thinking is that people assume that we are registered at the former, thus they go there and purchase from there, with less people going to our various registries from our registries page. (Oh yeah, if you wanted to get us something off of one of our registries (no pressure), even though you may not have been invited to the wedding, we will not hold you back from doing so.)
The other is that we are finally finished composing our wedding brochure. Whenever I have gone to weddings in the past, I always wanted more information - some footnotes and some in-text citations. I then thought that mine would be different - it would be full of information and sources. But, alas, my fiance wanted no such thing. Okay, I really shouldn't place the blame on her - most of the guests probably care little about such information and just want basics and to follow along with the ceremonies and celebrations.

Random Quotes

While sorting through my old college computer scavenging it for files of various sorts that may be somehow useful, especially including pictures, some of which are featured here, I found three files, each of which had a quote. So, I figured I would post them here - who knows? Maybe someone will find them useful.
The first of the these three quotes is from Erich Fromm, who wrote some excellent books (it was kind of interesting for me to be reading his works in a post-modern era, as he was a modern writer, but he nevertheless has some impressive insights), the following quote from Man for Himself: An Inquiry Into the Psychology of Ethics:
The overemphasis on ends leads to a distortion of the harmonious balance between means and ends in various ways: one way is that all emphasis is on ends without sufficient consideration of the role of means. The outcome of this distortion is that the ends become abstract, unreal, and eventually nothing but pipe dreams. This danger has been discussed at length by Dewey. The isolation of ends can have the opposite effect: while the end is ideologically retained, it serves merely as a cover for shifting all the emphasis to those activities which are allegedly means to this end. The motto for this mechanism is “The ends justify the means.” The defenders of this principle fail to see that the use of destructive means has its own consequences which actually transform the end even if it is still retained ideologically.
The latter two quotes both come from http://www.mckinseyquarterly.com, though the original locations of the links are no longer existant.
The first of these two quotes is from Susanne Hauschild, Thomas Licht, and Wolfram Stein in their "Creating a Knowledge Culture":
“[S]uccessful companies build a corporate environment that fosters a desire for knowledge among their employees and that ensures its continual application, distribution, and creation.”
The last quote is from "When reorganization works":
Reorganizations succeed when they build on simple and motivating business ideas, are well-timed, and face social realities. Only when these three conditions have been met should top executives begin drawing up and testing the options for a new organizational design.

04 August 2007

Maimonides and the Incline of the Generations?

A while back on my blog, I remember getting into a discussion in the comments section on a posting about the idea of "the decline of the generations". Anyways, while finishing up cleaning my room in anticipation for my new roommate (a/k/a my fiance), I came across the following:
Maimonides, it thus turns out, could not have affirmed that human nature was in some sort of constant process of entropic decline, and, in fact, did not. He thus refused to affirm that the Rabbis of the Mishnah and Talmud were significantly different in their natures from the rabbis of his day (or, it is fair to add, ours).
Source: Menachem Kellner, Maimonides on the "Decline of the Generations" and the Nature of Rabbinic Authority (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996), 94. (Original HT to Rabbi Dov Linzer in the Modern Orthodoxy course I took 2005-6 for excerpts from this book.)

02 August 2007

Ohio State Fair

Yesterday, we went to the first day of the Ohio State Fair! I hadn't been in years and was so excited to go back. Indeed, I had a nice time, although for my fiance's first time - not so much - it was just too long for her to be there (I imagine that it was partly due to her not being a native Ohioan).
It was pleasant, though I had never realized before how so much of the fair's midway (see for instance, the picture to the left) was flanked by vendors selling primarily food, though some also had games where people can try to win stuffed animals, etc. I also hadn't realized how there were buildings specifically for given animals (one building for sheep, another for chickens) to be judged. One of my favorite buildings was the marketplace building.
Anyways, something that struck me when planning initially on going to the fair was that it was going to last for only 12 days - a short period of time to me, it seemed. I found out that three years ago, they switched from a 17-day long fair to a 12-day duration.
A couple of facts I learned about Ohio is that it is the USA's #1 Swiss cheese producer and is the second-largest egg-producing state in the country. It also is "home to the world's largest Amish population."
I don't know when the next time I will be able to go back to the fair, but I'm glad I did.

01 August 2007

Trip to the Columbus Zoo

2 pink flamingos and 1 grey oneYesterday, we went to the Columbus Zoo, my hometown zoo, so to speak, which I have not visited in years (between 2-4 years) and really wanted to go back and see it. A couple of the areas of the zoo were new to me, such as the Voyage to Australia & the Islands (which was probably there the last time I was there, but it might not have beenFluffy, the largest snake in captivity open), the African Forest was redone, and Asia Quest, which just opened last summer. One part of the zoo about which I was disappointed was that the Johnson Aquatic Complex was closed. Speaking of further developments - it seems that some animals have already been removed to be a part of future parts of the zoo, such as polar bears which will be a part of the Polar Frontier, which is to open next fall, and giraffes, which will open in three years.
Pictured at the right is "Fluffy", the largest snake in captivity at 24 feet long and over 300 pounds heavy. There were some neat animals that I had not seen before, such as the markhor and some of the animals in the Australia exhibit.
A common thing that I have been noticing in my previous zoo visits (such as the NOLA Zoo, the Bronx Zoo, and the Boston Zoo (visited after Shavuos this year)) is thee making of the surrounding areas like that of their natural habitat, both flora-wise, but also similar to the human environment. "Rhino Ryan" noted that "The Columbus Zoo has fastly become one of the most popular and most innovative zoos in the country. ... The zoo is home to some of the rarest animals on earth and has been one of the trend setters of biomes. Biomes are areas in zoos built to house animals and plants of the same area whether it be a rainforest style or tundra." Another common thing (though I don't remember having seen it at the Biblical Zoo when I visited over three years ago) is that there is a huge push to save animals and that a very oft-repeated refrain is that humans, often via habitat destruction, are responsible for the demise of many, many species of animals. Anyways, I know I already noted this, but I guess this message needs to be put out somehow and the zoos are the most basic locus at which this message needs to start.
The one object that is noteworthy Jewishly is that there is a quote on the way into Manatee Coast that says, "Deeds of giving are the very foundation of the world." For the source to this quote, it quotes "the Torah". Now this is interesting because this quote is clearly not in the five books of the Torah, but seemingly a Talmudic quote. Thus, they probably got this quote off of the Internet. Indeed, searching for this phrase, yields several re
sults, with most of them giving the same reference as "the Torah." While I am not sure where the true source of this quote is, I believe it is a paraphrasing of Shimon, the Just's words of "Upon three things the world stands: Upon the Torah, Upon the [Temple] service, and upon acts of kindness" (Avot 1.2). Apparently, someone must have originally paraphrased this quote and then other people quoted it without knowing precisely its location. Eventually, when the Columbus Zoo was creating their Manatee Coast exhibit, they found this quote and then printed it up and used it.
(Below is a movie HTR made a few months ago at Manatee Coast.)