26 June 2008

More on Boethusians: Why a Debate about the Date of Shavuot?

After having received a communication regarding the Boethusians from my previous posts (I & II), I wanted to go back and quote some more from Raymond Harari's PhD dissertation on the Boethusians. This posting is specifically on the instance that gets the most mention in Jewish discussions throughout the year - that of the dating of the holiday of Shavuot. The Boethusians disputed with the Pharisees regarding the dating of the holiday, but no reason is given for this dispute in rabbinic literature. The crux of the argument one can easily hear nowadays is that the Boethusians denied the Oral Law, however, "at no point are the Baytusim characterized as a group which denied the overall authority of the Oral Law."1
He continues by saying that
Even if the arguments of the Baytusim were based on the biblical verse (as the Scholion presents it), we are not told that their interpretation was part of a general tendency towards literalistic understandings of the Bible or motivated by a {208} rejection of the sages' authority to interpret the Bible.2
(For a continuation of the text, see below.)
After a lengthy discussion, Harari concludes, saying that
It seems more likely, therefore, that the Baytusim are not depicted as having questioned or rejected the entire calendar determination employed by the Court. In fact, the opposite seems to be the case; having accepted the way in which the months were consecrated, the Baytusim wanted to prevail upon the sages or Perushim with respect to the determination of the holiday of Shavuot. What social or {225} political motivations underlies the view of the Baytusim is never made clear. In fact, only the Scholion provides us with the scriptural base of their argument. Nonetheless, their argument appears to have been viewed as one over a particular detail of rabbinic law and not over the determination of the calendar as a whole or the general authority of the Oral Law.3 (emphasis added by Drew)
(For the immediately preceding section, see below.)
Okay, I realize that Shavuot has passed for this year (2008/5768), but, for next year, it's up. So it may not be that the Boethusians fundamentally rejected the Oral Torah.
Here is the continuation from above:
This contrasts with the approach taken by some scholars such as J.M. Grintz and M.D. Herr.
This view of the Baytusim has been explained by scholars as having been motivated by a variety of factors. As we have seen above with respect to the reaping of the 'omer, A. Geiger argues that the biblical reading of the Perushim is actually older and presumably more in keeping with the plain meaning of the verse. The Baytusim rejected the Perushi interpretation out of resentment to the Perushim for having arrogated the power of the court. A. Guttman, while seeing both the Baytusi and Perushi interpretations as within the peshat (plain meaning) of the biblical verse, argues that the Baytusi reading must have been older, given the general leaning to literal interpretation on the part of the Seduqim. S. Zeitlin argues that the Jewish calendar was originally solar, with Shavuot always falling on Sunday. (Zeitlin apparently understood this calendar to consist of 364 days, divisible by seven.) With the change to a lunar-solar calendar, the Seduqim interpreted the verse literally, thereby {209} maintaining the celebration of Shavuot on Sunday.

L. Finkelstein characteristically sees this controversy as social in nature. The dispute between the Pharisees and the Sadducees (--for Finkelstein, the views of the Seduqim and Baytusim were identical) represent yet another example of the influence of each group's social standing and place of residence. The Pharisees, who were urban plebians unconnected to the soil, attempted to find meaning in the fixing of the date of Pentecost. For them, the revelation at Mount Sinai, commemorated on the sixth of Sivan, was paramount. Consequently, they reinterpreted the biblical verse so that Pentecost would fall on that same date every year. The Sadducees (actually the Baytusim), on the other hand, who were rural farmers, saw no need for such a tradition.

A fuller understanding of the view of the Baytusim regarding the dating of Shavuot and the reaping of 'omer is possible only by an understanding of sectarian calendars present during late Second Temple times. Relevant sectarian calendars are recorded, or alluded to, in the Pseudipigraphical books of Jubilees and 1 Enoch and in {210} several scrolls and fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls. After a brief survey of the calendars employed in these works, we will be able to better determine when exactly the Baytusim are viewed to have placed the 'omer ceremony and the holiday of Shavuot and whether this dating was perceived as apart of an overall departure from the calendar employed by the sages and rabbis.4
Here is the section immediately preceding the conclusion from this section:
Nothing in rabbinic sources can conclusively decide this issue. Complicating the task is the fact that the stipulation that "the reaping of the 'omer is not [done] at the conclusion of the festival" is so vague that it can only be assumed to imply that the ceremony had to take place on Sunday. In other words, it can only be assumed {223} that rabbinic views of the Baytusim regarding the 'omer and Shavuot may be harmonized. Nevertheless, indications seem to be that the rabbis viewed the Baytusim as having chosen the Sunday of Passover and did not perceive the Baytusim as having adopted the Qumran-Jubilees calendar, or for that matter, any other non-rabbinic calendar. Several factors account for this:

First, had there been a more fundamental dispute between the sages and the Baytusim regarding the method of calendation, one would have expected some mention of it in one of the sources under study in this chapter. Instead, these sources limit the controversy with the Baytusim to the dating of the 'omer and Shavuot. Moreover, there is absolutely no allusion to any other calendar dispute between the two groups elsewhere in rabbinic literature. As we have seen, on many occasions, the rabbis freely criticized the Baytusim for erroneous halakhic and theological opinions. It would appear that a sweeping criticism such as this would not have been missed.

Secondly, parts a-c and f of the Scholion to Megillat Ta'anit introduce rabbinic criticism of the position of the {224} Baytusim, specifically targeted at their dating of Shavuot. These parts may admittedly represent a later layer. Nevertheless, the present location of these parts indicates that their aim was to refute the claims of the Baytusim regarding Shavuot. This specific focus conveys, therefore, at least one rabbinic perception that the challenge of the Baytusim related specifically to the determination of the date of shavuot. Thirdly, part c, which reads "And if so [i.e. if it is on Sunday], it will be found that sometimes it will be fifty-one, sometimes fifty-two until fifty-six" would not be understandable if the Baytusi calendar were equivalent with Jubilees-Qumran calendar. That calendar always had the same number of days betweren Passover and Shavuot.5

1 Raymond Harari, "Rabbinic Perceptions of the Boethusians" (Ph.D. diss., New York University, 1995), 207.
2 Harari, "Rabbinic Perceptions of the Boethusians," 207-208.
3 Harari, "Rabbinic Perceptions of the Boethusians," 224-225.
4 Harari, "Rabbinic Perceptions of the Boethusians," 208-210.
5 Harari, "Rabbinic Perceptions of the Boethusians," 222-224.

24 June 2008

What Is Drew Doing For This Summer?

As this is my last summer in rabbinical school (yes, I know there will be next summer, but it may not be quite as much of a break, as the school year is shifting from starting before Labor Day and concluding in early to mid June to, this upcoming year, starting after Labor Day (the first time ever for me, since elementary school, middle school, high school, college, and the first four years at YCT all started prior to Labor Day) and going until the end of June), it will be kind of low key, as next summer will be shorter and I will presumably be busy with finishing up with school stuff and getting ready for my new job. So, the highlight of this summer is our honeymoon [to the Caribbean]. Even though we got married ten months ago, we had not yet gone on it. Additionally, I have some things upon which to work for school. As far as working, I am doing some editing work. For learning, I am doing a page a day of Talmud (Berakhos) as well as reading through Maimonides' Guide to the Perplexed. Of course, I should not forget to mention that I am going to the gym everyday using the elliptical machine and lifting weights several times a week. Also, coming up next week is YCT's Yemei Iyun in Tanakh and Jewish Thought which I will be attending.

Not Sleeping on Shavuos

This past Shavuos, a friend of mine had spoken about various reasons why there is a custom to remain awake through the [first] night of Shavuos. Afterwards, when I mentioned to him the availability of coffee and that there was an article written on the topic, he was a bit surprised. The article is Elliot Horowitz, "Coffee, Coffeehouses, and the Nocturnal Rituals of Early Modern Jewry," AJS Review 14, no. 1 (Spring 1989): 17-46, which I'd previously mentioned (and which had been mentioned two years ago on the Seforim blog).

For our purposes, I wanted to focus on, specifically, the staying awake for Shavuos. Horowitz writes "The vigils of Shavuot and Hoshana Rabbah, previously limited in their appeal and relatively brief duration, came to be widely observed as all-night affairs. This was due more to the availability of coffee than to the habit of frequenting coffeehouses..." (44). In regards to the development of the custom in the 16th century, it had "spread, by the century's end, among the adherents of kabbalistic piety in Safed and elsewhere in the land of Israel" (36).

As to its origin, apparently, Rabbi Yosef Karo "together with his brother-in-law, R. Solomon Alkabetz, introduced the custom of observing an all-night study vigil on the festival of Shavuot" (24).

I suppose a good follow-up post to this one would be texts which demonstrate this (although in note 21 Horowitz makes a reference,* this reference is to the account and not necessarily to texts about the custom's development or place in halakhah).


As an introductory remark to his article, Horowitz makes an observation in regards to sleep and the nighttime that

Where coffee spread it extended the range of possibilities for making use of the night hours, whether for purposes pious or profane (and, as we shall see, these were not mutually exclusive). Where it did not, the night remained considerably less malleable and less susceptible to human initiative. (18)
*Horowitz' note 21: "For an annotated English translation of Alkabetz's account, see Louis Jacobs, Jewish Mystical Testimonies (Jerusalem, 1976), pp. 99-104. For the sources in which it originally appeared, see ibid., pp. 99, 118, and R.J.Z. Werblowsky, Joseph Karo: Lawyer and Mystic (Oxford, 1962), pp. 2, 19-22."

19 June 2008

Taz on Yoreh Deah

(Meta comment: I know I haven't blogged in a while and this is a random post, but hopefully it will get my blogging back on.)
Today, whilst being in the Bishop Library at the Kraft Center, a book entitled "Taz": Rabbi David HaLevi caught my eye. In any event, I figured since we studied a lot of Yoreh Deah this year, I would quote what the author wrote regarding Rabbi HaLevi's work on Yoreh Deah:
The Turei Zahab to Shulhan Arukh, Yoreh Deah was the first of Rabbi David's works to be published and his most influential and authoritative literary achievement. It appeared in print for the first time in 1646 in Lublin. A second edition appeared in the margin of the Shulhan Arukh, along with the commentary (also published for the first time in 1646) of Shabbetai b. Meir HaKohen. This edition, entitled Ashlei ha-Ravrevei, was printed in Wilhelmsdorf in 1677, with the approval and support of the Vaad Arba Arazot. TaZ wrote a one-page addendum to the first edition which was entitled Daf Ahron or Kuntres Ahron. It consists of his critiques against the Siftei Kohen of Shabbetai HaKohen. This addendum appeared in print only once and is apparently no longer in existence. However, at the time its publication led to a rebuttal volume by Rabbi Shabbetai entitled Nekudot HaKesef, and a heated dispute ensued between the two scholars. Rabbi David also wrote a volume of corrections and additions to his commentary on entitled Yoreh DeahSefer Haggahot veHiddushim, first published in 1710 in Halle.
In his introduction to the commentary, Rabbi David describes his students urging him to publish his work. He explains the choice of title Turei Zahab ("Rows of Gold") as being due to his hope that the Turim would now be clarified and elucidated by one whose name, David, is the numerical equivalent of the word zahab ("gold", i.e., "fourteen"). TaZ confesses that he had long desired to publish this commentary but had been unable to do so; furthermore, the loss of several of his notebooks necessitated his reviewing anew all his materials. He concludes the introduction with the hope that he will soon be able to publish his commentary to Hoshen Mishpat, a commentary which he apparently completed before TaZ, Yoreh Deah, or simultaneously with it. However, this hope was not realized. Of TaZ's four commentaries, only the volume on Yoreh Deah was printed in its author's lifetime.

-Elijah J. Schochet, "Taz": Rabbi David Halevi (New York: Ktav Publishing House, 1979), 27-28.