From Breslau to Jerusalem: A Vision for the Future Based on the Past


On December 7-8, 2004, The Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies held an academic conference in Hebrew entitled “From Breslau to Jerusalem: Rabbinical Seminaries in the Past, Present and Future”. Its purpose was to mark the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Breslau Rabbinical Seminary and the 20th anniversary of the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary in Jerusalem. It was co-sponsored by the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary, The Leo Baeck Institute – Jerusalem, and the German Embassy in Israel, and was organized by Dr. Guy Miron, Senior Lecturer in Modern Jewish History and incoming Dean of the Schechter Institute. What follows is Prof. Golinkin’s lecture at the opening session.

Shavuot – Whatever Happened to the Ten Commandments?


This article is based on my brief Dvar Torah which appeared in Iyyuney Shabbat, Shavuot 5758; Israel Abrahams, Festival Studies, London, 1906, pp. 84-90; Philip Kieval, Conservative Judaism 7/4 (June 1951), pp. 20-24; Ephraim E. Urbach in: Ben Zion Segal and Gershon Levi, eds., The Ten Commandments in History and Tradition, Jerusalem, 1990, pp. 161-189 = Ephraim E. Urbach, Collected Writings in Jewish Studies, Jerusalem, 1999, pp. 289-317 (translated from the Hebrew which also appeared in three different places); Moshe Weinfeld, Asseret Hadibrot U’Keriyat Shema, Tel Aviv, 2001, pp. 160-162.

The Torah reading for Shavuot is the Ten Commandments. This is based on the opinion of one of the Tannaim (early Sages) found in three places in rabbinic literature (Tosefta Megillah 3:5, ed. Lieberman p. 354; Yerushalmi Megillah 3:7, fol. 74b; and Bavli Megillah 31a). This is, without a doubt, the result of the rabbinic belief that the Torah was given on Mt. Sinai on Shavuot (Shabbat 86b).

Regarding the trasformation of Shavuot from an agricultural festival (Yom Habikkurim) to The Time of the Giving of our Torah (Zeman Mattan Toratenu), see Encyclopaedia Judaica [hereafter: EJ], Vol. 14, cols. 1320-1321, s.v. Shavuot.

Even so, it is very surprising that we only read the Ten Commandments in public on Shavuot and as part of the weekly portions of Yitro (Exodus 20) and Va’ethanan (Deut. 5). After all, the Bible itself considered the Ten Commandments of seminal importance to the covenant between God and the People of Israel. The Ten Commandments are also quoted or paraphrased by the Psalms (50:7, 18-19; 81:10-11), by the Prophet Hosea (4:1-2), and by the Prophet Jeremiah (7:9).

Furthermore, Philo of Alexandria (first century C.E.) considered the Ten Commandments the essence of the entire Torah, which elaborates in detail what the Ten Commandments say in condensed form.

See Yehosua Amir in The Ten Commandments (above, note 1), pp. 121-160.
A similar idea is found in the Talmud Yerushalmi (Shekalim 6:1, fol. 49d):

Just as at sea there are huge waves, with a host of little waves between them, so are there Ten Commandments, with a host of refinements and particular commandments of the Torah between them.

Cf. the parallels in Yerushalmi Sotah 8:3, fol. 22d; Shir Hashirim Rabbah to 5:14, ed. Vilna fol. 31d; Bamidbar Rabbah 13:15-16, ed. Mirkin, p. 71.

Five hundred years later, Rav Sa’adia Gaon (888-942) wrote Azharot or liturgical hymns for Shavuot, in which all 613 commandments are distributed under the headings of each of the Ten Commandments.

Siddur Rav Sa’adia Gaon, Jerusalem, 1941, pp. 191-216 and cf. EJ, Vol. 3, cols. 1007-1008, s.v. Azharot.

A similar idea is found in Numbers Rabbah (13:15-16, ed. Mirkin, p. 71), edited in the twelfth century.

See Hananel Mack, Te’udah 11 (1996), pp. 91-105.
 That midrash states that there are 620 letters in the Ten Commandments; 613 letters refer to the 613 commandments and the other
See Moshe Greenberg, EJ, Vol. 12, col. 833, s. v. Nash Papyrus, who refers to the classic articles on the subject. However, it could be that the Nash papyrus served as part of a pair of tefillin or of a mezuzah – see Esther Eshel cited in the following note, note 36.
 refer to the seven days of Creation. “This comes to teach you that the entire world was created for the sake of the Torah.”

Furthermore, Rabbi Levi claimed that the Ten Commandments are included in other central biblical passages such as the Shema (Yerushalmi Berakhot, Chapter 1, fol. 3c) and Leviticus Chapter 19, the beginning of Kedoshim (Leviticus Rabbah 24:5, ed. Margaliot, p. 557).

Therefore, given their centrality, why not read the Ten Commandments every day just as we read the Shema (Deut. 6 and 11 and Numbers 15) and The Song at the Sea (Exodus 15)?

The answer is that in the Second Temple period, Jews did indeed read the Ten Commandments every morning. So it appears from the Nash Papyrus, which was written in Egypt around 150 b.c.e. and published in 1903. It contains the Ten Commandments (Deut. 5) followed by the beginning of the Shema (Deut. 6), and scholars believe that it was a liturgical text.7

Furthermore, the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in 1947 include at least three small scrolls, which contain the Ten Commandments, the Shema (Deut. 6 and 11) and other selected passages from Deuteronomy and Exodus. Esther Eshel, in an exhaustive study of one of those fragments, believes that they were collections of prayers recited at Qumran.

Esther Eshel, HUCA 62 (1991), pp. 117-154 and especially pp. 148-152.

A more explicit reference is found in Mishnah Tamid 5:1, which states that the Priests in the Temple used to recite every morning “the Ten Commandments, Shema (Deut. 6), V’haya im shamoa (Deut. 11).Emet V’yatziv (the blessing after the Shema), the Avodah blessing (found today in the Amidah), and the Priestly Blessing”.

Similarly, in Sifrei Devarim (Piska 35, ed. Finkelstein, p. 63) the Sages discussed the possibility of including the Ten Commandments in the tefillin. Furthermore, seven tefillin fragments discovered at Qumran actually include the Ten Commandments.

Yigael Yadin, Tefillin from Qumran, Jerusalem, 1969 and the literature cited in Eshel, notes 29-33.
 In addition, the Church Father Jerome, who lived in the Land of Israel (342-420 c.e.) relates that the Ten Commandments were still included in the tefillin in his day. In his commentary to Ezekiel 24:17, he says that the Hebrews say that the Sages of Babylon who observe the precepts surround their heads until today with the Ten Commandments written on parchment, and these are what they were commanded to hang before their eyes on their foreheads.

Similarly, the anonymous author of the Quaestiones on II Chronicles 23:11 says that the word “edut” in that verse means “tefillin in which one can read the Ten Commandments”.

A. M. Haberman, Eretz Yisrael 3 (1954), p. 175 and see now the thorough discussion by Hillel Newman, Jerome and the Jews (Hebrew), Ph.D. dissertation, Hebrew University, 1997, pp. 150-156.

Yet if the Sages Considered the Ten Commandments so important, why did they eliminate them from the daily prayers? Rav Matana and Rabi Shmuel bar Nahman explained in Yerushalmi Berakhot, Chapter 1, fol. 3c: “It would be proper to read the Ten Commandments every day; and why don’t we? Because of the zeal of the heretics lest they say: these alone were given to Moses at Sinai”. The Babylonian Talmud also explains (Berakhot 12a): “They were already abolished because of the murmuring of the heretics”.

Which heretics did they have in mind? Theories include the early Christians or Philo or Gnostics or Samaritans or a group of Jews in the third century.

See Urbach’s article, notes 19-40 for a survey of the theories. Also see Mahzor Vitry, ed. Horvitz, Berlin, 1889, p. 12 (“Disciples of.” – the missing word is “Jesus” which was censored by the editor!); F.C. Burkitt, JQR Old Series 15 (1903), p. 399 (Christians); R. Travers Herford, Christianity in Talmud and Midrash, London, 1903, pp. 308-314 and 365-381 (Jewish Christians); Kaufman Kohler, Jewish Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, p. 587 s. v. Didache (early Jewish Christians); Jacob Mann in 1920 and 1925 (Gnostics – see next note); M. Z. Segal, Leshonenu 15 (1947), p. 28, note 6 (not Christians); Geza Vermes, Vetus Testamentum 9 (1959), p. 69, note 4 (Christians or Judeo-Christians); Joseph Naveh and Shaul Shaked, Magic Spells and Formulae, Jerusalem, 1993, pp. 28-29 (Samaritans).

For a different theory as to how the Shema replaced the Ten Commandments, see Reuven Kimelman, Proceedings of the Rabbinical Assembly 59 (1997), pp. 132-135.

In any case, the abolishment of the recitation stemmed from the fact that certain groups claimed that only the Ten Commandments were given to Moses at Sinai. Indeed, when Maimonides wanted to prevent the custom of standing when reading the Ten Commandments in public, he used a similar argument: “.and they think that the Torah contains different levels and some parts are better than others, and this is very bad.” (Responsa of the Rambam, ed. Blau, no. 263, p. 498). In other words, standing for the reading of the Ten Commandments gives the impression that certain parts of the Torah are holier than others.

Despite this opposition, there were attempts to maintain the original custom or to renew it. Some Babylonian Amoraim tried to renew the custom in Sura and Nehardea, but other Amoraim objected (Bavli Berakhot ibid.). The members of the Palestinian synagogue in Fustat continued to recite the Ten Commandments on Shabbat and holidays before Shirat Hayam (The Song at the Sea) until the thirteenth century.

Jacob Mann, The Jews in Egypt and Palestine under the Fatamid Caliphs, Vol. 1, London, 1920, pp. 222-223; idem, HUCA 2 (1925), pp. 281-284; HUCA 4 (1927), pp. 288-289; Ezra Fleischer, Tefillah Uminhagey Tefillah.Bitkufat Hagenizah, Jerusalem, 1988, pp. 259-274.

Rabbi Shelomo ben Adret, the Rashba (Barcelona 1235-1310), was asked if one could recite the Ten Commandments in the Shaharit (morning) service “because there are people who want to institute this in public”. He replied that, even though this practice is supported by Mishnah Tamid (cited above), it was already abolished “because of the murmuring of the heretics” (Berakhot 12a cited above) and is therefore forbidden.

Responsa of the Rashba, Vol. 1, no. 184 = Vol. 3, no. 289.

One generation later, R. Jacob ben Asher (Spain, died ca. 1340) reintroduced the Ten Commandments “through the back door”. He says in the very first paragraph of Tur Orah Hayyim that “it is good to recite the Akedah (Genesis 21) and the story of the Manna (Exodus 16) and the Ten Commandments.” before the Shaharit service. This passage was quoted by Rabbi Yosef Karo (1488-1575) in his Shulhah Arukh (Orah Hayyim 1:5). Rabbi Moshe Isserles (Cracow, 1525-1572) quickly adds in his Ashkenazic glosses (ibid.) that only an individual may do so, but it is forbidden to recite them in public, as the Rashba ruled.

Rabbi Shlomo Luria (Cracow 1510-1574), relates in his responsa (no. 64) that, in accordance with the Tur, he recites the Ten Commandments every morning before Barukh She’amar.

Indeed, some modern prayer books include the Ten Commandments. Yitzhak Baer printed them in his classic Avodat Yisrael (Rodelheim, 1868) at the end of Shaharit after the Psalm for the Day (pp. 159-160), as did the ArtScroll Siddur in our day (Ashkenazi version, pp. 180-181). In the Reform Gates of Prayer (New York, 1975), the Ten Commandments appear in the Special Themes section in the back (pp. 701-702).

It is difficult to choose sides in this debate. On the one hand, the Ten Commandments are very important to Judaism and it is good for Jews to recite them daily and to know them by heart. On the other hand, there is indeed a danger that people will think that “there are different levels in the Torah” ; they will ignore the entire halakhic system and observe only the Ten Commandments. Therefore, it is good that our ancestors only required the reading of the Ten Commandments in public three times a year, but encouraged their recitation in private all year long. In this fashion, we emphasize their importance without turning them into the only important mitzvot.

 

Prof. David Golinkin is the President of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. Feel free to reprint this article in its entirety. If you wish to abbreviate the article, please contact Rabbi Golinkin at: golinklin@schechter.ac.il.

The opinions expressed here are the author’s and in no way reflect an official policy of the Schechter Institute.

Hanukkah Exotica: On the Origin and Development of Some Hanukkah Customs *


In memory of Ro’i Shukrun
a Maccabbee of our time
who was killed in action
in Lebanon on 25 Av 5757.

Most of the laws of Hanukkah are related to the lighting of the menorah or hanukkiya

In the Diaspora, the Hanukkah lamp is called a menorah; in Israel it’s called a hannukiya. Technically speaking, the menorah is the seven branched candelabrum which was used in the Tabernacle and in the Temple in ancient times (Exodus 37:17-24; Numbers 8:1-4) and should not be used to describe a Hanukkah lamp.
 and are described in detail in the tractate of Shabbat and in the standard codes of Jewish law.
Bavli Shabbat 21b-23b; Mishneh Torah, Laws of Megillah and Hanukkah 3-4; Shulhan Arukh Orah Hayyim 670-684. For various articles related to the Hanukkah candles and lamps, see Sperber, Volume 5.
 In this article we shall describe some of the customs of Hanukkah. The main difference between laws and customs is that laws stem from rabbinic interpretations of the Torah and Talmud which then filter down to the Jewish people, while customs usually start with the people and filter up to the rabbis. Through customs, the Jewish people have shown their love for God and tradition and immeasurably enriched all aspects of Jewish observance.
Regarding customs, see EJ, Vol. 12, cols. 4-26 and Menachem Elon, Jewish Law: History, Sources and Principles, Volume II, Philadelphia and Jerusalem, 1994, pp. 880-944.


We shall begin with one well-known Hanukkah custom and then proceed to describe four lesser-known customs. In each case we shall try to trace the origin of the custom and some of its permutations throughout Jewish history.

I) The Dreidl

 This section is based on Israel Abrahams in Emily Solis-Cohen, ed., Hanukkah: The Feast of Lights, Philadelphia, 1937, pp. 105-106; Rivkind, pp. 49-54; Sefer Hamo’adim, pp. 225-226; Akiva Ben Ezra, Minhagey Hagim, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, 5723, pp. 138-139; Sidney Hoenig in Philip Goodman, ed., The Hanukkah Anthology, Philadelphia, 1976, pp. 265-266; and Uri Sela, Yediot Aharonot, 27 Heshvan 5748.

The dreidl or sevivon is perhaps the most famous custom associated with Hanukkah. Indeed, various rabbis have tried to find an integral connection between the dreidl and the Hanukkah story. The standard explanation is that the letters ,’נ’ג’ה’ש which appear on the driedl in the Diaspora, stand for “נס גדול היה שם”  “a great miracle happened there”. In Israel the dreidl says ,’נ’ג’ה’פ  which means “a great miracle happened here”. One nineteenth-century rabbi went one step further; he maintained that Jews played with the dreidl in order to fool the Greeks if they were caught studying Torah which had been outlawed.

 Rabbi Azriel Selig Krelinstein as quoted by R. Yitzhak Wendrovsky, Minhagey Bet Ya’akov, second edition, New York, 5671, pp. 139-140, which is quoted in turn by R. Avraham E. Hirschowitz, Otzar Kol Minhagey Yeshurun, second edition, Lwow, 5690, pp. 50-51.

Others figured out elaborate gematriot 

A gematria is an explanation based on the fact that every Hebrew letter has a numerical value, so if word x = 100 and word y = 100 this can become the basis for a homiletical explanation connecting the two words. Regarding gematria, see EJ, Vol. 7, cols. 369-374 and the literature cited there; Shmuel Sambursky, Tarbitz 45 (5736), pp. 268-271; and Itamar Greenwald in Moshe Bar-Asher, ed., Sefer Hayovel L’mordekhai Breuer, Jerusalem, 5752, pp. 823-832.
 and word plays for the letters ‘נ’ג’ה’ש. For example, ‘נ’ג’ה’ש in gematria is 358, which is also the numerical equivalent of משיח or Messiah! ‘נ’ג’ה’ש is also the gematria equivalent of the sentence “God is king, God was king, and God will be king”!
This sentence is found in the Torah service on Shabbat and Festivals.
 Finally, the letters ‘נ’ג’ה’ש are supposed to represent the four kingdoms which tried to destroy us: N = Nebuchadnetzar = Babylon; H = Haman = Madai; G = Gog = Greece; and S = Seir = Rome.

As a matter of fact, all of these elaborate explanations were invented after the fact. The dreidl game originally had nothing to do with Hanukkah; it has been played by various people in various languages for many centuries. The permutations of the dreidl game are outlined in the chart which follows

Regarding these different games, see note 4 above; The Oxford English Dictionary, Vol XI, Oxford, 1933, p. 143 s.v. Teetotum and p. 180 s.v. Totum; Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island, (first published in 1883), Chapter 33; Le Grand Robert de la Langue Francaise, 12th edition, Vol IX, Paris, 1992, p. 369, s.v. Toton; Tresor de la Langue Francaise, Vol. 16, Paris, 1994, pp. 367-368, s.v. Toton.
:

Country
Name of the Game
Take All
Take Half
Put in More
Do Nothing
England, Ireland
ca. 1500
Totum
(in Latin)
T=Totum
A=Aufer
D=Depone
N=Nihil
England 1801
T-totum
T=Take
H=Half
P=Put down
N=Nothing
France 1611
Toton
T=Toton
A=Accipe
D=Da
R=Rien
Sardinia, Italy
Tutte
T=Tutte
M=Mesu
P=Pone
N=Nuda
Germany
Torrel, Trundel
G=Ganz
H=Halb
S=Stell ein
N=Nichts
Hebrew or Yiddish
Dreidl
Gג=Gadol
Hה=Haya
Shש=Sham
Pפ=Po
Nנ=Nes

Furthermore, even among the Jews, this game has been called many different names. The Jews of medieval France and Italy seemed to have called this game – which was apparently not connected to Hanukkah – תם וחצי = whole and half; תם וחסר = whole and missing; or תם וכס = whole and half.

See above, note 4. For thirteenth century Italy, see Shibboley Haleket Hashalem, ed. Buber, Vilna, 5647, p. 94, which is also quoted in Sefer Ha’agur Hashalem, ed. Hirschler, Jerusalem, 5720, p. 90.
In German, the spinning top was called a torrel or trundl and in Yiddish it was called a dreidl, a fargl, a varfl [= something thrown], shtel ein [= put in], and gor, gorin [= all]. When Hebrew was revived as a spoken language, the dreidl was called ,גלגלן, חזרזר, כרכר גלגלון and סביבון, and the latter name is the one that caught on.

Thus the dreidl game represents an irony of Jewish history. In order to celebrate the holiday of Hanukkah, which celebrates our victory over cultural assimilation, we play the dreidl game – which is an excellent example of cultural assimilation! Of course, there is a world of difference between immitating non-Jewish games and worshipping idols, but the irony remains nonetheless.

II) Katovess

For the sources and etymology of this word, see my Hebrew article in Sinai 106 (5750), pp. 175-183; H. Guggenheimer, ibid., 108 (5751), pp. 175-176; Berakhah Fischler, Leshoneinu La’am 44 (Tevet-Adar 5753), pp. 88-92.

The custom of Hanukkah katovess is first attributed to Rabbi Israel Isserlein (Austria, 1390-1460), after which the word is used frequently in Hebrew and Yiddish until the twentieth century. Unfortunately, neither the etymology nor the pronunciation of the word are clear and suggested etymologies run from Greek to Russian to Polish to French to German to Anglo-Saxon!

See my article, pp. 179-183.
 But the meaning of the word is clear; Hanukkah katovess were word games and riddles which were especially popular at the festive meals of Hanukkah and they were frequently connected to the Hanukkah candles. The following examples are taken from Leket Yosher, in which R. Yosef (Yozl) Ben Moshe of Hoechstaedt describes the customs of his beloved teacher, R. Israel Isserlein:
Leket Yosher, ed. J. Freimann, Berlin, 5663, section Orah Hayyim, p. 153.

A) “Remove my cloak (בגד) from me, then you will find my number.” Yozl (יוזל) in gematria is 53; בגד in gematria is 9. If you remove 9 from 53 you get 44, which is the number of candles needed for the eight nights of Hanukkah including the shamash!

B) “If the servant falls you must attend to him; but if the master falls, no one comes to set him up.” This riddle refers to the laws of the Hanukkah candles. If the shamash or “servant” goes out, you must relight it. This is because you are not allowed to derive benefit from the Hanukkah candles, so if you inadvertently use the light, you are, so to speak, using the shamash. But if the “master” or Hanukkah candle goes out you don’t have to relight it because once you lit it, you have fulfilled the mitzvah.

See Shulhan Arukh Orah Hayyim 673:1-2.

C) “ושר שמריה יהי רם שרשו” was written by Shmerel or Shmaryah. It means “Shmaryah sang, may his root (or origin) be elevated”, which sounds like nonsense. But Shmerel was really quite clever, since this katovess is a palindrome which reads the same in both directions!

D) The last katovess we shall quote was written once again by Yosef of Hoechstaedt:

“טבת יוסף לעד, גם אץ זן הרש כחק” which means “You treated Joseph well forever, he also quickly fed the poor according to law”. This katovess not only describes the activities of Joseph in Egypt and hints at the name of its author, but manages to use every letter of the Hebrew alphabet once!

Hanukkah katovess are no longer in vogue, but it would be good to revive this beautiful custom which flourished in Germany and Eastern Europe for at least four hundred years.

 In 1820, an anonymous author published a Hebrew booklet in Breslau called Hanukkah Ktoviss V’gam Miley Div’dihuta which contains thirty katovess for Hanukkah. A copy of this extremely rare pamphlet can be found in the Rare Book Room of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

III) Card-Playing on Hanukkah

This section is based on Yitzhak Rivkind, Hadoar 5/7 (1 Tevet 5686), pp. 101-102 and 5/9 (22 Tevet 5686), pp. 133-134; Rivkind, pp. 48-49; Sefer Hamo’adim, pp. 229-230; and Akiva Ben Ezra (above, note 4), pp. 136-138. The sources quoted use the Hebrew root שחק which can mean gambling or cardplaying. Since some of the sources explicitly mention cards, we have consistently translated שחק as cardplaying.

The Ashkenazi custom of playing cards on Hanukkah is first mentioned as a permitted activity in the responsa of R. Jacob Weil (d. before 1456).

Responsa of R. Ya’akov Weil, Jerusalem, 5748, No. 135.
The custom book Leket Yosher mentioned above reports that R. Israel Isserlein (1390-1460) was opposed to the custom because the children used to play cards by the light of the Hanukkah candles and it is forbidden to derive benefit from the Hanukkah candles, as explained above.
See notes 12 and 12a above.
 Rabbi Israel Bruna (1400-1480), on the other hand, relates that the community “made a takkanah [= communal ordinance] not to play cards except on days when tahanun is not said,
Tahanun, a prayer of supplication, is not recited on Shabbat, festivals, Hanukkah, Purim and other holidays.
 and on Hanukkah and the like it is permissible to play cards”.
Responsa Mohari[=R. Israel] Mibruna, Stettin, 1860, No. 136.

The custom book of R. Yuzpe Shamess (1604-1678) describes the customs of his native Worms in great detail from 1648 until shortly before his death. He relates that in 1638 Rabbi Benjamin Hacohen (d.1645) forbade card-playing during the year, but allowed it during Hanukkah. His successor, R. Meshulam Eliezer Zussman, however, imposed a “large fine” against men and women who played cards together on Hanukkah.

It is not clear if he objected to playing cards or to the mingling of the sexes or to both! Minhagim dk”k Wermaiza L’rabi Yuzpe Shamesh, second edition, Jerusalem, 1992, pp. 238-239.

Rabbi Yair Hayyim Bachrach (1638-1702) of Worms describes the efforts of his father Rabbi Moshe Shimshon Bachrach (1607-1670) to abolish card-playing on Hanukkah:

And it annoyed my pious father that the miraculous days [of Hanukkah] which were established to thank and praise God should be designated for card-playing and frivolity. And he tried to forbid it and move it to the eight days of their festival [=between Christmas and New Year] which would not entail cancelling commercial transactions because people stay at home [in any case], but he did not succeed because they would not agree to change the custom.

Responsa Havot Yair, Jerusalem, 5757, No. 126. It is worth noting with regard to Rabbi Bachrach’s suggestion, that Jews in Eastern Europe used to play cards and avoid learning Torah on Christmas eve, which they called nitl nacht. That term is a corruption of the “night of Natali” Domini [= the birth of the Lord]. See Rivkind, p. 54; Sperber, Vol. 3, pp. 93-95 and Vol. 4, pp. 329-330; Marc Shapiro, The Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy, Vol. 8 (1999), pp. 319-353.

Indeed, R. Yosef Yuzpe Kashman Segal of Frankfurt reports in 1718 that “in all the communities they decreed not to play cards all year long except for Hanukkah and Purim when they allowed it”.

Noheg Katzon Yosef, second edition, Tel Aviv, 5729, p. 188, par. 12.


Rabbi Moshe Shimshon Bachrach was not the only rabbi opposed to card-playing on Hanukkah. Rabbi Yehiel Mikhal Epstein (1829-1908) of Navarodok, Russia vented his spleen against this custom in the Arukh Hashulhan (Orah Hayyim 670:9), which is now one of the standard codes of Jewish law: “But those who play cards [on Hanukkah] their punishment is great, and due to our many sins this leprosy has spread among the house of Israel!”.

An almost contemporaneous account of card-playing on Hanukkah can be found in Herman Leder’s Yiddish memoir Reisher Yidn, which describes the Jews of Reishe (Rzeszow) in Galicia ca. 1900:

We were far removed from mischief and foolishness. We did not devote ourselves to such things, not even to idle talk, except for Hanukkah when we stopped learning for several hours a day and played cards or watched as others played. I was one of the latter because I never had any money, and without money, one cannot play cards. So I stood around and kibbitzed. Frequently, the one I was standing next to, and at whose cards I was looking, lost every round. Suddenly, he woke up, so to speak, from his sleep, turned around to me, and said in a loud voice: “Get away from here you jinx! You are unlucky! I am losing because of you!” So I immediately went away; after that, not one of the players wanted me to stand near him.

Herman Leder, Reisher Yidn, Washington, D.C., 1953, p. 186. The translation is my own. For similar Eastern European stories from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, see Sholom Aleichem as quoted by David and Diane Roskies, The Shtetl Book, New York, 1975, pp. 224-227 and Murray Stadtmauer, My Father’s Century, New York, 1999, pp. 8-9.

Finally, a word must be said about the cards themselves. In Yiddish, they were called kvitlech [= little notes] or klein shass [= a small Talmud (sic!)] or tilliml [= a small book of Psalms (sic!)] or lamed alefniks [= 31ers]. The latter name stemmed from the fact that the deck had 31 cards, one for each of the 31 kings of Canaan mentioned in Joshua, Chapter 12. These cards were usually hand-painted by the teacher or the children in heder and the card game played was very similar to black jack.

 For the rules of “Lamed Alef”, see Sefer Hamo’adim, pp. 229-231. For pictures of the cards, see Rivkind, p. 43 and Roskies (above, note 22), p. 225.

IV) Cheese on Hanukkah 

 For a recent article on this topic, see Simons. The conclusions presented below were reached long before that article appeared.

In his glosses to the Shulhan Arukh (Orah Hayyim 670:2), Rabbi Moshe Isserles (Cracow, 1525-1572) relates:

It is customary to recite songs and praises [to God] at the festive meals which are common [on Hanukkah] and then the meal becomes a mitzvah meal. Some say that one should eat cheese on Hanukkah because the miracle occured through milk which Judith fed the enemy (Kol Bo and R”an).

Indeed, that is what the Kol Bo and R”an say. The R”an is R. Nissim Gerondi (Spain, ca. 1310-1375). In his commentary to Rabbi Yitzhak Alfassi (the Rif) on Shabbat 23a (catchword שאף) he says that “it says in a midrash that the daughter of Yohanan [the High Priest] fed the enemy leader cheese to get him drunk and cut off his head and they all fled, and therefore it is customary to eat cheese on Hanukkah”.

The Kol Bo, which is an anonymous halakhic work written in Provence in the early fourteenth century, has a slightly different version of the story. It says that the daughter of Yohanan the High Priest fed the Greek King “a cheese dish in order that he become thirsty and drink a lot and get drunk and lie down and fall asleep”. That is what transpired; she then cut off his head and brought it to Jerusalem and when his army saw that their hero had died, they fled “and that is why it is the custom to cook a cheese dish on Hanukkah”.

 Kol Bo, ed. Lemberg, 5620, parag. 44, fol. 3c, which is also found in the related work Orhot Hayyim by R. Aaron Hacohen of Lunel, Florence, 1750, Laws of Hanukkah, parag. 12, fol 118a.

The question, of course, is where did the Ran and Kol Bo find this story? It sounds a lot like the story of Judith and Holifernes as found in the Apocryphal Book of Judith. Indeed, cheese is mentioned in some ancient versions of Judith 10:5, which list the foods that Judith took with her when she left the besieged city to visit Holifernes.

See Yehoshua Grintz, Sefer Yehudit, Jerusalem, 5717, p. 148, end of note 5 and Simons, p. 58.
 Nevertheless, Judith 12:17-20, which describes the way in which Judith got Holifernes to go sleep, says explicitly that Judith gave him wine to drink and not a cheese dish! In any case, the Book of Judith seems to have been written in Hebrew but has only reached us in Greek translation and was unknown to medieval Jews. They knew the story of Judith from medieval Hebrew sagas called “The Story of Judith” and the like. Some eighteen versions of the medieval story have been published until now and they can be divided into four types.
Grintz, Sefer Yehudit, pp. 196-208, 212 discusses twelve versions of the medieval story, which he divides into four types. Additional versions were published by Israel Adler in Charles Berlin, ed., Studies… in Honor of Dr. I. Edward Kiev, New York, 1971, Hebrew section, pp. 1-8; A. M. Haberman, Hadashim Gam Yeshanim, Jerusalem, 1975, pp. 45, 56, 60, 72; and David Shulevitz, Genuzot, 1 (5744), pp. 165-168.
 Most of those versions, like the Book of Judith itself, say that Judith gave Holifernes wine to drink, but two of the versions do indeed mention milk or cheese.

Ma’aseh Yehudit, which was first published in Sefer Hemdat Yamim, Livorno, 1763, says that Judith “opened the milk flask and drank and also gave the king to drink, and he rejoiced with her greatly and he drank very much wine, more than he had drunk in his entire life”.

This midrash was reprinted by A. Jellinek, Bet Hamidrash, Part 2, Leipzig, 5613, p. 19 and by J. D. Eisenstein, Otzar Midrashim, Vol. 1, New York, 5675, p. 207. Simons, p. 60 copied from Sefer Hemdat Yamim, but does not mention the more accessible Jellinek and Eisenstein editions.
 In other words, according to this version of the story, Judith gave Holifernes both milk and wine. It is clear that the author was influenced by the Story of Yael and Sisera in the Book of Judges, because the phrase in italics was borrowed from Judges 4:19.

Megillat Yehudit published by Haberman from an Oxford manuscript relates that Judith after fasting asked her maidservant to make her two levivot [= pancakes or fried cakes]. The servant made the levivot very salty and added slices of cheese. Judith fed Holifernes the levivot and the slices of cheese “and he drank [wine] and his heart became very merry and he got drunk and he uncovered himself within his tent and he lay down and fell asleep”.

 Haberman (note 27, above), p. 45, which is copied from Ms. Oxford 2746. Simons, p. 60 copied this passage from Ms. Oxford, but seems unaware that it had been published by Haberman.

Finally, the milk and cheese version of the Judith story is mentioned in a Hebrew poem for Hanukkah published by R. Naftali Hacohen in 1757:

…It is mitzvah to eat and rejoice,
eating cheese – one cannot force.
It is customary to remember, not to forget,
The story of Judith who did it on purpose,
To feed him milk to make him sleep.

R. Naftali Katz, Sha’ar Naftali, Bruna, 5517, p. 36 quoted by Sefer Hamo’adim, p. 282 and Simons, p. 64. For aharonim (later authorities) who mention this custom, see Simons, pp. 62-64.

V) The Scroll of Antiochus 

There is a vast literature regarding this scroll. See EJ, Vol. 14, cols. 1045-1047 and the literature cited there; the critical edition of the Aramaic text published by M. Z. Kaddari in Bar Ilan 1 (5723), pp. 81-105; the Hebrew and English versions in Philip Birnbaum, ed., Daily Prayer Book, New York, 1949, pp. 781-794; Fried; and Sperber, Volume 5, pp. 102-120, which includes a bibliography.

There is one custom which we would expect to find on Hanukkah which is missing – the reading of a scroll in public. After all, on Purim we read the Scroll of Esther every year in order to publicize the miracle. Why don’t we read a scroll on Hanukkah in order to publicize the miracles which God wrought for our ancestors in the days of Matityahu and his sons? The result is that most Jews only know the legend about the miracle of the cruse of oil (Shabbat 21b) and not about the actual military victories of the Maccabees.

The answer is that, in truth, there is such a scroll which was read in private or in public between the ninth and twentieth centuries. It is called “The Scroll of Antiochus” and many other names and it was written in Aramaic during the Talmudic period and subsequently translated into Hebrew, Arabic and other languages. The book describes the Maccabean victories on the basis of a few stories from the Books of the Maccabees and Shabbat 21b with the addition of a number of legends without any historic basis whatsoever. The scroll is first mentioned by Halakhot Gedolot, which was written by Shimon Kayara in Babylon ca. 825 c.e.: “The elders of Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel wrote Megillat Bet Hashmonay [=the scroll of the Hasmonean House]…”.

Halakhot Gedolot, ed. Venice, 5308 [=Warsaw, 5635], fol. 141d.
 Rav Sa’adia Gaon (882-942) calls it “kitab benei hashmonay”, the book of the sons of the Hasmoneans, and he also translated it into Arabic.
Rav Sa’adia Gaon, Sefer Hagaluy, quoted by Fried, p.109, note 68. For Sa’adia’s preface to his Arabic translation, see PAAJR 14 (1944), pp. 1-23.
 Rav Nissim Gaon (North Africa, 990-1062) calls it in Arabic “the scroll of the sons of the Hasmoneans”.
R. Nissim Ga’on, Hibbur Yafeh Meihayeshu’a, ed. H. Z. Hirschberg, Jerusalem, 5714, pp. 2-3.

Furthermore, we know that this scroll was read in public at different times and places. Rabbi Isaiah of Trani (Italy, ca. 1200-1260) says that “in a place where they are accustomed to read Megillat Antiochus [=The Scroll of Antiochus] on Hanukkah, it is not proper to recite the blessings [for reading a scroll] because it is not required at all”.

 Tosfot R”id to Sukkah 44b, catchword havit, Lemberg, 5629, fol. 31b.

In Mahzor Kaffa, which was published in the Crimea in 1735, the Scroll of Antiochus is printed in Hebrew and preceeded by the following instructions: “It is customary to read Megillat Antiochus during minhah [=the afternoon service on Shabbat] after kaddish titkabbel [=the reader’s kaddish] in order to publicize the miracle [of Hanukkah]…”.

 Quoted by Fried, p. 114.

Rabbi Yahya ben Yosef Zalih, who was the leading rabbi in San’a, Yemen ca. 1715, says “that some read Megillat Antiochus on Shabbat [of Hanukkah] after the haftarah. This is not required; it is only a general mitzvah to publicize the miracle among the Jewish people”.

Tiklal Etz Hayyim, Vol. 1, Jerusalem, 5722, fol. 163a.
 But Rabbi Amram Zabban of G’ardaya in the Sahara Dessert viewed this reading as a requirement. In his Sefer Hasdey Avot published in 1926, he states:

Megillat Antiochus according to the custom of the holy city of G’ardaya, may God protect her. The cantor should read it in public in the synagogue after the Torah reading on the Shabbat during Hanukkah. And he reads it in Arabic translation so that the entire congregation should understand [in order to] publicize the miracle which was done to our holy ancestors, may their merit protect us…translated from the Hebrew from Siddur Bet Oved of R. Yehudah Shmuel Ashkenazi [Livorno, 1853].

Quoted by Fried, pp. 114-115.

This is a fascinating passage. Rabbi Zabban translated Megillat Antiouchus from Hebrew into Arabic in 1926 so that the entire congregation would understand it. He seems unaware that Arabic translations already existed. He also presents this custom as a required activity, despite the fact that he seems to have made it up! Perhaps he had heard that this was an accepted custom in other communities and wished to imitate them.

The Jews of Kurdistan, on the other hand, used to read the Scroll of Antiochus at home during Hanukkah.

Erich Brauer, Yehudey Kurdistan, Jerusalem, 5708, p. 273.
 Rabbi Yosef Kafah (1917-2000) reports that his grandfather Rabbi Yihye Kafah (1850-1932) used to teach it to his pupils in Yemen in the Aramaic original along with the Arabic translation of Rav Sa’adya Gaon.
 R. Yosef Kafah, Halikhot Teiman, third edition, Jerusalem, 1982, p. 38.

It would seem that there is no point in reviving the specific custom of reading the Scroll of Antiochus in public, because that work is legendary in nature and not a reliable source for the events of Hanukkah. But we do possess such a source for those events — the First Book of Maccabees, which was written in Hebrew in the Land of Israel by an eyewitness to the events described therein.

EJ, Vol 11, cols. 656-658.
 Therefore, we should thank Rabbi Arthur Chiel who published the First Book of Maccabees, Chapters 1-4 as a separate booklet over twenty years ago under the title “The Scroll of Hanukkah”.
Rabbi Arthur Chiel, Megillat Hanukkah, New York, 1980, 61 pp.
It is intended for reading in public or in private during the holiday. We should adopt this beautiful custom and begin to read those chapters in public every year on the Shabbat of Hanukkah after the haftarah. By so doing, we will be reviving the custom of reading a “scroll” on Hanukkah but, more importantly, we will thereby disseminate the oldest surviving account of the “miracles and triumphs” which God performed for the Jewish People “in those days at this season”.

* * *

There are many other Hanukkah customs worth investigating,

Such as latkes, sufganiyot, Hanukkah gelt, hanerot hallalu, ma’oz tzur, hanukkiyah designs, lighting candles in the synagogue, Psalm 30 as a special psalm for the day, and more.
but these examples will suffice to show how the Jewish people have enriched and enhanced the Festival of Lights.

——————————————————————————–

Notes

* This article appeared in Conservative Judaism 53/2 (Winter 2001), pp. 41-50. An abbreviated version appeared in Noam Zion and Barbara Spectre, eds., A Different Light, 2000, pp. 177-182. The dreidl chart is taken from the latter version.

Abbreviations:

EJ = Encyclopaedia Judaica, Jerusalem, 1972

Fried = Natan Fried, Sinai 64 (5729), pp. 97-140

Rivkind = Yitzhak Rivkind, Der Kampf Kegn Azartshpielen bei Yidn, New York, 1946

Sefer Hamo’adim = Yom Tov Levinsky, ed., Sefer Hamo’adim, Volume 5, Tel Aviv, 5714

Simons = Hayyim Simons, Sinai 115 (5755), pp. 57-68

Sperber = Daniel Sperber, Minhagey Yisrael, Vols.1-6, Jerusalem, 1989-1998

Prof. David Golinkin is the President of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. Feel free to reprint this article in its entirety. If you wish to abbreviate the article, please contact Rabbi Golinkin at: golinklin@schechter.ac.il.

The opinions expressed here are the author’s and in no way reflect an official policy of the Schechter Institute.

Jewish History is Like a Water Wheel


In the middle of a lengthy passage about tzedakah (charity), the ancient midrash of Vayikra Rabbah (34:9, p. 792, and cf. Shabbat 151b) says that “this world is like a water wheel, the full bucket becomes empty and the empty bucket becomes full”. We shall return to this imagery later on.

I am writing these words on a plane flying from Vienna to Ben-Gurion Airport on my way home from Budapest. I traveled to Budapest as a guest of the Hungarian Accreditation Committee (HAC) in order to participate in a sub-committee which would decide whether the Jewish Theological Seminary – University of Jewish Studies, Hungary may grant a Ph.D. degree in Jewish Theology.

This process is the culmination of eleven years of the Schechter Institute’s involvement in the revival of the Jewish Theological Seminary in Budapest. That Seminary was founded in 1877 and it numbered among its faculty and graduates some of the leading Jewish scholars of pre-Holocaust Europe, including Ignaz Goldziher, Wilhelm Bacher, Ludwig Blau, Immanuel Low and Yechiel Michal Guttmann. The Seminary and its teachers’ seminary, the Pedagogium, were closed down by the Nazis in 1944. In 1990, when the Schechter Institute got involved through its Midreshet Yerushalayim program, the entire institution in Budapest consisted of a few teachers and 7 rabbinical students. Today, the Institution is called the Jewish Theological Seminary – University of Jewish Studies, Hungary and it has 230 students divided among five schools: the Teachers’ Training Institute (Pedagogium), the Jewish Communal Workers’ Program, the Rabbinical School, the Cantorial School, and the Jewish Culture Faculty.

This amazing growth and success is the result of the hard work and vision of Prof. Shmuel Glick, Rabbi Irwin Birnbaum, Rabbi Arnold Turetsky and the current Rector, Rabbi Dr. Yoel Schoner, who was sent to Budapest as our Shaliach (emissary) in 1998. Today, most of the rabbis and almost all of the Jewish teachers in Hungary are graduates of the Jewish University in Budapest.

Now let us return to the Accreditation Sub-committee. It consisted of five members: a professor of Bible from a Catholic seminary, Chairman, a professor of Bible from a Protestant Seminary, a professor of Dead Sea Scrolls from a Catholic Seminary, Prof. Menachem Schmelzer, who was raised in southern Hungary and left Budapest in 1956, representing the Jewish Theological Seminary, and myself.

At first glance, our task was purely academic in nature – does the Jewish University of Hungary have the faculty, library and facilities to grant a Ph.D. in Jewish Theology. Yet, everyone in the room understood that this was not just about academics but about history. In 1941, there were approximately 850,00 Jews in Hungary; about 260,000 survived the Holocaust. Over 100,000 remain today and they have rebuilt Jewish life. After World War II, all of the Christian Seminaries in Hungary were given the right to grant a Ph.D. degree, all except one – the Jewish Seminary. The reason: anti-Semitism. Thus, the Christian academics in the room had to take into consideration the destruction of the Holocaust and the anti-Semitism of the Communists.

Prof. Schmelzer and myself were obviously aware of the same issues, but we had one more thing to consider. The Jewish Theology Seminary of America, founded in New York in 1886, was the spiritual heir to the great rabbinical seminaries of Breslau, Berlin and Budapest, while the Schechter Institute was founded by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in 1984. The seminaries of Breslau and Berlin were destroyed by the Nazis; only Budapest survived. So now the child (JTS) and the grandchild (the Schechter Institute) have a chance to help revive the grandfather (Budapest).

I am happy to report that the Accreditation Sub-committee did the right thing. We recommended that the HAC grant the Jewish University of Budapest preliminary accreditation for three years, pursuant to various conditions, including visiting Bible and Talmud professors from the Jewish Theological Seminary and the Schechter Institute. This recommendation is subject to the approval of the HAC.

Jewish history “is like a water wheel, the full bucket becomes empty and the empty bucket becomes full”. A circle is being closed. Am Yisrael Chai!

Why is Shabbat Shirah “for the Birds”?


This year, the weekly portion of Vayeshev occurs during the holiday of Hanukkah. It seems that, after the fact, this is no accident, because there is a common denominator between the holiday of Hanukkah and the Torah reading of Vayeshev. It can be summed up in a saying of Rabbi Yitzhak Abarbanel: “All the good of Israel and its survival depends on its unity” (commentary to Judges 21:5).

We were all taught as children that the Maccabees were “the good guys” and the Greeks were “the bad guys”. This is undoubtedly true, as we read in the First Book of Maccabees (1:41-50):

Then the king [=Antiochus] wrote to his whole kingdom that all should be one people, and that each should give up his customs… And the king sent letters by messengers to Jerusalem and the cities of Judah. He directed them to follow customs strange to the land, to forbid… sacrifices… in the sanctuary, to profane Sabbaths and feasts…, to build altars… for idols, to sacrifice swine and unclean animals, and to leave their sons uncircumcised… And whoever does not obey the command of the king shall die.

But, according to the Second Book of Maccabbees (Chapters 4-6), the decrees of Antiochus were the result of the senseless hatred among the Jewish leaders at the time, who plotted ceaselessly against one another. Indeed, that story reads like a plot from “Dallas” or “Dynasty”. Jason grabbed the High Priesthood from his brother Onias; Menelaus grabbed it, in turn, from Jason. Onias slandered Menelaus to the authorities, who retaliated by having Onias murdered. Jason then tried to capture Jerusalem by force. As a result, Antiochus thought that the Jews were revolting against him. He captured Jerusalem, killed 80,000 Jews, plundered the Temple, outlawed Jewish practices and defiled the Temple – all on account of the senseless hatred mentioned above.

The lesson of Parashat Vayeshev is the same. If not for the senseless enmity between Joseph and his brothers, Joseph would not have been sold into slavery in Egypt, and the Children of Israel would not have been enslaved there for 400 years. As we read in the tractate of Shabbat (10b):

Rav said: a person should never favor one son over another, for on account of two sela’s weight of wool, which Jacob gave Joseph in excess of his other sons, his brothers became jealous of him and the matter resulted in our forefathers’ descent into Egypt.

History repeated itself in the year 70 c.e., as we have learned in the Babylonian Talmud (Yoma 9b): “…but the Second Temple in which they engaged in Torah and mitzvot and acts of loving kindness – why was it destroyed? Because of senseless hatred”. And so we learn from the legends of the Hurban found in the tractate of Gittin (56a). It is related there that there was enough food and wood in Jerusalem for a siege of twenty-one years. The Sages wanted to make peace with Romans while the rebels wanted to fight against them. When the rebels saw that they could not convince the Sages, they burned all of the wheat and barley and a famine ensued. Indeed, this story is confirmed by the stories related by Josephus Flavius (Wars IV, 6, 1-2; V, 1, 1-6).

Our Prophets and Sages understood the danger of disunity and they therefore stressed time after time that unity leads to redemption. In Parashat Vayigash, which tells the story of Joseph’s reunification with his brothers, the Haftarah is taken from Ezekiel 37. In it, the prophet predicts the reunification of the kingdoms of Judah and Israel (v. 16-22):

… take a stick and write on it ‘Of Judah’…and take another stick and write on it ‘Of Joseph – the stick of Ephraim’ … Bring them close to each other, so that they become one stick in your hand…Thus said the Lord God: ‘ I am going to take the Israelite people from among the nations… and gather them from every quarter, and bring them to their own land. I will make them a single nation in the land’…

And so we have learned in Midrash Tanhuma (ed. Buber, Nitzavim, pp. 48-49):

… if a person takes a bundle of reeds – can he break them at the same time? But if he takes one at a time, even a child can break them. And so you find that the people of Israel will not be redeemed until they are one bundle…

The State of Israel is now in the midst of an election campaign leading up to elections on January 28th. Election campaigns tend to emphasize disunity. Each candidate and each party want to show how they are different and better that the other and how the other will “divide Jerusalem” or “destroy the State of Israel” or “give the terrorists a State”. During this period of intense disunity, we must remember the lessons of Hanukkah, of Joseph and his brothers, and of the destruction of the Second Temple: disunity leads to destruction and exile; unity leads to redemption. May we remember this lesson as we light the Hanukkah candles. Happy Hanukkah!

Prof. David Golinkin is the President of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. Feel free to reprint this article in its entirety. If you wish to abbreviate the article, please contact Rabbi Golinkin at: golinklin@schechter.ac.il.

The opinions expressed here are the author’s and in no way reflect an official policy of the Schechter Institute.

Erev Pesach:”The Stranger Within Your Gates”


There are two types of gerim in Jewish law – a ger tzedek who converts to Judaism from another religion, and a ger toshav or resident alien who lives in Israel, but does not formally convert to Judaism.

Last year (Insight Israel, Vol. 1, No. 3, February 2001) I wrote about the conversion controversy in Israel which relates to the first type of convert. On February 20, 2002, the Supreme Court of Israel ruled that the Interior Ministry must register Conservative and Reform converts converted in Israel as Jews. The Conservative and Reform movements immediately declared victory but, as is frequently the case in Israel, things aren’t as simple as they seem. Interior Minister Eli Yishai of the Shas party has refused to register the converts and is in danger of being cited for contempt of court. Sadly enough, both Chief Rabbis have urged him to continue to defy the Supreme Court decision.

What will happen next? Some have suggested eliminating the “nationality” entry from Israeli identity cards, so that no-one’s religion will be listed. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has asked Communications Minister, MK Ruby Rivlin, to formulate a conversion bill that will outlaw Conservative and Reform conversions and thus effectively nullify the Supreme Court decision and placate Shas. The Leadership Council of Conservative Judaism, which includes the Schechter Institute, has called on the Prime Minister to abandon the attempt to formulate such a law.

It is too soon to predict the final outcome, other than to say that this controversy will probably continue for many years to come.

This month, however, I would like to discuss the other type of ger, the ger toshav or resident alien. I have chosen this topic because it is related to Pesach and to the Exodus from Egypt (see below) and because it relates to the 160-250 thousand foreign workers (no–one knows the exact number) currently working in the State of Israel. Of that number, over half are here “illegally”. They work in construction, agriculture and geriatrics. The main problem is that work permits are issued to the employers instead of to the workers, who hand over their passports to the employers. If they leave their employer for a better job or because he has not paid them, they are immediately rendered “illegal”. This system has led to much abuse and to many workers being deported.

 

A. Ger Toshav – A Resident Alien

The Bible is not familiar with a ger tzedek or righteous convert. In the Bible, a ger is a stranger or resident alien of non-Israelite origin living in Israel. Such a ger is not an ezrah (citizen) and not mei’ahekha (from your brothers) and the rabbis call him a ger toshav or resident alien.

II) General Attitude to the Ger Toshav

The Bible repeatedly stresses that a ger toshav must be treated like a citizen, must be loved, and is loved by God:

 

  1. Exodus 12 (48-49) says that if a ger wants to offer the Passover sacrifice he must first undergo circumcision. “He shall then be as a citizen of the country… there shall be one law for the citizen and for the stranger who dwells among you” (cf. Numbers 9:13-14).
  2. Numbers 15 (14-16) says in connection with voluntary sacrifices that “there shall be one law for you and for the stranger; it shall be a law for all time throughout the ages. You and the stranger shall be alike before the Lord. The same ritual and the same rule shall apply to you and to the stranger who resides among you” (cf. Lev. 22:17 ff.).
  3. Leviticus 19 (33-34) states that Israelites may not wrong the stranger (lo tonu oto) “you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt, I the Lord am your God”.
  4. Deuteronomy 10 (17-18) adds that God “loves the stranger, providing him with food and clothing”, while Psalms 146:9 says that God “watches over the stranger”.

 

III) Specific Laws Which Protect the Ger Toshav

Yet the Bible does not satisfy itself with generalizations. It lists a whole series of specific rights to which Gerim are entitled:

  1. “You shall not wrong or oppress a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:20) The rabbis interpreted this to mean that you may not oppress a ger toshav either verbally or monetarily (Maimonides, Hilkhot Mekhirah 14:15-16; Shulhan Arukh Hoshen Mishpat 228:2).
  2. Gerim must rest on Shabbat, exactly like Jews (Exodus 20:10; 23:12).
  3. Gerim may collect the gleanings (leket) from the field, alongside of poor Israelites (Lev. 23:22).
  4. Gerim must be treated equally in a court of law (Deut. 1:16 and cf. Lev. 24:22; Numbers 35:15).
  5. Gerim may eat from the tithe exactly like the widow and the orphan (Deut. 14:29).
  6. Gerim who are day-laborers may not be abused. You must pay them their wages on the same day (Deut. 24:14-15).
  7. This positive attitude continued in rabbinic literature. Massekhet Gerim which was written in the Geonic period (ca. 500-1000) summarizes some of the basic laws: “You may not cheat him (ona’ah), abuse him (oshek), or keep his wages overnight… You may not lend him money or borrow money with interest… You do not settle him on the border or in a bad district, but rather in a good district in the middle of Eretz Yisrael where his trade may develop (Gerim 3:2-4, ed. Higger, pp. 73-74).
  8. Maimonides (Melakhim 10:12) rules: “And it seems to me that one treats gerei toshav with the consideration and deeds of lovingkindness due to a Jew, for we are commanded to sustain them…”.
  9. Nahmanides (in his addenda to Maimonides’ Sefer Hamitzvot, Positive Commandments, No. 16, ed. Chavel, p. 254) goes one step further on the basis of Leviticus 25:35. He says that we must save the life of a ger toshav if he is drowning or if he is sick even on Shabbat, for pikuah nefesh overrides the Sabbath restrictions.

Thus we see that the Bible defends the rights of gerei toshav not just in general terms but through an entire list of specific mitzvot.

 

IV) Specific Obligations of the Ger Toshav

But the biblical attitude towards the ger toshav is a two-way street. Society owes him various things, but he owes society various things as well. There must be reciprocity:

 

  1. Gerim must not eat hametz during Pesach (Exodus 12:19).
  2. Gerim must “afflict their souls” and refrain from work on Yom Kippur (Lev. 16:29).
  3. Gerim must not worship other Gods (Lev. 17:8-9).
  4. Gerim must not eat blood, just like Israelites (Lev. 17:10).
  5. Leviticus 18 lists an entire series of sexual prohibitions and concludes that they apply both to the citizen and to the ger (Lev. 18:26).
  6. Gerim may not sacrifice their children to Molekh (Lev. 20:1-5).
  7. Gerim may not curse God (Lev. 24:16).
  8. Gerim who become ritually impure must be purified (Numbers 19:10).
  9. Gerim may not commit murder (Numbers 35:15 ff.)
  10. The Talmud (Avodah Zarah 64b) follows a similar line of thought, stating that gerim must accept upon themselves specific mitzvot. Maimonides codified (Issurey Biah 14:7) that they must accept the prohibition of idol worship along with the “seven commandments of the sons of Noah” (see Genesis Chapter 9 and Sanhedrin 56a), which include the prohibitions against cursing God, murder, forbidden sexual relationships and theft.

V) Current Applicability

To what extent do these laws apply today? Should the foreign workers in Israel today be considered gerei toshav? There is no clear-cut answer. Maimonides (ibid.) says that the laws of the ger toshav only apply when the Jubilee year is in effect. Since there is no Jubilee year in our time, there is no law of gerei toshav. The Ra’abad of Posquieres (ibid.) disagrees and would consider at least some of these laws valid today.

We do not need to resolve this argument. It is enough for the State of Israel to adopt the spirit of these biblical and rabbinic laws, as follows:

  1. Foreign workers should not be oppressed verbally or physically.
  2. They must be allowed to rest on our Shabbat or theirs.
  3. They must be treated equally in a court of law.
  4. They must be paid fair wages on time.
  5. They must be given health insurance.
  6. They, in turn, must reciprocate by observing the laws of the State of Israel.
  7. Many of these laws are already “on the books”, but we must ensure that they are enforced.

 

As we celebrate Pesah, the festival of freedom, we must remember the words of Exodus 22 (v. 20): “You shall not wrong or oppress a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt”.

 

 

Bibliography

I) Foreign Workers in Israel Today

1.Jerusalem Post, August 21, 1998, p. 16

2.The Jerusalem Post Magazine, Sept. 8, 2000. pp. 16-19

3.Jerusalem Post, December 29, 2000, p. B5

4.Ibid., January 4, 2002, p. A5

5.The Jerusalem Post Magazine, Feb. 1, 2002, pp. 10-13

 

II) Gerei Toshav

R. Jacob Milgrom, The JPS Torah Commentary: Numbers, Philadelphia, 1990, Excursus, 34, pp. 398-402

R. Ariel Picar, Deot/Amudim 12 (December 2001), pp. 4-5

R. Naftali Routenberg, Or Hamizrah 39 (Tammuz 5751), pp. 259-264

 

Feel free to reprint this article in its entirety. If you wish to abbreviate the article, please contact Rabbi Golinkin at:golinkin@schechter.org.il. The opinions expressed here are the author’s and in no way reflect an official policy of the Schechter Institute.

Prof. David Golinkin is the President of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem.

Tisha B’Av Remembrance is the Secret of Redemption


A number of years ago, Peter McGrath published an article in Newsweek entitled “The Curse of the Past: An Indifference to History Can be a Blessing”. His thesis was that Americans display a remarkable indifference to their own history and that this is a good thing. He cited a study in which post high-school students had difficulty distinguishing Ulysses S. Grant from Robert E. Lee. McGrath also mentioned the Battle of Antietam, which took place during the Civil War. Five thousand men died and another 18,500 were wounded, yet most Americans have never heard of it, let alone can they locate Antietam on a map.

McGrath maintains that this is America’s great cultural strength: its ability to plow the past under and to start history over again at the next growing season. He contrasts this approach with the collective memory of the Serbs who kill Bosnian Muslims as revenge for their defeat at the battle of Kosovo 600 years ago. So too, for Arabs, the Crusades might have happened yesterday, while for Israelis the Inquisition and subsequent progroms are all living memories, which lead to ethnic and religious warfare. So says McGrath.

I beg to differ. Historical memory is not good or bad by definition; it depends on what we do with it. Following McGrath’s logic, we should not use the internet because it is possible to download pornography and neo-Nazi propaganda.

The Jewish people has always prided itself on its constructive use of historical memory. God could have said: “hate the Egyptians for you were slaves in their land”. Instead the Torah instructs us: “You shall not abhor an Egyptian, for you were a stranger in his land” (Deut. 23:8). Furthermore, the Torah tells us not to abuse the stranger, the widow and the orphan “for you were slaves in the land of Egypt”. In other words, the Torah turned one of our worst historical memories into an impetus for social justice.

Similarly, it is my firm conviction that we are sitting today in Jerusalem, the capitol of Israel, primarily because we remembered the Destruction. We fasted on Tisha B’av, The Fast of Gedalia, the Tenth of Tevet and the Seventeenth of Tammuz in order to commemorate specific events related to the Destruction. We remembered Jerusalem at weddings by placing ashes on the groom’s head, by reciting the verse “If I forget thee Jerusalem” (Psalms 137:5-6), and by breaking a glass.

We remembered Jerusalem at funerals by burying Jews with their feet facing Jerusalem so that when resurrection comes they might be ready to stand up and walk towards the Holy City. So too, since the thirteenth Century, Diaspora Jews were buried with a small sack of dirt from Jerusalem. And for hundreds of years, Jews have comforted mourners by saying: “May God comfort you among the other mourners for Zion and Jerusalem”.

And what of today? Should we mourn the Destruction by fasting on Tisha B’av thirty-four years after the city was reunited in the Six Day War? I believe that in addition to the halakhic requirement, there are four good reasons for all Jews to fast on Tisha B’av:

The Talmud and Josephus tell us that the Second Temple was destroyed due to causeless hatred (sinat hinam) between Jews. Tisha B’av serves as a constant warning lest we repeat the mistakes of the past.

During the current Intifada the Mufti of the Palestinian Authority claimed that “There is not [even] the smallest indication of the existence of a Jewish temple on this place in the past”. Yet since the year 70 c.e. — 567 years before the Muslims captured Jerusalem — Jews throughout the world have fasted over the destruction of the Second Temple. Tisha B’av thus serves as living proof of our historic love for the Temple and Jerusalem.

In the Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 18b), Rav Papa says that Tisha B’av and the minor fast days will become days of rejoicing when there is shalom. Many commentators say that shalom means when the Temple is rebuilt. But the simple meaning of shalom is “peace”, and this year we seem farther from peace than ever.

Some argue that Tisha B’av should be abolished since they are not interested in the rebuilding of the Temple or in the renewal of the sacrificial system. But this is only one aspect of Tisha B’av. We mourn on Tisha B’av for the Destruction, but we also pray for redemption, as we learn in a midrash: the Messiah was born on the day the Temple was destroyed.

We were fortunate to witness the beginning of our redemption in 1948 and therefore we celebrate Israel Independence Day. But the redemption is not yet complete and therefore we must fast on Tisha B’av. As the Ba’al Shem Tov said: “Forgetfulness prolongs the exile; remembrance is the secret of redemption”.

Tishah B’Av Remembrance is the Secret of Redemption


This commentary is based on an article that appeared in Women’s League Outlook, Summer 2004, and is a slightly expanded version of an article which appeared in my book Insight Israel – The View From Schechter, Jerusalem, 2003, pp. 65-67. That book can be ordered from www.schechter.edu.

Aside from Yom Kippur, Tishah B’av is the most important fast day of the Jewish calendar. It commemorates the destruction of the First Temple in 586 B.C.E. and of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. It also commemorates the fall of Betar, the last stronghold of Bar Kokhba in 135 C.E. Finally, it happens to be the day on which hundreds of thousands of Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492.

According to Jewish law, it is forbidden to eat or drink on Tishah B’av . Bathing, sexual relations and the wearing of leather shoes are also forbidden. The book of Eikhah (Lamentations) is chanted in a mournful tune while sitting on the ground and special Kinot or elegies are recited. It is customary to abstain from work, and even Torah study is limited to mournful sections of the Bible, Talmud and Midrash.

After the Six Day War and the reunification of Jerusalem in June, 1967, there were rabbis who suggested that we should abolish Tishah B’av, since the damage inflicted by the Destruction 1900 years ago has now been undone. What follows is a reply to that suggestion.


A number of years ago, Peter McGrath published an article in Newsweek entitled “The Curse of the Past: An Indifference to History Can be a Blessing”

Newsweek, April 19, 1993, p. 15.
 His thesis was that Americans display a remarkable indifference to their own history and that this is a good thing. He cited a study in which post high-school students had difficulty distinguishing Ulysses S. Grant from Robert E. Lee. McGrath also mentioned the Battle of Antietam, which took place during the Civil War. Five thousand men died and another 18,500 were wounded, yet most Americans have never heard of it, let alone can they locate Antietam on a map.

McGrath maintains that this is America’s great cultural strength: its ability to plow the past under and to start history over again at the next growing season. He contrasts this approach with the collective memory of the Serbs who kill Bosnian Muslims as revenge for their defeat at the battle of Kosovo 600 years ago. So too, for Arabs, the Crusades might have happened yesterday, while for Israelis the Inquisition and subsequent progroms are all living memories, which lead to ethnic and religious warfare. So says McGrath.

I beg to differ. Historical memory is not good or bad by definition; it depends on what we do with it. Following McGrath’s logic, we should not use the internet because it is possible to download pornography and neo-Nazi propaganda.

The Jewish people has always prided itself on its constructive use of historical memory. God could have said: “hate the Egyptians for you were slaves in their land”. Instead the Torah instructs us: “You shall not abhor an Egyptian, for you were a stranger in his land” (Deut. 23:8). Furthermore, the Torah tells us not to abuse the stranger, the widow and the orphan “for you were slaves in the land of Egypt”. In other words, the Torah turned one of our worst historical memories into an impetus for social justice.

Similarly, it is my firm conviction that we are sitting today in Jerusalem, the capitol of Israel, primarily because we remembered the Destruction. We fasted on Tishah B’av, The Fast of Gedalia, the Tenth of Tevet and the Seventeenth of Tammuz in order to commemorate specific events related to the Destruction. We remembered Jerusalem at weddings by placing ashes on the groom’s head, by reciting the verse “If I forget thee Jerusalem” (Psalms 137:5-6), and by breaking a glass.

We remembered Jerusalem at funerals by burying Jews with their feet facing Jerusalem so that when resurrection comes they might be ready to stand up and walk towards the Holy City. So too, since the thirteenth Century, Diaspora Jews were buried with a small sack of dirt from Jerusalem. And for hundreds of years, Jews have comforted mourners by saying: “May God comfort you among the other mourners for Zion and Jerusalem”.

For various customs which helped Jews remember Jerusalem, see my articles in Lee Levine, ed., Jerusalem: Its Centrality to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, New York, 1999, pp. 410-413; Judaism 46/2 (Spring 1997), pp. 170-173; Sidra 16 (5760), pp. 9-11 (Hebrew).

And what of today? Should we mourn the Destruction by fasting on Tishah B’av thirty-four years after the city was reunited in the Six Day War? I believe that in addition to the halakhic requirement, there are four good reasons for all Jews to fast on Tishah B’av:

This section is based on my Hebrew responsum about fasting on Tishah B’av in: Responsa of the Va’ad Halakhah of the Rabbinical Assembly of Israel 1 (5746), pp. 29-34.

The Talmud and Josephus tell us that the Second Temple was destroyed due to causeless hatred (sinat hinam) between Jews. Tishah B’av serves as a constant warning lest we repeat the mistakes of the past.

During the current Intifada the Mufti of the Palestinian Authority claimed that “There is not [even] the smallest indication of the existence of a Jewish temple on this place in the past”.

The Jerusalem Post, January 26, 2001, p. A3.
Yet since the year 70 c.e. — 567 years before the Muslims captured Jerusalem — Jews throughout the world have fasted over the destruction of the Second Temple. Tishah B’av thus serves as living proof of our historic love for the Temple and Jerusalem.

In the Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 18b), Rav Papa says that Tishah B’av and the minor fast days will become days of rejoicing when there is shalom. Many commentators say that shalom means when the Temple is rebuilt. But the simple meaning of shalom is “peace”, and this year we seem farther from peace than ever.

Some argue that Tishah B’av should be abolished since they are not interested in the rebuilding of the Temple or in the renewal of the sacrificial system. But this is only one aspect of Tisha B’av. We mourn on Tishah B’av for the Destruction, but we also pray for redemption, as we learn in a midrash: the Messiah was born on the day the Temple was destroyed.

We were fortunate to witness the beginning of our redemption in 1948 and therefore we celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel Independence Day). But the redemption is not yet complete and therefore we must fast on Tishah B’av. As the Ba’al Shem Tov said: “Forgetfulness prolongs the exile; remembrance is the secret of redemption”.