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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Not מינות not פלוס

The local synagogue had a Scholar in Residence program this week.  My wife attended one of the speeches and told me what she heard.  She said it was thoroughly considered and very well organized, and she would love to use the methodology in her literature classes.  She was wondering about the content, though, because it didn't seem to be consistent with the interpretations we are familiar with.

The essence was that it is hard to understand why Kna'an was punished for the sin of his father, Cham.  He was at most a child when Cham sinned.  

So this speaker brought a medrash here (36:4)  בתוך אהלו, אהלה כתיב, בתוך אהלה של אשתו. 
אמר רבי הונא בשם ר' אליעזר בנו של ר' יוסי הגלילי: נח כשיצא מן התיבה הכישו ארי ושברו, ובא לשמש מטתו ונתפזר זרעו ונתבזה.   The passuk refers to what we would assume was Noach's tent in the feminine form.   The Medrash explains that Noach had gone into his wife's tent, and attempted to have marital relations with her, but because of the injury he suffered on the Teiva he was unable to consummate the act naturally, and he was disgraced.

The speaker explained that what Cham did should be understood as an example of the ancient manner of usurping the authority of the old king and asserting one's own authority by sleeping with the old king's wife.  After Noach was shown to be incapable of acting in a masculine fashion, Chom entered, and taking advantage of Noach's inebriation, had relations with Noach's wife, who was, I assume, his mother.

The result of this incestuous act was the impregnation of his mother with Kna'an.  Kna'an was the son of Chom by his mother; Kna'an was a physical manifestation of this horrible sin.

This pshat is excellent and satisfying and clear and not to be found among the various interpretations in Chazal.  This is not a criticism.  This is merely an observation.  After all, the Ibn Ezra more often than not interprets Tanach in his own way, irrespective of what Chazal do or don't say.

However.  I think that the difference between a person that knows kol hatorah kullah and has a clear and thorough understanding of the hashkafa of the Torah, and a person that has a less than perfect understanding, matters in this case. The difference is that when you say a pshat in a passuk in Chumash, it is vital that it impart a lesson that is consistent with the entire Torah and that is true in the deepest sense of the word.  I personally couldn't care less what happened: facts are mute, facts don't speak.  Facts are gathered and interpreted and presented by human beings, and their perspective colors the meaning of the facts.  I want to know what Chazal understood the passuk to mean.

What I'm saying is that this scholarly and creative interpretation is very nice, and I enjoyed hearing it, and its author is a successful and respected marbitz Torah, and is definitely an ehrliche yid.  But this pshat is of no more value to me than a new perspective on Shakespeare.  It elucidates the narrative qua narrative.  It might tell me something about human nature, or about the ancient world, or about the story, but it doesn't really have anything to do with what I call Torah.  There are no hidden depths, there is no global message, there is no key to the thoughts of Chazal- it is Pshat without being Hashkafa.  It is reminiscent of the spirit of Wissenschaft des Judentums.  From my perspective, from the perspective of a "chareidi" indoctrination, this methodology is inapposite.  

The way I put it was that it is certainly not מינות.  But it's not פלוס, either.  (This bon mot will only make sense in הברה אשכנזית.)  

Eli has let us know that this approach is not unprecedented.  It is cited in the Da'as Mikra from יש"ר מגוריציה, Rav Reggio, and is also to be found in the writings of Volf Heidenheim.  In fact, Heidenheim's interpretation is even more dramatic- he says that Cham impregnated his mother on the Teiva, and Noach only realized who was responsible when he saw how Cham behaved when Noach was drunk.  Eli was kind enough to send us a pdf of the Heidenheim peirush, and it is available here.  And if you are so disposed, here are some portraits:
Rav Volf Heidenheim  also, here.
Rav Yitzchak Reggio

By the way, Rav Reggio also authored a defense of shaving on Chol Hamoed.  His father strenuously disagreed with his conclusions and printed a rebuttal.  I found this little vignette here.

In consideration of the fact that I was not personally at the shiur, I am putting a letter I received from a Yeshiva-mahn who was present there, and who does like this approach to learning Tanach.

I was at the lecture/shiur
He mentioned that there are 2 ways to teach chumash 1) to report how chazal 
understood the text 2) to try and approach the text in a manner similar to the 
way chazal did which is to look at the text and try to see whats difficult and 
why and attempt to answer based on the text alone.

His solution to the question still left unanswered why is it that Kannan is 
listed as 4 th among the sons of Cham. Seemingly he should have been the first 
and also why was Cham himself not  the subject of Noach's curse since it was his 
act.  One could argue that just as Noach's sons are not listed in order of birth 
neither were Cham's but it still begs the question of why that particular order.
Regarding your hashkafah critique he did address that by saying the Torah  
relayed this  event to teach  Klall Yisroel who Kanann was and that his 
descendents were thus born into  a family where which was devoid of basic 
morality so that when we enter Eretz yisroel we would understand to keep away 
from those that we couldnt  kill or chase away
.......  uses the literary/pshat approach in elucidating the parshah and I find it refreshing way to look at psukim which makes the parshas a unified whole even when they dont necessarily offer a chidush

I disagree with him: to me, it's like learning the Gemara without the Rishonim.  It's of use only to the extent that when  you see that your pshat is not how the Rishonim learned, you have to figure out why they didn't learn like you.  You can't learn Mishna without Gemara, and you can't learn Gemara without Rishonim, and you certainly cannot learn Tanach without the peirush of Gedolei Torah and Hashkafa.  The Hertz Chumash is not for Bnei Torah.

Josh, in a comment, brought up the issue of the many gedolei Torah that found illumination in the thoughts of philosophers that were not Jewish.  I responded that it is hard to know where Chazal (Medrash Eicha 2:13) drew the line in "מַלְכָּהּ וְשָׂרֶיהָ בַגּוֹיִם אֵין תּוֹרָה" אם יאמר לך אדם יש חכמה בגוים תאמן הדא הוא דכתיב (עובדיה א, ח ): "וְהַאֲבַדְתִּי חֲכָמִים מֵאֱדוֹם וּתְבוּנָה מֵהַר עֵשָׂו" יש תורה בגוים אל תאמן דכתיב "מַלְכָּהּ וְשָׂרֶיהָ בַגּוֹיִם אֵין תּוֹרָה".

I came across a short paragraph from Rav Gifter that touches upon this question, as follows:

ביאר המהר''ל ז''ל בס' ''נצח ישראל'' - שחכמה היא החכמה הטבעית שמגיעה להשגת האדם באמצעות החושים, ותורה היא חכמה הניתנת לאדם ממנו ית' שלא עפ''י הטבע.
וביאור הדברים דבקרא כתוב ה' יתן חכמה מפיו דעת ותבונה - היינו שהחכמה נתנה ממנו בבריאה לצורך האדם בבחינת מתנה הנפרדת מעל הנותן, אבל ישנה מדרגה שניה בחכמה העליונה והיא נקראת דעת ותבונה שלא הורידה ה' בבריאה התחתונה והיא קשורה בו ית' והאדם משיגה ע''י שהקב''ה, כביכול, מנשב חכמה זו באדם, עיין ''דרך עץ חיים'' לרמח''ל ז''ל, וזו היא ''תורה''. אל לנו הטעות שאומות העולם משוללים לגמרי מכל השגה שלמעלה מהחושים, לא כן הדבר. גם אצלם ישנה השגה שמגיעים אליה בלי השלטת החושים, וזו ההשגה נקראת ''אינטואיציה'' - אלא שהחילוק בין זה לתורה הוא שבאים לזה דרך החושים שע''י ההשגה שקבלו באמצעות החושים ניתן להם הכח לעלות מעל ההשגה המצומצמת ולראותה ביתר היקף ורוחב. ומתוך השגה זו הרי ידוע לנו שנולדו כמה דברים בעולם המחשבה והמדע האנושי, משא''כ בתורה שמגיעים לידי ההשגה מתחלה שלא ע''י החושים, והיא באה מלמעלה למטה ע''י שהקב''ה מנשב באדם.

Eli sent a link to something attributed to Rav Hai Gaon, here.    The gist of the story is that a Rav Hai Gaon wanted a  Rav Matzliach to inquire with a Catholic priest who was a scholar as to the meaning of a word in Tehillim.  Rav Hai saw that this Rav Matzliach was not happy about going to the priest, and he chastised him loudly, saying that Chazal often asked non-Jews what a certain word meant.  Rav Matzliach did go, and the priest told him that the word was Assyriac and what its meaning was.   The same sefer brings that the Rambam in 17 Kiddush Hachodesh 24 says that determinations of empirical facts that are demonstrated by clear evidence can be relied on no matter what their source.

 רב מצליח בן אלבצק הדיין בסיציליא בשובו מבגדד שלח לו אגרת בספור חיי רה״ג ומעלותיו החשובות ובתוך שאר הדברים ספר ביום אחד נפל הדבור בבית הישיבה אדות פסוק אחד ורמז רה״ג לרב מצליח שילך אצל קתוליק הנוצרים אדות מה שנמצא אתו בבאור זה הבתיב. וכראות הגאון כי קשה הדבר לרב מצליח התרעם עליו באמרו האבות הצדיקים הקדמונים אשר היו קדושים לא נמנעו מלחקור על באור ? 1לות אצל בעלי אמונות שונות. אז הלך רב מצליח אל הקתוליק ושאל את פיו וקבל ממנו תרגומו כלשון סורית.

The Rambam is really not relevant, but here it is anyway:
. ומאחר שכל אלו הדברים בראיות ברורות הם שאין בהם דופי ואי אפשר לאדם להרהר אחריהם, אין חוששין למחבר בין שחברו אותם נביאים בין שחברו אותם האומות. שכל דבר שנתגלה טעמו ונודעה אמיתתו בראיות שאין בהם דופי אנו סומכין על זה האיש שאמרו או שלמדו על הראיה שנתגלתה והטעם שנודע:

Again, I would suggest that even Rav Hai Gaon would not have gone to Father O'Riley, to be  historically accurate, Patriarch Cerularius, to find out the pshat in a story in Chumash, but you'll have to come to your own conclusions.

And finally, Eli directs us to a paper that addresses the issue of studying from scholars whose religious hashkafos are inimical to ours.  It is available here.  I think he talks a little too much about the relatively minor issue of אם דומה רבך למלאך ה' צבאות בקש תורה מפיהו at the expense of deeper ones- such as the להט החרב המתהפכת that defines the dichotomy of תורה and חכמה- but all in all it's a nice article.


Josh said...

Always disappointing when I agree with a post.

Eli said...

It's excellent. Not original though - it's brought in Da'at Mikra, and probably goes back to יש"ר (the 2nd one, ). It explains why it says "עבד עבדים יהיה לאחיו" while אחיו means שם ויפת, not כוש מצרים ופוט.

In order to make Torah out of this, maybe one should ask why Chazal stayed away from this seemingly perfect Pshat ?

Eli said...

sorry, the link is broken. Here is the link to the English version:

Barzilai said...

Interesting source, and interesting man. I wonder why they included it in the Da'at Mikra.

Eli said...

He's quoted there many times (~20 in this volume). Here, they only attribute to him the part that "ערות אביו" could be his father's wife, but most probably the speaker took it from there. I found the full idea in פרפראות לתורה printed in BB 1971 by Rav N"Z Friedman (but erroneously attributed to יש"ר מקנדיא).

I've just found the same Pshat in רוו"ה (Heidenheim) - closer to home...

Barzilai said...

That's really interesting- to attribute something to יש"ר מקנדיא that actually came from יש"ר מגוריציה. While a cursory glance at their histories indicates that they shared certain attributes, they were definitely very different. Regarding יש"ר מקנדיא see here or here

Regarding יש"ר מגוריציה, see here or here

Barzilai said...

Regarding רוו"ה, the Chasam Sofer spoke highly of him, but I'm sure the Chasam Sofer's talmid, the Maharam Shick, had a less complimentary opinion.

In any case, it's fascinating that all these people said this pshat, and, as you said, it is an appealing pshat, so it's interesting to speculate about why it was not suggested earlier by the more traditional mefarshim.

great Unknown said...

Hard to say that cna'an was a mamzer without a more specific indication in the posuk. The torah delights in pointing out the psulai yichus of, e.g., aisaov and amalek.

Reuven said...

Perhaps the traditional mefarshim did not understand the pesukim that way because Naama was a great and righteous woman and it would be would be inconceivable that she would be so horribly debased by her own son.

Barzilai said...

Although Esther and Ya'el experienced not dissimilar fates.

great Unknown said...

Not exactly a valid parallel. Ya'el and Esther were moser themselves for klal yisroel, and as chazal say re Ya'el, gedola avaira lishma.

Eli said...

1. The textual support for mamzerus of אהליבמה, תמנע וקרח is not stronger than where it says וירא את ערות אביו

2. Same for Naama being great and righteous

3. Ran says Naama is not the mother of Shem, Cham & Yefet, since all of Kain's descendants perished.

4. Finally, there is no need to assume Noach's wife agreed to Cham's actions.

Barzilai said...

I would enjoy it if the individual from whom my wife heard this reads this post. I think it's a pretty thorough exposition of the one-off history of this pshat, and perhaps why Chazal did not propose it. And, even Josh agrees with it!

S. said...

>Regarding רוו"ה, the Chasam Sofer spoke highly of him, but I'm sure the Chasam Sofer's talmid, the Maharam Shick, had a less complimentary opinion.

Why would you say such a thing, especially something negative that is speculative?

FWIW, one of Heidenheim's most famous expositions is his defense of "arami oved avi" as meaning "An Aramean [i.e., Lavan] attempted to destroy" al pi pshat.

In my humble opinion, the meforshim who align themselves with pshat perform a good service. Apart for taking seriously one of the modes of interpretation which Chazal say more than once is a legitimate mode, from time to time they cause those of us who prefer pshat to take the midrashic interpretation more seriously when they claim that in those cases the midrash *is* pshat. As such they are champions of Chazal.

Barzilai said...

Shimon, I wouldn't have expected you to read the intentionally ambiguous line that way. I said that while the Chasam Sofer often mentioned RVH, and referred to him as HaChacham, the Maharam Shick was far more polarized than his rebbi. I didn't say whether I believed that his posited attitude toward RVH would reflect on him or on RVH

By the way, I tried to donate on the paypal on your valuable site, and it rejected both my credit cards. I don't know why.

Anonymous said...

it's like learning the Gemara without the Rishonim. It's of use only to the extent that when you see that your pshat is not how the Rishonim learned, you have to figure out why they didn't learn like you"
If that's the approach to tanach then why try to be metaretz any questions anywhere be it tanach or shas Afterall if your teretz were correct then someone before you would have said it

Barzilai said...

Because, 4:01 anonymous, there is tremendous value in understanding what is wrong and why it is wrong. That's one of the pshatim in the Gemara in Eiruvin 13b תנא תלמיד ותיק היה ביבנה שהיה מטהר את השרץ במאה וחמשים טעמים, that one talmid gave one hundred fifty reasons that a dead Sheretz should be tahor. It wasn't sophistry- it was a means of learning what the Torah means to teach us.

Josh said...

Why is the Hertz Chumash not for Bnei Torah? And who do you define as a Ben Torah?

Also, in your response to anonymous (who is not me, by the way) you said "there is tremendous value in understanding what is wrong and why it is wrong" Personally, I like truth more, which is why I agreed with your dismissal of the speakers' idea. There's no reason to accept it as pshat, and there's no lesson to be learned from it as drash ( i count drash as 'truth' also, maybe I'm not that modern). Sometimes, though, I believe there is room to do more than just see why Chazal didn't say something. I don't think the Torah was written only for Chazal. Take Rav Hirsch, for example, who had many original ideas in tanach, many of which were not pshat,and were not to be found in Chazal but were 'true' nonetheless. As far as new pshat goes, surely there is some room for that as well. Even those who take Bereishit literally have had to change pshat in the last 150 years. That's where I feel "new pshat" has a value. And from the little I've seen of Rabbi Hertz's Chumash that's where the value in his Chumash is. It's not always possible to find answers to modern questions (things like evolution, lack of evidence for the Flood, Bible critics,etc)in Chazal. The explanations in the Hertz Chumash provide a service for those bothered by those questions, which is why I don't understand why you lump that speaker-who provides no such service- in with Rabbi Hertz.

Barzilai said...

My not for bnei torah comment about the Hertz Chumash is because he often quotes non religious and non Jewish bible scholars. I believe, and this is a belief shared by most if not all of that group that self defines as Bnei Torah, is that המלמד תורה לעמו ישראל means that it is not physics or math: it is the exclusive purview of the Jews that accept it as the word of Hashem. Only we have the siyata dishmaya to say a pshat in the Torah. All else is counterfeit.
אין דורשיה כישראל
אין חכמיה כישראל
ואין לומדיה כישראל

Josh said...

Well, i suppose that's fair. But it is curious to me that so many who are universally considered bnei Torah have an attitude of שמע האמת ממי שאמרה with regards to secular philosophy, and will borrow ideas from non jewish or non religious philosophers, but not Bible scholars. If the Rambam feels Aristotle had enough siyata dishmaya to say pshat in the meaning of life itself, or Rav Soloveitchik had enough faith in Kierkegaard why would pshat be so different? Obviously there's a difference between Torah and philosophy but one's personal philosophy literally encompasses their entire set of beliefs so wouldn't it be more dangerous to allow secular philosophers into that area of thought than it would be to let an irreligious scholar give pshat on a pasuk in Noach?

I'm not disagreeing with the point.What I wrote above is not something I actually believe-I would feel uncomfortable at a shiur where secular Bible scholarship was brought up. But I wouldn't feel the same way about a hashkafa shiur and secular philosophy. I'm just not sure why.

Barzilai said...

That is a question that deserves careful investigation: Where does the Medrash Eicha 2:13 draw the line when it says
מַלְכָּהּ וְשָׂרֶיהָ בַגּוֹיִם אֵין תּוֹרָה" אם יאמר לך אדם יש חכמה בגוים תאמן הדא הוא דכתיב (עובדיה א, ח ): "וְהַאֲבַדְתִּי חֲכָמִים מֵאֱדוֹם וּתְבוּנָה מֵהַר עֵשָׂו" יש תורה בגוים אל תאמן דכתיב "מַלְכָּהּ וְשָׂרֶיהָ בַגּוֹיִם אֵין תּוֹרָה".

I just put into the post a short paragraph on this question.

Eli said...

For a different approach, see famous story on Rav Hai Gaon who sent for the catholic priest to ask pshat in Tehillim:

Barzilai said...

Thanks, Eli. I put it into the post.

Eli said...

I now searched a bit and found this extensive discussion (with a few more precedents, and many sources discussing the question itself - when and who is allowed to learn from a disputable teacher)

Actually, the Rambam is relevant - it can be read as saying non-factual issues should not be learned from Goyim (see above article).

Another interesting relevant source is R. Shimon Shkop, intro to Sha'arey Yosher, who offers an original pshat in יבקשו תורה מפיהו.

Reb Chaim HaQoton said...

Rabbi Yosef ben Yehuda ben Yaakov ibn 'Aknin (התגלות הסודות והופעת המאורות' חתימה) pg. 495 mentions that Rav Saadiah Gaon used to use the Koran and Hadith to understand things in Torah. He mentions in the name of Rav Shmuel HaNagid's lost ספק העושר that Rabbi Hai Gaon once rebuked Rabbeinu Matzliach for hesitating to speak to a cardinal about understanding a passage in Tanach.