web analytics
December 28, 2014 / 6 Tevet, 5775
 
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Mishneh Torah’

Being Held Accountable

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

By any standards it was a shocking episode. Jacob had settled on the outskirts of the town of Shechem, ruled by Hamor. Dinah, Jacob’s daughter, goes out to see the town. Shechem, Hamor’s son, sees her, abducts and rapes her, and then falls in love with her and wants to marry her. He begs his father, “Get me this girl as my wife.”

 

Jacob hears about this and keeps quiet, but his sons are furious. She must be rescued and the people punished. Hamor and his son come to visit the family and ask them to give consent to the marriage. Jacob’s sons pretend to take the offer seriously. We will settle among you, they say, and intermarry, on condition that all your males are circumcised. Hamor and Shechem bring back the proposal to the people of the town, who agree.

 

On the third day after the circumcision, when the pain was at its height and the men incapacitated, Shimon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, enter the town and kill all the males. It was a terrible retribution. Jacob rebukes his sons: “You have brought trouble on me by making me a stench to the Canaanites and Perizzites, the people living in this land. We are few in number, and if they join forces against me and attack me, I and my household will be destroyed” (Genesis 34:30).

 

But Shimon and Levi reply, “Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute?” (Genesis 34:31).

 

There is a hint in the text that Shimon and Levi were justified in what they did. Unusually the Torah adds, three times, an authorial comment on the moral gravity of the situation: “And the sons of Jacob came in from the field when they heard it; and the men were grieved, and they were very wroth, because he had wrought a vile deed in Israel in lying with Jacob’s daughter; which thing ought not to be done” (Genesis 34:7). “The sons of Jacob came upon the slain, and spoiled the city, because they had defiled their sister” (Genesis 34:27).

 

Yet Jacob condemns their action, and although he says no more at the time, it remains burningly in his mind. Many years and fifteen chapters later, on his death bed, he curses the two brothers for their behavior: “Shimon and Levi are brothers – their swords are weapons of violence. Let me not enter their council, let me not join their assembly, for they have killed men in their anger and hamstrung oxen as they pleased. Cursed be their anger, so fierce, and their fury, so cruel! I will scatter them in Jacob and disperse them in Israel” (Genesis 49:5-7).

 

Who was right in this argument? Maimonides vindicates the brothers. In his law code, the Mishneh Torah, he explains that the establishment of justice and the rule of law is one of the seven Laws of Noah, binding on all humanity:

 

And how are the Gentiles commanded to establish law courts? They are required to establish judges and officers in every area of habitation to rule in accordance with the enforcement of the other six commands, to warn the citizenry concerning these laws and to punish any transgressor with death by the sword. And it is on this basis that all the people of Shechem were guilty of death (at the hands of Shimon and Levi, sons of Jacob): because Shechem (their Prince) stole (and raped) Dinah, which they saw and knew about, but did not bring him to justice… (Maimonides, Laws of Kings 9, 14).

 

According to Maimonides, there is a principle of collective responsibility. The inhabitants of Shechem, knowing that their prince had committed a crime and having failed to bring him to court, were collectively guilty of injustice.

 

Nachmanides disagrees. The Noahide command to institute justice is a positive obligation to establish laws, courts and judges, but there is no principle of collective responsibility, nor is there liability to death for failure to implement the command. Nor could there be, for if Shimon and Levi were justified, as Maimonides argues, why did Jacob criticize them at the time and later curse them on his deathbed?

 

The argument between them is unresolved, just as it was between Jacob and his sons. We know that there is a principle of collective responsibility in Jewish law: “Kol Yisrael areivin zeh ba’zeh – All Jews are sureties for one another.” But is this specific to Judaism? Is it because of the peculiar nature of Jewish law, namely that it flows from a covenant between G-d and the Israelites at Mount Sinai, at which the people pledged themselves individually and collectively to keep the law and to ensure that it was kept?

 

Maimonides, unlike Nachmanides, seems to be saying that collective responsibility is a feature of all societies. We are responsible not only for our own conduct but for those around us, among whom we live. Or perhaps this flows not from the concept of society but simply from the nature of moral obligation. If “X” is wrong, then not only must I not do it. I must, if I can, stop others from doing it, and if I fail to do so, then I share in the guilt. We would call this nowadays the guilt of the bystander. Here is how the Talmud puts it:

Title: Crown of Aleppo: The Mystery of the Oldest Hebrew Bible Codex

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

Title: Crown of Aleppo: The Mystery of the Oldest Hebrew Bible Codex


Author: Hayim Tawil and Bernard Schneider


Publisher: Jewish Publication Society


 


 


The Jewish people are known as the “people of the book,” and over the centuries it has sacrificed much not only to live by that book, the Torah, but to maintain the integrity of its text as well.

 

A Torah scroll, however, may not contain notations. Thus, Jews used to write codices (sing. codex) that contained, not only the Torah’s text, but punctuation (nekudos), musical signs (trop), and additional notes along the margins that assisted soferim who wished to write Torah scrolls (and other Biblical books) properly and accurately.

 

The oldest extant, and most authoritative, codex is the Aleppo Codex, or “Crown of Aleppo.” Many people believe that it is this codex that the Rambam refers to in his discussion of writing a sefer Torah in the Mishneh Torah.

 

This codex is also the subject of a new book,The Crown of Aleppo: The Mystery of the Oldest Hebrew Bible Codex, by Drs. Hayim Tawil and Bernard Schneider – both scholars of note (Tawil is a professor of Hebrew Language and Literature at Yeshiva University and Schneider is a highly-respected international lawyer with a special interest in the Bible). In it, the authors describe, in detail, the history and tribulations of this codex. “Who wrote it?” “How did it reach Aleppo, Syria?” are just some of the questions the book discusses.

 

The authors also describe, at some length, the events of 1947 that led up to an Arab pogrom against the Aleppo Jewish community and the destruction of the synagogue that housed the codex. Miraculously, most of the codex was saved and eventually made its way to Israel. When the codex resurfaced in Israel, however, most of the pages from the Torah were missing. The surviving portions were largely from Nevi’I’m and Kesuvim.

 

Were the other pages destroyed? Lost? Tawil and Schneider offer several different explanations, and hold out some hope that these pages may yet surface (being held, in the meantime, by members of the former Aleppo Jewish community).

 

All in all, Tawil and Schneider have managed to produce a book that, not only discusses the details of writing a Torah scroll and the history of the Aleppo Codex, but also presents a tale of mystery and intrigue that may yet be solved to the delight of scholars and the Jewish community.

 

Thus, the book, which includes wonderful photographs and interesting endnotes, appeals to readers of all sorts. As usual, the Jewish Publication Society has produced a truly fine work.

 

Hopefully, we will soon celebrate the resurfacing of the Aleppo’s Codex’s missing pages, and their relocation in Jerusalem.


 


Zalman Alpert is reference librarian at Yeshiva University’s Mendel Gottesman Library of Judaica.

A New Denial Of Traditional Judaism

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

For thousands of years of Jewish history there wasn’t a unique nomenclature classifying Torah-deviant Jews. Denominations like Conservative, Reform and Orthodox were non-existent. One was either more observant, less observant, or, in highly atypical cases, nonobservant.

The reason for this is that history is immutable. Sinai was a historical fact that was irrefutable and unassailable.

I haven’t met a sane individual who doubts Julius Caesar existed or the Roman Empire fell. Yet I have encountered numerous people who cast aspersion on the world’s most momentous and epic occurrence: Revelation at Sinai. Such a blatant disregard and contempt for incontrovertible history has opened a Pandora box of other denials, such as the claim that the Holocaust never happened. Once we tolerate one perversion of history there’s no limit to other falsifications that ensue.

It’s been alleged that Judaism’s transmission is unreliable because it is no different from the game “telephone,” in which one person cites a word and the message moves down the line until it emerges a garbled version of the original. This comparison is wholly inaccurate.

The nature of the Jewish people is to be argumentative – but notwithstanding endless persecution and exile, the original message emerged unscathed. This may be attributed to the fact that the message wasn’t arbitrary or subjective but was God’s revered Word – hallowed and sacrosanct. Couple the tremendous import of the message with the fact that each Jew was a master pedagogue (“vishinantom livonecha,” Devarim 11:19) and it’s obvious how vital preservation of the accurate tradition was.

Perhaps no other nation has such an explicit and unequivocal historical chain. Rambam (in his introduction to Mishneh Torah) delineates a clear, incontestable chain of teachers from Moshe Rabbeinu until Rav Ashi, redactor of the Talmud. Conclusive studies have traced contemporary Torah leaders back to Rav Ashi, bringing the chain of tradition full circle.

Were Julius Caesar to visit Rome today, he would be at a total loss. He wouldn’t understand the lingua franca, the dress, or mannerisms. On the other hand were Moshe to visit Meah Shearim, he would, essentially, feel at home.

The Torah mandates that an ambiguous “pri etz hadar” be combined with other minim on Sukkos. “A beautiful fruit” can depend on individual taste and preference. One person may consider the mango to be the most beautiful fruit, while his peer may be partial to an apple.

If our mesorah were in any way diluted or adulterated, one would anticipate seeing an array of different fruits being used for this mitzvah. Historically, in direct fulfillment of the Oral Law, only the esrog has been used in fulfillment of this mitzvah.

In my years (before my early retirement) of supplying the community with arbah minim, I had the privilege of servicing an eclectic base – from leading chassidic rebbes to litvishe roshei yeshiva, as well as Conservative rabbis.

It seemed disingenuous for a Conservative rabbi – who professed no allegiance to and sometimes displayed vehemence against Oral tradition – to purchase an esrog. It is, however, an incredible testimony to the force and weight of our tradition that even those who tend to deny it end up corroborating it.

Until the early-mid 19th century no one challenged the universally accepted truth of Sinai. Then a neo-Jewish movement began in Berlin that sought to reconcile modernity with Judaism. For the sake of progressiveness and to facilitate assimilation, this movement claimed the Torah had not been God-given, and that it was not incumbent on Jews to follow it. They postulated that the Torah was man-made and subject to change – and in “modern times” obsolete.

In 1837, Abraham Geiger called the first Reform rabbinical conference in Wiesbaden, Germany, and declared: “The Talmud must go, the Bible, that collection of mostly so beautiful and exalted human books, as a divine work must also go.”

Samuel Holdheim headed the Reform congregation in Berlin. He disavowed many cardinal features of Judaism: circumcision, covered heads during worship, the tallis, blowing of the shofar, the use of the Hebrew language, and the mention of Zion, Jerusalem or the land of Israel in any service.

By the mid-19th century, Reform had dethroned Jerusalem in favor of Berlin. The Jewish Sabbath was changed from Saturday to the Christian Sunday. The synagogue began resembling the church in its aesthetics and services. German Reform also had the gall to abolish the “automatic assumption of solidarity with Jews everywhere.” Adherents of Reform described themselves as “Germans of the Mosaic persuasion,” rather than as Jews.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/a-new-denial-of-traditional-judaism/2010/02/17/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: