Thursday, March 29, 2012

Menorah-shaped Lamnatazeach - full post

What's the source of the Menora-shaped Lamnatzeach? I touched on this subject last year but now I will write it in full.

The earliest source, I believe, is the Abudrahem, a student of the Baal Haturim (son of the Rosh) who lived in 14th century spain (see inside the Sefer here)
ובמקצת מקומות אומרין אותו כל יום  מפני

 שנקרא מזמור המנורה  והקורא אותו בכל יום נחשב

 כמדליק  המנורה  הטהורה  בבית המקדש  וכאלו מקבל

 פני שכינה כי תמצא  בו ז׳ פסוקים כנגד  שבעה קני

In some places (the Lamnatzeach) is recited every day since (this psalm) is called the Psalm of the Menorah and when you recite it everyday, it is considered as you lit the Menorah in the Beit Hamikdash (...)
The Abudrahem goes on to explain that this Psalm has 49 words which relate to the 49 different parts of the Menorah - thus why we always recite this Psalm after counting the 49 days of the Omer.

Another possible early source for this claim is the Ramban, who reportedly brings this same commentary in one of his letters adding that it should be recited specifically at sunrise, but this letter is not to be found presently.

Rabbi Yitzhak Haezovi (Turkey, 15th Century), in his sefer Agudat Ezov, confirms that there's a tradition that "whoever recites this Psalm throughout the 49 days of Omer nothing bad will happen to him that year". Perhaps you shouldn't take this lightly because he adds that King David took this very seriously:
"This Psalm was engraved in gold in King David's shield, made like the shape of the Menorah and when he went to wars he would meditate upon it (...) and with it he would win his enemies"
The Agudat Ezov goes on to say that it's good to have it embroidered in the Aron of the synagogue to protect the community - which explains why you always see this Menora Lamnatzeach in the Sephardic shuls today. 

Another early Kabbalist that mentions this is the Akeidat Yitzhak, who was one the last Rishonim who lived in the Golden Years of Spain's Jewry in the 15th century, and he pretty much mirrors what the Agudat Ezov said - see here in full.

The Chida, one of the greatest Kabbalists of the 18th century, adds that it should be recited from Klaf - parchement (direct source here). 

I must also highlight this fascinating piece from the Ben Ish Chai, arguably the most respected Kabbalist of the 19th Century and a household name in every Sephardic home, who says that you don't need specifically klaf - any paper is fine according to him - but he adds a powerful twist:

כשאומר למנצח בנגינות מזמור שיר המצוייר בצורת המנורה על קלף או על נייר, יזקוף את הציור של המנורה שמסתכל בו כדי שיהיה הציור זקוף לפניו כדמיון המנורה שהיתה זקופה ועומדת בהיכל ולא יניח הציור מושכב ושטוח לפניו

"When you recite Lamnatzeach written in the shape of the Menora either on Klaf or on a paper, you should hold it standing so you can see it in front of you just like the Menora which was standing in the Heichal, rather than leave the drawing flat"

Fascinating comment. I bring it because it illustrates how dear this Psalm is to all Kabbalists, early and contemporary, to such an extent that they even instituted it in the everyday prayers of the 49 days of the Omer, something that today is standard practice in virtually all Jewish communities. From there, as the Abudrahem mentioned abovesome people started to say this Psalm every day and, as we see today in our Siddurim, it is recited just before Baruch Sheamar in Shacharit (nusach sephard and edut mizrach). That placement is puzzling because the Ari, who basically reorganized what is today Nusach Sefrad and Edut Mizrach, actually said that we should mention it at the end of Amida, right before Elokai Netzor:
ולכן יהיה תמיד נגד עיניך גם תאמר בכל יום אחר תפלת ערבית ומנחה ושחרית אחר העמידה קודם אלקי  (full text here, difficult read) נצור מזמור ס"ז והוא מזמור למנצח בנגינות מזמור שיר

I've seen that Rabbi Pinchas Zbihi brings why we recite it before Baruch Sheamar; something to do with the daily ritual of the lighting of the Menora but that's beyond the scope of this already complicated post.

Interestingly, Rabbi Zbihi elsewhere says that the Abudrahem - who said that reciting Menora Lamnatzeach is like lighting the Menora - might explain why we say it every weekday mornings but not on Shabbat. If it is like lighting the Menora that is a forbidden Melacha (!) and that might explain why our Siddurim have another Psalm in its place.

The big question is why the vast majority of Siddurim don't print this Menora layout both before Baruch Sheamar and also by Sefirat Haomer. As we have seen, the point is not only to recite this Psalm but to recite it in this specific shape and we rarely see this in contemporary siddurim. 

But to finalize this post, I must mention a very practical consideration. There is a very famous discussion concerning the exact look of the Beit Hamikdash's Menora and this has implications for the Lamnatzeach Menora. The Maase Choshev says that the Menora was curved, as seen in the infamous Arch of Titus and many archeological findings. It happens to be the the vast majority of Menorah Lamnatzeach follow this layout, as seen below:

There's one major problem with this layout - it's very difficult to make round "Sirtut" (guiding lines) and as the Talmud in Sanhedrin notes, it's forbidden to write more than four words in parchement without guiding lines. Aside this technical problem, Rashi and Maimonides held that the Menora was not curved but straight - the late Lubavitch Rebbe actively advocated (see Likkutei Sichot vol. 21) to spread this layout and that's by the way why all Chabad's public Menoras in Chanukka are always straight. For these reasons, there's an alternative Lamnatzeach:

I however never saw this layout in any synagogue; it's not very popular. But a third layout, which is squared and doesn't conform with any of the two opinions mentioned above, is extremely popular and present in many Chassidic synagogues. It is also printed in my Ktav Ashurit Siddur:

I speculate that because of the Sirtut problem in the rounded layout, Sofrim started to write the round Lamnatzeach in this way which resembles the rounded scheme and at the same time has regular straight guiding lines (Sirtut). 

Last week I received a long awaited shipment of red Gvil parchement and it was just big enough to write a Lamnatzeach Menora. I used the square layout because I think it's the nicest and also because it's the middle way between the rounded and the straight Menora. I will record my experience with this Gvil in another post.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Fraudulent Scribe - are ALL his works invalid or just some?

Just a short introduction, in this post I bring a fascinating Teshuva I heard in Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s weekly shiur last month. In my Yeshiva years I had the great fortune of spending two years under his tutelage in Ner Yisrael, Baltimore, and I dedicate this post to him. He taught me the essence of learning Halacha Lemaase - Practical Halacha - and how important it is not to make things complicated but to be concise and understand the bottom line of every topic. This approach eventually pushed me towards learning Safrut, one of the most hands-on areas of the Torah.

Rabbi Akiva Eiger (siman 69, mahadura kama) brings a case of a community who found out that a one of the city’s scribes was selling Tefillin with no Parshiot in it - a scammer. The question was what is the status of the Torah Scrolls he wrote during that time. Unlike the Tefillin, which had to Parshiot, his Torah Scrolls looked ok and seemed perfectly Kosher. Do we consider them Kosher or is there a credibility issue on all his works?

Rabbi Akiva Eiger tries to prove that the Torah Scrolls could be rendered Kosher and among his arguments he brings a very very interesting point. He brings a similar case from Halachot of Kashrut, about a butcher who was found to be guilty of selling treif chicken. Can you eat in his house? Or perhaps his behaviour of selling treif chicken invalidates his home’s kitchen?

The Halacha is:

אם אינו חשוד לאכול דברים אסורים אבל חשוד למכרן - מתארח אצלו ואוכל עמו
“If he is not suspected of eating treif, but he is suspected of selling treif - a person may stay at his house and eat with him”

Says Rabbi Eiger, the same can be said in the case of the fraudulent sofer. Even if he is found to be guilty of selling pasul Tefillin, the Torah Scrolls that he wrote for his own use are surely free of suspicion and, I quote, “may even be used to read Parshat Zachor” - which is (likely) a Biblical Commandment and thus a very important Mitzva. Why? He may be a dishonest businessman, but that doesn’t necessarily means that he doesn’t believe in anything. In fact, the opposite is true and we can rely that since he knew he would need the community Sefer Torah to fulfill the Mitzva of Parshat Zachor and say Brachot when reading from it on Shabbos, his Torahs are 100% kosher! 

However, the Sifrei Torah he sold to individuals and other communities do have a credibility issue and one should not use it.

I had a similar situation. When I gave my Mezuzot to be checked, the expert sofer told me that all of them were beautiful and Kosher, but that he would advise me to avoid using two of them, which he recognized as being from a specific sofer. I asked why but he would not answer.

I had a feeling that also in my case, there was a similar credibility problem with the person who had this handwriting. I speculate that my friend had already seen some very problematic things in other works of this scribe and thus advised me to stay away from his Mezuzot, even though they look perfectly Kosher.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Ancient Tefillin

A fellow sofer showed me these exquisite ancient Tefillin, which he says are from northern Africa circa 1600's.
While I have no clue if this claim is right, I must note that beyond any doubt, these Tefillin were Psulim from the start. The four compartments of the Tefillin shel Rosh look like they're divided but when you open it, you see that instead of four there's only one big compartment - just like a Tefillin shel Yad. From the outside they made it look like a proper "bait" but that's just cosmetics.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Purim - The Shem in the Megilla

Unlike all other Tanach books, the Name of God is not mentioned throughout Megillat Ester - not even once.
The explanation is one of Purim's core characteristics: hidden provenance. The name of the scroll, Esther, means to hide and everyone puts on a crazy costume to hide themselves too. It's the festival of the hiding, and that's why Hashem's name isn't mentioned in Megillat Ester.

However when writing the actual Megilla, many scribes felt the need to highlight parts where the Megilla was referring to Hashem. In fact, that's the reason why the so-called Hamelech Megillot - which are arranged to have the word Hamelech at the beggining of every column - are so popular and command higher prices in the Stam marketplace. The word Hamelech is written numerous times in the Megilla starting every column with this word would be like the common Jewish practice of writing BSD (besiata dishmaya - with God's help) at the top of a note or page, since Hamelech can also be understood as a reference to God.

(Similarly, I've once heard that this is why every Talmud page has always four long lines of Rashi and Tosfot at the very top. It is presumably a hint to the four-letter name of God, Yud-Kei-Vav-Key. )

Be it as it may, scribes don't only use the Hamelech layout to highlight Hashem in the Megilla. Below is a 200 year old Megilla where the scribe wrote the four-letter of Hashem in big font (it is actually reversed).
In this other Megilla (hat tip to Melech), the Sofer did something similar but instead of writing big letters he made three dots on top of the corresponding letters:
I think this was a better strategy because there's a Mesorah that dictates which letters should be big (and small) throughout Tanach. It's not optimal to start inventing your own (that's the reason behind the 11-lined Megilla of the Gaon - see here for full post on that), but again, the concept is the same.

Many people attribute this practice of highlighting the Shem in the Megilla to the Hacham Tzvi, who was perhaps the most respected Ashkenazi (don't be fooled by the name) Rabbi of the 17th century Europe. I looked extensively for this source and was pointed to the Siddur of the Yaavetz , which you can read below. The Yaavetz says in the name of the Ari that we should be Mechaven (meditate) in the special Rashei and Sofei Tevot in the Megilla which are references to the name of God. Most likely, scribes decided to enlarge (or dot) these hidden names of God to make it easier for us when reading from the Klaf and thus be Mekaven.

Be it as it may, the Hamelech layout, large letters and dots are all well-established Minhagim that enhance and make our Megillot look even nicer.

Happy Purim and drink very responsibly

Monday, March 5, 2012

Amazing Megillot #10: In Gvil

It's one of my dreams to write in Gvil, so I was very interested to see a picture of this Gevil Megillat Esther, written in Veillish. Hat tip to Melech.