Tuesday, May 3, 2022
Thursday, July 15, 2021
"בתורתו של רבי מאיר מצאו כתוב, "והנה טוב מאד" (בראשית א, לא) - "והנה טוב מות" (בראשית רבה וילנא, ט, ה)
"ויעש ה' אלקים לאדם ולאשתו כות
נות עור וילבישם" (בראשית ג, כא). בתורתו של ר' מ איר מצאו כתוב: "כותנות אור" (בראשית רבה תיאודור-אלבק, כ, כ א)
This Medrash says that Rabbi Meir’s Torah had some variant readings distinct from our mainstream Mesora. Instead of טוב מאד, his text was טוב מות; instead of כותנות עור, he had כותנות אור.
This is a puzzling and difficult concept to understand. The Talmud (Eiruvim 13a) says that Rabbi Meir was an expert Sofer, who learned by the foremost leaders of his generation - Rabbi Yishmael and Rabbi Akiva.
While a small variant reading of עור and אור is a relatively minor issue, Rabbi Meir’s other variant - טוב מות - seems completely different and unrelated to the mainstream text. What can be the connection between טוב מאד and טוב מות, which was highlighted by Chazal as a point of variance between two traditions ?
I usually like to follow a somewhat scholarly approach in my posts, but to answer this question I will turn to Derash.
There are many comments about the connection between עור and אור, mostly based one the famous Zohar that originally the skin of Adam was translucent, full of light, but after his sin it turned like our skin, hence the connection between the words.
Exploring this concept further, I've heard in the name of Reb Tzadok Hacohen |(please comment if you have the written source) that specifically Rabbi Meir had the unique ability to understand the ultimate purpose of everything in this world and how all connects in a meta-physical reality. In his perception, כותנות עור was very clearly not just leather clothes but clothes hiding a spiritual light and Rabbi Meir could perceive that in all creation at any given time - not only before Adam’s sin. For Rabbi Meir, all creation was connected and he saw how that worked.
What about the connection of מאד and מות?
If we take Reb Tzakok’s insight a step further, that our traditions and Rabbi Meir's reflect two different worldviews, let’s analyze why this specific variant has been highlighted. Both מאד and מות start with the Mem, the middle letter of the Hebrew alphabet and the letter representing the present time. We can see that Rabbi Meir could start from the Mem and perceive the very end-objective of everything, and this is codified in the word מות, going from the Mem directly to the Tav - the final letter of the alphabet and the ultimate goal.
However, our perception is not like Rabbi Meir’s, and we cannot connect all the dots of the world around us. The best we can do is try to go back to how things started and from there try to find meaning. That’s the מאד - starting from the Mem, going to back to the Aleph which is the symbol of Hashem’s unity and then to the Daled, which is the letter highlighting how Hashem interacts with our world. That’s our approach to dealing with this world (see more about this concept in Ari Bergmann's podcast here).
Hence we find a possible connection between the two readings and how they represent differing worldview approaches, as explored by Reb Tzadok. It turned out to be that Rabbi Meir’s approach was not tenable, and the mainstream text is indeed טוב מאד.
Of course, this discussion leads to the question of how the Torah text can have variant readings, which in turn challenges the Rambam’s view that our Masoretic text is the “immaculate text”, without any changes through time. To read a great piece on this, which requires a more scholarly approach, see this great post at the Kotzk Blog, discussing what would happen if we would find an authoritative old scroll that differs from our accepted Masoretic text.
One possible conventional answer is brought by the Torah Temima (source), who writes that some understand the Medrash to be referring not to Rabbi Meir’s actual Torah Scroll but his written novelea, where he expounded the meaning of the Torah text. Or perhaps his marginal glosses written around his personal Torah Scroll. In other words, he had no actual variant Mesora.
Be it as it may, as for the connection between מאד and מות, we have found that these variant readings can be understood not as a mere curiosity; it’s a hidden message highlighted by the Medrash, and up to us to understand its message.
Tuesday, April 20, 2021
Thursday, December 31, 2020
|The Box itself looking like a Shin of 4 heads (black part)|
|Also possible to observe a traditional Shin of 3 heads if you focus in between the compartments|
"צורה דשין דימינא ג' רישי, ודשמאלא ד'רישי, ואי אפיך לית לן בה"
"The shape of the right Shin is with three heads, and of the left is four heads. And if he made the opposite, it is of no concern"
|Ancient Tefillin, where the Shins are only lines touching the box base (source). See another example here|
|A scribal shin without a base, as per Yemenite custom|
א"ר אבין בר רב אדא א"ר יצחק מנין שהקב"ה מניח תפילין שנאמר (ישעיהו סב, ח) נשבע ה' בימינו ובזרוע עוזו בימינו זו תורה שנאמר (דברים לג, ב) מימינו אש דת למו ובזרוע עוזו אלו תפילין שנאמר (תהלים כט, יא) ה' עוז לעמו יתן ומנין שהתפילין עוז הם לישראל דכתי' (דברים כח, י) וראו כל עמי הארץ כי שם ה' נקרא עליך ויראו ממך ותניא ר' אליעזר הגדול אומר אלו תפילין שבראש
|Tefillin found in Qumran (source)|
Tuesday, December 1, 2020
How far can Judaica art go?
In my opinion, it hasn’t gone far enough. Of course, there must be respect and reverence to the subject matter - holy scrolls that need to be treated as such. With that said, it’s hard to find Judaica items that are modern or inspired in pop-art, for example.
Perhaps this has to do with the history of the Jewish people, who often needed to hide their religious items or at least be discreet. But in the present time such concerns no longer apply, and at the same time art has become ubiquitous and present in most homes - even if their Mezuza cases are passable. I think modern art can elevate Jewish practice in a very unique way, infusing it with added symbolism and imagination.
Not long ago, M. Cattelan was able to elevate a simple banana into a 6 figure art piece (sarcastically called Comedian), which has become an instant pop art hit. This is my prototype for my house’s Mezuza case, which is suitable for 10cm Mezuza scroll. I needed a way to add the traditional Shin to the case, so I used the theme of Chiquita bananas, which is the most popular brand here in Europe. A mezuza case inspired by a banana pop artpiece? Why not. If we keep it respectful, a Mezuza Banana art case can be a tool towards elevating your home and perhaps showing that if a banana artpiece hung in a wall can fetcha whooping U$120,000 price tag, our Mezuzot are surely worth more. Or is this only good enough for Purim?
Wednesday, June 3, 2020
One of the most popular Judaica items today is the Pitum HaKetoret, an excerpt of the Tamud in Kereisos 6, written like a Sefer Torah in parchment in various layouts, often times together with a Menorah-shaped Lamnazeach alongside it. This is probably the cheapest Safrut item a person can buy, and it can be used daily in Shachrit and Mincha prayers.
This item always puzzled me. It’s an oddity to write Talmudic passages in parchment like a Torah or Megillot - there’s no precedent to this. The Ketoret has two passages of the Torah, and then a Baraita expanding on all the ingredients of the Ketoret as it was done in the Temple.
Before addressing this minhag of writing the Ketoret in Klaf, let’s step back and understand why we recite the Pitum Haketores every day and it’s importance.
The Beis Yosef (OC 133) writes that in the Siddur of Rav Amram Gaon (9th century) there was the full passage of Pitum Haketoret as in our Siddurim today - a testament of how old is the custom of reciting this passage in the prayers.
It would seem that its importance is similar to all the other passages about the Temple services in our daily prayers - as we cannot perform them in our days, we recite them and it's considered like we made the sacrifices, or in the words of the prophet Hoshea, וּֽנְשַׁלְּמָ֥ה פָרִ֖ים שְׂפָתֵֽינוּ, "instead of bulls we will pay with our lips" - our prayers are today's sacrifices.
But there's a stringency in the Ketoret, already mentioned by the Rama (16th century - source here), that a person must read it from a written text but not from memory, because of the halacha that in the times of the Temple, forgetting any of the ingredients of the Ketoret incense was punishable by death. As mentioned, we recite the Pitum Haketoret in order to emulate the Ketoret preparation, therefore a person must make sure not to forget any ingredients, and reciting it by heart will inadvertently cause you to skip something some day.
The emergence of the Zohar (see Vayakhel) and Kabbalistic minhagim in the 16th century brought the concept of reciting the Pitum Haketores to a whole new level, highlighting its esoteric value and protective properties (specially against plagues; that's why many are reciting it in the current Covid-19 epidemic, see article) to those who recited it, with the note that “there’s nothing as dear to Hashem as the Ketoret”.
The Arizal popularized this concept and encouraged his followers to recite this passage twice daily, in Shachrit and Mincha, with maximum concentration, with the caveat that it should only be recited during the day but not in nighttime because of Kabbalistic considerations (although the Rama, mentioned above, and others specifically advised to recite it after Maariv).
In our Siddurim today, the Ketoret is printed twice in Shachrit - once in the very beggining, before Hodu, and a second time in the very end before Aleinu, but this came about because of conflicting opinions about the optimal placement for the Ketoret in the morning prayer, and Siddur printers opted to follow both opinions. Many people only recite it once in Shachrit, usually at the end, and once again before Mincha.
Rabbi Moshe ben Machir, another famous Kabbalist who lived in Safed at the same time, wrote in his important work Sefer Hayom (source here);
החושש עליו ועל נפשו ראוי להשתדל בכל עז בענין הזה ולכתוב כל ענין הקטורת בקלף כשר בכתיבת אשורית ולקרות אותו פעם אחד בבקר ובערב בכוונה גדולה ואני ערבHe who is afraid for his life, should focus all his might in this topic and write it in a Kosher parchement, in Ktav Ashuri script, and recite it once in the morning and again in noon with great concentration. And I am the guarantor.
This is the earliest source recommending the writing of the Pitum Haketores in parchment, with Safrut lettering. Note his unusual wording "and I am the guarantor", meaning that he is personally attesting the protective powers of this passage if recited in the prescribed manner.
The Kaf Hachaim (19th century - source here), respected Kabbalist and Chief Rabbi of Turkey, also brings that the Ketoret "should be written like a Sefer Torah and it will bring him constant wealth", in addition to many other segulot associated with the Ketoret.
But there aren't many more sources to the Minhag of writing the Ketoret in klaf, and while all Kabbalists highlight the importance of the Ketoret, almost no one writes anything about writing it specifically in Klaf like a Torah Scroll. Perhaps this connected to the prohibition of writing a Torah scroll with only a few scattered passages, mentioned in the Talmud (Gittin 60a) and seemingly undisputed in practical Halacha, as quoted by the Rambam:
The Shulchan Aruch follows suit (here), therefore casting serious doubts about the permissibilty of writing the Pitum Haketores, which has a few Biblical passages, in parchement like a Torah Scroll. It's perhaps no coincidence that we have no precedent to writing something like the Ketoret in Klaf, and the question is not anymore why there are so few sources to this Minhag but how is it at all permitted.מֻתָּר לִכְתֹּב הַתּוֹרָה כָּל חֻמָּשׁ וְחֻמָּשׁ בִּפְנֵי עַצְמוֹ וְאֵין בָּהֶן קְדֻשַּׁת סֵפֶר תּוֹרָה. אֲבָל לֹא יִכְתֹּב מְגִלָּה בִּפְנֵי עַצְמָהּ שֶׁיִּהְיֶה בָּהּ פָּרָשִׁיּוֹת. וְאֵין כּוֹתְבִין מְגִלָּה לְתִינוֹק לְהִתְלַמֵּד בָּהּ. וְאִם דַּעְתּוֹ לְהַשְׁלִים עָלֶיהָ חֻמָּשׁ מֻתָּר.:It is permitted to write the Pentateuch, each book in a separate scroll. These scrolls have not the sanctity of a scroll of the Law that is complete. One may not however write a scroll containing some sections. Such a scroll may not be written for a child's instruction. This is permitted, however, where there is the intention to complete the remainder of the book.
This prohibition is also applicable in everyday issues like writing Psukim in wedding invitations, which are commonly adorned with passages like אִם לֹא אַעֲלֶה אֶת יְרוּשָׁלַֽיִם עַל רֹאשׁ שִׂמְחָתִי or Kol Sasson veKol Simcha (see picture). Many scupulous individuals avoid writing it, or modify the passages slightly in order to avoid writing a scattered Pasuk (see here for an interesting article discussing this and other Halachic problems involved in Psukim in wedding invitations, by Rabbi Kaganoff) - and the Pitum Haketores, written in parchement and Ktav Ashuri like an actual scroll, would be even more problematic if written exactly like a Sefer Torah.
Perhaps the supporters of writing Ketoret in Klaf today utilize the Halachic heter of Es Laasos Lashem, which justifies writing Oral Torah even though there's a different, all encopassing prohibition of writing it in any form. This Halachic justification, which overrides the prohibition on the grounds that Chazal at the time of the Mishna felt that there was no other way to preserve the Torah, could be extended to the idea of writing a small scroll like the Pitum HaKetoret. This possibility is brought down by the Mizahav Umipaz (link), which has an excellent overview about many of the issues raised in this article.
Any way you slice it, it's difficult to find Halachic precedent to justify writing the Ketoret like a Sefer Torah and I haven't found many responsa on this issue. Perhaps this custom was not as widespread in previous generations. I was pointed to Rav Ovadia's responsa , in his magnum opus Yebia Omer (ח"ט יו"ד סי' כג) who disapproves this minhag (rather surprising, as it goes against the Kaf Hachaim, and Rav Ovadia was often careful to justify established Sephardic customs) but says that if you already have a Ketoret written in Klaf, it's no problem to read from it - a paradoxical answer (see this link for a quite and discussion about Rav Ovadia's ruling).
In practice, the Pitum Kaketores today is commonly a scribes' inauguration work because the Halachot of Torah, Tefillin and Mezuza do not apply to this novel scroll and therefore it's a good way to practice while not being afraid of making mistakes. One of my first works was indeed a Pitum Haketoret and guess what, I skipped a line but never thought it was a big deal (see picture). But as we have seen, there's one Halacha about this scroll that is more stringent than any other scroll - a Sofer cannot skip a word from the Ketoret ingredients lest he will be punishable by death! Baruch Hashem, it turns out that I skipped one of the very last lines, so without knowing at the time, I actually dodged a bullet by sheer luck.
After I got familiar with the issues discussed above, I have a whole different level of appreciation for the Pitum Haketores recitation - it is really a standout feature of our daily prayers. However, the sad reality is that, as the Rama predicted, people run through this tefillah because it is at the end of morning prayers and everyone is rushing for their daily schedules. I don’t remember last time I davened in a Minyan that gives enough time to say it word by word - the Chazzan will always rush towards Aleinu. And as noted by the Kaf Hachaim, if recited without the proper focus and rhythm, it has no esoteric value and even worse, it can even cause a major transgression of skipping a word from the Ketoret. The Ein Maavar Yabok (17th century) writes that the Chazzan must recite the whole section aloud just like the Shemone Esre, in order to make sure the Shul will have enough time to recite the Ketoret.