Thursday, October 2, 2008

Assorted Rosh Hashanah Tidbits

  • Unetaneh Tokef did not originate with the horrible torture story of Rabbi Amnon of Mainz, that Artscroll retells in its mahzor. The historical brutality of Christian leaders and laypeople towards Jews is certainly a given and there is no reason to doubt that such mutilation could have been based on a real incident, but the "revealed in a dream to Rabbi Klonimos" story originates with the Or Zarua who lived 200 years after the supposed event. Most damaging to the legitimacy of this story has to be the simple fact that Unetaneh Tokef dates back to the pre-Gaonic era as revealed in Cairo Geniza fragments. More juicy details in this article.
  • The custom of reciting L'Dovid Ori during Elul through Shemini Atzeres is likely Sabbatean in origin, established by Nathan of Gaza, the "prophet" of false-Messiah Shabbetai Zevi. Check out this well-researched post.
  • The gematria of אגוז (egoz / nut) does not equal חטא (chet / sin), although people play fast and loose with the alef of the latter to make things work out. This post from a couple of years back goes into some detail. The more kabbalistically inclined can ignore these nitpickings and refer to "Ginat Egoz" by R. Yosef Gikatilla.
  • The first set of shofar blowings of Rosh Hashanah are referred to as "tekiot demeyushav" because they are supposed to be heard while sitting down (see the end of Rosh Hashanah 16a). However, it has become a universal custom to listen while standing (see Mishna Berurah on O.C. 585:1). Anyone know of a congregation that does otherwise?
  • I cannot find a source inside (please leave a comment if you know where), but a Rav in the know once told us that it is incorrect for the congregation to recite the first two Aseret Y'mei Teshuvah additions during the repetition of the Amidah (i.e., "Zochreinu" and "Mi Chamocha".) Certainly this is substantiated by the mahzorim that state only "Chazan" for these additions while "Congregation then Chazan" precedes the last two additions ("Uchesov chayim" and "B'sefer chayim").


Rich Perkins said...

Unetaneh tokef . . . I think the prayer speaks for itself and is incredibly moving. In this instance, it doesn't really matter if the story is true or not.

Egoz/Chait . . . Don't you know that gematria is the lowest form of dvar torah out there? You can find a connection between ANY two things if you look around. I am just surprised that people continue to really lend credence to things based on a gematria.

Frum Heretic said...

I think the prayer speaks for itself and is incredibly moving.

I agree wholeheartedly.

In this instance, it doesn't really matter if the story is true or not.

I disagree. Is this story supposed to inspire us and elevate our davening? I find it immensely distracting. Also, do kids really need to see this in their mahzor?

As for gematriot, I've always enjoyed them when used in a clever manner. But I object to them when used for purposes of halacha or minhag. Or, for that matter, any other exegetical claim.

Dr. Ezra Chwat said...

There are numerous mainstream minhagim whose first printed source is Hemdat Yamim. Although a distance of 150 years stands between its publication and the Ar"i, one should not be deterred from it's legitimacy as a close testimony of minhagey HaAri. Nor should one conclude that all its contents are Shabbetean heresy. We are clearly distanced enough from shabateanism that we no longer need fear it as a legitimate source of minhagey Ar"i. The Hida, for example, relied on it heavily, though usually not by name. Surveys of mainstream minhagim based on Hemdat Yamim are now being conducted by Rav Moshe Blau and Prof. Havivah Pedaya.

Frum Heretic said...

I agree with this in theory. Just because Hemdat Yamim is the first appearance of a minhag does not imply that it is Sabbatean in origin. But without a clear precursor source, there will always be at least a cloud of suspicion over its origin. Thus the need to claim the Ari as the originator.

EVEN IF one could positively attribute L'Dovid to Nathan of Gaza, it is still an inspiring addition for many, so that alone wouldn't be any reason to remove it. Unless one holds like the Vilna Gaon and feels that one should not add extra tehillim to the end of tefillah. said...

My Congregation sits through the first set of shofar blasts so we can hear the shofar within the context of an otherwise silent meditation.