Tuesday, April 27, 2010

My One and Only Rubashkin Post

This blog has never been one for discussing the countless scandals plaguing the Orthodox Jewish world. Indeed, I have never even mentioned the name of Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin before. But I want to comment on one aspect of the case that seems to perturb many folks - the attempt of the Chabad community to muster all of its forces to attempt to mitigate the sentence meted out to Rubashkin. See, for example, the many Failed Messiah posts or this particularly well-written one by Daas Hedyot.

I have a very close friend who is doing serious time in prison. Just before sentencing, many people in the community wrote letters or made personal appearances before the judge to try and reduce the time that he would surely have to serve. Although many folks dropped all contact with this individual as a result of his quite unsavory misdeeds, many others (include myself), acted as characters witnesses and spoke up on his behalf.

This is what family does.


What we did not do was to lie to the judge. My friend never denied his serious mistake, nor did the letters that we wrote deny the seriousness of the crime. We did not produce slick videos that glossed over the facts of the case. We did not speak in public alleging anti-Semitic motivations for his arrest. We never once applied the label of pidyon shevuyim, the redemption of captives. We did not bring irrelevant comparisons to sentences meted out to other criminals in completely different circumstances, or in completely different legal venues. The plea was simple: the person contributed much to the community (as indeed he did, and I am not referring to monetary contributions) who had a lapse in judgment which he fully admits and is willing to take responsibility for. Please, judge, have some mercy in your decision.

No, one doesn't just wipe one's hands clean and ignore the plight of a family member, even if that member is guilty of a great chillul Hashem as Sholom Rubashkin certainly is. However, to use lies and deceit to accomplish one's goals is contemptible. And this is why I part company with the Lubavitch community and its many allies in the chareidi and - yes - even Modern Orthodox world.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

J.D. Eisenstein on Bible Criticism - Pt. 2

This continues my summary of Eisenstein's Commentary on the Torah. Part 1, covering chapters 1-3, can be found here.

Again, since my primary purpose here is to document the objections that traditionalists make against Biblical critics, I will refrain from interjecting personal comments in this summary. Readers can judge for themselves the merits of the author's case (as well as the merits of the critics' arguments.)

Chapter 4: Genealogy and Chronology
“The critics find discrepancies in the genealogical connections of the Bible, particularly in Genesis and the first part of Exodus. From this they wish to prove that the Bible (and particularly the Torah) was compiled from various sources in different periods and by many writers. But the contrary is true. The chain of genealogy in the Bible is unbroken and is linked by the events in the historical narratives. Certain explanations in the Talmud, Midrashim, and by authoritative Jewish commentators sustain this viewpoint.
Eisenstein doesn't cover any new ground here; he details the standard chronology through the patriarchs, discusses the 430/400 years of exile (Gen 15), briefly mentions the opinions regarding the age of Jochebed when she gave birth to Moses (130 per Sotah 12a, which Ibn Ezra criticizes and Ramban defends.) Eisenstein calculates that she was actually 83, a "normal" age to give birth "in this period".

Eisenstein takes issue with a number of objections that Spinoza raised regarding the Torah's chronology:
  1. Problem: Ishmael was sixteen years old when he was cast out of Abraham's household. Yet the Torah calls him a yeled, "child" (Gen 21:13-16). Resolution: the word child is used to arouse sympathy, to show Hagar's helplessness her son became ill with thirst. After relief was round. Ishmael is called naar, "lad".

  2. Problem: Jacob was 84 years old when he married Laban's daughters, 93 when Joseph was born, 130 when he stood before Pharaoh. Why didn't Jacob marry sooner? Resolution: Jacob had to travel to Padan Aram, he was in constant fear of Esau, he had to work for Laban before he could marry.

  3. Problem: Judah was 21 at the time of the sale of Joseph, yet during the migration to Egypt he brought down his grandchildren. Resolution: Judah could have been 43 at the time, old enough for grandchildren.

  4. Problem: Dinah was only 7 years old when she was violation by Shechem, who sought to marry her. Simeon and Levi were youngsters and couldn't have killed all of the inhabitants of Shechem. Resolution: Eisenstein calculates that Dinah was about 11, and the brothers about 14. That was old enough for them to "easily overcome the defenseless invalids of Shechem".
Chapter 5: Geography and Demography

The Torah mentions only the countries of Egypt, Canaan, Cush, and Philistia. "If, as the critics, say, the Torah was compiled in the time of Ezra, who lived in the fourth century B.C.E. under Persian rule, how do they account for the omission of these cities and counties? Persia is mentioned frequently in Esther, Daniel, Ezra, and in Chronicles, which was written by Ezra".

Regarding the Garden of Eden place-names - such as the rivers commonly translated as Tigris and Euphrates - Eisenstein says that we cannot identify with surety the translations. "We may be sure that the description of these places was not written in the Babylonian exile or during the Second Commonwealth, for the geography of Babylon and the principal rivers were better known then and could be easily identified. Notwithstanding this conclusive evidence, Jean LeClerc insists that these place-names in the Torah are of late origin."

Eisenstein argues against a number of other place name problems that critics bring up. For brevity, I'll only mention a few examples.

Mount Sinai or Mount Horeb? "According to the Talmud, the different names refer to different ways of describing the effect of Torah upon idolaters (Shabbat 89a). But the critics insist that Sinai and Horeb are separate mountains in different places. They claim that the author of the Torah confused them, and, in order to maintain his idea that Sinai was the site of the Revelation, he used the term Sinai thirty-one times in the Torah and four times in the other books, inserting "Horeb" twelve times in the former and four times in the latter. The critics do not even give the author, or as they call him, the editor, credit for knowing that he could easily have blue-pencilled the word Horeb and avoided this so-called confusion."

"Rachel was buried on the road to Efrat, which is Bethlehem. (Gen. 35:19) Evidently both names were known at the time of Moses, as they have the same connotation. Efrat, from the root parah, means productive, fruitful; and Bethlehem connotes a store-house for bread."

Eisenstein states that a number of other place name problems are simply the result of them being known by multiple names, such as Bela/Zoar, Hebron/Kiryat Arba, the location of Aharon's death, etc.

"Abraham, in his attempt to rescue Lot from his captors, pursued the enemy "as far as Dan." (Gen. 14:14) The critics say that a place called Dan was non-existent in Moses' time; that until the period of the judges it was named Laish (Judges 18 :29). Ibn Ezra (in his commentary on Numb. 13 :23), however, points out that the Dan in Genesis was another place. The Targum Yerushalmi calls it "Dan Caesaria." There are twenty-five cities named Springfield in the United States of America and no critic asks questions about their relationship. [FH: That's why no one knows where the Simpsons live!!] It is equally possible for two cities by the name of Dan to have existed in Canaan."

Beyond the Jordan. A common objection by critics who interpret this phrase in Moses' farewell address (Deut. 1:1) to refer to Transjordan; they therefore felt that the text was written by someone residing in Canaan and not by Moses. However, the term "eber-ha-Jarden" really means "beyond" in either direction... To the one who stands in the east, Trans-Jordan means west of the Jordan, and to the one who is in Canaan, Transjordan means east of it. The text reads "beyond the Jordan in the land of Moab" (Deut. 1:5), which is east of Palestine. Also: "And all the Arabah beyond the Jordan eastward." (ibid. 4:49) Hence "beyond the Jordan" in the land of Moab means west of the Jordan.

Regarding Demography, Eisenstein doesn't discuss the problems of 600,000 adult males (>2 Million total population). He only describes the multiple counts (Ex. 12:37, Num. 1, Num. 26) and supports this large number by the descriptions of King Saul mobilizing armies of 330,000 and 200,000 both of which were confirmed by census (I Sam. 11:8, 15:4).

Chapter 6: Designations of and References to God.

The fallacy of Astruc's theory that relates YHVH and Elohim to the J and E documents can be shown by the admixture and interchangeability of both names in one running story (e.g., the sacrifice of Isaac, the story of Jacob's dream, the Balaam story). This indicates that they emanate from one source.

That the patriarchs knew of God not just as el-Shaddai (Ex. 6:3), is seen in the multiple occurrences that indicate they also knew of YHVH (Gen. 15:2-8; 26:2, 24, 25; 28:16).

The critics say that the name "Israel" was substituted for "Jacob" by J. However, they concede numerous exceptions in Genesis (46:2, 48:8, 11:21, 50:25). Eisenstein also mentions Gen. 31:3 and - curiously - a number of references in the Prophets.

According to the critics, E alludes without offense to a matzevah, J never. Eisenstein shows a number of places where the so-called J author DOES refer to such stone pillars (e.g., Gen. 28:18, 35:20, etc.) which were used for memorials and oil libations.

Before discussing the traditional meaning of the divine names, he mentions Prof. Erdman of Leiden who withdrew from the Graff-Wellhausen school because the divine names were meaningless with regards to authorship. "So the conflict among critics goes merrily along".

Then the discussion of divine names, which is based on the mission or attribute of God represented (Elohim is God as manifested in nature, and can also refer to judges or mighty and powerful men; attribute of judgment. YHVH is the attribute of grace; it is the only name associated with sacrifices. Elohim with YHVH is tiferet - justice tempered with mercy. And so forth.)

The suffix YH is used only once in a proper name in the Torah - Moriah (Gen. 22:2) - but 107 times in other biblical books. Some names ending in EL were changed to YH (e.g., Uzziel to Uzziah), showing that the spelling was changed after the era of Torah. This nullifies the theory that some parts of the Torah were composed at the same time as the Books of Prophets.

Finally, anthropomorphism. Torah uses human attributes in its descriptions of God because that is due to the lower state of civilization among the Israelites in the Wilderness. The prophets utilized anthropomorphism "because of custom", but in a lesser degree. They were eventually eliminated during the Second Commonwealth. This disproves the notion that Torah was written in a later time.

[End of Part 2.]

Monday, April 12, 2010

Ignorance is Bliss

The length of the Second Temple is known securely to us from the Sages... and it is incumbent on one to remove from himself any doubting thoughts on this matter. Happy is he who has not read the outside books...

- Chazon Ish, Kovetz Iggerot v. 1 #206, as quoted in Jewish History in Conflict.

Better a cruel truth than a comfortable delusion.