Wednesday, October 01, 2014

The Wives of Esau

This paper discusses various Medieval approaches to reconciling the apparent contradiction in the names of Esau's wives as given in the book of Genesis. It explores the merits and disadvantages of each approach and concludes with a succinct summary.

This paper was printed as R.C. Klein, "The Wives of Esau", Jewish Bible Quarterly, Vol. 42:4 (Jerusalem, Jewish Bible Association, 2014).

Keywords: Esau, wives, Oholibaham, Basemah, Bible, contradiction, Talmud, Radak, Rashi, Sefer HaYashar, Rashbam, Ibn Ezra, Midrash, bastard, polygamy, Zibeon, Josephus

This article is also available at several other locations:
Jewish Bible Quarterly Online Archive

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Articles in Kovetz Hamaor

(שער בלאט לקובץ המאור גליון תצ"ד (סיון-תמוז תשע"ד

I have recently had the chance to upload facsimiles of some of my recent articles printed in the rabbinic bi-monthly journal, Kovetz Hamaor  and I would like to share the links to these articles with my readers. They are all written in Rabbinic Hebrew.

Here we go:

    The English cover page of the Rabbinical bimonthly journal Hamaor Issue 459 (June-July 2014)

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Squared vs. Rounded Tablets

The full article (including pictures and footnotes) is available on:

Squared vs. Rounded Tablets

There is a custom in many synagogues to display a representation of the Tablets (Luchos) containing the Ten Commandments at the front of the synagogue sanctuary. These images are generally placed on top of the ark containing the Torah Scrolls and/or on the curtain covering the ark. In many renditions of the Tablets, they shaped as regular rectangles or squares, but in most renderings, they are rounded on top. In recent times, several Rabbinic figures have expressed their opinions regarding this matter.

The Tablets’ Dimensions

The Babylonian Talmud records the dimensions of the Tablets as six handbreadths long, six handbreadths wide, and three handbreadths thick. The Jerusalemic Talmud offers a similar description, noting that the Tablets were three handbreadths wide. All in all, both Talmuds seem to agree that the Tablets were square prisms because they note the Tablets’ dimensions in a linear way, without specifying that the Tablets were rounded.
Furthermore, in the ensuing discussion in the Babylonian Talmud, the Talmud proves from the Tablets’ dimensions and the dimensions of the Holy Ark that when the Tablets were placed in their ark, the ark was completely filled exactly to capacity. Since the Holy Ark was a cube prism, the Talmud calculations can only work if the Tablets were also squared. If the rounding was done within the square dimensions of the Tablets, then there would be slightly more room in the Ark, while if the rounding was done outside of the square dimensions of the Tablets, then the Tablets would be too big to fit into the Ark.
While the Talmud stops short of explicitly mentioning that the Tablets were squared, Rabbeinu Bachaya (1255–1340) does so in his commentary to the Torah. The Torah tells that at Marah, HaShem “offered [the Jews] a decree (chok) and ordinance (mishpat)”. Rabbeinu Bachaya explains that “decree” in this context alludes to the Tablets. He justifies this association by noting that according to the dimensions of each squared Tablets given in the Talmud, the volume of each Tablet equals one-hundred and eight cubic-handbreadths (6x6x3 = 108). The number one-hundred and eight equals the word “decree” (חק) in numerical value (Gematria). Similarly, Pirush HaRokeach twice mentions that the total volume of the twin Tablets is two-hundred and sixteen. He seemingly arrived to this conclusion the same way as Rabbeinu Bachaya (only doubling the formula to calculate both Tablets together). In short, by calculating the volume of the Tablets as simply a function of its length, width, and thickness, these sources clearly understood that the Tablets were perfectly squared, which, in fact, Rabbeinu Bachaya wrote explicitly.

Rejecting the Notion of Rounded Tablets

In two responsa about this topic, Rabbi Eliyahu Katz (1916–2004), Chief Rabbi of Slovakia and later of Beer Sheva, writes that the Tablets given at Mount Sinai were definitely squared, not rounded. He notes that it seems Christian artists like Michaelangelo (1475–1564) and Rembrandt (1609–1669) were the first to introduce the notion of rounded Tablets and their widespread portrayals of the Tablets in such a permeated Jewish culture, even though it contradicts tradition.
Nonetheless, since it has become a widespread practice even in Jewish circles to portray the Tablets as having a rounded top, Rabbi Katz proposes an interesting theory to justify its prevalence by ascribing a more “Jewish” origin to the practice. He notes that in certain ancient Tunisian synagogues, there are images of the Tablets with three crowns atop them. These crowns ostensibly represent the three crowns which adorn the Jews: the Crown of Torah, the Crown of Priesthood, and the Crown of Kingship. While earlier images of the Tablets were supplemented with these three crowns, over time, the meaning of these three crowns was forgotten and people began to assume that the Tablets themselves were rounded on top. Based on this explanation, Rabbi Katz proposes that the old Tunisian custom should be restored with three crowns on top of the Tablets and a line of demarcation to separate the crowns from the Tablets so that the observer would realize that the Tablets themselves were not round.
Following Rabbi Katz's suggestion, MK Yaakov Margi (Shas), who formerly served as the chairman of the local religious council in Beer Sheva, changed his council's official logo from a rounded depiction of the Tablets to a squared one.
Similarly, the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902–1994), spoke strongly against those who depict the Tablets as rounded on top and actively campaigned for an accurate portrayal of the Tablets.

Justifying the Common Practice of Rounded Tablets

In one of his responsa, Rabbi Yisroel Yaakov Fisher (1928–2003), Chief Rabbi of Badatz Eidah Chareidis in Jerusalem, defends an author who came under attack for including in his book an image of the Tablets as rounded. He writes that the Talmud never mentions whether the Tablets were squared or rounded and there is no clear proof to either approach (however, see above). Furthermore, he expresses his bewilderment as to why that author’s book came under attack, but no one ever complained about the multitude of synagogues across Jerusalem which portray the Tablets as being rounded. Instead, Rabbi Fisher proposes that there is justification for portraying the Tablets as round and the custom should not be discontinued.
He begins by offering an interesting proof to the assertion that the Tablets were in fact rounded, not squared. The Jerusalemic Talmud in several places states that when HaShem created the world during the Six Days of Creation, squares did not naturally occur, implying that everything created then was circular, not squared. Additionally, the Mishnah teaches that the Tablets were created during the Six Days of Creation. By putting together these two sources, Dayan Fisher concludes that according to tradition the Tablets were completely rounded (even the bottom!), not squared.
Rabbi Katz rejects this proof by noting that the Talmud itself qualifies its assertion about squares in nature by restricting it to living creatures (and perhaps also foods), but not all elements of creation. Furthermore, he notes that the same Mishnah teaches that HaShem created the script of Lashon HaKodesh during the Six Days of Creation, yet the script of Lashon HaKodesh surely contains squared figures such as the final mem (ם).
Furthermore, Dayan Fisher argues that even if the Tablets were actually square, there is another reason to continue the custom of rounding the Tablets. The Talmud mentions a prohibition of constructing replicas of the Holy Temple and its paraphernalia. While some commentators restrict this prohibition to only those elements listed there in the Talmud (namely the Sanctuary, the Hall, the Courtyard, the Shulchan, and the Menorah), others, including the Galician Rabbi Yosef Babad (1801–1874) understand that this prohibition applies to anything for which the Torah prescribes certain dimensions. Dayan Fisher understood that the Tablets are therefore included in this prohibition (and explains that even though the Torah does not mention its dimensions, the Talmud does). Accordingly, he supports the custom of rounding images of the Tablets so that the distorted image would not fall under this prohibition.
Nonetheless, Rabbi Katz disagrees with Dayan Fisher’s assessment of the matter and contends that only what is mentioned in the Talmud is forbidden to be replicated, thus excluding the Tablets, which are omitted from the Talmud’s list. Furthermore, argues Rabbi Katz, this prohibition only applies to one who constructs these elements in their prescribed dimensions, but replicas of the Tablets do not generally match the dimensions of the Talmud. Even if one was particular to construct the Tablets at six handbreadths wide and long, they do not usually also make sure to have the Tablets three handbreadths thick. Since this change already removes the prohibition of replication, there is no need to further distort the image of the Tablets by rounding off the tops.
In his final note on the topic, Dayan Fisher notes that since it is unclear whether the Tablets were squared or rounded, the custom is to square the bottom and to round the top, thereby surely altering the image from the original so as to completely avoid the prohibition of replicating components of the Temple.


Rabbi Elazar Menachem Man Shach (1899–2001), Rosh Yeshiva of Ponovezh and leader of World Jewry in his time, was once asked by the board of a synagogue which was designing its building whether they should make the Tablets rounded or squared. He responded by writing that he sees that most synagogues have the Tablets rounded, even though in truth, the historic Tablets were squared. He concludes that while it seems that the accepted custom is to round the Tablets, the Steipler Gaon, Rabbi Yaakov Yisroel Kanievsky (1899–1985) instructed that the Kollel Chazon Ish should have squared Tablets. In his conclusion, Rabbi Shach defers to Rabbi Kanievsky’s position and recommends that the synagogue have squared Tablets, not rounded ones.
King Solomon advises about the Torah and Mitzvos, “write them on the tablets of your heart” (Proverbs 7:2). Based on this, Radaz, Rabbi David ben Zimra (1462–1572) explains that the Tablets of the Ten Commandments represent the heart of a person in many different ways. Just as the word of HaShem is eternally inscribed on the Tablets, so should a person eternally inscribe in his heart the will of Hashem. Following this line of reasoning, Rabbi Chaim Friedlander (1923–1986), the Mashgiach of Ponovezh, explains that for this reason the Tablets are traditionally rendered as rounded on the top , i.e., “heart-shaped”.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

I was asked to publicize this new website for the Mechon LeHafotzas Hatecheiles (מכון להפצת התכלת). We have in the past helped promote various Techeiles activists and this newly-formed organization does that as well. Here is what they are about:
The Torah commands us to place strings of ציצית with a strand of Techeiles - תכלת (alternate spellings include: Techailes, t'cheiles, t'chelet, techelet and tekhelet and more...) upon our four cornered garments. The תכלת wool is required to be dyed blue with a special dye derived from a creature known as חלזון. The מצוה of תכלת was observed throughout the times of Tanach and Chazal, until at least the end of the period of the אמוראים. In the years following that time until very recently, the מצוה of תכלת was not practiced, since the special dye from חלזון was no longer available.
In the following pages we will explore the identity of the חלזון and תכלת, and the reason for its disappearance. We will see that the חלזון is actually a sea-snail known as Murex Trunculus. The Murex Trunculus lives in the Mediterranean Sea and contains a sac from which a blue dye is derived. This blue dye was used widely by royalty in ancient times, and is indeed the dye referred to by the Torah for מצוות תכלת. We will see that today we can once again produce this ancient dye, and finally practice this long lost מצוה.
מכון להפצת התכלת is dedicated to spreading information and educational material for the furtherance of Mitzvas Techeiles. We hope that you will learn much about this Mitzva from the material available on our site.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Baurch Dayan HaEmes: Rabbi Zev Schlifstein

 לזכר נשמת ר' זאב זצוק"ל בן יבלח"ט ר' יהודה לייב שלייפשטיין שליט"א

With a heavy heart, I regret to inform my readers (if there are any left) about the passing of Rabbi Zev Schlifstein  (הרה"ג זאב שליפשטיין זצוק"ל) of Yerushalayim. Reb Zev, as he was affectionately called, died this week on 22 Adar II. He was suffering from an illness for several months and spent much time in Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem. The levaya was on Monday night and he is buried in the Eretz HaChaim cemetery in Bet Shemesh (JDN News). As Rabbi Peretz Tarshish said despite Reb Zev's humble beginnings, he was afforded a funeral befitting of the Gadol HaDor.

Reb Zev was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. His parents were simple people; his father, a policeman and his mother, a country-girl from Kansas. As a youngster, he studied in Yeshivas Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin and the Mirrer Yeshiva in Brooklyn. He was recognized as a mathematical genius and spent many years as a teacher of mathematics. While remaining a bachelor throughout those years, he eventually decided to relocate to Jerusalem where he first joined the Mir Yeshiva as a Bachur in his forties. In the Mir Yeshiva, he quickly became "part of the oilam" positively contributing to the atmosphere of the Yeshiva.

After some time as a single student in the Mir Yeshiva, Reb Zev eventually married and fathered one daughter several years later. When his daughter got married, about twenty years afterwards, the entire Mir Yeshiva felt like a part of the celebration because even though Reb Zev never held any official position in the Yeshiva, he was always a part of the Yeshiva.

Reb Zev Schlifstein davening on
Hoshanna Rabbah in the Mir Yeshiva
In deciding to live in the holy city of Yerushalayim (in the highly coveted Batei Ungarin neighborhood), Reb Zev also took upon himself the customs and traditions of Jerusalemites, most noticeably, their dress. On Shabbos, he wore the Yerushalmi caftan and a shtreimel (although during the Yamim Noraim he wore a regular simple kittel). He regularly davened at the Netz Minyan in the Beis Midrash HaGadol D'Chassidei Breslov (on Rechov Meah Shearim) and was part of the Toldos Aharon community. 

However, because of the length of time it took him to finish the Shemone Esrei prayer, he would always miss the end of davening and would run over to the Mir Yeshiva to catch Chazaras HaShatz and the rest of davening. During the reading of the Torah, Reb Zev would move as close as possible to the bimah to eagerly listen to the ba'al koreh, as he stood attentively with an ear for the leining. Because he would regularly miss the end of Maariv (for the same reason), Reb Zev would commonly gather a group of Bachurim after Night Seder to form a minyan so he can say an extra Barchu.

He was very careful in reciting Kriyas Shema which he took very seriously as an expression of his acceptance of the Yoke of Heaven. He not only carefully pronounced each syllable in the passages, but he would also carefully concentrate on each word and even letter. His devotion to the Mitzvah of Kriyas Shemah was so great that he would often repeat the prayer several times to make sure that he properly fulfilled it. Reb Zev would always make sure that people would repeat Kriyas Shema on the night after fast days when the Yeshiva would daven Maariv earlier than usual by announcing it and putting up signs around the Yeshiva.

He was also known for his meticulous observance of the laws of Tefillin. He would commonly stop passersby in the halls of the Mir Yeshiva and ask them if his Tefillin was aligned properly. He was also very careful to thoroughly comb his signature peyos so that it would not create a chatzitzah between his head and his Tefillin. 

Reb Zev was loved by all those merited to meet him. He often helped out Bachurim deal with Shidduchim, even though he was old enough to be their grandfather! He commonly put his creative genius to work in preparing special "gramin" (humorous poems) to be sung at weddings and/or Sheva Brachos.

Reb Zev Schlifstein in front of
the Mir Yeshiva on a snowy day
He also was known for his devotion to charitable causes and used his genial humor to be everyone at ease. In fact, this is how I first met Reb Zev. On my first day in the Mir Yeshiva when I had arrived as a bachur with no place to live and no friends, I had prayed Maariv in the Yeshiva and was slowly walking down the stairs and while I was looking around to familiarize myself with the place where I would be studying. As I slowly walked down the stairs "taking in" my surroundings, a short Yerushalmi man with a white beard and peyos came running down the stairs and almost knocked me over before he quickly said, "sorry." I was so taken aback that a local Yerushalmi spoke English with such an American accent, that I flinched out of the mere shock. Then, the Yerushalmi who noticed that I was frightened and surprised tried to comfort me, "Oh, I'm sorry, you probably thought I was a polar bear". That was Reb Zev. From then on, I was good friends with Reb Zev (although, I'm sure that almost everyone in the Yeshiva probably that he was also good friends with Reb Zev.)

Reb Zev used to prepare weekly papers on the Parsha containing his insights (usually Gematrias and other similar style) and which sought to show how the words of the Torah hint to deeper (usually Hassidic) ideas. Sometimes, these papers were handwritten and sometimes they were typed (depending on whether he could afford it that week). This weekly paper was distributed in the Yeshivas Mir area and at different times was printed under different names (including Pardes Zev and more). He would sometimes ask me to look it over before he made copies to fix up any obvious mistakes and typos and/or to offer my comments. 

He also published at least two books including Insights on Chanuka and Purim (1987) and שפת זאב על פי שפת אמת (see below for a letter which the Gerrer Rebbe wrote about this work). Rabbi Alexander Aryeh Mandelbaum of Jerusalem printed some of Rabbi Schlifstein's insights (in his work Aromimcha Elokai HaMelech) as two separate treatises, called Parparos L'Tefillah and Maase HaGedolim.

 Reb Zev Schlifstein at the
  Pidyon HaBen of a Mir Yeshiva student
His dedication to the study of Torah regularly extended even beyond the regular hours of the Yeshiva and he could regularly be seen in the front right corner of the main Beis Midrash of the Mir learning, if not davening. His daily calls for the beginning Mincha at the end of First Seder are still ringing in my ears; I can still hear him calling out in his trademark American accent, "Ashrei Yoshvei Baysecha". And indeed Reb Zev lived the life of אשרי יושבי ביתך.

He is survived by his father R' Yehuda Leib Shlifstein, his wife, and daughter-in-law, the wife of Rabbi Yoel Katz (of Beit Shemesh)

May his memory be blessed and may he serve as a advocate of good for us and for the entire Jewish Nation: Amen. ת.נ.צ.ב.ה.

The following letter was written by Rabbi Pinchas Menachem Alter (the Gerrer Rebbe "Pnei Menachem") about Rabbi Schlifstein's work (source):

ב"ה יום ב', לס' והזהרת וגו' ואת תורותיו, י"ז שבט תשמ"ז לפ"ק 

לכבוד ידידי הנכבד הרה"ג חו"ה החס' הרב... שליט"א 

אחד"ש בכבוד הראוי ובידידות! 

בנידון הספר "שפת זאב על שפת אמת" המיוסד על תורותיו, מאמריו, של הרה"ק בעל "שפת אמת" זצ"ל מתוך הספר "שפת אמת" על התורה - הנה כפי שאמתי לכ"ת, עובדא ידענא - כאשר החלו בארה"ב לפרס' "אורות מתוך שפת אמת" (בערך בשנת תשל"ו) והייתי שליח לשאול על כך לאחי מו"ר זצ"ל בעל "בית ישראל", וענה לי כי מכוונות זקננו בעל ה"שפת אמת" זצ"ל באמרותיו ובספרו הי' להטות לבות בנ"י לאביהם שבשמים, ולפיכך אם הדברים נאמרים ע"י יראי ה' וכוונתם להטות לבות בני ישראל לאביהם שבשמים, ולפיכך אם הדברים נאמרים ע"י יראי ה' וכוונתם להטות לבות בנ"י - והנוער שבהם - לתורה וליר"ש אין לו שום התנגדות לכך ואדרבה צריך לחזק את ידם. עכת"ד כפי שהנני זוכר כעת. 

ולפי שאין לי ידיעה מספקת בשפה האנגלית לא יכלתי לעבור על החומר שבספר, אבל לפי מה שאמר לי כת"ר ועוד שעברו על החומר של הספר, הנני מברך את הרב זאב שלייפשטיין שליט"א אשר חיבר את הספר הנ"ל "שפת זאב על שפת אמת" שיזכה להפיץ את ספרו בה"י בהצלחה. 
א"ד ידידו הדו"ש 
פינחס מנחם אלטר

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