Monday, August 21, 2023

Not Orthoprax, not Orthodox part 3


 Not Orthoprax, not Orthodox part 3

Link to video discussion

The Talmud Bavli, the widow Rom edition, which had everything plus the kitchen sink included, almost the entire library of Jewish literature of commentary on the Talmud, much of it in microprint!

 A page of Yerushalmi, much smaller work, with fewer commentaries.



Our work of developing Judaism now takes off from the Mishnah, year 200, on to the editing of the two Talmuds, circa the year 400 for the  Yerushalmi, because the Christian rulers clamped down heavily on the academies under their thumb, and the Bavli, around a century to a century and a half later, because the Persian authorities were far more tolerant.


Neither, of course, have finished answers, and very often, the discussions end in the words” Teyku”- Let its stand, or, figuratively, as an abbreviation for Tishbi yavo veyetaretz sheelot v kushiyot”-wait till Elijah comes and gives us the answers!!


What are our beliefs? The Talmudic discussions are mostly around practice, but we have compendium of  Rabbinic sermons, creating legends, tales, popular sermons, built around the Parshat Hashavuah or other books of the Bible.  Midrash Aggadah- as opposed to Midrash Halakhah. The Talmud Bavli has room to accommodate these, whereas, for the Yerushalmi, they were left as part of the separate compendiums.



We have the recognized authorities after the Tannaim and  the Amoraim- Now, the

Gaon- the glory,( sometimes used to refer to a genius, like the Vilna Gaon)  title now given to the head of the academies, as contrasted with Resh Galuta- Exilarch, head of the exile. As always, there are conflicts between the theoretical authority, the Gaon, and the political authority, the Resh Galuta. Frankly, that tension, between the theoretical, and the political will continue.

New issues arise.


What is our prayer, for example. The ground rules are in the Mishna, fleshed out in the gemara( the teachings). But we need a formal text of the siddur, such as of Rav Amram Gaon, around the end of the ninth century for the Sephardim, or Mahzor Vitry, of the students following Rashi, for the Ashkenazim.


New questions arise- there are different conditions and issues under Christian , contrasted with Zoroastrian or Moslem rulers. The questions give rise to answers- Sh’elot u  Tshuvot.Responsa. These are authored by the heads of the academies , in the land of Israel, Bavel, or, later, North Africa.



We have formalized philosophy, in line with Greek thought, Saadiah Gaon, Rambam. There is also mystical speculation, breaking away from the plain text, filled with flights of the imagination, Heykhalot texts, Bahir, Zohar, and others, probably influenced by contact with the Orient.


We need to once again comprehend our Torah, especially as we advance, in the early Middle Ages, deeper in to Christian France and Germany and Moslem Spain. Torah commentaries- Rashi, ibn Ezra, Ramban and then, commentaries that explain the nuances of the Talmud, Rabbenu Hananel of Kairouan, Rashi, the Tosafot.      


The Jewish world now extends from Gibraltar all the way to China- we have so much texts and literature- we now need new compendia, to organize our practice. For example, Rabbi Yitzhak  Alfasi ( of Fez)  or Rabbenu Asher, who follow the order of the Talmud to provide summaries.


Then, there is the first great  systematization in the 12fth century, The Mishnah Torah ( intentionally copying the Mishna!) in 14 themes, by Maimonides, the Rambam, which became accepted only by the Yemenite Jews.



Then, Rabbi Yakov ben Asher organizes a more concise format, in 4 columns( Tur) Arba  Turim around the 14th century.

It improves upon the Rambam, as it gives the sources, which Rambam left out.

Then, just in time for the start of the printing press, the great commentator on the Tur ( his truly greatest work), the Sefardic Rabbi Yosef Karo, in the 16th century, compiles a simple summary, as an abridgement for students and elderly, who did not have the stamina to follow his real scholarship. It is the hallmark of judicial simplicity- take the three great codifiers- Rambam, Rabbenu Asher, and the Tur, settle on best 2 out of 3, as the official decision, and if there is a conflict of all 3, find a 4 th source to resolve.


It is the highlight of clarity and simplicity—and he does it just as printing takes off.

It is a document also based on the Sephardic principal, which is finding clear lines and base points in halakhah. Till the last century, if you wanted a clear, common-sense approach to Jewish law, you went to the Hacham, to the Sephardic Rabbi.

If you wanted complication, you went to an Ashkenazic  Rabbi. The Ashkenazim elevated the idea of Minhag, custom, to the status of a law, Minhag kedin” The custom is law, and even “ a minhag brecht a din”, a custom could outweigh the actual law!

Add to that, the tendency of Ashkenzic sages to apply “ pilpul”, hair splitting logic to everything, and you have a very complicated Jewish practice.


 Just at the same time of Rabbi Karo in Safed, in Poland, Rabbi Moshe Isserles ( Ramu) is working on an equally great summation, when he gets wind of Rabbi Karo’s project. He  waits for the final copy, and then adds his own set of emendations, based on Ashkenazic practice.


Hence, we get the  Shulkhan Arukh  (The Table is Set) and the Mapah (the table cloth, because we have two parallel sets of practice- Sefardi and Ashenazi. It hits the printing presses in Venice and soon, every community has a copy—and it is roundly rejected by great Rabbis of his day because they understood that it eliminated the process of analysis of sources that was the core of Judaism. That which the Rabbis rejected became the basis, very shortly, of Orthodox Jewish practice.



To make matters more difficult, in the middle of the 19th century, a Hungarian scholar, Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried, created a concise version of the Shulkhan Arukh, The Kitzur Shulchan Arukh, which became the go-to work for the average Jew—except it was a Hungarian work, and  the Hungarian Jews  were the most extreme of their day in practice ( i. e Satmar).


What we are trying to do, is get back to the sources.

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