Monday, March 20, 2023

Review of a Sefer That Debunks the Satmar Shita on the Three Oaths PART 2


A good portion of Rabbi Burton’s book pivots on the intriguing dialogue between Reish Lakish and Rabbi Yohanan in Tractate Yoma of the Babylonian Talmud.

Reish Lakish had great disdain for the Jews of Babylonia, as he held them responsible for the fact that in the Second Temple era there was not the level of full-fledged prophecy that flourished during the First Temple era. All that remained was a reduced level of divine inspiration known as “bat kol,” an “echo.”[1] 

Said Reish Lakish: “If you had made yourselves as a wall (ke-homah)[2] and all of you had ascended [to the Land of Israel] in the days of Ezra,” then prophecy would have resumed.

Rabbi Yohanan’s rejoinder reads:

 “That is not the reason. Even if all of them would have ascended [to the Land of Israel] in the days of Ezra, the divine presence (Shekhinah) would not have rested in the Second Temple, for it is written, ‘God will broaden Japheth, and dwell in the tents of Shem’ [Genesis 9:27]. Although God will broaden Japheth, the divine presence rests only in the tents of Shem.”

Rabbi Yohanan was alluding to the fact that the Second Temple was built under the auspices of Cyrus the Great, a Persian. And the Persians are descendants of Japheth. And so, unlike the First Temple, the Temple of Solomon (a Semite), which was conducive to prophecy, the Second Temple was perforce bereft of the spirit of prophecy.[3]

That Rabbi Yehudah Halevi and Reish Lakish are of one mind when it comes to the subject of ‘aliyah and the resumption of prophecy, goes without saying. In the Book of Kuzari this is clearly enunciated:

It is the sin which prevented from being fulfilled the divine promise with regard to the Second Temple, “Sing and rejoice, daughter of Zion, for behold I am coming and I will dwell in your midst, declares the Lord” [Zechariah 2:14]. The divine presence was ready to rest upon them as at first, if they had all willingly consented to return [to the Land of Israel]. But only a part was ready to do so, while the majority and the aristocracy remained in Babylon, preferring dependence and slavery, and unwilling to leave their houses and their affairs.[4]

Rabbi Burton is not content aligning the Kuzari with Reish Lakish. He would have the Kuzari embrace Rabbi Yohanan as well.[5] The reader will appreciate that this is no mean feat. How Rabbi Burton would go about accomplishing this, we will discuss in a moment.

At this juncture, it should be stated that the Kuzari’s controversial theory of prophecy, whereby the “’amr ilahi” (Arabic, “divine thing”), which is to say, the gift of prophecy, is restricted to the descendants of Shem, comes out of just this passage in Genesis invoked by Rabbi Yohanan.[6] (Halevi goes so far as to exclude converts to Judaism from being capable of prophecy.)[7]

Curiously, the Kuzari does not quote the aforementioned passage. Lest we entertain doubts that this is indeed the proof-text, we need look no further than Sa‘adya Gaon’s commentary on Genesis:

“Blessed is the Lord, God of Shem” [Genesis 9:26] alludes that prophecy and the divine presence are in the seed of Shem and his portion of the earth. And so we find that all the prophets are his progeny, and all the places where the divine presence rested are his portion.[8]

This is the simple meaning of Rabbi Yohanan’s statement: Persian (non-Semitic) input in the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem prevented the Shekhinah from resting there. (To forever remind the Judeans of their fealty to the Persian emperor, the Eastern gate to the Temple Mount depicted the capital of Shushan,[9] and came to be known as Sha‘ar Shushan or Susa Gate.) The Shekhinah is counted as one of five elements missing in the Second Temple.[10]

But upon closer inspection, the statement is totally out of character for Rabbi Yohanan. In the many controversies between Rabbi Yohanan and Reish Lakish, Rabbi Yohanan usually emerges as the universalist, the inclusivist, and his sparring partner, Reish Lakish,[11] as the particularist, the exclusivist.

Thus, we find Rabbi Yohanan positing that at Sinai the divine voice subdivided into seventy languages. Disagreeing, Reish Lakish conceived of the voice as the source of all future prophecies.[12] It is tempting to assume that likewise, in the controversy between Rabbi [E]l‘azar and Rabbi Yohanan concerning the language of humanity before the Tower of Babel, it was Rabbi Yohanan who opined that mankind spoke in seventy languages and Rabbi [E]l‘azar who opined that all spoke the Holy Tongue (i.e., Hebrew).[13]

In Tractate Nedarim, we learn that the various substitutes (kinuyyim) for the word “korban” (“sacrifice”)—konamkonahkonas—were understood by Rabbi Yohanan as the language of the nations,[14] and by Reish Lakish as expressions invented by the sages.[15]

It is possible that the universalism of Rabbi Yohanan’s theory of language carries over into the human realm as well. There is a famous controversy between Rabbi Yohanan and Reish Lakish whether a convert who procreated before his conversion to Judaism has fulfilled the commandment to “be fruitful and multiply,” or not. Rabbi Yohanan ruled that the convert has already fulfilled the commandment. Reish Lakish, invoking the principle, “a convert is like a newborn child,” held that the convert has yet to fulfill the commandment of procreation.[16]

Unlike the Tosafists, who localized the controversy between Rabbi Yohanan and Reish Lakish concerning the commandment to procreate,[17] a renowned Lithuanian Talmudist, Rabbi Meir Mikhel Rabinowitz of Shat (Šėta), globalized their controversy.[18] Where Reish Lakish took the maxim, “a convert is like a newborn child,” as a guiding principle, spelling total discontinuity between past and present lives, Rabbi Yohanan, in disregard of this principle, saw continuity between the existences of the gentile and the Jew. Commandments performed previously by the gentile will still redound to the credit of the convert. (By the same token, sins committed in the previous life as a gentile will continue to punish the convert in his new Jewish life.)[19]

Truly, the exclusivist statement of Rabbi Yohanan, categorically ruling out the possibility of prophecy in the Second Temple, is so out of character for the man, that one is almost nudged to a more sophisticated reading, such as that of Rabbi Burton.

Let us reconfigure. Rabbi Yohanan was not so much a tribalist as a lapsarian. The age of prophecy had ended, to be replaced by the age of reason. Japheth was code for philosophy, just as Shem was code for prophecy. The Persianization (and later Hellenization)[20] of Jerusalem meant that a new consciousness had developed, one that was no longer moored to the experiential realm.[21] Narrative founders in translation; the noetic knows no borders.[22] In Jasper’s terminology, the Axial Age had arrived. In the more graphic Jaynesian terminology, Rabbi Yohanan was observing the “origin of consciousness in the breakdown of the bicameral mind.” With the development of a new universal language of intellect, the old language of visions was obsoleted. Speculation supplanted spaklaria.[23]

Rabbi Burton comes to the paradigm shift by way of the Heikhalot literature and Rabbi Zadok Hakohen of Lublin.[24] From a passage in the Pirkei Heikhalot (chap. 28), Rabbi Zadok derived that the Second Temple was the Golden Age of the Oral Law (Torah she-be-‘al peh). In a stroke of genius, Rabbi Zadok (1823-1900) noted the same transition in parallel civilizations. Athens went from mythological thinking to philosophical dialectic; Jerusalem, from prophecy to Talmud.[25] (Ironically, Rabbi Zadok’s personal journey took the opposite direction: from the scholasticism of Lita to the mysticism of Lublin; from pilpul to Beshtian Hasidism.)[26]

While Rabbi Yohanan seems to have taken in stride the suzerainty imposed by Susa, Reish Lakish could never reconcile himself to the lost opportunity. Perhaps his former career as an armed brigand and his intimate familiarity with weaponry[27] caused him to persist in his longing for the moment in time when the exiles of Israel might have risen up as a wall and taken back their land. One blanches at the way Reish Lakish addressed Babylonian Jewry, “God! I hate you.”[28] It is understandable that Rabbi Teitelbaum had great difficulty with Reish Lakish.[29]

Rabbi Teitelbaum would also grapple with the words of the sages:

Said the Sages: Israel were worthy that a miracle be done for them in the days of Ezra in the same way that [a miracle] was done for them in the days of Joshua, but the sin prevented it.[30]

Rashi explains that when they went up from Babylonian exile in the days of Ezra, they were worthy that a miracle be done for them, i.e., “to come up with an upraised hand,” but the sin prevented it, “and they went only with the permission of Cyrus, and all the days of the kings of Persia they were subjugated to them: to Cyrus, and to Ahashverosh, and to Darius.”

Rabbi Samuel Eliezer Edels (Maharasha) (Kraków, 1555—Ostroh, 1631) understood “the sin” was that they did not all ascend from Babylonia.[31]

See the commentary of Rabbeinu Elyakim to Yoma.

[1] Tosafot, Sanhedrin 11a, define bat kol as an echo. For the phenomenon of Bat Kol, see Saul Lieberman, Tosefta ki-FshutahSotah, chap. 13 (p. 736); idem, Hellenism in Jewish Palestine (New York: JTSA, 1994), Appendix I (“Bath Kol”), pp. 194-199; the introduction of Reuven Margaliyot to Rabbi Jacob of MarvègeShe’elot u-Teshuvot min ha-Shamayim (Jerusalem: Mossad Harav Kook, 1957), pp. 27-35; and the section on Bat Qol in my bilingual collection, Lights of Prophecy/Orot ha-Nevu’ah (New York: Orthodox Union, 1990), English, pp. 37-41; Hebrew, pp. 12-16.

[2] The contradiction between Reish Lakish’s admonition to “ascend as a wall” and the divine oath “not to ascend as a wall” was not lost on Rabbi Joshua Falk of Frankfurt. See P’nei Yehoshua, Ketubot 111a: “They are differing legends.” (“Aggadot halukot hen.”) Quoted in Vayyoel Moshe, 32a.

[3] b. Yoma 9b-10a. See Rashi there. Cf. Genesis Rabbah 36:8.

[4] Kuzari II, 24. Cf. Pesikta Rabbati, ed. M. Friedmann (Vienna, 1880), chap. 35, s.v. Roni ve-Simhi (p. 160).

[5] Ha-Arets Asher Ar’eka, p. 104-105, 107, 110.

[6] Kuzari I, 47, 63, 95, 103.

[7] Kuzari I, 115; quoted in Ha-Arets Asher Ar’eka, p. 117, n. 65.

In opposition to what “the masses imagine,” Maimonides contended that all are eligible for prophecy regardless of their ethnicity. See his Epistle to Yemen in Iggerot ha- Rambam, ed. Kafih, pp. 36-37. Cf. Seder ‘Olam, ed. Chaim Milikowsky (Jerusalem: Yad Ben-Zvi Press, 2013), vol. 1, chap. 21 (pp. 288-289); and Seder Eliyahu Rabba, ed. M. Friedmann (Vienna, 1904), chap. (9)10, s.v. U-Devorah ishah nevi’ah (p. 48).

[8] Saadya’s Commentary on Genesis, ed. Moshe Zucker (New York: JTSA, 1984), p. 353.

Diane Lobel has documented several other instances where Halevi borrowed ideas from Sa‘adya. See D. Lobel, Between Mysticism and PhilosophySufi Language of Religious Experience in Judah ha-Levi’s Kuzari (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2000), pp. 164-168.

This exclusivity is in opposition to Seder ‘Olam which lists Japheth as a prophet. See Seder ‘Olam, ed. Milikowsky, vol. 1, chap. 21, p. 288, lines 23-24; vol. 2, p. 338. However, as Milikowsky points out, the Vilna Gaon deleted this sentence from Seder ‘Olam.

[9] m. Middot 1:3 and Maimonides’ commentary (Kafih edition, pp. 284-285); Menahot 98a.

[10] b. Yoma 21b. Although in that context, Shekhinah does not refer to the divine inspiration of the prophets, which is enumerated separately as “ru’ah ha-kodesh.” See Rashi ibid., s.v. aron, kaporet u-keruvim. See further Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Lyady, Tanya I, 53 (f. 74); Rabbi Jacob Ettlinger, She’elot u-Teshuvot Binyan Zion (Altona, 1868), no. 3; and Rabbi Hayyim Zimmerman, Binyan Halakhah (New York, 1942), Hil. Beit ha-Behirah 6:15 (pp. 141-143).

As for Rabad’s gloss to Hil. Beit ha-Behirah 4:1, where Rabad objects that ru’ah ha-kodesh and Urim ve-Tummim are enumerated as separate elements, Maimonides would respond that ru’ah ha-kodesh refers to classic prophecy, while the oracular vision of the priest beholding the Urim is a lower level of divine communication. See Maimonides’ Guide II, 45, Second Degree (Pines translation, p. 398). This is a simpler approach to the problem than that of Hiddushei Maran RYZ HaleviHil. Klei ha-Mikdash 10:10. For an alternate solution involving variae lectionis of Yoma 21b, see Bezalel Naor, Hassagot ha-Rabad le-Mishneh Torah (Jerusalem, 1985), p. 152; and Binyan Halakhah, loc. cit.

[11] b. Bava Metsi‘a 84a.

[12] Exodus Rabbah 28:6. Cf. Rabbi Yohanan’s statement in b. Shabbat 88b. Recently, Rabbi Yisrael Herczeg explored the differing linguistics of Rabbi Yohanan and Reish Lakish, drawing on the earlier study of Meshulam Fishel Behr, Divrei Meshulam (Frankfurt am Main, 1926). See Y. Herczeg, Darkhei Rashi (Jerusalem: Mossad Harav Kook, 2021), pp. 277-280.

[13] y. Megillah 1:9. Unfortunately, in his work designed to provide identities for unattributed statements (“one said … and one said …”), Rabbi Reuven Margaliyot left us in suspense in this particular instance. See R. Margaliyot, Shem ‘Olam (Jerusalem: Mossad Harav Kook, 1989), p. 108, par. 311.

[14] For konam in particular, see S. Lieberman, Greek in Jewish Palestine (New York: JTSA, 1994), p. 129, n. 106.

[15] b. Nedarim 10a. See Maimonides’ explanation of Rabbi Yohanan’s opinion in his Commentary to the Mishnah, Nedarim 1:2 (Kafih edition, p. 82). In the Yerushalmi, it is Rabbi Shim‘on ben Lakish who opines that the kinuyyim are the “language of nations.”

[16] b. Yevamot 62a. The halakhah is in accordance with Rabbi Yohanan. See Maimonides, MT, Hil. Ishut 15:6; Shulhan ‘ArukhEven ha-‘Ezer 1:7.

[17] Yevamot 62a, s.v. Rabbi Yohanan amar.

[18] Rabbi Meir Mikhel Rabinowitz, Ha-Me’ir la-‘Olam (Jerusalem, 1931), Part Two, Derush 5 (54c-55c).

Rabbi Rabinowitz applies the controversy of Rabbi Yohanan and Reish Lakish to the conversion of the Children of Israel at Mount Sinai (see Kereitot 9a). The author appears oblivious to the discussion by Rabbi Aryeh Leib Heller in his introduction to Shev Shema‘teta (citing Maharal of Prague, Gur Aryeh, Genesis 46:10) that even Reish Lakish would not apply the principle of “a convert is like a newborn child” to the conversion at Sinai. However, Rabbi Meir Simhah of Dvinsk held that the principle obtained at Sinai as well. (He goes so far as to view the words uttered at Sinai, “Return to your tents” [Deuteronomy 5:27], as the source of the principle.) See Meshekh Hokhmah, Deuteronomy 5:27.

[19] See the controversy of Rabbi Hananya son of Rabban Gamliel and Rabbi Yosé in b. Yevamot 48b.

[20] In b. Megillah 9b, Rabbi Yohanan upholds the opinion of Rabbi Shim‘on ben Gamliel permitting Torah scrolls to be written in Greek and adduces this same verse in Genesis 9:27, which he interprets, “The words of Japheth will be in the tents of Shem.”

[21] Ha-Arets Asher Ar’eka, p. 108.

[22] Ibid., p. 117.

On the differences between cosmopolitan thought and ethnic thought, see Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook, “Ha-Mahshavot,” in ‘Ikvei ha-Tson (Jerusalem, 1906; 1985), pp. 122-123; and Rabbi David Cohen, Kol ha-Nevu’ah (Jerusalem: Mossad Harav Kook, 1979; Jerusalem: Nezer David, 2022), p. 13 (“Tsurah ve-Tavnit”).

[23] Spaklaria (or aspaklaria) is a Greek loanword associated with prophetic vision. See b. Yevamot 49b and ‘Arukh, s.v. spaklaria.

[24] Ha-Arets Asher Ar’eka, pp. 83-84. Also quoted (ibid., p. 108) are Seder ‘Olam, chap. 30 (Milikowsky edition, vol. 1, p. 322, lines 21-22) and b. Bava Batra 12a. And see Ha-Arets Asher Ar’eka, p. 119.

[25] See Rabbi Zadok Hakohen (Rabinowitz), Peri Zaddik, vol. 1 (1901), Hanukkah, par. 1 (69a); Mikkets, par. 4 (93a-b); vol. 5 (Lublin, 1934), Devarim, par. 14 (8c); Nitsavim, par. 12 (80c); Resisei Laylah (Lublin, 1903), 81b; Mahshevot Haruts (Piotrków, 1912), 72a; Sihat Mal’akhei ha-Sharet (Lublin, 1927), 39a-b.

Excerpts from Rabbi Zadok’s writings are included in my collection, Lights of Prophecy (1990).

In 1990, I met with the celebrated psychologist, Prof. Julian Jaynes, in his office at Princeton University. At our meeting, I shared with him Rabbi Zadok’s observations concerning the parallel developments in Hebraic and Hellenic civilizations. Jaynes was astounded that a rabbinic scholar anticipated his own findings by over a century and kept asking me: “Who is this man?” “Where did he live?” “When did he live?”

[26] See the introduction of the editor, Rabbi Shelomo Gavriel (Margaliyot) Rosenthal, to Sihat Mal’akhei ha-Sharet, regarding the meeting of the Rogatchover and Rabbi Zadok in Lublin.

[27] b. Bava Metsi‘a 84a.

[28] b. Yoma 9b.

[29] Vayyoel Moshe, 32a.

[30] b. Berakhot 4aVayyoel Moshe, 32a.

[31] Maharasha, Yoma 9b, s.v. ke-homah.

Bezalel Naor is an author, teacher, and public speaker. He is recognized as a scholar in the thought of Rav Kook, Kabbalah, Sabbatianism, and Hasidism, as well as many other areas of Jewish Thought. Recent publications include a bilingual edition of Rav Kook's seminal work, Orot (Maggid, 2015); When God Becomes History: Historical Essays of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook (Kodesh, 2016); The Koren Rav Kook Siddur (2017); and Navigating Worlds: Collected Essays (Kodesh, 2021).


stop with the shenanigans said...

"Truly, the exclusivist statement of Rabbi Yohanan, categorically ruling out the possibility of prophecy in the Second Temple, is so out of character for the man, that one is almost nudged to a more sophisticated reading, such as that of Rabbi Burton."

REALLY? FAKERT! in fact the gemara says that rav yochanon was the last vestige of beauty of yerushalayim. Additionally the gemara also says that rav yochanon used to remember the holiness of the youth of eretz yisrael in teveria that a young man and women would be trusted to play together and not sin and lament the yeridas hadoros after the churban bayis sheini(baba basra .
INDEED, ON THE CONTRARY! the gemara uses rav yochanon as an example of the lost world that was of the beis hamikdash sheini and the jews living in eretz yisrael.
Does rabbi.burton not know an open bavli in meschtes brachos and meschtes bava basra?...
sources: brachos hey amud beys, bava basra tzadik aleph amud beys

Brisker Payois said...

It doesn't change a thing, not one iota of Rabbi Burton's premise.

Dusiznies said...

Anonymous stop with the shenanigans
Interesting that you don't criticize the Vayoel Moshe for the very same reasons. Rabbi Burton chooses and picks those "mamerei chazal" that suit his agenda, and the Vayoel Moshe chose his "mamerei chazal" that fit his agenda and those that proved him wrong, he left out.

Akiva Eiger said...

stop with the shenanigans
It seems that the Satmar allies hate when the Zionist play their own game of quoting only those Chazals that fit neatly into their propaganda. For example the Vayoel Moshe can't seem to get away from daf 111 in Kesubois that talks about the allegory of the 3 oaths, but leaves out the entire rest of that daf and the entire daf 110 and 111 amud bet that totally destroys the Satmar Shitah! Rhey hate being caught in their own game.

Beis Hillel said...

Rav Burton is no slouch