Disputing the History of the Disputation

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History isn’t always written by the victors. Losers sometimes do as well, and when they do they often inaccurately portray themselves as winners. We see today, even in a hyper-connected world, that smooth media operatives can spin almost anything into a victory. When looking at history, we can ask whether the recorded accounts are true or tales artfully spun to reflect an agenda. But is such a question appropriate of a revered religious figure?

Prof. Robert Chazan, in a 1995 book Barcelona and Beyond: The Disputation of 1263 and Its Aftermath, carefully studied multiple accounts of the famous Barcelona disputation between Ramban and Friar Paul Christian. Notable differences between the Christian and Jewish accounts, and issues of plausibility, led Chazan to question the veracity of the Ramban’s report. Is it really possible that Ramban would publicly raise “the irrationality of the incarnation, the militarism of the Spanish Christian state, the Messiah’s future destruction of Rome, or the curses to befall Christians”? And is it likely that the Christians would have allowed Ramban to stray so far from their topic of Talmudic proofs for Christianity? Additionally, we see in the later Tortosa disputation that Jews were prevented from raising other issues. Why would the Barcelona disputation be any different? Rather, Ramban must have embellished and exaggerated his account.

I would have responded that this accusation is patently offensive. While I lack the historical tools to adequately answer the points raised, I know Ramban from his extensive writings as a pious man, one of the ba’alei ha-mesorah, bearers of our tradition. It is inappropriate to impugn his honesty based on speculation centuries later. Good questions do not give us the right to draw bad conclusions.

In a 1995 review essay, reprinted in his recent Persecution, Polemic and Dialogue: Essays in Jewish-Christian Relations, Dr. David Berger (from whose account I based the above summary and all quotes in this post) responds to Prof. Chazan’s questions from a historian’s perspective. The king, he points out, ran this debate and not the clerics. While the king was on the Christian side, he may have enjoyed a free debate in which Jewish counter-arguments were allowed. He favored the Christians and occasionally squashed the Ramban’s line of argumentation but this does not mean that he was unfailingly consistent. A congenial debater, with a charming smile and disarming demeanor, can slyly slip arguments past the judge. That later disputants were careful to prevent Jews from slipping these arguments in tells us nothing of what occurred in a different debate at a different time and between different people.

Additionally, Ramban knew that his account of the disputation would be carefully read by Christians bent on discrediting it. It is certainly more likely that he “said these things in the heat of a debate” than “that he would have lied about saying them in a carefully composed document that would surely be shown to the king.” Dr. Berger offers more arguments, too complicated to allow for brief summarization.

My concern, though, is that, absent Dr. Berger, the student of history would have accepted that Ramban lied about the disputation. With the support of apparently solid proofs, he would have incorrectly accepted a moral failing in one of the ba’alei mesorah. It seems hard to escape the conclusion that this is religiously objectionable. We need to recognize that historical speculation is inherently inconclusive and cannot serve as a tool to delegitimize, even slightly, traditional beliefs. Academia may accept that kind of speculation as history but we must answer to a higher authority, one that provides our tradition and leaders the benefit of the doubt.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link of New Jersey, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and as Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He also serves on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action magazine and the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

205 comments

  1. ” We need to recognize that historical speculation is inherently inconclusive and cannot serve as a tool to delegitimize, even slightly, traditional beliefs. ”

    what beliefs are you referring to?

  2. I believe I read Chazans book soon after it came out. What I remember is that Christian sources told the story of the disputation with Christaini winning. I believe an argument made is that if the Ramban did not win according to the Christians-they wouldn’t have continued to refer to the disputation.

    “Why would the Barcelona disputation be any different? Rather, Ramban must have embellished and exaggerated his account.”

    It is logically possible that the Ramban didn’t win the debate
    -but in his mind he won the debate-that hypothetical perception would not disprove one to be a pious man.

    “I would have responded that this accusation is patently offensive.”
    Why many including one of R LJungs successors in the JC RJJ have shown that his story about the Beis Yacov 93 lo haya vlo nivra-does that take way from what R jung accomplished-no the 83 story which made the front page of NYT duringthe war served its purpose to show the evil of the Nazis.
    ” I know Ramban from his extensive writings as a pious man, one of the ba’alei ha-mesorah, bearers of our tradition”
    I have no reason to doubt that the Ramban was pious-but what really know from his writings is his breadth of knowledge and brillaince and a classic baal hamesorah-God deals with piety issues.

  3. What a shame. I have been such a fan of this site for so long, and such a steadfast admirer of your articles. But you have decided that Prof. Chazan’s conclusions were bad (despite admitting that you have never even read his book) for no better reason than the fact that you “know Ramban from his extensive writings to be a pious man.” What an utterly ridiculous indictment of scholarship that you have never even bothered to read. Your assertion that academic “speculation” is insufficient for the delegitimisation of “traditional beliefs” only reinforces your claim that you lack the historical tools to assess this argument yourself. I hope that your readers exercise better judgement than you have shown, and appraise your articles on the basis of what is in them, rather than on what people might write about them elsewhere.

  4. >I would have responded that this accusation is patently offensive. While I lack the historical tools to adequately answer the points raised, I know Ramban from his extensive writings as a pious man, one of the ba’alei ha-mesorah, bearers of our tradition. It is inappropriate to impune his honesty based on speculation centuries later. Good questions do not give us the right to draw bad conclusions.

    I guess then you give zero credence to the yeshivish position that the Ramban’s presentation of aggadta in the dispute was made under pressure, and was essentially dissembling on his part?

    Also, who said it would be a moral failing if – IF – he had written a more fictionalized account? Do we judge the Rambam as morally lacking because of some of the arrogant positions he seems to take, refraining from giving sources and so forth?

    And “religiously objectionable?” Can there really be something “religiously objectionable” one way or another about someone who lived in the 13th century? At what point does this stop? Are their people living whom it is objectionable on religious grounds to say something about?

  5. Gil,
    You sound exactly like an anti-Slifikinite. “What he wrote can’t be true because it would imply something negative about a gadol/chazal” You do realize that, Berger’s response notwithstanding, Chazen may actually be _right_ as a matter of historical fact, and that there may be evidence to be found about this, or simply a reasonable judgement that Chazen has the better argument. Indeed, you yourself might come to this conclusion if you bothered to read the book. But you have declared a priori unnecessary to read the book to know that Chazen is wrong, or at any rate, that our response should be that he is wrong. And that is more or less what the anti- Slifkinites say. (Except that you are not advocating banning Chazen’s book. Right?)

  6. I was referred to Gil when I asked another Judaism-themed blogger a question and he thought Gil could answer best. I found this blog. Thought I’d read several posts before deciding to approach him with the question. But after only a few days I read this. Ouch.

  7. “My concern, though, is that, absent Dr. Berger, the student of history would have accepted that Ramban lied about the disputation.”

    I would not have. We’ve been so propagandized with “Esav sonei et Yaakov” rhetoric that we forget that medieval Europe was NOT monolithically anti-Semitic. I don’t think King James of Aragon was.

    Furthermore, Ramban vs. Father Paul is like the New York Yankees against a high school team: One of the greatest Jewish sages of all time against someone who did not deserve the honor of being in the same room. A much more interesting forum would have been a joint appearance of Ramban with his contemporary Thomas Aquinas. It would not have been a disputation; I’ve seen nothing to indicate that Aquinas was an anti-Semite and a lot of Aquinas’ philosophy has parallels in Jewish sources.

  8. >Additionally, Ramban knew that his account of the disputation would be carefully read by Christians bent on discrediting it.

    How would they get a copy? By analogy, centuries later a copy of the Nitzachon had to literally be stolen from a Jew’s hand. Certainly before printing, certainly before the real rise of Christian Hebraism, Jews had some measure of confidence in their ability to have a few private documents. I don’t know that the Ramban _knew_ it would be even known about, much less carefully read.

  9. One of the first things they teach you in Criminal Law in law school is that eyewitnesses are one of the worst things to rely on. Two people can be present at an event and see two different things.

    Even literally: The brain is an interesting organ and sometimes processes things in different ways from reality. (Remember that we “see” and “hear” in our brains, not in our eyes and ears.) I know it’s happened to me sometimes. But even leaving that aside, different accounts of the same event can be quite different. Why do you assume Chazan is claiming that the Ramban lied? You’re the one who brought up the possibility when there are so many others.

  10. All that said, I do appreciate the point that sometimes someone’s conjecture can take on a life of its own and come to be accepted as the truth, whereas it is only an opinion or one possible interpretation. However, the idea that Chazan’s view is automatically overruled, without even reading it, because the Ramban is a ba’al mesorah? Well, it’s obvious where I stand.

  11. I find it perfectly plausible that RambaN was prevented from saying certain things, but wrote his account based on what he would have said, had he been allowed.

    That doesn’t mean that is what did happen. But it means it is plausible, and it does no injustice to RambaN to suggest as a possibility, that he could not say certain things, but wrote down his account based on what he would have said, had there been freedom of speech.

  12. > “It is inappropriate to impune his honesty based on speculation centuries later.”

    I don’t mean to, umm, impugn, your spelling ability. 🙂

    Great article, by the way.

  13. I don’t know why everyone is getting on Rabbi Student’s case. He is making very valid points.

    “I would have responded that this accusation is patently offensive.” – To feel that an unsubstantiated accusation about an historical whom you hold in esteem is offensive is a normal acceptable reaction, no different than a person might feel that an unsubstantiated attack on Martin Luther King Jr would be offensive.

    “While I lack the historical tools to adequately answer the points raised, I know Ramban from his extensive writings as a pious man, one of the ba’alei ha-mesorah, bearers of our tradition.” – Rabbi Student is simply providing more reasons for why the claims against the Ramban seem so absurd and unjustified.

    “It is inappropriate to impune his honesty based on speculation centuries later.” – This is a fact that it is inappropriate to impune anyone based simply on speculaion.

    “Good questions do not give us the right to draw bad conclusions.”
    – Again, very true. I would imagine that if there was solid evidence, Rabbi Student would accept the truth whatever form it takes. He is simply making a point that based on the questions raised by the well known scholar Dr. David Berger, no one should draw definitive conclusions about the Ramban from this book.

    “We need to recognize that historical speculation is inherently inconclusive and cannot serve as a tool to delegitimize, even slightly, traditional beliefs.”
    Rabbi Student is making a very valid point that too often people in the secular world become absolutely convinced of theories and ideas that later are shown to be false. And it is this phenomenon that has led to many Jews over the centuries leaving Judaism based on “facts” and “proofs” that later were shown to be false.

  14. I haven’t read Chazan’s book and have no substantive insights to offer regarding the “winner” in this episode (though unlike a baseball game which concludes with a definitive score, it is certainly possible for disputants to end a debate each convinced he “won”). But I am struck by the rather flimsy nature of Berger’s conjectural apologetics (for as such did it strike me). Consider “he may have enjoyed a free debate”, “He favored the Christians and occasionally squashed the Ramban’s line of argumentation but this does not mean that he was unfailingly consistent”, “A congenial debater, ..can slyly slip arguments past the judge”. “tells us nothing of what occurred in a different debate..”. The insubstantial and unconvincing nature of these Berger ripostes fairly jumps out at you, and I find myself puzzled that you think that “absent Dr. Berger, the student of history would have accepted that Ramban lied about the disputation”.

  15. An odd line to take. If we can find instances when respectable religious figures of the present day, or respectable religious publishing houses, have deliberately suppressed historical truth for other reasons, does that make these people dishonest or religiously objectionable?

  16. led Chazan to question the veracity of the Ramban’s report.
    ================================
    did he question it(e.g. “given my understanding of the time period it seems unlikely the event would happen as reported,all other things being equal”) or did he conclude that the Ramban deliberately misrepresented what happened?
    KT

  17. Gil, you’ve read all of the very convincing arguments made by others on this thread to the effect that stating that there is nothing at all insulting to the Ramban about saying that the Ramban may have felt safer (literally) writing down later what he IDEALLY would have said, while in the actual debate dissembling out of legitimate safety concerns.

    But even aside from that, I find this insistence that facts need to conform to contemporary religious sensibilities (however immature and/or without basis they may be) to be quite frightening. You’re right that history is not as straightforward as biology, but that doesn’t mean that therefore everything is hefker! History absolutely can show something to be extremely likely, and in those cases it is incumbent upon others to accept those conclusions, unless there are good historical arguments to the contrary. Dr. Berger’s arguments – however much I respect the man and admire his scholarship – amount to sniveling apologetics.

    Your argument seems to amount to “Ramban was too pious to lie [even though lying and wisely dissembling are two different things] ERGO he cannot have done so, no matter the number of indications to the contrary.” This sort of ends-based historical reasoning is absolute shtus (and as someone who has ALSO learned a lot of Ramban, I think I know how the Ramban felt about flimsy arguments!).

    In fact, I think part of the maturity of Modern Orthodoxy – and the contrasting juvenility of many in the charedi world – is that it has been able to recognize shades of gray. It has rejected the either/or nature of the reasoning that a person’s greatness must mean that any criticism is impossible. The notion that a great person has a moral failing does not make that person any less great. It just means they are human. Moreover, lesser mortals can criticize great people without diminishing the distance between themselves and that person. For instance, one can (l’havdil) study American history and reasonably conclude that – according to MODERN standards, Abraham Lincoln would be considered a racist – without relinquishing or even diminishing the idea that Lincoln was and remains one of the greatest men in American history and a bona fide hero.

  18. “I haven’t read Chazan’s book and have no substantive insights to offer regarding the “winner” in this episode (though unlike a baseball game which concludes with a definitive score, it is certainly possible for disputants to end a debate each convinced he “won”).”

    I believe I read Chazan’s book-I remember reading a book about the topic approximately the time that his book was published. My impression that I recall of the book is simply that both sides believed they won the dispute. He proved it to my satisfaction.
    Obviously professional historians can find fault in any book-see eg RCS who can and has “destroyed” books that the rest of us use and find very helpful.

  19. Gil, I’m also curious whether or not you think Shnayer Leiman should be accused of heresy on account of this article:

    The Adventure of the Maharal of Prague in London: R. Yudl Rosenberg and the Golem of Prague,” Tradition 36:1 (Spring 2002).

    Link here: http://michtavim.blogspot.com/2010/05/shnayer-z-leiman-golem-of-prague-in.html

    The argument there seems to be much like what I understand to be Chazan’s argument. Yes, R. Yudl fabricated his work, and in so doing misled many people (he lists a LOT of people in the footnotes), but he had other legitimate reasons for doing so and those should not be discounted.

    I eagerly anticipate your response of, “Yeah, but cummon this is the RAMBAN we’re talkin’ about here!”

  20. I haven’t read either Chazan or Berger in the original. but based solely on gil’s summary, it seems both are drawing weak conclusions based on weak evidence. Lots of speculation on both sides. I find neither completely convincing and neither insulting or offensive. But I also found that Gil’s analysis added nothing to this debate of historians.

  21. As to he point made before, “How did Ramban expect that the Christians would get ahold of his pamphelet,” the fact is that they did get ahold of it, and quite quickly for that matter. I wouldn’t be surprised if Ramban distributed it to Christiani. Even if he didn’t, I think it would have been reasonable for him to suspect Christiani would take an interest in it.

    There is no question both sides believed they won. Both sides said as much.

  22. It’s interesting that this practice of referring to “ba’alei hamesorah” seems to be a YU thing. I don’t think people in the yeshiva world to the right of YU use the term. Am I mistaken?

  23. As to the substantive points Gil made, anyone who thinks this post is about a disputation that took place in 1263 is naive.

  24. “It’s interesting that this practice of referring to “ba’alei hamesorah” seems to be a YU thing. I don’t think people in the yeshiva world to the right of YU use the term. Am I mistaken?”

    I think you are mistaken. That said, I find myself constantly amused by the fact that, notwithstanding the available sources (scholarly or traditional rabbinic), seemingly the sole criterion used by a given person to determine what constitutes the “masorah” seems to be whatever best expresses that person’s hashkafic biases. Exhibit A: this post; Exhibit B: the recent post on “halakhic will/halakhic way” accompanied by Gil’s amusing attempt to shtup that argument into antiquity.

  25. >As to the substantive points Gil made, anyone who thinks this post is about a disputation that took place in 1263 is naive.

    If anyone did, there’d be only one or two commments. The post and the comments are all about the subtext(s).

    As for “ba’alei mesorah,” unless I am mistaken, it is a RYBSian term (evidently) borrowed from its original meaning as “Masoretes.” Thus is it not surprising that the term is used primarily within the YU orbit, or possibly wherever its satellites are.

  26. S., if you are correct, then let’s talk about what we are really talking about, rather than sublimating it with (relative) trivia such as signature pages and ancient disputations.

  27. i am surprised by most of the commentators on this post. if you have read gil’s posts ( i only started to read this blog a few months ago) they are consistent with an hashkafic approach to history as oppose to a more factual or data based assumption approach of scholarship. if the facts don’t fit they way you like it delegitimatize it or question it – not because methodology – but because you do not like the end result. this is a time honored approach of religious jews in general – and there is nothing wrong with it as long as you are upfront about it.

  28. “While I lack the historical tools to adequately answer the points raised, I know Ramban from his extensive writings as a pious man, one of the ba’alei ha-mesorah, bearers of our tradition. It is inappropriate to impugn his honesty based on speculation centuries later. Good questions do not give us the right to draw bad conclusions.”

    Sounds very much like C.S. Lewis’ “trilemma” about the claims of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus’ claims of divinity must either be true, or Jesus was lying outright, or he was simply insane. From the testimony of the Apostles, the writings of the Gospels, and Jesus’ statements therein, its quite impossible, Lewis concludes, that Jesus was insane or dishonest, and therefore he must have told the truth about his divinity.

    Lewis’ does not realize that the options are much wider than his three possibilities, nor does he realize the value of historical tools, as you put it, for properly investigating all the questions involved when determining fact from fiction or embellishment.

  29. Jerry wrote in part:

    “For instance, one can (l’havdil) study American history and reasonably conclude that – according to MODERN standards, Abraham Lincoln would be considered a racist – without relinquishing or even diminishing the idea that Lincoln was and remains one of the greatest men in American history and a bona fide hero.”

    Please name one work on Lincoln that maintains both of these positions. Looking at any great figure through a current lense ala “what we now know” is revisionism, regardless of the bias.

  30. Jerry-the fact that a Maskil manufactured the incident of the Maharal’s purported involvement with the Golem does not detract from our respect of the Maharal as a great and innovative thinker whose approach to Aggadah, in general, cannot be underestimated. OTOH, accepting an academic’s comments about the Ramban as quoted by R Gil strikes me as disrespectful of the Ramban as one of the Gdolei HaRishonim, whose works on Chumash, Talmud, Sefer HaMitzvos and impact on Halacha as one of the Baalei HaMesorah cannot be underestimated. Why not assume out of deference to the Ramban that the Ramban was acting in the manner described by R D Berger?

  31. Jerry wrote in part:
    “That said, I find myself constantly amused by the fact that, notwithstanding the available sources (scholarly or traditional rabbinic), seemingly the sole criterion used by a given person to determine what constitutes the “masorah” seems to be whatever best expresses that person’s hashkafic biases. Exhibit A: this post; Exhibit B: the recent post on “halakhic will/halakhic way” accompanied by Gil’s amusing attempt to shtup that argument into antiquity.”

    Query-every year around Channukah, this blog is preoccupied as to the issue of the “historicity” of Channukah, simply because the Talmud, as opposed to other sources, is the sole reference thereto. If one accepts the academic critique as to the historicity of Channukah, why then would such a person observe the holiday and recite the Brachos and Tefilos associated with Ner Channukah?

  32. Charlie Hall wrote in part:

    “I would not have. We’ve been so propagandized with “Esav sonei et Yaakov” rhetoric that we forget that medieval Europe was NOT monolithically anti-Semitic. I don’t think King James of Aragon was. ”

    WADR, we know about expulsions and persecutions in almost every Western European country and eccesiasltically based and created anti Semitism from the earliest days of the RCC through the Crusades as well as the RCC’s highly problematic concordat with Hitler. I think that your post is an excellent example of ecumenical well wishing that is unsupported by the historical record.

  33. steve b – ““historicity” of Channukah, simply because the Talmud, as opposed to other sources, is the sole reference thereto”

    i assume you are referring to the story of the oil and not the story or accuracy of it in the talmud of chanukah itself (book of macabees and other sources are available to for the story).

    the fact that the rabbis decided to take a national holiday – like yom hikanor- military victory) and add rituals to it is the only reason why you light candles. as it is there is many debates on what the miracle was or wasn’t – it has nothing to do with the facts and it was instituted generations later (to the best of my recollection)

  34. Shades of Gray

    “It’s interesting that this practice of referring to “ba’alei hamesorah” seems to be a YU thing”
    I think it’s the correct terminology for anyone who is discussing the issue!
    “We need to recognize that historical speculation is inherently inconclusive and cannot serve as a tool to delegitimize, even slightly, traditional beliefs.”
    The point is well taken, and is based on recognizing the greatness of the “ba’alei ha-mesorah”. I once came across an old Torah journal from Yeshivas Be’er Yakkov. I recall R. Wolbe writing there that the basis for emunas chachamim is that we don’t think Rabbi Akivah and others like him were liars(R. Wolbe also has a discussion there of R. Hirsch in the preface to Horeb about Aggadah; perhaps someone has a copy of this). It certainly makes sense to give the Ramban the benefit of a doubt instead of proposing speculative theories.
    Not all cases are the same, however, and sometimes one needs to deal with issues more directly. For example, R. Shimon Schwab(intially, at least) wrote regarding dating issues that the secular sources:
    “can hardly be doubted for they appear to be the result of painstaking research by hundreds of scholars and are borne out by profound erudition and by ever increasing authoritative evidence”
    (Gil himself wrote in a review of “A Crash course of Jewish History”, “In a Modern Orthodox survey of this nature, an expert historian would write a history that summarizes and simplifies based on a deep understanding of the events and issues. It would avoid cliche and superficiality yet embrace an Orthodox Jewish interpretation of history”).

  35. “historicity” of Channukah, simply because the Talmud, as opposed to other sources, is the sole reference thereto.”

    i assume you mean the story of the oil not to the holiday itself– book of macabees attest to the story as well as other primary sources.

    “If one accepts the academic critique as to the historicity of Channukah, why then would such a person observe the holiday and recite the Brachos and Tefilos associated with Ner Channukah?”

    but why – we observe lighting candles because chazal told us to – they decided to add rituals to a national holiday (as oppose to yom hikanoor which was a national holiday with a military victoey – see masechet taanit)…lets not forget lighting candles was instituted much later

  36. Steve:

    “the fact that a Maskil manufactured the incident of the Maharal’s purported involvement with the Golem does not detract from our respect of the Maharal as a great and innovative” etc.

    No one was talking about Maharal; they’re talking about the propagator of the golem story, who was a great talmid chacham and not a “maskil” as you seem comfortable in dismissing him. (Why you feel so is another question.) Would you dismiss all of the great work by R’ Yudl Rosenberg because of a fictional story (or forgery) or two? Don’t create facts to justify your ideas.

    Re: Chanukkah. If the story of the oil is to be dismissed, there’d be no reason not to celebrate Chanukkah. Chanukkah was celebrated for centuries before anyone heard of the oil story (if it’s not true). Our practice of lighting goes back to Beit Hillel, who (according to those who dismiss the story) never heard of the oil miracle. You are creating a false choice to defend your idea that we must either accept this version of the disputation or reject everything the Ramban ever did. That’s very, very dangerous.

    Re: The Church. No one denies that there was lots of anti-Semitism in the Middle Ages. But there were lots of exceptions- stories of disputations, Talmud burnings, massacres, and the like always feature (in the Jewish tellings) the good bishop who stands up for the Jews.

  37. Gil says that lying in this situation was incompatible with piety. If the evidence shows that the Ramban lied, then he apparently held otherwise.

    If so, then I’ll go with the Ramban’s opinion over Gil’s.

  38. Steve: “Please name one work on Lincoln that maintains both of these positions. Looking at any great figure through a current lense ala “what we now know” is revisionism, regardless of the bias.”

    Answer: pretty much every book on Lincoln EVER!

    In all seriousness, I’ll do you one better and name two. Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals makes this point (and transposes it at one point onto a discussion that a young Lincoln apparently had over how to interpret and teach Washington’s legacy).

    This perspective is also argued, if I recall (it’s been some years since I read the book), in James M. McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom (which received a Pulitzer).

    Steve: “the fact that a Maskil manufactured”

    A Maskil?! Steve, your ignorance is as astounding as it is entertaining.

    For someone who claims some familiarity with Dr. Leiman’s work, I have yet to see even one indication that you have read any of it. If you had, you would realize that the issue here has NOTHING to do with the Maharal himself, and everything to do with Reb Yudl. The question here – much like in the case of the Ramban – is what do we do when it seems that a rav has fabricated (or plagiarized) an allegedly historical account?

    Steve: “If one accepts the academic critique as to the historicity of Channukah, why then would such a person observe the holiday and recite the Brachos and Tefilos associated with Ner Channukah?”

    What the heck does one thing have to do with the other? We all still say Shabbos is “zekher l’maaseh bereishis” in tefillos and brachos even though we don’t believe in a literal seven-day creation.

    As for the oil story itself: If you have any evidence whatsoever from a contemporary source (or really anything until the Talmud’s version, centuries later), please produce it.

    I’m also not sure what this has to do with the Ramban…

    Steve: “Why not assume out of deference to the Ramban that the Ramban was acting in the manner described by R D Berger?”

    I would be more than happy to agree with him if his suggestion wasn’t so absurd.

  39. Nachum wrote:

    “No one was talking about Maharal; they’re talking about the propagator of the golem story, who was a great talmid chacham and not a “maskil” as you seem comfortable in dismissing him. (Why you feel so is another question.) Would you dismiss all of the great work by R’ Yudl Rosenberg because of a fictional story (or forgery) or two? Don’t create facts to justify your ideas.

    Re: Chanukkah. If the story of the oil is to be dismissed, there’d be no reason not to celebrate Chanukkah. Chanukkah was celebrated for centuries before anyone heard of the oil story (if it’s not true). Our practice of lighting goes back to Beit Hillel, who (according to those who dismiss the story) never heard of the oil miracle. You are creating a false choice to defend your idea that we must either accept this version of the disputation or reject everything the Ramban ever did. That’s very, very dangerous.

    Re: The Church. No one denies that there was lots of anti-Semitism in the Middle Ages. But there were lots of exceptions- stories of disputations, Talmud burnings, massacres, and the like always feature (in the Jewish tellings) the good bishop who stands up for the Jews.”

    Let me respond to each point:

    1)The Maharal is still the Maharal in the absence of any evidence that he was ever involved in any incident with the use of a Golem.

    2)We celebrate Channnukah precisely because of its Rabbinic and post Biblical nature and origins, and because of the general strengthening of TSBP, even in those areas of Halacha that were permissible prior to the victory such as Tumas Zav, and Tumah Hutrah BaTzibur , as opposed to where where historians can trace the origin of the battles and cruise of oil. One either accepts the rabbinic basis or rejects the same, which is why the Talmud refers us to the verse in Devarim that is the source of all rabbinic authority. It is a simple choice-one either accepts or rejects Rabbinical authority and its power of interpretation and guidance.

    3)I think that the record of anti Semitism cannot be minimized by the occasional exception to the rule.

  40. Jerry wrote:

    1)Answer: pretty much every book on Lincoln EVER!

    Don’t ever mention Goodwin in the same breadth as McPherson as a Civil War and Lincoln scholar. One can divide the many works on Lincoln and the Civil War pretty much in half-those who view him as one of the greatest Presidents, a great war leader and whose poltical views evolved or with 20 Century hindsight as a racist with limited goals whose political aims changed as the war progressed.The spectrum runs from James McPherson to Eric Foner-However,name one book by a recognized Lincoln scholar that encompasses both views.

    Back to the Maharal. Our view of the Maharal is unaffected by an unsupported claim that he participated in the creation of a Golem. The claim by a secular historian that the disputation by Ramban never occurred is a flat out attack on the Midas HaEmes of one of the Gdolei HaRishonim and Baalei Mesorah, whose views on dealing with Esau and Amalek in its many manifestations resonate in many places in his Commentary on the Torah, and especially in this week’s Parsha.

    2)What the heck does one thing have to do with the other? We all still say Shabbos is “zekher l’maaseh bereishis” in tefillos and brachos even though we don’t believe in a literal seven-day creation.

    Please see the account of creation and the role of Shabbos therein as the seventh day wherein HaShem rested from the creation of the world. One who is Mchallel Shabbos is Pasul Bedus because he or she denies the role of HaShem as the Boreh Olam. Name one of the classical Mfarshim on Chumash who is a “literalist”, as opposed to relying on means of Parshanut other than the literal Pshat in explaining Maaseh Breishis.

    3)See my comment to Nachum re the role of Chazal in Channukah. It is well known that Josephus had a poor memory of recent events, as opposed to ancient history, and that memories of a rebellion lead by the Chashmomaim would hardly sit well with his Roman friends and readers. It is equally settled that Chazal viewed the events of Channukah as symptomatic of an assimilationsist mood with Selucid-Greek culture that required prohibiting even the previously permitted in many instances. One can posit that the authors of the Book of Maccabees were writing a political work and were utterly uninterested in miracles, as R D D Berger has written on this very issue.

  41. FWIW, in the introduction to the Disputation, in Kisvei HaRamban, Vol.1, R Chavel ZL quoted both Baer and R Dr E Urbach, as supporting the veracity of the disputation in question.

  42. “Academia may accept that kind of speculation as history but we must answer to a higher authority, one that provides our tradition and leaders the benefit of the doubt.”

    Rabbi- Have you read Rabbi Jose Faur’s impugnation of the Ramban in his “Anti-Maimonideans and Their Deamons” essay? He shows that the Ramban was far from an honest man, and in fact a twister of the mesorah who subtly introduced Christianity into Judaism. What do you think of that? In your opinion, is Jose Faur just a speculative academic?

  43. Steve: “The spectrum runs from James McPherson to Eric Foner”

    That’s the weirdest characterization of the “spectrum” I’ve ever heard.

    Steve: “those who view him as one of the greatest Presidents, a great war leader and whose poltical views evolved or with 20 Century hindsight as a racist with limited goals whose political aims changed as the war progressed.”

    This is a completely inaccurate description of Lincoln scholarship, but I’ll leave that aside for now (in the interests of not getting bogged down…although I will say this is a tempting argument, especially since, as usual, you seem to talk a lot about things with which you have only a passing familiarity).

    I will simply note that you have essentially conceded my point, which is that one can point out Lincoln’s flaws, foibles and (sometimes) wishful thinking, while still acknowledging his overwhelming greatness. See McPherson. Case closed.

    Now, to the task of unpacking your utterly befuddling paragraph on the Maharal issue…

    Steve: “Our view of the Maharal is unaffected by an unsupported claim that he participated in the creation of a Golem.”

    First of all: “OUR view”? Are there more than one of you?

    Second: I’m becoming convinced that you don’t understand the argument from the Maharal story. You DO understand (as Nachum already pointed out quite cogently) that this argument has nothing to do with the Maharal, right?

    Just to be clear, my point is this: If one thinks that there is a problem with claiming that an account of an historical event (a disputation) written by a rav and talmid chacham (Ramban) is not to be taken as a non-fiction account, then how does one explain the clear-cut case – as described by Dr. Leiman – of an account of an historical event (Maharal’s golem) written by a rav and talmid chacham (R. Yudl Rosenberg) is not to be taken as a non-fiction account?

    “The claim by a secular historian that the disputation by Ramban never occurred”

    Ahhh… So we have finally penetrated the heart of the issue. Steve, NO ONE is disputing whether or not the disputation occurred. The ONLY issue under consideration is whether Ramban’s description of what occurred at this disputation (i.e. that he basically smashed his establishment Christian adversary to intellectual smithereens) is a strictly factual account of what occurred, rather than Ramban’s record of what he SHOULD have said, or WOULD have said given an equal, and equally safe, playing field.

    Steve: “Name one of the classical Mfarshim on Chumash who is a “literalist”, as opposed to relying on means of Parshanut other than the literal Pshat in explaining Maaseh Breishis.”

    That was basically my question TO YOU, Steve! As you have apparently admitted, the 7-day creation story is meant to teach us something spiritually and theologically important. The fact that it did not actually occur has no precise bearing on the issue.

    Steve: “It is well known that Josephus had a poor memory of recent events”

    No. He had an agenda. Those are two very different things. Not that this really matters given the fact that there are plenty of other early sources for the Hasmonean revolt (I think there’s actually an entire book dedicated to that; now what is it called, again?…) upon which Josephus relied.

    A much bigger problem for you is Antiquities 12.7.7, where Josephus actually struggles (!) to come up with a reason for why the holiday would be called a holiday of “Lights.” The best he can do is come up with a cute play on the Greek word for “Lights,” namely, that the right to worship without interference was restored to the Jews at a time when such a cause seemed hopeless. Don’t you think an oil light story (even making it seem as naturalistic as possible) would have been a SLIGHTLY better answer???

    Steve: “and that memories of a rebellion lead by the Chashmomaim would hardly sit well with his Roman friends and readers”

    Umm…except that he writes EXTENSIVELY about it.

    Steve: “One can posit that the authors of the Book of Maccabees were writing a political work and were utterly uninterested in miracles”

    First of all, 2 Maccabees is CHOCK FULL of miraculous stuff, so the argument pretty much falls flat there. (The fact that it was a Diaspora account can’t help you, since the same can be said of the Bavli…and 2 Maccabees has the advantage of being a BCE text, rather than a 6th century CE text).

    And since your argument seems to be that any source that fails to mention the oil miracle story must have been some anti-miracle polemic, I ask: what about Megillas Ta’anis? As Professor Noam has shown, the two extant versions of the scholia that we have contain NO MENTION of the rabbinic oil story. The earliest source for the developed story is thus the Bavli.

    So basically your argument amounts to this: the oil miracle story is crucial to the holiday of Chanukkah, and the fact that it wasn’t ever mentioned – by anyone – for close to 7 hundred years is because of a cover-up led by a bunch of miracle-hating apologists (like Megillas Ta’anis and 2 Maccabees) that was only exposed in the 6th century, by the Bavli. Have I understood you correctly?

  44. Phin wrote:

    “Rabbi- Have you read Rabbi Jose Faur’s impugnation of the Ramban in his “Anti-Maimonideans and Their Deamons” essay? He shows that the Ramban was far from an honest man, and in fact a twister of the mesorah who subtly introduced Christianity into Judaism. What do you think of that? In your opinion, is Jose Faur just a speculative academic”

    This is also Amos Funkenstein’s thesis as well, and does not speak well of the merits of either thesis. RYBS viewed the Ramban as offering a commentary that was rooted entirely in intrinisically Jewish sources with an amazing knowledge of Tanach and Chazal and contributed far more to our Hashkafas Olam than the MN. See The Rav: Thinking Aloud on the Parsha ( Page 3). The same shiur can be accessed at Bergen County Beis Medrash under Parshas Lech Lecha.

  45. http://www.chayas.com/AntiRAMBAM.pdf If one reads the article in question, one must read the bio of the author and consider his own not uncontroversial background as well as the thesis that the notion that any claim that we listen to the Chachmei HaDor of any generation is a Christian concept. Read the article and the footnotes. It is a scholarly rant by someone who went to Lakewood and then to JTS against halachic authority which rejects the basic notion of halachic authority.

  46. Steve-
    You have the same take on history that R. Student does, evidently. The bottom line is that respected academics believed that the Ramban (and other Rishonim) broke from established Judaism in his embrace of Kabbalah and Christian-rooted ideology. As for Amos Funkenstein:
    “He was truly a Renaissance man in terms of intellectual interest,” said Professor David Biale, director of the Berkeley-based Graduate Theological Union’s Center for Jewish Studies. “He was probably the only genius I’ve ever met.”
    To me it doesn’t matter that he was a kofer.
    And it wouldn’t matter to me if the Ramban was a kofer either.
    Why does either fact bother you?

  47. Jerry-it might behoove you to read before reacting to my posts:

    1) Comparing McPherson to Foner is akin to comparing apples and oranges. Viewing Goodwin as a serious historian hardly aides your argument.

    2) You wrote:
    “That was basically my question TO YOU, Steve! As you have apparently admitted, the 7-day creation story is meant to teach us something spiritually and theologically important. The fact that it did not actually occur has no precise bearing on the issue.”

    Wrong again. The Torah repeats the importance of observing Shabbos because God rested on the seventh day is a theological fact that we take seriously, regardless of Maaseh Breishis is explained by Chazal and Mfarshim.

    3)We are commanded to observe all of the halachos related to Channukah not because of their being recorded or not in sources extraneous to Chazal, but rather because Chazal instituted the same within their powers of adding strengthening the observance of Torah and Mitzvos within the Jewish People.One can find numerous halachos instituted therein as a means of reducing the possibility of interaction, intermarriage,etc with the Selucid Greeks , many of which were permissible as a matter of Torah law. Viewing the necessity for rebuilding a sense of Jewish identity from scratch and insisting upon prohibiting what had been permitted as a means of getting back to a normal society is precisely the purpose of chrumos instituted on a society wide basis.

    As far as Josephus is concerned, his agenda was a self serving history of the Jewish People, which he doctored to suit his agenda, as you aptlt stated and which can fairly be described as a deliberately poor memory.

  48. Jerry-if one denies the historicity of Channukah as stated in the Bavli, and “insists’ on external proof of the verification of the same-my question remains-why recite the Birkas Hamitzvah on Ner Chanukah or on any other rabbinically instituted observance? One either accepts or rejected the Divinely instituted and legislated elastic clause of relying on rabbinical authority for guidance in observance throughout the ages, which the Talmud in Shabbos clearly understand as the basis for the institution of Channukah and all rabbinic observances, or in intellectual honesty, rejects the same. in this vein , see the Hasagos HaRamban on the Shoresh HaSheni of Sefer HaMitzvos as to whether every rabbinic ordinance is merely that or of Torah origins because of the power of Lo Sasur. How anyone who rejects rabbinical authority recites a Birkas Hamitzvah can call himself or herself anything other than Orthoprax remains a subject that requires more, as opposed to less discussion.

  49. Phin-I certainly share R Gil’s views and view the views of Biale and Funkenstein with disdain because of what you described as the kefirah in their views. We obviously disagree as to wnat is “established Judaism.” Viewing Judaism as totally rational is just as erroneous as viewing Judaism as totally irrational. Even Rambam in Hilcos Yesodei HaTorah describes Maamad Har Sinai and the role of Moshe Rabbeinu in terms that cannot be defined in rational terms.

  50. “we know about expulsions and persecutions in almost every Western European country and eccesiasltically based and created anti Semitism from the earliest days of the RCC through the Crusades as well as the RCC’s highly problematic concordat with Hitler.”

    And we also know of those who were not anti-Semites and treated us well.

    ” I think that your post is an excellent example of ecumenical well wishing that is unsupported by the historical record.”

    We have plenty of historical documatation of medieval and modern European rulers (and even clerics) who were not anti-Semites (or at least show no evidence of such). Just to name two contemporaries of Ramban, you have the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II (who went out of his way to absolve Jews of blood libel), and King of Naples Charles D’Anjou (whose brother “Saint” Louis of France was indeed a horrific anti-Semite). (It is true that Frederick II was a generally anti-religious sceptic, something unheard of for that time.) And some of Aquinas’ writings were considered so consistent with Judaism that Jewish scholars translated them into Hebrew.

  51. I thought of a few more examples on my way home from shul this morning:

    1. Iyov was probably an established mythical figure at the time the sefer that bears his name was written. (There’s evidence for this in Yechezkel.) Whether or not he really lived is another question, but clearly the author, whoever he was, believed he did. And yet he inserted a whole fictional dialogue between him and his friends into the story. No one, of course, thinks any less of the book or its author for that. Indeed, one opinion in the Gemara attributes it to Moshe himself.

    2. There was probably never a “Shunamite woman” who was taken from her boyfriend by Sholomo and later returned to him. No one thinks less of the book or its author for it- indeed, the whole value of the book is seen in its allegory, so much so that Artscroll refused to translate it literally.

    3. Whether or not the Khazar story played out as Yehuda HaLevi wrote it is questionable, but that was clearly the belief at his time, and yet he inserted a whole fictional dialogue into the principal’s mouths. No one thinks less of him or the book for it- indeed, into the twentieth century, standard printings actually attributed the book to a fictional rav and listed Yehuda HaLevi as the “reporter” or some such.

    4. There was never a “Ben Uziel” who got letters from his equally fictional “friend” asking for guidance. And yet the pattern of writing books in this format has become very popular in the last couple of decades. R’ Hirsch remains a giant.

  52. I’m not really responding, but these are too good to let pass by:

    “One who is Mchallel Shabbos is Pasul Bedus because he or she denies the role of HaShem as the Boreh Olam”

    Anyone who goes by “she” is pasul l’edut, period. 🙂

    “memories of a rebellion lead by the Chashmomaim would hardly sit well with his Roman friends and readers.”

    Which is why he goes out of his way to promote the rebellion, even giving the First Jewish Revolt roots in, and justifying it by, it, and including it, extensively, in two of his works. Have you ever read Josephus?

    “One can posit that the authors of the Book of Maccabees were writing a political work and were utterly uninterested in miracles”

    There are actually two books of Maccabees. (Many more, actually, but that’s another story.) One is more nationalistic but still religious; one is *very* religious. (Interestingly, the first was written in Hebrew in Israel; the second in Greek in Africa. Makes you think…) As Jerry said, they have lots of miracles in them.

    “As Professor Noam has shown, the two extant versions of the scholia that we have contain NO MENTION of the rabbinic oil story”

    This one’s to Jerry: Are you sure? I thought the oil story was specifically *in* a scholia, unless we’re thinking of different things.

    “The Torah repeats the importance of observing Shabbos because God rested on the seventh day is a theological fact that we take seriously, regardless of Maaseh Breishis is explained by Chazal and Mfarshim”

    Hee. Steve just dismissed Chazal and Mfarshim. 🙂

  53. Steve: “Comparing McPherson to Foner is akin to comparing apples and oranges. Viewing Goodwin as a serious historian hardly aides your argument.”

    Who compared them? I just noted that using Foner and McPherson to define your spectrum is pretty weird.

    Steve: “The Torah repeats the importance of observing Shabbos because God rested on the seventh day is a theological fact”

    Before the advent of scientific disproof of this (which predates the modern period; we’re just certain of this now), it was also a “natural” fact. In fact, some still believe it today. Rav Nebenzahl’s recent volume on Shabbos has a long set of essays in the beginning that argue that accepting 7-day creation (the basis for Shabbos) as a mere “theological” fact, as opposed to a “natural” fact constitutes kefirah.

    Indeed, the non-literalizing of the ma’aseh bereishis was a result, not a symptom, of critical scientific inquiry. The same is true for the rejection of the accuracy of the Ramban’s disputation account, and the accuracy of the rabbinic oil miracle claim.

    Steve: “We are commanded to observe all of the halachos related to Channukah not because of their being recorded or not in sources extraneous to Chazal”

    You have this really weird quirk where when you argue with someone, and he proves you wrong, you pretty much sum up his argument, and then present it as if it was YOUR argument all along (even if it makes what you are saying nonsensical).

    In this case, this is MAMISH exactly what I’ve been saying the entire time. The fact that the Bavli invented the oil story has nothing to do with whether or not I observe the halachos of Chanukkah as ordained by Chazal.

  54. Steve: “As far as Josephus is concerned, his agenda was a self serving history of the Jewish People, which he doctored to suit his agenda, as you aptlt stated and which can fairly be described as a deliberately poor memory.”

    A deliberately poor memory??? First of all, this is STILL a bad description. Second of all, stop trying to pretend that this is what you meant the entire time. You have no idea what you’re talking about. You barely know anything about Josephus or scholarship on Josephus, and you’re completely out of your element here.

    In fact, scholars have shown with meticulous care exactly how one can glean information from Josephus. There is NO ONE who dismisses Josephus completely due to unreliability. This is because a) there are some things that he wrote about that had nothing to do with his agenda, and therefore should be completely accurate, b) things that are affected by his agenda can still be read profitably to see what can be gleaned from his writings.

    …But simply saying “he has an agenda,” as if that allows you to dismiss his entire corpus is absurd, and LITERALLY not accepted by anyone who has studied Josephus.

    In this case: Josephus is not reticent to describe Hasmonean nationalism and Hasmonean victories and also has no problem describing miraculous events (which preserve their miraculous character, even if he either mostly or somewhat naturalizes some of them). Given this, you CANNOT explain why Josephus would have failed to mention the oil story. You TRIED to claim that Josephus in general would not have mentioned Hasmonean victories…but since you’re completely ignorant about this, I had to point out to you that Josephus actually writes EXTENSIVELY about this topic.

    What’s your excuse now?

  55. Steve: “why recite the Birkas Hamitzvah on Ner Chanukah”

    Hillel HaZaken apparently had no problem with this. I’ve given you numerous reasons, which you apparently have not processed.

    Steve: “How anyone who rejects rabbinical authority”

    Chazal have authority to determine practice (and ‘ikkarei emunah, but lets set that aside for now, since none of those are at issue here). Chazal do NOT have the ability to change history. Either the oil story happened or it didn’t happen. If all the evidence suggests that it didn’t, then nothing Chazal say can or will change that. Very simple.

  56. By the way, Steve, you still have not confirmed my view of your opinion.

    Again: is it your opinion that for about seven centuries, not a PEEP escaped our sources (including 1 & 2 Maccabees, Josephus, Megillas Ta’anis, anything before the Bavli, etc.) about the rabbinic oil miracle story, because of some massive, multi-century conspiracy, and that the account of the Bavli – again, about seven centuries later – is really the most accurate?

  57. “As Professor Noam has shown, the two extant versions of the scholia that we have contain NO MENTION of the rabbinic oil story”

    This one’s to Jerry: Are you sure? I thought the oil story was specifically *in* a scholia, unless we’re thinking of different things.

    Nachum, good point. This is what I thought as well ever since I read Gedalyahu Alon’s famous piece about this.

    But as I learned when I bought her edition a couple of years ago (I think at the SOY Seforim Sale, if I recall correctly!), apparently the impetus for her edition was that previous scholars really had no idea about the textual and literary history of Megillas Ta’anis [MT], and people relied on a highly outdated (and methodologically flawed) edition.

    As she shows, of the two scholia that we have, one makes no mention whatsoever of any miracle relating to oil. It tries to justify the length of the holiday on several other grounds. The other scholium (Scholium O) does mention the Bavli oil miracle story.

    The problem is as follows: Scholium O’s version is grammatically and syntactically impossible, and while the story tries to be the same as the Bavli, it sounds as if it is talking about something else.

    The solution is as follows: the Or Zarua has a series of discussions trying to reconcile MT with the Bavli’s Chanukkah. When he quotes this section of Scholium O (the immediately preceding and subsequent quoted text shows that this is without a doubt Scholium O), he has a completely different text, without any reference to the oil miracle. Instead, the justification in MT quoted by the Or Zaru’a is the same story offered by the other scholium of MT, namely, the story of building the Menorah with “iron spits” (probably the soldiers’ weapons) and rededicating it.

    In fact, the extant Scholium O is not an original version, and someone tried to bring it in line with the Bavli. Noam goes on to show that the editor of the extant version of O constantly replaced parts of the text with material from the Bavli, and heavily edited it.

    And if one understands that the object of the story in Scholium O is the MENORAH (as supported by the Or Zarua’s direct quote of the text) rather than the ‘OILS’ (shemanim) as in the Bavli, then the text makes perfect sense. Indeed, the Or Zarua records the text as saying NOTHING about an oil miracle, and simply has it tell a different story – one which actually DOES have a parallel in the other scholium (makes more sense, no?).

    Thus, neither scholium says ANYTHING about the oil miracle.

    Even more tantalizing is Noam’s brief paragraph at the end about how none of the Eretz Yisrael paytanim who composed piyyutim about Chanukkah or touching on Chanukkah mention ANYTHING about the oil miracle. It may have been a specifically Bavli phenomenon.

  58. jerry and nachum – thank you for your erudite and illuminating posts. your discussions remind me of other arguments like the authorship and time of writing of the zohar: scholarship vs. traditional understanding/mythology. people will believe whatever they want to no matter what the facts are. i like to call it hashkafa history or art scroll history.

  59. Jerry wrote:

    “Before the advent of scientific disproof of this (which predates the modern period; we’re just certain of this now), it was also a “natural” fact. In fact, some still believe it today. Rav Nebenzahl’s recent volume on Shabbos has a long set of essays in the beginning that argue that accepting 7-day creation (the basis for Shabbos) as a mere “theological” fact, as opposed to a “natural” fact constitutes kefirah.

    Indeed, the non-literalizing of the ma’aseh bereishis was a result, not a symptom, of critical scientific inquiry. The same is true for the rejection of the accuracy of the Ramban’s disputation account, and the accuracy of the rabbinic oil miracle claim”

    Once again, you are confusing the order of the cart and the horse. Chazal and Mfarshim posited the non-literal interpretation of Maaseh Breishis as part of their power of interpretation and Parshanut over non-halachic and hashkafic sections of the Torah, long before any Copernican-Galileo dispute. Chazal reacted to the facts on the ground created by the interaction between Greek and Jewish culture by rejecting accepted Torah laws in many instances and insisting on rabbinic stringencies. R Nevenzal’s excellent volume 1 on Shabbos merely restates the hashkafic basis of Shmiras Shabbos, illustrates the diffences between Shabbos and YT and provides wonderful insights into the Tefilos and Zmiros.

  60. Jerry wrote:

    “By the way, Steve, you still have not confirmed my view of your opinion.

    Again: is it your opinion that for about seven centuries, not a PEEP escaped our sources (including 1 & 2 Maccabees, Josephus, Megillas Ta’anis, anything before the Bavli, etc.) about the rabbinic oil miracle story, because of some massive, multi-century conspiracy, and that the account of the Bavli – again, about seven centuries later – is really the most accurate?”

    Here is my two part answer:

    1) See R d d Berger’s article on this issue, which I posted previously.

    2) When Chazal use the verses in the Torah which are associated with their power as the interpreters of the law and the basis of all rabbinic ordinances as the source for the instiution of a rabbinically based holiday, I side with Chazal, even and especially in the absence of outside sources that confirm or deny the same.

  61. Phin wrote:

    “You have the same take on history that R. Student does, evidently. The bottom line is that respected academics believed that the Ramban (and other Rishonim) broke from established Judaism in his embrace of Kabbalah and Christian-rooted ideology. As for Amos Funkenstein:
    “He was truly a Renaissance man in terms of intellectual interest,” said Professor David Biale, director of the Berkeley-based Graduate Theological Union’s Center for Jewish Studies. “He was probably the only genius I’ve ever met.”
    To me it doesn’t matter that he was a kofer.
    And it wouldn’t matter to me if the Ramban was a kofer either.
    Why does either fact bother you?

    Why would any Shomer Torah UMitzvos who considers himself or herself a Ben or Bas Torah ever consider the views of a secular academic and/or kofer,. which Ramban certainly was not, except in the category of knowing the contents of the same in order to respond to the contemporary version of an apikorus or kofer? Why would anyone accept their testimony for the truth of the same when one would reject their testimony as halachically unworthy on any issue? I refuse to consider such views that lack any respect for the Tanaim, Amoraim, Rishonim and Acharonim HaKedoshim as the transmitters of Torah and Mitzvos and seek to evaluate them from a contemporary revisionist POV to accomodate their own sense of being among the Ketanei Emunah who are considered “scholars” in Judaic studies. It is sad that so many who consider themselves MO on this blog simply are willing to discard Mesorah and TSBP in any instance where a scholar raises an issue as to historicity. Rashi in Parshas Bchukosai has trenchant comments on the consequences of such an attitude, which IMO were are especially appropriate as we consider why Chazal instituted so many communal chumras in the same time period as Channukah.

  62. “1) See R d d Berger’s article on this issue, which I posted previously”

    Steve:

    Could you please post a link to that article.

  63. “Why would any Shomer Torah UMitzvos who considers himself or herself a Ben or Bas Torah ever consider the views of a secular academic and/or kofer,. which Ramban certainly was not, except in the category of knowing the contents of the same in order to respond to the contemporary version of an apikorus or kofer? Why would anyone accept their testimony for the truth of the same when one would reject their testimony as halachically unworthy on any issue?”

    Not what you are referring to-but Chazals expertise is halachik matters-thus Seder Olam is far from being universally accepted by frum Jews as historically accurate.

  64. “In fact, scholars have shown with meticulous care exactly how one can glean information from Josephus. There is NO ONE who dismisses Josephus completely due to unreliability. This is because a) there are some things that he wrote about that had nothing to do with his agenda, and therefore should be completely accurate, b) things that are affected by his agenda can still be read profitably to see what can be gleaned from his writings.”

    To translate this into Steve-speak: the Gra was not satisfied with the Yosippon, and hoped that someone would translate Josephus from Latin or Greek into Hebrew.

  65. Steve- wrote:
    “We obviously disagree as to what is “established Judaism.” Viewing Judaism as totally rational is just as erroneous as viewing Judaism as totally irrational.”
    It seems you believe in “established Judaism.” But I believe in the authority of the Talmud- and valid interpretations that came after. You are bound to interpretations of the Talmud that may be totally erroneous, because they were redacted by history; but I am only bound to valid interpretations.
    “Why would any Shomer Torah UMitzvos who considers himself or herself a Ben or Bas Torah ever consider the views of a secular academic and/or kofer”
    Well, Hakham Faur is not a kofer. He is a Talmid Chachom and I have also heard he is a good person (it actually comes across in his writing style). So I have no problem considering his views. Plus, read the article yourself: http://www.chayas.com/AntiRAMBAM.pdf and then tell me whether the Ramban was a legitimate “baal hamesorah” or an innovator.

  66. What it comes down to is one’s stance on the kabel es ha-emes idea in practice. It is a pity that mainstream Orthodoxy opposes it, but even so it’s worth considering that in all likelihood all of us have heard the praises of people because they accept the truth &c. but have never heard someone praised specifically for not doing it. I think instinctively everyone realizes the superiority of pursuing the truth rather than not.

  67. Jerry: Thank you. I actually own Noam’s edition, but it is currently an ocean away from me.

    By the way, I am personally acquainted with Danny Schwartz, professor of Second Temple history at Hebrew U. and editor of II Maccabees and Life of Josephus in that series. I am sure Steve would dismiss him in the language he uses above- language I will not repeat- but he is a wonderful teacher and person, and gabbai at my early AM Shabbat minyan. I’ve said this before, but it is my “scholar” teachers at YU, R’ Leiman (another “scholar,” horrors!), and the many religious “scholars” who abound in Israel who’ve played a big part in keeping me on the straight and narrow. Those who would insult them do not come to their toes in Torah or Wissenschaft.

  68. Steve: “long before any Copernican-Galileo dispute”

    What does Copernicus have to do with the Creation narrative? Try Plato and Aristotle, which presents you with a problem.

    As for Chazal, where do you see Chazal arguing that Ma’aseh Bereishis is not literal? I see many Rishonim – affected by Platonic and Aristotelian thinking – denying the literal interpretation. But that only proves my point.

    Steve: “R Nevenzal’s excellent volume 1 on Shabbos merely restates the hashkafic basis of Shmiras Shabbos”

    What are you the Wizard of Oz, trying to deny what anyone here can look up and see with their own eyes? Are you denying that Rav Nebenzahl explicitly condemns those who believe the scientific narrative of the origins of the world as opposed to the Torah’s narrative? Are you denying that Rav Nebenzahl advances specific arguments against “scientists” and their conclusions? If you persist in obfuscating the truth, I’ll simply provide page references and, if necessary, direct quotes, and then everyone can see for themselves.

    Steve: “See R d d Berger’s article on this issue, which I posted previously.”

    I realize that you’re attempting to hide behind Dr. Berger’s (embarrassingly flimsy) arguments because you’re completely unfamiliar with virtually every source pertinent to this issue, and you therefore lack the intellectual ability to argue with me. But since I doubt that you have actually read any of the source material required to understand his apologetic argument, I would like you to actually DETAIL why you think I’m wrong – and bear in mind that over the course of this thread (whether you are aware of it or not) I, and others, have responded to almost the entire sum total of Dr. Berger’s argument, and I expect you to take that into account.

    As for siding with Chazal in the absence of other evidence, that’s all well and good – and I would take the same approach – but, as I, and others, have demonstrated tirelessly on this thread, there is a MOUND of evidence to the contrary. I realize that you haven’t read any of it – much lest understood it – but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist (unless you think that’s how evidence works…).

  69. Nachum: “Thank you. I actually own Noam’s edition, but it is currently an ocean away from me.”

    Been there, amigo 🙂

    As for Professor Schwartz, I’m glad to hear that (and I’m a bit jealous of course!). I just read a wonderful review article that he wrote in Classical Philology (2001). It was entitled something like “How at Home were Jews in the Diaspora?” Really top notch stuff!

  70. S: I guess then you give zero credence to the yeshivish position that the Ramban’s presentation of aggadta in the dispute was made under pressure, and was essentially dissembling on his part?

    I do give it zero credence but regardless I don’t see it as similar. There’s a difference between saying something for political reasons and distorting a debate beyond recognition.

    Also, who said it would be a moral failing if – IF – he had written a more fictionalized account?

    I can’t see it any other way.

    Do we judge the Rambam as morally lacking because of some of the arrogant positions he seems to take, refraining from giving sources and so forth?

    It’s pretty hard to judge what tone was appropriate from centuries later.

    And “religiously objectionable?” Can there really be something “religiously objectionable” one way or another about someone who lived in the 13th century? At what point does this stop? Are their people living whom it is objectionable on religious grounds to say something about?

    Of course! Lashon hara is not allowed.

    MDJ: You sound exactly like an anti-Slifikinite. “What he wrote can’t be true because it would imply something negative about a gadol/chazal” You do realize that, Berger’s response notwithstanding, Chazen may actually be _right_ as a matter of historical fact, and that there may be evidence to be found about this, or simply a reasonable judgement that Chazen has the better argument.

    Is that the ultimate insult now, anti-Slifkinite? Is there a new law that all religious discussions must end in a Slifkin reference?

    This is not really about the Ramban or Prof. Chazan. This is about how we view history. Do we give our tradition the benefit of the doubt or look at everything with a clean slate and no a priori biases? I am a biased observer but I am willing to look.

    Michal Makovi: I find it perfectly plausible that RambaN was prevented from saying certain things, but wrote his account based on what he would have said, had he been allowed.

    I find that the least plausible of all suggestions.

    Steve mcqueen: If we can find instances when respectable religious figures of the present day, or respectable religious publishing houses, have deliberately suppressed historical truth for other reasons, does that make these people dishonest or religiously objectionable?

    Not every rabbi, even famous one, are on the same level. The Ramban is one of the unique figures in history. He is a pillar of Judaism.

    Joel Rich: did he question it(e.g. “given my understanding of the time period it seems unlikely the event would happen as reported,all other things being equal”) or did he conclude that the Ramban deliberately misrepresented what happened?

    He did not use the terms misrepresent or lie but it’s hard to escape that conclusion given that the Ramban added in entire arguments that never happened.

    Jerry: Gil, I’m also curious whether or not you think Shnayer Leiman should be accused of heresy on account of this article

    First of all, R. Yudl Rosenberg was not among the great rabbis of his age and certainly was nowhere near the stature of the Ramban. Second, he labeled the book fiction but everyone ignored the label.

    Re Chanukah and the oil: See this post: http://hirhurim.blogspot.com/2006/11/human-initiative-and-divine-providence.html
    I am simply stunned when Orthodox Jews deny the miracle of the oil. Does our religious tradition mean so little to you?

    Shlomo: Gil says that lying in this situation was incompatible with piety. If the evidence shows that the Ramban lied, then he apparently held otherwise.

    What evidence do you mean?

    phin: Have you read Rabbi Jose Faur’s impugnation of the Ramban in his “Anti-Maimonideans and Their Deamons” essay? He shows that the Ramban was far from an honest man, and in fact a twister of the mesorah who subtly introduced Christianity into Judaism.

    Let me get this straight. You try to prove that Orthodox academics hold that the Ramban was non-traditional by quoting a JTS professor who was denounced as a heretic by many famous rabbis? That’s your proof. Are you serious?

  71. Phin-I read the article as well as a bio of R Faur on Wikipedia. I would hardly consider R Faur whose views would be considered mainstream.

  72. GS

    >There’s a difference between saying something for political reasons and distorting a debate beyond recognition.

    There’s a difference between any two things which are not identical. Is there a significant difference here?

    >It’s pretty hard to judge what tone was appropriate from centuries later.

    His contemporaries felt he was arrogant in omitting sources. Is it hard for us to agree?

    >Of course! Lashon hara is not allowed.

    The introduction to MOAG – which you yourself once posted on your site – gave RYK’s view that passage of a yovel is sufficient time to discuss people.

  73. Jerry-I have R Nevenzal’s Volume 1 open and I think that all can be gleaned from the initial essay is that since Hashem rested on the seventh day, so do we, regardless of scientific protests to the contrary about the nature of creation.

    You also wrote:

    I realize that you’re attempting to hide behind Dr. Berger’s (embarrassingly flimsy) arguments because you’re completely unfamiliar with virtually every source pertinent to this issue, and you therefore lack the intellectual ability to argue with me. But since I doubt that you have actually read any of the source material required to understand his apologetic argument, I would like you to actually DETAIL why you think I’m wrong – and bear in mind that over the course of this thread (whether you are aware of it or not) I, and others, have responded to almost the entire sum total of Dr. Berger’s argument, and I expect you to take that into account.

    As for siding with Chazal in the absence of other evidence, that’s all well and good – and I would take the same approach – but, as I, and others, have demonstrated tirelessly on this thread, there is a MOUND of evidence to the contrary. I realize that you haven’t read any of it – much lest understood it – but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist (unless you think that’s how evidence works…).

    1) R D Berger’s article re Channukah is available on this blog in the back issues of the Parsha Roundup as well as the archives> That is the article that I have been referring to and rely on in this discussion.

    2)When Mesorah and “evidence” are in conflict, I choose Mesorah. Based upon your prior posts on more than a few subjects, I would bet that whenever Mesorah and evidence are in conflict, that you invariably opt for “evidence”, despite that any good attorney will tell you that evidence is what an attorney decides to use and present to a finder of fact or a court, as opposed to the proof and weaknesses in his or her case that will reveal the lack of merit in a case. The notion that “evidence” as presented by a scholar whose bias cannot be denied is inherently objective was recently demonstrated in the discussion as to the junk science nature of the basis of the mass hysteria known as “global warming”.I would certainly apply that caveat to secular scholars whose loyalties to the Mesorah are dubious or worse.

  74. R Gil wrote in part:

    “Re Chanukah and the oil: See this post: http://hirhurim.blogspot.com/2006/11/human-initiative-and-divine-providence.html
    I am simply stunned when Orthodox Jews deny the miracle of the oil. Does our religious tradition mean so little to you?”

    I share his view as well as that of R D D Berger as well. It is obvious that many of the responses to this and related issues are a prima facie illustration of what Rashi describes when he describes Ketanei Emunah in Parshas Noach and in Parshas Bchukosai as to the descent that one reaches when one rejects Mesorah.

  75. As I predicted, those who have “problems” with the historicity of the Nes Pach Shemen were the same who jumped on the bandwagon as to the veracity of Ramban’s recollection of the disputation in Bareclona. How utterly predictable.

  76. Gil: “First of all, R. Yudl Rosenberg was not among the great rabbis of his age and certainly was nowhere near the stature of the Ramban. Second, he labeled the book fiction but everyone ignored the label.”

    Ah, so as long as you’re not a “great” rabbi…

    And as for labeling the book fiction: I read the article just like you did, and we both know that, as Dr. Leiman writes, a) a literary hint that “may have been alerting the readers” that it was fiction is not “labeling it fiction,” and b) Dr. Leiman is QUITE clear that R. Yudl might be held morally culpable on this score, but justifies him on other grounds (which I accept, and parallel what I would say for the Ramban!).

    Gil: “Re Chanukah and the oil: See this post: http://hirhurim.blogspot.com/2006/11/human-initiative-and-divine-providence.html

    A more disappointing example of embarrassing argumentation and flimsy apologetics I never did see.

    Gil: “I am simply stunned when Orthodox Jews deny the miracle of the oil. Does our religious tradition mean so little to you?”

    I don’t mean to “stun” you, but when you’re through with the melodramatics, perhaps you can actually engage the evidence. And recall that you don’t need to merely address works like Josephus and 1 and 2 Maccabees (although in a normal world, those would be the most stark pieces of evidence), but also Megillas Ta’anis (which the Bavli itself takes very seriously) and the paytanim of Eretz Yisrael (many of whose works are still part of our liturgy today), neither of whom mention it.

    As I said to Steve, I’m glad to go with the default position of siding with Chazal all things being equal, but not when there is so much evidence to the contrary. When a certain position requires you, Steve and otherwise sensible scholars like David Berger to apologize away close to 7 centuries (or more, including paytanim) of clear evidence, then you have a major problem.

  77. “I am simply stunned when Orthodox Jews deny the miracle of the oil. Does our religious tradition mean so little to you?”

    The problem is that the oil miracle is impossible and the questions about its late arrival in any sources is difficult – it’s hard to credit it as even an old tradition. Furthermore, it’s three lines in the Gemara stuck in the middle of another discussion, and hardly a pillar of our tradition.

    Unless you mean to deny it publicly, as opposed to privately disbelieving?

  78. Jerry: I apologize if I remembered the article imprecisely. Regardless, R. Yudl is not someone who will be remembered in 100 years. Actually, he’s only remembered now because of the Maharal.

    I give a lot of credit to people who light Chanukah candles even though they don’t believe in the event. They are willing to act as if they believed because the culture means something to them.

  79. Guest: Nu, so there are historical problems about its documentation. Maybe someday we’ll find out why the story was omitted. Are there really no possibilities?

  80. Steve: “since Hashem rested on the seventh day, so do we, regardless of scientific protests to the contrary about the nature of creation.”

    Anyone here is welcome to read the first three essays and see for themselves that you are lying.

    In fact this doesn’t even make sense. Why would anything the scientists tell us impact whether we REST on the seventh day. It only impacts whether we believe that Shabbos is the 7th day of Creation. He says that anyone who doesn’t believe that the world was literally created in 7 days is close to a heretic.

    As I said, anyone on this thread is welcome to open the volume and see that Steve is not telling the truth.

    Steve: “R D Berger’s article re Channukah is available on this blog in the back issues of the Parsha Roundup as well as the archives”

    As I suspected. You truly don’t understand any of what’s going on do you? You just parrot whatever it is you think David Berger concludes.

    Fine. I’ve laid out in detail the arguments for my position, and you have responded with precisely nothing. I’ll let the readers decide.

    Steve: “When Mesorah and “evidence” are in conflict, I choose Mesorah.”

    And you reject Megillas Ta’anis and the paytanim of Eretz Yisrael – those famous koferim whose piyyutim are still in our liturgy to this day, am I right?

    In any event, I’m glad that you have conceded that you have no good arguments against the evidence at all. Unfortunately for you, all of the Rishonim who disagreed with Chazal and the “Mesorah” that Maaseh Bereishis occurred literally (as no one ever doubted prior to philosophical/scientific critiques requiring us to believe otherwise) were indeed willing to accept evidence over “Mesorah” when the latter became untenable.

    They were taking my position: be circumspect and humble in evaluating the evidence, and side with Mesorah unless compelled to do otherwise. But once compelled otherwise, be mature.

  81. Gil writes:

    “I can’t see it any other way.”

    and then he writes:

    “It’s pretty hard to judge what tone was appropriate from centuries later.”

    Gil, I hope you realize that your second statement is a perfect answer to your first dilemma. (No to mention, as has been pointed out, that the Rambam’s contemporaries certainly felt that way.)

    “I give a lot of credit to people who light Chanukah candles even though they don’t believe in the event. They are willing to act as if they believed because the culture means something to them.”

    What a horrid thing to say. Maybe we light them because we believ (as most sources say) that the reasons for lighting them have nothing to do with a miracle? Josephus and (l’havdil) Beit Hillel and Beit Shamai all lit them without referencing a miracle.

  82. Gil: “I apologize if I remembered the article imprecisely.”

    No worries. Happens to me all the time (probably has happened on this thread).

    Gil: “Actually, he’s only remembered now because of the Maharal.”

    That’s precisely the point. It is one of the famous popular stories to come out of that time period (and is quoted by numerous distinguished talmidei chachamim as Dr. Leiman notes), and as such is quite significant.

    In any case, I find it difficult to accept this arbitrary line demarcating who is and is not eligible to be questioned. How about the Ritva? The Re’ah? The Hagahos Maimuniyos? Rav Herzog? Rav Kook? Rav Schachter? Rav Sobolofsky? At what point are you far enough removed from the Ramban that it becomes okay to call you a liar (even though I am QUITE certain that this is not what Chazan is doing)? And for the purpose of keeping this discussion moving, let’s assume no one will be called a liar during his lifetime – only afterward by scholars like Drs. Chazan and Leiman.

  83. Gil: “I give a lot of credit to people who light Chanukah candles even though they don’t believe in the event.”

    I stick Hillel HaZaken (and possibly pretty much all Eretz Yisrael talmudic figures) into this category.

    Gil: “They are willing to act as if they believed because the culture means something to them.”

    No. Chanukkah was clearly a festival of “Lights” long before the Bavli’s pach shemen story. Indeed, they light candles for the reasons given in Megillas Taanis (and implied in tannaitic literature (and Josephus)). In other words, they celebrate the holiday the way it was meant to be celebrated, and was celebrated by Chazal outside of the Bavli – by lighting candles in order joyously to commemorate the restoration and re-dedication of Beis Kodsheinu during the Yemei HaChashmonaim, and the attendant rejection of foul Hellenistic impositions on our religion.

    Stop trying to make these people into orthoprax nebuchs.

  84. “Nu, so there are historical problems about its documentation. Maybe someday we’ll find out why the story was omitted. Are there really no possibilities?”

    …Or it never happened. Are there really no possibilities?

    Look, if you find anything in the 7 centuries between the Hasmonean Revolt and the Bavli, let us know.

  85. “Nu, so there are historical problems about its documentation. Maybe someday we’ll find out why the story was omitted. Are there really no possibilities?”

    Maybe someday we’ll find out that Dina married Iyov, but until then do we have to believe it?

  86. [Side Note: R. Gil, please remove the trackback linking to my blog (QED) from earlier in this discussion. It was born of a post I later regretted having written and subsequently erased. Thanks, aiwac]

    If I may interject in this rather spirited debate:

    We can debate whether or not the “8 day 1-day oil container miracle happened”, for sure. But I disagree that the lighting of the menorah is based on thin air. Surely the rededication of the Beit Mikdash post-purification after a period of defilement is reason enough to celebrate (including the restarting of the menorah lights)? Even if it was started later, that still doesn’t mean it’s made of whole cloth (zecher lamikdash, anyone?).

    This reminds me of the time when I studied the halachot of negelwasser with my chavruta. A thorough study of Beit Yosef showed that there were a number of disparate traditions and reasons for the practice. This led me to believe that it was a “bottom-up” phenomenon brought on by “ritual instinct”, much like the “purity explosion” in the Hasmonean period. This only INCREASED my respect for the practice (even though a clear reason couldn’t be found). I would say the same here, except w/Channuka we have a clear rationale irrespective of any “8-day miracle”.

    Anyway, just my two cents.

    aiwac

  87. I will confess to not having read either Chazan’s or Berger’s article in its entirety. From the little I hav read, both have valid points. However, there are two issues that I find with R Gil Student’s initial response.
    One is a more generic issue of, in historical studies – are we expected to assume our leaders were perfect? That is
    However, a greater problem is that even assuming that Chazan is 100% correct that the version by the ramban of the debate is incorrect and does not reflect what actually happened – this does not necessarily imply a moral failing While this would be true if the ramban was a modern academic, it is not at all clear to me (and I would defer to David Berger and Chazan on this) that the ramban, writing in 13th century spain, had the same attitude towards literal truth in issues such as this as we do – and that either he or his audience would have expected a literal account (RJJ Schachter and Marc Shapiro have both written on attitudes towards historical truth in rabbinic literature, and there is also a well known essay of Rav Schwab) Therefore, while Gil feels chazan slanders the ramban – I don’t know whether either the ramban or his contemporaries would have viewed it as a moral failing….

    Therefore, the real problem is assuming the ramban shared our values – and judging reality by assuming he conformed to them…

  88. Nothing should really surprise me about the willingness of generally intelligent people to express strongly worded opinions on blogs when a moment’s thought would make them realize that they simply don’t have the information necessary to reach a judgment. After his summary of some of my arguments intended to counter the assertion that Nahmanides could not possibly have said certain things in the disputation, Gil wrote, “Dr. Berger offers more arguments, too complicated to allow for brief summarization.” This refers to my central argument, which does not appear in the earlier scholarly literature and which in my view provides compelling evidence that the Ramban did not make false assertions about proffering arguments that other scholars deny he could have made. Neither Jerry, who refers to my “sniveling apologetics,” nor Mechy Frankel, who refers to “the insubstantial and unconvincing nature of these Berger ripostes,” knows the context of those ripostes, nor do they know the core argument that I make—and they know that they do not know these things. But the yetzer ho-ro to write a comment is apparently irresistible. I am tempted to say something that I realize is truly absurd in the blog environment: It may be a good idea to read an article before you comment on it in a public forum.
    As to the original posting, I hope that Gil was not suggesting that I should have refrained from providing arguments to defend the Ramban’s veracity. Many if not most scholars believe that the Ramban made false assertions about what he said in his disputation even though he wrote that he was presenting the content of the disputation as accurately as he could. (“This is the substance of all the debates. In my opinion, I have changed nothing in them.”) If I think that I have an argument defending his veracity, I surely should not suppress it.

  89. R. Gil-
    “Let me get this straight. You try to prove that Orthodox academics hold that the Ramban was non-traditional by quoting a JTS professor who was denounced as a heretic by many famous rabbis? That’s your proof. Are you serious?”
    I never tried to prove that Orthodox academics believe this! Just that it is quite possible. For the record, anyway, on R. Faur:

    1. He is no longer a JTS professor and left after they started admitting women.
    2. His gig at JTS does not render him untrustworthy, unless there is a trend among JTS professors (more so than other academics) towards declaring Rishonim non-traditional.
    3. I think we all know the value (none) of being “denounced as a heretic by many famous rabbis.” I can hardly believe you even bring this up.
    4. R. Mordechai Eliyahu and R. Kassin both attested to R. Faur’s kashrut. Wikipedia discusses some kind of political fracas in regards to this but I think we can reasonably ignore any rabbinical pronouncements in this regard in light of the last five years of rabbinical pronouncement history.

  90. “I am tempted to say something that I realize is truly absurd in the blog environment: It may be a good idea to read an article before you comment on it in a public forum.”

    Or write a post about it, right? Gil didn’t read Chazan, but based his post on your summary of him.

  91. Dr. Berger: “But the yetzer ho-ro to write a comment is apparently irresistible.”

    Even, apparently, for graduate school deans. It strikes me that a blog comment is a singularly inappropriate forum for a lecture about the evil of blog comments.

    Dr. Berger: “Neither Jerry, who refers to my “sniveling apologetics,” nor Mechy Frankel, who refers to “the insubstantial and unconvincing nature of these Berger ripostes,” knows the context of those ripostes, nor do they know the core argument that I make—and they know that they do not know these things.”

    I assume “context” and “core argument” to which you refer can be found in your review article “The Barcelona Disputation” in AJS Review 20:2 (1995)?

    If so, what makes you think that I didn’t read it (or that the same is true of anyone else here)? Is it that we disagree with you? Is it that you can’t possibly imagine that the blog commenters whom you so disdain (and whose literary device of choice you have nonetheless adopted) could possibly have read a scholarly article?

    Whichever, I resent the assertion. I still have on my shelf the AJS volume in which that article appears – also containing an interesting piece by Jonathan Klawans on gentile impurity – and I have read your article many times.

    The fact is that I simply don’t agree with your central thesis in “The Barcelona Disputation.” I don’t agree with the characterization of the king as a jousting spectator. I don’t think it would have been that “chutzpadik” (although I appreciated the bloodthirsty orphan quip!) for the freedom of speech plea to refer exclusively to the written work, especially since you agree with Chazan that this was the primary motivation for the “vituperation” charge. I could go on, but this is not the place – the issue at hand, after all, is Gil’s post, not your article.

    I suppose it would be fair to say that some of the comments about your article (including my own) were inappropriately ad hominem – and for that I apologize (as should we all), although I still find Chazan’s presentation convincing.

    In our defense, I think the harsh comments were motivated less (if at all) by anything you wrote or said, than by the method in, and the purpose to which Gil deployed your arguments – both of which I find distasteful.

  92. lawrence ka[plan

    With reference to David Berger’s article on Hanukah, it should be noted that it was not intended as as a scholarly article. Indeed, its subtitle was “A Hanukah Sermon.”

  93. With regard to the Barcelona Disputation article, I definitely think the paragraph on p. 386 (“None of this means…”) would be accepted by everyone here.

  94. S: There’s a difference between any two things which are not identical. Is there a significant difference here?

    One is a tactic within a debate, directed at antagonists. The other is a tactic in free publication, directed at coreligionists.

    The introduction to MOAG – which you yourself once posted on your site – gave RYK’s view that passage of a yovel is sufficient time to discuss people.

    He specifically says that it is permissible to tell stories — not speculate — only when there is a tachlis. He does not include historical precision as a tachlis.

    Jerry: How can you treat the Talmud Bavli like it’s chopped liver? The fact that Hillel and Shammai aren’t recorded as mentioning the pach shemen doesn’t mean that they didn’t accept it as historical fact.

    Phin: I deserve criticism, although I based myself on Dr. Berger’s detailed description of Prof. Chazan’s book as published in a peer-reviewed journal. Others based themselves on an explicitly incomplete description of Dr. Berger’s article from a blog post.

  95. Gil: “How can you treat the Talmud Bavli like it’s chopped liver?”

    I’m treating it like exactly what it is: a 6th century CE composition. (I’m also treating Hillel HaZaken with a sight more respect than you, but that’s beside the point).

    You’re conflating two perspectives on the Bavli. 1) The Bavli is THE authoritative text on halacha; we can compare it to the Yerushalmi and dissect it however we want, but the bottom line is that the Bavli is the center of our world in this regard. 2) The Bavli is a source of historical information on Second Temple/late antique Judaism filtered through the perspective of 6th century CE editors (but containing attributed material that may date to an earlier period).

    My point is that there is no intrinsic relationship between the first perspective on the Bavli and the second (with the possible exception of ‘ikkarei emunah, which are not at stake here). I would never, chas v’shalom, treat the Bavli as anything other than authoritative when it comes to halacha. But when it comes to writing history and attempting to determine straightforward historical fact, the Bavli NEEDS to be viewed as no more and no less than what it is: a 6th century witness.

    Furthermore, I’ve always understood it to be a staple of modern orthodox (bad term, but can’t think of a better) thinking about the relationship between Chazal and history/science, etc. that Chazal are not necessarily interested in writing a history book/science textbook. They are writing a theologically, legally important corpus. Given this, I just cannot fathom why you are insisting on pushing this.

  96. >One is a tactic within a debate, directed at antagonists. The other is a tactic in free publication, directed at coreligionists.

    Both are in the same record of the debate, the same free publication, etc.

    >He specifically says that it is permissible to tell stories — not speculate — only when there is a tachlis. He does not include historical precision as a tachlis.

    It wouldn’t take a whole lot to use the Tachlis Clause here, or in almost any discussion about anything which ever happened, really. This isn’t a discussion of a chatty anecdote – which, by the way, is what MOAG is almost entirely composed of, evidently with the author believing that he conformed to his father’s prescription.

  97. To Jerry—
    I see that you did read the article and appreciate your apology for the tone of your remarks. You effectively assert the following: (I apologize to readers who do not know the background of this argument.) You understand perfectly well how the Ramban could have defended himself against a charge that his written work was insulting to Christianity by referring to a grant of freedom of speech given to him by the king at the oral disputation. This is so despite the fact that the statements at issue in the written work were never said at the disputation. The Ramban added these insulting statements, falsely asserted that they were said at the disputation, and then told the king that he should not be punished for writing them because he was granted freedom of speech at the oral disputation. And this absurd argument was actually accepted by the king, who ruled that for this reason, the Ramban should indeed not be punished.
    I do not understand this position at all, and I think I can be excused for assuming that someone who characterized my arguments in the article as sniveling apologetics was referring only to the arguments cited by Gil, which were not intended to demonstrate the likelihood that the Ramban’s account is accurate but were directed only against the assertion that it is impossible that he said what he reports that he said. I did not imagine that a person who read the argument that I just summarized—even if for some reason he was unpersuaded by it—would refer to my sniveling apologetics without making the slightest reference to the existence of a substantive argument.
    The comment that one who writes a comment to a blog complaining about the irresponsibility that is rife in the genre is guilty of impropriety or inconsistency is rhetorically satisfying, but I doubt that you would seriously argue that it has any validity.

  98. Dr. Berger: “You understand perfectly well how the Ramban could have defended himself against a charge that his written work was insulting to Christianity by referring to a grant of freedom of speech given to him by the king at the oral disputation. This is so despite the fact that the statements at issue in the written work were never said at the disputation.”

    Why does one have to assume that the grant was utilized identically at both the disputation and in the written work? Your reconstruction in the article of a friendly, collegial Ramban blunting the sharpness of his remarks with a smile can easily cut both ways here. The Ramban – sharp debater that he was and, if his other writings are any indication, a man acutely intolerant of poor argumentation – might not have felt so comfortable testing the limits in an oral context, faced physically by a hostile opponent and crowd, as he did in a written context. Perhaps once he got home – much like George Costanza (l’havdil obviously) on the way back from a Yankees executive meeting – he realized what he “should have” said (especially since he had a grant of free speech evidently still in effect) and wrote that down.

    Obviously this is merely conjecture, but might not the same be true of your own reconstruction of the tone of the event? In general the review article seemed to me to rely a bit much on suggestive re-imaginings of what took place – how the Ramban spoke; how the king felt – to seem plausible to me. I characterized this in my own mind as apologetics, but I could be wrong.

    Dr. Berger: “I think I can be excused for assuming that someone who characterized my arguments in the article as sniveling apologetics was referring only to the arguments cited by Gil”

    I apologized for this already (actually, I am a big Mickey Mantle fan, but Lord knows over the years, as a frustrated fan, I’ve said plenty of things about him that I would never say to his face). I understand why you might have thought what you thought. But now that you know that you are wrong about this, I don’t see any need to proceed further.

    In fact, you seem to imply here that no one but a dunce would fail to be convinced by your critique of Chazan. I am not convinced by your critique of Chazan. So either I am a dunce, or this evaluation is incorrect.

    Dr. Berger: “The comment that one who writes a comment to a blog complaining about the irresponsibility that is rife in the genre is guilty of impropriety or inconsistency is rhetorically satisfying, but I doubt that you would seriously argue that it has any validity.”

    Yet here you are, arguing with someone in a blog comments section, essentially calling me an idiot for failing to agree with your expressed opinion.

  99. Gil,
    I didn’t simply throw out “anti-slikinite” as an insult. I explained _exactly_ what I meant by it and why it was directly relevant to the context at hand. Dismissing my comments with a new version of Godwin’s law is not a response. Sadly, I have found that of late this is often your tendency.

  100. Steve,
    You dismiss evidence so blithely. Tell me, what is your evidence for your Mesorah?

  101. MDJ: I dismissed your insult because it is totally removed from my post, in which I wrote: “It is inappropriate to impugn his honesty based on speculation centuries later. Good questions do not give us the right to draw bad conclusions.”and “We need to recognize that historical speculation is inherently inconclusive and cannot serve as a tool to delegitimize, even slightly, traditional beliefs.”

    That has no relation to anti-Slifkin arguments. Sadly, I’ve noticed that lately people will invoke R. Slifkin any time they wish to reject a Talmudic or even post-Talmudic consensus, distorting the conflict for their own purposes.

  102. Gil,
    It is relevant because you dismissed (it would appear) hisotricla scholarship in the same way that anti-slifkinites dismiss science. You say “historical _speculation_” they say “scientific _theories_”. You dismissed his conclusions as “bad” without even reading him. The is just as anti-intellectual, and in much the same way, as those who dismiss science not because they understand it, but because it is against our mesorah. As for invoking Slifikin to end arguments, I certainly have not noticed it here or on other blogs, and have not and would not do so myself. That is why the “charge” is followed by an explanation of the problem.

  103. By the way, in addition to commemorating the rededication of the Mikdash and Menorah, there are two very good reasons given as to why we light lights on Chanukkah:

    1. As is made clear in both books of Maccabees, the eight day Chanukkah was established as a replacement Sukkot, which has eight days. (Well, seven plus one, but it’s the same idea.) Indeed, possibly without even knowing of this, Chazal and later authorities have listed numerous relationships between the two holidays. (Bet Shammai’s decreasing number of lights is a famous one.) And what was a prominent part of Sukkot celebrations? The lighting of the huge lamps in the Ezrat Nashim. So too do we.

    2. Tanach is full of eight-day dedications of holy places- Moshe, Shlomo, Chizkiyahu, Nechemiah. It’s very likely the Chashmonaim had this in mind. In each of the older examples (or almost all), (miraculous) fire plays a major part. So too here.

  104. Of course, I sympathize with Gil. He’s much more in the public eye than most of us, and the last thing he needs is some kannai screaming about how the famous Gil Student denies the nes of Chanukkah. 🙂

  105. By the way, this allows for a nice interpretation of “hidliku nerot b’CHATZROT kadshecha.”

  106. I’m surprised no one has brought up R. Yoel Bin-Nun’s classic article on Hanukah (Megadim 12), where (without explicitly denying the historicity of the oil miracle) he brings the relevant versions, as well as some other conjectures how Hanukah became a time to light oil lamps. See http://www.herzog.ac.il/tvunot/fulltext/mega12_ybn.pdf. Not exactly strict scholarship, but very well-founded.

    I also have to say that most yere shamayim academics I know (at least in Israel) teach the oil miracle in post-HS settings as nonhistorical. As has already been mentioned here, there is ample reason to celebrate the rededication of the temple with lighting candles.

    It should also be stresed that MT does not just omit the oil story, but also seems to provide an alternative. I think that is much more compelling than just “lack of evidence”.

  107. Jerry-we disagree, but I have never accused you of lying and please donot accuse me or anyone else who does not share you POV as lying inasmuch the same is indicative of some sort of desperation on your part that not everyone shares your POV. I have read and reread R D Berger’s article and see no reason to regurgitate its tenor and conclusions when the same is easily available for any interested reader.

  108. MDJ wrote:
    “You dismiss evidence so blithely. Tell me, what is your evidence for your Mesorah?”

    To start with-Shaal Avicha Vyadecha.

    Then See RHS’s article as well as the other articles in the latest JA.

  109. Jerry wrote:
    What are you the Wizard of Oz, trying to deny what anyone here can look up and see with their own eyes? Are you denying that Rav Nebenzahl explicitly condemns those who believe the scientific narrative of the origins of the world as opposed to the Torah’s narrative? Are you denying that Rav Nebenzahl advances specific arguments against “scientists” and their conclusions? If you persist in obfuscating the truth, I’ll simply provide page references and, if necessary, direct quotes, and then everyone can see for themselves.”

    R Nevenzal criticized those who would use scientific arguments as as a means of “disproving” Maaseh Breishis. That is hardly unique or novel.

  110. MDJ-upon what evidence other than Mesorah do you accept the facts that the Avos and Imahos lived and are relevant to our lives as well as Yetzias Mitzrayim, Maamad Har Sinai, Kabalas HaTorah and the 40 year sojourn in the desert?

  111. MDJ-on what basis other than Mesorah do you accept the descriptions of the lives of the Avos and Imahos, the Shevatim, Yetzias Mitzrayim, Maamad Har Sinai, Chet HaEgel, Chet HaMeraglim and the 40 year sojourn in the desert?

  112. Anyone who reads R Nevenzal carefully will see that his Sicha is warning the listener never to substitute science and scientism as a substitute for a belief in Maaseh Breishis, however Maaseh Breishis is explained by Chazal and Mfarshim.

  113. MDJ-anyone who accepts “evidence” of any sort blindly is IMO a person who lacks an ability to realize that “evidence” is essentially advocacy for a POV.

  114. steve -“anyone who accepts “evidence” of any sort blindly is IMO a person who lacks an ability to realize that “evidence” is essentially advocacy for a POV”

    whay do you insist that when others look at evidence – its blindly .. when they come to other conclusions than you – its all based on a pov that is negative. why can’t you accept that some religious folks will look at archaeology,outside of judaism writings, non canonical writings and other evidence/sources (as well as traditional sources) and will come to non-traditional conclusions because they do not eliminate all possibilities BEFORE they look at the material. i think religious people can handle the truth wherever it may go. we all recognized that all evidence is not equal and there are assumptions (logical hopefully) being made – may i remind you that science too is all based on assumptions as well not hard facts (even for the hard sciences) [read some karl popper to understand the change in the way science is viewed in the 20th century]

  115. Steve: “R Nevenzal criticized those who would use scientific arguments as as a means of “disproving” Maaseh Breishis.”

    Exactly. Yet that is what presumably everyone on this blog believes. Science has proven that the earth was not created in the manner described in Bereishis. (Which is all well and good because, as I have heard Rabbi Shalom Carmy say, Bereishis is not supposed to be a junior high school biology textbook).

    And yet – even though Yom HaShevi’i is not the weekly anniversary of the completion of creation – we still have no problem saying so in our brachos.

    Steve: “That is hardly unique or novel.”

    My point exactly.

    Steve: “I have read and reread R D Berger’s article and see no reason to regurgitate its tenor and conclusions when the same is easily available for any interested reader.”

    Right. That’s what I thought.

    I think we’ve spent enough time going in circles. I’ve set out my arguments. Feel free to have the last word.

  116. fyi – it seems that this post has garnered some comments elsewhere – another blog;

    http://menachemmendel.net/blog/2010/11/22/whats-this-dispute-about/

    he quotes from Nina Caputo’s Nahmanides in Medieval Catalonia: History, Community, and Messianism

  117. Jerry

    1)RYBS was fond of stating that while science explains the how, religion, and speficically the Torah explains why. Too many of us seem to forget that distinction any time that science enters the religious realm, or worse, in the case of militant atheists, whose knowledge of Torah is less than the average elementary school student.

    2)It is sad and indeed tragic that so many on this blog always view science or post/extra Talmudic realia that trunps the role of Mesorah.

  118. Ruvie wrote:

    “why can’t you accept that some religious folks will look at archaeology,outside of judaism writings, non canonical writings and other evidence/sources (as well as traditional sources) and will come to non-traditional conclusions because they do not eliminate all possibilities BEFORE they look at the material. i think religious people can handle the truth wherever it may go. we all recognized that all evidence is not equal and there are assumptions (logical hopefully) being made – may i remind you that science too is all based on assumptions as well not hard facts (even for the hard sciences) [read some karl popper to understand the change in the way science is viewed in the 20th century]”

    Ruvie-if you read the often quoted coment of the Rambam about accepting the truth, I think that you will see that the Rambam clearly distinguishes between truth in the scientific sense of data aiding one’s understanding of the world and Torah. All of the sources that you mentioned outside the “canon” may be
    of a fascinating historical nature, but they are outside the canon and should never be seen as a substitute for or a basis for an onslaught against Mesorah, especially when presented by someone who views the same as trumping Mesorah, regardless of whether he or she considers themselves personally observant or not.

    Let’s take each variety of non canonical “evidence.” Archaeologists as of this date are engaged in a war as to whether their findings support what is written in Tanach. Whoever edits a critical version of a non canonical text has a bias- he or she may view the same as a supplement in aiding what we already know, correcting a text in wnich mistakes have crept in as in SA:CM or in many Rishonim and Acharonim or as a means to tear down what we accept on Mesorah. That IMO is no different than presenting the “facts” and “documents” that support one’s case while whitewashing and burying in a redweld the facts that would tend to disprove one’s case-a phenomenon that is hardly restricted to lawyers, but in which academics in all fields endulge in until a good reader discovers that the basis of their research.

    As far as science is concerned-we all know about junk science as well the need to suppress contrasting data by the advocates of junk science. Global warming is but one of many examples of junk science accepted Lhavdil like Maamad Har Sinai. Other examples were ZPG, “better red than dead” , etc. That is why resorting to “evidence” outside the so called “canon” neither leads to the “truth”, but rather in so many cases merely buttreses the case of its proponent and his or her predetermined conclusion. My question that I posed to MDJ really should be directed to anyone who uses such “evidence”-do any of you accept Mesorah on any aspec of the Torah?

  119. I don’t expect this to convince anyone who doesn’t already share my perspective:

    Reading this post and these comments reminds me of the Ramban’s comment in Parshat Noach (9:12): It sounds from the pshat that God created the rainbow after the flood, and based on this people have said that this is why the bow looks like it’s aimed upward, rather than downward as though God was taking aim at the world. But we’re forced to take into account what the Greeks have shown about how rainbows are created by the sun’s light hitting moisture in the air, and so we need to reinterpret the pasuk to mean that the rainbow always existed, but now post-flood has a new meaning. (Then the Ramban shows how this fits better with the language of the pasuk anyway.)

    I know not everyone will read this the way I do, but to me it’s a powerful example of moving beyond what we were sure Torah was saying in light of completely external knowledge.

  120. “Global warming is but one of many examples of junk science accepted Lhavdil like Maamad Har Sinai”

    Do you not accept that the world has gradually increased in temperature since around 1850 except for a 20 year period of from 1950-1970?
    It may be a matter of dispute what has cuased the increased temperature but that temperatures have increased in general is not junk science.

  121. steve b – i didn’t know you believe in relativism – i will comment later on your post but when i see you argue with others on this blog it reminds me of a cartoon that recently is making the rounds: Yeshiva guy gives over a vort

    i think this says it all. i also guess you are still into (believing) astrology, angeloolgy, dybbuks et al since that too is part of our mesorah – but the rambam already had discarded all halachot related to them.

  122. Steve

    “Whoever edits a critical version of a non canonical text has a bias”

    Did you really write that?

  123. Steve,
    The point isn’t whether I believe in TMS etc. My point was that you treat evidence as a dirty word. but do you not believe that you have evidence for you claims about your masorah (which, BTW, may be different from mine). One piece of evidence you cite is “she’al avicha…” Fine, but the testimony of your fathers is still evidence. Why do you hold so firmly to this sort of evidence, but distain all other sorts of evidence. I’m sorry if my original post was too subtle, but this was what I was getting at all along.

  124. steve b. – i guess philosophy/metaphysics from non jewish sources was ok for the rambam (didn’t know it was a hard science)…I DO NOT UNDERSTAND “truth in the scientific sense of data” – all data is interpretative. just some interpretations are better than others – what science does not do is eliminate possibilities because we do not like them.

    “outside the “canon” may be
    of a fascinating historical nature, but they are outside the canon and should never be seen as a substitute for or a basis for an onslaught against Mesorah, especially when presented by someone who views the same as trumping Mesorah”

    not fascinating but critical to understanding what really went on during the ages we are discussing. do you rely on a bavli written in the 7th century ce for information before the common era vs sources written within 100 years of the event? do you ignore other information because it is inconvenient? does one have to leave his brain at the door before entering in a discussion in this area? what happens when sources conflict each other in your canon? what happens when it rabbinic writings there are conflicting historical info on the same characters -( see neusner writings on chazal).?nobody is looking for an onslaught on anything here. just what the facts may have been. our canon (bible) and talmud do not tell us how jewish society was in those days. what did jews do and the power structure etc. why are methodologies used in modern and middle ages acceptable but not for earlier times?

    “Whoever edits a critical version of a non canonical text has a bias- he or she may view the same as a supplement in aiding what we already know, correcting a text in wnich mistakes have crept in as in SA” .. i assume that if you do a tzizit check on the man (or woman) to see is they are hashkafic kosher then their research (regardless on how poor it is) is correct or worthwhile reading? i guess then if you agree with the research then of course its brilliant work doesn’t work with folks that can think for themselves but is good for the people who view chumash through the lens of “what the little midrash says”.

    so according to you all academics are charlatans like lawyers. like in any profession, there is good and bad research. to you, anything that question your understanding is bad – how objective of you.

    please in the end define “mesorah” i see the jewish action had an article on it – yet the responders had a hard time giving a cogent answer (haven’t read all of it yet – but disappointed so far).

  125. Ruvie wrote in part:

    “i assume that if you do a tzizit check on the man (or woman) to see is they are hashkafic kosher then their research (regardless on how poor it is) is correct or worthwhile reading? i guess then if you agree with the research then of course its brilliant work doesn’t work with folks that can think for themselves but is good for the people who view chumash through the lens of “what the little midrash says”.

    so according to you all academics are charlatans like lawyers. like in any profession, there is good and bad research. to you, anything that question your understanding is bad – how objective of you”

    1) Yes, I insist on a hashkafic Tzitis check, but I don’t have and don’t plan on ever resorting to the little Midrash says. I am more interested in understanding the Torah through the prism of the Helegie Tanaim, Amoraim and Mfarshim HaKedoshim

    2)One can find good research, bad research , charlatans and academics who stretch their data to suit their preconceived conclusions in academia. Denying that they exist is denial of reality. Here is a simple example. For decades, we were told about the wonderful society being propagated by Mao in China by academics like Jan Myrdal, who was praised by the liberal media, cultural and academic elites in the West. We now know that Mao was one of the greatest mass murderers of the 20th Century. I consider those who praised The Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution as charlatans of the hightest order.

  126. MDJ wrote:

    “The point isn’t whether I believe in TMS etc. My point was that you treat evidence as a dirty word. but do you not believe that you have evidence for you claims about your masorah (which, BTW, may be different from mine). One piece of evidence you cite is “she’al avicha…” Fine, but the testimony of your fathers is still evidence. Why do you hold so firmly to this sort of evidence, but distain all other sorts of evidence. I’m sorry if my original post was too subtle, but this was what I was getting at all along”

    I think that the point that I raised is the issue. The reason why Shaal Avicha is the proof is precisely because it was passed down from generation to generation from rebbe to talmid. As I pointed out last night, all other forms of evidence are essentially forms of advocacy for a POV which either highlighht or minimize all facts, depending on whether they suit the innate perspective of the person presenting the same.

  127. Ruvie wrote:

    “i think this says it all. i also guess you are still into (believing) astrology, angeloolgy, dybbuks et al since that too is part of our mesorah – but the rambam already had discarded all halachot related to them”

    whoever said that astrology, angeloolgy, dybbuks are part of the Mesorah? Yes, Rambam discarded halachos related to them, but see the discussions on this blog re Divine Messengers re Parshas Vayera and the views of Rambam and Ramban. One cannot deny that Melachim, however they are defined in Parshanut, cannot simply be rationalized away.

  128. “whoever said that astrology, angeloolgy, dybbuks are part of the Mesorah?”

    Umm…Angelology: Chazal as demonstrated in innumerable midrashim and sources in the Talmudim, as well as through numerous post-Talmudic kabbalistic sources.

    As for angelology in Chumash: if you think it’s there, then you don’t know what “angelology” means (hint: it does NOT mean “acknowledgment of the existence of angels”). I’ll make you a deal. If you look it up now in the Encyclopedia Judaica and then pretend that you knew what it meant all along, I won’t call you out on it (just this once).

    Astrology: There are a LARGE number of calendrical texts written by major chachamim and their students (including Ba’alei HaTosafos) detailing matters of astrology (weird and wild stuff – and you’ll have to take my word for it, because I know you don’t ever plan on actually reading any of the texts about which you still insist on having an opinion).

    Dybbuks: Seriously? Do I really have to list these?

    Steve, I can’t help but noticing that the defining characteristic for what counts as “mesorah” in your worldview seems to be: Things In Chazal And Rishonim That Steve Feels Comfortable With.

    Anything and everything else is acrobatically explained away (through methods that you commonly ascribe to “academics”).

  129. >Yes, I insist on a hashkafic Tzitis check

    Why?

  130. Steve,
    Do you really not see that the testimony of our ancestors is just evidence, and evidence that is at least as prone to being “mere advocacy” as any of the sorts of evidence you dismiss out of hand?

  131. Jerry-Let’s agree that there are discussions by Chazal re the subjects you mentioned. Do any of them result in a Nafkeh Minah Halacha LMaaseh or they are in the non-Halachic sphere? If the latter is the case, then such writings are fascinating reading for historians, and scholars who are publishing critical editions of the same and illustrate in more one way than one that many Chachamim and Rishonim simply did not have the Rambam’s rational/Aristotelian-based approach to such matters. While I don’t own a EJ, theological speculation re angels and discussion re dybukks, to the extent that the same have no relevance to Halacha, deserve the same approach. Such works may express a particular Hashkafic orientation rooted in some views in Medrashim and Kabalah, but strike me as extraneous to their more significant contributions to the Mesorah of TSBP. AFAIK, we don’t Pasul either Chazal or Rishonim for not following the Rambam’s views on these issues.

    OTOH, please set forth one example of how any of these examples have any practical halachic significance or represent their real contributions to TSBP or presumably in the POV of academics
    ( yawn) influenced their perspectives on Halacha.

  132. MDJ wrote:

    “Steve,
    Do you really not see that the testimony of our ancestors is just evidence, and evidence that is at least as prone to being “mere advocacy” as any of the sorts of evidence you dismiss out of hand?”

    No. I know of no people whose traditions, especially the TSBP, has been transmitted from teacher to student, despite persecutions that were aimed in no small part at the elimination of that source of transmission.

  133. Ruvie wrote:

    “happens when sources conflict each other in your canon? what happens when it rabbinic writings there are conflicting historical info on the same characters -( see neusner writings on chazal”

    Do you regard Neusner as a serious scholar on any subject?

  134. Just curious-I would like either Jerry or Ruvie to answer the following queries-how did the author(s) of Maccabees II view TSBP? How did the authors of Maccabeess view the transmission of TSBP and the rabbinical level enactments that were societal wide chumros, which were not limited solely to the rededication of the Beis HaMikdash without relying on accepted Kulos, but in many other areas of halacha as well in reaction to the Selucid Greek cultural inroads after the Hasmonean revolt and a perceived laxness in halachic observance? Did they support the Hasmoneans as kings despite their being Kohanim,? Can you discuss, what if any reaction, the authors of Maccabees had towards the translation of the Torah into Greek in contrast to the favorable POV of the author of Letter of Aristes?

  135. Steve, you’re making a *massive* category error with that last post. Most of the concepts you mention simply didn’t exist in 164 BCE, and your question assumes as true many points that are, indeed, the basis of the discussion here. When you talk about “relying on accepted kulos,” you’re clearly referring to a post-Talmudic drash on the oil miracle story, for example.

    The first Hasmonean to declare himself king and kohen gadol at the same time (it was the latter which was the problem, according to the Gemara- being a “Nasi” king wasn’t so bad, apparently, even if they were Kohanim) lived after the books were written, by the way.

    Regarding your last question, it might interest you to know that II Maccabees- which is a far more religious book than I Maccabees- was written in Greek, outside of Israel. I Maccabees, far more nationalistic, was written in Hebrew in Israel. (The parallels to today are a bit eerie.)

    In any event, both books are available for free on the Internet, and are readily available in editions of varying quality and cost in many bookstores. There’s nothing keeping you from reading them and answering your own questions. It would be a very appropriate Chanukah activity, in fact. Would you agree?

  136. Steve,
    I give up.

  137. lawrence kaplan

    MDJ: Welcome to the club.

  138. steve b. -” Do you regard Neusner as a serious scholar on any subject?”
    on this subject – history or fiction of stories found in rabbinic writings- yes (please check with others than know more about scholarship but neusner has written 900+ books i think – can’t be scholarly on everything?).
    before neusner scholars as well as religious jews believed that rabbinic stories were reliable historical stories that could be mined for data to reconstruct the jewish historical past. people understood that some accounts may be exaggerated or contradictory but felt there were historical kernels of truth that can be found using discriminating critical analysis. result was scholars cared less about the content of the stories and had to harmonize conflicting and contradictory evidence with a healthy dose of imagination. Neusener can along and demonstrated in a systematic way the flaws of this methos. he and students collected traditions about the sages – chazal – which showed different traditions found in different documents irreconciliably contradicted each other and no methods or criteria to show fact – historical – from fiction. also, later text of the same stories almost always embellished the original stories. this called into questions that these stories had a value for historical purposes. neusner destroyed the old historical method.

    today more of the focus – among scholars -has been on what do these stories tell us about the redactors of the sefarim that they are found in as oppose to actual stories that took place at some time.

  139. steve b. -“angels and discussion re dybukks, to the extent that the same have no relevance to Halacha, deserve the same approach.”

    i pick those topics because they all have halacha l’maseh issues that are codified in the bavli as halachot but we ignore totally. for example, it is assur to say hello or acknowledge someone walking in the street at night for he may be a sheid or dybbuck(i think its a sheid).

  140. steve b.- “The reason why Shaal Avicha is the proof is precisely because it was passed down from generation to generation from rebbe to talmid”

    please prove that this statement. its a nice myth but really. please explain the origins of machlokets and why there are some many… didn’t they just forget. show me some evidence beside a derasha ot seudat sheleisheit vortlacht.
    a mantra doesn’t become a proof no matter how many times you repeat it. at least recognize its faith, belief, or whatever but not proof that your statement is correct and there are no other legitimate views.

  141. steve b – “How did the authors of Maccabeess view the transmission of TSBP and the rabbinical level enactments that were societal wide chumros, which were not limited solely to the rededication of the Beis HaMikdash without relying on accepted Kulos, but in many other areas of halacha as well in reaction to the Selucid Greek cultural inroads after the Hasmonean revolt and a perceived laxness in halachic observance? Did they support the Hasmoneans as kings despite their being Kohanim,? Can you discuss, what if any reaction, the authors of Maccabees had towards the translation of the Torah into Greek in contrast to the favorable POV of the author of Letter of Aristes?”

    we have no idea what the society did in those days. its not like some rabbis decree some chumros and everyone followed. rabbis are post temple identities and did not become a major faction or influence to much later.
    in fact, we really do not know precisely what the hasmoneans’ religious inclinations were. they were champions of torah and the temple but what does mean? the took over the high priest/temple and leadership roles without zadokite or davidic descent. their constant exposure to corpse impurity was a violation of biblical law. they were traditionalist (must be family values) but exact traditions is not known. they certainly differ from the zadokite traditions but upheld “torah”values. they also adapted elements of greek culture but remained distinctively judean. they also “converted”” or counted vast amount of non- judean palestinians as jews. when they conquered new territory they did mass conversions.

    to repeat there are no known rabbis in existence at this point. we do not know what traditions were handed down (tspb) and what weren’t.

  142. my posts above are summaries/paraphrases of certain books i have read. since i am an am haaretz there may be mistakes in some of the statements…

  143. Prof. Kaplan,
    I am a long standing member of the club. I was just paying my annual dues.

  144. mdj – i hear and feel your pain/frustrations. thats why i posted the cartoon: yeshiva guy says over a vort. i feel like steve b. is the guy in the cartoon. or at least as exasperating to have a conversation with. foolishly, i try to answer his questions and i am hoping for some classic steve b.

  145. Steve: “Do any of them result in a Nafkeh Minah Halacha LMaaseh or they are in the non-Halachic sphere?”

    Of course. What do you do with your cuticle clippings? Do you travel out of doors at night? Do you kill bugs? The list goes on and on of course – demonology in Chazal is a completely practical science. I’m actually surprised you even asked the question….

    And besides, let’s even assume that none of these things had anything nafka mina l’maaseh (which they do, but for argument’s sake); isn’t the same true of the pach shemen story? Lighting Neros Chanukkah (and even the halachic arguments over the procedure) LONG predate the pach shemen story. Indeed, Megillas Taanis and Josephus both come up with a whole variety of reasons to explain the practice of lighting (and, as noted before by Nachum, we have the obvious example of Hillel and Shammai).

  146. Ruvie and Nachum-I already downloaded, printed and read Maccabees I and II. They emphasize the military aspects and the martyrdom aspects of Channukah and mention nothing about the Pach Shemen or Chazal. Would it be correct to state that the intended audience of Maccabees I and II was the assimilated Jewish population of Alexandria? The Talmud has no shortage of what we would call very early Chumros such as Hilcos Chanukah , many other halachos that were discussed and debated by Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai and other similar rabbinic ordinances that were designed to raise the level of observance in reaction to the influence of Hellenism and minimize its impact in many areas of Halacha . How would you date the rise of the Zugos, Hillel HaZeken and Shammai and many other Tanaim lived during the time of Bayis Sheni in relation to the rise and decline of the Hasmonean dynasty as a political force?

    Ruvie-The presence of Machlokes is indicative of how Halacha developes in any age. It has nothing to do with whether there was a Mesorah of TSBP. One should never confuse Halachic development with Mesorah.

    I still await an answer or clarification on this issue:

    “Can you discuss, what if any reaction, the authors of Maccabees had towards the translation of the Torah into Greek in contrast to the favorable POV of the author of Letter of Aristes?”

  147. Jerry wrote:

    “Of course. What do you do with your cuticle clippings? Do you travel out of doors at night? Do you kill bugs? The list goes on and on of course – demonology in Chazal is a completely practical science. I’m actually surprised you even asked the question”

    Yes, I throw out my cuticle clippings , travel out of doors at night and kill bugs. If one is Choshesh for demons, then one is concerned about the consequences of such actions. In this and similar areas, the question remains what is the Nafkeh Minah Halacha LMaasseh today,or whether such actions even should not amount to even a Midas Chasidus.

  148. Steve: “Yes, I throw out my cuticle clippings , travel out of doors at night and kill bugs.”

    I don’t understand? Do you believe in demons or not? Why only do some?

    Steve: “Would it be correct to state that the intended audience of Maccabees I…was the assimilated Jewish population of Alexandria?”

    Umm…heh?…

    As for 2 Macc, it’s actually a LOT “frummer” (to put in terms you might understand – and that scholars have, in fact, used – it has many prominent “Pharisaic” elements), so how does this relate to your assimilated Alexandria theory (I’ll leave your assumption about the character (and homogeneity) of that community for another time)? As much as I enjoy your trademark, ad hoc, grand theories about texts you haven’t bothered to understand (you downloaded 1 and 2 Macc from THE INTERNET? In the words of Seth Myers, “REALLY???!!!!”), I think you need to actually learn a bit before you speak – I know you don’t realize it, but you are in WAY over your head right now.

  149. steve b. “question remains what is the Nafkeh Minah Halacha LMaasseh today,or whether such actions even should not amount to even a Midas Chasidus.”

    no, you answered your own question. you ignore it…you pick and choose. its that simple. the gemera doesn’t give you an option if you are choshesh for anything.

  150. Jerry-

    1)Like many Jews, I don’t believe in demons, but others whose influence was far greater than any I could ever hope to have clearly did.

    2)Yes, I downloaded , printed and read Maccabees I and I from the Net. One need not read a critical edition to see the emphasis on the military victories and acts of spiritual martyrdom, and the absence of any mention of the Pach Shemen. I still await a comment from you re the view of the authors of Macc I and II to “the translation of the Torah into Greek in contrast to the favorable POV of the author of Letter of Aristes”.

  151. Ruvie wrote:

    “no, you answered your own question. you ignore it…you pick and choose. its that simple. the gemera doesn’t give you an option if you are choshesh for anything”

    Wrong again-you ask your rav or rebbe whether you today are supposed to be choshesh for such views, as oppposed to being either blindly accepting or rejecting of the same.

  152. steve b. – “Can you discuss, what if any reaction, the authors of Maccabees had towards the translation of the Torah into Greek in contrast to the favorable POV of the author of Letter of Aristes?”

    not my area of knowledge. who knows?the author of 2 maccabees believed that judah maccabee was engaged in a battle against hellenism but there are questions with regards to this. question will be how do you define hellenism. if you mean adoption of elements of greek culture by non greeks questions abound. examples:cultured heelenized judeans were supporters/partisans of judah – aristocratic priest named eupolemus whose father john led the judean embassy to antiochus III in 200 bce. john needed o know greek rhetoric etc. also, the earliest book written in greek was published by a partisan of judah maccabee during the maccabeen revolt- and may have addressed a jewish audience. the maccabeen brothers had to acquired the ability to learn greek in order to behave in the presence of royal officials. there is more but …time is too short.

    the maccabbees showed how to adopt greek culture to function in the hellenistic world to preserve their judean culture.no different from us today – we adopt some of the surrounding cultures yet stay independent.

  153. Dear Steve,

    I’ve had enough.

    -Jerry

  154. ruvie: As R’ Benny Lau has pointed out, it’s still quite valuable to see what the editors of the Talmudic works *thought* were true stories. (The introduction to his next volume will be done by Prof. Gafni, who thinks none of these things happened. R’ Lau tends to take a (but not the) more conservative position.) The gap in time isn’t so great anyway.

    “Would it be correct to state that the intended audience of Maccabees I and II was the assimilated Jewish population of Alexandria?”

    II, maybe. I was written in Hebrew.

    “The Talmud has no shortage of what we would call very early Chumros such as Hilcos Chanukah , many other halachos that were discussed and debated by Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai and other similar rabbinic ordinances that were designed to raise the level of observance in reaction to the influence of Hellenism and minimize its impact in many areas of Halacha.”

    The “Talmud” dates to over 650 years after Chanukkah. That’s like taking a teshuva of Rav Moshe to reflect facts on the ground in the lifetime of the Tur, circa 1350. Think about that. Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai date at least 200 years after Chanukkah. That’s like taking something R’ Schachter says to reflect on the lifstyle of the Gra.

    “How would you date the rise of the Zugos, Hillel HaZeken and Shammai and many other Tanaim lived during the time of Bayis Sheni in relation to the rise and decline of the Hasmonean dynasty as a political force?”

    How would *I* date them? I don’t have to date them- they lived when they lived. Two seconds on Wikipedia (and a number of places in Shas) will tell you: The first pair of Zugot lived at the time of the revolt. The first “Tannaim” proper lived about 200 years later.

    Always remember that within a few decades of George Washington’s death, everyone “knew” he had chopped down that cherry tree. Every American “knows” it today, although back then, everyone believed it, even though it had just been written.

    I have no idea why you’re so fixated on the Septuagint. Chazal themselves had a nuanced view of it. Simple answer? The Books of Maccabees never mention it. The frummer of the two books is written in Greek.

  155. By the way, you use “assimilated” very blithely. Would you consider Philo to have been “assimilated”? Josephus? Both were completely frum, as the case is.

  156. Nachum-

    1)When the Talmud discusses chumros that were debated by Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai, one cannot infer that the same were suddenly being discussed there as opposed to having been debated in prior generations.

    2)We know that the Talmud records many chumros that were enacted because of the dangerous inroads of Greek culture. Comparing the Zugos and Tanaim to George Washington and popular myths unfortunately is yet another illustration of what happens when views the Helegie Tanaim from such a perspective.

    3)How come the SA in the name of Maseces Sofrim records a practice in the last siman of Hilcos Taanis to fast on the date of the commemoration of the translation of the Torah into Greek? How can that be a “nuanced view”?

    4)I would like to suggest a reason why Chazal accentuated and emphasized the Pach Shemen as defining what aspect of Channukah was deserving of the Birkas HaMitzvah. I think that Chazal mentioned and accentuated the Pach Shemen because of its relationship to the Beis HaMikdash and the Ner Tamid that burned therein as a testament that the Shecinah resides among the Jewish People-a concept, which RYBS ( see Noraos HaRav Vol.2 , Pages 3-5) pointed out, was despised by the Hellenists together with the concept of Bchiras Yisrael. If as Ramban points out that the Ner Chanukah represents the Menorah of the Mikdash, and in the absence of the Mikdash, the Ner Chanukah serves as its substitute. Thus, emphasizing the relationship between the Jewish People and HaShem Yisborach, and giving testimonyy of Gilui Shechinah , as opposed to taking tours of long forgotten battlefields, was where Chazal and Rambam ( Hilcos Chanukkah3:3 and 4:2- the need to demonstrate and publicize the miracle, and the beloved nature of the mitzvah of Ner Channukah).

    That is why IMO, Rashi (s.v. Dmfarsem Nisa) and Rivtva (s.v. Amar Rav Yosef, Shaanei Channukah DAica Mitzvah) in RH 18b emphasize that the Mitzvos associated with Chanukah survive even though every other festive day recorded in Megilas Taanis did not survive-
    Yes, very significant military victories by small guerilla forces over large military forces happen, but after a generation or two, even the seemingly miraculous nature of the same are increasingly seen as Kochi Votzem Yadi-as in the American Revolution, The Israeli War of Independence and the Six Day War. See also in this respect Meshech Chachmah (Shemos 12: 16: S.V. Ivayom HaRishon)who states that Jewish holidays in their fullest sense never commemorate the downfall of one’s enemies and that the Chashmonaim, being Kohanim, were especially conscious of the Kochei VOtzem Yadi factor and viewed the Pach Shemen as a miraculous event that was not bound and could not be interepreted by future generations as having occurred within the boundaries of nature.

  157. nahum – i don’t disagree with benny lau – but it tells us more about the redactors of the work and their thought process than history that they are commenting on. i think the time difference is great – bavli is redacted arounf the late 7th century ce – and the miracle of oil is 160-170 bce… long distance of time to be considered (especially when we do not what the source for the story is).

  158. steve b. – “Ruvie-The presence of Machlokes is indicative of how Halacha developes in any age. It has nothing to do with whether there was a Mesorah of TSBP. One should never confuse Halachic development with Mesorah.”

    i am sorry that you do not understand my simple question. machlokes in the mishnah is an issue on how one explains mesorah – what tspb is , was pass down and reasons for disagreements – this is a famous area of dispute and reflects on your comment on sheal et avicha. i am sorry your are not familiar with this basic issue.

  159. Ruvie, when I was talking about time lapse, I wasn’t talking about the oil but, say, a story told about R’ Yehuda HaNasi in the Bavli, a difference of about 300 years- still a lot, of course.

    “one cannot infer that the same were suddenly being discussed there as opposed to having been debated in prior generations”

    Of course one can. That’s the whole idea behind the concept that with the origins of Beit Shamai and Beit Hillel, machloket increased.

    In any event, you seem not realize that your second point, about Chazal creating chumrot, completely contradicts your first, in which you imply that all Talmudic machloket goes back to Har Sinai.

    I can certainly refer to George Washington: People are people. Chazal weren’t Neviim.

    Certainly one view has a fast day for the Septuagint. Others don’t. (Notably, we *don’t* fast on that day, among other facts.) That’s called “nuance.” Even Artscroll is nuanced on this point.

    The Rambam certainly disagrees with your point about the oil. He says we keep Chanukkah because sovereignty was restored to the Jewish people for over two centuries. But it’s a nice drush. Even I gave a drush about the oil miracle this Shabbat.

  160. Nachum wrote:

    “Certainly one view has a fast day for the Septuagint. Others don’t. (Notably, we *don’t* fast on that day, among other facts.) That’s called “nuance.” Even Artscroll is nuanced on this point.

    The Rambam certainly disagrees with your point about the oil. He says we keep Chanukkah because sovereignty was restored to the Jewish people for over two centuries. But it’s a nice drush. Even I gave a drush about the oil miracle this Shabbat.”

    Yet, the notion of such a fast is recorded as a tragic day in Hilcos Taanis because it increased darkness in the world. I would you suggest that you read the cited pages in Noraos HaRav, as well as the citations to Rashi and Ritva in RH which refer to “mitzvos” re the Nes Pach Shemen if you believe that RYBS was merely giving a nice drasha.

  161. Ruvie wrote in part:

    “the author of 2 maccabees believed that judah maccabee was engaged in a battle against hellenism but there are questions with regards to this. question will be how do you define hellenism. if you mean adoption of elements of greek culture by non greeks questions abound. examples:cultured heelenized judeans were supporters/partisans of judah – aristocratic priest named eupolemus whose father john led the judean embassy to antiochus III in 200 bce. john needed o know greek rhetoric etc. also, the earliest book written in greek was published by a partisan of judah maccabee during the maccabeen revolt- and may have addressed a jewish audience. the maccabeen brothers had to acquired the ability to learn greek in order to behave in the presence of royal officials. there is more but …time is too short.”

    How about the more well known antipathy to Judaism by Hellenizers, examples of which include the banning of Bris Milah, Kiddush HaChodesh, the desicration of the Mikdash by offering Chazer and the prohibition of Shmiras Shabbos?

  162. Surprise! There were modern Orthodox Jews back then who kept halakha (as it was) fully while being culturally Greek. The majority of observant Jews, probably. Including the Chashmonaim, who had Greek names. (As did Antigonus of Socho!) Modern Orthodoxy was the norm for quite a while in Judaism.

  163. the question is why the hasmonean fought. there were changes and integration before antiochus reforms that did not create any revolt – under jason.lets remember the revolt was not a mass uprising by the masses. the hasmonean fought for torah values but like jason they stood for integration but on different terms.adopting greek coinage of old greece is an example of greek culture influence. if it was all about independence and torah values you need to explain reasons for their expansion and conquering and conversions.
    there is no doubt that they adopted or were influenced by – aligned with – greek culture.

  164. Nachum wrote :

    “Surprise! There were modern Orthodox Jews back then who kept halakha (as it was) fully while being culturally Greek. The majority of observant Jews, probably. Including the Chashmonaim, who had Greek names. (As did Antigonus of Socho!) Modern Orthodoxy was the norm for quite a while in Judaism.”

    How about the Hellenistic and Greek influenced well suppression of Shmiras Shabbos, Bris Milah and Kiddush HaChodesh as well as the desecration of the Mikdash? Please state which sons of the Mattisyahu had Greek names, as opposed to their descendants. What evidence are you basing your conclusion on that most of the observant Jews had Greek names? I would not call an embrace of Greek culture at the expense of Shmiras Shabbos, Bris Milah and Kiddush HaChodesh as well as the desecration of the Mikdash MO in any way, shape or form.

  165. Steve,
    Nachum did not say that most Jews, or any of Mattisyahu’s sons, had greek names, nor was that necessary for his point.

  166. Nachum-The text of Al HaNisim implies that one of the miracles was that the outnumbered Chashmonaim stood up , fought and triumphed against the Hellenists and their Greek supporters and then rededicated the Beis HaMikdash which had been desecrated. Your viewing of the majority of the Jewish population as MO , ignores the assimilatory processes that Greek culture had upon the Jews, such as Greek names, and who were “culturally Greek”. Even if the Misyavnim were the majority, Jewish history and destiny has never been governed by the simple rule of the majority. Indeed, if that was the case, the Jewish People would R”L not have survived the tests of history.

    One wonders what “culturally Greek” means based on our knowledge of the mores of Greek culture and its well known antipathy for many key aspects of Torah observance . Your comment sounds almost like that of Christopher Hitchens who blames the Chashmonaim for preventing a wholesale assimilation of the Jews into Greek culture. That is akin to the view the Chashmonaim and their revolt was some sort of early Charedi-MO dispute, when in fact, by dint of their effort, they revitalized Jewish life and maintained Jewish sovereignty when noone else was capable of rising to the occasion.

  167. Ruvie wrote:

    “if it was all about independence and torah values you need to explain reasons for their expansion and conquering and conversions”

    Noone says that the endire Hasmonean dynasty was Kulam Kedoshim. See the well known critique of the Chashmomaim of the Ramban who viewed the Chashmonaim as having descended to the level of their captives.

  168. All of Matityahu’s sons had Greek names. I thought you said you read the Book of Maccabees.

  169. And by the way, *you’re* the one who, in your zeal to condemn Modern Orthodoxy, is turning the whole story into a Charedi/MO fight. (In addition to, k’darkecha bakodesh, accusing me of being an assimilationist.) I did no such thing.

    I previously resolved not to respond to someone who views those he argues with as “evil,” but when you attack me personally, I shall.

  170. Nachum wrote:

    “All of Matityahu’s sons had Greek names. I thought you said you read the Book of Maccabees.”

    Since when is Yehudah a Greek name?

  171. Nachum wrote:

    “All of Matityahu’s sons had Greek names. I thought you said you read the Book of Maccabees.”

    Yehudah is a Greek name?!

  172. Nachum wrote:

    “And by the way, *you’re* the one who, in your zeal to condemn Modern Orthodoxy, is turning the whole story into a Charedi/MO fight. (In addition to, k’darkecha bakodesh, accusing me of being an assimilationist.) I did no such thing”

    Really? You have maintained on this blog on more than one occasion in the name of R Y Elman that most Jews in the Talmudic era, if not throughout Jewish history, if I have paraphrased you correctly, were MO in nature. Claiming that most Jews during the time of the Hasmonean era were MO who enjoyed the still undefined term “Greek culture” is an argument that both sets up the straw man of a MO/Charedi context and views most Jews as having accepted “Greek culture” in the most vague sense without defining what that term means-does it mean that they accepted the Hellenist critique of Shabbos, Bris Milah, etc? does it mean that they followed the Greek-Hellenist ethos re Arayos and Maaalei Assuros?

  173. Nachum-Yehudah, Elazar, Shimon and Yonatan do not strike me as Greek names any more than Herodotus or Tacitus are Hebrew names.

  174. So when you said you read the First Book of Maccabees, you were being…creative with the truth?

    Chapter Two:

    1. In those days arose Mathathias the son of John, the son of Simeon, a priest of the sons of Joarib, from Jerusalem, and he abode in the mountain of Modin.

    2. And he had five sons: John who was surnamed Gaddis:

    3. And Simon, who was surnamed Thasi:

    4. And Judas, who was called Machabeus:

    5. And Eleazar, who was surnamed Abaron: and Jonathan, who was surnamed Apphus.

  175. Nachum-OK, the surnames were Greek. The first names certainly were not Greek or Hellemistic by any stretch of one’s imagination and that is how they are known and remembered, as opposed to the historicual footnote as to their surnames.

  176. Hey, history is made with footnotes. 🙂

    Obviously, “surname” is an anachronism. These names were what we would call kinuiim. There were lots of “Alcimus”es back then, a kinnui for “Elyakim,” which happens to be my middle name. (Elyakim has a well-known YIddish kinnui as well.) “Steve” is Greek as well, of course, but I can’t think of what Hebrew name it might match. St. Stephen was Jewish, but we can only guess at his Hebrew name. 🙂

    Happy Chanukkah!

  177. Nachum-I read Maccabeees and I recognized what is mentioned and emphasized and what was passed over in complete silence. Maccabees provides fascinating historical background in terms of the military victories and accounts of Mesiras Mefesh, but can not be viewed as a basis for R”L discounting the Nes Pach Shemen when it is evident from a reading of the Sugyos in Shabbos and RH, that the celebration of Channukah is predicated on the lighting of candles as a reaffirmation of the centrality of Bchiras Yisrael and the centrality of HaShem’s covenant with His People, which was demonstrated by the Menorah, which the Greeks despised, and is replicated for 8 days in our homes. One cannot negate the fact that Chazal chose the candles as the basis for the Birkas HaMitzvah and Sheasah Nisim as a means of remembering the military victories as well. That fact, as opposed to solely comemmorating military victories, which would be forgotten during the long Diaspora as Channukah marked the end of all miracles, was what Chazal chose to accentuate in their wisdom. Like it or not, as the Meshech Chachmah points out, as a people, we have never celebrated any holiday in its fullest sense merely because of a military victory.

  178. Nachum-the sons of Matisyahu are known as HaMaccabim-not by their Greek nicknames. Halacha seforim are replete with footnotes that modify text. History is written in the eyes of the historian and his or her historiographical orientation.

  179. I’m a masochist, I know, but…

    Steve, you keep talking about this ‘well-known Greek antipathy to Jewish customs.’ In fact, one of the most controversial issues in scholarship to this day – with some, including as authoritative a figure as Fergus Millar, concluding that we do not actually have any way to answer the question convincingly – is how Antiochus IV Epiphanes’ policies fit at all with anything that we know about the Seleucid kings and their relationship with ethnic traditions, and the Jewish religion in particular.

    While on the one hand we have a multiplicity of sources documenting the persecution (Daniel, 1 and 2 Maccabees and Josephus, although each has its own perspective), on the other hand, we also know a fair bit about the Seleucid kings. More specifically, we know that they were not only exceedingly tolerant of Jewish traditional practice and custom (and traditional ethnic customs in general, as exemplified by the cylinder at Borsippa from Antiochus I), but even encouraged Jewish religious practice, and sometimes even provided for its perpetuation with funds from the royal treasury (see Josephus and especially 2 Maccabees 3:2-3, which implies that this was the general Seleucid policy). Indeed, the embrace and promotion of regional customs is a common imperial strategy, employed to great effect in Judea by the Achaemenids.

    Given this, it has proven pretty much impossible to explain the motivations behind Antiochus IV’s actions, especially since our sources are either silent on this score, or else contradict each other – one of the few points of agreement being simply that the persecutions occurred. One thing of which we can be confident, however, is that there was no such GENERAL Seleucid antipathy to Judaism.

  180. Steve: “Nachum-the sons of Matisyahu are known as HaMaccabim-not by their Greek nicknames.”

    This has nothing at all to do with the Maccabees themselves. It has to do with the perspective(s) of much later figures.

    For example, take the fact that historians have taken to spelling Toussaint’s last name as “L’Ouverture,” when in fact Toussaint himself NEVER spelled it that way, instead writing “Louverture.” Not a single person would argue that this particular scholarly conceit tells us anything at all about Toussaint himself.

    Similarly, the fact that the man’s name has been preserved as “Tamerlane” should tell us nothing at all about the Central Asian dynast, Timur. We certainly could not conclude – as you wish to do for the Maccabees – that the later preservation of his Europeanized name could tell us anything about the cultural or political sympathies of the man himself.

  181. Jerry-Perhaps, you need to consider reading “A Lethal Obsession”, ( Random House 2010), which I am currently in the middle of presently, which is a history of anti Semitsim from the earliest charges of deicide to the alleged human rights based allegations of our times by Professor Robert Wistrich, an author of many works and articles on the subject and a professor at HU, as well as a visiting professor at Harvard and Brandeis.

    IIRC , there were bans on Shmiras Shabbos, Kiddush HaChodesh and Bris Milah, which were rooted in a conflict between polytheism and monothesism which were certainly aided and abetted by the Greek ( and later Roman) literati. Professor Wistrich in the chapter entitled “From Deicide to Genocide” at page 81, clearly stated that Antiochus Epiphanes was very perturbed by the Jewish refusal to bow to the norms of Greek culture and imposed the worship of Zeus in the Beis HaMikdash and banned the practice of Judaism as well as the footnotes therein at Page 953 which refer the interested reader to Menachem Stern’s ” Greek and Latin Authors on Jews and Judaism” and Louis H. Feldman’s “Anti Semitism in the Ancient World in R D D Berger’s “History and Hate: The Dimensions of anti Semitism.” Professor Wistrich cites episodes of pagan anti Semitism in Alexandria, three centuries before the common era, depictions of Jews as lepers cast out of Egypt who lived a sterile life and who were derided as a superstitious godless people who were isolationists and and filled with loathing for gods and who once a year engaged in the precursor to ritual murder. The first recorded pogrom occurred in Alexandria in 38 CE and was caused by the Greek community who accused the Jewish community of being unpatriotic and having a dual loyalty.

    The notion that the Greek ruling class merely tolerated another nation in its midst that consistently was the only nation that refused to acknowledge its gods, partake in their sacrifices , send gifts to their temples, let alone eat, drink and intermarry while concomitantly maintaining a committtment to their own faith and rational code of ethics was a constant theme in what Professor Wistrich describes as the “vulgar and intellectual anti Semitism of the Hellenistic world.”

    WADR, the notion that the motivation behind Antiochus’s persecutions is wrapped in mystery and that Greek culture largely tolerated Jewish practices and Judasim cannot be sustained by any objective study of the period, as opposed to those who would apologize for the glory of Greece at the expense of a Jewish population and its values. That is akin to blaming the Holocaust on some mysterious mental disorder that was known only to Nazis, Yimach Shmam.

    The last names of the Maccabees are at best a historical footnote, Their primary names as known to the Jewish People who believe in the Nes Pach Shemen were as Jewish as Herodutus was Greek.

  182. With all due respect, Steve, you’ve basically read a popular book authored by a fellow who has absolutely no expertise on the Second Temple period or late antiquity whatsoever – and based on this, you believe you can reconstruct some sort of grand theory of “anti-Semitism” during the Hellenistic period? This is the equivalent of me lecturing you on the intricacies of Hilchos Ribbis based on a book written by a sociology professor at Michigan State.

    There is almost nothing in your presentation above that is not severely outdated as far as scholarship on the ancient period.

    Steve: “which were rooted in a conflict between polytheism and monothesism which were certainly aided and abetted by the Greek ( and later Roman) literati”

    No such conflict existed anywhere outside your imagination, at least under Hellenistic and Roman paganism. In fact, if you actually deigned to read a book by a modern scholar with actual expertise in the field (I suggest Paula Fredriksen), you would find out that paganistic society was actually pluralistic to a fault, and extremely tolerant of ethnic religious traditions like Judaism.

    In fact, scholars have come to reject the characterizations of pagan writings on Judaism as either anti- or pro-Jewish, as done in the scholarship of people like Menachem Stern and Louis Feldman, instead recognizing that this anachronistically imposes upon a very complex literature the Christian assumptions inherent in the Adversos Judaeos tradition.

    What Wistrich seems to have done – again because he doesn’t seem to have expertise in this area – is cherry picked the data that best fits his thesis, and in the process imposed tons of Christian imagery and terminology on prior sources where it doesn’t belong. In fact, the Egyptian leper theory is one of several speculations on the origins of the Jews adopted by Tacitus, many of which are, in fact extremely positive and admiring (and you would know this if you even bothered to read any other of Professor Feldman’s articles, because this is a big theme in his scholarship!).

    Scholars like Fredriksen have shown that, in fact, the pagan tradition actually had a general admiration for Jewish culture – considering it to be extremely ancient and wise – and the ire expressed towards Judeans actually was rooted in a completely separate issue (v’ayen sham). Fredriksen’s thesis, in her book and in other articles, is that the Christian Adversos Judaeos tradition actually has almost no roots at all in pagan writings.

  183. Steve: “The notion that the Greek ruling class merely tolerated another nation in its midst that consistently was the only nation that refused to acknowledge its gods, partake in their sacrifices , send gifts to their temples, let alone eat, drink and intermarry while concomitantly maintaining a committtment to their own faith and rational code of ethics”

    This is actually EXACTLY what Hellenistic pagan governance was known for. Since pagans constantly conquered and attempted to absorb within their empire peoples with other gods, the polytheistic model actually allowed a striking degree of tolerance for ethnic traditions.

    Jews in antiquity were tolerated to such an extent that they were unique in being offered an exemption from the civic cult, and eventually, under the Roman Emperors, from the imperial cult. At the same time, the Jews offered korbanos in the Beis Hamikdash on behalf of the ruling power.

    In fact, many pagan authors express enormous admiration for the loyalty of the Jews to their own religion and laws.

  184. Steve: “WADR, the notion that the motivation behind Antiochus’s persecutions is wrapped in mystery and that Greek culture largely tolerated Jewish practices and Judasim cannot be sustained by any objective study of the period”

    Given that you’ve never actually READ an objective study of the period, I don’t know whether you’re qualified to make this judgment.

    If you’re actually interested in learning, instead of making grandiloquent pronouncements about a subject of which you known virtually nothing, let me know and I will provide you with a bibliography of articles and book-chapters that discuss this issue.

    I repeat: the question of how Antiochus IV’s actions fit with ANYTHING that we know about the Seleucid kings is one of the enduring problems in scholarship, since we have striking evidence, both archaeological and literary (including from Jewish sources) that the Seleucid kings were b’shita extremely tolerant – even encouraging – of local religion, including Judaism.

  185. Steve: “The last names of the Maccabees are at best a historical footnote”

    They’re not “last names.” Do you just ignore anything you’re told that doesn’t fit with what you believe?

    I know that in the world of Steve, there is this belief that simply saying “X is an historical footnote” makes something historically irrelevant. Unfortunately for you, the truth is a bit more complicated.

    Steve: “Their primary names as known to the Jewish People who believe in the Nes Pach Shemen were as Jewish as Herodutus was Greek.”

    Does that tell us anything about the Maccabees themselves, or does it tell us about the Bavli, where the Nes Pach Shemen is recorded?

    Similarly, does the name “Tamerlane” tell us anything about Timur himself, or does it tell us about those Europeans who tell his story?

    By the way, I find it somewhat amusing that until a couple of hours ago, you were not even aware that the Maccabees did indeed have Greek names (despite your claim, which I now don’t actually credit, that you read Maccabees). And once you found it, it took the Magnificent Steve all of five minutes to determine that this fact is not historically significant. Bravo!

  186. Jerry, can’t Antiochus be explained through the fact that everyone else thought he was a little nuts? Germany was the best country in the world for Jews right up until 1933 or so, and was a better option than most of its neighbors after 1945. Antiochus, as it happened, ruled the same exact amount of time. (Of course, Jewish-Seleucid conflict went on for a another thirty years or so, but by then, with an independent Judea, it was political and strategic.) Perhaps 2,000 years from now, historians will wonder what happened in Germany for that brief period. (They probably even do today.)

    It helps to remember that Judea was under Greek rule for about 160 years (and Persian rule for over 200 years before then) before anyone revolted.

  187. Nachum: “Jerry, can’t Antiochus be explained through the fact that everyone else thought he was a little nuts?”

    That’s actually the Emil Schurer route.

    Myself, I don’t think there’s much evidence for this, but that wouldn’t necessarily pasul the theory. I think maybe the reason I don’t really buy it completely (even though it may possibly have been a contributing factor) is because of the Germany example! Chalking up Nazi Germany to Hitler being a psychopath wouldn’t do justice to the complexity of the situation.

    In any case, as I said, this is one of those questions that just never seems to be answered to anyone’s satisfaction (which is why Millar just says to forget about it). Of interest to Steve, perhaps, might be Elias Bickerman’s proposal that the persecutions were provoked and instituted through the intense efforts of Hellenistic Jewish reformers.

    …Of course, this is one of Bickerman’s most heavily critiqued positions, and entire articles have been written (most recently by Al Baumgarten) trying to explain (even from a biographical perspective) what possibly could have motivated a scholar like Bickerman to make such a shvach proposal.

  188. Jerry-it is obvious that you haven’t read Professor Wistrich’s massively researched book on the origins and development of anti Semitsim and still manage to reject his thesis that anti Semitism was prevalent among the literary elite in Greek and Roman times merely because his book is a “popular work” that lacks “objectivity” . Are you serious in maintaining that objectivity requires considering any allegations raised against Jews and Judaism by anti-Semites as if they have R”L merit? We know about the writings of Tacitus and his contemporaries and antecedents against Shabbos, Bris Milah and Kiddush HaChodesh. Denying the same is historical revisionism writ large. Merely focusing on the political policy of Greco-Roman society is an example of focussing on the trees as opposed to seeking a guide to leaving the forest.

    Yes, Fergus Millar, a world class scholar and probably the world’s greatest on Rome, Judaism and Christianity was mystified as to the causes of the Hasmonean revolt . In this respect, Hagath Sivan in the Bryn Mauwr Classical Review noted :

    “Millar ponders whether the clash that ushered in the Maccabean revolution, and an independent Jewish state, was the result of internal dissension between Jewish proponents of “traditional” Judaism and Jewish supporters of Hellenism, or rather the unwitting outcome of Seleucid change of policies vis-à-vis non-polytheistic minorities in their realm? The answer, bound to remain ambiguous and controversial, seems to reside in individual scholars’ emphasis on the Greek (Hengel) or un-Greek (Millar) nature of the Jewish community in the third and second centuries. It is curious, however, that although Antiochus IV forged closed links between himself and Zeus Olympius, no attempt was made to impose the cult throughout Seleucid territories with the apparent exception of Jerusalem.4 The fact that we do not have the work of the so-called “Hellenizers” but only the opinions of hostile contemporaries renders difficult the very understanding of the affiliation between “Hellenism” and its Jewish proponents. Was there an organized Jewish party which consistently espoused values deemed aberrant by, if not abhorrent to, Jews? The discussion is important because the Maccabees provided generations of Jews, and Christians with a prototype of ‘religious’, even ‘national’ leadership heading a just insurgency against oppressors.5 Thus the analysis of the Temple cult in Jerusalem highlights the role of the Temple as a rallying point of ‘nationalism’, anticipating the second major Jewish “revolution”, that of Judaism itself following the erasure of the Temple in CE 70.

    Obviously, Millar was uncomfortable in considering the views of either Chazal or Maccabees as historical evidence in the absence of evidence in the Greek historians. Fredricksen’s expertise is how Jews should relate to Augustine and offers a revised POV. How such a perspective aids our understanding of Nes Pach Shemen escapes me. Perhaps, you should consider the following before claiming that except for the consequences of the Bar Kochba uprising and paying of discriminatory taxes after the destruction of the Temple, that Greco Roman culture tolerated Jews and Judaism in a manner that can be truly characterized as “pluralist.”
    http://www.jcpa.org/JCPA/Templates/ShowPage.asp?DBID=1&LNGID=1&TMID=111&FID=625&PID=0&IID=2682

  189. “Are you serious in maintaining that objectivity requires considering any allegations raised against Jews and Judaism by anti-Semites as if they have R”L merit?”

    Heh?

    The bottom line is that Professor Wistrich is not an expert in the Second Temple Period or Late Antiquity and is not at all competent to judge this period. That you are insisting on relying upon someone who is not an expert, and who has cherrypicked data to fit his thesis, rather than actually reading even a single article or book (out of literally dozens upon dozens!) on this very topic written by actual scholars of ancient Judaism and late antiquity says a great deal about your intellectual integrity.

    Citing one example from one section of Tacitus’ ethnographic depiction of Jews does not a case make, especially since other parts of that very work portray Judaism in a very positive light, as Louis Feldman noted. In Professor Feldman’s wake, other scholars have developed a very sophisticated and nuanced explanation of this – a lovely alternative to the ham-fisted methods of scholars of modern anti-Semitism seeking to impose their models on antiquity.

    In fact, you do not have any notion whatsoever of the context within which Tacitus wrote, nor do you have any capability whatsoever to judge the nuances of Greek writings relating to Jews (especially since you do not actually read Greek). You also have no ability to assess the writings of the Christian Adversos Judaeos tradition (especially since you do not read Greek or Latin), nor any idea at all of the important recent scholarly opinion that sees an absolutely fundamental distinction between pagan writings critical of Jews and Christian anti-Semitic writings.

  190. Now, since you’re too afraid of scholarship to actually read it, you have apparently taken me to say that pagan writings critical of Jews may actually have merit. Suffice it to say that this is completely asinine, and could easily have been avoided had you simply taken up my offer to provide you with a reading list.

    In fact, the essential point is that the sum total of pagan writings about Jews during this period amounts to a very positive assessment of Jewish ethnic and religious culture, with those critical aspects being directed specifically at the Jewish development of the phenomenon of “conversion” – an alien concept to pluralistic pagan society that some pagan authors felt threatened civic order. And while not much evidence (if any at all) exists that Jews in this period were a proselytizing religion, as the popular theory goes, there is certainly VERY solid evidence that Gentiles (even ones who still worshiped pagan gods) were welcome in synagogues and could even become members (i.e. “God-fearers”).

    This obviously has no relation to Christian anti-Semitism. Actually, the “conversion” phenomenon is probably the one thing that those anti-Jewish Christians actually approved of, and appropriated for themselves!

  191. With regard to Millar:

    First of all, Sivan’s first name is spelled Hagith (or Hagit) not “Hagath.”

    Second, I wonder if you realize that the paragraph you cite only proves my point…

    Finally, Millar (and many, many historians attempting to reconstruct historical fact) do not, indeed, rely upon the Bavli as an historical source for the 2nd century BCE. This is quite simply because it was redacted in the 6th century CE – over 600 years later. That, combined with the fact that, as many scholars (both traditional and academic) have noted, Chazal were not historians, makes the Bavli mostly ineligible (unless carefully proven otherwise) as a reliable source for the 2nd century CE, especially when it is directly contradicted by contemporaneous sources.

  192. As far as Fredriksen is concerned, it sounds to me like you Googled her name and found one of her books on Augustine and the Jews and then, without bothering to read it, or even read a review of it, assumed that you knew what the contents were, am I right?

    In actuality, Fredriksen is a professor at Boston University (recently emeritus, I believe, as her chair is now held by Professor Frankfurter, another excellent scholar). Her primary research interest is the historical Jesus, and the emergence of Christianity and Christian anti-Semitism in the first several centuries of the Common Era.

    Her book on Augustine has nothing to do with how Jews should relate to Augustine.

    Her work has nothing to do with the Nes Pach Shemen (not sure where you got this; your reading comp skills still shock me sometimes). It has everything to do with ancient pagan and Christian writings on Jews, a subject on which she is one of the preeminent modern scholars. Instead of reading her pathbreaking work on a subject in which she is a specialist, you have apparently chosen to rely on the work of a fellow who is best known for authoring “Socialism and the Jews.”

    Sometimes your thought processes are way beyond me.

  193. Jerry-Let me be perfectlty blunt. Millar’s lack of willingness to ascribe any credibility to Chazal has nothing to do with the redaction of the Bavli, especially since Channukah was well known in the days of Megilas Taanis. It is simply a product of his unwillingness to accept the fact that a small family’s actions inspired a religious revival among a previously very Hellenized Jewish populace.

    Fredericksen’s entire realm of publications, whether on Augustine, or pagan and Christian writings also sheds no light on the issue at hand. WADR, your dismissal of Profesor Wistrich evidences a failure to face historical facts. In any event, have a Frelichen Chanukah.

  194. Jerry wrote:

    “In fact, the essential point is that the sum total of pagan writings about Jews during this period amounts to a very positive assessment of Jewish ethnic and religious culture, with those critical aspects being directed specifically at the Jewish development of the phenomenon of “conversion” – an alien concept to pluralistic pagan society that some pagan authors felt threatened civic order. And while not much evidence (if any at all) exists that Jews in this period were a proselytizing religion, as the popular theory goes, there is certainly VERY solid evidence that Gentiles (even ones who still worshiped pagan gods) were welcome in synagogues and could even become members (i.e. “God-fearers”).”

    That is pure apologetics in place of and instead of the historical record. The Greco-Roman cultural elite clearly were not enamored of many aspects of Judaism and were especially critical and condemnatory of Shabbos, Bris Milah and Kiddush HaChodesh.

  195. Jerry wrote:

    “In fact, you do not have any notion whatsoever of the context within which Tacitus wrote, nor do you have any capability whatsoever to judge the nuances of Greek writings relating to Jews (especially since you do not actually read Greek). You also have no ability to assess the writings of the Christian Adversos Judaeos tradition (especially since you do not read Greek or Latin), nor any idea at all of the important recent scholarly opinion that sees an absolutely fundamental distinction between pagan writings critical of Jews and Christian anti-Semitic writings”

    This is a gross misstatement of Professor Wistrich’s historical examination of the different forms of anti-Semitism that have existed and still exist as of today. One need not be fluent in Greek, or be familiar with the writings of the early Church fathers in the original, or have read Mein Kamph in German or have read Chaucer, Shakespeare and Dickens and Toynbee to realize that anti Semitism is an ancient malady that manifests itself in different societies under different guises. One does have to be aware of the vast differences between the Chasmomaim and all adherents of TSBP , Hellenism, and the founders of Christianity to understand the roots of anti Semitism.

  196. Steve: “Millar’s lack of willingness to ascribe any credibility to Chazal has nothing to do with the redaction of the Bavli, especially since Channukah was well known in the days of Megilas Taanis. It is simply a product of his unwillingness to accept the fact that a small family’s actions inspired a religious revival among a previously very Hellenized Jewish populace.”

    This is the most bizarre paragraph yet. Millar has made very explicit in a number of places (and Louis Feldman has actually reported this in public based on conversations he has had with him) that this is precisely his reason for not relying on the Bavli (and other later redacted rabbinic literature).

    This is a position that is by no means unique to Millar. It’s actually pretty standard in the field – because it makes very good methodological sense – but you’re so blinded by ignorance, and terrified of history that you cannot comprehend the rationality of not relying on a 6th century CE text for 2nd century BCE info.

    Furthermore, you’re really just setting up a massive strawman. Millar doesn’t deny the existence of Chanukkah (no one does, and I’m not sure where you got that idea from). And kal v’chomer everyone agrees that Chanukkah existed in Megillas Taanis. What many scholars now dispute is that the Nes Pach Shemen SPECIFICALLY existed in any source prior to the Bavli. The answer is no.

    Moreover, neither Millar nor any other scholar that I’m aware of denies that the Maccabees existed, that they led a revolt against Seleucid rule, and that they spearheaded a nationalistic religious revival (although the contours of this revival are a bit harder to pin down). What they question is the extent to which the majority Jewish population was “Hellenized” at the time – this not being true would not make the Nes Chanukkah any less miraculous, by the way – and to a larger extent, ever since Elias Bickerman’s postulation of a Hellenistic ‘Reform movement,’ scholars have queried what exactly “Hellenism” looked like in Judea, as opposed to elsewhere in the Hellenistic word.

    In fact, the earliest attestation of the word “Hellenism” itself is not in any pagan Greek source, but in 2 Maccabees. Given this, it’s hard to define “Hellenism” in relation to pagans, since we don’t know what pagans, at least of that time, would have thought of the concept. Furthermore, we have precious little evidence that there was any monolithic movement of “Hellenistic Jews” that could have acted institutionally. There may have been a large variety of Jews, or groups of Jews, each undergoing some sort of process of political or cultural assimilation or acculturation to pagan Seleucid/Ptolemaic culture, but the bottom line is that we just don’t know very much in this regard.

    To forestall objections, remember that I am not denying that “Hellenism” existed, or that “Hellenism” affected Judea. I am just pointing out that there is not standard, universal definition for the concept “Hellenism,” or for the category “Hellenistic Jew.”

  197. Steve: “Fredericksen’s entire realm of publications…also sheds no light on the issue at hand”

    Maybe it’s just my sense of the fascination of the abomination but…please do enlighten me as to why the writings of one of the major scholars alive today on the historical Jesus and Christian anti-Semitism in late antiquity would shed no light on the issue of Christian anti-Semitism in late antiquity.

    Steve: “That is pure apologetics in place of and instead of the historical record.”

    It’s actually the most plausible way to account for the mass of very positive comments on Jews in the writings of numerous pagan writers, as well as in the writings of pagan writers who themselves also make comments quite critical of Jews.

    It also is the explanation that best accounts for things like the presence of God-fearers in synagogues, as well as – most significantly – pagan anti-Christianity, especially those pagan writers who praised Jews while at the same time lambasted Christians.

    It’s interesting that you mention “apologetics” because this entire new stream in scholarship actually arose because of the need to correct things like the apologetic “Parted Ways” paradigm that arose after the Holocaust, as well as the more reactionary and ideological scholarship that ensued that tried to shoehorn all of the ancient world into this very convenient narrative of modern anti-Semitism existing from time immemorial. You seem to prefer the latter – mostly because you don’t care about history, only about ideology – but unfortunately, the approach suffers from an inability to read evidence.

    Of course, for someone who professes such concern for the historical records, you are shockingly unfamiliar with it. You are also distressingly unwilling to read even ONE article or book by an actual expert in the field. I’m at a loss to explain this.

  198. Steve: “One need not be fluent in Greek, or be familiar with the writings of the early Church fathers in the original”

    Umm…yes you do. What language do you think the Church Father used? You also should be able to read a slew of other languages like Latin, Syriac and possibly Coptic. Furthermore, and more importantly, you need to read Greek to read the writings of the ancient pagan authors.

    I suppose you also think one need not be familiar with rabbinic Hebrew or Aramaic in order to be a talmid chacham.

    Steve: “or have read Mein Kamph in German or have read Chaucer, Shakespeare and Dickens and Toynbee”

    I’m sure Wistrich is intimately familiar with all of these writings. And that would make him an expert on late antiquity how exactly???…

  199. Jerry-I am afraid this discussion is over simply because you are presenting a case for a far more benign history of anti Semitism, when in fact, it has been one of mankind’s most malignant social disorders, which manifests itself in different formats-whether pagan, religious, secular, Marxist or post modernist. When the choice comes between an issue of Mesorah, Hashkafa and Halacha, I need not resort to any extrinsic proof to defend that which is uniquely a Rabbinic ordinance. Viewing the political entity that destroyed Bayis Sheni and persecuted some of the most outstanding Tanaim because the Romans knew that R Akiva, etc were the spiritual leaders of the Jewish People, cannot be viewed as an empire that ruled with a sense of pluralism.

  200. Steve, you do realize that the Romans aren’t the Greeks, right? And for most of Roman rule in Israel, Jews had full religious freedom and autonomy?

  201. There are a lot of things Steve doesn’t realize…such as how citing Tacitus to prove a point about the 2nd century BCE Seleucids doesn’t make any sense.

  202. Steve: “because you are presenting a case for a far more benign history of anti Semitism”

    Christian anti-Semitism has indeed been malignant. You just won’t find its roots in pagan writings on Judaism. No amount of hand-wringing about the evils of anti-Semitism will change that.

    And as much as you seem to favor the approach of looking back at history and saying “make it so,” the fact of the matte is that evidence doesn’t work that way.

  203. Steve: “Viewing the political entity that destroyed Bayis Sheni and persecuted some of the most outstanding Tanaim because the Romans knew that R Akiva, etc were the spiritual leaders of the Jewish People, cannot be viewed as an empire that ruled with a sense of pluralism.”

    As Nachum has already hinted at, this may be the most amusing sentence in the history of Steve-itude. There may not even be one correct historical reference in this entire run-on sentence.

    Bayis Sheni was destroyed by Romans, not Seleucid Greeks.

    The political party (?) that destroyed Bayis Sheni was led by the last of the Julio-Claudians and eventually the Flavians. Both dynasties were decades gone by the time of R. Akiva.

    As Nachum pointed out, the Jews had a striking degree of autonomy and religious freedom. Many scholars argue that the Jews were one of the most legally privileged groups in the entire Empire. Recently, Miriam Pucci Ben-Zeev has instead argued that the policy of granting religious freedom to ethnic traditions like Judaism was actually more common in the Empire than previously believed.

    Obviously the situation on the ground was quite complex, and Jewish life under Rome was far from perfect – sometimes the Jews experienced awful persecution (although this tended to be more the case as the Empire drifted towards Christianity). But it’s hard to have a serious discussion about this with you, since you seem to be able to see the world in only two colors.

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