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#61 BLUERIVER

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Posted 10 June 2006 - 11:08 PM

(Determining the stance of the Gra is also confusing. Initially, R. Eybeschuetz printed a letter of support from the Gra, and R. Yaakov Emden attacked him for this. But later, R. Emden removed the attack on the Gra from his seforim. Leiman analyzes all the evidence and has a couple of possible solutions. IIRC correctly, Leiman analyzes the Gra's letter and shows it to be a non-commital response to R. Yonason Eybeschuetz's request for help. Apparently, the Gra, who was relatively young at the time, decided that he didn't want to publically take sides.)

A position obviously not shared by a talmid-chochom of BP's stature !!
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#62 BaronPhilip

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Posted 10 June 2006 - 11:09 PM

Frankfurter Rabbinen: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Israelitischen Gemeinde in Frankfurt a. M.
von Marcus Horovitz (1844–1910) Ergänzungen von Josef Unna
(Jerusalem 1969)

Is this the uncensored version?

Yes. A footnote in Leiman's article on the Noda BeYehuda says that some of the material on the Pnei Yehoshua in that, the original German edition, is missing from the Hebrew translation. I can't read German, but I got the impression that the full extent of the Pnei Yehoshua's involvement in the fight to discredit R. Eybeschuetz is being hushed up.

Leiman's lecture on the Pnei Yehoshua's role has not appeared in print yet.


Apparently, the Gra, who was relatively young at the time, decided that he didn't want to publically take sides.

A position obviously not shared by a talmid-chochom of BP's stature !!

"Obviously"? Where do you see anywhere in my essay that I "took sides"?

The point of my essay was to alert people to some facts and to some articles that discuss those facts. I made this clear at the beginning:

Just read and make up your own minds. One thing is for certain, to say that it was all a big misunderstanding and that it's obvious that R. Eybeschuetz was innocent is to stick your head in the sand.

Regardless of whether or not R. Eybeschuetz is guilty of the charges that were leveled against him—I am in no position to judge that and never pretended to be—it's pretty clear that there's been an effort to cover-up some of what happened during the controversy.
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#63 BLUERIVER

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Posted 11 June 2006 - 03:46 AM

A footnote in Leiman's article on the Noda BeYehuda says that some of the material on the Pnei Yehoshua in that, the original German edition, is missing from the Hebrew translation. I can't read German, but I got the impression that the full extent of the Pnei Yehoshua's involvement in the fight to discredit R. Eybeschuetz is being hushed up.

A rather curious progression....
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#64 misosbd

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Posted 11 June 2006 - 03:53 AM

I'm not going to argue with people who won't accept this. Just read and make up your own minds. One thing is for certain, to say that it was all a big misunderstanding and that it's obvious that R. Eybescuetz was innocent is to stick your head in the sand.

There is a lot of evidence available, to anyone brave enough to confront the facts of history, that the R. Eybeschuetz affair was one of the biggest cover-ups in all of Jewish history.

R. Eybeschuetz was a man with many talmidim all over Europe. He had tremendous influence; baalei battim all over Europe regarded him as a great sage. Had the gedolim of his day insisted on a war with him it would have torn the 18th-century Jewish world to pieces and destroyed whatever was left of public respect for the rabbinate.

Some facts:

It was not just R. Yaakov Emden who accused R. Yonasan Eybeschuetz of Sabbateanism. This is the biggest misconception of all. Others who agreed with R. Emden included his brother-in-law, R. Aryeh Leib of Amsterdam. When R. Aryeh Leib made his opposition to R. Eybeschuetz clear, he lost his appointment as the Chief Rabbi of Prague.

But it was neither R. Emden nor R. Aryeh Leib who was the leader of the campaign. R. Yaakov Yehoshua Falk, the "Pnei Yehoshua", the Zoken HaDor of the generation, was among the fiercest opponents of R. Yonason Eybescheutz. In fact, because Pnei Yehoshua would not back down from his stance, the baalei battim of Frankfort-am-Main deposed him of his position as Av Beis Din of that city. No one has ever disputed that the Pnei Yehoshua was part of the campaign against R. Eybeschuetz, but for some reason it's rare to find a yeshiva guy who's ever heard of this.

For lots of details of the Pnei Yehoshua's involvement in the affair, here's one book you can read:

Frankfurter Rabbinen: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Israelitischen Gemeinde in Frankfurt a. M.
von Marcus Horovitz (1844–1910) Ergänzungen von Josef Unna
(Jerusalem 1969)

Don't know German? You'll have to read the Hebrew translation:

רבני פרנקפורט
מרדכי הלוי הורוויץ; השלים, יוסף אונא; תירגם, יהושע עמיר
(1972 ,מוסד הרב קוק)

Unfortunately, Mosad HaRav Kook censored the Hebrew translation. They removed a good portion of the material about the Pnei Yehoshua's involvement in the campaign against Eybeschuetz. I mention this because it's typical. When a prominent frum Israeli publisher of kisvei yad was founded (IIRC it was Mechon Yerushalayim), R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ordered them not to ever published anything that might implicate R. Yonason Eybeschuetz. The cover-up continues to this day.

The stance of R. Yechezkel Landau, the "Noda BeYehuda", has long been disputed. Some evidence seems to indicate that he was strongly against R. Yonason Eybeschuetz, and the maskilim used to bring him as proof that R. Eybeschuetz was guilty. (See, e.g., Heinrich Graetz's History of the Jews.) Some evidence seems to indicate that he was a great defender of R. Yonason Eybeschuetz, and all the frum writers bring him as proof of R. Eybeschuetz's innocence. (See, e.g., סיבת התנגדותו של רבינו יעקב מעמדין לרבינו יהונתן אייבשיץ, by R. Reuven Margaliot) This is a very weird parsha. I posted a little bit about it way back:
Leiman's essay weighs all the available evidence and reconstructs what must have happened. If I understood the essay correctly, the Noda BeYehuda was convinced that R. Eybeschuetz was secretly a follower of Shabtai Tzvi,, but he knew that this was an unwinnable war. He was concerned about Kevod HaTorah and Chillul Hashem, considering how highly regarded R. Eybeschuetz was. R. Eybeschuetz was undeniably an incredible illui who had mastered kol haTorah kulah.

So the Nodah BeYehudah made some demands of R. Eybeschuetz. He demanded that R. Eybeschuetz reprimand his son, Wolf Eybeschuetz, who was accused of running an underground circle of Shabtai Tzvi followers performing bizarre rituals. He demanded that R. Eybeschuetz publically denounce Shabtai Tzvi, Sabbateanism, and all the Sabbatean writings and amulets that were attributed to him.

R. Eybeschuetz complied with everything. He admitted that his own son was involved in wrong things, and denounced Sabbateanism. The Noda BeYehuda was satisfied with this, and then made it clear that he would put in cheirem anyone who continued to accuse R. Eybeschuetz. (He put a certain chazzan in Prague in cheirem until he publically retracted his words and apologized to R. Eybeschuetz.) The Noda BeYehuda held that R. Eybeschuetz was guilty, but decided that this was the best that could be done. At least this way the Sabbateanism wouldn't spread, since R. Eybeschuetz would behave himself in the future and keep his beliefs completely secret. In other words, there would be a cover-up.

R. Yaakov Emden is associated the controversy more than anyone else because he insisted on the strongest tactics. The Noda BeYehuda was satisfied with a compromise. The Pnei Yehoshua's approach was to keep trying to force R. Eybeschuetz to appear before a beis din that would issue a ruling confirming his guilt. But R. Yaakov Emden went the furthest, using every means at his disposal to denounce R. Eybeschuetz. He would be satisfied with nothing less than R. Eybeschuetz being completely disgraced before the world.

The popular story that R. Yaakov Emden regretted his actions on his deathbed is a fantasy created by a frum world that is in denial of what happened. There is no evidence for it whatsoever.

Whether or not R. Yonason Eybeschuetz was really a Sabbetean you can decide. Bear in mind that R. Yaakov Emden, the Pnei Yehoshua, and the Nodah Yehudah are three giants, and they thought he was guilty.

There are rumors that Leiman has himself seen the amulets, confirmed the handwriting in them, and found other evidence that prove he was guilty. Leiman has never published any article saying this, and will not tell you that he thinks R. Eybeschuetz was guilty. Perhaps Professor Leiman has himself decided that this is too explosive for the frum world to handle.

Where exactly have you seen or heard this popular story?

#65 BaronPhilip

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Posted 11 June 2006 - 11:01 AM

Yes. A footnote in Leiman's article on the Noda BeYehuda says that some of the material on the Pnei Yehoshua in that, the original German edition, is missing from the Hebrew translation. I can't read German, but I got the impression that the full extent of the Pnei Yehoshua's involvement in the fight to discredit R. Eybeschuetz is being hushed up

The footnote says that some material is missing, so "I got the impression that....", i.e. I got that impression from the footnote. Whenever I cannot check a souce in the original and I have to rely on the words of others, I try to make that clear.

The popular story that R. Yaakov Emden regretted his actions on his deathbed is a fantasy created by a frum world that is in denial of what happened. There is no evidence for it whatsoever.

Where exactly have you seen or heard this popular story?

It's one of the stories I've been hearing from yeshiva guys over the years. Another one I've heard is that after they passed on, R. Yaakov Emden and R. Yonason Eybeschuetz came to someone in a dream and told them that they had made peace in Heaven or something like that. On this thread I found another one of these stories:

i believe that both R' Eybeshitz and R' Emden forbid their followers to get mixed into this machlokis

I'm not a cataloger of folklore, so I couldn't tell you what the original versions were of these stories or where and when they popped up. (It would be an interesting project to collect them.) The common motif is obvious: All these urban legends neutralize or at least reduce the implications of a traumatic episode preserved in the collective memory of the community. The frum community finds it confusing and difficult to accept the story at face value.
The fascination of what’s difficult
Has dried the sap out of my veins

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#66 misosbd

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Posted 11 June 2006 - 01:08 PM

The footnote says that some material is missing, so "I got the impression that....", i.e. I got that impression from the footnote. Whenever I cannot check a souce in the original and I have to rely on the words of others, I try to make that clear.

It's one of the stories I've been hearing from yeshiva guys over the years. Another one I've heard is that after they passed on, R. Yaakov Emden and R. Yonason Eybeschuetz came to someone in a dream and told them that they had made peace in Heaven or something like that. On this thread I found another one of these stories:I'm not a cataloger of folklore, so I couldn't tell you what the original versions were of these stories or where and when they popped up. (It would be an interesting project to collect them.) The common motif is obvious: All these urban legends neutralize or at least reduce the implications of a traumatic episode preserved in the collective memory of the community. The frum community finds it confusing and difficult to accept the story at face value.

It seems that the correct way to to make your statement is, "in my limited exposure to the frum community, I find that some people are unaware of what I believe is the true story of the machlokes. A hypothesis can be made that these people came to this state, because some frum people found the story confusing and difficult to accept. However there might be a totally different explanation to it."

#67 BaronPhilip

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Posted 11 June 2006 - 09:43 PM

In my long post above, I explained that the Noda BeYehuda regarded R. Yonason Eybeschuetz as guilty of being a Sabbatean, but felt that the matter should be closed and hushed up in order to avoid Chillul Hashem and for the sake of Kevod HaTorah (R. Eybeschuetz's reputation as a lamdan and author of brilliant chiddushei Torah).

Here is an English translation of part of a letter from the Pnei Yeshoshua to R. Aryeh Leib of Amsterdam where you can see the Pnei Yehoshua himself explaining this. As you can see, the Noda BeYehuda's position angered the Pnei Yehoshua, especially because it benefitted the Noda BeYehuda, who was able to assume the post of Chief Rabbi of Prague now that he had agreed on a truce with R. Eybeschuetz.

The letter Pnei Yehoshua's letter was written in 1753 and published in 1756 by R. Yaakov Emden, during the lifetime of the Pnei Yehoshua. It is found on pages יג׃-יד׃ in the sefer פתח עינים. The letter is dated ראש חודש אדר שני, תק״ג.

I was informed by the scribe who arrived from Frankfurt that persistent rumor has it that the rabbi of Yampol [R. Landau] has been appointed Chief Rabbi of Prague. I dismissed the rumor out of hand since not a hint of such an appointment has been heard anywhere in the community surrounding us, not even among the wicked ones [i.e. the pro Eybeschuetz faction] in Mannheim.…You too would have heard about it. So I concluded that it was an outright lie. If I thought for a moment that it was true, I would include in the broadside we are about to publish an account of the first letter addressed by the rabbi of Yampol to all rabbis and geonim wherein he admitted that the despite the fact that Eybeschuetz’s abominations were well-known to him, he beseeches all of us to take pity on the honor of his Torah, and to take into account the profaning of G-d’s name that had occurred. In light of these considerations, he asked that we partially overlook Eybeschuetz’s sins and treat him with leniency. So he wrote me in a lengthy letter; no doubt he wrote you the same. Now there appears to be more to the rumor than I thought, for yesterday I received a letter from Poland in which it is stated that the rabbi of Yampol openly announced that he was appointed Chief Rabbi of Prague. Moreover, he compounded his villainy by influencing the Chief Rabbi of Lvov to refrain from contributing yet another missive to the controversy, claiming that such action would be detrimental to his appointment to the Prague rabbinate. Landau found it necessary to wield his influence, for the Chief Rabbi of Lvov had convened an assembly of rabbis who were about to place Eybeschuetz under the ban and circulate letters to that effect throughout Europe and especially in Germany. Landau was explicit in justifying his intervention to the Chief Rabbi of Lvov: his appointment to the Prague rabbinate was due to Eybeschuetz’s extraordinary efforts on his behalf.…After searching dilligently through my correspondence, I located the first letter sent by the letter of the rabbi of Yampol. Indeed, he denounces Eybeschuetz at length.
The fascination of what’s difficult
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#68 myaccountname

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Posted 12 June 2006 - 11:06 AM

On this thread I found another one of these stories:I'm not a cataloger of folklore, so I couldn't tell you what the original versions were of these stories or where and when they popped up. (It would be an interesting project to collect them.) The common motif is obvious: All these urban legends neutralize or at least reduce the implications of a traumatic episode preserved in the collective memory of the community. The frum community finds it confusing and difficult to accept the story at face value.


my source is a mesorah from my rebbes zy"a. the bobover rebbe (R' Shlomo) zt"l (almost)* never repeated a story he didn't hear from his father, so i have better sources than your modern biographers!



*the Ruv zt"l once repeated a story he didn't hear from his father and later regretted it
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#69 artscroll

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Posted 12 June 2006 - 01:10 PM

my source is a mesorah from my rebbes zy"a. the bobover rebbe (R' Shlomo) zt"l (almost)* never repeated a story he didn't hear from his father, so i have better sources than your modern biographers!
*the Ruv zt"l once repeated a story he didn't hear from his father and later regretted it

With all due respect, and I mean this sincerely, this sort of assertion barely belongs in this type of thread. What does it contribute to the discussion? A discussion of this sort is by its very nature scholarly and cannot credit traditions without provenance in the way you wish it to.

#70 myaccountname

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Posted 12 June 2006 - 01:23 PM

With all due respect, and I mean this sincerely, this sort of assertion barely belongs in this type of thread. What does it contribute to the discussion? A discussion of this sort is by its very nature scholarly and cannot credit traditions without provenance in the way you wish it to.


i'm really sorry, but i fail to see the problem. this was a machlokes between gedolim, you want to discuss it go ahead, but to use phrases like guilty and innocent, and the title of the tread itself, is wrong on all counts, and i was being moiche on the kovod of the Rebbe Reb Yonason!

now if you want to say that you need a PhD to be a valuable source to this discussion, and that "urban legends" have no value here... well, thats what my previous post came to agrue
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#71 artscroll

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Posted 12 June 2006 - 01:29 PM

i'm really sorry, but i fail to see the problem. this was a machlokes between gedolim, you want to discuss it go ahead, but to use phrases like guilty and innocent, and the title of the tread itself, is wrong on all counts, and i was being moiche on the kovod of the Rebbe Reb Yonason!


As we've already discussed, your concern is valid--if he wasn't a secret Sabbatian.

now if you want to say that you need a PhD to be a valuable source to this discussion, and that "urban legends" have no value here... well, thats what my previous post came to agrue

Of course that isn't what I was saying! Everyone is welcome in this thread, and you certainly don't need me to say that. But if you're role in this thread is to "be moiche" rather than contribute towards an understanding and clarification of the matter, I must respectfully ask what you're contributing? It would be like we were in a Beis Medrash arguing loudly over a toysfos and you came over and said "shhhhh." This thread isn't about defaming R. Yonasan Eybeschuetz, but about discussing an important historical matter with contemporary relevence. Perhaps even R. Yonasan would have a nachas ruach from an intellectually honest discussion, provided it is made without malice. Notice also that even those who have suggested that he was a Sabbatean, or that there is good reason to believe he was, have not, in this thread, advocated anything at all be done to his place in contemporary Orthodoxy. No one is saying that the Jewish Press should stop posting cartoons about him in its middle section.

#72 BaronPhilip

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Posted 12 June 2006 - 02:07 PM

i'm really sorry, but i fail to see the problem. this was a machlokes between gedolim, you want to discuss it go ahead, but to use phrases like guilty and innocent, and the title of the tread itself, is wrong on all counts

You keep refering to this as a "machlokes" and you keep saying that it was between "gedolim", so therefore we cannot venture our own opinions or use words like "innocent" or "guilty". You don't realize that your logic is circular. The whole point is the question of whether or not he was a godol to begin with, and this is what Artscroll (the poster, not the press) has been trying to explain to you. R. Yonason Eybeschuetz was accused of extremely, extremely serious crimes. If he was guilty, say, of having intercourse with his own daughter (yes, he was accused of this by R. Emden) as part of secret Sabbatean rituals intended to force the second coming of Shabtai Tzvi, then obviously he wasn't a godol. Refering to this as a "machlokes" is already missing the whole point of what was going on. This wasn't like an argument between the Raavad and the Rambam over some sugya. This was a question of metzius: Was he or was he not involved in these activities? Was he guilty or innocent?

And claiming that R. Yaakov Emden asked his students not to get involved in the machlokes is patently ridiculous. R. Yaakov Emden owned a printing press, and even after other gedolim who agreed with him had given up the battle, R. Emden was still pamphleteering and printing books with his charges, shouting as loud as he could to anyone who could hear him that R. Yonason Eyebschuetz was secretly a member of an extremely evil sect. R. Emden did everything possible within his power, even trying to get secular authorities involved, in order to disgrace and destroy R. Eybeschuetz.
The fascination of what’s difficult
Has dried the sap out of my veins

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#73 myaccountname

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Posted 12 June 2006 - 02:32 PM

I've said enough, but if you guys wanna play with fire, go right ahead
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#74 cynic

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Posted 12 June 2006 - 05:19 PM

I've said enough, but if you guys wanna play with fire, go right ahead

Anyway, I'm sure the Bobover Rebbe is on R' Yaakov Emdem's team, being related and all.

#75 shaya_getzl

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Posted 12 June 2006 - 05:21 PM

Anyway, I'm sure the Bobover Rebbe is on R' Yaakov Emdem's team, being related and all.


Related to both you mean ...
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#76 cynic

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Posted 12 June 2006 - 05:25 PM

How?

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Posted 12 June 2006 - 05:28 PM

Anyway, I'm sure the Bobover Rebbe is on R' Yaakov Emdem's team, being related and all.


there are mihagim in bobov from the siddur by r' emden, and r' eibeshutz is lovingly refered to as the Rebbe Reb Yonason
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#78 shaya_getzl

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Posted 12 June 2006 - 05:32 PM

How?


I'm pretty sure they are, as are most sheine yidn of that lineage. But do people know the reason of Yaavetz's zealosy in Sh"Tz matters ?
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#79 misosbd

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Posted 12 June 2006 - 09:03 PM

You keep refering to this as a "machlokes" and you keep saying that it was between "gedolim", so therefore we cannot venture our own opinions or use words like "innocent" or "guilty". You don't realize that your logic is circular. The whole point is the question of whether or not he was a godol to begin with, and this is what Artscroll (the poster, not the press) has been trying to explain to you. R. Yonason Eybeschuetz was accused of extremely, extremely serious crimes. If he was guilty, say, of having intercourse with his own daughter (yes, he was accused of this by R. Emden) as part of secret Sabbatean rituals intended to force the second coming of Shabtai Tzvi, then obviously he wasn't a godol. Refering to this as a "machlokes" is already missing the whole point of what was going on. This wasn't like an argument between the Raavad and the Rambam over some sugya. This was a question of metzius: Was he or was he not involved in these activities? Was he guilty or innocent?

And claiming that R. Yaakov Emden asked his students not to get involved in the machlokes is patently ridiculous. R. Yaakov Emden owned a printing press, and even after other gedolim who agreed with him had given up the battle, R. Emden was still pamphleteering and printing books with his charges, shouting as loud as he could to anyone who could hear him that R. Yonason Eyebschuetz was secretly a member of an extremely evil sect. R. Emden did everything possible within his power, even trying to get secular authorities involved, in order to disgrace and destroy R. Eybeschuetz.


Baron, you seem to want to prove that the frum world , doesn't follow the "critical" method of learning history. In my opinion you have succeeded in your task. In my opinion , your view is contrary to judaism. I can say at least 2 reasons for this. One, you don't follow a Jewish view that says that if talmid chacham is punished for a crime, it shouldent be publicised. This you dont follow. Secondly, Jews have accepted Rav Yonasan as a gadol, and you ignore the traditions of these people.

The question is, in what character do you post. Are you posting as someone who grew up frum , absorbed the jewish traditions and understandings , and continues in this way. , or are you someone who reads letters books and other such sources for his information.

The same question can be asked about your posts on lubavitch. Are you someone who has absorbed the the "lithuanian" Jewish tradition, which while appreciating the mailos of lubavich, is extremely troubled by certain views they have, and are trying to explain what real Judaism is supposed to be, or are you someone who really is not connected to the Lithuanians, just someone who attempts to comprehend what the views of the Lithuanian rabbis where, and to then tell people what lubavich does wrong.
To me it seems clear which way you lean, despite the fact that that you sometimes mush parts of both, together.

#80 BaronPhilip

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Posted 12 June 2006 - 11:58 PM

The non-Orthodox historian of Jewish mysticism Gershom Scholem once said that of all the conclusions he's published in his academic work, the one that most irritated the Orthodox Jewish community was that R. Eybeschuetz was a Sabbetean.

Baron, you seem to want to prove that the frum world, doesn't follow the "critical" method of learning history. In my opinion you have succeeded in your task.

I'm not sure exactly what you mean by "the critical method in learning history" as opposed to the frum method.

In my opinion, your view is contrary to judaism.

If you have the time to continue posting on this thread and carefully read and respond to my long posts, I would welcome the opportunity to debate that point with you.

We have to have very exact common definitions of terms for the debate to be productive. I see that so far you have employed two categories. Please let me know exactly what you mean by the terms: "the critical method of learning history" and "the traditional Torah way of learning history." Please define and distinguish between each precisely in terms of assumptions and methods, without vague statements like "what they do in universities" and "what they do in yeshivos."

One, you don't follow a Jewish view that says that if talmid chacham is punished for a crime, it shouldn't be publicised.

I think it's clear that would not apply when the crime is of the nature that it would render the man in question an apikores.

Note that it is not only permissable, but under certain circumstances even a chuiyyuv, to speak up if you have information that might demonstrate that the rabbi in question is not someone who should be viewed as a rabbinic leader. I know there is a letter from the Chazon Ish making this very point, although I forgot where it is in Igros Chazon Ish.

Secondly, Jews have accepted Rav Yonasan as a gadol, and you ignore the traditions of these people.

It's not a cut and dry either-or as you represent it. I think you may have an oversimplified view of how mesorah works, a view that I believe is not an essential part of our mesorah. For starters, Jews have also accepted Rav Yakov Emden, the Pnei Yehoshua, and the Noda BeYehuda as gedolim, and the books and letters of these men are also part of our tradition.

The question is, in what character do you post. Are you posting as someone who grew up frum , absorbed the jewish traditions and understandings , and continues in this way. , or are you someone who reads letters books and other such sources for his information.

I try my best to do both, and see no reason to say that they are mutually exclusive. Before beginning my "academic" studies, I spent a number of years in traditional yeshiva, where I made every effort to absorb and understand Jewish traditions. Among the many Jewish traditions I absorbed there is the veneration of a number of gedolei Torah who were prepared to "read letters, books, and other such sources" as part of their quest for emes.

One of the reasons I posted certain things on this website was to make that very point:

I posted an essay (LINK) where I showed that the Netziv had no problem with using the latest archaeological discoveries of his day to argue with all of the rishonim to better understand pesukim in the Torah. (There is also an example of Ramban citing a archaeological discovery of his day in order to explain certain pesukim.)

I posted an essay (LINK) where I showed that Rashi and other rishonim had no problem with using a non-traditional work of historiography preserved by the Catholic church to argue with Chazal on matters of Jewish history.

I posted an essay (LINK) where I showed that the Ibn Ezra had no problem with using a purely scientific text-critical approach to argue with centuries of Jewish tradition, including the words of Chazal, in regard to the authorship of a section of Tanach. Many other rishonim were prepared to argue with Chazal on the authorship of various sifrei Tanach (e.g. Radak, Abarbanel). Many rishonim engaged in what we today call "comparative philology": They studied Arabic as a language cognate to Hebrew in order to better understand how to translate certain Hebrew words and verb forms, even when this ended up causing them to disagree with Chazal and Jewish tradition.

I posted an essay (LINK) where I showed that R. Yisroel Salanter had no problem with strongly encouraging his talmidim to study a mussar sefer that was written by a very secularly-educated "maskil" who borrowed liberally from the ideas of Enlightenment psychology and the writings of Benjamin Franklin.

I posted several posts on a thread (LINK) where I showed that Rav Shimon Schwab had no problem with using the conclusions of modern secular historians to argue with 1500 years of mesorah and reinterpret many statements of Chazal and generally rearrange the traditional Jewish chronology.

Chazal at the end of Pesachim write that a certain view of the chachmei yisroel on astronomy was wrong and that the differing view of the chachmei umos ho'olom on the matter was correct.

In more recent times, widely accepted gedolei Torah like R. Azriel Hildesheimer and R. Dovid Tzvi Hoffman used "academic" techniques in the study of Torah.

The same question can be asked about your posts on lubavitch. Are you someone who has absorbed the the "lithuanian" Jewish tradition, which while appreciating the mailos of lubavich, is extremely troubled by certain views they have, and are trying to explain what real Judaism is supposed to be, or are you someone who really is not connected to the Lithuanians, just someone who attempts to comprehend what the views of the Lithuanian rabbis where, and to then tell people what lubavich does wrong. To me it seems clear which way you lean, despite the fact that that you sometimes mush parts of both, together.

I can see why it appears that way to you. Over the course of a discussion I might be able to clarify my approach.

Of all the traditions I have encountered, the Lithuanian tradition seems to me to be one of the most rooted in mesorah and learning, so I identify with it to some degree. (Incidently, that is part of why I choose to wear a black velvet yarmulke and a black hat on Shabbos.) But I don't completely identify with everything the Lithuanians do. There are other traditions that I draw from.

I quote the Lithuanian gedolim on the issue of Lubavitch not because I blindly accept everything they say on every subject as Daas Torah, but for three reasons:

(1) My personal hashkafah, as I said above, is that the Lithuanian gedolim are the ones most rooted in authentic, ancient mesorah and learning, so therefore I attach great weight to their views. While it's true that I do not uncritically and blindly accept each and every thing any one Lithuanian godol says (the way a Lakewood guy would), I still recognize their authority as leaders of the current generation of the community I perceive as the one most rooted in mesorah. The fact that so many of them have expressed similar criticisms of Lubavitch makes me more comfortable expressing the results of my own inquiries.

(2) I believe their perception of Lubavitch and its rebbe is an important source of information for research. Even if I were not even frum, as a student of history I would want to know what someone like R. Yaakov Kaminetsky said because he is obviously a source of expert analysis on issues within rabbinic Judaism. If R. Aharon Kotler and others felt that the Frierdiker's hashkafah was undermining their attempts to establish institutions, this is obviously an important data for the historian.

(3) I feel very strongly on the matter of Lubavitch, and feel that there is a moral imperative to convince others. I try to explain why I have reached my own conclusions, but I know that many of the people in my audience are people who will respect the words of the Lithuanian gedolei Torah, so I quote those sages in order to help convince them.

To me it seems clear which way you lean, despite the fact that that you sometimes mush parts of both, together.


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personal comment:

I studied Jewish history together with colleagues who were various types of what is called "Modern Orthodox." Many of them seemed comfortable with a bifurcated approach to Judaism. They followed halacha, but at the same time they accepted as true things they picked up from secular academic sources, even if these things went totally against Orthodox Judaism.

For example, some of my friends studied Talmud from an academic perspective, and became convinced that the Amoro'im had a method for reading mishnayos that was not true to the original meanings intended by the Tanna'im. (E.g. the views of David Weiss Halivni and Shamma Friedman) They concluded that since they were armed with the latest academic tools, they could understand mishnayos better than Ravina and Rav Ashi. I would ask them: If you think that the interpretations of the gemara are so often mistaken, why do you bother following halacha? They would respond "we follow halacha because we're Orthodox." I would ask them, "why are you Orthodox?" They would respond "we are Orthodox because we follow halacha."

One guy I know, who got semichah from YU, told me that he saw reason to believe that our interpretations of Torah were any more correct than the interpretations of the Tzedukim, and that he followed our halacha simply because history happened to work out that way.

I even know an individual who is punctilious in following halacha (he yells at his Shabbos guests when they don't wash mayim achronim) who believes that the Torah was written by J, E, P, D, and R!

As you can imagine, this greatly bothered me. I would point out to all these people that according to our mesorah they were big-time kofrim, in particular kofrim beTorah SheBe'al Peh. They didn't care. (I won't bother to list all their ridiculous excuses, which usually involved vague references to things like "post-modernism" and "different models of truth".)

In all the time I've spent involved in academic Jewish studies, I've never had that mindset. First of all, I think it's intellectually dishonest, pose'ach al shtei ha-se'ippim. If I thought that Rav Ashi got it all wrong, or that our mesorah was no better than that of the tzedukim, I'd been spending Yom Kippur on some Hawaii beach, eating bacon-and-cheese sandwiches. The reason I put on tefillin every morning and keep Shabbos is because I believe in our mesorah. I believe it is a rational, intellectually honest position to believe in our mesorah. I have never seen anything that is essential to our mesorah that goes against the results of sober, responsible "critical" study. I've put a great deal of effort into addressing and resolving all the supposed conflicts between critical thinking and our mesorah. In other words, I've made every effort to make certain that what I do and what I believe is not only consistent with the results of scientific inquiry, but also with the traditions of the Jewish people.
The fascination of what’s difficult
Has dried the sap out of my veins

—Yeats




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