Volume 10 Number 66
                       Produced: Thu Dec 16 12:15:24 1993

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Bontshe Schveig
         [Freda Birnbaum]
Megillat Hashmonaim
         [Sigrid Peterson]
Pierced Ears (3)
         [Daniel Faigin, Robert A. Book, Anthony Fiorino]
Suffering (was Bonsche Schwieg)
         [Susan Slusky]
The Chosen, and Chaim Potok
         [David Kessler]


From: Freda Birnbaum <FBBIRNBA@...>
Date: Mon, 13 Dec 93 13:57 EDT
Subject: Bontshe Schveig

Rani Averick asks:

>The discussion of Bontshe Shveig brings to mind my own experience
>learning this story. As a grade-school student I was taught one ending
>to the story, and as an adult I heard the real (as far as I know)
>ending.  The real ending, of course, made an entire difference in the
>moral of the story! [...]
>P.S. I heard this second ending from Rabbi Riskin at a class at
>Bravender's in Israel.  As I wrote this posting I wonder if I
>misinterpreted him.  When he quoted this as the ending, he may have
>meant "the ending" in quotation marks, i.e., what the real point of the
>story was. Can someone who has the text of the story clarify this?

I heard Rabbi Riskin make exactly the same point in a lecture in New
York City in the mid-'70's, and went home and checked it out.  Sure
enough, Rabbi Riskin was right.  At least in the version of the story
I looked at.

Moshe Waldoks comments:

>I.B. Singer's "Gimpel the Fool" (his first story translated into English
>by Saul Bellow in the early 1950's) is his reaction to I.L. Peretz's
>"Bontshe". The latter is an example of black humor and the "retarded"
>Bontshe is not portrayed as a model of how Jews should react to
>adversity. "adaraba" [the opposite - Mod.]  Peretz bemoaned the
>passivity of many "shtetl yidn."

and Yosef Bechhofer comments:

>[...] It was many years
>later only in retrospect that I realized that Peretz was actually
>attacking the religious Jewish perspective on suffering.  I firmly
>believe that his point is that one cannot say that suffering is for our
>benefit or a test, as we believe, because its only result is the
>dehumanization and trivialization of human nature and aspiration, so
>that all we are left with is a yearning for the minimal requirements of
>existence (bread and butter is the highest pleasure Bontshe can

Seems to me that the glorification of passivity and acceptance in the
face of deprivation and suffering as portrayed in the CENSORED version
of the story is much more typical of Christian-saint-and-martyr stories
than it is of a Jewish outlook.

Yosef adds:

>In general, there is something to be said for censoring
>children's reading to a certain extent.

I'm not clear as to whether he means that the CENSORED or the UNCENSORED
Bontshe story is unsuitable for children?

Freda Birnbaum, <fbbirnbaum@...>,
who really liked Rabbi Riskin's lecture...


From: <petersig@...> (Sigrid Peterson)
Date: Tue, 14 Dec 93 09:19:35 -0500
Subject: Megillat Hashmonaim

Barry Siegel brings the Megillat Hashmonaim, from the Birnbaum siddur,
pp.  714-726 in my edition. He wonders why it was not accepted as part
of TaNaKh. My understanding is that Hanukkah was only reluctantly added
to the calendar, rather late; it is very much d'rabbanan, rather than

 From Birnbaum's notes, this version seems to have been written
specifically for inclusion in the siddur, in or just before the Gaonic
period in Babylon.  Reading it, now that we know a bit more about the
Bar Kokhba period, suggests that it could have material from the 2nd
century c.e. [A quick guesstimate; I could be very wrong.]

To read from an historical perspective, there are four other versions of
the story, called 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Maccabees. The first two are
part of the Apocryphal Books of the Bible, included in Greek codices
because they were part of the Old Greek translations. They never became
canonical, however.

To get the English versions of 1 and 2 Maccabees, you need to get an
English translation of the Bible plus Apocrypha plus New Testament. I
like the New Revised Standard Version. 1 and 2 Maccabees are in the
section called Apocrypha; 1 Maccabees is the more historical version of
the two.

3 and 4 Maccabees are dated from the 1st century b.c.e. and the 1st
century c.e., respectively. They can be found, along with a good deal of
introductory material, in the second volume of R. H. Charlesworth, The
Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Garden City NY: Doubleday, 1985), pp.
509-564. The fact that all four mss. were in Greek may have something to
do with them not being part of TaNaKh.

Sigrid Peterson   UPenn   <petersig@...>


From: <faigin@...> (Daniel Faigin)
Date: Mon, 13 Dec 93 11:10:13 -0500
Subject: Re: Pierced Ears

The Reform Responsa that addresses the question of piercing the ear uses
a basis, and mentions some information, that has not been mentioned
previously in this chain.

It [Contemporary American Reform Responsa, #76] begins by noting that
the piercing of the earlobe is mentioned in the Torah (Ex 21.6; Tosefta
B. K. 7.5) as a mark indicating lifelong slavery, and were considered a
permanent form of branding. The context was that if a Hebrew slave, who
was to serve six years and be freed in the seventh year, declared that
he loved his master, and his wife and children did not wish to be freed,
then "he shall be brought to the door or the doorpost and his master
shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall then remain his slave for

In the more common case of ear piercing, this is for holding decorative
items of female ornamentation, not as a permanent brand. This purpose
was known in Talmudic times (M. Shab. 6.6). The responsa indicates that
not only were ornaments warns in the ear during the Talmudic period, but
also as signs of various trades and professions. Thus, a writer would
carry a quill, etc. (Tos.  Shab. 1.8p Shab. 11b; J. Shab 3b). The
responsa indicates that this indicates that such a surgical procedure
was permitted in Talmudic times; it also indicates that it was not
prohibited later (although during periods it was unfashionable).

They note that the matter is related to the Talmudic willingness to
encourage women to beautify themselves (B. K. 82a; B.B. 2a; Shulhan
Arukha Orah Hayim 346.5; Ket. 64b), and conclude that (at least for
Reform), piercing is permitted for women for the sake of beautification.

I have no idea whether this line of reasoning would hold in more
traditional circles; certainly, it would not apply to men piercing their
ears. However, it is a line of reasoning that I have not seen raised.


From: <rbook@...> (Robert A. Book)
Date: Sat, 11 Dec 93 04:13:46 -0500
Subject: Re: Pierced Ears

> A couple of recent postings have indicated that ear-piercing could in 
> fact be a halakhic problem.  It appears that R. Baruch Epstein had
> no objection to the practice, as is seen from the Torah Temimah to the 
> pasuk "v'hu yimshal bach"("and he will reign over you" - addressed to 
> Chava) in Parshat Bereishit, where he says something to the effect that 
> it is plausible that the custom for women to pierce their ears and place 
> ornaments in them is an allusion to the fact she is enjoined to tilt her 
> ear to the words of her husband.

R. Yochannan ben Zakkai cites essentially the same reason (in connection
with the slave who refuses to go free), but to prove the opposite point;
i.e., the a pierced ear symbolizes one who declines to serve G-d, but
would rather serve a human master.

Shmot/Exodus 21:6 and Devarim/Deuteronomy 15:16-17 deal with the case of
a slave who, after completing his six years of service, declines his
freedom and prefers to stay with his master and serve him "for ever"
(which is qualified to mean until the Yovel [Jubilee]).  The Hertz
Chumash (p. 307) has the following commentary:

"Why was the ear, among all the organs of the body, selected for
perforation?" asked the pupils of Rabban Yochannan ben Zakkai.  He
answered, "The ear that heard the Divine utterance, 'for unter Me the
children of Israel are servants,' [Vayikra/Leviticus 25:5] and yet
preferred a human master, let that ear be bored."

> Don't flame me ...  please.

I hope you do not consider this to be a flame.

--Robert Book

From: Anthony Fiorino <fiorino@...>
Date: Mon, 13 Dec 93 20:40:39 -0500
Subject: Pierced Ears

If having one's ears pierced is mutar, then perhaps a male may not do so
and wear earings because they are beged isha.

Eitan Fiorino


From: <segs@...> (Susan Slusky)
Date: Mon, 13 Dec 93 10:58:03 EST
Subject: Suffering (was Bonsche Schwieg)

Yosef Bechhofer's comments on suffering disturbed me. He said:

>... Peretz  [ in Bonsche Schweig] was actually
>attacking the religious Jewish perspective on suffering.  I firmly
>believe that his point is that one cannot say that suffering is for our
>benefit or a test, as we believe, because its only result is the
>dehumanization and trivialization of human nature and aspiration, so
>that all we are left with is a yearning for the minimal requirements of
>existence (bread and butter is the highest pleasure Bontshe can

I infer from this that Yosef is saying that Judaism does say that
suffering is for our benefit. This does not ring true to me at all.  If
suffering were to our benefit, then we would not be commanded to
alleviate the suffering of others. After all, shouldn't we allow the
suffering to reap the full benefit of their suffering? However we are
commanded to feed the hungry, clothe and shelter those in need, comfort
the bereaved, etc. So from this I infer that suffering is not a benefit.
In fact, the idea that suffering is a benefit, and therefore is
something to be sought out, is something I associate more with
Christianity (l'havdil) than with Judaism.

Yosef, am I misinterpreting your words?

-- Susan Slusky


From: <kessler@...> (David Kessler)
Date: Tue, 14 Dec 1993 10:40:49 +0200
Subject: The Chosen, and Chaim Potok

In reference to Y. Bechhofer's comments on The Chosen, I could not
let them pass without comment. While it is true that in general
Chaim Potok's work is infected strongly with his Conservative outlook,
and that much of his later work has a standard scenario: Person starts
frum, frumkeit gets in the way of what he wants to do in life, person
drops (some of) his frumkeit - (see, e.g. In the Beginning and My Name
is Asher Lev), I do not think The Chosen should be lumped together
with these works.  The Chosen, as opposed to many of Potok's other works,
was a best-seller, and this on account of the strength of the story,
which was more powerful than any of Potok's concious "messages".  As
opposed to R. Bechhofer's reading, for me the hero of the book was Reb
Saunder, not the Malters.  The theme of the book, for me, was a father's
love for his son, and what sacrifices (including his son's love) he made
for the ultimate good (as he perceived it) of his son.  As such, the
book deeply resonates with other classic Jewish themes, such as the
Akeida.  It can also be a metaphor for G-d's relationship with us, his
children. The high point of the book was Reb Saunder's explanation of his
motives at the end.  I still choke up when I think of it.

Happy Chanuka and Gut Chodesh,
David Kessler           Dept. of Physics,  Bar-Ilan Univ.


End of Volume 10 Issue 66