Volume 50 Number 72
                    Produced: Fri Dec 23  7:06:43 EST 2005

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Abba/Ima, etc.
         [Mike Gerver]
Avraham ibn Ezra
         [Jay F Shachter]
Is the Torah sufficient to prevent crime?
         [David Curwin]
Tzur Yisrael
         [Hillel (Sabba) Markowitz]


From: <MJGerver@...> (Mike Gerver)
Date: Wed, 21 Dec 2005 18:56:09 EST
Subject: Abba/Ima, etc.

Lean Gordon writes, in v50n66,

      It caught on for my father (now Abba to all of us) but not as much
      for my mother (now sometimes Ima, but often Mommy, though always
      Ima in third person conversations among siblings).  I always
      thought that it was because my attachment was so strong to 'Mommy'
      that it couldn't be broken, but that can't be the whole
      explanation since two of my sisters are young enough that they
      arguably could have been born into calling her Ima, but all of us
      use Mommy sometimes.

I suspect the reason that Leah's younger sisters sometimes use "Mommy,"
in spite of being essentially born into calling their mother "Ima," is
that they were following Leah's lead. The language patterns that
children acquire, in general, are based on the language patterns of
their peers, not the language patterns of their parents, if there is a
conflict between the two. This was clear in my children's use of "Imma"
instead of "Mommy." All of our children switched from "Mommy" to "Imma"
when our oldest child Miriam was about 7, and apparently was influenced
by the kids in her class (at a Jewish day school in the US), who mostly
called their mothers "Imma." Even though I continued (and continue to
this day) to refer to my wife as "Mommy" when talking to our children,
all of them call her, and refer to her, as "Imma." This includes our
youngest child Mollie, not even born when Miriam started using "Imma."
Mollie has used "Imma" her entire life, and has never used "Mommy," in
spite of the fact that she has never heard me refer to my wife (when
talking to Mollie and our other children) as anything other than

Mike Gerver
Raanana, Israel


From: Jay F Shachter <jay@...>
Date: Wed, 21 Dec 2005 21:07:58 -0600 (CST)
Subject: Avraham ibn Ezra

Mail-jewish readers who are concerned (and it appears, of late, that
there are several, though the discussion does appear to have died down
in the past week or so) with Avraham ibn Ezra's views on the post-
Mosaic authorship of the last 12 verses of Deuteronomy, may be
interested to know that an English translation of ibn Ezra's commentary
on Deuteronomy is available.  The gentle reader is referred to mail-
jewish vol.39 #16 (http://www1.emax.ca/mj_ht_arch/v39/mj_v39i16.html),
s.v. "Blatant Self-Promotion".

Readers, however, who buy this most worthy and excellent translation
hoping that it will clarify ibn Ezra's views on the authorship of the
Torah will be disappointed, the translator apparently believing that the
purpose of a translation is to convey the sense of the original, and
that if an author was intentionally obscure in the original, he should
be equally obscure in a faithful translation of said original.  The
tantalizing comment (which is not, incidentally, the comment on
Deuteronomy 34:1 -- which is rather innocuous -- but is found, rather,
in the comment on Deuteronomy 1:2) is rendered thus: "if you can grasp
the mystery behind the following problematic passages ... you will then
understand the truth".  This is pretty much what ibn Ezra wrote; the
rest is silence.

My personal opinion is that ibn Ezra was not a doctrinarian, and that we
should not attach much significance to his views on the matter, one way
or the other.  It is true that he was goodthinkful in contrast to the
Karaites, whom he not only disagreed with passionately but also, by and
large, despised, but that does not mean that he would be taken to be so
today, in a society whose standards of ideological correctness have
refined themselves somewhat with the passing of the centuries.  Ibn
Ezra, for example, routinely intepreted verses governing practice in
ways that contradict halakha. *

 * Footnote:
   But we should also consider the very real possibility that ibn Ezra
   did so only because he did not know halakha all that well.  Do not
   be shocked.  One cannot be good at everything.  Ibn Ezra was a
   better mathematician than Rashi, a better astronomer, a better
   grammarian, a better poet, and much better read in secular
   literature, but he never did have much of a reputation as a
   Talmudist.  He was much admired for his talents, but he was not the
   gadol haddor (and neither was Rashi, for that matter, although
   Ramban very definitely was), and we should not think that a
   Gentile publisher named Daniel Bomberg chose to publish him in his
   Miqra'ot Gdolot five hundred years ago for the same reasons that
   a Jewish publisher would give weight to today.

As for the question of whether ibn Ezra was a mystic, here I think our
mailing list could benefit from our taking some time to think a bit more
clearly about what we are saying.  People have been writing things like
"ibn Ezra was a mystic because he believed X" and "ibn Ezra was not a
mystic because he did not believe Y".  Now, if the X and the Y are being
offered as evidence of the proposition "ibn Ezra was a mystic" -- a
proposition that can be independently verified -- then we have a valid
discussion.  But if the X and the Y are, in fact, our definition of what
it means "to be a mystic" then we are having a definitional and not an
evidentiary argument, and we are wasting our time, like listening to
Democritus and Leibniz argue about whether the world is made of atoms,
or of monads.  Instead of professing whether ibn Ezra was or was not a
mystic, let us skip all that and go to the X and the Y and the Z: he
believed X, he did not believe Y, his beliefs about Z are indeterminate.

Ibn Ezra did not mistrust rationality.  There is none of the credo quia
absurdum in his writings that you find in the writings of mystics, none
of the doctrine that reason can lead you to beliefs that are untrue and
that must be rejected.  Of course, ibn Ezra believed, as all religious
Jews do, that we must accept the parts of the Torah that we do not
understand, but he did not believe that such acceptance was antirational
or even irrational.  We have reason to believe that the Torah is true,
we have reason to believe that the Sages are reliable transmitters of an
oral tradition.

Now, with respect to another aspect of mysticism, the pretension to
esoteric knowledge, there ibn Ezra is less consistent.  Mostly he is
completely exoteric, telling the reader everything he knows -- in his
commentaries on the Tetragrammaton and the Decalogue he is almost
flamboyant in his exposition of pages upon pages of abstruse knowledge
which he generously reveals to the uninitiated.  But occasionally -- and
usually, but not always, it does coincide with his use of the word "sod"
-- ibn Ezra suggests that there is more to say, but that he must conceal
it, because it must be taught only to the student who is prepared to
learn it.  The readiness is all.

None of this discussion, I hope, will minimize, and none, I hope, will
overshadow or obscure, the intense connection one feels to the person of
Avraham ibn Ezra when one reads his works, which are works of great
beauty -- a beauty cold and austere, like that of a sculpture.  It is a
connection that one feels with few other writers.  Avraham ibn Ezra was
not a happy man.  He spent the last half of his life wandering from land
to land, taking with him only his astrolabe, his manuscripts, and his
passions, paramount of which were all the passions of his towering
intellect, and the paramount of those were his passion for truth -- and
specifically, the truth of the Torah.  Ibn Ezra knew well how salty
tastes another's bread, and how hard a path it is to go up and down
another's stairs, and he died alone, admired but not loved, a stranger
in a strange land, miserably poor, but his poetry and his prose sing to
us over the gulf of eight hundred years in a clear voice that will never
be silenced; and the rest is rust, and stardust.

Jay F. ("Yaakov") Shachter
6424 N Whipple St, Chicago IL  60645-4111


From: David Curwin <tobyndave@...>
Date: Wed, 21 Dec 2005 22:10:42 +0200
Subject: Is the Torah sufficient to prevent crime?

I recently attended a fascinating shiur. The speaker discussed an
article by Rav Goren, which primarily focused on one of the Drashot
HaRan (Shoftim).  The interesting idea that the Ran puts forward is that
the purpose of criminal law, both for the Jews and non-Jews, is to
prevent a chaotic and corrupt society. The non-Jews are commanded to
establish a system of law that insures that crimes will not be
committed. The Jews of course have the Torah, but - and here's the
shocking part - the Torah law isn't sufficient to prevent many
crimes. (Both written and oral!) And therefore, the king (or who ever is
in charge of the country) is commanded to complement the Torah laws with
any legislation necessary to preserve public order. And this doesn't
only apply to laws that complement the Torah, but even those that
contradict it. For example, while the Torah requires two witnesses and
warning before a murderer can be punished, it is clear that such
requirements make prosecution of murders very difficult. So the king is
allowed, or actually required, to ignore those Torah laws. Rav Goren
goes on to quote sources in the Rambam and the Rashba that support the
same premise.

While the speaker showed that for civil debates the Torah law, Mishpat
Ivri, may be enough, we don't need to feel guilty about learning from
non-Jewish criminal law and adopting it.

My question is this: if the Torah laws of "two witnesses" and others are
not sufficient to prevent murder, why are they in the Torah at all? It
seems hard to say that when the Torah was given, or in an ideal society,
the Torah laws would be enough. For we're talking about murderers! How
much better could murderers get?

-David Curwin
Efrat, Israel


From: Hillel (Sabba) Markowitz <sabba.hillel@...>
Date: Wed, 21 Dec 2005 13:32:53 -0800 (PST)
Subject: Re: Tzur Yisrael

From: Russell Jay Hendel <rjhendel@...>
> It IS possible that the expression Tzur yisrael was chosen so as not to
> TURN OFF real aetheists (Hence there might be basis for the story). But
> I doubt that any of the founding fathers were aetheists or were ashamed
> of mention of God.

While it could be an urban legend, there is a story that one of the
Communist signers said that he would refuse to sign and block acceptance
of the document if there was a mention of G-d.


Gideon Rafael, 85, was one of the founding members of the Israeli
foreign ministry in 1948 and later its director-general. He served as
ambassador to Belgium, the European Community, the United Nations,
Britain and Ireland, and in other senior posts. He was born in 1913.

"On May 13th (1948), Moshe Sharett (Israel's first foreign minister) was
occupied with the formulation of the final draft of the Declaration of
Independence. I was his assistant. One major discussion was whether to
explicitly mention God Almighty. The secular representatives were not in
favor of introducing a religious connotation. The compromise was found
through Sharett's extraordinary knowledge of the language -- the
Almighty is also called 'Rock of Israel' in Hebrew, and that proved



[ most of article cut]

Perhaps the biggest argument, brought up at each preceding meeting, was
over including "God" in the declaration. David Pinkas, a representative
of Mizrahi, wanted the document to begin, "The Land of Israel was
promised to the Jewish people in the Torah and by the prophets"; others
wanted no mention - or even a hint - of a deity.

A compromise was reached to use the phrase "Tzur Yisrael," now
translated as "Rock of Israel." Shertok had translated it as "Almighty
God," and those words were used until an official version in 1962
changed it to "Rock of Israel." But objections were raised even to the
"Tzur Yisrael" idea.

"The strongest opponent of the use of God's name was Zisling," recalls
Zerah Warhaftig, then of Hapoel Hamizrahi, and one of two surviving
signers (see following articles).

"Even when we decided already, and came to a compromise on 'Tzur
Yisrael,' he was trying up to the last minute to make a change, to take
it out," Warhaftig recalled.

But Ben-Gurion stepped in: "Each of us, in his own way, believes in the
'Rock of Israel' as he conceives it. I should like to make one request:
Don't let me put this phrase to a vote." 

He then asked the council for a vote on the whole text by two ballots,
and added that council members stuck in besieged Jerusalem had approved
it that morning. 

"Now I ask all those in favor of the present text as a whole to raise
their hands," Ben-Gurion said.

Everyone did.

Hillel (Sabba) Markowitz | Said the fox to the fish, "Join me ashore"
<Sabba.Hillel@...> | The fish are the Jews, Torah is our water


End of Volume 50 Issue 72