Volume 59 Number 57 
      Produced: Sun, 17 Oct 2010 03:51:46 EDT

Subjects Discussed In This Issue:

A good way to learn mishnah? 
    [David Ziants]
A punctuation question 
    [Orrin Tilevitz]
Did Ben-Yehuda revive the Hebrew language? 
    [Martin Stern]
Prohibition of entering a church (2)
    [Frank Silbermann]
What is the difference? 
    [Martin Stern]


From: David Ziants <dziants@...>
Date: Sat, Oct 16,2010 at 09:01 PM
Subject: A good way to learn mishnah?

We are talking about young school children learning mishna using a 
modern method: http://www.hamelamdim.org.il/shetef.aspx which includes 
various types of enjoyable classroom activities and as well as singing 
the mishna with loud popular Jewish music. To my query (MJ 59#52 and MJ 
59#54) about whether learning mishneh with loud music for too long can 
have a detrimental effect, I received a number of responses both public 
and privately, which were only positive about the method.

The bottom line of the responses is that a balance _is_ needed, and the 
teachers ought to know how to make this balance. Therefore I am no longer 
so concerned. Also, this Shabbat, my daughter was very willing to recite to
me the first mishnah of Avot and was also able to correct me on what 
should be the silent sheva in the word "umsarah" (that I got wrong when 
I did it with her). I think the issue of the Shabbat before was just 
because of a lack of confidence.

Sammy Finkelman <sammy.finkelman@...> wrote (MJ 59#56) a 
response which I do not find comfortable, especially as it presents 
initial reactions that are negative and not at all in line with the 
facts. I thus feel that I have to answer each of his points:-

> The first thing I thought is: they start Torah off with Pirkei Avos?
> That can be described as the sacred scripture of Reform Judaism. It
> may tell you something about the school's Torah learning.

Has V'Shalom [G-d forbid]!

A school that insists, for even its first grade girls, socks up to 
"here" and sleeves down to "there", is far from the label that is being 
given in your response. Do you think that first grade girls should be 
learning Baba Metzia [name of one of the tractates that talks about 
technical/legal monetary matters]? In any case, if the Reform learn 
about "Moshe receiving the Torah from Sinai", maybe they are not such 
apikorsim [unbelievers in the Divine revelation] as they make us 
"frummers" [a derogatory usage of a Yiddish word irreligious people 
sometimes use for religious people] think they are!!

> The tune (is it "v'karaiv pezurainu"? - I couldn't get anything to
> play at the link) is probably too fast - and bouncy too maybe - for
> any kind of comprehension. Which probably doesn't matter to the

Correct. The first mishna is the tune to this. Each mishna has a 
different tune.

I am sorry that your access to the web page did not go so well. Do you 
judge everything that does not give you good web access, badly?

> school, since it isn't interested in comprehension anyway and it is
> not treating it like something that is supposed to be understood.

Exactly the opposite. A lot of classroom activity, so 6 and 7 year olds 
can understand the mishnah pretty well. I agree that it is not easy to 
explain to kids that in the context of the mishnah "zkainim" does not 
necessarily mean old people, but is more of an indication of their 
wisdom. But maybe this point does not really matter because probably 
most of the"zkainim" were older men anyway (maybe should start a 
separate thread on mj for this point...). If you were able to see the 
video, you would see the kids pass the "Torah" to each other to 
demonstrate that after Moshe passed away, the Torah is still kept alive. 
My daughter is beginning to understand the difference between "Torah 
shebiChtav" [the Written Law] and "Torah sheba'al Peh" [the Oral Law].

> Setting something to a catchy tune though, is probably good though,
> for word to word repetition, and maybe that looks good to the parents,
> who may be fooled into thinking the child actuially knows something.

B'H (thank G-d) my daughter is not fooling me.

> But it is not so. How many times have you learned a song without any
> understanding of what it says? Breaking it down into words probably
> gets in the way of singing it, anyway.  When you try for comprehension
> you are probably destroying the tune.

Unlike when pesukim are often set to music and words and phrases are 
repeated, the mishna is sang so the words are said exactly as it appears 
in the traditional printed texts. It does mean that tune is dragged out 
a bit more to fit the extra word, etc., but overall the breaks in the 
tune fits the punctuation of the Mishnah. I guess they went to a lot of 
effort to choose a good fitting tune for each mishnah.

> Or it may be she doesn't like the tune that much and that's the problem.

Thank you for this remark, and I did consider this as a possibility.
Last week she already said that she likes the music, and I think it is 
just what I stated at the beginning of this posting.

> The Gemorah says Gemorah should be learned to a tune, but this is not
> the kind of tune you hear.  The musical tones actually follow the
> meaning - and the same thing is true for Torah reading.

I did not know that the la-la sometimes used when learning Gemmara has 
the same status as the traditional music cantillation  that is used for Torah
reading. Can you substantiate, please, the equivalence you make here?

> I would suggest waiting awhile until they stopped and then learning it
> with a different sound. It's not really that difficult to learn the
> same song with two different tunes.

It seems that everything is going OK now. From the start, my daughter 
has been getting good marks from her Mishnah teacher. Now that I have a 
better understanding of the extent of the music, I am not so worried 
about her hearing it too much. (What can I do if I am turning into an 
old fogy and many of my peers are now grandparents...)

David Ziants


From: Orrin Tilevitz <tilevitzo@...>
Date: Sat, Oct 16,2010 at 11:01 PM
Subject: A punctuation question

Which is correct: 

"vehasheiv et haavodah lidvir beitecha vi-ishei yisrael, utfilatam be-ahava
tekabel beratzon" 


"vehasheiv et haavodah lidvir beitecha, vi-ishei yisrael utfilatam be-ahava
tekabel beratzon"? 

The meaning is subtly different, although the only translations (Birnbaum,
Artscroll, Adler) I've seen are according to the second punctuation: 

"restore the worship to the Temple, and accept willingly Israel's fire offerings
and its prayers". 

That said, Birnbaum goes the second way; an old Adler machzor has the comma in
neither place, and a siddur supposedly by R. Yaakov Emden but edited by someone
named Weinfeld has the comma in both places. Artscroll sidurim go back and
forth, depending which edition you look at (although the English translation is
the same), leading me to conclude that if I were a Bible critic I would say that
there are two R. Nosson Schermans. Not that this is an earthshaking issue, but
does anyone have anything authoritative?


From: Martin Stern <md.stern@...>
Date: Sat, Oct 16,2010 at 06:01 PM
Subject: Did Ben-Yehuda revive the Hebrew language?

Leah Aharoni <leah25@...> wrote (MJ 59#56):
> In recent months I've come across several examples of Israeli scholarship
> claiming Modern "Israeli" to be a distinct language from Hebrew (you can
> read my take on that here: http://aqtext.com/blog/hebrew_or_israeli/)

Having read Leah's take, I think she has a valid point. All languages evolve
and eventually older versions become unintelligible to modern speakers.

Despite this, so long as it is be remembered that some words have changed their
meaning in the transition Biblical to Mishnaic to Mediaeval to Modern Hebrew
misunderstandings can be avoided, just as Modern English readers have to
remember that Shakespeare's usage differs from the present-day one, e.g. his use
of the word 'want' to mean 'need' unlike its current meaning of 'desire'.

In fact these strata of Hebrew differ less than does Modern English from
that of Chaucer's version of some 700 years ago, let alone the Anglo-Saxon
of the pre-1066 era, the latter being so different in vocabulary and syntax
that it presents the same problem to Modern English speakers as, for
example, Latin.

Modern "Israeli" is hardly a distinct language from Biblical Hebrew, since the
the differences, as she notes, are not so great as to prevent Modern Israeli
speakers from at least partial understanding of Biblical texts. 

If the three 'languages' are considered to be forms of English then it is
difficult to argue that Modern "Israeli" is a distinct language from Hebrew when
the various strata hardly differ more than Modern English does from that of

Martin Stern


From: Frank Silbermann <frank_silbermann@...>
Date: Fri, Oct 15,2010 at 02:01 PM
Subject: Prohibition of entering a church

I assumed (perhaps in error) that Chana Luntz was using the Eucharist
service (and the belief in transubstantiation) as evidence that Catholicism
was idolatrous.  I replied (MJ 59#55):
> Isn't that begging the question? In the context of worship by gentiles,
> if the Christian concept of G-d is idolatrous then we've already
> answered the question -- so the Eucharist is irrelevant. And if the
> Christian concept of G-d is not idolatrous for gentiles, then perhaps
> neither is the Eucharist.  Noting that Christians perform this service
> therefore adds no evidence either way.

Chana clarified her reasoning (MJ 59#56):
> ...anything offered to an idol, in the manner that similar items were offered
> in the Beis HaMikdash, are forbidden for a Jew to benefit from forever.
> So if something (the Eucharist) is offered in a manner similar to the way
> items were offered in the Beis HaMikdash, we can derive from its
> treatment in halacha what the status is of that to which it is offered. If
> it is permitted for a Jew to benefit from, then it cannot be deemed to have
> been offered to an idol, ergo, Christianity is (at least in some sense) not
> idol worship. If it is forbidden, then we can understand that Christianity
> is idol worship, because were it not, then it should not be forbidden.

Ah, now I understand what she was getting at.  If we are permitted
to benefit from the bread and wine of the Eucharist, that would imply
that Christianity is not idol worship.
However, we might not be able to reason the other way -- that our rabbis
could not have forbidden us to benefit from Eucharist bread and wine
unless Christianity were idolatrous even for gentiles.  Certainly, rabbis
who wished to prohibit could have come up with _some_ sort of justification.
(Are there any cases in history in which a rabbi's determination to 
forbid something was thwarted by to his inability to find a religious basis?)
Frank Silbermann             Memphis, Tennessee

From: Chana Luntz <Chana@...>
Date: Sat, Oct 16,2010 at 07:01 PM
Subject: Prohibition of Entering a Church

Mark Steiner (MJ 59#55) writes:

> Since Chana agrees with me that the Tosafot to Tractate Avoda Zara 14b
> does seem to state that the Christian mass is a.z. for Gentiles

I think you are misreading me there.  What I stated was that the prohibition
on selling wax candles to gentiles on their holiday (found in Tosphos 14b)
was a greater support to your position than the discussion regarding candles
after the fact found in Tosphos on Avodah Zara 50a/b.

What I also think I showed was that there is at least some evidence,
however, that the festival that is being referred to, and which is
problematic, is one known as Kandler.  I also demonstrated that to this day
there is a Christian festival with a name derived from Candles (Candlemas)
which has clearly very problematic origins and practices.  It involves all
candles being brought to the priest and blessed via some sort of ritual, one
that has no link into Christian theology, but which scholars agree is
derived from pagan practices, whether that of Brigid, goddess of the sacred
flame (whose worship was prevalent in Celtic lands), or other more
Mediterranean pagan practice, but which has landed on and been subsumed
into, a Christian festival.

Part of the reality of Christianity is that, unlike Islam (mostly), it
spread by appropriating and incorporating local pagan practice.  A true
understanding of it therefore cannot ignore that reality.  Take an example
that the modern reader is going to be more familiar with, the Christmas
tree.  Christmas trees are a relatively recent practice in Western Europe,
but they have a much longer history in the forested areas of Central and
Eastern Europe.  It seems pretty clear that they are ultimately derived from
peoples who were originally engaged in tree worship (probably not a million
miles away from the tree worship found in the form of the ashera that we are
familiar with from the Tanach).  Christianity was able to succeed in these
areas because they took over these practices.  Now today, whatever you want
to say about Christians, I doubt very much that anybody involved in setting
up or having a Christmas tree is engaged in tree worship (in the same way
that very few engaged in Halloween practices, again pagan derived, are
actually in any way buying into pagan beliefs).  But five hundred or a
thousand years ago, I don't think one can so easily say that was true.  The
veneer of Christianity was very thin and education was very limited.
Anybody attempting to understand the Christianity of the time of the Rishonim
has to understand a) the official beliefs of the religion; and b) the real
beliefs and practices of the laity.

Eitan  Fiorino (MJ 59#54) quotes the 2nd Council of Nicea (787 CE).  But he
also stated regarding the distinction between veneration and worship
"although this distinction may be lost on some laity".  And here lies a
critical aspect.  Even if the theology of the leaders of the Church is not
idol worship, if the laity "don't get it" and bow down to statues believing
in them, then there and then you have idol worship.  Any proper dealing with
Christianity has to deal with both the theory and the practice.  And when
you are talking about practices that are clearly and directly derived from
pagan worship, without any real intermediary theology, like the Candlemas
ritual, how much more so can one see that such practices are likely to be

That is why the ritual associated with a particular Candle festival does not
seem to necessarily make your wider cases.

> (perhaps because I cited the tosafot there as saying that liturgical books -
> i.e. mass-books, or missals -- are not to be sold to priests, so as not to
> put a stumbling block), 

I did not get into the question of the books, as that is yet another
fascinating topic - and needs an entire post on its own.  Suffice to say
that the Rabbanu Yerucham is mesupik [doubtful] but suspects that this
prohibition includes providing translations of the Tanach into Latin.  I am
not sure what he would say about the Septuagint.

> They had no access to Wikipedia, did not attend church services, and hence
> were not aware of the details of the mass and of the actual role of the
> wafer as an avoda zara itself (the flesh of Jesus).

I am very uncomfortable with this kind of analysis for three reasons.

The first is that once you say that the Ba'alei Tosphos (or whoever) did not
have access to Wikipedia and hence did not know what they were talking
about, then anything they say on the subject becomes suspect. If they did
not know this much about Christian theology, then any analysis of
Christianity they undertook was coming from a stance of ignorance, and we
can safely ignore it.

The second reason is because we are talking about the Ba'alei Tosphos here,
some of the most brilliant minds ever.  To assume they are going to
pontificate on subjects of which they have very limited grasp seems highly

And thirdly I just do not believe that even people of average intelligence
in the circumstances of the Ba'alei Tosphos will have such a limited grasp.
Minorities living in a majority culture pretty much always know the majority
culture inside out, while the majority usually knows relatively little about
the minority (they don't need to).  This is particularly going to be true
when a misstep one way may cause offence leading to death at the hands of
the majority culture, and another misstep may lead to a violation of
prohibitions which carry the punishment of death (even if it is not carried
out) under the minority culture.  It is one thing to say that the Rambam,
who because of where he lived would rarely have encountered a Christian,
might not have a thorough grasp of either Christian belief and practice.  It
is another thing to say that about the Ba'alei Tosphos.

> "I'm not sure that the kikkarot in the Tosafot in AZ 50 refer to the
> Eucharist at all.  Monks and priests received a praebenda, or allotment
> of food and wine.  I can't look into this now, but I assume that this was
> sometimes (usually?) donated by laymen. The wine praebenda is mentioned
> in Nizzahon Yashan, p. 99 of my translation.  Praebenda took on a broader
> meaning as well, but I would not be at all surprised if the bread
> ration is what Tosafot refers to here, in which case their characterization
> is absolutely accurate."

There is a discussion in the Rishonim about two types of wafers  - see the
summary in the Beis Yosef in Yoreh Deah siman 139 and the Ra'avid's
questioning about whether it applied to the one type or even the type called
"Ushtia" and the Beis Yosef's conclusion that it is talking about even this
type of wafer.

> "I would like to approach the discussion of Christianity as avodah
> zarah from a somewhat different angle. Medieval Jewish texts from various
> subcultures speak of punishments up to and including destruction and
> hellfire awaiting Christians because of their belief in Jesus' divinity,
> the trinity, and > associated religious praxis. None of this is
> comprehensible if these Jews believed that Christian worship is
> permissible to non-Jews.

Ah, but the question isn't whether Christian worship is something that non-Jews
ought to be doing, but is Christian worship idolatry. There is a huge
distinction in halachic terms, ie in terms of the way that we are allowed to
relate to them.  The Rishonim are clearly deeply and viscerally bothered
(and understandably so) by any philosophy that does not give to G-d his full
Unity.  They clearly believe that it is out and out wrong (it is not
surprising that many might expect G-d to ultimately punish those who so
misunderstand his nature).  The Rambam however understands that Christianity
as full fledged idolatry, and thus all the halachos applying to idolators
apply, including, for example that prohibition on benefit of a Christian's
wine (while ruling that a Muslim's wine, while prohibited to drink based on
a rabbinic ban to prevent intermarriage, is permitted to benefit).  To this
day many Sephardim, following the Rambam, will not take benefit from a
Christian's wine (which can lead to some very tricky scenarios in practice).

The position of the Ashkenazi Rishonim is much more nuanced.  They permit
many things, wine, commerce, partnership, benefit etc in places where nobody
following the Rambam's shita would ever permit.  They discuss at great
detail this practice and that practice and permit some and prohibit others and
go deeply into the ins and outs of it all.  None of this makes any sense in the
context of a blanket 'Christianity is idolatry' stance. It does make sense if
one understands that a lot of what is done is rooted in idolatry, that much of
the laity at times behaves in ways that indeed constituted idolatry, but that a
certain degree of monotheism permeates allowing for leniencies in the rules
which are otherwise inexplicable. 




From: Martin Stern <md.stern@...>
Date: Sat, Oct 16,2010 at 05:01 PM
Subject: What is the difference?

I wonder if anyone can explain why we say "Mah nishtanah halaylah hazeh ..."
when laylah is a masculine noun and so the verb should be "nishtaneh"?

The answer that "laylah" can be either masculine or feminine does not work here
since if it were the latter we should read "halaylah hazot" - one cannot
have it both ways in one phrase.

Martin Stern


End of Volume 59 Issue 57