Volume 6 Number 29

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Cross-Cultural Influences (8)
         [Steven Friedell, Henry Abramson, Steven Friedell, Danny
Skaist, Avi Weinstein, Hayim Hendeles, Michael Allen, Elhanan


From: Steven Friedell <friedell@...>
Date: Mon, 1 Feb 93 11:41:20 EST
Subject: Cross-Cultural Influences

Two other adoptions of what probably are foreign practices that have
become part of Halakhah ought to be mentioned.  Both involve Jethro,
father-in-law of Moses.  The first, clearly described in the Torah, is
the organization of the courts.  Exodus 18:17-27.  The second is from
the Talmud: the reason we say a blessing over miracles is because of
Jethro's example.  Exodus 18:10.  See Berakhot 54a.
	Technically, Jethro was at this time an Israelite, having,
according to tradition, having converted.  But where did he derive these
practices--religious and adminsitrative--if not from his prior life.  He
was a priest of Midian.  Exodus 18:1.  Incidentally, before Jethro no
Israelite or patriarch had ever said "Blessed be the L-rd".  Noah was
the first to bless G-d Gen. 9:26; Malkizedek, another priest, did so
14:19, as did Abraham's servant Gen. 24:27.  Or at least no such
blessing by a patriarch or Israelite is recorded.  The first Jew to be
recorded as blessing G-d is David. 1 Sam. 25:32.

From: Henry Abramson <abramson@...>
Date: Fri, 29 Jan 93 10:35:22 -0500
Subject: Cross-Cultural Influences

Susan Slusky has inquired about the extent to which East European
culture impacted on Jewish religious practice.  My specialization is the
history of Jews in Ukraine, and I have noticed a tremendous amount of
influence around certain rituals in particular, most notably burial
rites.  My research is not yet complete, however, and until I examine
other non-Ukrainian Jewish burial rituals I won't be able to say where
the customs came from; i.e. whether Jews borrowed them from Ukrainians
or vice versa.

I can speak more authoritatively, however, in the realm of language and
popular culture.  Shlomo Pick asked about non-Jewish names like Saint
Mary and Satmar -- how about the common Ukrainian Jewish woman's name
"Badane," which was the feminine form of Bohdan.  To a Ukrainian, this
name would be roughly equivalent to Adolf, as its most infamous bearer
was Bohdan Khmel'nyts'kyi (Chmielnicki), perpetrator of the horrible
1648-1649 pogroms.  There is no question that Jewish culture absorbed
considerable amounts of Ukrainian culture.  In the area of halakhic
practice, however, to date I have only found possible influences in
burial rites.

Henry Abramson
University of Toronto              <abramson@...>

From: Steven Friedell <friedell@...>
Date: Fri, 29 Jan 93 10:44:20 EST
Subject: Cross-Cultural Influences

If one defines the question broadly to be did Jewish law ever borrow
from non-Jewish sources the answer has to be yes.  Aside from the cases
of Dina D'Malkhuta Dina, where the Bet Din actually applies non-Jewish
law as such, there are a few instances where Batei Din consciously
absorbed a rule or principle of law in a non-Jewish system and
incorporated it into Halakhah.  One example is in the area of legal
ethics--can an attorney switch sides in the middle of the litigation.
Rabbi Israel (Mahari) Bruna (15th cent.  Germany)ruled in such a case
that Halakha did not prevent it--then on reconsideration he wrote that
he would not allow it, noting in part that "even the uncircumcised ones,
l'havdil, keep avoid this sort of thing."  Resp. Mahari Bruna 132,
reprinted in J. Bazak, Jewish Law--Selected Responsa 246 (1971)(Hebrew).
Another example would be the development of copyright law in Halakha. (I
don't have the sources for this.)
	The problem is in a sense more severe in the area of Issur
(religious practice) than in the area of monetary matters.  But the
basic concepts seem to be the same.  Jewish law seems to be flexible to
a degree to assimilate other concepts of right and wrong, fair and
unfair, desirable and undesirable practice.  How far can it go in this
direction and under what circumstances can it introduce foreign concepts
is the hard part.  Even the children of Noah are commanded to observe
basic laws.  Perhaps that allows Jewish law to borrow from "them" and
still remain within a broad framework of Halakha.

Steven F. Friedell           Internet:  <friedell@...>
Rutgers School of Law        (609) 225-6366
Camden, NJ 08102	     Fax: (609) 225-6487

From: DANNY%<ILNCRD@...> (Danny Skaist)
Date: Sun, 31 Jan 93 07:57:11 -0500
Subject: Cross-Cultural Influences

>          We see that, for example, both Judaism and (l'havdil)
>Zoroastrianism have a tradition about fingernail clippings.

Since Judaism believes that the "tradition about fingernail clippings"
goes back to Adam and Chava, it would be illogical to believe that other
descendants of theirs wouldn't have some similar tradition.  In fact the
more widely spread the tradition is (someone mentioned Hindus) the more
it indicates its antiquity and authenticity.


From: Avi Weinstein <0003396650@...>
Date: Fri, 29 Jan 93 05:30:10 -0500
Subject: Cross-Cultural Influences

On borrowed influences: There were Rishonim, the Rashba, among others
who did not approve of chicken flinging prior to Yom Kippur.  His
objections, I believe, were that they were "darchei emori".  In the Tur,
the question is raised "Why a chicken?"  One answer given is "Because
they're not too costly."  The Rashba may have figured that there were
more nefarious reasons for a chicken being chosen and thus forbade his
community from engaging in this custom.  So, it is possible to question
the origins and influences of a custom.

The Rambam's aversion to demons is well known.  Even if he does not deny
their existence, he does say they have gone away.  We may assume that
the spooks that infect the nail clippings went with them too, so, that
the Rambam felt free to omit this prohibition from his code.  This may
give some of us permission to choose not to be careful about our
toenails--even though it is rude and unseemly to leave them about and
could lead to serious Shalom bayis problems, but that's another issue.

The Rambam was careful not to take the medical remedies of the Gemara
too seriously.  In fact, when the Gemara goes off on tangents, like in
Gittin, the "Eyn Mishpat", which cross references several codes, is
conspicuously blank.  By the way, does anyone put dust around their beds
anymore to see if the chicken tracks of the "Mazikin" (destructive
forces) have come to visit?  After all, what's good for clippings may be
good for...

From: Hayim Hendeles <hayim@...>
Date: Fri, 29 Jan 93 09:42:22 -0800
Subject: Cross-Cultural Influences

>...We see that, for example, both Judaism and (l'havdil)
>Zoroastrianism have a tradition about fingernail clippings.  There are
>three possibilities:
>1) Zoroastrianism learned about this from Judaism.
>2) Judaism and Zoroastrianism learned this fact independently.
>3) Judaism (chas v'shalom) learned this from Zoroastrianism.
>For one who doesn't have such an agenda, (3) is difficult because we
>have seen countless examples of our Sages going out of their way to
>block foreign influences before they have an example to take root.

Just to add to what Michael writes, there is a much worse problem with
(3) IMHO. It would seem to me that (3) would be a direct violation of
the biblical prohibition "lo telchu bechukas hagoyim" (lit. one may
not follow in the ways of non-Jews). Thus, precisely because it is
a non-Jewish custom would prohibit us from following it.

Furthermore, I wonder if this might also involve another biblical
prohibition of belief in superstition.

Hayim Hendeles

From: <allen@...> (Michael Allen)
Date: Fri, 29 Jan 93 16:57:22 -0500
Subject: Cross-Cultural Influences

Regarding Moderator's comment to my posting on possible Zoroastrianism
influences on Judaism:
   (3) is obviously the prefered explanation by those who want to "prove"
       that Judaism has picked up stuff from other cultures and therefore
       needs reform (chas v'shalom).

   [The fact that certain practices that are done by Jews may have been
    picked up from other cultures, does not imply that Judaism needs reform,
    and to try and lump everyone who makes the first statement into those
    who want to "reform" Judaism is close to an ad hominum arguement, rather
    than focusing on the topic at hand. Mod.]

It is one thing to say the names of the months are Babylonian, which
has no Halachic or even mystical implications.  It is quite another to
suggest that the Rabbi's learned anything from the surrounding
cultures and then promulgated these concepts as "Torah Mi'Sinai" is
quite another.  My feeling that my comment *is* going to the real
topic at hand was strengthened by the article in the same issue as
mine that suggested maybe the Ayin HaRah is a borrowed concept, rather
than an authentic component of Torah Mi'Sinai.

From: <ELHANAN@...> (Elhanan Adler)
Date: Sun, 31 Jan 93 00:48:32 -0500
Subject: Cross-Cultural Influences

The idea that along the generations we may have picked up various
non-Jewish supersitions is not new. For example, the Rashba in a teshuva
violently opposes the custom of kapparot, saying it is a pagan
superstition (darke ha-emori) - while noting that he knows it was
widespread in Ashkenaz. The shulhan arukh follows the Rashba on this -
the Rema defends the custom, and the shulhan arukh seems to have lost on
this - even amongst the sefardim.

* Elhanan Adler                   University of Haifa Library              *
*                                 Mt. Carmel, Haifa 31905, Israel          *
* Israeli U. DECNET:      HAIFAL::ELHANAN                                  *
* Internet/ILAN:          <ELHANAN@...>                          *


End of Volume 6 Issue 29