Part III of “What Happened To Jewish Prayer?” – Coming Soon

I just wanted to let my readers know that I am currently researching an aspect of the halakhah that I will most likely publish as a separate post in order to give some background. It is related to my topic and I wanted to clarify a girsa (a textual reading/variant) in the Gemara before coming to a conclusion. However, until I finish – and I am fairly sure that I have gathered everything that I need – I am refraining from the third installment in the “What Happened To Jewish Prayer?” series. In the meantime, I have a couple other posts that I plan to put up very soon.

As always, thank you very much for reading.

 

What Happened To Jewish Prayer? – A Mekori Perspective – Part II: External Additions to the Siddur

While siddurim are useful tools for accessing the texts of tefillah and the laws relevant to them, they are also one of the major reasons that many find prayer a cumbersome and almost unmanageable burden. Before the mid-fifteenth century, siddurim were handwritten texts and were not commonly used as individual tools for daily recitation. Instead, they were used as compendiums and reference guides for hazzanim.

The first two siddurim in Jewish history were compiled by Rav Amram Gaon (Seder Rav Amram – ca. 870 CE) and Rav Saadiah Gaon (Siddur Rasa”g – ca. 900 CE), the former being especially for talmidhei hakhahmim and the latter being intended for access by the common man. Other early versions included the Seder HaTefillot of the Rambam, included in the Mishneh Torah (ca. 1180), and the Mahzor Vitri which was produced in France in 1206.

The writing of prayerbooks continued until the mid-fifteenth century with the advent of the printing press. With printed texts being laborious to create and the costs of printing being relatively high, siddurim began to be produced in an encyclopedic fashion. The goal of the publisher was to include anything and everything in the way of prayers, blessings, and poetry (piyyutim) so that he could market his edition as being the most complete. Along with printing also came many errors. Many who worked in manual typesetting were unable to read the text that with which they were working. In fact, some of the phraseology in blessings and prayers said by many today are practices that arose due to typesetting and formatting errors in those original printed siddurim.

As a result of this continual trend, the siddur has gone from being a relatively short kuntres to a massive tome over the last 500 years. Add to this the additions made by the kabbalists (this will be discussed in another post) and the amount of material that must be “gotten through” in a prayer service is incredible.

Another error that has crept in since the printing of siddurim is the idea that “everything must be said.” This is true not only of the daily prayers, but also of holiday prayers. Many do not know that only certain parts of the prayers are obligatory while others are highly recommended and still others are simply customary and may be dispensed with altogether. (Remember all of the long piyyutim added to the shemoneh esrei during the high holiday services?) Many also do not know that the hazzan for special services used to prepare a selection of them that were meaningful to the community – they would not all be said by the community.

The misconception of the need to “say it all” is still prevalent today and many who skip parts of the siddur do so with a feeling of shame, inadequacy, or irreligiosity. It is important remove the occasion of these feelings from Jews because otherwise they will harden themselves against sin through doing something permissible (has ve-halilah). In my opinion, it is a case of “one who intends to eat pork, but ends up [unwittingly] eating sheep [instead]” (cf. b.Nazir 23a). In other words, although they are not sinning or being irreligious, they nevertheless – due to ignorance about what is actually required – feel that by skipping parts of the siddur they are showing a lack in religious devotion. Many thereby become hardened to their actual religious duties. And many eventually give it up altogether. Perhaps if such Jews had the confidence that they were what was required of them (and in most cases more than what is required of them), their contented sense of religious dedication would return. I have watched many people walk away from the practice of prayer, with poor feelings about praying in general and about their own religious self-image.

The expansion of the tefillot is largely due to two types of additions: [1] external additions in the form of prefixal and suffixal selections being added to the main components of the prayers, and [2] internal additions where lines of text have been added to the phraseology of the prayers themselves. The first type of addition is the most obvious and may be perceived by simply comparing the core of each prayer service with the many things that, within the modern siddur, appear before Barekhu and after Uva Le-Tzion (i.e. when praying with a minyan, but when praying alone it would be between Yotzer Ohr and Tehillah Le-David). In the following table, the additions are italicized while the main components are in bold:

[NOTE: ** – indicates something recited only when praying with a minyan only, * – indicates something which is technically an addition, but has been standard since the times of the Geonim, [ ] – indicates something said by relatively few, but still suggested by some to be said]

Shaharit

  • Preparatory recital for tallit
  • Four parashiyot of tefillin
  • Piyyutim (e.g. Yigdal, Adon Olam)
  • Akedah
  • Korbanot
  • Kaddish De-Rabbanan**
  • Mizmor Shir and Kaddish Yatom
  • Pesuqeu De-Zimra/Zemirot*
  • Hatzi Kaddish**
  • Birkhot HaShahar
  • Barekhu**
  • Kriat Shema
  • Amidah/Shemoneh Esrei
  • Hazarah**
  • Tahanun
  • Tehillah Le-David
  • Uva Le-Tzion**
  • Kaddish Shalem**
  • Aleinu*
  • Kaddish Yatom**
  • Seder HaYom
  • Kaddish Yatom**
  • Piytum HaKetoret
  • Kaddish De-Rabbanan**
  • [Shesh Zikhronot]
  • [Aseret HaDiberot]
  • [Shelosh Asar Ikkarim]

Minhah

  • Tehillah Le-David
  • Hatzi Kaddish**
  • Amidah/Shemoneh Esrei
  • Hazarah**
  • Tahanun
  • Kaddish Shalem**
  • Aleinu*
  • Kaddish Yatom**

Arvit

  • Wa-hu Rahum
  • Barekhu**
  • Kriat Shema
  • Amidah/Shemoneh Esrei
  • Kaddish Shalem**
  • Alenu*
  • Kaddish Yatom**

Some initial observations are that both Minhah and Arvit are essentially free of external additions, with the exception of Alenu (which was instituted early in the Geonic era) and the mourners’ Kaddish, which was added because of Alenu. Shaharit has been recipient of the vast majority of external additions and innovations. While what is listed above may vary slightly from one siddur to another, the length is fairly standard. And to say all of this with proper intention (kavanah) and at a speed at which such intention is humanly possible can take close to two hours. Most people, however, opt to simply race through it without much thought.

The core structure of the prayers as instituted originally by Hazal for each of the services is as follows (I have left out mention of each Kaddish):

Tefiyllah Chart 3A

The various components of the prayers fall into three general halakhic categories: hovah, reshut, and minhag.

[i] Hovah (“obligation”) is something that must be done so that by not doing so one is prevented from fulfilling his general obligation to prayer in some part. One cannot and should not dispense with this without express halakhic reasons for doing so.

[ii] The nature of Reshut (“optional [practice]”) is often misunderstood to be something that is unimportant and may be dispensed with lightly. This is a mistake. Rather, a reshut is something that is recommended by Hazal and has been directed by them as something to be said or done, but is not technically obligatory. Therefore, if one does not do it they neither transgress or, in this case, affect the fulfillment of their general obligation to pray. However, not reciting something in the category of reshut means that a spiritual opportunity has been lost and it therefore detracts from their fulfillment of the obligation to pray.

[iii] Minhag (“custom”) in this context – and in a general mekori context – does not refer simply to “what lots of Jews have been doing” or “what your grandparents did,” but is a reference to a custom ratified and spread on the basis of proper rabbinic authority. The term is used, for example, in the hakdamah to the Mishneh Torah of the Rambam. Unlike a reshut, something which is minhag has not been rabbinically prescribed per se, but only rabbinically approved. In other words, if someone desires to say it, then there is nothing wrong with it and the practice is deemed proper and permissible, however if one decides to dispense with it completely, then there is no loss whatsoever insofar as prayer is concerned.

The Rambam lays out very succinctly – as is his usual way – the basic order and structure of the daily services, both when praying with a minyan and praying alone (cf. Hilkhot Tefillah 7:17-19; 9:1-19).

All of these ideas are more complicated and involve many more details than can be adequately presented here, but I think that the general picture can be properly perceived. In future posts I plan to refer back to these ideas and to deal with them in more detail. The next post in this series is dedicated to the “internal” additions as mentioned above.

There is one more question that I would like to address, and that is: “If not hours, then how long are the prayers supposed to reasonably take?” This is a great question. In fact, the Rambam actually comments on the approximate length of Kriat Shema indicating that it (along with its berakhot) takes about 6 minutes (cf. Hilkhot Kriat Shema 1:12). The Amidah is supposed to take a reasonable amount of time, without being rushed, and one is required to sit (and this literally means “sitting,” not standing) before and after in order to not treat the Shemoneh Esrei as a burden to be dispensed with as quickly as possible (cf. Hilkhot Tefillah 4:16 – “hour” [שעה] is to be understood as a short period of time, as it is translated quite often by Targum Onqelos as רגע, not literally an hour of 60 minutes – see the comments of Rav Yosef Qafih z”l there).

The “sitting” before and after are usually accomplished by either Kriat Shema or Tehillah Le-David (before) and Tahanun along with Tehillah Le-David and/or Uva Le-Tzion (after). Other portions of the prayers are relative to these in length. There are other considerations as well, such as that Shaharit on Shabbat (which contains a lengthy Torah service and an added Amidah and Hazarah) would begin close to sunrise and people would arrive home from synagogue to eat their first meal while it was still morning. The advice in the sefarim is to refrain from taking a nap after the day meal until after mid-day (hatzot) and instead one should learn for several hours until then. This is unlike today where some shuls have Shabbat services that begin at 8:30 am and last for almost 5 hours! Regarding Tahanun, it is unknown by many that it halakhically has no set text, only a traditional one put forward by some of the Geonim and the Rambam. There are many other factors that might shorten the nosah of daily prayer as well, but I will not list them here.

Using some commonsense measurements based on experience, I think it is reasonable to estimate the length of prayers as follows, using a weekday Shahariyth for an example

At home:

  1.  Morning berakhot and washing: 7-8 minutes
  2. Zemirot (Pesuqei De-Zimra): 10-12 minutes

In synagogue:

  1. Barekhu: 10 seconds
  2. Shema and its berakhot: 6-7 minutes
  3. Amidah: 5-10 minutes
  4. Hazarah: 5-6 minutes
  5. Tahanun and bowing/prostration: 2 minutes
  6. Ashrei: 1-2 minutes
  7. Uva Le-Tzion: 1-2 minutes

TOTAL: 20-29 minutes

A half of an hour is more than reasonable to dedicate in the morning to prayer and service to God. Many who read this might say, “What is the big deal? Our shul finishes in a about a half an hour too. So?” But what I am referring to here is a half an hour, not of speed-talking and murmuring and slurring through page after page of rote textual material, but of even-paced, clear recitation of the prayers and berakhot with proper intention. The two are VERY different from one another, as anyone who has experienced both can affirm.

Not only this, but it is a certainty that many of those chosen lead public prayer in the synagogue are not actually saying or reading anything. I have literally counted the seconds it takes various [would be] shalihei tzibur to finish certain sections of the siddur and it is simply not humanly possible for anyone to read anything that fast! And even it were, perhaps by some method or technique of “speed-reading,” this is not the mitzvah of prayer – prayer is careful recitation and enunciation with proper kavanah (intention).

For example, I once heard someone leading Minhah begin “Aleinu le-shabeah …”, go silent, and then six seconds later say “…Adhonoy ehad ushemo ehad.” Six seconds?!?! This same person read the hazarah like a Micro-Machines commercial, stumbling over words and gasping between lines. Shema took about 17 seconds with the berakhot before and after taking 3-5 seconds a piece. I am not exaggerating. Try this yourself privately, you will find that it is not possible without simply scanning the pages with your eyes. It should be said that without proper intention, the shaliah tzibur cannot be motzi the people in anything according to halakhah.

Many mistakenly believe that the public repetition of the Amidah is only for the purpose of providing a service for amei ha-aretz who cannot pray on their own to be yotzei yedei hovatam. This is simply untrue. While it is true that those who cannot pray or do not know how may fulfill their obligation through the hazarah, the intention of the hazarah is public and corporate worship. This means that we are not supposed to sit down and look at our phones or wander around the hekhal waiting for it to be over. Read the Rambam in Hilkhot Tefillah – those in the minyan are supposed to remain standing and to concentrate on repetition no matter who they are. This is because the hazarah is the epitome of the corporate service to God. Unfortunately, however, due to a lack of intention or of being careful with the recitation of the prayers, services within the synagogue have become largely an exercise in futility that accomplishes very little. If we are honest, we know that this is true – or, at least this is how we feel. And more importantly, the younger generation also sees it for what it is and takes it as a sign that prayer is boring, accomplishes nothing, and that religious Jews really don’t care much about it. This alone should give us enough pause to want to work for change in this important aspect of daily Jewish life. HaShem ya`azor.

Does Shorter = Better?

When advocating for a shorter nosah, many have asked me if shorter really is better. They contend that a shorter nosah will just mean that people spend even less time in prayer, that they will fly through the little that is required, and then go about their business. My response is that such an assessment is almost certainly correct, but not because the nosah will be shorter, but because a shorter nosah is simply not enough to change the current situation. Along with restoring the original nosah comes the teshuvah and re-education of religious Jews with regard to the “service of the heart.” It also comes with the responsibility to refuse appointing amei ha-aretz who cannot properly recite the prayers to lead the minyan. And just as the culture of slobbing through the mounds of words in the modern siddur led to people racing through the material as hurriedly as possible, so also will prayer leaders who clearly and evenly enunciate the prayers with proper intention eventually lead to people slowing down. And perhaps the damage has already been done and the change will only take place generationally, i.e. with our children growing up in a renewed reality of public prayer. HaShem ya`azor lanu lahzor bi-teshuvah.

Next post will be about “internal” additions and the requirements for a proper shaliah tzibur.

What Happened To Jewish Prayer? – A Mekori Perspective – Part I: Introduction

“It is a positive commandment [mitzvat aseh] to pray each day, as it is said, ‘And you shall serve HaShem your God’ (Shemot 23:25). From the part of the Oral Torah heard by Mosheh himself, they learned that this ‘service’ is a reference to prayer. And it is said, ‘And you shall serve Him with all of your heart’ (Devarim 11:13). The hakhamim said regarding this verse (b.Ta`anit 2a), ‘What is this service that is in the heart? This is prayer.”

(Rambam, Hilkhot Tefillah 1:1)

Jewish prayer 1And so begins the laws of prayer in the Mishneh Torah. The Rambam goes on to explain that throughout the Biblical era prior to the Babylonian exile each person composed his own prayers in pure Hebrew (called “yehudit” – cf. Nehemyah 13:24). Hazal relate to us that the morning, evening, and afternoon times of prayer were instituted by the avot themselves (cf. b.Berakhot 26b). However, after Ezra HaSofer returned with the exiles from Babylon, he set up the supreme court of 120 hakhamim (a court unmatched at any time in history) known as the Anshei Keneset HaGedolah (“Men of the Great Assembly”). These great visionaries set up the entire system of what is recognizably rabbinic Judaism today; the official formula of berakhot and the proper occasions to recite them, the minyan, the synagogue system, public kriat ha-torah, and the texts of the prayers were all instituted by Ezra and his grand beit din.

The reason for this sudden change in protocol was that, due to the exile, the majority of the Jewish people were unable to adequately compose their prayers, let alone in their own native language of Hebrew (cf. Hilkhot Tefillah 1:4). To remedy this, the hakhamim created a standard prayer of eighteen short blessings to express the collective and individual praises, gratitude, and needs of the Jewish nation (1:5). The hakhamim knew that praying and expressing religious concepts in foreign languages – or, more accurately the inability to verbalize them in Hebrew – could be a doorway to avodah zarah and religious misconception. One example of such misconception is illustrated by the common [mis]translation of the Hebrew word kippur (כפור) by the English term “atonement,” which is an expressly Christian idea related to their idolatrous conceptions of God. This is why prayers and blessings that are said in foreign languages, although allowed, are subject to intense rabbinical scrutiny. The translation of their wording and content must be by an expert, and even in translation such blessings require the mention of the Hebrew names of God (i.e. untranslated) in order to be halakhically valid (cf. Hilkhot Berakhot 1:6, and the comments of Rav Yosef Qafih z”l there).

The purpose of composing various blessings, and developing them in accordance with a set structure and formulation, was to make them “well-ordered prayers and blessings in the mouth of all Israel, so that all of the subject matter of each blessing will be prepared and ordered in the mouth of the non-native Hebrew speaker” (1:6). The people who occasioned the drafting of the prayers and blessings were not religiously educated. It is not as if they were all benei yeshivah.I Rather, the text of the Tanakh shows that they were fairly ignorant of Jewish laws, the Hebrew language, and even elements of their own culture. Only the scholarly elite such as Ezra and his colleagues still understood the Torah and its laws. And this is the point: the prayers were meant to be relatively simple to memorize for the sake of such under-educated people, but their text has grown to be something that is overwhelming and unfortunately irrelevant to many. What happened?

nosha'oth comparedOver time, the text of the prayers has grown from something that – in the rite that I personally use – consists of a few double-sided pages and takes roughly 7-15 minutes to complete (depending on the time of day) into something that spans hundreds of pages and requires anywhere from 20 minutes to more than an hour and a half. And this is just for daily prayers. When we look at the nosah for the entire year, the Rambam records roughly 20 pages of text whereas the common mahzor set today includes six or seven volumes, each of them containing several hundred pages. So, I ask again, what happened to Jewish prayer? What caused something that was easily memorized and required relatively little time to perform to become a task that cannot be reasonably completed without having a textbook and half an hour?

If we are going to be completely honest, we have to admit that most “orthodox” Jews – whether they were raised in religious Jewish homes, are baalei teshuvah, or are gerim – alternately do not enjoy prayer, do not pray properly, and in many cases simply neglect daily prayer altogether. The reasons for this are simple:

[a] The nosah is incredibly long.

[b] The physical posture employed is passive rather than active.

[c] It requires uncomfortable equipment.

[d] The prayers are hurried and rushed through, leaving all but the trained ‘murmurer’ behind.

[e] Late kabbalistic additions are many times strange and change the simplicity of focus.

[f] There is much mis-education regarding the true nature of prayer and its centrality in the daily worship of the One God of Israel.

All of the aforementioned reasons tend to cause a sense of futility and intimidation in religious newcomers while cultivating a numbness among seasoned participants. These factors often lead people not to care about or even desire understand what they are saying, being more concerned with racing through a mumbled string of paragraphs to fit everything in. Even our children have become infected with this dysfunctional relationship to prayer. I have watched as young benei yeshivah race through their shemoneh esrei, counting out the seconds and only reaching 12 to 15 before they take three steps backward. And we know this is true. I would bet that the majority of us have, at one time or another, witnessed young men rocking back and forth during prayer – giving an external show of participation – while being completely disengaged.

The Haredi/Hasidic approach to prayer has arguably destroyed its original intent, having replaced it with cheap spiritualism and over-active emotionalism. If we want a meaningful prayer experience wherein we feel at once close to and humbled before the Creator, then we need to re-align ourselves with the wisdom of Hazal and the halakhah. We need to re-discover prayer as a deep form of worship and of aligning oneself with the Divine will.

In this series of posts, I intend to address several of the issues with Jewish prayer in our times and what I see as needing to change in order to restore the beauty, simplicity, and meaning of this “service of the heart.”

Becoming Mekori – What It Isn’t

Being mekori does not mean joining a new Jewish sect. There is no such thing as “Mekori Judaism” or “Mekori Halakhah” per se. Mekoriut is not a sect or an “ism” and there are no charters, manifestos, or statements of faith attached to it. In fact, it is not a list of beliefs that one ascribes to, nor is it really a label at all. However, the terms mekori and mekoriut definitely do describe something. So, what is it?

The terms “mekori” and “mekoriut” are collective terms used to describe a social and religious phenomenon within the Jewish world. Perhaps it could also be described as a trend – a trend of returning to the texts of Hazal and their direct expositors in a search for simplicity, truth, and authenticity in halakhah and hashkafah. This phenomenon is most often a reaction to the overwhelming Euro-centrism that has come to stereotype orthodox Judaism along with the superstitious, dogmatic, and authoritarian approach that comes with it.

This return is largely taking the form of baalei teshuvah and gerim accepting upon themselves the ways of Sefardic and Yemenite Jewry – both of which tend to be more reasonable and markedly authentic [read, closer to the plain meaning of the Talmudic texts] in their determinations of halakhah. However, I am also aware of Ashkenazi/Haredi families that, being burned-out with excessive humrot and halakhic additions (many of which cause not only emotional strife, but financial strain), have begun to privately practice the simple halakhot of Hazal and the Rishonim in areas of shemirut shabbat, taharat ha-mishpahah, and kashrut. The Jewish populace is beginning to demand that their leadership be reasonable, and due to the fact that the Haredi/Hasidic world demands years of constant exposure to learning Jewish sources, they are unable to keep their adherents from accessing the information directly in the event that they desire to examine things for themselves. This dynamic often upsets their division of clergy versus laity, so they engage in shaming and scare tactics in effort to elicit obedience, but many are starting to see through the insecurity inherent in this approach.

There is also less and less tolerance for the [near obsessive] force of “minhag” in the orthodox world, especially when it is used by Haredi/Hasidic leaders to simply blot out, brush aside, or overturn clear halakhot that are recorded in the sources and were handed down to us by Hazal and their expositors. Religious Jews are beginning to tire of re-enacting the less-than-ideal conditions of Poland and the Ukraine when the actual observance of the halakhah as formulated in the Mishnah and Gemara is entirely within their grasp. Attendant to this is that a growing number of Jews want their religion to make sense and to be in step with reality, rather than the superstitious dissonance that the Haredi/Hasidic world often demands of its adherents.

Mekori” and “mekoriut” are not particularlistic terms meant to further divide, instead they are broad terms intended to unite. Just as “martial arts” collectively refers to any and every fighting style irrespective of national origin, or “Arabic” collectively refers to a variety of standard and dialectal forms of the language, or “phone” collectively refers to everything from a rotary to a smartphone, so also do “mekori” and “mekoriut” collectively refer to the scholars, halakhic decisions, modes of Jewish practice, and methodologies that share these trends in common. The inclusion of all mekori streams of halakhic Judaism under one umbrella is also not intended to create something distinct from the rest of Jewry, rather it is meant to engender teamwork and community around something unique that we desire to share with the Jewish world.

I believe that mekoriut is a major key to positive change within Judaism – only good can come from trying to be more faithful to Hazal and their wise direction – but it will be a tool for destruction if it becomes just another way to break off from the rest of the Jewish world and condemn them (has ve-shalom). This is also true of each movement or stream of mekori Judaism that decides that they alone have something to offer to the Jewish future – a “messiah” complex, so to speak. Throughout our history such sectarian neuroses have only led to Jewish deaths. This potential for destruction is even true of the Torah itself, as it says in the name of Rava, “…if you are a workman for [the Torah] then it is an elixir of life, but if you are not a workman with [the Torah] then it is an elixir of death” (cf. b.Yoma 72b – see also Rabbenu Hananel there). We have to be workmen on behalf of Torah values, not workmen on behalf of ourselves.

So, no sects, no groups, no “isms” – just Torah and authentic halakhah for all Jews. That is the vision and that is the phenomenon we see gaining momentum in orthodox Judaism today.

Ovens, Steam, and Kashrut – A Mekori Perspective

[Note: The below is for information purposes only, as is everything on this site. The decision to act upon any of it or not is the personal decision of the reader and any details regarding the observance of any halakhah – especially those laws which are intricate, complicated, and/or severe – should be discussed with a competent rav.]

Ovens have been used by Jews since ancient times – and since ancient times they have been the topic of halakhic discussion and inquiry. However, much of the discussion surrounding their use found in the Talmud is referring to ovens as they once were: relatively small and made of earthenware (heres).

The halakhot related to the Talmudic oven – also called a tanur – rather than being properly assessed, have been simply extended by most posekim and have been projected onto modern ovens with little if any consideration being given to the obvious differences between them and their Middle Eastern counterparts. However, to act as if they are completely analogous or even mostly similar simply because they both are called “ovens” is a mistake. What follows assumes that the small ancient ovens of Talmudic times and our large home appliance ovens of today are similar in that they are both types of ovens – that is all.

The Big Question of Separate Ovens

The biggest question related to kashruth and the use of modern ovens is whether it is a requirement to have separate ovens for meat and dairy or whether it is permitted halakhically to use the same oven for both. Further, if it is permitted to use one oven for both meat and dairy foods, under what circumstances is this possible and what precautions (if any) must be taken when doing so?

The entire discussion (read, cause for concern) hinges predominantly on two basic assumptions: 

[1] That steam or condensation (zei`ah) presents a halakhic concern at all, and

[2] That modern metals such as aluminum or stainless steel are boleya or polet (capable of absorbing and giving taste).

As will be clearly seen, neither of these assumptions has a strong foundation in the sources of Hazal and neither presents any concern. Even if steam were genuinely a problem, it would only be an issue when in an enclosed, small space (cf. Arokh HaShulhan 92:55), something which is not the case for modern ovens which are vented and tend to be much larger than their ancient cousins.

While it is true that the Rama (Rabbi Mosheh Issereles) in the Shulhan Arukh (92:8) takes a strict position regarding steam (zei`ah), relying on a teshuvah of the Rosh (20:26) [who quotes a Mishnah in Masekhet Makhshirim (2:2)], the fact is that the sugyah in the Gemara which discusses the entire issue of an oven and kosher and non-kosher foods being cooked in it (cf. b.Pesahim 76a-b and y.Terumot 10:2),  does not even mention zei`ah at all. Instead, it concludes that reihah (aroma) is lav milta (“not a halakhic issue”). Further, it only mentions a case where kosher and non-kosher meat were cooked in the same space, simultaneously, and in close proximity to one another. The conclusion of Hazal is that even if two pieces of meat, one kosher and the other not, were being cooked next to each other in the same oven at the same time, it would only be prohibited mi-de-rabbanan (rabbinically), but only at the outset. They further conclude that if such a situation does arise, then the kosher meat is permitted to be eaten bedi`avad.

“Steam is never mentioned and aroma is considered a non-issue.”

The implication of this sugyah and its practical conclusion is that – as many modern posekim explain – it is permitted to cook or bake dairy and meat foods in the same oven, although not simultaneously, and it is not necessary to perform libun kal (i.e. heating it to a high temperature or “self-cleaning”) between each use, as long as it remains relatively clean. Even if the oven has been used to cook non-kosher food, it may be used to cook kosher food as long as it is likewise relatively clean (i.e. no visible grease or pieces of non-kosher food that will almost certainly spoil your kosher meal). This is the pesak of several noted Sefardi hakhamim.

The Talmud Yerushalmi

The Talmud Yerushalmi (cited above) records Rav Levi – the one whose opinion the halakhah follows with regard to reihah – as concluding that since it is not prohibited for the smell of kosher and non-kosher meat to mingle in the same oven while being roasted, it is therefore permissible to do so even le-khatehilah (“at the outset”). This, of course, is not the halakhah (cf. Rambam, Hilkhot Ma’akhalot Asurot 9:22), but it nevertheless gives us further insight into the very reasonable view of Rav Levi regarding kashrut and use of [ancient] ovens.

Baking Bread and Roasting Meat

As for the discussion of bread being baked in the same oven as meat is being cooked, Hazal forbade the eating of such a loaf of bread with kutah (a porridge containing dairy that was popular in the Middle East and Persia) because of concerns due to basar be-halavb.Pesahim 76b, see there. However, this is again talking about bread and meat being in the oven simultaneously, not one after the other (see also Hilkhot Ma’akhalot Asurot 9:22 – “…bread baked together with meat…”).

A Foundational False Equation

As is common in the methodology that underlies the Ashkenazi approach to halakhah, there is a false equation in the standard Haredi/Hasidic position between the laws of hekhsher/tumah va-taharah with the laws of kashrut. While there is some overlap, they are definitely separate, as anyone who comparatively reads Hilkhot Tumat Okhalin and Hilkhot Ma’akhalot Asurot will be able to easily ascertain. Thus, the reason why the Rosh had to bring a proof for his new proposal from m.Makhshirim regarding the condensation in a bath house being tamei is because the whole idea of steam is not considered an issue within the scope of kashrut and is never mentioned until the erroneous equation of these two areas of halakhah at a much later time in Jewish history. Hazal never make any such claim in the sources that they left to us.

There were, however, those among the Ashkenazim who understood this separation properly, such as the prominent student of Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin z”l, Rabbi Ya`akov ben Aharon Karliner z”l, who authored a collection of responsa known as Mishkenot Ya`akov wherein he states the following:

TEXT [MISHKENOT YA`AKOV 1:34]

Mishkenoth Ya3aqov I-34

[PARTIAL] TRANSLATION

“…rather, it is certainly the opinion of Rashi z”l that [condensation – zei`ah] is not considered a liquid at all, even in the matter of a prohibition, but [it is taken into account] only in matters of tumah and hekhsher just as we previously learned…rather, it is certain that condensation from steam does not ascend [from one substance] and descend [to be absorbed in another substance, thus becoming a concern] in matters related [to kashrut], and neither of them [i.e. steam nor condensation] is given the status of a liquid except in matters of tumah…”

We can see from here that there were indeed those in the Ashkenazi-Lithuanian camp who understood that kashrut, and particularly the laws of basar be-halav, is not a matter of “purity,” but is based on real principles of forbidden food mixtures, etc. In other words, whereas steam and condensation can certainly cause people (and objects) to contract ritual impurity (tumah), they are not considered to be a form of forbidden food mixtures which could even lead to a prohibition of eating them from the standpoint of the halakhah  – it is simply not an issue (unless you are a kohen or planning to visit the Temple complex).

Pottery vs. Glass and Metal

As for the kelim which are subject to beliyuth (absorption), the Gemara is largely discussing klei heres, which is porous pottery/adobe (cf. Rambam, Hilkhot Ma’akhalot Asurot 17:1f). Although metal and glass are discussed in the context of a Jew obtaining used dishes and utensils from a non-Jew, they are not given central attention as is earthenware. And even if it were, it would be a discussion of the rough casted metals of antiquity, such as iron or copper. Some today hold that modern metals (such as stainless steel or aluminum) are not boleya or polet and thus not subject to these laws anyhow. I would agree. Add to this that the Gemara explicitly states that beliyut is an observable phenomenon – not an imperceptible “state” (cf. b.Avodah Zarah 33b-34a) – and one may reasonably conclude that our metal utensils today, as long as they are completely cleaned and scoured of visible, palpable residue between uses, may be used for both meat and dairy foods. 

Another “halakhah” that many will be happy to never have to worry about again is the supposed need to be careful of the steam from pots on your stove-top rising and becoming condensation on the kitchen utensils hanging on hooks above it, as if there was such a thing as “meat steam” or “dairy steam.” The reality is that it’s no problem at all, as we have seen. So go ahead and hang that fancy kitchenware above your stove and never give it a second thought.

Why is the Zohar Considered Authoritative? – A Mekori Perspective

According to the hakdamah of the Mishneh Torah, it seems that any book(s) or commentary(s) which may have arisen after the hatimat ha-talmud (“the sealing of the Talmud” – see there) – such as the writings of the Geonim (or even the Mishneh Torah itself) – are measured by their faithfulness to the halakhic and aggadic literature which was bequeathed to us by Hazal and their students (i.e. MishnahTosefta, Mekhiltot, Sifra, Sifre, Bavli, Yerushalmi, and the Tannaitic midrashim/baraitot). Much like the prophets were tested against the collective mesorah up until their time, and by abrogation of it they themselves were rejected, so also are books composed since the close of the Talmudic age are in need of similar such “testing.”

Now, granted that there are two types of potential errors in such books:

  1. Unintentional errors of interpretation or logical understanding, etc. – In other words, a certain talmid hakhamim codifies the halakhah as he sees it and explains hashkafah as he understands it from Tanakh and Hazal, but perhaps the halakhah is not like him or perhaps he misunderstands such issues as the nature of suffering or the function of sekhar ve-onesh (or similar issues). These types of potential “mistakes” do not necessarily disqualify the author. Rather, we see that the attempt to understand Torah is a process wherein one is obligated to accept that different views of Torah from the sources is not only possible but probable.
  2. Departures from mesorah or attempts to replace it/abrogate it – Should a new book or treatise be written that stands in opposition to the halakhah or hashkafah as expressed by Tanakh and Hazal – especially that which seeks not to understand but to supplant – is to be rejected. Examples are “new revelations” that, rather than seek to understand the statements of Hazal in aggregate, attempt to make the case for “secret teachings” or “hidden meanings” that are in contradiction to established mesorah – such books and their authors are to be rejected.

[NOTE: I am aware that the above are fairly general and that it could be discussed in more detail, such as when to set aside midrashim in favor of peshat or outdated “scientific” ideas in order to incorporate new ones. However, for now these definitions should suffice for this discussion.]

Each of the above certainly has limitations. For example, and perhaps most importantly, there are ideas about which alternate views are not acceptable and cannot be tolerated, such as the nature of the yihud HaShem, or the fact of a physical (read, bodily) resurrection, or the permanence and immutability of the Torah. Diverging from such foundational tenets (and those like them) define apikorsim and minim, and the Rambam – drawing on both the text of the Mishnah and the logical outcomes of rational monotheism – composed his 13 Foundations of Jewish faith to show us where our speculation may go before it is undone and we undermine ourselves (cf. Hilkhot Teshuva 3:14-17).

Many books have come on the scene – both pre-Talmudic and post – claiming to be authentic to our mesorah, or to be an extension of it, or even to replace it. Examples include the “New Testament,” the “Qur’an,” the “Kebra Nagast,” the books of the Shabbateans (followers of Shabbetai Tzvi, yimah shemo ve-zikhro), and many others. Many of these works were accepted by great and learned people. If Shelomoh HaMelekh could worship idols, if Elisha ben Avuyah (“Aher“) could accept the idea of ribbui reshayot from the books of the dualists, if Yohanan Kohen Gadhol could become a Tzaduki at the end of his life, if the Hakham Tzvi z”l could accept Shabbetai Tzvi (yimah shemo) as the mashiah, and if the Hafetz Hayim z”l could be led to accept the blatantly forged (supposedly lost) Seder Kodashin of the Talmud Yerushalmi (to the point of changing his halakhic practices based on it), then the fact that the Zohar was accepted by many great scholars when it first published should neither surprise us nor become the sure basis for its acceptance.

As an aside, one of the most common mistakes is the equation of “kabbalah” with the Zohar literature itself; if the latter is rejected, it is thought, then the former ceases to exist. Such an idea is patently false, but nevertheless demonstrates how entrenched in the minds of contemporary Jews is the idea that all authentic spirituality or “mysticism” in Judaism is inextricably linked to the ideas expressed in the Zohar. The truth of the matter is that the bodies of knowledge known as maaseh merkavah (“Workings of the Chariot” – i.e. metaphysics) and maaseh bereshit (“Workings of the Creation” – i.e. physics) – as mentioned in the Mishnah, Masekhet Hagigahpreceded the 13th century publication of the Zohar by [possibly] thousands of years, as did the Sefer Yetzirah. The Sefer Yetzirah is referred to and expounded by the Kuzari and Saadiah Gaon, among others – all before the Zohar. The Rambam himself makes veiled references to these same ideas in his Moreh HaNavokhim, expounding (where possible) mystical and philosophical concepts related to both maaseh bereshit and maaseh merkavah – again, all before anyone had ever heard of the Zohar.

But this leads to another fact that is often overlooked in the history of the Zohar – many kabbalists at the time of its publication (and afterward) also rejected it as being authentic. Rabbi Avraham Zacuto, in his Sefer HaYuhasin, relates the extant portion of an account written by the well-known kabbalist Rabbi Yitzhak De-Akko (a talmid of the Ramban) who traveled to the home of Mosheh De Leon and offered to purchase the original manuscripts of the Zohar from his widow, whereupon she confessed to him that there were no original manuscripts and that her late husband had forged it and attributed it to Shimon ben Yohai in an effort to gain acclaim and a higher purchase price. Other well-known kabbalists who rejected the Zohar as an authentic book of mesorah were Rabbi Yaakov Emden and the Hatam Sofer (who was the student of the famed and intense mystic, Rabbi Nathan Adler). Their use of language is strong against the Zohar, using words like “forgery” and “lies” to describe it. All the while, however, these men and others maintained a highly-developed mystical system based on earlier literature.

The facts are clear to all who are willing to take an honest look: the Zohar contradicts a great many things which came before it in both the realm of halakhah and hashkafah – even contravening such things that are “off limits” halakhically, such as the nature of the yihud HaShem. And these things are well-known, they are not my invention nor the invention of secular scholars seeking to defame religion. They have been discussed and wrestled with for hundreds of years by rabbis and scholars in every area of Jewish literature. It has been proven that the Zohar borrows and incorporates sections of Rashi, Tosafot, the Rambam, and other works which preceded it. It also contains a vast amount of original material, much of which is controversial and contrdictory when compared to works possessing an established mesorah from Hazal.

Nevertheless, it is true that there are genuinely positive statements and spiritual truths expressed in the Zohar. However, it is also true that there are explicit statements of polytheism and dualism expressed there as well. So, the operating principle (it seems) is that anything valuable in the Zohar may already be found in uncontested and authentic works that preceded it, and anything questionable is of its own invention. Such an observation makes the Zohar superfluous and the attempt to incorporate it into the corpus of Jewish literature as being arguably more trouble that it is worth – a fact that is well-attested to by Jewish theological history since its publication in the 13th Century.

The continuous heretical movements which base themselves upon it (e.g. the Shabbateans) and the seemingly endless stream of charlatans offering miracle cures, instant wealth, and super powers of protection to those who embrace the Zoharic kabbalistic system are a proof that giving Zohar a prime place in Judaism has proven almost disastrous. It appears also to be the case that the positive parts of the message endorsed by hasidism (i.e. that every Jew is important, serving God with joy, etc.) could have been brought about without the aid of Zoharic literature – in fact, such ideas already existed outside the dark, pietistic world of the mitnagdim in other parts of the [non-Ashkenazi] Jewish world.

The historical Jewish response to the Zohar can – in my estimation – be divided into three basic approaches:

  1. Full acceptance – The full acceptance of the Zohar and its attendant literature as being 100% authentic is most aptly characterized by the Hasidic movement(s) and the North African Sefaradim. Such adherents hold it to be the holiest text in Judaism and that it should be used to “correct” (read, supersede) all other texts – especially those which came before it – which are viewed as being “ignorant” or “unaware” of the secret tradition that it holds.
  2. Modified acceptance – This approach, most commonly associated with the Gr”a and his talmidim, is to effectively accept the Zohar, but to reject its commentaries. In other words, the Gr”a took great liberties to “re-read” (however, I am sure that he himself did not see it that way) the text of the Zohar in order to make it fit into the established mesorah. By doing so, he rejected many of the ideas of Lurianic kabbalah, and sought new readings (many of which are either based on his own emendations of the text or forced readings of the plain meaning of the Aramaic) to remove conflict and controversy. However, in doing so, the Gr”a also “re-reads” the text of the Gemara in certain places, and in some cases he reverses generations of clear and uncontested pesak halakhah from the Gemara to accommodate the clear “ruling” of the Zohar to the contrary (one example of this is the wearing of tefillin on holo shela-moed).
  3. Full rejection – Characterized most aptly by the 19th-century Dor De`ah movement in Yemen led by Rav Yihyah Qafih z”l. Rav Qafih authored a book entitled Milhamot HaShem (“The Wars of HaShem”) wherein he effectively demonstrates (like other hakhamim before him) that the Zohar simply cannot be a product of Hazal and their students, is subsequently not an authentic work of mesorah, and therefore must be rejected. He brings a myriad of proofs for this.  The Darda`im (i.e. adherents to the teachings of Mori Yihyah, also known affectionately as “Mori HaYashish” z”l) and other groups choose to rely instead on the works of previously established authors for spirituality, such as the Rambam (Moreh HaNavokhim), Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi (Kuzari), Rabbi Bahyah ibn Pekuda (Hovot HaLevavot), Rav Saadiah Gaon (Pirush al Sefer HaYetzirah and HaNivhar Be-Emunot Ve-Deot), and others.

We have a principle of “lo ba-shamayim hi“, i.e. that the Torah is not “in heaven” and therefore we do not base our belief in any certain book or teacher based on purported “miracles” or claims of special “revelation” or “prophecy.” Instead, we are charged with being faithful to the texts and the mesorah that we have to judge all that comes after it. This is why the latter two approaches (i.e. any approach beyond blind acceptance) take measures to study the relevant sources in order to formulate their opinions, rather than seeking a sign or relying on the fact that the likes of the Arizal gave it their approbation.

The Zohar has been accepted – and continues to be so – based almost solely on “mob rule” as it were. In other words, since it has been read and used by a lot of Jews for a long time, most Jews simply assume that it “must” be true. In reality, however, there is no basis for its acceptance, but rather to the contrary. And as has been mentioned, there is nothing on the part of its supporters to substantiate their claims other than dogmas and the attribution of “special powers” or “revelations” or mystical “prophecy” on the part of those famed historical figures who did accept it, while attributing error and arrogance to those scholars who argued against it. It is no different than the many false religious movements that have arisen in world history; they begin with charismatic and bold claims based essentially on nothing and demand blind obedience from all with whom they speak. But in the end, their claims are empty and their reasoning is circular. And, more importantly, they are out of line with the authentic mesorah of Hazal.

Have you ever wondered why those who merely question the authenticity of the Zohar are threatened with excommunication and charges of heresy, while those who propose that a section of the Gemara should be emended (and other such normal acts of Torah scholarship) are met with none of these? Le-aniyut da’ati, it seems that those without truly substantive arguments have nothing left but threats of Divine judgment and ad hominem attacks. Sound familiar?

And PLEASE do not take my word for it – go and see for yourself. Investigate the matter thoroughly and with an open mind. If you come thereby to different conclusion, then you will have no threats and suffer no humiliation from me. And I certainly will not threaten you with a charge of “arrogance” for not seeing things the way that this or that scholar has seen them.

UPDATE: Rabbi Berel Wein (may he live and be well) gives an honest historical talk on the subject of the Zohar. HERE is the link to a short version and HERE is the link to the full lecture. They are both well-worth watching. 

 

Milk After Meat: Did the Geonim Wait or Wash?

The practice of waiting six hours after consuming meat before resuming to eat dairy products has become one of the hallmarks of religious Jewish practice. And while there are varying traditions as to the actual number of hours which one is required to wait (some requiring as little as one), the standard practice among nearly all orthodox Jews today is to wait a full six hours in between meat and milk.

The source for this practice is none other than the Rambam, who makes the following statement in Hilkhot Ma’akhalot Asurot 9:27 –

TEXT

מי שאכל בשר בתחילה בין בשר בהמה בין בשר עוף לא יאכל אחריו חלב עד שישהה ביניהן כדי שיעור סעודה אחרת והוא כמו שש שעות

TRANSLATION

“He who eats meat first – whether the meat of livestock [this includes the meat of trapped wild animals, e.g. deer] or that of fowl – should not eat afterward milk [cheese] until he waits between them the amount of time until the next meal, which is about six hours.”

The reckoning of the Rambam was also codified by Rabbi Yosef Qaro in the Shulhan Arukh (Yoreh Deah 89:1). And although it has become the almost universal practice, the specific number of six hours does not actually appear anywhere in the text of the Gemara. While the Gemara does mention waiting in one [arguably enigmatic] passage, a required amount of time is never specified by Hazal, only the pious practices of one hakham and his father (cf. b.Hullin 105a). The Rambam here is also clearly innovating by requiring that waiting must be done after consuming poultry, a position not taken by anyone before him which is in direct contradiction to the explicit dictum of the Gemara.

The origin of a mandatory waiting period between meat and dairy appears to have its origin in the words of Rabbenu Hananel (whose commentary in the form of an abridged translation appears on the page of most editions of the Talmud), which was then picked up by his student, Rav Al-Fasi (“Rif”), and then the Rambam with later [admittedly Spanish and North African] hakhamim taking various middle positions between he and them.

The halakhic works of the Geonim, however, are unified in their approach to the Gemara and do not require waiting at all. They only required the washing of the hands and the cleaning of the mouth, as we shall see.

The full sugyah is found b.Hullin 104b-105a and should be read carefully. There is not enough space here to translate it and explain all of it in detail, but it is imperative to the proper understanding of the following selections from the Geonic codes. [Once again, I do NOT recommend using Artscroll for this, but rather the Steinsaltz or some other accessible edition of the Talmud]

The following excerpts from the writings of several Geonim (and which exists in the quote of a Rishon) indicate that the unanimous geonic opinion with regard to eating dairy after meat is that one need not wait at all, but only wash their hands and/or cleanse their palate. Waiting was considered alternately as either a middat hasidut or an alternative to washing, etc. I say “unanimous” here, not because I consider what I cite here to be exhaustive, but only because in all of my research on this topic, I have never encountered another opinion on the meaning of this sugyah from any of the Geonim. If someone knows of one, I would be happy to know about it.

Both the sugyah in the Talmud and the statements of the Geonim use certain common phrases that I ultimately chose not to translate but to transliterate. The reason for this was that it made the translation really laborious to read and I felt that it detracted from the ability to track each of these concepts as they are used in each excerpt. I have instead opted to transliterate them and explain each of them as follows:

Gevinah – a reference to one of the many Middle-Eastern style cheeses, most of which are still common today.

Basar – when used by Hazal, this term specifically refers to red meat, usually of domesticated animals (e.g. goat, cow) or wild game (e.g. deer, antelope), but it does not refer to poultry (ohf).

Ohf – “poultry”

Kinuah [ha-peh]qiynuah literally means “wiping” but that is a bit misleading since it does not refer to literally wiping out one’s mouth, but rather is a reference in Hazal to “cleansing the palate” with a foodstuff in between courses.

Hadahah – a reference to “rinsing” which some understand to be a reference to netilat yadayim and others understand to simply refer to drinking something as part of cleansing the palate.

Tavshil – a cooked dish containing only the broth or flavor of meat (i.e. not actual pieces) which was eaten with the hands. It appears that sometimes such dishes were made with the flavor of cheese/dairy and not meat, but the term tavshil appears to generally be a term used (at least in this sugyah) to refer to a meat dish.

The Halakhot Gedholot

TRANSLATION

“Rav Hisda says, ‘If one ate basar it is forbidden to [then] eat gevinah’ – this is specifically regarding one who did not do kinuah [ha-peh], but if he does kinuah ha-peh, it is permitted to [then] eat [gevinah]. ‘If one at gevinah it is permitted to eat basar‘ – without kinuah [ha-peh], but rinsing the hands (i.e. netilat yadayim) and the mouth is required between one and the other.

Rabbi Zeyra says, ‘Kinuah ha-peh is not done except with bread’ – this statement refers to wheat bread, but not to barley bread (i.e. because it is crumbly). And they did not refer to anything except cold bread since warm bread adheres (i.e. it becomes sticky and adheres to the palate – it doesn’t clean well). And this statement refers to bread that is soft (i.e. fresh) and not hard [and dried out]. But the halakhah is: Kinuah [ha-peh] may be done with anything except flour, dates, or [cooked] vegetables.”

(Hilkhot Berakhot – p.76)

Rav Yehudai Gaon

This quote is brought in Sefer HaRa’avyah on Hullin (perek Kol Ha-Basar), Siman 1108 in the name of Rav Yehudai Gaon. The critical apparatus in my edition assumes that it is a quotation from the Halakhot Gedolot since there was some confusion (beginning with the Semag) as to the author of HG, many in Europe erroneously maintaining that it was Rav Yehudai and not Shimon Kayara. However, the quote – when compared with the work of Shimon Kayara – does not appear to be from the Halakhot Gedolot, but a different work altogether. This other work would be none other than the Halakhot Pesukot of Rav Yehudai Gaon, a compilation which is no longer extant in its full form. This of course could be due an interpolation by Rabbenu Tam, but it appears to me that  it is indeed the work of Rav Yehudai Gaon, as indicated by the Ra’avyah.

TRANSLATION

“And Rav Yehudai Gaon and Rabbenu Tam explained [the sugyah as follows]:

Rav Hisda says, ‘If one ate basar it is forbidden to [then] eat gevinah– this is specifically regarding one who did not do kinuah [ha-peh] or hadahah, but through kinuah ha-peh and hadahah it is permitted to eat gevinah immediately. ‘If one ate gevinah it is permitted to [then] eat basar’ – without kinuah [ha-peh], but rinsing the hands (i.e. netilath yadayim) is required between one and the other. And this statement refers to [eating at] night, but [eating] in the daytime it is not necessary (i.e. rinsing the hands).

Rav Nahman says, ‘They did not instruct (i.e. that mayim emtzaim – handwashing between courses – is an optional practice) except between one tavshil and another tavshil– meaning, between a tavshil basar [first] and a tavshil gevinah afterward, neither of which has actual basar or actual gevinah, then even at night hadahah is not necessary. But between a tavshil basar and [the eating of] actual gevinah, netilat yadayim is required – and this is specifically referring to [eating at] night. And thus [going from eating] basar behemah to gevinah requires netilat yadayim.

And Rabbeynu Tam adds to this by saying that between gevinah and basar one does not need kinuah [ha-peh] or hadahah, whether in the day or at night, since Rav Hisda did not argue on Rav Nahman that the tavshil is messy and sticky and therefore one who eats gevinah afterward requires netilat yadayim. And Mar Ukva is someone known for being excessively stringent in his personal practice.

And it appears to me (i.e. the Ra’avyah) that between a tavshil and gevinah requires either kinuah or waiting [until the next meal – i.e. several hours] even according to their halakhic methodology here.”

Rav Saadiah Gaon

In an anonymous work by a Yemenite author – a super-commentary to the commentary of the Rif to Masekhet Hullin – he quotes a portion of the dinim from the Siddur of Rav Saadiah Gaon which is no longer extant and is not included in the edition of his siddur which we posses today. This quote is an incredible find, however, since the anonymous author would not have fabricated it since he proceeds to rail against such an interpretation in light of the position of the Rif.

TRANSLATION

“But mayim emtzaim, behold it is the [washing] between one tavshil and another tavshil, are a reshut (i.e. an optional practice – a matter of propriety and manners, but not out of halakhic concerns) – if one desires to do so he washes and if he does not desire to do so then he does not. But if it was between a tavshil and gevinah then behold it is obligatory to do so (i.e. to wash the hands – netilat yadayim). And if one ate basar and wants to [then afterward] eat gevinah he is required to clean between his teeth and do kinuah ha-peh with wheat bread, and there are three things which are not used for kinuah ha-peh (i.e. flour, dates, and [cooked] vegetables). If one ate geviynah it is permitted for him to [then] eat basar without kinuah ha-peh, but he needs to rinse (hadahah) his mouth and his hands and then after doing so he may eat [basar].”

Rav Haye Gaon

The Rashba below quotes Rav Ha’iy Gaon in his hidushim on Masekhet Hullin (hat tip to Tzvi Adams in his excellent article here).

TEXT

Rashba on Hulliyn

TRANSLATION

“…And the Gaon z”l wrote that one who ate basar it is permitted for him in another seudah to eat gevinah. And this statement (i.e. of Mar Ukva – that waits a number of hours after eating meat before consuming dairy) is of someone who is excessively stringent. But we (notice that the Gaon even includes himself in those who are not excessively stringent!) cleanse our palates (kinuah ha-peh), rinse our hands and mouths, and then eat [gevinah].”

This sampling represents the position of the Geonim in their understanding of what must be done between the consumption of meat and dairy or vice versa. They do not seem to know of the requirement to wait at all – unless one is either an excessively stringent person (such as Mar Ukva) or he neglected to properly cleanse his palate, rinse his mouth, or wash his hands in between.

The first to mention such a requirement was Rabbenu Hananel (i.e. the teacher of the Rif, who in turn was the teacher of the Ri Mi-Gash, who in turn taught Rabbi Maimon, who in turn taught the Rambam) and it appears that the position of the Rambam is an attempt to marry the opinion of the Geonim with that of his teachers’ teacher on this sugyah.

Is Judaism Panentheistic? – A Brief Mekori Perspective

Although popularized by the literature of Hasidism – particularly that produced by Chabad-Lubavitch – Panentheism (the idea that everything exists spatially within God, and that God thereby permeates all things in the universe) is not an authentically Jewish idea.

The third principle of Jewish Faith as codified by the Rambam states explicitly that the Creator “has no physical body and is not a force which resides within a physical body” (אינו גוף ולא כח בגוף). This statement precludes the basic tenet of Panentheism, i.e. that God resides actually within and around everything that exists.

Additionally, Rav Saadiah Gaon in his well-known work HaNivhar Emunot Ve-Deot discusses ideas related to the mechanism by which God created the universe as postulated by the various religions and philosophical schools. One of the twelve theories of creation discussed is Emanationism (i.e. the idea that God emanated his own essence into the lower forms of the creation).

“The third theory is that of him that asserts that the Creator of physical bodies has created them out of His own essence…” (Ma’amar Rishon, III)

The Gaon then goes on to refute this theory with 13 refutations. Emanationism requires a belief in Panentheism.

Judaism has always championed the belief in creatio ex nihilo (creation from nothing) by a completely transcendent and non-physical God whom is completely removed from His creation. Although there were those (including the Ibn `Ezra and Gersonides) who believed in creation from some primordial matter (creation from something), this matter is never equated by them with God or the Divine “essence” (kivyakhol).

Panentheism, although championed by many as the true view of the Torah, is certainly a mistake and an aberration.