Sunday, December 14, 2008

My Last Words On An Unexceptional Book, To Say The Least , About An Exceptional Mind.

I slogged through about half of Rabbi Dr. Israel Drazin’s book. I have to say that it only gets worse. He has a very simplistic understanding of whatever he reads and though he claims to be a Maimonidean, he is far from it. My original idea that we can use him to clarify subjects has not panned out because some of his ideas are presented so superficially that it is hard to even begin addressing them. I also can say (tongue in cheek) that Drazin’s theology is so distant from Jewish theology that the rule of not engaging in interfaith dialog may apply here! I therefore do not want to waste more time on this and will just point out a few things that caught my attention.

Chapter 5 is titled “Two More Halevi Idiosyncrasies”. He discusses the Kuzari’s understanding of Jews as Chosen People and I quote, “However, his [Halevi] notion of Jewish supremacy is outrageous and perverse, and his understanding of history illogical.” He then proceeds to state unequivocally, "Maimonides rejects these ideas”. Here again Drazin shows that he cannot deal with a nuanced approach. Rambam in Hilchot Avodah Zara 1:18 writes –

כיון שנתנבא משה רבנו, ובחר ה' בישראל לנחלה, הכתירן במצוות והודיעם דרך עבודתו, ומה יהיה משפט עבודה זרה וכל הטועים אחריה.

Clearly, Rambam accepts the idea of a Chosen People though he may disagree with exactly what that notion means. After all it is repeated many times in the Tanach see Devarim 6:6, 14:2, Yeshayahu 44:1, 41:8, Yechezkel 20:5, Tehilim 33:12 and many, many more. Furthermore, we do say the Bracha Asher Bachar Banu every morning and when we are called to the Torah. Although Drazin admits that we find these ideas in the prayer book, “the appearance of an idea in the prayer book does not make it a mandatory Jewish belief… One example of this is found in the many mystical prayers inserted into the prayer book by the mystics of Safed in the Sixteenth Century”. Do I have to say more? Drazin does not differentiate between a text set in place by Anshei Knesset Hagedolah as transmitted in the Talmud, which is mandatory and later additions that are voluntary. Are we expected to lie every day and say things we do not believe in? For a contemporary comprehensive discussion of the idea of the Chosen People, see Professor Lawrence Kaplan’s article published in “Maimonides in Da’at” by Bar Ilan University “Maimonides’ Singularity of the Jewish People”. There is no place for the disdain and complete lack of respect this author shows towards the great R. Yehudah Halevi! It just highlights Drazin’s own inadequacies.

His chapters on Ethics and Sacrifices are superficial and lack any serious substance. I skimmed through the rest of the chapters and made some notes where things really irritated me but it would be a waste to address those. However, the most outrageous is the chapter entitled “The Shofar Scares and Confuses Satan”. It highlights Drazin’s thinking process and his true theological position.

Drazin starts by proclaiming that Yom Teruah, the name given the day in the Torah means literally “shouting”. He then goes on to say that, the significance of the day is its being the first day in the seventh month, important because the number seven has deep meaning in Judaism. It reminds us of the seven days creation like other rituals that are connected with seven: Shabbat, Shemita and Yovel. Yom Zikaron, day of remembrance, the other name for the day in the Torah proves the point - a day of remembrance of the number seven! It is only later that it became known as Rosh Hashanah, because a “new” idea sprung up that we should start the year on the first day of fall. This non-biblical idea was based on a tradition that the sixth day of creation, the day Adam was created, was the first day of Tishrei. Once accepted Yom Teruah was replaced with Rosh Hashana. So far no great novelty other than a hodgepodge of old hat biblical criticism ideas that have been debated many times over. (For a good discussion, on the subject, see Rabbi David Tzvi Hoffman’s commentary on Vaykra 23). Now comes the piece de resistance and I quote, “… that the blowing of Shofar on this day was started by the masses and was later justified by the rabbis using the two cited verses.” He then goes on and uses the one opinion among many in the Gemara that gives the reason for Shofar to confuse Satan the idea behind the masses’ new practice. The Rabbis then tried to mitigate the superstition by making two different kinds of blowing one series before the Amidah as a “more advanced spiritual concept” and the second during Amidah as the superstitious one. He ends the discussion of Shofar as follows, “In the next chapter we will discuss how Rosh Hashana is involved in other Rosh Hashana rites, including the Kapparot and tashlich ceremonies.” There is more along this vein in that chapter and it is not worth quoting. Again, Drazin shows his “erudition” and sophistication by not discerning between Halachot and customs, transmitted law and hermeneutic support. The most surprising part is that Drazin foists the whole idea on Rambam, as if that was his real take on things without bringing any proof to it. “In his MT Teshuvah 3:7 Maimonides rationalizes the blowing of the Shofar on Rosh Hashana. He writes that it is a way of calling the people to awaken from their slumbers, search their deeds and change their ways. Yet he admits that he knows no reason why the ram’s horn, and not another instrument, was chosen to perform the act.” Therefore, I guess, Rambam must have seen it like Drazin! That is the ultimate Chutzpah of this “erudite” Rabbi Dr. Israel Drazin.

The word Teruah is closer to “noisemaking” than to “shouting”. The prooftext is exactly the hermeneutic derasha that the Gemara uses comparing it to how the Torah directs the practice on Yovel where the Torah itself defines Teruah as Shofar - וְהַעֲבַרְתָּ שׁוֹפַר תְּרוּעָה. The word Teruah may refer to other methods of noisemaking but when it comes to an announcement of a special time it is done with Shofar as the Torah itself defines it at Yovel. This comparison however is not the basis for the use of Shofar; it is only supportive. As we saw in my last post, Rambam explained that together with the written text of the Torah we received a set of explanations of the text including how to practice a ritual. Just as it was a received tradition, that Pri Etz Hadar is Etrog so too were we told that Teruah in this case is Shofar. The Rabbis then used the hermeneutic rule as support. [1]

ואף על פי שלא נתפרש בתורה תרועה בשופר בראש השנה, הרי הוא אומר ביובל "והעברת שופר תרועה . . . תעבירו שופר"
; ומפי השמועה למדו מה תרועת יובל בשופר, אף תרועת ראש השנה בשופר
(Hil Shofar 1:1)

The expression MiPi Hashemuah refers in Rambam to transmitted tradition. But of course, to Rabbi Dr. Drazin such a thing does not exist. He was not able to identify it from the start. Categorization of different kinds of halachot is beyond his capacity. Using hermeneutics as support a transmitted law, a Pirush Hamekubal, is beyond his ability to comprehend

It is a complete waste to spend your hard-earned money on this unexceptional book that is replete with errors and plain nonsense. I wish I could get a refund for my copy but I scribbled notes in the margins!

Shavua Tov.

[1] BTW, the exact understanding how this works and how it affects what is considered De’oraita is a long argument between Rambam and Ramban in Sefer Hamitzvot Shoresh 2.


  1. Just as it was a received tradition, that Pri Etz Hadar is Etrog
    Where do we see this?Does the Rambam agree on this?

  2. Yes that is how I understand MiPi Hashemu'ah

  3. Furthermore in Hil teshuvah he calls it Gezeirat Hakatuv which is so with the Pirush Hamekubal.

  4. Anon, Thinking about it a little more in this instance Mipi Hashemu'ah probably means that the Pirush Hamekubal was to compare Teruah at Rosh Hashana to Teruah at Yovel.

    Thanks for the comment it helped clarify for me.

  5. This is correct by shofer but by Pri Etz Hadar Mipi Hashemu'ah is not mentioned

  6. for that see Hakdamah to Pirush Hamishna. There he is explicit on Etrog.I thought you were bothered by Shofar.

  7. What's up with Hakira?

  8. Anon, I just noticed in Pirush Hamishna introduction to chelek in the eighth Yesod Rambam clearly lists Shofar as Pirush Hamekubal.