Thursday, January 01, 2009

A Forged Maimonidean Responsa? I Am Quite Confident It Is.

The Halacha is that the purple threads (Tchelet) of the Tzitzit have to be dyed keeping in mind that they will be used for the Mitzvah and not some other purpose. This requirement is quite rigid and the slightest deviation makes the threads unfit for use in Tzitzit. For example, a pot of dye that needs to be tested if the coloring is correct, one may not soak the threads in it and then continue using the dye for Tzitzit. The remaining dye is no longer acceptable. The testing must be done with dye that was removed from the pot so as to not make the leftover unusable. Because of this requirement of Lishmah, if one finds dyed wool from an unknown origin in the street, it cannot be used for Tzitzit as we suspect that it was not dyed with the Mitzvah in mind. This suspicion is valid in whatever form the dyed wool was found, whether it was found in the form of dyed fleece, yarn or thread. However, when the thread is found dyed and cut to size some Rishonim were more lenient and felt that no one would go to such length unless the dyeing was done for the purpose of Tzitzit. Rambam is not one of them and he legislates in Hilchot Tzitzit 2:7 that –

המוצא תכלת בשוק, אפילו מצא חוטין פסוקין ושזורין--פסולה.

The argument between the Rishonim is based on their different understanding of the Mishna Eruvin 95a –

המוצא תפילין מכניסן זוג זוג ר"ג אומר שנים שנים בד"א בישנות אבל בחדשות פטור

If one finds Tefillin on Shabbat in the street, he should put them on, a pair at a time, and bring them into the house. Rabban Gamliel says two pairs at a time. This only applies if the Tefillin were old but new ones one need not bring them into the house.

The reason for allowing putting on the Tefillin on Shabbat is to protect holy writings, Kitvei Kodesh. The problem with found Tefillin is to first ascertain their authenticity as Tefillin and not as plain amulets that do not contain scriptures. The level of proof needed is the issue at hand.

The Gemara explains that old ones are Tefillin that have their straps tied in a proper knot and new ones are untied. The Gemara offers various explanations for why old ones yes and new ones no. As we will see, each explanation will have an impact on both halachot- Tefillin and Tzitzit.

Explanation 1:

If the boxes were found with unknotted straps, we suspect that they are not Tefillin but simply amulets and must therefore remain where they are. On the other hand, old Tefillin, those that have the properly knotted straps, we can assume they are indeed Tefillin and therefore one is obligated to strap them on and wear them into the house. Although both instances had properly designed boxes, the argument that whoever made them went to so much effort making the boxes, is not enough to prove that they were meant for Tefillin unless they also had properly knotted straps. Properly knotted straps in addition to properly designed boxes is incontrovertible proof that they are indeed Tefillin.

Explanation 2:

Properly designed boxes are always sufficient proof that they are Tefillin. However if the straps are not knotted, which is what “new” means, there is no permissible way of putting them on and bringing them into a protected area. Making a knot on Shabbat is prohibited.

If we were to accept explanation 2, evidence of effort in producing these boxes is proof of authenticity. The case of Tefillin has an additional specific practical problem, the prohibition for making knots on Shabbat and therefore untied straps inhibit the ability to wear them and therefore to bring them in on Shabbat. Tzitzit on the other hand would be Kasher if there were evidence of effort. What constitutes sufficient proof of effort may be debatable but in any case finding precut threads is definitely sufficient proof of authenticity.

Rambam in Hilchot Shabbat 19:23 accepts explanation 1 –

המוצא תפילין בשבת ברשות הרבים, כיצד הוא עושה: לובשן כדרכן, מניח של ראש בראשו ושל יד בידו, ונכנס, וחולצן בבית
במה דברים אמורים, בשהיו בהן רצועותיהן, והיו מקושרין קשר תפילין--שוודאי …
תפילין הן; אבל אם לא היו רצועותיהן מקושרות, אינו נזקק להן.

Authenticity requires unquestionable proof such as knotted straps in addition to well-designed boxes. In the case of Tzitzit Rambam prohibits the use of found dyed wool no matter in what state they are, because that is not enough proof of authenticity. In other words, there is never enough proof of authenticity for Tzitzit no matter how much effort went into them by the very nature of how they are made. Dyed yarn, even when precut, could be used for regular weaving while properly designed boxes and properly knotted straps would only be found on Tefillin and never on amulets.

Basing himself on his interpretation of the Gemara in Eruvin 96b, Ra’avad took issue with Rambam’s explanation in Hilchot Shabbat that unknotted Tefillin lack proof of authenticity. Ra’avad counters that although the practical ruling in the case of Tefillin is correct the reasoning is not. Properly designed boxes are proof enough of authenticity. Tefillin with unknotted straps cannot practically be carried on Shabbat and making a knot is prohibited. He therefore disagrees with Rambam’s ruling on Tzitzit and argues that precut threads are definitely proof enough of authenticity just like properly designed Tefillin boxes are.

There are several problems with the Ra’avad conclusion. It is difficult to understand why one cannot make a temporary knot which is permissible on Shabbat. Tosafot already struggles with the issue. The answers are unsatisfactory. Second, on a more technical note, Ra’avad assumes that Rabbi Yehudah who is reported in the Braitha to be differentiating between new and old Tefillin as opposed to Rabbi Meir, who does not, is the source for our Mishna that differentiates too. As the Gra notes, that is problematic based on the presentation of the two positions. Rabbi Yehudah states that with new Tefillin it is “prohibited to bring them in” while the Mishna states that one is “not obligated to handle new Tefillin”. Rabbi Yehudah’s presentation can be interpreted as a problem with making a knot thus the prohibition. He also leaves open the possibility for other remedies as for example staying with the Tefillin and guarding them until nightfall. The Mishna on the other hand is saying that one is not obligated to handle them at all and may abandon them in an unprotected area. The only possibility for such a statement can only be because they are not considered authentic and may not contain any scriptural text if they are amulets. Clearly, Rambam’s understanding of the Gemara and the conclusions he arrived at have merit and are probably more in tune with the sugya than the Ra’avad. (I will not go through the sugya here but should anybody be interested let me know and I will post it.)

Interestingly, there is a letter purportedly written to Rambam reporting the Ra’avad comment almost verbatim and he responded that he had erred and the text should be changed to conform to Ra’avad.

תשובה ודאי אמת כדבריכם ובעיקר העתקתי לנוסחא שלי טעיתי וכן הם הדברים
וכזה תקנו הנוסחא אפילו מצא חוטין פסוקים פסולין שזורין כשירה עכ"ל

It is noteworthy that instead of saying, שזורין is Passul and פסוקים is Kasher as the Gemara does, he reverses the order without any explanation. Furthermore, he ignores the Halacha in Hilchot Shabbat where he clearly explains the reason for requiring knotted straps is to prove authenticity. That does not conform to the Ra’avad and the question he was asked -

והא דתנן המוצא תפילין ישנות מכניסן זוג זוג אבל לא חדשות כרבי יהודה לאו
משום דחיישינן שמא קמיעות הן דכולי האי לא טרח לעשות קמיע כעין תפילין אלא
מה הן חדשות שאין מקושרות ומשום דלא אפשר למקטרינהו בשבתא ואפילו בעניבה
דרבי יהודה לטעמיה דאמר עניבה קשירה היא

Furthermore, Rif who usually is of the same school as Rambam, clearly understands that unknotted straps are a lack of authenticity. Ramban in his Milchamot explains Rif’s understanding (different then the Gra’s explanation) and does not seem to be aware of the Rambam responsa. This responsa which is quite suspicious, as we can see, is listed among the Responsa to the Chachmei Lunel. Rav Kafieh, who was steeped in Rambam from childhood and is very familiar with his style, claims that all the responsa to Chachmei Lunel are forgeries. I have no question in my mind that this one could not have been written by Rambam. It is galling however that even the Frankel Rambam took upon itself to amend the text of the Halacha to conform to this suspect responsa.

As an interesting conclusion to this post, I would like to share Rav Kafieh’s novel understanding of this Halacha. Rambam has a unique way of adding the Tchelet to Tzitzit. Unlike other Rishonim who held anywhere from one full thread out of four (which are doubled over when inserted making 8 threads) to two giving anywhere from two to four purple threads out of eight, Rambam has only one thread out of eight. To do that he dyes half a thread purple leaving the second half white. Rav Kafieh therefore suggests that פסוקים are not cut threads but rather dyed in two colors, purple and white intermittently. Even if one were to find such threads, it would not be sufficient proof for authenticity. Weavers who wanted to make multicolored garments would use such multicolored threads.

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