Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Texts and Contexts in Terms of Jewish Texts: What's in it for You? by Rabbi Ephraim Kanarfogel


One of the components to the YU Honors Program are certain events and functions that we must attend. Girls have an obligation to attend about six out of seven events, while guys don’t have this as a mandatory requirement. Last night, November 20, 2006, I had the pleasure of listening to the extremely knowledgeable and well-known Rabbi Ephraim Kanarfogel deliver a lecture entitled “Texts and Contexts in Terms of Jewish Texts: What’s in it for You?” The speech was partly autobiographical in nature, and traced his journey to where he is today, what his field entails, and why he enjoys it. To give a very simple sketch, he delves into Jewish manuscripts of various kinds (interpreting, understanding, and comparing them with regard to the texts and manuscripts we retained over the years) and draws conclusions about time periods and Judaic views during those time periods from his discoveries.

The following are my notes from the event:

Thank you very much, Dr. Wachtell. I am unaccustomed to speaking to coed audiences, but actually not as unaccustomed as I was, as my Revel class is half and half at the moment- let me put in a plug; the last time I spoke to a coed audience of this type was during an event run in Belfur- it was entitled the “Home and Home” shiur series, where the faculty of Stern would give a lecture, then the faculty of YU, they would switch off and we would have Dougies afterward. That was the mingle plan then.

The fact is, obviously the students at Stern are somewhat more familiar with what I do aside from running around signing things. I am engaged in research, though as a whole people engaged in research don’t spend very much time giving you a sense of what kind of research can be done.

I titled this talk “Texts and Contexts: What’s in it for You?” because the men and women of YU and Stern are uniquely positioned. For us at YU there really doesn’t have to be a stirah- YU students can embrace ideas, texts, that will challenge them and not take them away from traditional learning in any sense. The role of Orthodox Jews in research in Jewish studies is expanding, and yet I feel we’re not sending as many people as we could- and there are reasons for this, economic, pecuniary, societal, whatever it may be- the fact is that this university could make a contribution, since our students have the experience with text that few undergraduates have, certainly not in this kind of concentration. What’s missing in the students who go into this kind of research from other universities is the textual facility- you can learn academic jargon, academic writing, but this is harder.

Professor Twerski of Harvard used to bring up people, scholars- always introduced us to this short fellow who was a professor of medieval Chinese history. We always wondered how he got into that- well, he worked at it to master it. Now, our people are not going into medieval Chinese history, but you might wonder how I got into Judaic history. So let me add a bit of biography here.

Like you, I was once an undergraduate at one of the undergrad schools for men at YU. There was no Honors Program at that time; there was Early Admissions, however, and I was in that first class of Early Admissions. We ended up with a bunch of money, a bunch of degrees, and had no idea what we were going to do. Now the Honors Program is better and better organized- I remember that this person who writes about academic garb and knows all the rules pulled us into his office after we’d graduated and wanted to know what had been done for us, so they could determine exactly what this Early Admissions program did. Now, like I said, the Honors Program is organized better.

Now, what doesn’t change is this interest in text and textual training. YU is a reservoir, a resource for you- you can make your name in academia, the use of texts, Jewish studies, whatever you like.

Twenty years after my PhD, which was earned at Bernard Revel- most of the six to eight of us who survived in academia still have our marbles, though some of us are beginning to lose them- not that we want to mass produce doctorates, but we want to produce more doctorates- that’s why the Senior Thesis in your Honors Program is so important, in the Humanities fields in particular- it gives you a good head start.

As I was saying, twenty years afterwards, I had my first book out- the first book you write is usually a revised version of your doctorate, and even though only six to twelve people read it, still…The publication can be reviewed favorably. My first book was on the relationship between the yeshivot of the Ba’alei HaTosfos, the Tosafists and the community- those Tosafists who we all know about, obviously, learned and studied an awful lot, but they very rarely discussed how they learned, or how they studied- and that’s what my dissertation is about. My advisor told me, when I was trying to explain what I wanted to do, that I was responsible for all of medieval literature. I kind of nodded my head and said “Yeah,” in an unsure voice. I spoke to two distinguished medieval professors and they said they weren’t sure I could pull it off, even though I tried to argue my point- one of them came up to me after I put out my first book in 1992 during a dinner at AJS and said, “Congratulations, you proved me wrong!” The other one took a while to warm up to the idea…

Be friendly with texts- you can see things other people haven’t seen. I had a method for how I was going about this, but after the first book I changed gears. One of the blessings of academia- I thought that I was going to teach and have a very good class and then they’d graduate and I’d have no one to talk to, but I gradually learned that new students come and there’s actually lots of people to talk to! The challenge of academia is that you’re always refreshing yourself- the fact is that your research life is supposedly your “hobby” but really it is part and parcel of what you’re doing all day. One personal point- when I’m working on something during a semester, I specifically try NOT to each it because otherwise I start giving too many details to the students.

Now, by my second book I went a different way- this is an interesting Eretz Yisrael story. There’s a vast body of Rabbinical literature out there that hasn’t been looked at for a while- start to turn the lense of Rishonim and Achronim on themselves- till this day, the studies of Achronim are not there. The Taz- there’s a book about him, but someone has to redo it; someone at Yeshiva wants to work on the Shach; I hope he will- there’s the Nesivos-there’s tremendous stuff to do-

In addition to texts, there’s something called manuscripts. How did I find my way to these things? Well, first, there’s the collection at JTS. JTS has probably the largest collection of manuscripts on microfilm. At Yeshiva uptown we have the Vatican collection on microfilm- the ones that were released many years ago. Anyway, I used to go to the JTS library, where there were two microfilm readers behind an office, and I used to sit and read; I had no idea what I was doing, of course. One of my teachers from Revel walked in one summer day and said, “What are you doing?” “Reading manuscripts,” I said. “Do you know what you’re doing?” “No,” I answered. S he didn’t understand…I was kind of just looking around, made some notes, looking at the collection of manuscripts from Bodleian Library at Oxford- then it occurred to me as I did more work, I saw that American scholars in my field didn’t play with manuscripts so much- but Israeli scholars did! The problem was that Israeli scholars beat the manuscripts to death. So then it occurred to me that it would be interesting to go through this and try to synthesize, mix together the Israeli and American methods..Well, we know that “God protects fools,”- and- it worked! I had a theory that I had developed as a college kid that the Ba’alei HaTosfos, even though we know them through their Talmudic commentaries, there was more to know about them. For example, the Rambam has a hobby, philosophy. The Ramban has a hobby, mysticism. But Rabbein Tam, well, his hobby IS learning! So Tosafists seem to have no hobbies- “Talmudic Centricity” as Professor Twerski so wonderfully put it- it seemed like we were missing a lot of material.

I have an obligation to tell you about this place- at the bottom of Givat Ram in the Hebrew University library there’s a machon called Institute of Hebrew Microfilm- it’s a very nondescript room containing about 800,000 microfilm pieces- they’ve got a bunch of microfilm readers and electronic card catalogue; the material itself is not digitalized. A DAY in that machon is worth- well, let’s say, that JTS to that Machon is roughly 30%. JTS, well, the hours are irregular, the staff is irregular; in Jerusalem the whole machon is devoted to this thing- so you go there a lot- I average about 25 days in a year, all told, sitting in that machon- that comes out to about once every two weeks. If you work in this business, you have to do that. What brings me there is that I always walk away feeling like I know something or have learned something; I never walk away empty-handed.

How did this machon come to be? So when the State of Israel was established, they said first and foremost that every Jewish person who wants to come back may enter with no limitation. The second thing they said is that if you have any holy books, texts that you want to send to Israel- we’ll take them! What they also said, and here’s where subtlety comes in, and I’m eternally grateful- here they are in Israel in the midst of wars and putting out periodicals and some of the greatest scholars have lost their child in the army of a child to a bomb- so these scholars told the State, listen, throughout Europe there are all kinds of manuscripts and texts scattered about- in small museums or houses, private libraries, collections that have Jewish texts- a treasure chest that we would like to have.

Israel couldn’t really remove all those texts, first because it would cost a fortune, and secondly because these museums and private collectors weren’t willing to give them up! So they sent a team of microfilmers to go and capture these texts on microfilm…Recently actually sent them to Russia, also sent to Italy and Spain. By the way, here’s an interesting sidepoint- book-bindings. So how do you keep book-bindings firm? Now we know how to make them, but back then, well, I even remember during my school days when the book bindings were stuffed with newspaper to keep them firm! So how do you keep the book bindings firm in olden days? You stuff medieval manuscripts inside them! There were 2 folios of real Rashi that we didn’t have, and this literally fell out of one of the book-bindings when these microfilmers went to look at that actual book- so all this information is sitting there, just waiting.

Now, here’s a problem- when you’re looking at a particular text, the library will have 63 to 200 manuscripts, so Bar Ilan had to put out a definitive version of what Rashi is- they made a decision to use only Ashkenaz texts, which seems reasonable but some stuff in kesav Sephardi is actually more correct- so now, anyway, people are going to get these manuscripts; they put them onto their laptops- put it right onto your computer- but what do you do with it?

So what I did with it was use manuscripts to show what the time period was like. So the book I put out was about mysticism and magic in the Tosafist time-period, my distinguished colleague and friend did a dissertation on lost halakhic works of the Tosafists….my current book is called New Perspectives (he gave a long title here, too) basically will show in addition to all kinds of subtleties in Tosafist learning- we can talk about the Ba’alei HaTosfos who do Jewish thought, magic, piyutim (liturgy/ poems). In manuscripts and texts you find things that are not found in the printed halakhic texts- there’s a whole world out there.

So what I want to try to show you is to put this into action- I’m not so old that I’m beginning to reminisce, but I’m trying to show how I did it so I CAN communicate to students how I got here- once you find this stuff it’s like finding the mother lode, even if you have writer’s block you can’t have writer’s block, there’s always something new…I’ve had 3 books, 50 articles…

My publisher is the Wayne State University Press- they had a list of things they wanted to get into, and one of these things was Jewish studies, apparently now they’ve brought in Professor Feldman as well. So it was my mazal that they read what I’ve written and were willing to do this for me. So if you’re asking where you publish these types of things, don’t worry, there’s always a venue- one of the editors, Kathy Wildfarm, learned to READ Hebrew in order to check my footnotes- people out there are willing to do this- I’m fighting now, actually, to get her to do my book, but she’s too important.
Doing Jewish books- academic Jewish books- lots of mazel (luck) involved, of course, but some stuff you CAN work on, manuscript index- 250 referred to there- it’s just that kind of newness that makes it exciting.

(At this point you should follow the links and print out the following 2 pages. The first is the microfilm copy; the second what it is saying in Hebrew type, typed by Rabbi Kanarfogel.)

Rabbi Kanarfogel Text 1 (Florence Manuscript)
Rabbi Kanarfogel Text 2 (Modern Hebrew version)

Let me tell you what you have in front of you- so we just leined Parshas Chayah Sara- you have a Florence manuscript from the university collection. The rest of the gibberish refers to shelf-marks, pages 144r, r stands for recto and 254 v for verso, right side and other side; you have a peirush on the Chumash- it’s from the Ashkenaz community but written in a Sephardic hand- actually, you’ll find this interesting, there are people who make their scholarly mark in studying the Xeroxes themselves- this is a copy off a microfilm- now you see that shmutz on the right- that’s actually the parchment discoloration, not dirt. There are people who can look at this page and tell you which century this was written, where it was written, can even tell by the pinpricks, because they used to sew the pages together to form a book, so they sew the pages differently in France versus Germany, so when you have the manuscript that’s much newer/older than what it’s purporting to present, you have to worry.

I picked this particular manuscript because we DO have a collection at the YU library and the Heidi Gottesman library- we do have some sefarim at Stern, than God- there is a book called Tosfos HaShalem that was edited by Yaakov ______. Have all of these so-called Tosafist Torah commentaries that he did on Beraishis and Shmos. So you’ll get his report if you read it- problem is it doesn’t always document where he found his sources- so to do this very quickly-

(he begins to read aloud from the sheet, then goes off on a tangent on his ability to read illegible writing)

Here’s a story- I came in one summer. All the secretaries are puzzling over this syllabus for political science, they can’t make it out- it’s illegible handwriting and I should know from illegible (referencing his own handwriting), so I started reading it! And they asked how, but you just get the hang of it after reading these manuscripts…

It’s in kesav Ashiri so you learn to read it, you figure out what it says. So what you have on the sheet I gave you is a running summary- Chaya Sarah take 1 and take 2- this is the end of the first take on Chaya Sara- see where I put #1- look where it says #1- last four words of that line, can you read them? (reads) If you follow this through, which you can do with my typed Hebrew page, it looks CLOSE to something Tosfos said, but not exactly. Issue as to why Rivka is referred to as a “na’ara” and a “ketana”- you know the nifty answer to that- that she was three- how can you say she was three? The other answer is that she was fourteen. My point here is that this passage is something which 25, 15 y ears ago people never saw, so what is Tosfos doing here in biblical commentaries, you might ask? Well, Tosfos on Chumash- my theory is that it’s like Tosfos for Poets, the cliffnote copy.

Door #2- see where I put the #2- read the next words. So the word “Vayevieha” is written without the letter “yud.” There should have been another “yud” between the beis and the aleph because there is a “chirik malei.” That’s the one that is defective or missing- big gap there, pretty significant. WHY is it missing a yud? The gematriah! So copyists are always looking to abbreviate- look, here’s an interesting thing, between the bais and the gimmel the copyist didn’t pick up his pen. Anyway, the absent yud in “vayevieha” make it have the gematriah of 24. 24 significance- Yitzchak didn’t just give her bracelets and noserings but gave her the whole shebang- Jewish people’s splendor doesn’t depend on jewelry, mentioned in Yeshaya, but the whole thing.

Now another Rabbi, from whom we’d expect this, R’ Yehuda HaChasid, brings up this 24 idea. 24 idea is also seen in Rashi when the Luchos (Tablets) were brought down by Moses. Why is Luchos spelled lacking something- the idea of a “Kallah” here. The point is that Rashi brings an interpretation saying that from here we know that the 24 sefarim should be on the lips of Talmidei Chachamim like Torah to Moshe like the chosson gives a kallah 24 kishutim. So now you won’t find this anyplace else. Very common to find gematria in so-called Tosfos on the Torah, trying to make a point.

Last two (numbers 3 and 4) both involving R’ Yosef Bechor Shor- very difficult pasuk to discuss in a coed audience- the shevua that Elazar took which involves brit milah. The Christians say this particular method of making a promise is the forerunner of immaculate conception; the problem is that that should involve the womb, not the male sexual organs. Anyway, this is found in the Bechor Shor Chumash.

#4 we have a peirush that is NOT found in the Bechor Shor Chumash- what he says here which isn’t in his printed commentary is that Abraham says to Elazar that he knows his plan is going to work because God took him out of his homeland- so now he’s sending Elazar BACK to his homeland- so his plan has to work, foolproof hand.

Looking at one particular page reveals phenomena that confirm how these peirushim work.

Manuscript also has something we’ve never seen- R’ Yehiel of Paris- all we have from him are pesachim- but apparently he wrote a peirush on Chumash, because it’s quoted here. I will take questions now. This is a game here, a very fun game- first you have to learn how to read the stuff, but it’s a fun game AND it’s edifying- at the end of the day, what I’m able to synthesize is to put together a picture- the other good thing is when this stuff accumulates in your mind, so when you go to the next text you have some sense of what you’re going to find.

I hope I’ve shown you why t his stuff is terribly fun, terribly interesting, worth spending your life doing- find texts that you find interesting and make them your own- sitting with these texts and swallowing them and trying to then extract from the texts themselves and understand history.

Thanks to the audience- you’ve all been good guineau pigs. 


1. Please explain how, once you open up these manuscripts, they may or may not affect Halakha.

So here is an old discussion- the Chazon Ish discusses- there’s a wonderful article by Professor Lyman about the Chazon Ish’s attitude to this- basically those texts that didn’t go through the kur (furnace?) of generations have to be introduced VERY carefully and slowly but the Chazon Ish himself, we do know, does in some places acknowledge and utilize certain texts as correct. It’s the idea of chashehu v’kabduhu, be suspicious of them and yet honor them- it gets even more complicated when there’s a question of sefarim that are forgeries that Achronim quoted! So we have to go very carefully.


Anonymous said...

How did you get all that down? That's like, the entire speech VERBATIM. Holy frikkin cow.

By the way, excellent job posting a copy of the manuscript he passed out. Twas quite a good idea to do that.

And of course, good post overall.

Tempo said...

rabbi kanarfogel is the best! i took several of his classes at stern, one of which included reading manuscripts and disecting them. it was the coolest thing to read peirushim that haven't been read by anyone else for hundreds of years.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing. This lecture was very informative. Keep up the good work.

ilan said...

Great post.
You might want to know that this was linked by Lamed, the blog of ATID.

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

Wonderful post. Sounds he like he really captured the fun of what he does. Did you tape it and transcribe it from the tape?

Just a couple of tiny pedantic points:

Badlean Library = Bodleian Library at Oxford.


R’ Yehiel of Parez = R. Yehiel of Paris (sometimes if it sounds like something, that's what it is!)

Chana said...

S, from On the Main Line!

I didn't tape it; I just happen to write fast.

I'll fix the errors; thank you so much!

Anonymous said...

Do You interesting how to [b]Buy Viagra per pill[/b]? You can find below...
[size=10]>>>[url=http://listita.info/go.php?sid=1][b]Buy Viagra per pill[/b][/url]<<<[/size]

[b]Bonus Policy[/b]
Order 3 or more products and get free Regular Airmail shipping!
Free Regular Airmail shipping for orders starting with $200.00!

Free insurance (guaranteed reshipment if delivery failed) for orders starting with $300.00!

Generic Viagra (sildenafil citrate; brand names include: Aphrodil / Edegra / Erasmo / Penegra / Revatio / Supra / Zwagra) is an effective treatment for erectile dysfunction regardless of the cause or duration of the problem or the age of the patient.
Sildenafil Citrate is the active ingredient used to treat erectile dysfunction (impotence) in men. It can help men who have erectile dysfunction get and sustain an erection when they are sexually excited.
Generic Viagra is manufactured in accordance with World Health Organization standards and guidelines (WHO-GMP). Also you can find on our sites.
Generic [url=http://viagra.deutafilm.ru]buy generic viagra online in canada[/url] is made with thorough reverse engineering for the sildenafil citrate molecule - a totally different process of making sildenafil and its reaction. That is why it takes effect in 15 minutes compared to other drugs which take 30-40 minutes to take effect.
[b]cialis forum
generic indian viagra
search viagra find edinburgh pages
Viagra For 18 Year Olds
Viagra In Kiev
where is viagra manufactured
viagra sudden blindness
Even in the most sexually liberated and self-satisfied of nations, many people still yearn to burn more, to feel ready for bedding no matter what the clock says and to desire their partner of 23 years as much as they did when their love was brand new.
The market is saturated with books on how to revive a flagging libido or spice up monotonous sex, and sex therapists say “lack of desire” is one of the most common complaints they hear from patients, particularly women.