Monday, April 20, 2009

Netilat Yadayaim Shel Shacharit - Ritual of Crisis or Dedication?


Previously, I posted about Rabbi Dr. Martin Gordon's superb essay on mezuzah, now permanently linked on the sidebar. He also wrote an essay regarding netilat yadayim shel shacharis that follows the same model - showing the dramatic transformation from the rationalist perspective that was dominant amongst the Rishonim to the mystical perspective that replaced it. And, like the other article, it is available on the internet for free. Highly recommended.

14 comments:

  1. Very interesting article. Thank you for posting these articles. Having a rational explanation for rituals makes me feel less foolish when I’m performing them. In twenty years in yeshiva I was never exposed to these views. Netilas yadayim, as I was taught, was something that should be done immediately on waking (basin and cup under the bed), but there were some (lenient) opinions that one could rely on to allow you to wait till you got to a sink, such as the whole house being considered daled amos. The kabbalistic view was presented as the only view. I wonder if this is due to the influence of chassidus on modern Judaism.

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  2. That was indeed a great article. Did Gesher publish a follow-up letter-to-the-editor?

    I've long wanted to figure out what ruach ra was, and this article went furthest in explaining it to me. (I've variably translated it as "bad wind," "evil spirit," "negative energy" but I don't like any of those.)

    When I wash my hands in the morning, I suppose I combine the rationalistic and the kabbalistic, at least a little. Whether it's a good idea to combine like that or not, I haven't bothered to ask. But sometimes, as I wash my hands, I actually try to think about emphasizing chesed over din -- for when I must deal with my kids, who sometimes start off the morning in fifth gear.

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  3. G*3: "The kabbalistic view was presented as the only view. I wonder if this is due to the influence of chassidus on modern Judaism."

    Well, the mehaber already brings a number of dinim from the Zohar (at least acc. to the Be'er ha-Golah, see Siman 4:5-12. I remember the MB as ruling within 4 amos as a strong le-cha-tehilah, and also within 40 breaths I believe, but the details inside escape my eyes right now.

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  4. MB 1:2
    (ב) השחר - בשל"ה כתב סוד לחבר יום ולילה בתורה או בתפלה הן בבוקר הן בערב. ומיד כשיתעורר משנתו ואינו רוצה לישן יטול ידיו אף שנשאר מושכב. ומכ"ש שלא ילך ד"א בלי נטילת ידים. וצריך מאד ליזהר בזה. ובזוה"ק [ב] מפליג עבור זה בענשו למאד כי הוא משהה על עצמו רוח הטומאה. [ג] ומ"מ חלילה לעבור שום איסור עבור חסרון נט"י כגון לעצור עצמו מלהשתין עי"ז או ליקח מים שהכין חבירו עבור עצמו אם לא שברור לו שיתן תיכף תמורתם אחרים ויש שנכשלין בזה. אם אירע שהמים רחוקים ואין לו מי שיקרבם אליו נהגו קצת מבעלי הנפש שהולכים פחות פחות מד"א וכתב השערי תשובה ע"ז דלא נהירא דעדיף יותר שילכו במרוצה שלא להשהות רוח רעה על ידיו. י"א דלענין זה אמרינן כולא ביתא כד' אמות דמי אבל [ד] אין לסמוך ע"ז כ"א בשעת הדחק. אם אירע כשמשכים בלילה שאין לו מים ליטול ידיו ג"פ כראוי להעביר רוח הטומאה אעפ"כ [ה] חלילה לו לבטל מד"ת משום זה עד שיאיר היום אלא יטול מעט או ינקה ידיו בכל מידי דמנקי ויברך וילמוד כדין התלמוד והפוסקים:

    So the MB brings the Zohar explicitly about the 4 amos here, saying "one must be extremely vigilant about this." Also, he says "There are those who say that for this purpose, we say the entire house is comparable to the 4 amos, but one should only rely on this bi-sha'as ha-dehak."

    Arukh ha-shulhan 4:14
    [...]
    ובלא נטילה אסור לו לילך לעשות צרכיו אא"כ עושה סמוך למטתו מפני שיש מחמירים ומזהירים ע"פ הזוהר שאסור לילך ד' אמות בלא נט"י וגם בגמרא משמע כן שהרי חשבה בין ברכות השחר שסמוך למטתו [ברכות ס':] ועמ"ש ריש סי' ו':

    I don't know what he's referring to at the end, when he says "ve-gam ba-Gemara mashma ken"

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  5. The mishnah brurah was written by the Chofetz Chaim, who was born a century after the establishment of the chassidus movement and lived in Poland where it was strongest. Is the Zohar cited in the Shulchan Aruuch?

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  6. Yes, the Be-er ha-Golah brings the Zohar as a source in OH 4:5-12. My earlier post was ambiguous; I didn't mean to imply that the MB couldn't have been inspired by Chassidus, only that the SA was not.

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  7. >Is the Zohar cited in the Shulchan Aruuch?

    G*3- The Beis Yosef a.k.a. the mechaber of the Shulchan Aruch, who reported that he learned torah from a magid (a spiritual being) and was most definitely a kabbalist, based dinim upon kaballah.

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  8. Louis, thanks, I didn't know that. I think its a bit disturbing that the author of what has become the definitive halachic claimed to have conversations with a non-coporeal being. Do you know of anywhere I could read about this is more detail?

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  9. G*3 said...
    "Louis, thanks, I didn't know that. I think its a bit disturbing that the author of what has become the definitive halachic claimed to have conversations with a non-coporeal being."

    G*3's comments brings up the question of how a "Rationalist" is to approach the existence of the non-Rationalist arena of Torah. Does the Rationalist not agree that Kabalah is valid, though he may himself follow a different path in mahshavah? And of course there are this and other examples of Kabalah in today's halakhah.

    http://dixieyid.blogspot.com/2009/03/learning-torah-from-angels-1st-hand.html

    http://www.hebrewbooks.org/30732

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  10. I think its a bit disturbing that the author of what has become the definitive halachic claimed to have conversations with a non-coporeal being.Um, hello? The definitive halachic work is based on conversations its author claimed to have had with a non-corporeal being. In fact, he attributed true authorship to that being, claming to have acted only as its secretary! If you've got a problem with that you're in the wrong religion.

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  11. yet one that single definitive work was in place, it also encoded rules closing off prophecy as a basis for further establishing halacha. now, this may not be prophecy exactly, and the discussions with the maggid not for establishing halacha, but it would seem that one can argue against this within the system. the concern, i think, exists with the doubt that rav karo actually experienced received such a revelation; and if so, it questions his mental status.

    btw, Shadal discusses Maggid Meisharim in his Vikuach, where he offers a defense/explanation of what it happening in maggid meisharim. Here is the last post of that subseries.

    http://parsha.blogspot.com/2008/04/discussion-of-maggid-meisharim-pt-ix.html

    kt,
    josh

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  12. "Um, hello? The definitive halachic work is based on conversations its author claimed to have had with a non-corporeal being. In fact, he attributed true authorship to that being, claming to have acted only as its secretary!"

    I'd like to think there is a difference between belief in God and belief in the bogeyman, though I am worried that I may be wrong about that.

    "If you've got a problem with that you're in the wrong religion."

    You nmay be right, though that could be said of religion in general, not just this one.

    "the concern, i think, exists with the doubt that rav karo actually experienced received such a revelation; and if so, it questions his mental status."

    It is possible that he had a real expirience wihtout positing either a conversation with a spirit or a psychotic episode. It may be similar to modern-day stories of alien abductions. The abductions invairably happen when the person is sleepy (just before wakening) or in a hypnotic state (after hours of staring at the road while driving at night) during which it is common for people to confuse dreams and reality. People who see human figures or have conversations while in this state interpret them in terms of their culture. These days they say they met aliens. During the spiritualist movement of the 1800s people had conversations with dead relatives. In the middle ages they demons. R' Karo may have had such an expirience in which he had a conversation about halacha and interpreted in terms of his culture - a meeting with a spiritual being who came to teach him Torah.

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  13. R' Shelomoh Danziger wrote a book review of R' Elias's edition of the Nineteen Letters, which I just discovered at
    http://www.stevens.edu/golem/llevine/rsrh/Danziger.pdf
    In it, he (R' Danziger) discusses R' Hirsch's understanding of the general goal (?) of Kabbalah - I found it food for thought, especially in the context of our discussion. My main skepticism of R' Gordon's article was whether he [and we the readers of RJ] has the background in Kabbalah to understand what it means to convey. Note that I don't know anything about his credentials, it's only my skepticism, without any investigation. I'm under the general impression that the simple meaning of things brought in Kabbalistic works is *not* their true content, and will lead people to the wrong conclusions. R' Hirsch seems to espouse some version of this idea.

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  14. What a wonderful article. Thanks for sharing it.

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