Monday, November 23, 2015

Guest Post: The Rationalist Mezuzah

Guest Post: The Rationalist Mezuzah 
by Tzvi H. Adams

Dr. Martin Gordon’s article, “Mezuzah: Protective Amulet or Religious Symbol?” is conveniently available on Rabbi Slifkin’s Rationalistjudaism.com website. The article is a must-read for any rationalist Jew. Gordon argues that the rationalist understanding of mezuzah, that mezuzah is a mitzvah which regularly reminds one of one’s obligations to God rather than being a source of mystical protection, was prevalent amongst Chazal.

I add here three points not made in Gordon’s paper:

1) The Gemara (Menochos 31b) states that when writing a mezuzah, the scribe may not shape the text in the overall appearance of “a teepee or a tail”. However, if the start and end of each line are merely not aligned it is okay. What can be the reason for these laws? The Gemara and rishonim do not explain. It appears though that the sages were discouraging the notion that a mezuzah is a protective amulet. The Gnostics and Essenes, who strongly believed in the cosmological value of letters and magical powers of amulets, would write the “holy” names of angels or demons in their amulets in the overall form of a teepee or tail to augment or diminish the alleged powers of these supernatural forces [1]. Chazal did not want the ideas of these mystical groups to infiltrate mainstream Jewish thought, so they said a mezuzah written in such a way is invalid [2].

2) The addition of God’s name ‘Shaddai’ on the mezuzah’s exterior is not mentioned in the Gemara - the practice only appeared in the early Middle Ages. Rambam writes in Mishneh Torah that it is the “universal custom to write ‘Shaddai’ on the back of the mezuzah”- he makes no objection. However, Rambam strongly believed that mitzvas mezuzah does not supply any supernatural protection; it is mitzvah like any other. Rambam says that those who treat mezuzah as a protective amulet have no share in the world to come (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Mezuza 5:4) The inclusion of ‘Shaddai’ in a mezuzah subscribes to the thinking that a mezuzah is a form of protective amulet [3]. If Rambam, the rationalist, so strongly believed that mezuzah does not supply a supernatural protection, why does he record this custom with no protest?

It seems that Rambam did not record this custom in order to perpetuate it; rather, in midst of his diatribe against the practice of including angel’s names inside the mezuzah he had to say that the ‘Shaddai’ on the back is not as severe - it will not make the mezuzah possul.

That Rambam mentions a common minhag in his Yad HaChazaka does not necessarily mean he believes the minhag is correct. The following proves this point: Rambam in his Mishna Commentary (Gittin 5:8) launches a lengthy polemic against the widespread practice of calling a kohen am ha’aretz to read from the Torah before a yisroel talmid chochom. He expresses his displeasure with this custom in no uncertain terms. However, in Yad HaChazaka (Hilchos Tefillah 12:18) Rambam simply says “the common custom today is that even a kohen-am ha’aretz is called to the Torah before a yisroel-talmid chochom.” He doesn’t add any comment regarding his true feeling toward this custom. This demonstrates that Rambam may cite customs that he does not approve of, which appears to be the case for the custom of writing ‘Shaddai’ as well.

3) Rambam doesn’t mention the custom of writing ‘kuzu bemuchsuz kuzu’ on back of the mezuzah, only ‘Shaddai’. The Tur (Y.D. 288) describes this custom as minhag of the Jews of Germany and France. The kuzu’s significance is rooted in the belief that the written names of God and specific letter combinations have deep mystical and cosmological value. These mystical letters augment the mezuzah’s protective powers [4]. These beliefs were the teachings of the school of the Chasidei Ashkenaz [5]. Rambam outright rejects these notions in Moreh Nevuchim (1:61-62), describing their adherents as “fools who believe anything.”

An exception amongst the European rishionim was Rabbainu Avigdor Katz of Vienna (c. 1250) who directed all of Austrian Jewry to refrain from adding ‘kuzu bemuchsuz kuzu’ or Shaddai to the back of their mezuzos [6]. R. Yosef Caro writes “in our time we do not have this custom” of writing kuzu [7]. It can be assumed he is speaking (at least) for the Jews of Spain, Portugal, Greece, Bulgaria, Egypt, and Eretz Yisroel, the countries he had lived in. As late as 1777, R. Refael Elazar Nahmiaś, a leading rabbi of Slonika, testifies that the minhag of the Sefardim is not to write kuzu on the back of their mezuzohs. He goes as far as to pasken that a mezuzah with extra writing on its back should be placed in geniza and not used for mitzvas mezuzah, based on the words of Rambam [8]! The historic customs which exclude the kuzu bemuchsuz kuzu inscription may hint at an underlying rationalistic approach to the mitzvah of mezuzah.

Do you have a rationalist mezuzah on your doorway? Most probably not. Nowadays all mezuzos are written with ‘Shaddai’ and ‘kuzu bemuchsuz kuzu’ on their backs. However, if you wish, you can contract a sofer to write a mezuzah without these mystical additions. Note though that you must make sure that the sofer does not use the mikvah before writing the sheimos inside the mezuzah. The Rambam considers such a person a fool - a disqualification for writing tefilin and mezuzos:
You must beware of sharing the error of those who write amulets (kameot). Whatever you hear from them, or read in their works, especially in reference to the names which they form by combination, is utterly senseless; they call these combinations shemot (names) and believe that their pronunciation demands sanctification and purification, and that by using them they are enabled to work miracles. Rational persons ought not to listen to such men, nor in any way believe their assertions. (Rambam, Moreh Nevuchim 1:61- Friedlander translation)
NOTES

[1] See Julius Eisenstein’s entry in his Otzar Yisroel Vol I pg.103 s.v. “abracadabra”. http://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=2589&st=&pgnum=119&hilite=
[2] The Talmud records a magical utterance “shabriri, briri, riri, iri, ri…” which rids one of demons and evil spirits. Rashi explains that shavriri is the name of a demon. By saying his name repeatedly, each time removing one letter of his name, the demon is scared away. R. Hai Gaon (Otzor HaGaonim Peshachim 115b) says he does not know the origin of the lachashin mentioned in the Talmud. They seem to come from the Gnostics and like-minded groups.
[3] See Zohar Parshas Va’eschanan and Maharsha to Brochos 15b.
[4] Beis Yosef Y.D. 288:15 citing Re’em
[5] See Tur O.C. 113 and Siddur Chasidei Ashkenaz pg .221.
[6] Ikkrei Dinnim Y.D. Hilchos Mezuza 14. A streak of rationalism can be seen in the halachic rulings of R. Avigdor Katz of Vienna (teacher of Shibbolei HaLeket). He maintains that the minhag to pray and donate charity to elevate the souls of the deceased is futile (Beis Yosef O.C. 284:7). See Rabbi Slifkin’s article here.
[7] Beis Yosef Y.D. 288:15 
[8] See his sefer Hon Rav- http://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=200&st=&pgnum=22&hilite=. The Sephardim have more recently started to add kuzu bemuchsuz kuzu probably due to the influence of Ashkenazic custom or kabbala.

62 comments:

  1. You can of course scratch off the "kuzu" at least. Shadai is a problem, of course, because it's a name of Hashem.

    Does anyone know why "kuzu" is upside down?

    You can also do the following:

    Get a blank piece of parchment. Get a black rollerball pen (one with liquid ink, not a ballpoint). Write out the first two paragraphs of Shema in block letters- simple block letters, nothing fancier needed. You've got a kosher mezuza.

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    1. I have heard that the owners of the pen factories are not always rationalists. Better to construct your own pen :).

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    2. Even if you want to say that “simple block letters” are sufficient – a position that is disputed by the vast majority of Rishonim and Achronim – it is highly improbable that a novice would be able to write a kosher mezuza based on your instructions alone. A kosher mezuza needs to have sirtut, proper spacing between parshi’os, and writing lishma, among many other requirements. It is also practically inevitable that a non-expert will violate the laws of kisidran and chok tochos in the course of writing a mezuza.

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    3. None of those seem like major issues, except maybe sirtut.

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    4. All of the requirements I mentioned — and many others as well — are explicitly mentioned in the gemara, Rishonim, and Achronim. You and I must have very different criteria for what is considered a “major issue”.

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    5. By the way Ada Yardeni in her The Book of Hebrew Script, argues that the Ashkenaz block letters developed after European writing styles. Perhaps Gothic...
      Likewise, some Teimeni sifrei kodesh are exceptionally squiggly and wavely like Arabic.
      She also argued that the changes were due to the writing instrument used. In Europe they used a feather. In Middle East they used the kanna/kulmos/reed. It impacts the writing form.
      I think Yehuda Chassid's mystical descriptions of the letters cited in Beis Yosef also helped the letters develop into their current Ashkenazi form. (He says letter X is made of a vuv and daled, letter Y is etc.)
      (Many of the pessulim in MB' are not historically halachically accurate.)
      My point is : the block shape is not so important.

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    6. Hi Nachum,
      You wrote: "Does anyone know why "kuzu" is upside down?"
      See here (http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/312102/jewish/Mezuzah-and-Astrology.htm):
      Alexander Poltorak writes- "We might suggest that the fact that the letters KUZU BMUKSZ KUZU are written upside-down can be interpreted as a way of deflecting evil influences, warding off bad times – sort of reversing the tide. Thus it may be said that the mezuzah plays the role of an astrological “shield”."

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    7. Nachum, what the earlier sources that R. Adams cites actually say is that it has to be written upside down for the simple reason that they are on the other side of the parchment. In order for each letter to match up with it's corresponding letter on the other side, you must reverse the letter order and this is down by writing the letters upside-down. No mystical element.

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    8. Etan: I meant that none of those seems particularly difficult for an amateur to do. An amateur can write the parshiot correctly, do it lishma, right with the correct hand, etc. etc. He may have to learn how to sirtut correctly, but that's all I see as a difficulty.

      Thanks for the kuzu explanation, all.

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    9. There are hundreds if not thousands of halachos involved in the creation of a mezuza. Violating any one of these halachos can totally (and often irrevocably) invalidate the mezuza. Many of these halachos govern how the mezuza was written (as opposed to what was written). Accordingly, in many situations it is not even possible to detect the problem after the fact.

      The average person can not possibly write the parshi'os correctly, etc. without intensive study and shimush.

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  2. "Rambam says that those who treat mezuzah as a protective amulet have no share in the world to come (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Mezuza 5:4)"

    He doesn't say that. He says not to add things to it. How do you know he didn't see the mezuza without alterations as being protection.

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    1. הלוחש על המכה וקורא פסוק מן התורה וכן הקורא על התינוק שלא יבעת והמניח ספר תורה או תפילין על הקטן בשביל שיישן. לא די להם שהם בכלל מנחשים וחוברים אלא שהן בכלל הכופרים בתורה שהן עושין דברי תורה רפואת גוף ואינן אלא רפואת נפשות

      One who is reciting incantations over a wound and reads a Pasuk from Torah and also one who reads [from the Torah] over a baby so that he will not be scared or one that places a Sefer Torah or Tefillin on a child so that he will sleep. Not only are they the category soothsayers and magicians, but they are in the category of those how deny the Torah because they make the works of the Torah into a cure for the body when they are actually cures for the soul.

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    2. Rambam MT Mezuza 5:4
      מנהג פשוט שכותבין על המזוזה מבחוץ כנגד הריוח שבין פרשה לפרשה שדי ואין בזה הפסד לפי שהוא מבחוץ אבל אלו שכותבין בה מבפנים שמות מלאכים או שמות קדושים או פסוק או חותמות הרי הן בכלל מי שאין להן חלק לעולם הבא שאלו הטיפשים לא דיי להם שביטלו המצוה אלא שעושין מצוה גדולה שהיא ייחוד שמו של הקדוש ברוך הוא ואהבתו ועבודתו כאילו היא קמיע להנית עצמן כמו שעלה על ליבם הסכל שזה דבר המהנה בהבלי העולם.

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    3. Hi David,
      You asked:
      How do you know he didn't see the mezuza without alterations as being protection.?

      Here's food for thought-
      See Brochos 23 a-b:
      ואמר רבה בר בר חנה כי הוה אזלינן בתריה דרבי יוחנן כי הוה בעי למיעל לבית הכסא כי הוה נקיט ספרא דאגדתא הוה יהיב לן כי הוה נקיט תפילין לא הוה יהיב לן אמר הואיל ושרונהו רבנן ננטרן
      Mishna Brura in Hilchos Muktzeh cites this passage as a source for supernatural protective powers of tefillin.
      However, see R. Yona, Ra'ah and Ritvah who suggest that ננטרן can also mean "let us watch it ourselves"- not like Rashi who translated ננטרן as "it shall guard us" (supernaturally). It's a dikduk question. Both are correct as far as Aramaic grammar goes.
      However, Rif and Rambam circumvent the entire discussion with an alternate girsa . They don't have the word ננטרן at all. Rambam may have followed the alternate girsa because it can have no superstitious meaning and does not subscribe to protective powers of mezuza or tefilin.

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    4. Neither David Ohsie's citation nor koilel nick's citation say what the author claimed.

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    5. I agree that the author goes overboard when he says that "those who treat mezuzah as a protective amulet have no share in the world to come".

      But he does say that of those that write in additional elements with that intention. It is clear that treating it as amulet by itself is bad according to the Rambam, even if it doesn't mean that he loses his share.

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  3. Is there precedent for suggesting that a Gemara statement is based on Gnostic beliefs?

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  4. My mezuzos have Shaddai but not kuzu. I have never seen kuzu in England.

    More importantly where does the final quote show that toiveling before writing the sheimos in the mezuzos makes the person a fool. The quote is discussing kemiyos not mezuzos. And 'names formed by combinations' whatever that means.

    As mezuzos need to be written in order only a sofer with a mikva right next to him can practicaly tovel each time he writes shem Hashem . Not so with a sefer torah where gaps can be left for Hashem's name and filled in once the sofer has toivelled.

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  5. The inclusion of ‘Shaddai’ in a mezuzah subscribes to the thinking that a mezuzah is a form of protective amulet. See Zohar Parshas Va’eschanan and Maharsha to Brochos 15b

    Since both of those sources come after the Rambam and thus after the Minhag was established, how do we know that is the reason? It certainly doesn't tell us what the Rambam though that the reason was.

    This demonstrates that Rambam may cite customs that he does not approve of, which appears to be the case for the custom of writing ‘Shaddai’ as well.

    The Rambam leaves out or modifies lots of stuff that he thinks is based on mysticism. The fact that he doesn't leave it out is evidence that he didn't consider this pernicious, at least. Does the fact that the Rambam appears to sanction a Minhag in the MT that he derided in the Commentary give license for us to doubt every minhag that he quotes? Perhaps he changed his mind or perhaps he realized that his argument was not accepted and that the practices was not so bad as to be fought against.

    The Gnostics and Essenes, who strongly believed in the cosmological value of letters and magical powers of amulets, would write the “holy” names of angels or demons in their amulets in the overall form of a teepee or tail to augment or diminish the alleged powers of these supernatural forces [1]. Chazal did not want the ideas of these mystical groups to infiltrate mainstream Jewish thought, so they said a mezuzah written in such a way is invalid [2].

    [2] The Talmud records a magical utterance “shabriri, briri, riri, iri, ri…” which rids one of demons and evil spirits. Rashi explains that shavriri is the name of a demon. By saying his name repeatedly, each time removing one letter of his name, the demon is scared away. R. Hai Gaon (Otzor HaGaonim Peshachim 115b) says he does not know the origin of the lachashin mentioned in the Talmud. They seem to come from the Gnostics and like-minded groups.


    Setting aside whether Gnostics are the source here, the reference and interpretation doesn't support the thesis. The citation indicates that Chazal did accept Gnostic mysticism (if Gnosticism has anything to do with this).

    Do you have a rationalist mezuzah on your doorway? Most probably not. [...] Note though that you must make sure that the sofer does not use the mikvah before writing the sheimos inside the mezuzah.

    So your kosher Mezuzah is neverthless defective if the person who wrote it did not have the right "rationalist" kavvanot?

    The right rationalist response seems to be, like the Rambam, to consider both the Mezuzah itself and any names on the outside to be of no "protective" significance. Let the mystics be the ones that invent new and unnecessary rituals, IMO.

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    1. You wrote:
      [2] The Talmud records a magical utterance “shabriri, briri, riri, iri, ri…” which rids one of demons and evil spirits. Rashi explains that shavriri is the name of a demon. By saying his name repeatedly, each time removing one letter of his name, the demon is scared away. R. Hai Gaon (Otzor HaGaonim Peshachim 115b) says he does not know the origin of the lachashin mentioned in the Talmud. They seem to come from the Gnostics and like-minded groups.
      Setting aside whether Gnostics are the source here, the reference and interpretation doesn't support the thesis. The citation indicates that Chazal did accept Gnostic mysticism (if Gnosticism has anything to do with this).

      The Talmud is a composite book from many authors and views over many centuries. This superstition obviously was not included in Jewish thought by the same sages who created the "no tepee mezuza" rule.
      I cited this shavriri superstition to illustrate the belief that the tapering shape in utterances and writing wards off the shadim/devil/ruach ra'ah etc.

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    2. Yes, the Talmud has both rationalist and anti-rationalist elements. You claim that the anti-rationalist elements are endorsements of gnosticism, but with no evidence. What does Shavriri have to do with teepees? This is a combination of weak analogy and complete speculation.

      BTW, the Talmud also tells us that a Sefer Torah with the names written not-Lishmah can't be fixed by writing over all the names because it will appear spotted (Menumar). Is this also anti-mysticism? Or perhaps there are factors to be considered?

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    3. Were Chazal influenced by Gnosticism?
      Let’s think….
      What is the correct meaning of maaseh merkavah and maaseh bereishis?
      Is it Gnostic mysticism? See here http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/6723-gnosticism Scroll down to "A Secret Science".
      Or is the secret that the creation story is inaccurate. See here http://www.uncensoredjudaism.com/?p=1405.
      Daniel Davies, argues this is the meaning of maaseh Merkaveh here- "The Secret of Maaseh Merkavh
      http://thetorah.com/secret-of-the-maaseh-merkava-according-to-maimonides/
      Here is citation:
      The Secret: Ezekiel’s Vision is Wrong
      Putting all this together, I would like to suggest that the secret Maimonides is keeping from all but his most enlightened readers is that Ezekiel’s vision reflects and incorrect, outdated view of the universe. Ezekiel is working with a four-sphere model; the correct model is nine spheres. Ezekiel believes in the music of the spheres and, therefore, astrology. Maimonides denies the truth of this way of thinking.
      As Maimonides point out, in cases of scientific fact and theory, even the Talmudic rabbis could make mistakes. This could be true of prophets as well. This explosive claim, that prophets could err, and the great “account of the chariot” is simply an allegorical presentation of an outdated and inaccurate system of astrophysics, could very well be why Maimonides went to such great lengths to keep the “real meaning” of the vision well hidden.
      So which is correct? Were Chazal rationalists or Gnostic mystics?
      Perhaps Chazal did not understand maaseh merkavah and maaseh bereishit like the Rambam. They were obviously less rational and more mystic. But bottom line, Ezekiel was wrong, Chazal were wrong, today we know that the Rambam’s science was wrong too, and perhaps one day our children will know we are wrong as well. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lMBt_yfGKpU

      Perhaps Chazal embraced some elements of mysticism but rejected others (like I argued in the article).
      I don't really know. We are discussing this together- chavrusos. I am just a beginner...

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    4. See
      http://asif.co.il/?wpfb_dl=413
      Part 5 and 6
      Hillel Aviezer shows that Shaddai is from the gaonim and was superstitous.
      So was the kuzu.
      Aviezer's article is really amazing. I had not seen it when I wrote this post. Though my essay is still a small contribution.
      Thank you David Ohsie for all your comments and criticisms.

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    5. Actually, he shows the opposite. The original custom that he cites from the Gaonim was to simply write the letter Shin.

      There is a simply non-mystical way to understand the origin of these customs. When you roll up a Mezuzah, you have no way of determining what is inside, nor even which direction the Mezuzah is facing. Putting the Shin on the outside of the parchment makes both apparent and putting a hole in the case so that the Shin can be seen makes it easy to see that you have a Mezuzah inside. (This is speculation, but the point is that there is no evidence that the custom has mystical origins, whatever happened to it later).

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  6. The section of Moreh Nevuchim that you quote refers specifically to the pronunciation of so-called names formed by combinations. It does not deal in any way with the actual Names of G-d or the way these Names are written. It also seems to be referring only to amulets, and not to mezuzos at all.

    The custom among sofrim to write the Name of G-d in a state of purity (which may require immersion in a mikveh) is an ancient practice that goes back at least to the time of the Rishonim. However, the common belief that the sofer must immerse in the mikveh each and every time he writes G‑d’s name is incorrect and has no source. See http://stam-ink.blogspot.com/2014/02/mikveh.html for more information.

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    1. You are correct. I added the last paragraph as touch-in-cheek. I was not serious.

      By the way have you seen see this teshuva of Rambam?

      He says that in his youth when he was in Spain the chachmei France and Rome mocked the Sefardim for men using the mikva after keri- as the custom of using mikvah for keri came back to a Judaism after several hundred years hiatus only because of Islam.
      See:
      http://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=14405&st=&pgnum=60&hilite=

      Also see Naftali Vieder's discussion:
      https://archive.org/stream/The_Islamic_Influences_on_The_Jewish_Worship/The_Islamic_Influences_on_The_Jewish_Worship_by_Naphtali_Wieder%23page/n23/mode/2up on page 25.

      In the teshuva Rambam wrote that that he keeps tevilas Ezra even though it is from Islam because his father and ancestors did it so he won't change.
      Is Rambam telling a white lie here? Rambam told a student in a letter not to visit him because he had not a second of free time. Did he have time for the Islamic mikva dipping? Surely not.

      Rambam omits washing hands in morning three times from his Mishna Torah even though Rif and R. Chananel include it (see Shabbos 108) . Rambam's ancestors probably washed their hands three times in the morning to remove the evil ruach. This did not stop Rambam from omitting it. The widespread custom in Spain was to shlug kapparos. Rambam did not do kapparos - not in his personal life or in Mishna Torah.(Rambam's father was not a rationlist like Rambam- See Israel Drazin's "Maimonides- the incredible mind"). He was not afraid to break with tradition.
      In Mishna Torah Rambam say that the minhag in Syria and other Sefardic lands is to keep tevilas ezra even though it is not obligation. Did Rambam really agree with this minhag- as he knew its Islamic origins?
      Of course I cannot prove my view is correct.
      Hey - this is a rationalist blog. We are allowed to be slanted towards rationalism here. :-)


      Tzvi H. Adams

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    2. Tzvi, what is your source that kapparot was a widespread custom in (Moslem) Spain in the Rambam's time. If it had been, we can assume that he would have attacked the practice in his M.T. as darkei Emori, i.e., gross superstition and prohibited also as a kind of animal sacrafice, just as the Rashba did over a century later in Christian Spain.

      Y. Aharon

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    3. In the teshuva Rambam wrote that that he keeps tevilas Ezra even though it is from Islam because his father and ancestors did it so he won't change.
      Is Rambam telling a white lie here? Rambam told a student in a letter not to visit him because he had not a second of free time. Did he have time for the Islamic mikva dipping? Surely not.


      ??? If he thought it important, then he would do it. How does being busy tell you anything about what he was busy with?

      Rambam omits washing hands in morning three times from his Mishna Torah even though Rif and R. Chananel include it (see Shabbos 108) .

      This doesn't support your thesis. First off, does he somewhere claim that he washes? Second, the reason given for washing is explicitly superstitious: "evil spirits". Where do we see that he thinks that Takanat Ezra was based on superstition?

      Of course I cannot prove my view is correct.
      Hey - this is a rationalist blog. We are allowed to be slanted towards rationalism here. :-)


      Since there is the smiley, I'm not sure how seriously to take this statement. But surely succumbing to confirmation bias is not "rational".

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    4. http://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=14405&st=&pgnum=60&hilite=

      Another wonderful source that doesn't actually support your thesis. He says that it is wrong to say that they are following the Yishmaelim and that this is something that depends on Minhag. It is not hard to imagine his support for this Minhag given his position about sensual pleasure:

      "Some consider, as we just said, all wants of the body as shame, disgrace, and defect to which they are compelled to attend: this is chiefly the case with the sense of touch, which is a disgrace to us according to Aristotle, and which is the cause of our desire for eating, drinking, and sensuality. Intelligent persons must, as much as possible, reduce these wants, guard against them, feel grieved when satisfying them, abstain from speaking of them, discussing them, and attending to them in company with others. Man must have control over all these desires, reduce them as much as possible, and only retain of them as much as is indispensable. His aim must be the aim of man as man, viz., the formation of ideas, and nothing else."

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  7. R' Natan, you didn't mention that "kuzu b'muchsaz kuzu" is simply "YHVH Elo_henu YHVH" where each letter of the latter is replaced by the following letter in the Aleph Bet, i.e., a simple code. I had always assumed that this device was used as a protection against Christian claims of Jewish polemics against the Christian Trinity. What is the source for understanding it as a kabbalistic formula?

    I was once at a home where a mezuzah in the interior was fully open so that the parshiot were displayed under glass and the "Shadai' and "kuzu" were hidden on the back side. I approved of this very untraditional approach, but have seen it nowhere else and haven't adopted it myself. The point of this innovation was that the mezuzah is supposed to remind the householders of the contents of the parshiot that they contain, "shema and vehaya im shamo'ah", which is better achieved if they are visible.

    Y. Aharon

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    1. Thank you for that explanation.

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    2. There is a teshuva in Yabia Omer which disapproves of placing the mezuzah on the doorpost in such a fashion. You can see numerous such cases in the hall of the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem.

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    3. See here for sources on kabbalistic origins of kuzu:
      http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/312102/jewish/Mezuzah-and-Astrology.htm

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    4. This page says absolutely nothing about the origins of the Minhag. Anyone can use Kabbalah to interpret anything; that says nothing about origins. It does bring Rabbeinu Bachya giving anti-astrology interpretation:

      "Rabbeinu Bachya warns us,

      You should contemplate the significance of the fact that the Divine [Name] Tetragrammaton is written in the inside of the mezuzah and the name Shad-dai (Almighty) is written on the outside. This arrangement counteracts the foreign opinion that the success of a home is dependent upon the influence of the stars that control this lower world... However, it is known that this kind of thinking is erroneous. The moments and times of the day are under control of G‑d, as David said,

      My times are in your hand. (Psalms XXXI, 16).

      Accordingly, the commandment of the mezuzah has been given to us to teach us that the success of the home depends solely on the One Who brought us out of Egypt and on the Name Shad-dai (Almighty), which indicates that He controls and prevails over the power of the constellations. He can nullify them and revert them to nothingness, and He can certainly diminish their power. The Sages alluded to this thought in their statement regarding Abraham: ‘G‑d said, I have created My world with the letter Heh, and with the letter Heh I nullify the power of your constellation [which hitherto denied you children].”

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    5. The very fact that we roll up a piece of sacred text and store it in a case such that it can never be read strongly implies we're treating it as a magical amulet. I like the idea of displaying my mezuzah text for people to actually read as they pass through my doorways - thank you for sharing!

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  8. Y. Aharon, you missed the first two words.

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  9. Re the Tur and his penchant for citing customs from the Chassidei Askenaz - I discuss this in my article in Hakirah concerning the unusual custom, in Kiddush Levana, of reciting a verse backwards.

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  10. He goes as far as to pasken that a mezuzah with extra writing on its back should be placed in geniza and not used for mitzvas mezuzah, based on the words of Rambam [8]! [8] See his sefer Hon Rav- http://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=200&st=&pgnum=22&hilite=.

    He says this about a Mezuzah that had some kind of newfangled addition of 24 names (perhaps R. Adams be able to say better what this was). He doesn't say that Mezuzah with one of the "traditional" outside additions, like ours, should be placed in Genizah.

    Nevertheless, thank you for the wonderful source.

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  11. I don't understand why you quote the Rambam as saying that the Mezuza offers no protection. He doesn't say that. He says that that is not the purpose of the Mezuza. Does it offer protection? Maybe. The fact that people understood Antignos in Pirkei Avot as saying there is no reward, instead of the correct understanding that it shouldn't be the motivator was the cause of much tragedy.
    Dov

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    1. Dov, see above where Rambam says elsewhere that Mitzvos are Refuas HaNefesh and not Refuas HaGuf. Also when he attacks other for making the Mezuzah into an "amulet" it is pretty clear that he is saying that one should not treat the mezuzah like a protective device.

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    2. Does that mean that the Rambam denies that Mitzvot have physical impact? Is he arguing that Schar V'Onesh is only spiritual? That would contest his own Ikar, where he writes that the primary reward and punishment are spiritual. Besides for rejecting many clear Pesukim.
      It is clear that the Rambam is bothered by people treating the Mezuzas purpose as being protective. That doesn't mean it doesn't offer protection. (While the Kesef Mishna says this explicitly, you don't have to agree with him to accept that its at least possible and the Rambam isn't discussing whether it actually offers protection.

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    3. http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2009/10/maimonides-on-reward-and-punishment.html

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    4. http://www.hebrewbooks.org/rambam.aspx?sefer=1&hilchos=5&perek=9&hilite=
      Thanks for the link, and its an interesting read. Though he goes from rewards being immature (absolutely Rambams position) to being non existent, which as the link above, to the Rambam himself, demonstrates was not.

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    5. Dov, separate two separate questions:

      1) Can Mitzvot in general give protection? Lets assume that the Rambam says yes or at least permits a person to act as if they do. He indicates as much with the conclusion of what I quoted above: "אבל הבריא שקרא פסוקין ומזמור מתהילים כדי שתגן עליו זכות קריאתן וינצל מצרות ומנזקים הרי זה מותר: A healthy person who read pesukim and Tehillim so that the merit of these readings save him from troubles and from injury, this is permitted."

      2) Putting a Mezuzah on the door as an amulet to protect the house which is not permitted.

      There is no contradiction. The merit of the Mitzvah of Mezuzah could give protection to the one who fulfills his obligation. But it would not be related to the house that it was on, but rather to the person who puts it up. Also it would be the act and not the object. So just leaving up the mezuzah with no effort is probably not such a big Zechus by itself. Also, if the Mitzvah was done correct and then it turned out that the Mezuzah nevertheless become posul or was stolen, this would have no effect.

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    6. David,
      There is no contradiction. Either for the reason you write. Or simply, while turning the Mitzvas purpose into protection (notice this is much more than doing the Mitzva for reward, rather the entire purpose of the mitzva is physical protection, which the Rambam find forbidden and repugnant) is forbidden. But that the Mezuza protects (yes, maybe even the house itself) could also be true.
      The person the Rambam discusses here is much worse than Al Mnas Lkabel Pras. There the person at least recognizes that there is some greater purpose to the mitzva, its just not what motivates them. Here the person views the entire purpose as some charm.

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    7. @Dov: Perhaps. The language of the Rambam inclines me to believe that he is quite against a direct connect (use this Mezuzah to protect this house). Doing mitzvos for the wrong reasons (fear, to gain respect, the need to fit in, etc) are suboptimal but expected of all of us in order to get the next level.

      To give an example, the Rambam would have no problem saying to a child: do this Mitzvah and I'll give you a candy. That is classic Lo Lishmah. He would have a big problem with saying: do this mitzvah so that you will get over your flu. That is a distortion of Torah (according to Rambam).

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    8. David
      I actually don't think he would have a problem with that. And i say that because he writes that explicitly in chapter 9 and 10 of Hilchot Teshuva. Unless the person would say the function of this Mitzva is to heal the flu.
      There are three ways to do the Mitzva 1) Simply to serve Hashem, this is optimal. 2) For some reward, either Olam Haba or physical i.e. health, peace, prosperity etc. this is not optimal, but acceptable. 3) The entire purpose of the Mitzva is some physical reward. This is objectionable and forbidden.
      The basic point is the Rambam clearly allows for G-d providing physical reward for Mitzvot. If you'd like to argue Mezuza is different, then there is a burden of proof. The language of the Rambam is clearly directed at category 3.
      Dov

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    9. David,
      I'm assuming the difference of your two Lo Lishma cases is whether it is human or divine reward. But the Rambam clearly allows for divine reward, and Shelo Lishma to elicit that reward. See chapters 9 and10 of Hilchot Teshuva.
      The Rambam seems to have 3 categories. 1) to serve Hashem. 2) to get reward, wither Olam Haba or some physical reward of health, prosperity etc. see above Rambam and 3) where the mitzva has no function other than reward.
      1 is optimal 2 is accepted and 3 is forbidden. In the case of Mezuza its clear that the person believes (as many still do today) that the entire function of the Mitzva is to protect the house. That Rambam holds is an unacceptable distortion.
      No where, going back to the original point, does he write that it doesn't offer protection. Simply that these people are turning Mezuza into a simple charm or amulet with no deeper truth, that is what is repugnant and forbidden.
      Why would classic Lo Lishma by Mezuza be different than any Mitzva, where you could expect reward?

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    10. Dov, no I believe that you are still missing the key point. Let's look at the Rambam more carefully:

      One who is reciting incantations over a wound and reads a Pasuk from Torah and also one who reads [from the Torah] over a baby so that he will not be scared or one that places a Sefer Torah or Tefillin on a child so that he will sleep. Not only are they the category soothsayers and magicians, but they are in the category of those how deny the Torah because they make the words of the Torah into a cure for the body when they are actually a cures for the soul. However, a healthy person who reads pesukim and Tehillim so that the merit of these readings save him from troubles and from injury, this is permitted.

      In this contrast, he doesn't say anything about "the entire function" vs. "to get reward". The first case is where he takes an object of mitzvah and tries to use it as a medical device. He does not say that this is prohibited only if the user thinks that this is the only purpose of the mitzvah. Even if one says that the Sefer Torah is there for Talmud Torah to get close to God, if he takes it and *also* uses it as amulet, this is problematic.

      In contrast, if he performs a mitzvah so that that the merit of the Mitzvah will protect him in general, this is merely Lo Lishmah and not a distortion.

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    11. David,
      Ok, have a great Shabbos. If you read the Rambam as saying that Torah cannot save from an acute issue, it is contradicted by what he writes in Hilchot Teshuva.
      And he does mention function v reward. The words "Because they make" is not just our view of why their behavior is repulsive but explaining why the behavior is repulsive. Because they make! this is what they turn the Torah into.

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    12. Just went back to the source and the distinction of before or after illness is explicitly mentioned in Gemara. So how do we reconcile that with the various places in Talmud where intent for reward is allowed? eg. someone who gives Tzedaka so there child should be healed.
      I think there are two possible approaches. 1 This prohibition is restricted to the Mitzva of Torah. (which would make the custom of reciting Tehillim for an ill person problematic.) 2 the problem here is that the person is doing something (reading over the wound, or placing the tefillin on the child) that makes it clear that the benefit is not just the consequence of the Mitzva but its purpose.
      Regardless, Rambam clearly allows this to be done before the illness strikes. Which makes it difficult to accept that he doesn't allow someone to hold that a Mezuza protects for a future danger. It would seem that Rambam is referring to a person which distorts the Mitzva (by adding to the Mezuza), and by distorting it shows that they believe that the Mezuza purpose is protective. Simply believing that it protects, and whether it actually does, or even putting it up and hoping for protection, is something Rambam doesnt address.

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    13. Just went back to the source and the distinction of before or after illness is explicitly mentioned in Gemara. So how do we reconcile that with the various places in Talmud where intent for reward is allowed?

      The Rambam provides his reconciliation. In the first case, you are using the object in a superstitious fashion. In the second, you are doing Mitzvot for merit. If you are trying to figure out his position, then listen to what he says.

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    14. Regardless, Rambam clearly allows this to be done before the illness strikes. Which makes it difficult to accept that he doesn't allow someone to hold that a Mezuza protects for a future danger.

      You need to read the Rambam rather than speculate on what is difficult to accept. He could have simply explained that the first case is a cure and the second a prophylactic. But he doesn't. He says that the first case is treating the mitzvah object as a charm, while the second case is doing Mitzvot for their merit. The details follow the Talmud's examples.

      If you held a mezuzah in your pocket to protect you from the flu, this would be just as problematic according to the Rambam. Forget what you know from elsewhere and listen to what he tells you about his opinion.

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    15. I agree with everything you've written.
      It is when a person uses a Mitzva superstitiously that its a problem. If a person does a Mitzva expecting reward, it isn't.
      Dov

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  12. Tzvi Adams wrote:

    "In the teshuva Rambam wrote that that he keeps tevilas Ezra even though it is from Islam because his father and ancestors did it so he won't change.
    Is Rambam telling a white lie here? Rambam told a student in a letter not to visit him because he had not a second of free time. Did he have time for the Islamic mikva dipping? Surely not."

    There's a problem with what you say here about the Rambam in addition to have him lie over this. Tevilas Ezra is mentioned in the Talmud. The question is what do you mean by Tevilas Ezra here? Further the Rambam would not refer to something as Tevilas Ezra if he didn't think it was from Ezra.
    Assuming you would be right, people don't say when they are saying what they observe in Jewish law or custom or inyanim that they don't follow something when they want to say they are unable to follow something. For instance suppose somebody can't ever fast on any Jewish fast day and that's the reason he doesn't. He is not going to say he doesn't keep the fast days. If he is going to say what he does in practice because of circumstances he will explain his circumstances.

    The usual YA

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  13. Another excellent article by Tzvi Adams. Well done. Kol ha-Kavodh to him for writing it and and kol ha-kavodh to Rabbi Slifkin for hosting it on here.

    @Unknown & others: The Rambam explicitly says in the MT that using a Torah scroll or a mezuzah as an amulet or to heal or protect the body in any way is heresy. This is where, in order to support their agenda, haredi Jews develop an attitude of superiority and condescension toward the Rambam and express feelings akin to, "Poor Moishele, he never knew the enlightenment of the kabbalah." But this is a vain attempt at apologizing for the fact that the Rambam completely rejects and demolishes most of the dogmas held sacred by exponents of the Zohar and its latter-day mysticism. He was well aware of what became know later as "kabbalah" - and he rejected it. Rav Sa`adyah Gaon also knew of them and rejected them as being influences from the non-Jewish world. Honesty is the first step to recovery.

    And then there is the bigger question of "Why does later custom get to be respected on par with or greater than the words of Hazal? Did Hazal not understand how to write a mezuzah?" A mezuzah is essentially a piece of kasher parchment (not necessarily square) that has written on it (not necessarily on scored lines - they are not necessarily required) the first two portions of the Shema`. Nothing less, and CERTAINLY nothing more. No divine names, secret names, codes, letter sequences, names of angels, etc. - just the words of the divine Torah. The words of the Torah are greater than anything we could write on our own.

    Anyway, excellent article. Keep them coming :)

    Kol tuv,

    YB

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    1. That is your opinion, but it is not supported by the sources that R. Adams' cite. Anti-Charedi feelings don't justify creating new prohibitions or reading Avodah Zarah into every minhag that you don't like, in my humble opinion.

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    2. "haredi Jews develop an attitude of superiority and condescension toward the Rambam and express feelings akin to, "Poor Moishele, he never knew the enlightenment of the kabbalah." "

      wow, what a misrepresentation. hareidim are too busy being awed by the parts of rambam they agree with to define him by those things that they don't.

      likewise, rationalist hareidim, if you agree there is such a thing, are too busy being awed by the parts of chazal they agree with to define them by those things that they don't, i.e., science.

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  14. Avodah Zarah, 11A, top of the page looks like a somewhat mystical approach.

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  15. It is important to understand that Judaism as it developed over the last 1500 years is a chulent of every faction. We have contradicting customs that have become "minhagei Yisroel." While we can be rationalists or mystics, we must understand that Judaism developed by absorbing the different customs.

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    1. You are very right, but I would make one small quibble. The differing customs did not start 1500 years ago and can find both superstitious and anti-superstitious elements in the Talmud itself.

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