Maniacal Dishonesty About Olives
I'm pleased to report that I was wrong in a prediction that I made. Many months ago, I posted a letter that I wrote to the journal Dialogue, in response to an article by Isaac Betech about the shafan. On this blog, I wrote that "given the make-up of their rabbinic board (Rabbi Miller, Rabbi Feldman and Rabbi Meiselman), it seems unlikely, to say the least, that they would be open to dialogue." Although I asked the editor to notify me if they would consider it for publication, I did not receive a reply.
I was therefore surprised to discover that they did indeed print it, which means that they are taking a different path than the late Jewish Observer. They did, however, take a step that is not quite following the norms for academic-style journals. Betech himself did not write a response, and so Dialogue arranged for someone else to write a full-length article in response! Not only that, but they asked two people to write responses - one response to my letter was not enough!
Rather unsurprisingly, the two people that wrote responses are Jonathan Ostroff and Dovid Kornreich (the self-styled "Freelance Kiruv Maniac"). Also unsurprisingly, despite a total of forty-four pages written in response to a five-page letter, they fail to address some important points that I raised, such as regarding the problems inherent in describing the hare or rabbit as maaleh gerah. And, also unsurprisingly, they consistently misrepresent what I write, and distort matters in their responses. Many of their arguments have already been addressed in the various posts that I wrote about the hyrax (and in the comments to those posts), but I plan to write several posts detailing their other errors and deliberate distortions. In this post, I will deal with just one topic: Kornreich's response to my approach to the kezayis. It's a great illustration of his utter dishonesty, and of Dialogue's negligence/ dishonesty in printing his article.
My monograph on the kezayis is one of the most popular pieces I have ever written, with many thousands of downloads. It presents an explanation as to why the measurement given today for a kezayis (one-third to one-half of an egg) is so much larger than an olive. The reason is, quite simply, that the Rishonim of Ashkenaz were not familiar with olives. In my letter to Dialogue, I mentioned this very briefly in passing, as an example of a mesorah from a particular region occurring due to unfamiliarity with flora and fauna of a different region. Kornreich spent two pages responding to this point alone.
Amusingly, Kornreich refers to my approach to the kezayis as one of my "attacks" on the Rishonim! If explaining that the Rishonim of Ashkenaz were unfamiliar with olives is considered an "attack" on the Rishonim, then what is the correct description of his rebbe Rabbi Meiselman's claim that all the Rishonim did not know the meaning of basic terms in the Gemara? And Kornreich himself, in this very article, says that the Rishonim of Europe were unfamiliar with the geography of Israel - is that not an "attack" on the Rishonim, by his definition?!
In his response to my approach, Korneich first addresses my claim that the Ashkenazi Rishonim never saw an olive, and says as follows:
"This is without basis. The Romans cultivated the olive in Northern Europe, and cured olives were exported throughout Europe."
Now, I was a little taken aback to see this, because I had done my research on this topic pretty thoroughly. And so I therefore decided to type in the URLs that he had provided in the footnotes as sources for these statements. The results were fascinating. Kornreich's claim that "the Romans cultivated the olive in Northern Europe" was sourced to this page, which, as you can see for yourselves, says nothing of the sort. It says instead that the Roman emperors encouraged the cultivation of olives in Spain, with ramifications for Northern Europe, to which the oil was exported. And Kornreich's claim that "cured olives were exported throughout Europe" (as if ancient Roman tastes are relevant to medieval Tosafists) is sourced to this page, which simply says nothing at all about cured olives being exported anywhere!
Kornreich then asserts that "many Rishonim" said that the kezayis is half an egg, while "some Rishonim" say that it is a third. He completely fails to acknowledge the primary sources from the Spanish Rishonim that I cited in support of my thesis: Rashba, who states that an olive is "much less" than a quarter of an egg; Ritva, who says that an olive is around a ninth the size of an egg; and one of the Rishonim from Ashkenaz who says that "I saw olives in Israel and Jerusalem, and even six were not as large as an egg" - which is also testimony as to why the other Rishonim in Ashkenaz had the wrong size. (The only Rishon from an olive-growing region that Kornreich cites is Meiri, who takes the Ashkenaz approach of defining it as half an egg; presumably, Meiri was simply trying to make sense of the Gemara on its own terms, rather than considering an empirical study.) This gross distortion of the picture amongst the Rishonim will, unfortunately, not be noticed by people who fail to read my monograph. However, those who are aware of it will realize what kind of person we are dealing with.
In order to reconcile the Rishonim (at least, those that he cites) with the present-day reality of olives, Korneich asserts, as a matter of uncontested and incontestable fact, that olives used to be larger. He claims that the evidence that I offer for olives always having been the same size is the findings of ancient olive pits, and he argues that this is no evidence, since it was the flesh of the olives that was larger, not the pit. But this is a gross falsification of the evidence that I offer. First of all, I also offered the evidence that there are olive trees which are thousands of years old, and produce olives that are the same size as those of today (though he would no doubt respond that they used to produce larger olives). Second, and more relevant to his worldview, is that I also quoted Rishonim who said that olives are around a ninth the size of an egg, i.e. the same size as olives today!
Finally, Kornreich also fails to acknowledge that my thesis is not mine alone; as quoted in my monograph, Rabbi Akiva Yosef Schlesinger was the first to point out that those who gave a larger size for kezayis did so because they had never seen an olive.
These are just a few examples of the dishonesty which is, unfortunately, rampant in his article. I will be writing further posts with numerous other examples.