Avodah Mailing List

Volume 16 : Number 066

Monday, December 19 2005

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Subjects Discussed In This Issue:
Date: Mon, 19 Dec 2005 12:15:55 -0500
From: mlevinmd@aol.com

> at the end of parshat vayislach Rashi identifies Magdiel as Rome. Hence,
> Rome is a physical descendant of Esav. However, Esau is semitic while
> the Romans would be a Yeffite (sp?) people.
> Does anyone know the origin of the identification of Edom with Rome?
> Later commentaries go further and identify Edom with Xtiantity. This
> would clearly be a cultural or behavior association and not a ethnic or
> biological connection.

Here is a discussion from Midrash and Method.

Magdiel- this is Rome.[1]

The rabbinic identification of Rome with the Biblical figure of Esau is
basic to the traditional understanding of much of the relevant sections
of Chumash Bareishis. Esau's faults and shortcomings as well as his
complex and tortured relationship with his brother Yakov was seen by
the Rabbis through the prism of this identification, so much so that
the conflict of these two brothers typifies the struggle for spiritual
and moral supremacy between Rome and Jerusalem.

It is somewhat unclear, though, what supports this identification. The
voluminous Roman chronicles do not appear to contain any awareness of
descent from Esau[2], although a memory of such an ignoble descent
certainly could have been lost[3] or suppressed. Our tradition does
preserve the particulars of Roman descent from Esau.

"The great kingdom of Rome was built by Zepho, son of Eliphaz, son
of Esau. Tirtat of the land of Elisha attacked him and killed him
(Yelamdeinu, Batei Midrashos 160)."

The Malbim in his commentary to Obadia 1,1 suggests that in addition
to genealogical descent, the identification of Rome and Esau is also
based on the "founding of their faith by children of Edom, as R. Isaac
Abarbanel wrote to Isaiah 34, with proofs."

This comment of the Malbim may lead us the supposition that identification
of Rome as Esau rests on the very visible traits that Roman, and
subsequently Western civilization, shares with the character traits of
Esau as he is described in the Chumash. In fact, it is my impression
that midrashic collections seem to highlight especially these cultural
qualities when they discuss Esau. The limitations of space do not allow
a full treatment of this subject, which in truth deserves a book length
treatment; we can, however, manage to briefly focus on two or three
of them.

Among such traits is the individualism and disdain for tradition and
authority that is such an obvious feature of Western civilization and also
of Esau who was a "self-made man". Esau willingly gave up his birthright
in order to build his future with his own toil and effort. "Esau showed
to others that (in his opinion) the institution of birthright is not
morally correct. Rather one who is more talented, of his own right should
be honored above others. Many great leaders of the nations of the worlds
followed Esau 's opinion and disparaged the status of birth; rather,
(they held) everything depends on the natural abilities of each individual
(Netsiv, Haemek Davar to Genesis 23,34).

One trait of Esau that few will fail to recognize in the civilization
and culture of the West is the emphasis on the image over substance,
leavened with a good measure of hypocrisy.[4]

He (Esau) was a hypocrite (Shocher Tov 14,3).

Esau would hunt him (Yitshak) and deceive him with words (Genesis
Rabbah 63,10).

Nevertheless, the emphasis on the appearances brings a certain measure
of outward nobility and aristocratic bearing which is evident in the
outside trappings of Esau's civilization, his architecture, art, music -
the brilliance of classical Western culture. The Maharal writes: " The
verse "two proud ones in your belly" alludes to the wide view of Israel
and Edom, not just Rebbi and Antoninus alone (see our Midrash Toldos for
a technical discussion of this statement) - that they possess a specific
substance. They have a live force of substance and they comport themselves
with worth in their eating. This means that there is one who eats like an
animal, without raising himself in it but Israel and Esau do not conduct
themselves so. They prepare a proper environment to make their eating
more important. So also Esau comports himself in his clothing to this
day to honor himself in his dress and to raise his self respect above
that of other nations, also through great buildings. No!

t so Ishmael - they do not care about their clothing, cuisine,
bathhouses[5].... this means that they (sons of Esau) have a self-worth
in their life-force[6][7] (Gur Arye, Gen. 25, 24).

The following midrash typifies the personalization of Rome and the West
as Esau while not sparing his hypocrisy.[8]

In the future Esau will wrap himself in a tallis, sit down next to
Yakov and say to him, "You are my brother"....Yakov will say to him,
"My brother, you will not be like me. "I will lead you to death, I will
be the pestilence that leads you to Sheol (Hoshea 13,14). Had I upheld
degrees that you promulgated against me, I would have been guilty at the
eyes of Heaven. Had I violated them, you would have killed me? (Yalkut
Shimoni, Yirmiahu 333)

"That was Esau's intention when he told Yakov, "Let us travel together
and I will go before you (Genesis 33,12). He wanted them to join together
in both this world and the world to come, to meet each other halfway,
with each modifying his conduct until they were alike (Yalkut Shimoni,
Genesis 133). Indeed, Esau will even adopt certain tenets of Judaism-such
as monotheism, the Divinity of the Torah, and reward and punishment-but
only if Israel will give up some of its heritage. Similarly, according to
Tanna D'Bei Eliahu Zuta(19), Esau proposed. "Give up some of the mitzvos
that divide us. You will thereby enjoy this world and still have half
the world to come. Isn't that enough? (Bais Halevy, Vayishlach).

Can one see relevance in these ancient writings for the world of today? Do
we not see the pinnacle of Esau's civilization, the country that is the
utmost embodiment of his values of individualism and superficiality/
image, offering this bargain to sons of Yakov, and most of them have
taken it. In return, Esau has placed his political and military might in
service of common goals, in support of the so-called "Judeo-Christian"
values. Will this friendship continue when Esau sees that Yakov returns to
his Law and rejects his extended hand and his conditions of friendship?[9]

To summarize, the Chazal were keen observers of human nature and the
political and social cultures that surrounded them. They unerringly
ferreted out the personality traits of Biblical figures that they were
then able to match with national characters and identify one with the
other. In this way, aided by received traditions, they were able to
predict how these nations are likely to behave down even to our time.

I appreciate comments or questions at mlevinmd@aol.com

1 PRD"R Eliezer 38
2 I recall that Maor Einaim of R. Azariah D'Rossi does quote a source
to this effect (the so-called pseudo Barusso); however, this source is
now widely thought to have been a later forgery. I unfortunately do not
currently have access to this work and am unable to cite a reference.
3 The Talmud does record such an awareness among the contemporary
Romans. "...once in 70 years they bring a normal person and make him ride
a lame person....and they say: Woe is to this one when this one arises
(A"Z 11b).
4 See a discussion of the difference between Esau and Ishmael in Kol
Dodi Dofek, A.D.Goldberg, Ohel, Wycliffe Ohio, p. 73-76. R. Goldberg
points out on the basis of various sources that Esau is good on the
outside but evil inside. Ishmael, on the other hand, commits all kinds
of unspeakable atrocities outside but on the inside possesses fear of G-d.
5 See A"Z 2b regarding Esau's (Roman) building activities. See also
Shocher Tov 14,3
6 I translate nefesh as life-force in this context but other translations
are certainly possible.
7 Eating and clothing are recurrent themes in descriptions of Esau in
the Chumash. A number of midrashim narrow down on these themes.
8 See Beis Halevy , Vayishlach.
9 Esau had many descendants and they undoubtedly differed in regard to
the "Jewish question". Some, like Eliphaz, would not hurt Yakov even
under pressure (His father commanded him to fight the sons of Yakov
but because he grew up with Job, he did not fight them, Lekach Tov,
Shemos 17,8). Others, like Amalek, are inveterate Jew-haters. So also
in out day, many different attitudes and approaches can be seen among
the descendents of Esau.

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Date: Mon, 19 Dec 2005 11:39:27 -0500
From: Nili Jacobson <ncjacobson@gmail.com>
Lighting a chanukiyah in vicinity of xmas decorations?

Can anyone provide some insights pertaining to the lighting of a
chanukiyah in a place where there are also obvious trappings of xmas?

Should one light publicly in one window, if in another window of the
same building, there's a lit xmas tree? (If not, where should one
light? Bedroom? In a window/not in a window/does it matter how the
window faces?)

What if the xmas stuff is not visible from the street, but the chanukiyah
is? (Conditions being that anyone who walks into the house immediately
sees various xmas decorations, as well as the chanukiyah that's in
the window.)

Nili Jacobson
email     ncjacobson@gmail.com

Thank you,
Nili Jacobson

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Date: Mon, 19 Dec 2005 13:23:14 -0500
From: "Markowitz, Chaim" <cmarkowitz@scor.com>
Learning on Nittel Nach

I am looking for mareh mekomos regarding learning the night of Dec 25th.
If you know of any could you email me. Thanks.

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Date: Mon, 19 Dec 2005 13:24:51 EST
From: T613K@aol.com
Re: chanukah and independence

In Avodah V16 #64 dated 12/19/2005 Eli Turkel <eliturkel@gmail.com> writes:
> Heard a shiur today that the essence of Chanukah is the  renewal
> of the worship in the Temple under an independent Jewish  monarchy.
> ....In summary in the first several hundred years of the  second Temple
> there was no Schechinah because they were ruled by the  Persians and
> the Greeks. After the revolt of the Maccabees the Schechinah  returned
> because there was a Jewish government. This return was symbolized  by the
> fire coming down from Heaven. This fire is remembered by our  lighting
> candles. Even the miracle of the oil served to symbolize the  return of
> the Schechinah.

This sounds like Mizrachi Torah to me. An Agudah version would go
like this:

Independence lasted a pathetically short time and pretty soon the Jews
were under the thumb of Greeks again, and then Romans. So the real miracle
was not the military or political victory but the spiritual victory
of Judaism over Hellenism, an eternal miracle unlike the short-lived
victory of the Chashmonaim.

This eternal spiritual victory is symbolized by the miracle of the oil
and lighting of candles. The miracle of the oil proved that the whole
thing was miraculous and not bederech hateva, and that Jews should
not think they are great soldiers and not pride themselves on kochi
ve'otzam yadi but should realize that military victories come from G-d
(and are not the main important victories anyway).

For yet another take on the Chanuka story please see
my Cross-Currents.com posting on the subject, thank you.

 -Toby  Katz

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Date: Mon, 19 Dec 2005 13:06:26 -0500
From: Micha Berger <micha@aishdas.org>
Re: TIDE and TuM

On Fri, Dec 09, 2005 at 03:26:17AM +0000, R' Elazar M. Teitz wrote:
:             Outside of chassidic circles, until the very recent past black
: was worn by rabbonim only. In European yeshivas, in Israeli yeshivas and
: in American yeshivas, black garb was virtually unknown for bochurim,
: with black hats even rarer, and even rabbonim and rashei yeshiva did
: not all wear black other than on Shabbos and "dress-up" occasions.
: (My rashei yeshiva in Telz, Rav Gifter and Rav Boruch Sorotzkin, wore
: brown and gray on weekdays.)

Are you sure? I checked an album of Roman Vishniak pictures, and
I didn't see color in anyone's clothing! <grin>

Kibbitzing aside, I'm not sure if we're talking about the same era. It
could be that in the 19th cent the norm was black-and-white clthing,
but that changed (largely due to Slabodka's influence) during the turn
of the century through until the modern reconstruction.

Rembrand's Jewish men seem to all be dressed in black and white. (These
are Sepharadim from 17th cent Amsterdam.) But then, so did most men of
the mileau. And as RSC inadvertantly pointed out, Jews from Bavel in
the days of the amora'im wore turbans, just like their neighbors.

I would therefore think that Jews in the Pale of Settlement during the
18th and 19th centuries ware the same blacks, whites, and greys and
their neighbors. As opposed to REMT's or R"D Manfred Lehman's post-WWI

What is going on today is a very strong parallel to what happened in
chassidus. Chassidim connect to the roots of their derekh by dressing the
way people did when and where the Besh"t and his talmidim lived. Today,
the fedora took on prominence because the current yeshiva movement dates
back to the late 40s. The uniform fading to black probably has more
to do with the bluyrring of borders between chassidim and other chareidim
than anything internal to the yeshiva movement.

RDC also wrote:
: I suspect that today the black hat "movement" (which could possibly be
: seen as ignoring the institutions of mussar in this field although, for
: the most part, upholding the beardless approach for unmarried bachurim)

I'm not sure it is at odds with what Mussar was trying to accomplish.
Mussar's point was to insure that yeshiva boys look classy and generate
respect for themselves and Torah. In a society where people were looking
to dress like their neighbors, another outfit would lack that goal. The
decision has nothing to do with what one ought to do when one can change
the preferences of the community as a whole.

BTW, if Mussar had to ban the old yeshiva boy uniform to promote classy
contemporary clothes, doesn't that imply such a uniform existed?

On Sat, Dec 10, 2005 at 10:52:46PM -0500, S & R Coffer wrote:
: On December 10, 2005, Harry Maryles wrote:
:> But going to a classical
:> music concert or seeing a Kosher movie is not Chukas HaGoy.

: I disagree. Especially about the movie part. And equally so if there are
: women singing in the classical concert such as opera...

Why would the kashrus of the movie be relevent? Chuqas hagoi is a different


Micha Berger             With the "Echad" of the Shema, the Jew crowns
micha@aishdas.org        G-d as King of the entire cosmos and all four
http://www.aishdas.org   corners of the world, but sometimes he forgets
Fax: (270) 514-1507      to include himself.     - Rav Yisrael Salanter

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Date: Mon, 19 Dec 2005 13:07:49 -0500
From: "M Cohen" <mcohen@touchlogic.com>
Re: Hashanah 101 - some thoughts and questions

> But what about other yisurim,
> such as an infant, or an adult who has Alzheimer's or is in a coma? Does
> anyone have a good pshat in how this helps the neshama?

see R Dessler (MM) vol 5 pg 277 - section entitled  ..Yisurim shelo b'toras

also see ramchal daat tenuvos (the knowing heart - feldheim) b'arichus.

Mordechai Cohen

M. Cohen
Vice President, Development
TouchLogic Corporation

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Date: Mon, 19 Dec 2005 13:15:16 -0500
From: Micha Berger <micha@aishdas.org>
Re: Plato (was Rambam on reinterpreting ma'aseh breshit)

Platonic qadmus is based on the might of G-d: Since He is eternal, and
He is both necessary and sufficient cause for the universe to exist,
the universe too must have always existed.

Aristotilian qadmus is based on limiting G-d: Since by the normal
rules every cause has a preceeding cause, the chain could not have any
beginning. The limitation is the assumption that G-d necessarily works
within those rules. The Rambam removes that assumption, and shows that
the infinite causal chain is less logically sound than belief in an
atemporal First Cause. And thus begins the Moreh, cheileq II.

On Mon, Dec 12, 2005 at 10:17:00AM -0500, S & R Coffer wrote:
:                                               In perek 13, the Rambam
: ...                               So far so good; this is unapologetic
: Platonic kadmus. But then the Rambam contradicts himself. He goes on
: and says as follows: "And they [these philosophers] do not claim that
: this substance possesses the same level of reality as Hashem but rather
: He is the cause of its existence and it is, for example, like material
: in the hands of a craftsman..." This seems to negate the idea of kadmus
: in Plato's words, especially the "cause of its existence" line in the
: Rambam. I have never had a satisfactory answer for this question.

As others tried explaining, we're talking about G-d as necessary and
sufficient cause, i.e. logically prior, the reason for other things'
existences. As the reason need not be a physical process, logically
prior doesn't have to mean chronologically before.


Micha Berger             You will never "find" time for anything.
micha@aishdas.org        If you want time, you must make it.
http://www.aishdas.org                     - Charles Buxton
Fax: (270) 514-1507      

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Date: Mon, 19 Dec 2005 13:57:30 -0500
From: Micha Berger <micha@aishdas.org>
Re: Being exposed to minus

On Mon, Dec 12, 2005 at 01:54:24PM +0000, kennethgmiller@juno.com wrote:
: Hmmm... Now that I think of it, if we take the issur against publishing
: Torah Sheb'al Peh as a Torah-based prohibition, then, yes, indeed, there
: must be hints in the Torah about future Kisvei Kodesh, or else it would
: have been assur to publish Navi and Kesuvim.

There were non-cannonized books that were also massed distibuted,
at least until Anshei Keneses haGedolah decided they weren't part of
Tanakh. How did any of these books or the sefarim that became Tanakh
get disseminated before their decision?

Second, I still think that if "i ata reshai" means an issur to publish
TSBP -- deOraisa or even derabbanan -- how does anyone daven without a
siddur, or repeat a pasuq in a devar Torah without a text in front of him?
If the reisha isn't an issur, why would the same phrase in the seifa of
the same quote be an issur? So, AIUI, there is no need for the Torah to
refer to future kisvei qodesh on this point.

But back to the point. Tammuz was mentioned by Yechezqeil before the
seifer was incroporated into Tanakh. We know from their records, not
to mention their month name, that "Tammuz" is what they actually called
the AZ, not some kinui.

Mes' AZ names numerous Greek and Roman deities, not mentioned in
Tanakh. Well past the era of nevu'ah. And, as already noted, we don't
find an issur on using the English day names or the Gregorian month names.

So, however, we phrase the issur, it would be hard for me to see how
nevu'ah, ruach haqodesh, or the process of selecting sifrei Tana"kh
could be the critical factor lehatir.


Micha Berger             Man is equipped with such far-reaching vision,
micha@aishdas.org        yet the smallest coin can obstruct his view.
http://www.aishdas.org                         - Rav Yisrael Salanter
Fax: (270) 514-1507      

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Date: Mon, 19 Dec 2005 14:08:30 -0500
From: Micha Berger <micha@aishdas.org>
Re: Rishonim and Chazal (was One Opinion)

On Fri, Dec 16, 2005 at 01:56:38AM +0200, Daniel Eidensohn wrote:
:>I am therefore trying to argue that phrasing it as "the Ramban rejects
:>the view of chazal" is overly harsh. It's perhaps more accurate to say
:>that he classifies the view as a non-historical mashal.

: It is obvious that he views the question of when the Ark came to rest as
: a historical issue. He brings scientific observations to refute chazal's
: asserted rate of recession of the waters. He does not mention any
: moral/ethical lessons. Thus he is saying that the medrash is deducing when
: the Ark came to rest - however since it is based on mistaken scientific
: principles it came to a mistaken conclusion. What aspect of the medrash
: is he not rejecting in this case?

The difference between whether the water receeded during yemei din
(Tishrei) or yemei rachamim (Nissan).

Yes, he disproves the historicity of the medrash, and therefore is dealing
with the mesrash's historical claim. However, I'm suggesting that since
no medrash exists for historical reasons, that medrashim are a mix of
history and mythos, that this has nothing to do with rejecting a medrash.

Aside from the Ramchal putting history outside the scope of medrashic
discourse, the Rambam proposes Chazal's motivation to speak in riddle
and metaphor, which would apply to every medrash. In addition, the topic
itself, the fact that they never say "this medrash is about Par'oh's
spirtual stature whereas that medrash is literal history" shows that
they weren't writing for the purpose of future generations' knowledge
of history. If Chazal wanted to teach us history, they would have had
to given us a system to know which midrashim will obscure rather than
elucidate history. Otherwise, how could they justify adding to the
confusion on a topic they consider important to teach?

Do I know the Ramban agreed with this position? No. But given its
support among otherse and my a priori argument (that making a mixture
of history and myth itself belies the possibility of teaching history),
I would require a source to show he didn't.

On Thu, Dec 15, 2005 at 11:06:16PM -0500, Samuel Svarc wrote:
:>I disagree. All were meant metaphorically. Some might happen to also be
:>history, some not. Above I argue it from the Ramchal, I could otherwise
:>show it from Peirush haMishnayos lehaRambam, pereq Cheileq.

: What bothers me about this, is that in your last round with R' SC you
: were unable to show that all were meant metaphorically...

I pointed people to a list of rishonim and acharonim twice.

To my mind, the question isn't whether every medrashic story is meant
metaphorhically. Every story in medrash has a nimshal, whether the
mashal was taken from history or not.

The question is whether any story was told primarily for the mashal.

To which I am now asking: If some medrashim were told to teach the
mashal qua history, not only (or almost entirely) qua mashal, why do
chazal teach our origins without making it clear which is which?


Micha Berger                 Time flies...
micha@aishdas.org                    ... but you're the pilot.
http://www.aishdas.org                       - R' Zelig Pliskin
Fax: (270) 514-1507      

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Date: Mon, 19 Dec 2005 14:09:54 EST
From: T613K@aol.com
Re: Gould

>> Certainly it's no worse than Stephen Jay Gould's "punctuated
>> equilibrium" which is a fancy way of saying that the actual fossil
>> evidence supports creation rather than evolution. [--TK]

> Gould's theory is a scientific satement and not an excuse for G-d.
> As far as I know Gould himself does not believe in religion. In fact
> "punctuated equilibrium" has no direct connection to design. What the
> theory advocates is that evolution (over billions of years) worked in
> jumps rather than smoothly and randomly. [--R' Eli Turkel]

You are just saying the same thing I said, but in different words.
I didn't say Gould believed in G-d or in design. I said the evidence
points to a creator -- species appear suddenly in the fossil record,
with no gradual development at all -- but rather than admit that, he
came up with a "theory" that he called "punctuated equilibrium."

His theory is really just a name for the phenomenon he found -- it is
actually no theory at all, because it does not include any idea at all
of how the fossil record came to be.

By labelling the absence of evidence for evolution "punctuated
equilibrium" he uses words to obfuscate the fact that the fossil record
does not support evolution. (It doesn't support a young world, either,

The fossil record shows long periods of equilibrium -- that is, the
species remain static and do not change at all -- punctuated by sudden
rapid change, actually by the sudden appearance of a whole new set
of flora and fauna which appear to have sprung into place suddenly,
with no gradual or even rapid development at all.

He has no theory as to how this could happen. Yeah, yeah, sudden
climate change or an asteroid put pressure on the population, yada yada,
but this is just a magical "just so" story with no scientific, genetic
backing at all.

Personally I think the fossil record is compatible with "Hashem created
and destroyed many worlds before this one."

 -Toby  Katz

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