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Jews can be farmers

jan peczkis|Thursday, September 17, 2015

A classic of rabbinic literature. -- Rabbi Dr. Jeffrey R. Woolf, Senior Lecturer in Talmud at Bar Ilan University

A classic of rabbinic literature. --Rabbi Dr. Jeffrey R. Woolf, Senior Lecturer in Talmud at Bar Ilan University

Continues to speak to the 21st century student. -- Rabbi Shalom Carmy, Noted Jewish Thinker and Assistant Professor of Bible and Jewish Philosophy at Yeshiva University

Continues to speak to the 21st century student. --Rabbi Shalom Carmy, Noted Jewish Thinker and Assistant Professor of Bible and Jewish Philosophy at Yeshiva University

I found that this book gave my students a broad understanding of the development of early rabbinic literature. -- Rabbi Dr. Elazar Hurvitz, Professor of Biblical and Talmudic Literature at Yeshiva University

I found that this book gave my students a broad understanding of the development of early rabbinic literature. --Rabbi Dr. Elazar Hurvitz, Professor of Biblical and Talmudic Literature at Yeshiva University

Continues to speak to the 21st century student. --Rabbi Shalom Carmy, Noted Jewish Thinker and Assistant Professor of Bible and Jewish Philosophy at Yeshiva University

A classic of rabbinic literature. --Rabbi Dr. Jeffrey R. Woolf, Senior Lecturer in Talmud at Bar Ilan University


 
  About the Author R. Zevi Hirsch Chajes, frequently known as "The Maharatz Chayes," was born in 1805 in Brody, a commercial frontier town in the north east of Galicia. Born to a wealthy family, he received, in addition to his traditional talmudic education, instruction in modern and classical languages and literature, as well as geography, history and philosophy. He was identified at an early age as a prodigy and grew to master the entire talmudic literature as well as that of medieval Jewish philosophy. He studied under a number of great scholars of that time, particularly R. Ephraim Zalman Margulies. At the young age of twenty two, he was called to occupy an important rabbinic position in the district of Zolkiev, Galicia. In this position, he fought against the radical innovations being introduced into Judaism at that time, while also opposing the increasing conservatism among his Orthodox colleagues. Additionally, with his keen intellect and broad knowledge, he was able to produce many works of scientific study of Judaism that were faithful to tradition but modern in their organization and subjects. His works include Torat Nevi'im; Darkhei Hora'ah; Imre Binah; Minhat Kena'ot; and glosses to the Talmud that were published in the now-standard Romm-Vilna edition of the Talmud. Chajes died prematurely in 1855 at the age of 50, only three years after being appointed to the prestigious post of rabbi of Kalish, Poland.   This is a 1952 English-language translation of the work of Zevi Hirsch Chajes (1805-1855), who had been a leading Talmudic scholar in Austrian-ruled southeastern Poland (eastern Galicia). (He was born in Brody and died in Lwow/Lviv). The translator and annotator was Jacob Schachter, the Rabbi of the Jewish community of Belfast, Northern Ireland. [My review is based on the original 1952 English-language edition.]

In his analysis of the Talmud, Chajes touches on almost every imaginable topic. The minutiae are almost staggering, and it is sobering to realize that Jews once lived according to so many arcane rules that governed virtually every aspect of everyday life.

RESTRICTED OCCUPATIONS? JEWS COULD DO FARMING

It is commonly supposed that Jews engaged in “parasitic” occupations, such as usury and shopkeeping, because they were barred from other occupations, including agriculture. This was not the case in Eastern Galicia at the time. In actuality, most non-Jews were farmers, and Jews were not prevented from becoming farmers. In fact, Schachter praises Chajes’ activism, among Jews, in this regard, “He actively participated in the movement to encourage the Jews to take up agriculture as an occupation and means to livelihood; and he also strongly intervened in all matters tending to elevate the moral and social status of the Jews in Galicia, such as the abrogation of the medieval form of the Jewish oath in Court, even favoring some changes in the traditional Galician Jewish dress.” (p. xiii).

TALMUDIC TERMS FOR CHRISTIANS

Schachter comments on Z. H. Chajes’ use of the term MIN/MINIM, “A sectarian, probably from the Heb. [term for] (species, sect). Used variously of Samaritans, Sadducees, agnostics, Jewish-Christians, and other sectaries according to the epoch to which the passage belongs.” (p. 32; See also p. 144). Does this imply that MIN/MINIM is a flexible term that can be applied to different peoples are different times? If so, does it mean that MIN/MINIM at least sometimes applied to modern Christians?

Although, as noted earlier, this work is packed with minutiae of every sort, author Chajes conspicuously avoids the controversial Talmudic verses on Jews and gentiles. Was this the case with Chajes himself, or was some of his material left out, by the translator and annotator, in this English-language volume?

In any case, what Chajes does NOT say may be as significant as what he says. Nowadays, it is argued that the controversial Talmudic verses do not apply to Christians, and that they had applied only to ancient pagans. This is supposed to be based on centuries of normative Jewish interpretation as well as halakhic rulings. However, such a notion is conspicuously absent in this volume. Zevi Hirsch Chajes freely brings up various Talmudic teachings related to the heathen (e. g, p. 69), and does not indicate any semblance of dichotomy between the past and the present, or any hint of dichotomy between ancient non-Jews and modern non-Jews. Since there were not too many ancient Egyptians or ancient Canaanites (or other polytheists) living in 19th-century eastern Galicia, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that Chajes was alluding to modern Christians.

SOME INTERESTING RELIGIOUS INFORMATION

Chajes suggests that apparent contradictions in the Bible, such as seemingly-conflicting information on the 430-year duration of Jews in Egypt, stems from the fact that Scripture is generally briefly worded and lacking detailed directions. (pp. 1-2).

The rabbis of the past generally believed that the miracles in the Bible were literally true. (pp. 208-209).

The authors of the Talmud commonly did not quote the Bible accurately, and Chajes suggests that these Rabbis generally thought it unnecessary to cite the words precisely as they were written. (p. 231). [This is ironic, as Jews commonly fault the New Testament authors of inaccurate quotations of Old Testament verses.]

In an explanatory note, Schachter points out that Herod the Great (73-4 B. C.) had been of Idumean stock. Herod murdered the Hasmonaean princes, including even his own wife and children. (p. 181). [Interestingly, Schachter uses B. C. instead of BCE].
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