Thursday, September 06, 2007

Mimacharat hashabbat

The mitzva of counting the Omer begins "mimacharat hashabbat" (Vayikra 23:11) - on the day after the "shabbat". "Shabbat" here is traditionally understood by Jews to mean the first day of Pesach, not the 7th day of the week. The question of whether this traditional interpretation is correct has been discussed to death. I have just one thought to add on the matter.

I was reading a book on Ethiopian Jewry, which said that according to their tradition, "mimacharat hashabbat" refers to the seventh day of Pesach.

Now, we know that Ethiopian "halacha" as it has reached us bears no apparent relation to the halachic traditions of the Mishna, Gemara, and later mainstream Jewish authorities. Rather, it seems to be based on a "literal" understanding of the written Torah, similar to the Karaite approach. Indeed, as we see here, the Ethiopians disagreed with the rabbinic interpretation that "shabbat" means the first day of Pesach. And yet, they did not concur with the Karaite opinion either. Independently of the rabbis, Ethiopian Jews came to the conclusion that "shabbat" actually refers to a holiday.

How did the Ethiopians reach this conclusion? I don't know. By reading the articles I linked to above, you will find a variety of arguments for this view, which is our view. I presume that the Karaites can produce a similar array of arguments in the opposite direction. Deciding the correct meaning of the verse may be the kind of judgment call which depends as much on your prior expectations and modes of thought as on the objective strength of the arguments. And I don't know what were the prior expectations of the Ethiopians, nor of the Karaites.

But let it not be said that the only tenable interpretation is that "shabbat" means Saturday, that the rabbis distorted or overrode the verse's plain meaning. We have a data point which proves otherwise. The Ethiopians had no "rabbinic agenda" and nevertheless decided that the basic rabbinic view was most reasonable.

Perhaps, as hard as it is for Karaites and certain scholars to admit this, the rabbinic tradition is not a series of wanton distortions for partisan purposes, but rather an honest attempt to integrate textual analysis and intellectual reflection with the received body of tradition.

7 comments:

Jew said...

Whoa, whoa! You've gotten quite carried away here!

First off, many Rabbinical Jews, perhaps as many as half of world Jewry (never mind the Qaraite Jews), differ or have trouble with the Rabbinic understanding of "Mi-maharat ha-Shabbat".

Secondly, I doubt the Ethiopian Jewish sages of olden days determined the "day after Shabbat" meant the seventh day of Feast of Unleavened Bread just because it is a holy day.
It may be the case that they believed the seventh day of Unleavened Bread registers as a "Shabbat" because it completes and concludes a week.

Thirdly, the fact the Ethiopian Jews considered "Mi-maharat ha-Shabbat" to be the holiday's seventh day hardly proves the Rabbinic understanding on this issue to be tenable. The traditional Ethiopian Jewish take is, in absolute terms, just as erroneous, even if for unidentical reasons.

Moreover, that non-proof also means the ancient rabbis are not off the hook for overriding the verse's plain meaning.
Additionally, it is a logical fallacy and a feat of wishful thinking to state the ancient Ethiopian Jewish stance means the Falashas determined the "basic Rabbinic view" to be most reasonable.

In summary, the *accepted* Rabbinic tradition IS, unfortunately, a series of wanton distortions for partisan purposes (among other ignoble things).
Had the accepted Rabbinic tradition been much different, i.e. much more in harmony with the Tanakh's plain meaning, I would have been more likely to argue it was an honest exegetical enterprise.

- Barukh YHWH -

Beisrunner said...

> Whoa, whoa! You've gotten quite carried away here!

Whoa, whoa! The first polemical discussion ever on this blog. I guess I was asking for it.
BTW - how did you find the blog? I didn't know that anyone actually read it... :)

> First off, many Rabbinical Jews, perhaps as many as half of world Jewry
> (never mind the Qaraite Jews), differ or have trouble with the Rabbinic
> understanding of "Mi-maharat ha-Shabbat".

I am not sure who you are referring to. Reform and Conservative Jews? They observe Shavuot 50 days after Pesach, just like I do.

> Secondly, I doubt the Ethiopian Jewish sages of olden days determined the
> "day after Shabbat" meant the seventh day of Feast of Unleavened Bread just
> because it is a holy day.
> It may be the case that they believed the seventh day of Unleavened Bread
> registers as a "Shabbat" because it completes and concludes a week.

That is an interesting possibility. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.

It does not change that fact, though, that either the Ethiopians ignored the "plain meaning" of the verse (why?), or that the "plain meaning" is not what Karaites think it is.

> Thirdly, the fact the Ethiopian Jews considered "Mi-maharat ha-Shabbat" to
> be the holiday's seventh day hardly proves the Rabbinic understanding on
> this issue to be tenable. The traditional Ethiopian Jewish take is, in
> absolute terms, just as erroneous, even if for unidentical reasons.

WHY was the Ethiopian take erroneous? You assert that, but don't provide any evidence.

You can say that the Ethiopians, like the rabbis, engaged in dishonest and intentional textual distortion. But keep in mind, the number of conspiracy theories you hold by is inversely proportional to the credibility of each of them.

> Moreover, that non-proof also means the ancient rabbis are not off the hook
> for overriding the verse's plain meaning.

The "non-proof" hints that the meaning was not so plain after all.

> Additionally, it is a logical fallacy and a feat of wishful thinking to
> state the ancient Ethiopian Jewish stance means the Falashas determined the
> "basic Rabbinic view" to be most reasonable.

See previous.

> In summary, the *accepted* Rabbinic tradition IS, unfortunately, a series of
> wanton distortions for partisan purposes (among other ignoble things).
> Had the accepted Rabbinic tradition been much different, i.e. much more in
> harmony with the Tanakh's plain meaning, I would have been more likely to
> argue it was an honest exegetical enterprise.
>
> - Barukh YHWH -

In summary, nothing you said affects my assertion that the Ethiopian tradition casts doubt on the Karaite claim to possess the "plain meaning" of the verse.

Once you realize that the "plain meaning" is not so certain after all, then there is no need for baseless speculation as to the evil conspiracies the rabbis must therefore have engaged in.

And once the ad hominem attacks have ceased, the honest discussion of textual and other evidence can begin.

Jew said...

>>First off, many Rabbinical Jews, perhaps as many as half of world Jewry (never mind the Qaraite Jews), differ or have trouble with the Rabbinic understanding of "Mi-maharat ha-Shabbat".

>I am not sure who you are referring to. Reform and Conservative Jews? They observe Shavuot 50 days after Pesach, just like I do.

Reply: I referred to religious non-Orthodox Jews that at least are troubled by the Rabbinic understanding even if they abide by it, plus droves of informed secular non-Qaraite Jews who disagree with it.

>>Secondly, I doubt the Ethiopian Jewish sages of olden days determined the "day after Shabbat" meant the seventh day of Feast of Unleavened Bread just because it is a holy day. It may be the case that they believed the seventh day of Unleavened Bread registers as a "Shabbat" because it completes and concludes a week.

>That is an interesting possibility. Thank you for bringing it to my attention. It does not change that fact, though, that either the Ethiopians ignored the "plain meaning" of the verse (why?), or that the "plain meaning" is not what Karaites think it is.

Reply:
There's a THIRD possibility here: The ancient Ethiopian Jewish sages misunderstood the verse's plain meaning.
Why couldn't you give their intelligence the benefit of the doubt?
In your eagerness to validate the accepted Rabbinic interpretation as tenable, seems like you hasted to narrow down the possibilities without sufficient grounds.

>>Thirdly, the fact the Ethiopian Jews considered "Mi-maharat ha-Shabbat" to be the holiday's seventh day hardly proves the Rabbinic understanding on this issue to be tenable. The traditional Ethiopian Jewish take is, in absolute terms, just as erroneous, even if for unidentical reasons.

>WHY was the Ethiopian take erroneous? You assert that, but don't provide any evidence.

Reply:
Okey doke; please read http://karaite-korner.org/shavuot.shtml and the web pages linked to at the bottom. By extension, you'll realize the error in the Ethiopian Jewish take.

>You can say that the Ethiopians, like the rabbis, engaged in dishonest and intentional textual distortion. But keep in mind, the number of conspiracy theories you hold by is inversely proportional to the credibility of each of them.

Reply: This is just laughable. You set up a strawman argument which I hadn't made and you proceeded to knock it down.

>>Moreover, that non-proof also means the ancient rabbis are not off the hook for overriding the verse's plain meaning.

>The "non-proof" hints that the meaning was not so plain after all.

Reply: To me it implies the plain meaning was not always easy to extract in ancient times.

>>Additionally, it is a logical fallacy and a feat of wishful thinking to state the ancient Ethiopian Jewish stance means the Falashas determined the "basic Rabbinic view" to be most reasonable.

>See previous.

Let me get this straight: you're insisting in the face of conflicting evidence from both the Qaraites and Falashas, that the "basic Rabbinic view" is the most reasonable.
With all due respect, Rabbinical partisanship like yours is imperative to clinging to your position DESPITE the evidence running against it.

>>In summary, the *accepted* Rabbinic tradition IS, unfortunately, a series of wanton distortions for partisan purposes (among other ignoble things).
Had the accepted Rabbinic tradition been much different, i.e. much more in harmony with the Tanakh's plain meaning, I would have been more likely to argue it was an honest exegetical enterprise.

>In summary, nothing you said affects my assertion that the Ethiopian tradition casts doubt on the Karaite claim to possess the "plain meaning" of the verse.

Well, I've now provided you some new food for thought in those web pages. I suggest you take your time studying it rather than shooting from the hip in a dismissive mode.

>Once you realize that the "plain meaning" is not so certain after all, then there is no need for baseless speculation as to the evil conspiracies the rabbis must therefore have engaged in.

Short of being naive, I'm crossing my fingers in the hope you'll have come around to see the certainty in the verse's plain meaning once you finish reading and studying the web pages I've pointed you to.

>And once the ad hominem attacks have ceased, the honest discussion of textual and other evidence can begin.

Which ad hominem attacks, pray tell?

~ All Praise Be to YHWH ~

Beisrunner said...

I intentionally avoided discussion of the actual texts, which as I kept saying have already been well discussed, but you keep trying to pull me back in that direction. Fine. I know how to discuss texts too. And now I will discuss them.

I can't remember if I had seen the particular sites you link to, but I was already acquainted with most of the Karaite arguments. There is just one point which was new to me and which I'll now talk about.

The obvious question for anyone who says "Shabbat"=Saturday is: *which* Saturday? The sites you linked me to says: the first one after the 10th of Nisan. You must recognize that this is a rather tenuous choice. The Torah never mentions the 10th of Nisan in this context. Sefer Yehoshua never mentions it either; at best there is a sort of "gezera shava" juxtaposition which you would ridicule if it came from the mouth of a Rabbi. On the contrary, the Torah *does* specify which Shabbat it would have to be: "mehachel hermesh bekamah" (from Sefer Devarim) - the first Shabbat after the harvest begins. This specification bears no relation to the 10th of Nisan. If I were to accept "Shabbat=Saturday" because it's the simple meaning, I would likewise have to accept a particular Saturday which does not necessarily correspond with the Karaite calendar.

It therefore follows that Karaites are not simply following the simple meaning, but rather their own traditions, even though they seem to contradict the verses' simple meaning. In that sense, the Karaite position is no different from that of the Rabbis.

Jew said...

~ In the Name of YHWH Shall We Do and Succeed ~

>I intentionally avoided discussion of the actual texts, which as I kept saying have already been well discussed, but you keep trying to pull me back in that direction.

You previously implied I should have provided evidence to back my claim the Ethiopian Jewish stand was erroneous. So I fail to see why YOU now complain as if you've been "pulled back in that direction".

>I can't remember if I had seen the particular sites you link to, but I was already acquainted with most of the Karaite arguments.

Ah.... my point here is you didn't internalize the relevant Qaraite arguments, otherwise you wouldn't have had to rely on whether you'd remembered seeing those web pages.

>The obvious question for anyone who says "Shabbat"=Saturday is: *which* Saturday? The sites you linked me to says: the first one after the 10th of Nisan. Yadda yadda nyah nyah cluck cluck

The first after Nissan 10th???!! I've reread http://karaite-korner.org/shavuot.shtml itself which contains no such statement. You're obviously LYING, apparently in the hope nobody notices. In any case, you're incapable of saving face in an honorable way.
So I've lost interest in further discussing this topic with you here and will let you have your echo chamber back, effectively reconsigning your blog to the obscurity it appears to deserve. I won't be reading your retort.

Jew said...

Just to highlight how ridiculous your recent reasoning is, I'll deal with it here briefly. What the heck....

>On the contrary, the Torah *does* specify which Shabbat it would have to be: "mehachel hermesh bekamah" (from Sefer Devarim) - the first Shabbat after the harvest begins. This specification bears no relation to the 10th of Nisan.

Reply:
"Me-hahel hermesh ba-qama" refers to the day on which the harvest begins, which would *have to* be "mi-mohorat ha-Shabbat" i.e. a Sunday as specified in Wayiqra.
The passage from Devarim makes no allusion to any Saturday.
You've spouted another laughable LIE.

Look, you may be able to pull that stunt or sleight of hand on people with no command of Hebrew who cannot read the Torah in the original Hebrew and therefore depend on Artscroll editions and other Rabbinic printed Torah editions replete with mistranslations, but it surely doesn't work on me.

>If I were to accept "Shabbat=Saturday" because it's the simple meaning, I would likewise have to accept a particular Saturday which does not necessarily correspond with the Karaite calendar.

Reply:
Kindly discard the BS. All you'd need to accept a particular SUNDAY, namely the first one that falls out during Feast of Unleavened Bread (Hag ha-Matzot).

*** Sir, your ability to discuss biblical texts has been found seriously wanting. ***

OK... I'm done talking. I'll now really let you have your echo chamber back, effectively reconsigning your blog to the obscurity it appears to deserve. And yes... I surely won't be reading your retort.

Beisrunner said...

Wow. In your previous comment you asked "Which ad hominem attacks, pray tell?". And in my reply I didn't provide examples (since my original comment was clear about what I was referring to). I have to thank you for, in the two comments you just posted, providing me with more examples of ad hominem attacks than I have ever seen before in my life.

You must realize that your suddenly angry tone, your repeated attacks on my motivations, your attempts to insult me and/or my blog, and your threats never to come here again do nothing to help your argument. On the contrary, they make it look like you have something to hide.

Here is the statement which you accuse me of inventing:

"The Sabbath, on the morrow of which we begin to count [50 days to Shavuot] is the Sabbath closest to the day of the Children of Israel's entry into the Land in days of Joshua." And a few lines down, "Therefore, Shavuot must always fall out on the morrow of the seventh Sabbath from Israel's entry into the Land in the time of Joshua..." (http://www.light-of-israel.org/pentecost_morrow_after_the_sabbath.shtml, linked to at the bottom of http://karaite-korner.org/shavuot.shtml. You asked me to "please read http://karaite-korner.org/shavuot.shtml and the web pages linked to at the bottom." - I did so, and this is what I found.)

And the day of Joshua's entry to the land is of course the 10th of Nisan.

To repeat my argument, there is no reference whatsoever in the Torah to the 10th of Nisan in relation to the Omer. There is, however, a reference to "mehachel hermesh bekamah", the time when the harvest begins. According to the simple meaning, this would be the source for determining which Saturday/Sunday to begin with. No, the harvest does not begin on Shabbat. But neither does the 10th of Nisan fall on Shabbat every year. You would of course use the first Saturday/Sunday after the harvest begins. Which is not necessarily the first Saturday/Sunday of or after 10 Nisan. Thus contradicting the web site you asked me to read.

Now that I have clarified my argument, perhaps you can try to answer it?

I have to admit, your sudden "lost interest" and desire to "consign my blog to the obscurity it deserves" sounds like a bad excuse for avoiding a question you don't have an answer for.