It is stated in the Talmud that a person learns what his heart desires. I have always had a particular interest in practical Halachah. As far as possible the Gemara I myself would study was connected with practical Halachah.
Whilst I was Director of Jewish Studies for nearly seven years in the King David High School in Liverpool, I made the teaching of practical Halachah an integral part of the curriculum. According to feedback, my pupils really enjoyed my lessons on this subject, particularly on the Barmitzvah and Eshet Chayil courses. The examination results were excellent and improved from year to year.
For a number of boys in the sixth forms (ages 16-18) I would give a Shiur in Gemara. I did not do a specific Masechet with the pupils but chose a subject and we would research it together from various passages in the Gemara together with the later commentaries.
As an example we researched how many Sifrei Torah does one take out on Shabbat Shekalim? The reason given for normally taking out more than one Sefer Torah is that one would not have to take time during a service to roll from one place to another, and hence cause inconvenience to the congregation who would have to sit idly during this rolling process. But what if the two readings on a particular Shabbat were close to each other, as is the case on Shabbat Shekalim? Does one still take out two Sifrei Torah, since the rolling time would be very short indeed? This we researched in our Shiur.
Another question we researched was the sending of Mishloach Manot on Shabbat. Due to limitations on the day that Festivals can occur, this question is basically only relevant in Jerusalem where Purim occurs one day later than the rest of the world. When Purim in Jerusalem occurs on Shabbat, the reading of the Megillah is brought forward to Friday. The reason is, in case someone should carry it in an area where it is forbidden to carry on Shabbat. Does the same reasoning apply to Mishloach Manot since one usually carries them in such an area? We studied that, if not – why not?
The last example of the many topics we researched concerned the various interpretations of the difficult to understand statement in the Gemara that an individual reads the last eight verses in the Torah. We discussed four different explanations, which included that just one person must read them and thus they may not be split up, and that one does not require a Minyan to read them as is the case with other readings from the Torah.
Several years after I returned to Israel, I started researching a number of questions concerning Halachah. I mainly did my research in the Jewish National Library which unquestionably has the best Judaica collection in the world. In addition to the books in the Judaica Reading Room and the several floors of underground repository rooms, they also have microfilms of almost all the known Judaica manuscripts from all over the world. For many of them, this library also has the originals, but they have also been microfilmed and if one wants to refer to them, one would invariably have to use the microfilm rather than the original manuscript. Needless to say, this is a wise precaution.
The manuscript room is situated on the lower ground floor of the library and on each table there are several microfilm readers. In their store room there are microfilms from all over the world – I understand that there are over 74,000 reels. The originals are to be found in the British (Museum) Library in London, the Bodleian Library in Oxford, the Sassoon collection (which I understand has now been sold), the Vatican, Paris, Moscow and many other libraries and private collections throughout the world..
Although one of the richest collections of manuscripts are in libraries in the former Soviet Union, until the fall of Communism almost the only microfilms to be found in the Jewish National Library were those which had been microfilmed a long long time ago. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the libraries were opened to the world and a team of photographers, including those from the Jewish National Library went to all these libraries to photocopy the manuscripts. I believe there were all in all over 20,000. Needless to say, there is now a massive amount of work to be done by researchers on these manuscripts!
There are also microfilms of manuscripts which are in other Israeli libraries, such as the Mossad Harav Kook. Some of the microfilms are from private collections. A person in Kiryat Arba who has a hobby of going through genizot in Israel (and has built up his personal library accordingly) found an old document in one of these genizot. He took it to the Jewish National Library, who repaired it for him, and microfilmed it for their own use. He told me that it appears in their catalogue, although I never succeeded in finding it there!
When I began to use this manuscript room in the 1980s, everything was still catalogued on cards. There were a number of different catalogues: by authors, by subjects and by the libraries where the original manuscripts are kept. In addition, on the bookshelves in this room were to be found catalogues of the manuscripts from a number, but not all, of the libraries which had microfilms in the Jewish National library. Although English is regarded as the “international” language, the catalogues from the various countries are usually in the native language of that country. The catalogue of the Vatican library is in Latin.
Since I began using these microfilms, the era of computers has considerably progressed and the cataloguing is becoming more and more computerised. Needless to say this makes it much easier and time saving for the researcher. When he wants material on a particular item, a member of the staff will be able to produce a print out of all the relevant materials within a very short time.
When a researcher wants to refer to a particular microfilm, he fills up a form which includes the number of the microfilm, hands it in to the staff and within a few minutes the microfilm is usually located. It is then put on a spindle and handed to the researcher.
Needless to say, the manuscripts vary in quality. In some, the writing is beautifully clear; in others it is almost illegible. In some cases the manuscripts have been preserved beautifully; in others many of the words have faded or are missing. Sometimes the first or last lines on a page are missing – probably rotted away by dampness or some other fungus during the course of the centuries. By Murphy’s law these are the lines one is interested in!
During the course of his work, the researcher will very likely want to photocopy some of the pages from the microfilm. The regulations regarding photocopying depend on which library holds the manuscript. In some cases one can photocopy for the purpose of private use, (but not for reproduction) without any specific permission from the manuscript holder, whereas in other cases the researcher had to fill up a form and request permission from the holder. In the case of the Bodleian Library, it was the library who sent the permission directly to the Jewish National Library. At a later date the Bodleian allowed photocopying without applying each time to them for such permission.
In order that the photographic department staff at the Jewish National Library would know exactly which frames the researcher wanted copies of, the latter would stick a small piece of coloured sticky tape on the top edge of the particular frame or frames. This isn’t as easy as it seems – one can easily indicate the neighbouring frame by mistake!
If one also wanted to reproduce a particular page from the manuscript in one’s research paper or book, one had to ask permission from the library holding the manuscript. I would, amongst other things, bring out a booklet on each of my papers, which would include reproductions of some of my references. Some of these references were from these manuscripts and so I accordingly had to request permission. I would point out to the holder of the manuscript that it was a non-commercial publication limited to about 50 copies. With one exception they immediately granted me permission and because of the limited non-commercial nature of the publication, they waived any charge they sometimes might make. The exception was Cambridge University. I understood that they never gave permission for the researcher to make such a reproduction. If he wanted to use one, he had to purchase a bromide print from Cambridge University. It wasn’t cheap!
Another library I occasionally used was that of Mossad Harav Kook, which is situated just after one enters Jerusalem from the road leading out the city towards Tel-Aviv. This library, although it has a large number of books, is naturally much smaller than the Jewish National Library. Although there were reading rooms on each floor – I believe there were three floors – only one was in use, since the numbers using the library seemed to be small.
Over the course of about seven years, I wrote 10 research papers on Halachic subjects. After I had written them up, I employed a teacher of Hebrew language to go over them in order to correct and improve my language style. I then submitted the papers to the old established journal “Sinai” which is published by Mossad Harav Kook. In every case my paper was published. When “Sinai” published a paper, they would send the author a complimentary copy of that journal and also a supply of reprints (I think about twenty) of the article. There were occasions when after I had distributed all these reprints, I had to photocopy a further supply.
For many of my papers, after they had been published in “Sinai,” I made some additions and then brought each one out in a booklet together with a representative selection of documents quoted in the text. I also brought out a book entitled “Divrei Chamishah” with the text of all the 10 papers. One might well ask why the title “Divrei Chamishah”? This I took from my name CHAim MoSHE. It is customary when bringing out such a book to give the year of publication with a phrase whose numerical value equals that of the year. The year was 757 and the phrase with the numerical value 757 which I used was “Usmaichim simchah.”
This book and all the booklets were published by the “Nechemiah Institute.” I also put this book on my website. This was the first item in Hebrew letters which I put on this website and I encountered a small problem which I have still not found an ideal solution for. It stems from the fact that one writes Hebrew in the opposite direction than for English. Although the words did not come out backwards, the paragraphing was like in English and the reference numbers were at the end of the lines instead of the beginning. To correct these deficiencies every time one puts this website on the screen, one has to do a few very simple “encoding” steps.
I shall now briefly give a brief summary of each of my papers and some points of special interest connected with them. Let me however first state a few of the methods I used in the course of such research.
I would often search out on the card catalogue (and in later times also on the computer) the various microfilms of the manuscripts at the Jewish National Library for a particular work and then compare the portions I was interested in, with the printed editions available of this work.
Another resource which became available to me during the course of my research was the Bar-Ilan Responsa project. The Pedagogic Centre at Kiryat Arba had purchased this CD-Rom and when subsequent versions became available would exchange it for the latest version. Although called the “Responsa Project,” a large amount of the material on the CD-Rom were basic (and now, in addition, not so basic) books on Judaica. By the use of keywords, one could find any subject which might be present on the CD-Rom.
I should also mention that in research of the sort I was doing, all the material was not in Hebrew. I came across material (amongst other languages) in English, French, German (and usually in the old German script), Latin, Greek and Arabic. Sometimes I managed to find a translation of this material. On other occasions I had to ask the help of people who understood these languages.
It goes without say that the more material available, the more thorough is the research. However, it is an unfortunate fact that almost half the books which were written in the past on Judaic subjects are no longer extant. This fact was brought down in a booklet “Books & People” produced by the Jewish National Library. On the positive side, books thought to be extant, are occasionally found, sometimes in the most unlikely of places!
It was during the 1990s that this Library would publish about three times each year, this booklet in both Hebrew and English. I was on their mailing list for the English edition. Each issue contained about eight short articles on diverse subjects. Examples of such articles were: “Cooperation with the Lenin Library,” “Classification System of the Judaica Reading Room,” “Jerusalem Meeting on Parchment,” “Haggadot According to the Karaite Rite” and “Documents from the Vilna Ghetto.”
The subject of my first research paper was the “Reading of the Torah on Simchat Torah in Israel.” The Torah readings for the various Festivals are not part of the regular annual cycle, with one exception – the reading for Simchat Torah, which occurs as the second day of Yom Tov in the Diaspora and on that day one completes the annual Torah reading cycle. In Israel, the Torah was read over a period of about three years and so there was no problem since one did not have to complete the reading of the Torah on the day following Shemini Atzeret – which in Israel is a weekday when there was no Torah reading.
When the Crusaders conquered Eretz Israel, the Jews fled to Egypt. They established there an Eretz Israel Shul which read the Torah according to the three year cycle. Following the defeat the Crusaders, Jews came to Eretz Israel from England and France – including 300 Rabbis, and instituted the annual Torah reading cycle. However a problem then arose. In Eretz Israel there is only one day Yom Tov. So when did they complete Reading the Torah. The solution was to substitute the Shemini Atzeret reading by the Simchat Torah Reading.
Yearly on the night of Simchat Torah before Ma’ariv, I have spoken on this subject in my Shul where I am the Honorary Rabbi. I once mentioned that the Jews who came to Israel in about the 7th century from Babylon made “fights” to introduce Babylonian customs into the Synagogue service. (With some they were successful but they did not succeed in introducing the annual Torah reading cycle.) One year, when my son was in the Primary School, he asked me afterwards whether these “fights” were fist fights!
My next research paper was on the differences in Torah readings between Eretz Israel and the Diaspora. Already when I was a school boy, I had realised that differences occurred and I asked Dr. Tobias who was a teacher in my school and an expert on the Torah readings – (he knew the Torah by heart and one could never catch him out!) – told me how one dealt with these differences.
The reason for the differences stemmed from the fact that if the 8th day of Pesach or the 2nd day of Shavuot in the Diaspora fell on Shabbat, one would have the special Yom Tov reading. However in Israel it was already the day after Yom Tov and they would hence read the next Shabbat Parashah. Israel would thus be one Parashah ahead of the Diaspora and somehow the latter would have to catch up with Israel or alternatively Israel would have to slow down!
The only practical way to make parity between Israel and the Diaspora would be to split up the first double Parashah which occurred after the Festival. However in the case of the 8th day of Pesach occurring on Shabbat in a non-leap year, it is only the third double Parashah which is split up in Israel. A reason given is that to split up the first one would make it appear that Israel is only subsidiary to the Diaspora and is hurrying to make parity with them and this would be disrespectful to Eretz Israel.
However we do find cases where Israel follows the Diaspora. There is a certain Hoshana which is specifically to be recited on the first day of Chol Hamoed Sukkot. Yet in Israel it is only said on the day which is the first day of Chol Hamoed in the Diaspora. I therefore jokingly comment each year that we are saying it on that day under protest! Another example is that some people (but not all) omit Lamnatzeach on Isru Chag, since this day is still Yom Tov in the Diaspora. I on principle follow the “but not all.”
When the 2nd day of Shavuot occurs on Shabbat, in the Diaspora they combine the Parashiot Chukat and Balakr. In the manuscripts department of the Jewish National Library, I found some old calendars and documents from the 12th and 13th centuries – (which was prior to the introduction of the annual reading cycle in Eretz Israel) – which specifically give this particular combining of Parashiot (Chukat-Balak). Thus we see that this combining is purely an internal Diaspora affair.
A book which I referred to in this paper (and also in other papers) was “Tikun Yissachar.” This was a book which had been published over 400 years ago in Venice and it seems that it had not since been republished or even reprinted. The copy in the Jewish National Library was marked “Rare” and one could therefore not photocopy from it. When I subsequently went to the Mossad Harav Kook, I saw that they also had a copy. I happily thought to myself that I will now order this book and be able to do all my photocopies. The book arrived with a label attached forbidding photocopying from it!
However there is a happy sequel to this. About the beginning of 1991, I saw in a book catalogue that someone had brought out a photocopy edition of this book. I contacted the telephone number in this catalogue – I believe it was a Yeshivah – and they put me onto an address of an apartment in the Bet Yisrael area of Mea Shearim. This was during the period of the Gulf War when one tried to avoid travelling and if one had to do so, one carried one’s gas mask. My son’s Barmitzvah was due a few weeks later and I needed to make some purchases in Jerusalem for it. I made out my shopping list which included the purchase of this book. I travelled to Jerusalem with my gas mask and everything on my list without exception went quickly and successfully – a rare occurrence.
This was my only paper where I utilised tables. When I came to put this paper on my website, I at first had a problem. How would I transfer a table in “Word” to one in HTML? However the instructions which came with my site, explained and indeed even assisted in the production of tables. In fact it turned out very simple.
My next paper was on the “Reasons for the Fast of Ninth of Tevet.” There is a list of over 20 fasts in the religious literature commemorating bad things which happened in the past, (although no-one in practice, fasts on them). Amongst these fasts is 9 Tevet and this is the only case where no reason for the fast is stated. In fact it specifically states that the Rabbis did not want to write the reason. For decades this fast has fascinated me and well before I did this extensive research on it, I began to study the question.
I found in the literature five reasons for this fast:
i) Ezra died on that day – some say the following day. However one is hard pressed to explain the secrecy concerning his date of death.
ii) Massacre of the Jewish Community of Grenada in Spain and its Nagid. This took place several hundred years after the fast was declared! On the face of it, the Moslem sources give a date one day after the Jewish sources. However this can be resolved by virtue of the fact that even today the Moslem calendar is fixed by visual observation of the moon. When one looks at the calendar for the Moslem schools in Israel, one reads that the final dates may differ up to a few days from the printed calendar and that they will be determined by the President of the Shari’a Supreme Court in Israel (after the Moslems determine when the new moon was).
iii) According to the commentary of Rabbi Moshe Isserles, we fast on 9 Tevet to commemorate Esther being taken to the King’s palace. He adds no further explanation. Using a number of Midrashim I showed why we fast on this particular date and why the secrecy.
iv) Peter, the Apostle of Jesus died on this date. On the face of it, this seems unbelievable to declare a Jewish fast for such an event! I found a book in the Jewish National Library, printed nearly 300 years ago called “Historia Jeschuae Nazareni – Sefer Toldot Yeshu Hanotzri” which gives legends regarding Jesus. One of them gives the story of Shimon Kaifa (The Apostle Peter) who was an Orthodox Jew who infiltrated into the new Christian community (which was then half-way between Judaism and Christianity) in order to make a complete separation between the two faiths. So long as people considered themselves Jews who believed in Jesus there was a danger to Judaism. We have the same phenomenon today, (although fortunately on a far far smaller scale) with Jewish groups who call themselves “Jews for Jesus.” He secretly remained a practicing Jew and wrote the Nishmat prayer which we recite on Shabbat and Festivals. He died in Rome on 9 Tevet. Here the reason for the secrecy is obvious.
v) Jesus was born on 9 Tevet. A calculation of the corresponding date in the Jewish calendar for 25 December on the year it was then believed that Jesus was born gives us 9 Tevet. Here again secrecy is of the essence, to prevent any confrontation with the Church which until very recently was all powerful. Just 250 years ago, a priest who converted to Judaism (and became a pupil of the Vilna Gaon) was burnt to death by the Church. Even more recently there was the case when a Jewish boy named Edgar Mortara was kidnapped and baptized. When the Jews demanded his return, the Catholic Church just ignored their pleas.
This particular article fascinated Motti Mosai, a teacher on the staff of the Religious School in Kiryat Arba and he volunteered to go over it to correct and style my Hebrew.
I had almost finished this paper when the summer holidays came and I was at a Teachers In-service Training Course at the Israel Television Centre in Tel-Aviv, which is just opposite the campus of Tel-Aviv University. I took the opportunity to go the University library. I even had to pay to go in – the first time this has happened to me! Whilst there, I found a few further references to complement this paper.
I had quite a feedback after this paper had been published. I had mentioned the custom of not studying Torah on Nital nacht (the night of Christmas Eve). Yonah Heinrich from the city of Emanuel in the Shomron wrote to me saying that in the city of Frankfurt where he was born they were very particular about this custom. We thus see that this custom was not limited to the Chassidim.
Whilst on this custom and Frankfurt, the Chatam Sofer quotes the reason of his teacher for this. However, this did not appear in the printed responsa of the Chatam Sofer, but in an unpublished manuscript which I found in the Jewish National Library microfilm room. When I mentioned this fact in a lecture which I gave (I believe on the night of Hoshana Rabba), Yossi Leichter, who works in the cataloguing department of this library said that it had just been published in a journal.
I found Yossi Leichter to be a super-expert at locating books in this library, which contains literally millions of volumes. Whenever I failed to locate a book, I would go to the room where he worked and within minutes, using his computer, he would invariably be successful in locating it.
On reading my paper on the 9 Tevet, a former high school (Carmel College) teacher of mine, Yisrael Alexander, who lives in Ra’anana in Israel, wrote to me at the end of 1991 saying that he had seen this paper of mine in the Bar-Ilan University Library and admitted that “this was the first time he had heard of this fast.”
Meir Ayali of Haifa University, on receiving a copy of it from me wrote saying that he particularly enjoyed it and it revealed to him a lot of new facts which he had until then known nothing about. He added that my research “was most fascinating.” Incidentally he mentioned in his letter, that a number of years previously, he had visited the King David High School in Liverpool and was present at one of my Gemara Shiurim. I personally don’t remember his visit.
I have seen this paper of mine referred to in a number of books. Amongst them is the annual calendar “Luach Davar B’ito” which mention this fact every year under 9 Tevet. After summarising the reasons for this fast, it states, “See further details and a discussion of them in an article by Rabbi Dr. C. Simons from Kiryat Arba – Hebron in ‘Sinai’…”
A few years ago, I was at the house of a relative when I saw the book “Moadim L’simchah” volume 2, Kislev-Tevet” published by Otzar Haposkim. I saw my paper extensively quoted. Indeed the editor wrote in a footnote “In the journal ‘Sinai’ … there is a wonderful paper entitled ‘Reasons for the Fast of 9 Tevet’ and I leafed through it considerably in preparing this chapter.” My paper is summarised there and with regard to the reason for Esther being taken to the King’s palace, this book brings my paper in very great detail.
In June 2005, I received an e-mail from y.y.f. (that is all he disclosed of his name) stating “I’m very interested in the story that st. peter was really as good jew that did it to save the jews…” [no capital letters in original]. He enclosed a paper which had written in 2001 by Rabbi Shlomo Shmuel Fleishman from Nachalat Har Chabad in Kiryat Malachi., which inter alia quoted from a newspaper article in the Agudah newspaper “Hamodia” that in addition to Peter, John and Paul were good Jews.
I telephoned Rabbi Fleishman to ask him for more details of this article in “Hamodia” but all he could tell me was that it was written by Gerlitz and had appeared several years earlier.
In January 2006, in the supplement “Kulmus” of the Hebrew edition of “Mishpacha” appeared an article entitled “Six Fasts in One Month.” Included amongst these fasts was 9 Tevet which extensively utilized my paper, quoting me by name on several occasions.
About that period I received a telephone call from Moshe Blau from Jerusalem. He was at the time preparing a paper for publication on Shimon Kalfos, who I and others had identified as the Apostle Peter. He however argued that this Shimon was not the Apostle Peter but the uncle of Jesus. He told me that he had gone through numerous manuscripts on the subject and was during his research daily in the manuscripts room at the Jewish National Library. In answer, I gave him the various pieces of evidence that he was in fact the Apostle Peter.
This article appeared that year in the Shavuot edition of “Kulmus” but it did not come to a definite conclusion, stating: “We advanced the theory of two Shimons, one becoming Saint Peter, the other fighting to separate the Notzrim from the Jewish people. The mystery remains.”
My next paper could be considered as an appendix to this last mentioned paper. The source of all these fasts, including of course 9 Tevet, is often given as the final chapter of “Megillat Ta’anit.” This work is described in the Talmud as a book written in Mishnaic times. It has 12 chapters, each chapter devoted to a different month of the year and the days in that month when it was forbidden to fast since miracles happened to our forefathers on those days. In the printed editions of this book today, appears a “final chapter,” which gives this list of days in the year when one must fast.
Since this chapter today appears at the end of “Megillat Ta’anit” people assume it is an original part of this book. However, until this generation, Rabbis and other scholars did not have access to almost all the Jewish books and manuscripts as we do today in the Jewish National Library. I therefore decided to research whether in fact “Megillat Ta’anit” was the original source of this list of fasts.
To accomplish this, I studied where it was mentioned in the Talmud, compared contradictions in dates between the first 12 chapters and this final chapter, made a study of manuscripts and early printed editions of “Megillat Ta’anit” and also the writings of the Rishonim and the Acharonim. From all this I came to the conclusion that without any doubt this chapter was not part of “Megillat Ta’anit” and only appeared as a final chapter in manuscripts and printed editions from the 16th century onwards. The earliest source of this list seems to be the Behag which was written between the 8th and 9th centuries, which was well after the composition of “Megillat Ta’anit.”
Every year when one reaches the month of Iyar, there appear a variety of notices advertising tours to the north of Israel to visit the graves of Tzadikim. This was the subject of my next paper. Here are some of the main points and conclusions brought in it:
It is commonly believed that the traditional date for a pilgrimage to Meron is Lag B’Omer. However if one studies the writings of Jewish travellers and also of Arab historians from the 13th to the 16th century, we see that the pilgrimage to Meron was on Pesach Sheni and in addition it was to the cave of Hillel and Shammai, and not to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.
Although the date for Pesach Sheni appears in our calendars as just 14 Iyar, I argued that this was not accurate and it should be the afternoon of 14 Adar and the evening of 15 Iyar.
The pilgrimage to Meron on Lag B’Omer began at the period of the Ari. R’ Chaim Vital wrote of a visit made by the Ari. From a careful analysis of his writings and a study of the calendar, I managed to calculate the actual year on which he went there.
Lag B’Omer (especially in connection with Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai) is of relatively late origin. It is interesting to note that “Tikun Yissachar” does not mention it, but does mention Pesach Sheni as a day when one omits Tachanun, whereas the Shulchan Aruch which was written at about the same time and in the same place, Tzefat, does precisely the opposite!
The origin of the custom regarding not marrying or cutting one’s hair during at least part of the Omer is disputed. Some bring the Geonim who give it as a sign of mourning for the pupils of Rabbi Akiva who died in that period, whilst others say that it nothing to do with mourning and has Kabalistic origins!
The Rambam does not so much as even mention such a custom and on this I wrote to Rabbi Yoseph Kapach, who was an authority on the Rambam and customs of Yemenite Jews. I asked the Rabbi, “Why does the Rambam not mention in his ‘Mishnah Torah’ the Geonic decree in connection with mourning during the Omer period? Was the Rambam aware of this decree?” Rabbi Kapach answered me in a handwritten letter in Rashi script, “There is no such decree and it is not known which Gaon instituted it. The Rambam only rules from things which are stated in the Talmud or which are learned from the Talmud …. In addition, in the case of the Geonim …. he would write that the Geonim made such a decree. But the custom of mourning during the Omer period is shrouded in great uncertainty. In any case, in Yemen they did not have the mourning customs such as not cutting one’s hair. However they did not get married but not because of mourning …”
Another pilgrimage during this month which I brought was one to the grave of Shmuel Hanavi in Nebi Samuel on the date of his death. There is also a difference of opinion whether this day was 28 or 29 Iyar and this has never been resolved. In particular, Sephardim make a big thing of this pilgrimage and there appears a long account by R’ Gedaliah Siemiatycze on it. The edition of the book I utilised was one brought out in 1963 by Zalman Shazar. Surprisingly, I could not find an earlier edition in the Jewish National Library.
Another thing that one may learn from the research for this paper is never to rely on non primary documents. An account found in a book today stating that Rabbi Ovadiah Bertinoro went to Meron on 18 Iyar (Lag B’Omer) is in fact the result of a series of inaccurate successive copying. The original in fact states that he went to the grave of Shmuel Hanavi on 28 Iyar! I always do my best to track down the original source and hence discovered this serious error.
I concluded my paper showing that after Lag B’Omer “took over” from Pesach Sheni as the location of the Meron pilgrimage, people starting in the 1870s to go to Tiveria for Pesach Sheni to visit the grave of Rabbi Meir ba’al Haness.
A few of the references for this paper were in Arabic and were found in the Eastern Reading Room of the Jewish National Library. With one exception I managed to find Hebrew translations of the Arabic. In the remaining case I found someone who kindly translated the Arabic for me.
After my paper had appeared in “Sinai,” a professor wrote a letter to that journal criticising a number of the points I had made in my article. (I am not the only person who has been criticised by this professor!) Although I would regularly see this professor at the Minchah Minyan at the Jewish National Library, he never said anything to me on this matter. It is likely that he did not connect my face with my article.
It was about eight years later that he mentioned the matter to me – he had obviously by then found out who I was. This was the first I knew of his letter of criticism and I immediately went to look it up. Even though a long time had elapsed since he had written his criticism and because there is no “statute of limitations” on this subject, I at first decided to prepare an answer. I carefully studied his letter line by line and prepared the draft of an answer. However I then decided that since so many years had passed, I would not send it up to “Sinai.”
I have in my files my draft answer and will give here the main points. The professor was critical that I would repeatedly describe a traveler to Eretz Israel mentioned in my paper as “the anonymous traveler from the year 5282” and not as R’ Moshe Basula. (He had likewise in the past criticised another writer on this very same point.) Actually I had added in brackets that “some say he is R’ Moshe Basula.”
I utilised this term “the anonymous traveler” since this was the term that had been used to describe him for over four hundred years. In fact, his identity is not so clear cut. At first he had been identified as R’ Moshe Basan from Noveira. At a later date it was Yitzchak Ben-Zvi (who was later a President of the State of Israel) who decided that it was R’ Moshe Basula. It is quite possible that in the future, some other historian will decide that Ben-Zvi was wrong, especially as his reasoning is specious.
The professor also claimed that I made a number of errors in the chronology of the Ari. He was critical that I had stated that “there are differences in opinion regarding the year that the Ari died.” He held that the opinion of R’ Chaim Vital that he died in the year 5332 was the correct one. But the fact is that in addition to R’ Chaim Vital, there are opinions that he died in 5333 or 5334. The historian Shlomo Schechter saw in these different opinions sufficient importance to quote them in his book.
Another chronological fact that I quoted from a source, but which the professor objected to, was that I stated that the Ari arrived in Israel at the end of 5330. He claimed that this source was not accurate and that the correct version appeared in an edition of “Sefer Hachizyonot” of R’ Chaim Vital, prepared by Dr. Aharon Eshkoli and published by Mossad Harav Kook. This edition stated “during 5330” (in place of “end of 5330”) and it was taken from a manuscript written by R’ Chaim Vital himself, which was in the possession of Rabbi Dr. A. Toaff of Rome.
I felt that this point merited further research. I went through all the other available manuscripts of “Sefer Hachizyonot” and the printed editions of “Shivchei R’ Chaim Vital” including one taken from a manuscript written by R’ Chaim Vital’s grandson. In every case it stated “end of 5330.”
I then decided to study the manuscript used by Dr. Eshkoli. Unfortunately, a microfilm of it was not in the Jewish National Library, and Mossad Harav Kook which did have a copy was at the time closed for reorganisation.
However fortunately, the book by Dr. Eshkoli reproduced one sample page of this manuscript and it was the page I required. (Usually according to Murphy’s Law, it is the opposite which is the case!) I photocopied it and made an enlargement of the photocopy. The difference between “sof” (end) and “toch” (during) especially in handwriting which isn’t of the best is small. I, and also others studied the enlargement carefully and also compared it with how the writer formed his letters. We came to the conclusion that this manuscript said “sof” and not “toch” and was thus in complete agreement with the other manuscripts and published editions.
I felt that this piece of research merited publication and I sent it up to “Sinai” and they published it. I did not relate it to the professor’s letter. However the next time I saw the professor, I told him about this research and asked him to read it and let me have his comments. However, I never met him again, and so I don’t know his observations on it.
I wrote in my paper that R’ Chaim Vital began to learn with the Ari at the end of 5331. On this the professor wrote that there is no basis for this. However we know that R’ Chaim Vital only went once on Lag B’Omer to see the Ari in Meron. As his outstanding pupil, he would surely have gone every Lag B’Omer possible. In other words, he was not yet a pupil as at Lag B’Omer 5331. This is further supported by the evidence of R’ Yonatan Sagish. In fact in one of his own papers, this professor wrote that he was a pupil for “a year and a few months” - about 14 months - which is in good agreement with my assessment!
In my paper I commented that there were errors that had crept into “Shivchei R’ Chaim Vital,” in particular in connection with dates. I gave as an example “Leil Shabbat 5th day of Chanukah.” I pointed out that the 5th day of Chanukah cannot occur on Shabbat! On this the professor wrote that in “Sefer Hachizyonot” it states instead “Leil Shabbat 8 Tevet” and so all my “pilpulim” (argumentation) are “superfluous.” What the professor “overlooked” was that 8 Tevet also cannot occur on Shabbat!
In his letter, the professor stated that I wrote that Shmuel Hanavi died on 21 Iyar. Anyone reading my paper would see that this is not so. I in fact brought down the various opinions regarding the date of his death, one of them being 21 Iyar. The professor also claimed that this date 21 Iyar only appeared in one manuscript. In fact it appears in a number of places. He also claimed that 28 Iyar is the “accepted” date. Also this is not correct! Pilgrims go on both 28 and 29 Iyar to pray at his grave, since it is held that either of these dates could be correct.
Another point that I mentioned in my draft did not arise from his letter but from some articles he wrote. The “anonymous traveler” wrote “15th Iyar which is called Pesach Sheni.” The professor “corrected” this by adding “apparently this should be the 14th.” It would seem that the professor was not aware of the Rabbinic literature on the subject – which I brought down in detail in my paper – that the date of Pesach Sheni continues into the 15th Iyar and thus the “anonymous traveler” did not err.
I ended my draft by thanking the professor, who is one of the authorities on the Ari, for reading my paper and writing his comments.
Under the entry for 14 Iyar in “Luach Davar B’ito” is found, “On customs regarding the visiting graves of tzadikim on this day. See article by Rabbi C. Simons….”
My next paper dealt with the question of the prayer for requesting rain in the Diaspora. The date for beginning this prayer in Israel is simple – 7 Marcheshvan. For the Diaspora it is far more complicated.
The first question is whether the date for this prayer changes immediately one crosses the border from Eretz Israel. Here the answer is, only when one can experience a change in climate, which will generally be some distance from Eretz Israel.
Although in all places in the northern hemisphere (which are a reasonable distance from the equator) the seasons are at the same time, the need for rain differs. However it is generally agreed that every place asks for rain 60 days from the Tekufah of Tishri.
The problem is with the southern hemisphere when it is summer at the same time that it is winter in the northern hemisphere. From a practical point, this is a relatively new question since Jews have only lived in the southern hemisphere for up to four hundred years. The Rabbis answering the question of when to pray for rain in this hemisphere, asked whether it is beneficial between Sukkot and Pesach.
I on a number of occasions gave a talk on this subject and when relating the following incident would get a laugh. When some Jews in Australia told Rabbi Shmuel Salant that it was beneficial, he answered them to ask for rain. But this was not the end of the story. Other Jews from that area then said it was harmful. “So don’t ask,” he replied. The first group then argued that it was beneficial. This went on until the Rabbi told them to decide amongst themselves and only then ask him!
I had prepared a “Questionnaire on Prayers for Rain in the Southern Hemisphere” in Hebrew and English. I didn’t send it by post to the relevant parties but telephoned them and noted down their answers in my questionnaire. This way one can be sure of getting replies! The people I telephoned were Rabbis who had come from southern hemisphere communities – Brazil, Argentina, Australia and South Africa and I asked them what their communities did in practice today. They all answered me that they began on the same date as in the northern hemisphere.
In addition to the geographical problem, there are astronomical ones. Whose Tekufa does one use? The answer is that of Shmuel which is less astronomically accurate and thus the starting date for the asking for rain gradually gets later. I made a calculation that in 42,000 years, one will start (and finish) asking for rain on Pesach!
I concluded that the subject was far more complicated and there were many questions to investigate. At which place in the world was the Tekufa fixed? How does the variation in the length of the day throughout the year (i.e. it is not exactly 24 hours but varies throughout the year) affect the calculation?
It is possible to come to the conclusion that in New York one could start asking for rain a day before the date in Baghdad! However one must discard such a conclusion, otherwise one could find Jews in the United States observing Rosh Hashanah even as much as two days before Jews in the Middle East!
I concluded my paper with a detailed discussion of the dates when one begins asking for rain, as found in the Rabbinic literature from the 14th century until the present day and also in contemporary Siddurim.
One Siddur would give an instruction “… said from December 5 (sometimes on December 4; consult your Jewish calendar) …” When I would lecture on this paper, I would comment on this to the accompaniment of laughter, “Is a person in the middle of saying the Amidah expected to stop and go and look for a Jewish calendar?!”
The standard Siddur which was used when I was in England was the Singer’s Prayer Book. In the editions brought out from the 1890s until the early 1960s, this instruction was not accurate. In 1962 a new edition was brought out and I had heard (or read) that although there was an improvement in the instruction, it was still not accurate and it was only corrected a few years later.
I looked for a copy of the 1962 printing of this Siddur in the Jewish National Library, but they did not have one. I therefore wrote to the Singer’s Prayer Book Publication Committee in London for a photocopy of the appropriate page “from each of the printings from 1962 to 1988.” They replied, “Unfortunately I do not have library copies of all of the printings between 1962 and 1988. However, I have clarified against the 1964 printing and the 1988 printing that there is no difference in the instruction regarding the start date for the Prayer requesting rain. The same wording was used throughout the period.” Unfortunately, this answer did not help me for the 1962 printing! However, at a later date, I found two articles in the “Jewish Review” which confirmed what I had heard about the 1962 printing.
Whilst on the Internet I discovered by chance that an organisation called “Daat” had put this paper of mine on their site, although without the footnotes. I should stress that they had given me the credit as the author. I might add that I have no objection to people putting my material on the Internet. On the contrary, if this enables people to learn Torah, I am very pleased.
Soon after my paper was published in “Sinai” I received a letter from Engineer Ya’acov Levinger from Tel-Aviv. (I asked the family of Rabbi Moshe Levinger whether he was a relative and the answer was in the negative.) After saying that he enjoyed my article “which summed up well the subject,” he put forward a number of comments.
The first two Rabbinic authorities who had given an actual date in the secular calendar (Julian as it then was) to start asking for rain, were the Avudarham and the Tashbetz. I had shown in my article that whereas the Tashbetz was completely accurate, this was not so with the Avudarham. Levinger tried to forcefully argue, using some “acrobatics,” that the Avudarham was also correct. However Levinger’s explanation falls down since the tenses used by the Avudarham are wrong.
Levinger also held that the place in the world where the Tekufot (and Moladot) were fixed was the “centre of settlement.” In fact this is only one of the many opinions. The Chazon Ish went as far as to say that this opinion was a non-Jewish one and had no place in the Bet Hamidrash. Two other points in which he disagreed with me was that one must regard a day as exactly 24 hours, irrespective of its variable length and that the time of midday today is not the same as it was thousands of years ago. These points are open to further study although it would seem that on the latter point Levinger is correct.
A later paper of mine also included the subject of which place in the world the Molad applies to. The subject of my paper was the connection between the Molad and the times for Kiddush Levanah, Although there are different opinions in the Rabbinical literature as to the earliest and latest times when one may recite Kiddush Levanah, almost everyone agrees that these times are determined by the time of the “average Molad” rather than the date of Rosh Chodesh.
All this gives added importance to know at which place in the world the Molad applies to. There are no fewer than five opinions on this question. They are i) the “end of the East”- 130 degrees east of Jerusalem; ii) the “near East” – 90 degrees east of Jerusalem; iii) the “centre of settlement” - 24 degrees east of Jerusalem; iv) near Netsivim in Babylon – the place where the Amoraim had their observatory; v) Eretz Israel, Jerusalem or Yavneh – the place where the Bet Din Hagadol was.
No final ruling has been given on this question and even the Rambam is silent on it. The range of opinions on this question gives a difference of 8 hours and 40 minutes and this could have a practical application if one were to recite Kiddush Levanah during the hours closest to its earliest and latest times.
In addition the question of a day not being exactly 24 hours could enter into this calculation. Again here, there is no definitive ruling and it has thus been suggested one should be strict on this point on the times for Kiddush Levanah.
The latest time for Kiddush Levanah is exactly half way between two successive average Molads. However the Molads we utilise are average ones and are do not correspond to the astronomical situation. However in a month when there is an eclipse of the moon, the mid-point of this eclipse will occur exactly half way between two successive astronomical Molads. Should this occur before the time calculated from the average Molad, then the astronomical Molad will determine the latest time for Kiddush Levanah.
I suspected that as soon as this paper was published I would receive a letter from Engineer Levinger. I was right! He began by saying he had carefully read it. “Yasher Koach!” He then went on to ask me various technical questions on my paper.
At the same time, Levinger enclosed the draft of a paper he had written entitled “Three kinds of Molads” which he asked me to go over and give him my comments. I carefully went over this paper, writing many comments in the margin and in a telephonic conversation passed them on to him. He would carefully go over everything he had written in his own paper and when he found errors, he would again write to me pointing out these errors. Levinger’s paper appeared in “Luach Davar B’ito” 5759 (1998/99).
I recollect that at the time I researched this paper, from the information I assembled I would try and do my own calculation to determine the place in the world where the Molad applied to. I cannot remember the details of my calculation but I do remember the answer – somewhere close to New York!! Even though this place is in the “New World” there is nothing new under the sun – or should I say the moon in this case!
In November 2005, I received an e-mail from Yisrael Hershler of Jerusalem. He had seen this paper of mine and wanted to know the answer to a point connected with the astronomical Molad. After a short telephonic discussion with him concerning the Molad and to the location where it is fixed, I gave him several possible addresses which I had found on the Internet, where he might find he answer he required. These were the Tel-Aviv University, Department of Astronomy and the Wise Observatory of that University. I also suggested he contact Engineer Levinger and “Luach Davar B’ito.”
A few months later, Alex Nordmann from Strasbourg in France wrote to Engineer Levinger, asking how one should announce the Molad in Shul. A copy of this e-mail was sent to me and I wrote to Alex giving the location of my paper on this subject in both “Sinai” and on the Internet. I then made it clear, “Needless to say this paper is not a Psak Din. For this one must ask one’s own Posek.”
In September 2006, I received a telephone call from Shai Walter of Kerem B’Yavneh (where an annual course on the Jewish calendar was given). He told me that he had seen this article of mine which he highly praised and that he wanted to include it in the journal he published. To this I readily agreed.
Chronologically, before writing my paper on the times for Kiddush Levanah, I researched the source for eating cheese and levivot (“latkes”) on Chanukah. I should mention that the “latkes” are not the potato latkes eaten today – potatoes have only been known in most of the world for about four hundred years.
The source for these Chanukah foods is the Book of Yehudit in the Apocrypha. The original Hebrew text of it is not extant but there are early translations into Greek, Syriac and Latin and I found them in “Biblia Sacra Polyglotta” which was published in London in 1657. (I immediately admit that I do not understand these languages and had to search for translations of them.) Invariably ancient books like these are classed as “Rare” and one has to fill up a special application form in the Jewish National Library in order to refer to them. However, in this particular case, there was a copy on the open shelves of the Judaica Reading Room.
There are different versions of this book of Yehudit with some of them stating that Yehudit took “cheese” with her when she went to visit to the king. With one exception “levivot” were not mentioned in any of the versions of the book of Yehudit. This exception is in a manuscript written in 1402 and the original can be found in the Bodleian Library in Oxford.
The major source for eating levivot is not from the Halachic literature but from the poetry written in the Middle Ages. One of these sources I originally tracked down via “Otzar Halashon Haivrit” by Ya’acov Cana’ani. Under the entry for “levivah” he included the quote “levivot with cheese on Chanukah.” However the source which he gave, “Literature of the Middle Ages,” is not very useful for researchers!
I therefore went to the “Hebrew Language Academy” which is situated on the campus of the Hebrew University to ask if they could assist me to locate the actual source. They had a filing cabinet with loose leaf pages of Cana’ani’s research but they could not find a page for “levivah.” They then looked in Ben-Yehuda’s dictionary and found the source. It was in a rare book in the Jewish National Library, which had been transferred onto a microfilm. I found the one page I wanted and had it photocopied.
On the face of it, it may seem strange that the Rabbis would base the eating of certain foods on Chanukah on an event found in the Apocrypha, which are books which they themselves excluded from the Tenach. But in fact from a search of the Rabbinic literature I found many cases when they would quote from various books of the Apocrypha. In addition, in some ancient Haggadot for Pesach appears a picture of Yehudit holding the decapitated head of the wicked king.
In the course of this research I had assembled a number of poems connected with food customarily eaten on Chanukah. I photocopied them, laminated them and bound them together and put the bound volume in the Pedagogic Centre in Kiryat Arba for the use of the teachers. My paper in “Sinai” on this subject was quoted in the “Moadim L’simchah” series brought out by Otzar Haposkim.
I had recollected that my late father had written a popular article on “The History of Latkes” (or more accurately “ghost” written it in the name of my mother). As with all his articles, this was brilliantly written and it was published in the London “Jewish Review,” the organ of the British Mizrachi. When I brought out my mother’s “Cookery Book” I incorporated this article amongst the Chanukah recipes. In this article, my father wrote that Yehudit “took with her ‘latkes’ together with certain cheese and milk foods….” I don’t know whether he had seen it written anywhere or, since it was a popular and humorous article rather than a research one, had used some “poetic license.” I only managed to track down this article after I had published my paper.
I wrote in my paper that there was no source for the eating of oil dishes on Chanukah. However many years later I came across a book which said that there is a manuscript which states that the father of the Rambam says that is customary to eat oil dishes on Chanukah. Although I then made searches for this manuscript, I did not find it.
It was at the beginning of January 2006 – namely during Chanukah - that I received an e-mail from Mordechai Honig of Airmont, New York. In this e-mail he gave me the source for this custom. Apparently the Rambam’s father had written it in his commentary on the Prayers which was in Arabic. Honig also quoted from a poem by Emmanuel Haromi which mentioned “levivot” on Chanukah and that this poem was in fact similar to that written by Kalonymus, which I brought down in my paper.
I then searched in the Internet for Honig’s telephone number and duly thanked him for this information.
The Reading of Megillat Esther on Purim is universally known and observed. However there are numerous different customs regarding the reading of the other four Megillot during the course of the year. This was the subject of my next paper.
Whereas all communities read Rut and Eichah, most of the Ashkenazi but only some of the Oriental communities read Shir Hashirim, and only Ashkenazim and Yemenite Jews read Kohelet. There are also differences regarding which day of the Festival they are read, whether they are read in one go or spread over several days, whether one person reads them aloud for the congregation or everyone reads them quietly to himself, and on the time of day when they are read. In addition to the large amount of material I had found in books on these questions, I also made some personal enquiries with people I knew regarding the various communal customs concerning these readings.
I remembered that when I had lived in Edgware in the 1950s, the “Edgware Synagogue” (unlike many other British Synagogues) would read Shir Hashirim, Rut and Kohelet at Minchah. (I personally like this placing, since it prevents the morning service from become too long.) When I did this research, I decided to write to the current Rabbi there, Rabbi Benjamin Rabinowitz, (who incidentally had gone to school with me) to ask if that was still the custom there. He replied that since he had been there from towards the beginning of the 1980s, they had “never recited the Megillot to Minchah” adding that they read them “immediately before ‘Ain Kamocha’” during the morning service.
In addition I wrote to Rabbi Abraham Levy of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation in London (who had also gone to school with me) regarding the Sephardi custom of reading these Megillot. He answered that they were read “either before or after Minchah.” I also made a telephone call to Rabbi Yoseph Kapach regarding the Yemenite custom.
There are also differences between the various communities on whether one says a Berachah before reading these Megillot. All the Oriental communities and many of the Ashkenazim don’t say any Berachah, whereas those Ashkenazim who read from a handwritten Megillah do so.
My last paper concerned Purim in cities where there was a doubt regarding its walled status. Although one learns from the Gemara that such cities read the Megillah on both 14 and 15 Adar, the performance of the other mitzvot of Purim is not directly stated there.
However this question is discussed by the Rishonim and almost all of them come to the conclusion that in such a city one must observe all the Mitzvot on both days. I then went to investigate what was done in practice in such cities. Whilst searching out the names of cities which came into this category, I found one day just before closing time in the Jewish National Library, that a question had been asked by Jews living in Buenos Aires in Argentina. It was too late to look for this responsum that day and I went home full of excitement. Maybe it was the site of an Incas city with an ancient wall! But the next time I was in the library and looked it up, I was disappointed. The question was asked by Jews who had come from Damascus where they kept two days Purim and they wanted to know what they should do now that they were living in Buenos Aires.
I also telephoned the Rabbis of Tzefat, Tiveria and Haifa to ask what was the current practice in their cities regarding these other Mitzvot of Purim. In connection with Haifa, I first quoted in my paper the Chabad custom of two days Purim which they observed after receiving a letter from their Rebbe. I then added that amongst the other Minyanim which keep two days Purim is that of Rabbi Klopft. My brother, who lives in Haifa, was rather annoyed at the way I had phrased this section on Haifa. He claimed that it was Rabbi Klopft who was the first to observe Purim for two days and not Chabad!
I had remembered seeing some years back a sheet which had been brought out by Rabbi Lior, the Rabbi of Kiryat Arba-Hebron on how to observe Purim there, but I did not have a copy of it. Fortunately we have archivist in Kiryat Arba called Itamar Shneiweiss who has does an excellent job in keeping archives for the city. I asked him to search for such a document and he soon found it. In was from 5748 (1988) and it stated on this question, “On the second day, it is customary not to have a meal, nor send mishloach manot and matanot laevyonim. Only those who are scrupulous do so.”
However following research and the publication of a booklet entitled “Reading the Megillah in Hebron and its Surroundings” by Rabbi Ido Elba in 5761 (2001), Rabbi Lior wrote in its introduction that on 15th Adar it is customary to observe all the Mitzvot of Purim as on the 14th… (except for reading the Torah).
Another city of which I had read about them observing two days Purim was Balkh in Afghanistan. I had seen this in a book brought out by the Israel Ministry of Education which collated the customs of different communities. There was a chapter on the customs of Afghanistani Jews which had been written by Giora Pozilov, who was a former member of that community now living in Israel. I telephoned him but he was unable to answer my question. However he did inform me that there was no longer a Jewish community there. He referred me to a Rabbi Yona Yanun, who told me that he had asked some of the elders who used to live there but they replied that they could not remember whether they observed all the Mitzvot of Purim for two days or just read the Megillah.
As far as saying Al Hanisim and Reading from the Torah, the custom in most places today is to say Al Hanisim on the second day but not read from the Torah. From those who were in Hebron before 1929, I understand that this was the custom there.
Whilst researching this paper I came across a microfilm of a manuscript which had recently arrived from Moscow. It was catalogued as “Piskei Hariaz” but seemed to be much longer than the other manuscripts on this subject. It crossed my mind that possibly it could be “Kuntrus Haraiyot” (from which Piskei Hariaz is a summary) a book regarded as not being extant. This certainly merits investigation!
For the next ten years or so, I didn’t publish any further papers on Torah Research. However in the summer of 2006, I brought out a paper entitled “Dicephalus Twins in Jewish Law”. I had in fact been working on this paper “on and off” for over thirty years. I must admit that my work was much more off than on! I would write a bit of it and then under the pressure of other research projects, put it on the side for five or six years or even much longer!
[Before I discuss the background to this paper, let me say a few words of explanation. This subject has as a result of various circumstances today, become a serious subject for research. From the Jewish perspective, from the period of the Gemara onwards, this subject has been discussed by the Rabbis throughout the ages, right up to the present day. Although cases of two-headed (dicephalus) Siamese twins are reported in the various religious and secular literature from the time of the Gemara and the ancient Romans till this very day, such twins were almost invariably stillborn or died very soon after birth. However, since the Second World War, the numbers of such Siamese twins being born has noticeably increased. This seems to be due to outside factors such as atomic radiation and other chemical and biological substances polluting the atmosphere. This fact can be clearly seen in the statistics quoted for such Siamese twins who were born in Japan, on the one hand, before the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and on the other hand, those born after. In addition, the rapid advancements in medical science have prolonged the lives of such dicephalus Siamese twins. There is a case in the United States of such twins joined together from their shoulders all the way downwards to their feet (i.e. literally two heads on one body), having now reached the age of 15. In some cases, doctors have attempted a vertical separation of such twins giving two people, although both of them will then lack one leg and various internal organs. In another case, the surgeon removed one of the heads – thus “killing” this head. Here we enter into religious, ethical and even criminal territory. If such dicephalus twins were to be regarded as one person with an additional appendage, namely the second head, then the removal of such an “appendage” would be permitted in the same way, as the removal of a surplus finger which a person had been born with. Different countries might take different stands as to whether such dicephalus twins were to be regarded as one or two persons. If they considered it to be the latter, the surgeon involved could find himself being charged with homicide by virtue of killing a person by decapitation. Let one not naively think that this problem is sure not to arise with Jews! In the late 1970s, Siamese twins (not dicephalus, but with a substantial serious join of their chests) were born to an ultra-Orthodox family in Lakewood, New Jersey. The doctors determined that one would have to kill the weaker twin one to save the other one. This case was put before some of the greatest Rabbis in America and after a long serious deliberation they ruled that such an operation was permitted. In addition to the Religious literature on the subject, I also made an extensive study of the medical literature. I spent a long time assembling medical papers from all over the world dealing with dicephalus twins. In addition, I personally contacted doctors in Britain, Italy, Japan and Israel for written material on their cases on this subject. According to Jewish law, dicephalus twins are to be regarded as one person and this of course has ramifications on the methods which could be used for a separation, and also, how such “twins” would observe Mitzvot which utilised various parts of the head (speech, mouth, ears, nose) for their performance. In my paper I study examples of these Jewish Religious problems involved with such dicephalus twins. I should stress that it is not my intention to come to any Rabbinical decisions in these matters, but just to put the facts I uncovered before Botei Din and Rabbinical scholars for their rulings.]
I first came across this subject nearly forty years ago whilst I studied the section of Masechet Menachot dealing with Tephillin, Mezuzot and Tzitzit. There I saw Plimo’s question: A person who has two heads, on which of them does his put his Tephillin?
I began my research on this subject about ten years later whilst I was the Director of Jewish Studies at the King David High School in Liverpool. I would take individual or small groups of sixth form boys and study with them certain intriguing subjects from the Gemara. One of the subjects I chose was that of the two headed man and Tephillin. The problem was how to resolve on the one hand, Rebbe [Yehudah Hanasi] threatening Plimo with excommunication for asking a question which Rebbe regarded as absurd, and on the other hand, the Gemara then relating that then someone actually came with a two headed child and asked a question regarding his Pidyon Haben.
I returned to Israel in 1978. Several years later it was the Barmitzvah of a relative of mine and I asked him what he wanted for a Barmitzvah present. He replied that he wanted the books “Nachalei Eshkolot” which was a type of encyclopedia written by Rabbi Yosef Bagad. One of the subjects that Rabbi Bagad dealt with was the cases of humans and animals who had been born with two heads.
In the spring of 1991 it was the turn of my only son (amongst 6 daughters!) to have his Barmitzvah. I wrote a Barmitzvah Derashah for him on this subject. We together went over all the sources and connected material in great detail and I found that he was very interested in the entire subject. He even was keen to go over additional associated material.
Whilst on the subject of Barmitzvahs, I might mention that my brother on the occasion on his Barmitzvah, gave a Derashah on the subject of whether a person not having a left arm needs to put on Tephillin on his head. At the time he was a pupil at Carmel College and his teacher Rabbi Sidney Leperer had written this Derashah for him. He delivered the Derashah at the Edgware Adath Yisroel Synagogue and immediately following it, Dayan Morris Swift of the London Beth Din spoke and jokingly asked whether a person without a head must put on the hand Tephillin?!
It was at the period of the late 1980s and early 1990s that dicephalus Siamese twins (twins with two heads on one body) came into the news due to successful operations to separate them. My mother would get passed on to her, the British popular magazine “Woman’s Own” and several articles together with colour photographs on such conjoined twins appeared there. I realised that they might have published further articles on this subject or possess further information and I accordingly wrote to them in January 1993 requesting such material, but received no reply.
Also at this period there was a programme on cable television on the separation of dicephalus twins. I asked someone who had cable television and also a video cassette recorder to make a recording of it for me, which they did. On this film, one could see an important point relevant to my research, which did not appear in these “Woman’s Own” articles. This was that even in the unusual case of these twins having four arms, the middle two were “trapped” behind their back and were thus not usable.
Possibly it was these articles and film which encouraged me to look into this question further. At this period I went to the Jewish National Library in Jerusalem, looked up the index of “The New York Times” for Siamese twins, found the relevant articles on the microfilms of this newspaper and had photocopies made of them. In fact when studied carefully, I saw that none of these cases corresponded to the case brought in the Gemara.
One of the items included in the “Guinness Book of Records” is various types of Siamese twins. I studied their list and found they had omitted some of the cases I had found. Accordingly in January 1993, I wrote to them telling them I was doing research on this subject and sent them some photocopies of material on Siamese twins which did not appear in their book. I concluded my letter: “In your book of records, you quote a number of other cases of such twins. I would therefore be most grateful if you could please let me have further references and any other information you may possess on all these sets of twins.”
They promptly replied to my letter pointing out: “We however regret that due to lack of space in the book, we are only able to publish a few of these records in the book but confirm that we will keep the details you have sent us on our files.” They suggested that I contact the medical press who might be interested in any further information which I might have. They also sent me a few press cuttings on Siamese twins.
A few years later, at the beginning of 1996, a news item appeared in the Israeli daily newspaper “Yediot Acharonot” regarding a “Precedent making Halachic ruling” that it was permitted to abort Siamese twins, and that if they had already been born one could kill one of them in order to save the other who had a greater chance of living. The article stated that this ruling had been given by the Organisation “Rafeh” By means of a few telephone calls, I was able to get a copy of this ruling by “Rafeh.” It consisted of four typed pages and gave material relevant to the case of dicephalus twins.
My research again got put aside until towards the end of 1998. I then decided that I would search the medical literature for cases of such dicephalus twins.
The Hebrew University has its medical department at the campus of the Hadassah Hospital in Ein Kerem in Jerusalem. There they have a excellent library called the National Medical Library.
This library is situated just after the entrance to the Hadassah Hospital campus. It consists of four floors. On the first floor there is a room where one can make computer searches of materials found in this library and also of papers found in medical journals, of which only some are to be found in this library. There is also a room containing current medical journals and in an adjacent room, slightly less current ones which have not yet been bound. On the second floor there is a room containing medical books, and bound copies of medical journals from the 1990s onwards. On the third and fourth floors are pre-1990 medical journals. Since there are a very large number of such journals, in order to make maximum use of the available space, there are many “compactus units” enabling many of the bookcases to be easily moved towards its neighbour. Also on the third floor is a small museum containing both old medical books and instruments of bygone days and a room containing books on the history of medicine. Needless to say there are also computers on every floor and facilities for photocopying.
I went to this library and in their computer room searched for material on conjoined twins. Having found several references, and being my first visit to this library, I went to the librarian and asked where I could find each item in their library. With this information, I went into the appropriate part of the library and found the articles I wanted and had them photocopied.
One of the articles I found on their computer was not a pure medical article and was not stocked by this library. However there was a copy in Tel-Aviv University Library and via the National Medical Library at Hadassah ordered a photocopy.
At the end of every scholarly article, there is a list of references. One then goes through these references and marks off which might be useful. Almost all the articles that interested me could be found in this National Medical Library although there were some exceptions. For these I had to contact other libraries in the world.
The first library I approached abroad was the University of Hiroshima in Japan. I had seen that there was an article in the “Hiroshima Journal of Medical Science” but this journal did not seem to be available in Israel. I first contacted the Japanese Embassy in Israel and they gave me the address of this University. I then wrote to them with details of the article I required and they immediately sent me a photocopy without any charge.
At about the same period that I was researching contemporary medical material from the National Medical Library at Hadassah, I was also researching material from the Jewish National Library. Broadly speaking this fell into two categories. One of them was dealing with the religious side of this question and the other was on cases of dicephalus twins from the period of the Romans until the end of the 19th century.
Amongst the latter group was a rare book from the 17th century entitled “The Workes of that famous Chirurgion Ambrose Parey.” I cannot remember whether I utilised the actual ancient book or a microfilm of it. I had photocopies made of the relevant pages. Apart from the Jewish National Library’s main collection, there are also rooms of special collections. On occasion, a particular book may be found in one of these special collections but not in the main library. This was indeed the case with a book on this subject from the end of the 19th century, which I found in the “Edelstein collection” situated on the second floor of this library.
In addition, there are a number of books in existence on this subject from the 16th century but are very rare and can be found, (for example) in the British Library in London. However since I did not know which pages are the relevant ones for my research, I could not order photocopies.
From the bibliography of various items I had studied, I saw that there were three items which were not in the Jewish National Library. From the Internet catalogue of the Library of Congress in Washington, I saw that that library had copies.
I wrote to them requesting photocopies and they sent me information on how to order and pay and I accordingly put in my order paying by Visa. One of these articles was from a journal called “Nursing Forum” and it described in detail the discussions with Rabbi Moshe Feinstein regarding the separation of Siamese twins (not dicephalus) when one knows from the start that one will inevitably die during the operation. This case does not appear in Rabbi Feinstein’s writings.
Another one of the articles I ordered from the Library of Congress was from the magazine “Life.” As I remember, the only library which received it in Israel was the Tel-Aviv University Library and they only retained that year’s edition. After that they did not bind or store it, but disposed of it. The copy I required was several years old.
One of the bookcases in the National Medical Library was full of past copies of a medical journal going back to the 1800s. Very few volumes indeed were missing – however, as luck would have it, one of them was the volume I required! From the Internet I saw that the Library of Congress stocked it, but when I wrote to them they said this was not the case. I finally managed to get a photocopy of the article I wanted via the British Council Library in Tel-Aviv, which in turn orders the requested material from The British Library Document Supply Centre which is in Boston Spa, in West Yorkshire, England.
I had seen from the articles in the “Woman’s Own” that Professor Lewis Spitz of Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London had performed some operations to separate dicephalus Siamese twins. I contacted his secretary and she sent me by fax a list of his publications in this field and I was then able to locate those relevant to my research at the National Medical Library at Hadassah.
The birth of dicephalus twins is often reported in the Israeli press and at about the end of 1998, I found two such cases. One of them was in Italy, where the doctor operated by removing one of the heads, and in the case born in Hadassah Hospital, the twins died immediately.
After searching the Internet I was able to track down the telephone number for the Italian doctor. I telephoned him and he told me that the case would appear in the medical literature and he would let me know accordingly. I didn’t hear again from him and towards the end of 2005 succeeded, after much effort, in making telephonic contact with him. The problem often was that the telephone operator at the hospital at which he works, doesn’t understand English and I don’t understand Italian! When I eventually managed to reach the doctor, he informed me that no paper had been published on this case.
Likewise I contacted the doctor at Hadassah in 1999 and he also said it would be reported in the medical journals. I mentioned to him about the Italian case and he asked me to fax him the news clipping, which I did. Towards the end of 2005, I contacted him again, but he informed me that nothing had been published on it. The only information was in the patient’s private file.
Now let us return to the Jewish religious side of the subject. There were two 20th century discussions of the case brought in the Gemara concerning which head such a dicephalus twin should put on Tephillin. One was “Dovev Meisharim” where the author came to no conclusion. I recollect that when I received this book from the librarian at the Jewish National Library, the late Professor David Tamar was standing next to me and he then commented “The Tchebina Rav” (he was the author of this book). The other book on this subject was by the Rav of Munkatch and he came to the conclusion that because it is a Biblical commandment, he should put Tephillin on both heads.
I decided to use the reasoning of the Rav of Munkatch, as a basis for the performance of other Mitzvot involving the use of various parts of the head. The books I utilised when researching this were mainly “Nishmat Avraham” by Rabbi Avraham-Sofer Avraham who is an expert in medicine and Halachah and to a lesser extent “Otzar Hashealot U’tshuvot” which gives on each chapter of Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim, various responsa which have been written on the contents of the particular chapter. Another reference which I found useful was an article on “conjoined twins” which had appeared in the American Jewish journal “Tradition,” and from that I got a number of bibliography references.
It was about 1999 that I began to write the first draft of my paper on this subject. But again, due to pressure of other work it got put on the side. It wasn’t until towards the end of 2005, that I decided that the preparation of this paper had dragged on for enough decades and it must now be finished!
I therefore finished the first draft, checked over it carefully and then made several successive drafts. I saw that here and there, there were small gaps in my research and I went to the various libraries in Jerusalem to fill in these gaps.
This paper includes a discussion and reactions to Plimo’s question in the Gemara, a general historical survey of dicephalus twins, the causes for twins to be born with this malformation, whether such twins are to be regarded as one or two people, their possible separation, and a discussion of the observance of Mitzvot which involve using different parts of the head.
After I had finished my final draft, I gave it to a teacher who is an expert in the Hebrew language to go over in order to style my Hebrew.
Finally the paper was run off and copies distributed to a number of libraries. A copy was also put on my website.
By coincidence, just as I finished this paper, a question appeared on the Wikipedia Reference Desk, Humanities section, on the subject of conjoined twins: “In the United States are conjoined twins viewed as one or two individuals? For example, are they each given a social security number or do they share one?”
The function of this “Reference Desk” is that anyone can gave an answer or comment to a question asked on this website by typing it in via their own computer immediately following such a question, and other users can also still add their own comments.
I thus utilized this opportunity to state the view of Jewish law on this question: “In Jewish law, DICEPHALUS conjoined twins (twins with two heads on one body) are considered to be ONE individual.” Another questioner then replied asking me for the source of this information. After I supplied him with it, he answered that he was personally very surprised, however adding, that since he was not as familiar with the Gemara as I was, he would defer to my authority. We concluded that when we had the time we would have a discussion together on this subject.