Radical Goals

As referenced earlier, here are some examples of widely adopted modern innovations to Jewish practice. I’m certainly not suggesting that there’s anything intrinsically wrong with these practices. However, the way they’re formulated and packaged strongly suggests that they’re intended to produce the kinds of non-traditional results we’ve been discussing.

I should note that, while I quote the Mishnah Berurah in the following examples, his source for such things will generally be the Magen Avraham. The questions remain either way.

Radical Minhagim

Mishnah Berurah 21:15

ובכתבי האר”י ז”ל כתוב ע”פ הסוד שיש לשכב בלילה בטלית קטן

And in the Ari’s writings it is written based on a secret that one should sleep at night (wearing) a tallis koton.”

Mishnah Berurah 51:19

האר”י ז”ל כשאמר ואתה מושל בכל נתן צדקה מעומד

And the Ari, when saying ‘ואתה מושל בכל‘ would give charity while standing.”

Mishnah Berurah 660:8

וגם האר”י ז”ל הזהיר מאוד שלא לחבר הערבה עם הלולב

And also the Ari was very careful not to join the arava with the lulav (on Hoshanah Rabbah).”

Now why would the Mishnah Berurah – or the Ari himself, for that matter – want us to wear a tallis koton while sleeping? After all, do we not hold לילה לאו זמן ציצית? Similarly, what benefit could there possibly be for us (or for G-d) if we give tzedaka just at that moment during davening and specifically when we’re standing up? And how is our performance of a venerable מנהג נביאים enhanced by meticulously keeping the lulav separate from the arava?

I could probably come up with attractive and inspiring interpretations for those practices and I’m sure you could, too. But the point is that neither the Ari nor the Mishnah Berurah included any of their own. Which suggests that either they figured the explanations were obvious or that it wasn’t important for us to know them.

From the way these (and many other) customs were presented, it seems reasonable to conclude that there simply aren’t any obvious explanations that we were expected to grasp – particularly the tallis koton example which was explicitly associated with “סוד.” But in general, no matter how creative you or I might be, it’s highly unlikely that we’ll happen to stumble on the same rationale as the Ari for each of his many innovations.

So what can we say other than that the Mishnah Berurah expected us to perform such minhagim without any sense of their underlying context or rationale.

Why? What else can I conclude except that these practices are intended to arbitrarily control and manipulate “upper worlds” lying beyond our understanding? Just the kind of practice that Rabbi Hirsch found so alien.

Sound far fetched? Here’s an example of how Rabbi Chaim Vital – the Ari’s primary student – characterizes the study and, presumably, practice of kabbala:

ולכן בראות רשב”י ז”ל ברוח קדשו ענין זה צוה לר’ אבא לכתוב ספר הזוהר בדרך העלם להיותו מוצנא למשמרת עד דרא בתראה קריב ליומיה מלכא משיחא כדי שבזכות המתעסקים בו תצמח הגאולה בימינו בע”ה (מהקדמת רח”ו על שער ההקדמות)

Therefore when Rashbi with his holy spirit saw this matter, he commanded Rabbi Abba to write the Zohar in a hidden way, so it would be hidden in safekeeping until the final generation near the days of King Moshiach, so that in the merit of those involved in its (study), redemption should flower in our days…”

Or, in other words, the study and performance of kabbalah can be used to force G-d’s hand and invoke historical events.

Tangentially, with the benefit of 450 years of hindsight, we now know that the publication of such literature was based on a tragic miscalculation (i.e., that Moshiach was about to come). After all, it was promoted many generations before its intended time.

Radical Prayer

Here’s one final example of a significant departure from traditional prayer that’s widely available in mainstream publications. Some editions of the Artscroll siddur – and many bentchers – follow the Friday night version of אתקינו סעודתא with a tefila that begins: ויהא רעוא מן קדם עתיקא קדישא (“Let it be the will of Atika Kadisha”). We seem to be asking מן קדם עתיקא קדישא that he (it?) should “redeem us from troubles -ויפרקיננא מכל עקתין בישין – and “give us food and good support” – ויתיהב לנא מזונא ופרנסתא טבתא etc. This is tefila.

But to what (or who) is this tefila directed? Assuming the author is, as widely claimed, the Ari, what did he mean by עתיקא קדישא? Here’s how R’ Chaim Vital describes the phrase in עץ חיים שער יג פרק ב:

אמנם כאשר הא”ס מתלבש במה שלמטה הימנו כנ”ל הנה הוא מתלבש בג’ רישין אלו הנזכר כאן באדרא ובהיותו מתלבש ומתעלם בתוכם אז נקרא הא”ס עתיקא דכל עתיקין וגם הג’ רישין עלאין עצמן נקרא עתיקא קדישא ג”כ בהיות א”ס מתלבש בתוכם

However, as the Ain Sof is enclothed within what’s below it…it is enclothed within these “three heads” that are mentioned here in Idra. And as it is enclothed and hidden within them, then it is called the Ain Sof, the ancient of all ancients. And these “three heads” are called Ancient Holy One (Atika Kadisha) also when Ain Sof is enclothed within them.

I’m given to understand that the ג’ רישין refer to רישא דלא אתידע רישא דעין ורישא דאריך (“the head that is not known, the head of the eye(?) and the long head”). That third one (רישא דאריך) is at least an aspect of one of the partzufim (אריך אנפין). Which means that the יה”ר tefila printed in bentchers and siddurim is addressed to a composite that includes one of the partzufim. I don’t believe that this represents the traditional, pre-Tzfas, understanding of a Jew’s relationship with G-d.

And it doesn’t sound very Hirsch-like, does it?

Even if you’re unlikely to find modern, mainstream kabbalists directing their prayers to partzufim, their larger goals are, from a traditional perspective, radical. Prayer and mitzva observance are no longer primarily means to draw us towards the Torah’s ideal human behavior (as Hirsch would have it), but tools for affecting mystical change and forcing Divine blessing.

Why Blow 100 קולות on Rosh Hashana?

Here’s another example of the innovation-heavy Tzfas mindset at work in modern Jewish life.

The way most communities perform the mitzva of shofar on Rosh Hashana is an excellent example of the spread of the Tzfas ideology and mindset. Here, based on Shulchan Aruch Orech Chaim 590:1, is what the Torah requires:

כמה תקיעות חייב אדם לשמוע בר”ה, תשע; לפי שנאמר: תרועה ביובל ובר”ה ג’ פעמים, וכל תרועה פשוטה לפניה ופשוטה לאחריה, ומפי השמועה למדו שכל תרועות של חדש השביעי אחד הן, בין בר”ה בין ביוה”כ של יובל, תשע תקיעות תוקעין בכל אחד משניהם: תר”ת, תר”ת, תר”ת.

How many tekiyos must a man hear on Rosh Hashana? Nine, for it mentions the word “terua” three times (in the passages concerning) Yovel and Rosh Hashana, and each terua must have a simple sound (i.e., tekiya) both before and after it. And from tradition we learn that all teruos during the seventh month (i.e., Tishrei) are the same…tekiya-terua-tekiya; tekiya-terua-tekiya; tekiya-terua-tekiya.

As is well known, the precise sound of a terua was unknown even in the time of the Gemara. To ensure we’re covered, we’re accustomed to hear all three possible variations of the terua, known respectively as “shevarim-terua,” “terua,” and “shevarim.” Once each of these combinations is heard three times (and counting each tekiya as a sound and each “shevarim-terua” as two distinct sounds), we will have heard a total of 30 sounds (קולות) to be sure we’ve done the mitzva.

When should these 30 sounds be heard? With a minyan, the key sets occur during the repetition of the Mussaf. However, there’s an ancient custom to also hear a full set of 30 sounds before the individual Mussaf begins. Here’s the Rambam, Shofar 3:7.

המנהג הפשוט בסדר התקיעות של ראש השנה בצבור כך הוא. אחר שקוראין בתורה ומחזירין הספר למקומו יושבין כל העם ואחד עומד ומברך … ותוקע שלשים תקיעות שאמרנו מפני הספק על הסדר. ואומרים קדיש ועומדין ומתפללין תפלת מוסף. ואחר שגומר שליח צבור ברכה רביעית שהיא מלכיות תוקע תקיעה שלשה שברים תרועה תקיעה פעם אחת ומברך ברכה חמישית שהוא זכרונות. ואחר שגומרה תוקע תקיעה שלשה שברים ותקיעה. ומברך ברכה ששית שהיא שופרות. ואחר שגומרה תוקע תקיעה תרועה ותקיעה פעם אחת וגומר התפלה

The simple custom for tekiyos with a tzibur is thus: After reading the Torah and returning it to its place, the people sit down and one rises and makes (two blessings)…(Then he) blows the 30 tekiyos we described because of our uncertainty (over the proper sounds). Then (the people) say kaddish, stand, and pray Mussaf. After the chazan completes the fourth bracha, which is “malchiyus,” you blow tekiya-shevarim-terua-tekiya one time and recite the fifth bracha, which is “zichronos.” After completing that, blow tekiya-shevarim-tekiya and recite the sixth bracha which is “shofros.” After that’s complete, blow tekiya-terua-tekiya one time, and complete the tefila.

The Shulchan Aruch in Orech Chaim 592:1 adds some more sounds during the later sets:

ועכשיו נוהגים לתקוע למלכיות תשר”ת שלשה פעמים, ולזכרונות תש”ת שלשה פעמים, ולשופרות תר”ת שלשה פעמים.

And now the custom is to blow tekiya-shevarim-terua-tekiya three times for malchiyus, tekiya-shevarim-tekiya three times for zichronos, and tekiya-terua-tekiya three times for shofros.

This would raise the total through the day to 60 קולות. However, the Rema, quoting the Tur in the name of the Rabbainu Tam, disagrees. The Rema writes that the “custom in these countries” is to blow only one set for each of the three relevant brachos. His total through the day would thus be only 40 קולות.

The Rambam himself (Shofar 3:12) acknowledges a rationale for hearing more קולות, but rejects it. And the reason why is interesting.

בדין היה שיתקעו על כל ברכה כל בבא מהן שלש פעמים כדרך שתקעו כשהן יושבין אלא כיון שיצאו מידי ספק בתקיעות שמיושב אין מטריחין על הצבור לחזור בהן כולן על סדר ברכות. אלא די להן בבא אחת על כל ברכה כדי שישמעו תקיעות על סדר ברכות.

Logically, it would make sense to blow three times for each section the way we do when seated (i.e., before Mussaf). But since we already completed the mitzva beyond doubt when seated, we should not bother the tzibur to repeat them at each bracha. Rather, it’s sufficient for a single (set) for each bracha so we can hear tekiyos during the brachos.

(Bear in mind that there’s considerable dispute about what exactly the Rambam means here, and how we should translate that passage. But I don’t think the controversy directly impacts our discussion.)

In any case, Rambam clearly feels that concerns for טרחא דצבורא outweigh the value we might theoretically gain from hearing those extra 20 קולות. We can safely assume that the Rema was similarly motivated when he, too, limited us to 40 קולות. In addition, Rambam is very clear that an individual (without access to a minyan) needs no more than 30 קולות in total:

וכל הדברים האלו בצבור אבל היחיד בין ששמע על סדר ברכות בין שלא שמע על הסדר בין מעומד בין מיושב יצא ואין בזה מנהג

And all this concerns only a tzibur. But an individual, whether or not he hears along with the brachos and whether he hears sitting or standing, he has completed the mitzva, and there isn’t in this a custom.

I’m not entirely sure what ואין בזה מנהג refers to (i.e., the 30 קולות of an individual or the 40 קולות of a minyan). In general, though, such a formulation suggests that even if members of a community should at some point decide to add such a practice, it would not be binding on individuals. All would be free to act according to their own preference.

I think we’re now clear that the positions of at least many of our core halachic sources require us to hear between 30 and 60 קולות. In addition, there is neither the need nor, according to Rambam, even an option to add more. Since we Jews at least claim to believe that the Torah’s commandments are perfect and need no expansion, that should really be the end of the story.

But it’s not. The Mishna Berura (592:3) closely follows the Rambam’s lead and limits the tekiyos we should hear because “שאין מטריחין על הצבור”. But in the very next paragraph (592:4), he writes:

ובשל”ה כתב הדרך המובחר לתקוע תשר”ת תש”ת תר”ת למלכיות וכן לזכרונות וכן לשופרות [ואחר אנעים זמירות עוד תשר”ת תש”ת תר”ת כדי להשלים עד מאה קולות]

And in the Sh’la (ספר שני לוחות הברית לרישעיה הורוויץ) it is written that the ideal approach is to blow tekiya-shevarim-terua-tekiya, tekiya-shevarim-tekiya, and tekiya-terua-tekiya for (the bracha of) malchiyos, zichronos, and shofros and then add (another full set) after Anim Zemiros in order to reach 100 קולות.

With one possible partial exception we’ll discuss later, the Sh’la is the earliest written source I’m aware of who advocates for this new custom. The Sh’la himself attributes the practice to two unnamed students of the Ari. Later poksim (including the מטה אפרים תקצ:לג) also discuss the custom in passing, often in tangential reference to other halachos.

I should add that the Mishna Berura himself, quoting the Pri Megadim, places restrictions on adopting the custom. :

ומ”מ במקום שנוהגין כמנהגנו אין לשנות [פמ”ג]

Nevertheless, in a place that follows our custom (i.e., hearing only 40 or 60 קולות), one shouldn’t change.

This is in line with a general prohibition against changing existing customs. But, of course, all places once blew only 40 or 60 קולות and would, therefore, have all been prohibited from adding more. And besides that, we must try to understand how we got to a place where insisting on hearing 100 קולות is considered a standard requirement.

I understand that the Sh’la himself claimed to have seen the practice mentioned in two publications, the full text of which he printed as part of his own sefer. The publications seem to have first been included in ספר מעין גנים by Rabbi Menachem Azariya from Fano (Italy), a student of Rabbi Moshe Cordovero. Rabbi Menachem Azariya, in turn, seems to have received one of the publications from kabbalist students of the Ari in Israel, and might have himself authored the second as a commentary to the first.

But even Rabbi Horowitz never suggested that the custom should be universal. And I doubt he would have approved of individuals and communities engaging in the practice without any understanding of the context or purpose. And yet here we are, all of us caught up in a practice that, according to key poskim has no purpose and, according to Rambam (and perhaps Mishna Berura) is actually prohibited.

There is, as I hinted earlier, one earlier source: The Aruch (ערך ערב). The Aruch suggests that some individuals could be extra stringent on themselves to hear 100 קולות due to an association with the mother of Sisra, who cried 100 sobs on receiving news of her son’s death:

ומכאן אנו למדים דבעינן שלושים בעמידה כמו שלושים בישיבה. והני דמחמרי ועבדי שלושים כדיתבי ושלושים בלחש ושלושים על הסדר כנגד מאה פעיות דפעתא אימיה דסיסרא, ואלו ועשרה אינון כשגומרים כל התפילה קל תקועייא דיחודאה מתבעי למהוי עשרה תשר”ת תש”ת תר”ת והן מאה

One problem with this is that it’s not clear whether there’s any statement חז”ל supporting this. The ערוך mentions the Yerushalmi in the larger context of this ערך, but we don’t have any actual matching source. And it’s difficult to explain how the number 100 is associated with Sisra’s mother. Some point to the fact that there are 101 letters in the two adjacent verses in ספר שופטים. But that’s 101, not 100. And what, exactly, is the significance of the number of letters any verses might contain?

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