Friday, October 21, 2005

Ta Shema

Tomorrow, Tishre 19, is the first anniversary (yahrzeit) of Israel M. Ta-Shema. Prof. Ta-Shma was on the faculty of the Talmud department at Hebrew University, and headed the IMHM for several years. He was born in Tel Aviv on September 4th 1936, was a central figure in editing the Hebrew Encyclopedia, wrote his doctorate on R. Zerahiah ha-Levi of Lunel and published several books and hundreds of articles (many of them were short pieces in Mahanayim, but most of the major ones are being published in several volumes titled Knesset Mehkarim, being published by Mossad Bialik. The volumes on Ashkenaz and Sefarad have already appeared, and the one on Italy is supposed to appear soon).

Ta-Shema's impact on Jewish studies, especially on medieval rabbinics, was very significant. Speaking personally, his evocation of the tensions and dramas hidden in Hebrew manuscripts played a major role in pushing me in the direction of study I have been following for several years. But he also left enough room, both in terms of topics untreated, and sources underutilized, for his students and his students' students (that would include me, I hope) to carry his work forward in new directions.

One of Ta-Shema's most intriguing books is titled Ha-Nigleh sheba-Nistar. It is a (controversial) attempt to analyze the Zohar as a halachic book, and thereby to put it in a historical perspective that scholars of Jewish mysticism have not seen. Basically, he says that the halachic tradition of the book is Spanish, but that it contains a great many Ashkenazic customs.

On pp. 30-31 of this book he discusses Hoshana Rabba. Specifically, the idea that looking at a person's shadow on the night of Hoshana Rabba can reveal his future. If he has no shadow, or if the shadow is missing a head, he will die in the coming year.

One of the sources in which this custom appears is Sefer Rokeah. I have read the passage through a few times, and there is something I am confused about. Suggestions would be welcomed.

לפי שבחג עת המים והוצרכו בלילה שלפניו לראות כמה קרקפתא דגברי צריכין לפרנסה ומראין בצל ואומרים המלאכים פלוני לא יחיה הרי אינו צריך למים ולפרנסה סר צילם מעליהם וה' אתנו, סר צלם מעליהם בגימטר' ס"ר שנ"ה למי שסר צילו לא יחיה שנה לפי שכתוב בצל ידי כסיתיך ובצל כנפיך תחסה והשדים מצויין אצל צל של לבנה כדאמרינן בפרק ערבי פס' אצל הצל עוברים על לא תשיג גבול רעך ואותם מזיקים הם של אש וברד. על כן קטנים הניזוקין בלבנה יש להם חמימות וקרירות ושילשול ומועיל להם הלחישות. ולזה מועיל גודל ימין בשמאל וגודל של שמאל בימין ובזה מתהפכין פיסת יד על מזלו של מעלה אז מגינים על הדם למטה שדומה למזלו למעלה זהו בצל ידו החביאני...
רוקח, סימן רכא

I'm not going to attempt to translate that right now. But if I understand it correctly, it says that holding your right thumb in your left hand, and the left in the right, can change your fate. Or is that talking about something else?

[More sources on this custom - Daniel Sperber, Minhage Yisrael 6, Jerusalem 1998, pp. 173-182; Ya'akov Yisrael Stal (ed.), Sefer Gematriot le-R. Yehuda he-Hassid, Jerusalem 2005, pp. 866-871 - thanks to Eliezer Brodt for the second reference.]

Yes, there is another update, but it is personal and I have not decided yet whether to share it with the blogosphere. You can contact me directly if the suspense is killing you.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You translated the Rokeach correctly. For more on this see Be'er Hetev Orach Chayim 95, 6. See also Shabbos 10a (I believe) and the various explanations thereto, Rashi and Aruch Hakotzar come to mind. See also the entire literature of holding hands during davenning.

11:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

See brachot 55a

8:07 AM  

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