Thursday, June 28, 2012

Parshas Chukat: The Mysterious Friday Fast

The Magen Avraham cites a 'practice of individuals' to fast on the Friday prior to the reading of Parshas Chukas (OC 580). In general, it is an anomaly to have a fast day scheduled for a Friday. Of even greater significance is the fact that most fast days are established on a specific calendar date, while this one is not. The Magen Avraham writes that no matter what day of the month the Friday prior to Parshas Chukas falls, that is the day when 'individuals' fast.

What is the significance of this fast day? It commemorates the burning of 20 24 wagonloads of the Talmud and other Sefarim in France. When the event happened, it occurred on the 9th day of Tammuz. However, various Rabbinic authorities of that day learned through dreams that the 'cause' of the incident was not related to the day on the calendar, but to the fact that it was the day before the Torah reading of Parshas Chukas.

The Magen Avraham explains that the Aramaic Targum of the opening words of the parsha [Bamidbar 19:2] "Zos Chukas HaTorah" [This is the law of the Torah] is "da Gezeiras Oraiysa" [this is the Torah's decree]. This was understood to be a Torah decree that such a tragic event would occur on the Friday before this Torah reading.

The Imrei Shammai supplies additional historical background to this incident. He says that in the exact place where the Talmud and other Sefarim were burnt, the Jews of that town had in previous years publicly burnt the Rambam's Sefer - Moreh Nevuchim.

The Moreh Nevuchim was a controversial work. In those days, the Rambam did not yet have the unquestioning allegiance that he gained in later generations. As surprising as it may seem to us, he had his detractors and there were authorities that were highly critical of the Moreh Nevuchim. In fact, there were even some places where his Sefer HaMadah - the first volume of his Major Work "The Yad HaChazakah" was not accepted.

As a Heavenly punishment for this earlier burning of the Rambam's works, 20 cartloads of Torah books were now publicly burnt. When the Jewish community saw this, they recognized their earlier misdeed and repented by establishing a fast day. They prayed for forgiveness and subsequently there was no more controversy about the Moreh Nevuchim.

In this way they were very fortunate. They had a clear Sign from Shomayim in terms of what they had done wrong. It did not take a genius to put two and two together and draw the appropriate conclusion. The connection was obvious. This is the historical background of the custom of 'individuals' to fast on the Erev Shabbos preceding Parshas Chukas.



DrM said...

great post. i would like to add though that the Maimonidean controversy is more complex than that. and in many's opinion, it is the single most important even in the past 1500 years of jewish history.

who better to explain it in a famous piece by hacham jose faur, the leader in modern maimonidean school thought:

he also has a great audio lecture, devorah might be interested in posting, explaing how the first Jewish mystic was no other than the Rambam himself! (which is confusing since harambam is known to be a "rationalist") hacham faur explains how harambams mysitims was there and explained thoroughly in the Guide, and most importantly it can be known not as irrational mysticism, but rather POST-rational mysticism. these audios will do more justice:,_2.21.96


Dov Bar-Leib said...

Devorah: It was 24 cartloads of Talmuds with rare hand written Tosefot in the margins, and I believe the year was 1242ce. The king was Louis the 9th, a.k.a. St. Louis. Yes, the city in the US in Missouri is named in his honor. I used to give tours to Jewish groups that came to S. Louis. We would sit underneath the Crusader's statue sitting in front of the Art Museum and would read Kinnah 41 from the Tisha B'Av machzor that was written in Louis's honor. What is most infuriating today is that the Roman Catholic Church made him one of the 365 principal saints of their vile church, and they refuse to even reflect on what this man did. The American Roman Catholic website dutifully lists the "great deeds" of the 365 saints. When you get to the entry for August 25th, they wax with glorious praise over the deeds of Louis the 9th, not even an honorable mention for burning 24 cartloads of Talmuds. Having ecumenical rapprochement with this vile Church of demonic behavior is futile.

Anonymous said...

its to typical of the churches. and this goes on till today. the angelican church in UK now, at this moment is drumming up extreme antisemitism and siding the philistines.

DrM said...

as you will note, the many Rabbis of 13century who pushed the burning of his books, also lead to the burning of Talmud as well.

from the PDF from above post:

Rabbi Jonah Gerondi (c. 1200-1263)—one of the most venerated
men in Jewish pietistic circles—went Žrst to the Franciscans and then
to the Dominicans, imploring them: “Look! Most of our people are
heretics and unbelievers, because they were duped by R. Moses of
Egypt [Maimonides] who wrote heretical books! You exterminate
your heretics, exterminate ours, too!”

R. Solomon ibn Adrete, who had the privilege to study under the
saintly R. Jonah,

applauded the spirit of ecumenicalism exhibited
by the Church, and penned these golden lines:
Could I blame people who are not of the covenant [i.e., Christians]
if they would stretch their hands against this corruption and blaspheme
by the people of our Law, and they [i.e. Christians] just like us, would
open their mouths [against them]?

Moriah said...

We are our own worst enemies. Who could defeat us if we were united?

shimonmatisyahu said...

No doubt that this very tragic event occurred because of opposition to the Rambam's books, especially his magnum opus the Mishneh Torah, which many rabbis of his day had a problem with because they felt that this work was undermining the Talmud. However, I would bet all my money that it wasn't because of opposition to his Moreh Nevuchim, because Rabbi Nachman of Breslov made it clear that this work is Apikorsus (heresy), which has things in it that is in clear contradiction to reasons that are given for Mitzvot, such as his take on the reason for offering sacrifices in the Temple versus what is mentioned in Talmudic/Midrashic works about it; noting that it was only the Rambam's great wisdom which saved him (spiritually). Boruch Hashem, there are many wonderful Seforim that help people come closer to Hashem, but if Rabbi Nachman said that it's forbidden to learn the Moreh Nevuchim, then you can be sure that it wasn't because of opposition to this Sefer of the Rambam that the Talmud was burnt.

DrM said...

wow shimon, i would love to see the quote of r. nachman (a acharon) call a work of a rishon HERESY! and for you to buy that is another level!

Eligalit said...

Its found on sefer 'Chayei Moran' (408)- See the whole teaching and 409
" וגם רבנו ז"ל אמר שבספרי היד במקום שמדבר מהלכות, היטיב לעשות, אבל בספר מורה נבוכים ימחל לו ה' מה שעות בזה עוותים שאין כמותם הנוגעים בעקרי תורתנו הקדושה כמפרסם"

Eligalit said...

Also see (411)

(ה) והתלוצץ מאד מטעמי המצוות שבספר מורה נבוכים, ואמר איך יעלה על הדעת לומר טעמי הבל כאלו על קרבנות וקטרת, הלא כמה תקונים נוראים עצומים נעשים בכל העולמות למעלה למעלה עד אין סוף על ידי אמירת הקטרת לבד. [הינו שאם חס ושלום כדבריהם המטעים, מה היה מועיל אמירת הקטרת והקרבנות]. ואיך יבוא אחד לומר שטות כזה על טעם הקטרת שמגיעים עד מקום שמגיעים, שאפלו האמירה לבד פועל מה שפועל למעלה למעלה, כמבאר בזהר הקדוש ובכתבי האר"י זכרונו לברכה. אך באמת טעם הקטרת והקרבנות אי אפשר להשיג כלל, רק אנו מאמינים לדברי משה רבנו עליו השלום. ובודאי יש בזה טעמים נוראים שאי אפשר להשיג בשום שכל אנושי כלל. ומעצם גדלתם, גם אמירת פרשיות הקרבנות והקטרת מסגל מאד, ונעשה מזה תקונים נוראים בכל העולמות.
וכן טעמי כל המצוות הקדושים גבוהים ונשגבים מאד ונעלמים מעין כל חי, כמו שכתוב (איוב כ"ח): "ונעלמה מעיני כל חי" וכו', וכמו שכתוב (תהלים קי"ט): "פלאות עדותיך". גם שמעתי מפיו הקדוש שכשעוסקים בספרים אלו הוא כמו מי שהולך במדבר שמם שאין לו עם מי לפגע, כך כשנכנסין בספרים אלו הנ"ל אין מוצאין בהם דבר קדשה, והוא כמו הולך במדבר שמם שאין מוצאין עם מי לפגע:

Anonymous said...

Excellent and thorough article on this here: