Primary sources in open-source Judaism: Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner’s Paḥad Yitzḥok, Rosh Hashana Ma’amar Bet

In our continuing effort to expose the foundations of Open Source Judaism in Jewish source texts, we have made a transcription of Rabbi Ally Ehrman’s 2009 shiur (lesson) explaining Rabbi Yitzḥok Hutner’s ראש השנה מאמר ב “Rosh Hashana Ma’amar 2” (circa 1950s) published in Paḥad Yitzḥok, (a compendium of Rabbi Hutner’s teachings from the 1950s until his death in 1983). The ma’amar is an explication of the verse in Proverbs and familiar to anyone that sings Eyshet Ḥayil before the Sabbath evening meal, “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and a loving-kind Torah is on her tongue,” (Proverbs 31:26). The ma’amar weaves ideas by the Maharal from Gevurot Hashem (6:4) commenting on the gemarah in Talmud Bavli Sukkah 49b that the meaning of Torat Ḥesed (loving-kind torah) is a torah learned with the intention of being retransmitted. Via the MaHaRaL, Rabbi Hutner teaches that this effort in giving is an act of loving-kindness whereby a new work is made freely and shared completely without any diminution of the source, the giver, or the recipient. Parallel teachings can be found in Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan’s Ahavat Ḥesed (1888, chapter 22) wherein he argues for creating community lending institutions for sharing property on the basis of gmilut ḥasadim, acts of lovingkindness a/k/a G’MaḤ. See also Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter’s d’var torah on Parshat Terumah wherein sharing Torah learning is described as a transaction whereby both parties are enhanced and none are diminished. This post should be seen as complementary to our sourcesheet: ‘Make yourself into a maqom hefker’: Primary sources on open-source in Judaism.

Rabbi Ehrman’s shiur is more of an exposition rather than a word-for-word translation. If you would like to help us create a more exact translation please add your translation or correction in the comments. Please correct any mistakes in our transcription. I want to recognize Miri Landau for her contributions to this transcription. Thank you. –Aharon Varady

פחד יצחק ראש השנה מאמר ב
Transcription of Rabbi Ally Ehrman’s exposition of the Paḥad Yitzḥok, Rosh Hashana Ma’amar Bet

Audio of Rabbi Ally Ehrman’s shiur: [su_audio url=”″]

א. פִּיהָ פָּתְחָה בְחָכְמָה וְתוֹרַת חֶסֶד עַל לְשׁוֹנָהּ׃ (משלי ל״א כ״ו).
“Her mouth is open in wisdom and a torah of ḥesed is on her tongue” (Proverbs 31:26)

וכי יש תורה של חסד ותורה שאינה של חסד אלא תורה ללמדה זו היא תורה של חסד שלא ללמדה זו היא תורה שאינה של חסד (חז״ל).
Says the gemara (Sukkot 49b): Is there a Torah of ḥesed (lovingkindness) and a Torah that is not of ḥesed? Torah l’lamdah is a Torah of ḥesed. Torah that is not l’lamdah is a Torah sheiyno shel ḥesed. If the Torah is in order to teach it (l’lamdah) it’s a Torah that is ḥesed. If there is a Torah that’s not in order to teach it, then it’s not a Torah of ḥesed.1

חידוש גדול חננו מוצאים בכאן דהשפעת תורה לתלמידים אין ענינה פעולה הכוללת תורה וחסד כשהן מחוברין, אלא שעצם הדברי תורה המושפעים מקבלים את גוון החסד;
So now we have to understand, says Rebbi Yitzḥok Hutner, what’s this idea of Torah of ḥesed.

שהרי מושג החסד ישמש בכאן בתור שם התואר לגוף החפצא דתורה.
That is the noun of Torah. That’s the shem toar (adjective). Torah itself is called a torat ḥesed. It’s not just Torah and ḥesed at the same time…

ובודאי שרבותא גדולה היא, דהרי דבר פשוט הוא דאדם המשמיע ד״ת מתוך הספר לאדם סומא. אין כאן אלא פונדק אחד שנזדמנו לתוכו שתי מצוות של תורה וחסד בבת אחת, וברי שאין שום אחת מהן נעשית שם תואר לחבירתה;
Like if someone reads a book to a blind person to be teaching him Torah, then it’s also ḥesed since he’s blind and can’t be reading it on his own? Rachmana litzlan (Heaven forfend). Oh no. This is not just Torah and ḥesed that just happen to become Torah. No. It’s the Torah that is defined as torat ḥesed.

ואילו תורה הנלמדת לתלמידים לא קרינן בה תורה וחסד אלא שתורה זו תכונתה משתנית ושם לוי יש לה ותורת־חסד היא קרויה.

What’s this torat ḥesed? If you’re doing it in order to teach, it has a new shem l’vai2 and it’s called torat ḥesed. It’s not just Torah AND ḥesed, it’s Torah that is itself ḥesed if it’s hanilmadat l’lamdah. So we want to understand what’s unique about this torat ḥesed — why it’s not just Torah and ḥesed that is coming together. It’s not torah and ḥesed. It is torah that is ḥesed. Why is it teaching the talmidim Torah, that learning in order to teach, is a Torah that is ḥesed?

ב. הבטחת ההגנה לאברהם אבינו שנאמרה לו במאמר אָנֹכִי֙ מָגֵ֣ן לָ֔ךְ נתפרשה לנו מטעם המהר״ל דלשון מגן בכאן הוא לשון חנם דויצאה חנם מתרגמינן מגן.
Avraham avinu was promised by Hakadosh Barukh Hu (HKB”H) that he was going to guard him, as it says anokhi magen lakh (Genesis 15:1) — I am going to guard you.3 And the MaHaRaL explains that magen [literally, “shield”] is lashon ḥinam (free), as it says d’vyatzah ḥinam (Exodus 21:11) — the targum [Onkelos translation of ḥinam, “free”] is magen.4 Magen means free.

So that’s magen. magen shavya. Magen means “free.” So what does it mean anokhi magen lakh, b’lashon Free?

כי מכיון שמדתו של אברהם היא חסד ושכרם של גומלי חסדים הוא שאוכלים הפירות בעולם הזה והם בחנם כי הקרן קיימת לעולם הבא.

Since the midah (attribute) of Avaraham Avinu is ḥesed, and the skhar (reward, payment) of the gomlei ḥesed (people who do acts of loving kindness) eat the fruits of their work in olam hazeh (this world), and they are b’ḥinam. In other words, you’re not losing out on anything. You’re not going to be lacking because hakeren kayemet l’olam haba — because the keren which is the principle will remain l’olam haba (the coming world). So here you just get bonuses, but you don’t have to take away. The principle remains also in olam haba. And in this world you eat the fruits (peiros) for free. You don’t have to pay anything because the principle of your reward is waiting in olam haba. That’s the middah of ḥesed and we know that that’s the skhar of gomlei ḥasadim. So gmilut ḥasadim is skhar keren kayemet and we eat the fruit for free, and that’s the middah of Avraham Avinu.

So therefore it says with respect to Avraham Avinu, anokhi magen lakh, I’m going to guard you lashon ḥinam because that’s his middah of ḥesed that he gets skhar ḥinam.

ובא עוד על הפירוש הזה הוספת דברים ״ותבין עוד כי העולם הוא מחסדו של הקב״ה כדכתיב עולם חסד יבנה ועל ידי חסדו יוצאים לפועל התולדות בעולם ומזה תבין כי הדבק במדה הזאת יש לו קרן ויש לו פירות״.

Adds the MaHaRaL (Gevurot Hashem 6:4): “and you will understand, that this world is a world of ḥesed of Hashem as it says olam ḥesed yibaneh,5 we have this world because Hashem did ḥesed in creating the world, and through the ḥesed of hashem, yotzi’im la-poal ha-toladot ba-olam, through the ḥesed of Hashem we have toladot (generations) in the world. And from this you can understand, that if you’re davek6 in this middah of ḥesed you have keren (principle) and you have peiros (fruit).”7

This is the word of the MaHaRaL, just translating. This world is of the ḥesed of Hashem, olam ḥesed yibaneh, and through the ḥesed of Hashem we have toladot— the outgrowth that is in this world, and therefore if you’re davek in this middah of Hashem of ḥesed you will have keren — you will have the principle — and then you will also have the peiros, the toladot.

What did he (the MaHaRaL) mean? vav tatztumim. It’s very hard to understand.

וביאור דבריו, הרי רואים אנו כי בענין הצמיחה וההולדה שולט הכלל של ״מכליא קרנא״ הרבה יותר פחות מאשר בשטחים אחרים.

Explains the Paḥad Yitschok: we see that in this matter of tzmiḥa and holada— of sprouting fruits and giving birth and generating peiros, fruits — the rule of mekhalyeh karnah, that the principle is destroyed, is much less at work than in other areas.

(We’ll explain, b’ezrat hashem.)

כל הפקת תועלת גורמת כליון כחותיו של העצם המועיל במדה גדולה לאין־ערוך יותר מאשר הפקת תועלת הצמיחה גורמת לקרקע עולם.

Whenever you’re mefid toelet, when you get some benefit, that weakens the etzem, the source of this benefit, much more than when the ground produces fruit.

Mashal le-mah ha-davar domeh. (To what may the thing be likened?) A person has an animal and a person wants to eat this animal, so what does this person do? He shechts the animal. Therefore he has some benefit. However there’s mekhalyeh karnah, now he doesn’t have a living animal anymore. This cow is no longer going to give milk anymore. The cow is now meat. That’s mekhalyeh karnah. However what’s this talk about producing fruit? You have a ground and the ground gives fruit but there’s no real mekhalyeh karnah. The ground is still a good strong solid ground. Like we see in the gemara, maybe it weakens the ground a little bit. But all in all at the end of the day we still have a good strong ground. And even there are peiros there’s not very much mekhalyeh karnah. Why is that? Why when you talk about tzmiḥat hapeiros, is there less mekhalyeh karnah, the ruining of the principle, then there is in other areas of life? Why is that?

Another example. Say you have a tree and you want wood. Do you want to make a table? So this table, you’re right it’s gevaldik, it is going to produce a nice table. However, it’s mekhalyeh karnah. Now you no longer have trees that are producing fruits. So again only with respect to the actual production of fruits, i.e., the ground produces fruits and then you take the fruits, there’s very little mekhalyeh karnah. Whereas in other areas, like the two examples we gave, there’s a lot more mekhalyeh karnah. Why is that?

והיינו משום שבעולמנו אנו, פעולת הצמיחה וההולדה היא הקרובה ביותר אל יצירת בראשית של יש מאין.
Explains the Paḥad Yitschok: because in our world the peulah of tsmiḥa and holadah, the peulah of sprouting and producing, is very close to yetzirat breishis of yesh me’ayin — of something coming from nothing as Hashem created the world.

לאחר שנתחדש העולם ההתחדשות היותר גדולה היא צמח חדש או ולד חדש.
After the ḥiddush (innovation) of the World, the greatest ḥadshis is a new plan, a new growth, a flower, tree, vlad ḥadash — or a child.

ובה במדה שאנו מתקרבים לתחום היצירה של יש מאין, בה במדה הולך ופוחת הכלל של ״מכליא קרנא״.

Since having a new child or producing a tree is closest to the realm of Yesh Me’ayin (something from nothing) therefore there’s going to be the least mekhalyeh karnah. So too when a person has a baby, when a man and a woman produce a baby, there’s no mekhalyeh karnah.The same strong guy and now from him is produced a baby and from his wife is produced a baby but there’s no mekhalyeh karnah.

והוא הדין והיא חמדה בעולם הרוחני של עבודת השם.
Because we’re in the realm of Yesh Me’ayin or as close as possible as we can get to it in this world, and therefore just like when Hashem created the world there was no mekhalyeh karnah the principle, the Creator, of course, was in no way mitigated, diminished, made smaller, made weaker, so too when we come close to the realm of Yesh Me’ayin, i.e., with a new fruit or a new child there’s going to be very little mekhalyeh karnah, and the same applies in the spiritual world of aveidas hashem (sacred work/divine service).

מכיון שעולם חסד יבנה, ועל ידה של מדת החסד יצאה כל הבריאה מן האין אל היש הרי שמדה זו מופקעת היא לגמרי מענין ה״מכליא קרנא״,
This olam ḥesed yibaneh. And through the middah of ḥesed, the whole briah (creation) comes min hayin elam yesh (something out of nothing). So this middah [of ḥesed] is mufgah l’gamreh (completely severed) from the inyan (matter) of mekhalyeh karnah.

והאדם המתנשא למדרגת צלם אלקים ונעשה ליוצר־פועל של. מדת החסד בעולם, מתן שכרו הוא בתכונת יש מאין, דהיינו שאין הפירות מפחיתין את גוף הקרן ולא כלום. והאדם אוכל פירות בעולם הזה והקרן קיימת לו לעולם הבא.
In the world of ḥesed there is no mekhalyeh karnah and the person who elevates himself to the madregah of tzelem elohim (Divine Likeness) and becomes a creator of middat haḥesed in the world, his matan skhar is going to be like Yesh Me’ayin, that the peiros are not in any way going to diminish the principle. A person with the world was created with ḥesed. There was no mekhalyeh karnah. So too when a person does an act of ḥesed his reward is also going to be lo mekhalyeh karnah, i.e., even though there’s going to be fruits, it’s in now way going to lessen the principle. He’s going to eat the fruits in this world and the principle in olam haba.

ואברהם אבינו שהיה מרכבה למדת החסד דלעילא, לו נאמרה ביחוד ההבטחה כי שכרו הרבה מאד,
And Avraham avinu was a merkava (divine chariot) of the middah of ḥesed of above. To him specifically the promise was stated that his skhar is going to be very great.

דהיינו שלא יצויר ששכרו יתמעט, משום שאנכי מגן לך, אני נמצא לך בחנם, ורבוי הפירות אינו במחיר הפסד הקרן כי קרנך קרן קיימת היא.

It’s not possible that his skhar would be any less anochi magen lakh — “I am found for you b’ḥinam.” The ribui ḥesed that I am going to give you, when I give you ribui peiros, that is in no way going to lessen the skhar. Because that’s your middah. You’re the man of ḥesed, Avraham Avinu and therefore when I give a reward, that reward is going to be b’chinas ochel perioseihim b’olam hazeh bkeren kayemetz l’olam haba… in this world and the next.

(So my friends have we gone deep already?) [Rav Ehrman reviews: ḥesed in creation, mekhalyeh karnah, yesh me’ayin, etc.]

ג. ולא עוד אלא שנראה כי עצם תואר האבהות אשר השם אברהם מורה עליו, ואשר מתוכו אנו למדים כי עיקר מהותו של אברהם הוא בזה שהיה אבי האומה —
Avraham Avinu is our father. That’s Avraham. You’re going to be Av (father) among goyim (nations). The essence of Avraham Avinu is Father.

נובע הוא מתוך דרגא זו של אנכי מגן לך.
This flows from the madrega (spiritual attainment) of anokhi magen lakh, that I am guarding you, that I am going to give you reward, b’ḥinam, that you’re going to get the reward and you’re not going to lose out by getting the reward.

ולמדים אנו דבר זה ממטבע שטבעו חכמים בתפלה וקראו את הברכה הראשונה ברכת אבות,
That is from this flows, in other words Avraham Avinu flows from the madrega of anokhi magen and we learn this from what the rabbis call the first brakha: birkhot avos.

וקבעו בה את החתימה מגן אברהם, ומפורש כנ״ל דדרגא זו דמגן אברהם מהווה את התוכן הפנימי של אבהות האומה. והסברת הדברים צריכה להיות ע״פ המהלך הנ״ל.
We see from this, this madrega, magen avraham, is the tokhen hapnimi, is the deeper meaning of being the father of the nation. Magen Avraham — we always translated it as Shield of Abraham. No. It is also free. Magen means free. We see magen that’s what the word’s based on. It’s based on the pasuk anokhi magen lakh. Magen Avraham. So the brakha is called the brakha ha-avot. And you know what does it mean to be Av? To be an av means ḥinam. You’re going to get a reward in this world, and it’s not going to subtract from your reward in the next world. That’s what your fatherhood means.

משום דאבות מכלל דאיכא תולדות, ואבותיה של כנסת ישראל היינו שרשים של קדושת ישראל אשר לעולם לא יחדלו לעשות פירות (ברית אבות לא תמה);
What is the p’shat? So we have to explain what we said earlier. Because whenever you talk about Avot, like it says in the beginning of Bava Kama (2a, 5a), avot mekhlal d’ika toldos, if there are Avot then there are also children.8 And the avot of the Jewish people, in other words, the root of kedushas yisroel, these avos are the root of kedushas yisroel that will never stop creating peiros. Like it says in the gemara in Shabbos: bris avot lo tama.9 So when you talk about avos ha-uman, when you talk about forefathers, you talk about people making more and more and more peiros. They are never going to stop because kedushas yisroel is eternal.

ודבר זה הוא בלתי אפשרי אם לא על ידי יצירת קרן קיימת אשר שום רבוי פירות שבעולם לא יפחית ולא ימעיט את חיותו של השרש. והיא היא הדרגא של ״אנכי מגן לך״,

And this is impossible unless you say that keren is kayemet, that the principle will remain. The avot aren’t getting any weaker. The spring will continue to flow. The only way you can talk about a ribui peiros, that there’s constant fruit that never ends, is if the shoresh, if the root, doesn’t get weaker and therefore can give constantly new fruits, and that, sweetest friends, is Avraham Avinu. Since Avraham is going to be constantly in the avot, or constantly giving new fruits, he’s not getting weaker. That’s magen. That’s for free. They’re going to get lots and lots of peiros but the keren but the principle of Avraham Avinu himself is kayemet. He’s not going to get any weaker. He’s going to get all of these tolados and he’s going to remain just as strong. Brilliant. Brilliant. And that’s the darga (spiritual level) of anokhi magen lakh.

דהיינו שגידול הפירות הוא בחנם ואינו עולה במחיר חיותו של השרש,
The growth of the peiros is free and it doesn’t cost anything and subtract from the ḥiyut (vitality) of the root.

ועל כן דרגא זו היא החותמת את ברכת האבות.
This level is what seals the brakha of avot. Because that’s what avos is. Avos is constant peiros without any subtraction of ḥiyus, of their own personal ḥiyus. More and more and more peiros. That’s magen avraham. That’s the definition of the avos.

ורק מתוך כך מתבהרים הדברים שבברכת אבות בכלל לא הוזכר במפורש ובהדיא שום מקצוע בעבודתם של האבות מלבד מקצוע החסד (זוכר חסדי אבות), והיינו משום שהתוכן הפנימי של מהות האבהות בכנסת ישראל הוא הסוד של קרן קיימת,
And that’s why we don’t mention any other midos of the avos explicitly in the first brakha besides ḥesed. We say bzokher ḥasdo b’avot halo dabru. We don’t mention gevurah (power), tiferet (beauty), any of the other midos. All we talk about is ḥesed. Why? Because the deeper meaning of the essence of father of the Jewish people is the secret of hakeren kayemes, this notion that the principle will remain:

גידול וצמיחה דלא מכליא קרנא;
constant growth without any diminishing of the fruit.

ושרשיה של צמיחה כזו נעוצים הם במדת החסד בעולם ובאדם.
And the roots of this tzmikha (growth) are found in the middah of ḥesed, of the world and of man. Just like when the avos have tolados, they’re not weakened. More and more and more peiros without any mekhalyeh karnah. The principle remains intact. So too, in klal yisroel, the principle remains intact, and when HKB”H created the world, he created the world with ḥesed and we know the source of this ḥesed the principle ki byakhal HKB”H remains just as strong as he was previously.

ד. התבוננות עמוקה בדרכו של המהר״ל תעמיד אותנו בקרן אורה
If we look deeper into the path of the MaHaRaL we will stand in a keren orah. We will have light and a ray of light.

כי התכונה הפנימית של מדת החסד בטהרתה העצמית, היא השפעת טובה ותוספת מציאות מבלי חסרון במעין המשפיע.
The deeper characteristic of the middah of ḥesed in its pristine purity is being mashpiah tova (a good influence) and adding to the metziut (reality) without any lacking in the spring that flows. In other words, ḥesed means giving and giving and giving, anokhi sarad in the giver. That’s the tnumat pnimit of ḥesed. ḥesed in the purer sense is giving giving giving keren kayemes. The giver lacks for nothing. And that’s what we said is HKB”H and that’s Avrahom Avinu and that’s having children. And that’s producing a child, I mean, and that is a — the ground lacks nothing. That’s what ḥesed is.

ומה שאנו רואים בכל עניני העולם כי המעניק לאחרים משלו הרי הענקה זו מחסרת את המשפיע היינו משום שכאן באה מדת החסד בהרכבה עם ענין שבחוש ושבגשם, והרכבה זו היא המעכבת לבל תראה פעולת החסד בטהרתה בתור יצירה של תוספת מבלי גרעון.
I already hear you saying to me. But how can you say that? A person does ḥesed: you bring an oleh into your house you give him breakfast now you have less food in your fridge. So it is a ḥisar (absence) and a maaniq (offer) and a mashpiah (influence) in the giver. The answer is that when we do ḥesed in this world. It’s really a combination of two things. ruḥniyut (spirituality), it’s a mitzvah. But it’s also gashmiyut (materiality) and since there is gashmiyut, we don’t see the Keren Kayemet. We see that we’re losing out on the keren.

ואשר על כן בהצטרף מדת החסד עם ענין החכמה מתגלה בזה התכונה העיקרית של כח החסד, שלא די שאין הענקת והשפעת חכמה לאחרים גורמת חסרון במשפיע אלא אדרבה השפעה זו מביאה ברכה ותוספת בחכמה שלו. מתלמידי יותר מכולם.
However, let’s say you talk about ḥesed in the realm of ḥokhma. So not only when in you’re in the realm of ḥokhma (wisdom) does one give over who gives over ḥokhma not lack for his own ḥokhma, but on the contrary he has tosefet ḥokhma (supplementary wisdom). He has additional measure of wisdom after he has shared his torah. As the rabbis say so beautifully, mi talmidah yotzer mikulam. You learn much from his rabbeim, more from his friends, and most from his talmidim. When a person teaches middot ḥesed with his torah, he becomes greater.

ונמצא דאף על פי שיש בידה של מדת החסד להצטרף עם כל ענין שבעולם, דבכל דבר ודבר אפשר להשפיע טובה על הזולת;
Even though there is the middah of ḥesed as the koaḥ (inner strength), to be nistar (hidden) for every other inyan in the world, for every other matter in the world you can be a mashpiah good on someone everything else. You can always give. You can give anything. You can give them lunch, money, a pen. You can give somebody your car, so many things.

מ״מ כח היצירה אשר במדת החסד ששרשו הוא כח החסד ביצירת בראשית, ״עולם חסד יבנה״
The power of creation that the middah of creation has is rooted in the power of the creation of the world. olam ḥesed yibaneh.

אינו מתגלה אלא בשעה שהחסד מזדווג אל החכמה.
When do we see the root of ḥesed in the world? ḥesed in the purest sense? ḥesed without gashmiyut? That’s when the ḥesed comes along with ḥokhma. And when it’s ḥesed without gashmiyut, rabbotai, then it’s a ḥesed keren kayemet, the giver doesn’t lose, adarabbah, he’s enhanced. When a person has a baby yesh me’ayin, he’s enhanced, makes him greater ki biyakhol, ki biyakhol, ki biyakhol. adon olam asher malakh… but now he’s going to be called king.

מפני כך תורה ע״מ ללמד הרי זו תורת חסד, וכמבואר לעיל דאין אנו קוראין בה תורה וחסד אלא שתכונתה של תורה זו משתנית ושם לוי יש לה ותורת חסד היא קרויה, והיינו משום דבתורה כזו מתגלה כח היצירה אשר במדת החסד,
Because of this, torah that you’re learning in order to teach is torat ḥesed. It’s not torat mi-ḥesed that just comes together by chance. It just happens to be that this torah comes with ḥesed. No. This torah becomes a hefsa torat ḥesed. That’s the definition of this torah. It’s a torah of ḥesed because in this ḥesed, in this torah, we see true ḥesed. Because when we learn in order to teach, in preparing the shiur and giving the shiur, we become greater. We understand more, the [teachers] preparing the people learning the Torah, not only the talmidim.

וערכי תורה חדשים הולכים ונוצרים במעין המשפיע דוקא ע״י זה שהוא מעניק ומשפיע, מטיב ומתחסד עם הזולת. פִּיהָ פָּתְחָה בְחָכְמָה וְתוֹרַת חֶסֶד עַל לְשׁוֹנָהּ׃ (משלי ל״א כ״ו).
And new torah values are created and the spring of the mashpiah, davka through the fact that he gives and gives and gives, that he does good and ḥesed with his friend. In other words, now we understand why it’s called torat ḥesed, torat ḥesed because normally when you do ḥesed you lose out. You give the guy a loan you have fifty less dollars in your pocket. When it’s Torah, not only don’t you lose but you gain. Even though it’s a ḥesed and you’re giving to somebody, you’re giving to someone torah, torah umas l’lamdah, that you become greater. hakeren kayemet — the principle remains intact. and the principle gets even stronger. And that’s ḥesed in the purest sense as it was when Hashem created the world with ḥesed. And as we see in the avos, the avos are ḥesed that they keep producing more and more fruit, bris avos lo tama and yet they lack for nothing, adaraba they become enhanced, and that, sweetest friends is torat ḥesed, to be zokheh, im yirtzat hashem, not just to learn torah, but lilmod olam l’lamed torat ḥesed. We will see not only that we don’t lack but that we will gain.

And that sweetest friends is something to think about Rosh Hashana, and it says in the Paḥad Yitzhchak on Rosh Hashana that Rosh Hashana is as we learned in a previous shiur is a day of ḥesed and as we explained there a different mihalekh on why Rosh Hashana is davka ḥesed. And now we’re expanding and we’re saying that that’s briyat ha’olam. briyat ha olam is yibanet ḥesed yibaneh. torat l’lamed. and there’s should be a special inyan on Rosh Hashana not only to learn torah during Rosh Hashana but to learn al menas l’lamed dimyon tzura l’yotzra to do this ḥesed and lack nothing for yourself, as HKB”H did when he created the world. We should all be zokheh im yitzat hashem akh tov vaḥesed al yimei ḥayeinu that HKB”H should just keep being mashpia, more and more ḥesed. zḥut zeh, zokheh l’karov mamash to the greatest ḥesed of all, ḥesed al rosheinu gviyat moshiaḥ tzidkeinu bimhera byameinu amen amen, sweetest and most beloved friends.

תנ״ך | A Tale of Two Codexes: The Aleppo and Leningrad Codex

Given that more than 50% of the Siddur is comprised of text from the תנ׳׳ך (TaNaKh) any project that seeks to rigorously attribute its sources depends on a critical, digital edition of the Masoretic text of the Hebrew bible. And such is the case for our Open Siddur Project. The entire history of the transmission of such a profoundly important sourcetext illustrates the degree to which we rely on each others most positive intentions to advance our love of the Torah through sharing — regardless of sect, creed, scholarly or theological inspiration. Moving ahead we are supported by each others gifts and by the preserved legacy of our cultural inheritance.

The oldest complete manuscript of the TaNaKh is the Leningrad Codex (circa 1008 CE) prepared by the school of Aharon Ben Moshe Ben Asher. The grand project of Masoretes during the first millenia was preparing the text of the TaNaKh with their received tradition (masorah) of its annunciation and vocalization. Since these important oral traditions are not transcribed within Torah scrolls, the Masoretes preserved these traditions by writing out the complete text of the TaNaKh with vowels (nikkud) and cantillation marks (trope). The Tiberian system for marking vowels in the Leningrad Codex is the same system used in Hebrew today.

According to modern scholars, Aharon ben Moshe ben Asher followed the Karaite rather than the Rabbinic tradition of Judaism. This may help explain why Aharon ben Asher’s contemporary, Rav Saadia Gaon (892-942 CE) preferred the codexes of another Masoretic school — that of Ben-Naphtali. However, only the codexes of the Ben-Asher school survived, and ultimately, the codexes of the Ben-Asher school were approved by Maimonides (1135-1204 CE). In his Yad ha-Ḥazakah, Maimonides writes:

All relied on it, since it was corrected by Ben-Asher and was worked on and analyzed by him for many years, and was proofread many times in accordance with the masorah, and I based myself on this manuscript in the Sefer Torah that I wrote”.1

This approval is all the more astounding considering Maimonides outstanding objections and disputations with the Karaites of his day.

In the 1830s, Abraham ben Samuel Firkovich, a manuscript collector and ḥakham of the Crimean Karaite Jewish community, visited Constantinople, Jerusalem, and the Cairo Genizah in Egypt. During these travels he received possession of the Leningrad Codex, which was taken to Odessa in 1838 and later transferred to the Imperial Library in St. Petersburg. Used as the sourcetext for the Biblia Hebraica in 1937 and the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia in 1977, the Leningrad Codex was digitized in the 1980s as a collaborative scholarly project organized by the Presbyterian Westminster Theological Seminary‘s J. Alan Groves Center for Advanced Biblical Research.

This text began as an electronic transcription by Richard Whitaker (Princeton Seminary, New Jersey) and H. van Parunak (then at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor) of the 1983 printed edition of Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS). It was continued with the cooperation of Robert Kraft (University of Pennsylvania) and Emmanuel Tov (Hebrew University, Jerusalem), and completed by Prof. Alan Groves. The transcription was called the Michigan-Claremont-Westminster Electronic Hebrew Bible and was archived at the Oxford Text Archive (OTA) in 1987. It has been variously known as the “CCAT” or “eBHS” text. Since that time, the text has been modified in many hundreds of places to conform to the photo-facsimile of the Leningrad Codex, Firkovich B19A, residing at the Russian National Library, St. Petersburg; hence the change of name. The Groves Center has continued to scrutinize and correct this electronic text as a part of its continuing work of building morphology and syntax databases of the Hebrew Bible, since correct linguistic analysis requires an accurate text.2

The Groves Center decided to share the digital Westminster Leningrad Codex without restriction — a prescient and important decision made prior to the popularization of the Internet and the World Wide Web. Their altruistic decision continues to enable many innovative projects based on the text and study of the TaNaKh. The source of the Westminster Leningrad Codex that we are using for the Open Siddur Project were derived from sources shared by Christopher Kimball at The Internet Sacred Text Archive provides links to the full Westminster Leningrad Codex (with transliteration), here.

This text is derived from the Westminster Leningrad Codex (WLC) of the Westminster Hebrew Institute. Thanks to Christopher V. Kimball, who graciously made the source files for this freely available. This version is based on the October 20th, 2006 WLC release.3

The tragic story of the oldest but unfortunately incomplete Aleppo Codex (circa 10th Century CE) — the codex upon which the Leningrad Codex was first based and corrected against — provides a cautious lesson in contrast. Similar to the Leningrad Codex, the Aleppo Codex was also preserved by Karaite Jews. It was then stolen by Crusaders, ransomed, and later transferred to the Syrian Aleppo community where it was hidden for six centuries and zealously guarded. While the Leningrad Codex was copied and shared at the onset of the Age of Photography, the opportunity to copy and thereby preserve the Aleppo Codex was lost.

…the [Aleppo Jewish] community limited direct observation of the manuscript by outsiders, especially by scholars in modern times. Paul Kahle, when revising the text of the Biblia Hebraica in the 1920s, tried and failed to obtain a photographic copy. This forced him to use the Leningrad Codex instead for the third edition, which appeared in 1937.4

In the immediate aftermath of a deadly riot against Jews and Jewish property in Aleppo in December 1947, much of the five books — the Torah section of the Aleppo Codex — disappeared.

Today, at the onset of the Digital Age, we must preserve the heritage of our culture’s creative inspiration by digitizing our collective work in open standard formats, and sharing the work so its transmission can easily be mirrored and redistributed without difficulty. The Open Siddur Project is committed to preserving the legacy of our diverse communities’ creative inspirations and calls upon all those who love the Torah and earnest spiritual practice to serve their intentions through sharing their intellectual resources.

If you represent an educational institution with copies of work in the public domain, please share digital images or digital transcriptions of this work with public domain declarations such as the Creative Commons Zero Public Domain declaration. For the preservation of our living tradition, the many surviving historic manuscripts witnessing variations of tefillot found in the Siddur, including the oldest surviving manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible, Dead Sea Scroll fragments, Jewish apocryphal and pseudepigraphal text, Cairo Genizah fragments, and the various girsot of the Talmud, need to be made available, freely for redistribution.

Openness, remixability, and free culture (Efraim Feinstein, 2010)

Russel Neiss writes “while we have had many illuminating conversations since our presentation [at the JFNA General Assembly], the questions and feedback we have received overwhelmingly surrounds the first value of “Open, Discoverable and Accessible.”” He refers to the four core principles he articulated for Jewish educational material online. That it should be:

  1. Open, Discoverable and Accessible;
  2. Remixable;
  3. Meaningful and Relevant; and
  4. Community Building.

In the secular free culture world, the language is somewhat different, and the difference in emphasis can be illuminating. There, another set of four freedoms have been defined as the bedrock of the movement. In order to be a free culture work, it must give its user:

  1. the freedom to use the work and enjoy the benefits of using it;
  2. the freedom to study the work and to apply knowledge acquired from it;
  3. the freedom to make and redistribute copies, in whole or in part, of the information or expression; and
  4. the freedom to make changes and improvements, and to distribute derivative works.

Freedoms 1 and 2 roughly correspond to Russel’s point number 1. Freedoms 3 and 4 encompass point number 2.

What is perhaps most instructive is that the values of free culture are not defined with respect to the material itself, nor to its content. They are freedoms guaranteed to the user. Material being “open, discoverable, and accessible” is a first step. Simply putting it on the Internet and being indexed by search engines will satisfy this condition.

In the bargain of openness, content creators will have to choose to give up some exclusive rights. In exchange, the work gains a life of its own in the hands of the users, the educators and the students. In my (limited) experience of conversation with content providers, this seems to be the greatest barrier toward freeing educational works that are already made available.

Perhaps remixability is a harder sell to educators and educational content providers than openness because the advantages it provides are further from the originator. Content providers may argue that providing rights to copy material for “personal” or “educational” use satisfies their duty. However, the ability to make and distribute copies solely for limited use leads to dissemination of the material. It does not result in an active culture being developed out of it. It does not result in improvements to the original, or adaptations for differing circumstances from those the original creator envisioned. Even if those adaptations are made locally, they will ultimately be undisseminated, potentially resulting in duplication of labor, or worse, their loss to future creators and users. The absence of remixing rights builds a one-way community of consumers, instead of a multidirectional cooperative community of creators.

There is also the persistent fear of “misuse” of a work. If an author gives up exclusive control over remixes, how does he/she know that the results will still be ideologically compatible with the original? This is again a trade-off necessary for ensuring that users’ creativity can be exercised. Perceived damage to a creators’ reputation from an ideologically differing work can be mitigated by requiring that a modified work bear a notice that it was modified from its original version, and that no endorsement of the modified version by the original author is implied. Further, a web link to the original version may be included as part of the attribution. All Creative Commons free culture licenses (aside from CC0) bear these requirements. Overall, the benefits to the wider culture obtained from many creative minds working on the material outweigh the threats from “misuse.” The choice is between static read-only content and dynamic conversation among the user-creator partners.

Advocacy for creative works’ freedom represents a paradigm shift in thought among content creators: In a free culture, a premium is not placed on the material as-such or even the particular rights associated with the material. Instead, it is on the users’ freedom, and it is that freedom that is the prerequisite to large-scale creative engagement with educational material.

An interview with Aharon Varady on Open Source Judaism (Radio613, 2010)

Welcome Radio 613 listeners. It was my joy to be interviewed by co-hosts Avi & Malcah on CFRC Kingston 101.9FM last Thursday afternoon. In case you missed it, Avi just posted audio of the show to the radio613 webpage.

Go ahead and listen. I have some follow up thoughts on the interview below.

The opinions shared in the interview (and below) are my own. They should in absolutely no way be interpreted as a philosophy or ideology of the Open Siddur Project — an open source project with a diverse community of contributors inspired and motivated each in their own unique way. For those interested in our mission statement, see here.

One question I was thinking about that took me off-guard was when Avi asked me what personally motivated this project. For me, it’s so much easier to write about than to speak about it… After the interview, I couldn’t help feeling that the answer I gave was oblique. Avi asked for, and I provided a personal, if somewhat vague story expressing the following disconnect: Individual integrity felt implicit to the intimate relationship I was being asked to engage in, but that this experience felt frustrated by the mode of t’fillah (Jewish spiritual practice) I was taught. Some means to grow and maintain a very private resource for developing my own practice felt so necessary. If I built this resource for myself only, then whatever liberation I ultimately experienced would be limited.

Obviously many more people endure the same frustrations as I have… others have simply become numb to the issue or completely disenchanted. A strange group, horribly, become apologists for mediocrity and submission — arguing that the experience of alienation in t’fillah is something akin to a mortification or a right of passage to be proudly endured (perhaps once a year on Yom Kippur). And then there are those who take pride in the practice of t’fillah as the fulfillment of an obligation rather than as a useful, relevant practice, saying in earnest, there is really nothing wrong with the siddur, certainly nothing wrong that a good Jew shouldn’t find some sense of cultural belonging wrestling with. The siddur is an easy victim of the materialist aspirations of modern society, they argue. Hearing this, I can’t help but begin to feel lost myself. Is anyone taking this practice seriously enough to expect it to actually be useful? Or am I just a magical thinker?

A point Ariel Beery emphasized at the PresenTense Institute, was just how important it is to recognize and articulate your sense of dissatisfaction with the world as is — to communicate through your pitch how your project seeks to realize a better future. In this way, social innovation and entrepreneurship enters a Utopian, Futurist, and I think, moshiaḥ-oriented narrative. However subjective, the power of this personal appeal should resonate with the experience of others.

My struggle to realize this project is personal, but I never ever wanted my own dissatisfaction to overshadow what anyone else could bring to this project. We each have a unique creative light, and wow, does it ever grow bright when our light shines together. I knew this project was important because it came as an epiphany — an intersection of multiple passions each calling with their own creative, intellectual, and political genius. I just had to finally listen and take note. In the shadow of the Holocaust, a revitalized Jewish culture must be sought that does not rely entirely on ethnic nationalist movements to advance and preserve Jewish identity. Renaissance in all cultures, including Jewish culture, depends on the freedom of its participants, its cultural constituents, to be creative and expressive individuals, engaging with the meaning that culture broadcasts through its traditions.

Larger societal change begins at home, within the daled amot (four cubits) of an individual — this is a fundamental teaching mussar. Spiritual practices are misunderstood as opiates, however they might feel good. Ultimately, they are founded on an assumption that habitual practice and discipline yields self-improvement, which is ultimately beneficial to communities, societies, and the world at large. Can we engage in practices then that nourish and nurture our propensity to act compassionately and pursue social good, intentionally avoiding hateful, violent, and jealous inclinations? In my practice, I seek imitatio dei where dei is understood as an expansive, creative expression of a collective, evolving, and emergent consciousness in this reality that I am part of. There is nothing we can say about God that we are not also saying about our own creative consciousness and its limits, if only because we are limited creatures ourselves. How then am I created in the likeness of Elohim (God)? In that I too have creative desire. I look to Judaism to discipline that creativity for goodness sake, and understand halakha as a practice for walking in the ways of God — i.e., maturing and sustaining virtues of compassion, loving-kindness, and peace with knowledge, awareness, and correct action (mitzvot). Jewish spiritual practice is one expression of a religiously mandated self-improvement discipline that depends on individual expression even as it is often portrays itself in communal contexts. The degree to which these communities act well depends on how well their constituents embody virtue. But just as these virtues are embodied personally, intentional practices succeed when they are personally chosen, well understood, and creatively engaged.

I said it in the interview but it bears repeating, the lingering dialectic that defines religion as somehow separate from culture relies on a notion that religion is no longer creative — a mere replication of viral memes, in Dawkin’s language. We liberate religion when we return it to culture, as a creative and relevant force for helping to shape our individual and collective consciousness. Religion in this way provides exercises, practices and other social technologies to help us evolve. If its creativity isn’t maintained, its relevance is ceded to other systems to function in its place — or it is ceded to social elements and authorities who might use it to sustain self-serving agendas.

William Morris, the founder of the Arts & Crafts movement (and  modern fantasy literature, as well!) articulated this idea in the mid to late 19th century — explaining to his fellow socialists how alienation is the experience of a worker/craftsmen being mediated from one’s essential creative self. William Morris’ Arts & Crafts movement sought to liberate worker craftsmen from alienation by re-introducing bespoke master art crafted work, for example: woodwork, book binding, printing, typography, etc. Morris typified a romantic socialist who walked proudly forward by looking backward at the inherent value of art for  liberating the human worker economically, socially, and spiritually.

I think this sort of thinking is exactly what is needed for both our cultural renaissance and our individual liberation. Is the alienation of European craftsmen in the face of industrialized factory conditions really so dissimilar from the experience of alienation when individuals most private and intense experience is mediated by mass-produced prayer books? Particularly for Jews, what does our culture ask us to craft if not prayers and blessings every day, from our heart? That is our avodah sh’balev– our work of the heart! How has our tradition’s uncritical adoption of mass-produced technology for accessing t’fillah, and legal structures of copyright mediated us from our creative (divine) selves and ability to share what is most precious to us? How do structures of authority maintain this truly tragic situation? My answer to these vexing questions was to re-appropriate the technology of mass-production and spiritual mediation — liberating it for individuals to compose, remix, and share the meaning they discover in tradition and their own experience. This model is obviously open for anyone to emulate, not only other Jews. But particular for Jews, this model also open up the possibility of really reflecting the true diversity of our people right now as both individuals and communities and through history in whatever documents witness this diversity. We just need to digitize this extant work and make it accessible with standard free culture licensing.

My work with William Morris was a direct outgrowth of my urban planning masters thesis research into a socialist minded free thinker and printer named Henry Watkin, the mentor of the writer, Lafcadio Hearn. Watkin was married to a wonderful woman, Laura Fry Watkin, whose British and Swedenborgian family of master art carved wood craftsmen and women (vegetarian socialists and abolitionists the lot of them) were active in developing a women’s liberation movement in Cincinnati. I learned about Laura’s father Henry Fry and other Swedenborgians Fourier-inspired socialists. These men and women helped realise, among other wonderful social goods, the nascent urban park systems designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. Not too long ago I was working at the Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence and my motivation to become an urban planner eight years ago stemmed from an interest in promoting city parks, greenways, and trails. Now instead of working on the physical public commons, I’m instead focused on the creative intellectual commons. So the Open Siddur Project is an expression of my passion for 19th century utopian projects, Romanticism, invented worlds of the imagination, and maturing creative potential and compassionate virtues sustained through a disciplined spiritual practice.

An Economic Argument for Open Data by Efraim Feinstein

There are two principles on which the success of data on the contemporary web rests: the web makes content available, and it adds value to that content by linking it to other related information.

When considering bringing old content online, both of these aspects are important. A first level of digitization involves simply making data available. Google Books and work at this level, providing PDFs and/or OCR-ed transcriptions of the material. A second level of digitization involves semantic linkage of the data, both internal to the site and external to the site. The Open Siddur Project and Open Scriptures digitize at the semantic level. This second-level digitization is required to do all of the cool things we expect to be able to do with online texts: click on a word and find its definition or grammatical form, find the source of a passage in one text in another text, find how the text has evolved historically, etc. Even the simplest form of a link: a reference from another site, requires some kind of internal division.

Digitization that takes advantage of the web therefore requires a number of steps: (1) getting the basic text online, (2) getting it in an addressable form (to make it more like typed text, instead of a picture of a page), (3) assuring the text’s accuracy, and (4) marking it up for semantic linkage. Some of these steps, or parts of them can be done automatically, but, overall, they require some degree of intelligent input. Even step 1, which is primarily mechanical in nature, requires design of the procedures.

I hope that this outline of the required steps to getting a text online suggests that the most expensive part of making content available is human labor — it takes time to do it, and it takes even more time to do it right.

And now for the rhetorical questions:

  • How many times has the Tanach been digitized?
  • … the siddur?
  • … the Talmud?
  • … major commentaries on the siddur, Torah, Talmud (Rashi, Tosefot)?
  • … full codes of Jewish law (Mishneh Torah, Tur, Shulchan Aruch, Aruch Hashulchan)?
  • … uncommon piyyutim (liturgical poems)?

In some cases, the answer is: it’s been done many times. In other cases, the answer is: it’s never been done. And, both answers lead the all-important question: why? Why are there so many digitizations of the Tanach and no full digitizations of Shulchan Aruch online? Why isn’t the siddur already hyperlinked to its Talmudic sources?

I would propose that we have been wasteful with our resources. Earlier, I pointed out that the primary resources that go into these advanced digitizations are time and human labor. In some cases, these resources equate directly to money, in others, the linkage is more indirect.

The core material of all of the above-mentioned works comes from the public domain. It is ownerless, and free for anyone to copy for any purpose. Every time we encounter a basic text that we have to digitize again because of “new copyright” claims or EULA-style contractual constraints, that is an indication of a failure somewhere in the system. This is particularly true if the claims are being made by non-profits, “social” businesses, or academic institutions. In the Jewish world, even for-profit published books are sometimes donation-supported. Each common text that has to be digitized a second, third, or hundredth time equates to another less common text that is not being digitized. Redoing basic OCR work and transcription takes resources away from establishing semantic linkages.

Some people and organizations get it. As of now, we only need one digitization of the Leningrad Codex (Masoretic Bible). That’s because Christopher Kimball and the J. Alan Groves Center for Advanced Biblical Research digitized it, transcribed it, and released it as free data. The Westminster Leningrad Codex is now perhaps the most built-off version of the Hebrew Bible online. The base texts (which may be used “without restriction”) are present in both commercial and non-commercial products. The Open Siddur Project is using it both for its technology demonstrations and as the basis of all biblical texts in the siddur.

There are precious few examples of free data in the Jewish community, even on the Internet. There are copious examples of donation-funded organizations presenting primarily public domain data with new copyright claims.

Free data prevents the necessity of duplication of effort, which, in turn, prevents the community as a whole from unnecessarily wasteful spending. Particularly for organizations with a social mission, its use is a win for everyone.