Tuesday, November 10, 2009

can angels eat meat that's not really meat?

Rashi explains based on the gemara (Baba Metziya 86) that although angels cannot eat, the angels who came to Avraham pretended to eat so as to not deviate from the normal practice of the community. The lesson for us is to blend in when blending in is appropriate. However, Tosfos on that sugya quotes the Midrash that contrary to the gemara's assumption, the angels did in fact eat. It is hard to say that there is a machlokes in "metziyus" whether angels can or cannot eat, so there must be some other explanation of what the underlying issue here is. I once tried to explain the gemara's position based on the view that the angels came on Pesach and matzah was served. The process of making matzah, turning raw wheat into a finished baked product, represents the sanctification of the physical world, a process angels are removed from and incapable of engaging in. Rav Shteinman in his Ayeles haShachar explains the two views as disagreeing over whether an angel can adopt a physical body for the purpose of fulfilling a mission or not. I'm not sure how much this adds to our understanding of the issue, as it begs the follow up question of why an angel can or cannot an angel appear in physical form -- in other words, the basis for that dispute -- which seems to bring us full circle back to where we started.

My wife's grandfather, R' Dov Yehudah Shochet, apparently (the return letter is published, but not the letter he sent) suggested in a different context that the machlokes Rishonim whether angels have a body or not (which I am not familiar with) can be explained as being no machlokes at all because it all depends on what the meaning of the word "body" is. Yes, angels have a body if you mean some type of spiritual envelope for their presence, but no, angels do not have a body if you mean a physical form. The Lubavitcher Rebbe replied to this letter with proof from the Rambam that no body means no body, i.e. no form whatsoever. Perhaps this machlokes is reflected in the differing views of the gemara and Midrash.

The Rishonim and Achronim discuss how Avraham could have served milk and meat to his guests when Chazal tell us that he obeyed the entire Torah even before it was given. The Da'as Zekeinim answers simply that the milk was served first followed by the meat. There are numerous other creative answers. Malbi"M writes that the cow served was no ordinary cow, but was an animal created through kabbalistic means using sefer yetzirah. Proof comes from the pasuk itself -- "es habakar asher asah," the cow which was made, not just prepared. The assumption is that this type of cow is not really meat and can be eaten together with milk. When discussing this at home the suggestion came up that these different views may help explain the difference between the gemara and Midrash (this is obviously speculative). If the meat served was physical beef, as the Da'as Zekeinim understood, then it is no wonder angels could not eat it, but if the beef was mystical beef created with the sefer yetzira, perhaps this type of food might be on the menu even of an angel.

On a final tangential note, the Malbi"m's assumption that meat created miraculously does not have the properties of what we call meat reminded me of a famous kashe of R' Chaim Brisker. The Beis Yosef asks why we celebrate Chanukah for eight days when there was enough oil for one day. One answer is that the jug of oil miraculously refilled itself each day, including the first, upon being emptied. R' Chaim questions why this miraculously created oil was acceptable for use in the menorah when the Torah demands that specifically olive oil be used. Miracle oil may look, taste, and feel like olive oil, but it did not come from olives! I saw another blogger discuss this recently and will leave you with the link and something to mull over as we get closer to Chanukah.

20 comments:

  1. Mike S6:50 AM

    You did not cite the gemara in Sanhedrin (59 or 60 iirc)about Adam HaRishon being permitted to eat meat that came from shamayim, although forbidden that that came from animals.

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  2. very interesting. i posted my own thoughts on how to answer this question here.

    http://parsha.blogspot.com/2009/11/can-angels-eat.html

    kt,
    josh

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  3. I am aware of the reference to it being Pesach time because Lot served the malachim matzos, but where does it say that Avraham did?

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  4. Mike S.,
    Good catch. IIRC the Rogatchover brings this proof.

    Garnel,
    If it was the same day, it's not too big a jump I hope.

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  5. "but where does it say that Avraham did?"
    "If it was the same day, it's not too big a jump I hope."

    except of course that avraham was the day, and lot was at night. and if so, it would be erev pesach. and then he *couldn't* have served matzos, because he held all rabbinic commandments (i think some hold this is even deorayta!) and one is not permitted to eat matza on erev pesach. but it couldn't have been chametz either. which leads some to say that this was matza ashira. (personally, i don't think Chazal really applied this idea as far as some take it, which is beyond the point of ridiculousness.)

    but where do we see Avraham did this? the answer is: where he says לושי ועשי עוגות . midrash rabba on this states
    לושי ועשי עוגות
    הדא אמרת: פרס הפסח הוה.

    http://daat.ac.il/daat/olam_hatanah/mefaresh.asp?book=1&perek=18&mefaresh=raba

    Mizrachi is gores that it was *erev* pesach, in order to make this work out chronologically with a certain birthday for yitzchak (iirc). and Tosafot emends, or is gores, simply Pesach. Etz Yosef and Maharzav simply explain Pras HaPesach as Pesach. but i am unconvinced that that is what Peros HaPesach means in general, and therefore here as well.

    In terms of the "pnimiyus" explanation of it, based on what matza making is, etc., i don't see this idea in the text itself. It is *possible*, but rather arbitrary, and they did not eat the bread for other reasons, according to other midrashim, so there seems to me a big danger of making up random ideas and reading it into the text.

    but see my post for why i think this whole question can be answered up in a rather straightforward way, based on what the midrashim actually say, rather than the possibly farfetched attribution of magic oxen to Seder Eliyahu Rabba.

    kol tuv,
    josh

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  6. >>>so there seems to me a big danger of making up random ideas and reading it into the text.

    The gemara text offers no explanation of why it would not hold like the Midrash, so we need some explanation. As for why this is a very plausible idea and far from random, that would take an arichus devarim that is not for this post. You can start with the the Maor v'Shemesh on Pesach that highlights the contrast between matzah and man (which coincidentally is called lechem abirim, food of malachim), and also note as well the spelling of matzah: mem-tzadi; see the Bardichiver on Parshas Braishis for what these letters represent.

    I should mention just for the record that according to the piyut said on Sukkos, "tachas ha'eitz" refers to sukkah. And since we are nearing the next parsha, it's worth thinking about what the GR"A had in mind when he explained Hashem beirach es Avraham BaKoL = *B*'sukkos teishevu, *K*ol ha'ezrach..., *L*'ma'aen yed'u doroseichem ki basukkos hoshavti. This too would take an arichus devarim, and no, none of it is found in the text, which is why it's called pnimiyus in the first place. Happy digging.

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  7. "The gemara text offers no explanation of why it would not hold like the Midrash, so we need some explanation"
    hold like what midrash? (do you mean the late 10th century midrash it wouldn't know about? or some other midrash?) why would we need some explanation? who says that this other midrash was on their minds at all? this is why it is random and reading in our own ideas. this is a problem i find in general with many acharonim, and supercommentators of rashi. they read in arbitrary ideas into the text, because of certain assumptions they make that are debatable.

    "You can start with the the Maor v'Shemesh on Pesach that highlights the contrast between matzah and man"
    is the Maor v'Shemesh a Tanna or an Amora? I forget. :) but yes, these are (late) kabbalistic insights, which often read late ideas into earlier ideas.

    i meant reading it into the text of the gemara. Rabbi Tanchum's intent seems to be about "when in Rome, do as the Roman's do." what makes you think that he is thinking about this entirely tangential topic?

    "which is why it's called pnimiyus in the first place."
    perhaps. i would hope for at least some hook in the text, to convey the idea that this was intended. otherwise, any random person can come up with random ideas, and christians can come up with christian ideas, and say that they are pnimiyus. i should hope to look back at the text, after hearing the pnimiyus explanation, to be able to look back at what was actually said and see that it could bear this meaning.

    in the present case (read my post for an elaboration), the whole question which seems to have prompted these farfetched (to me) suggestions, seems unfounded. that is, as i wrote in my post, looking at the actual midrash, it seems clear that Seder Eliyahu Rabba agrees that malachim in general are incapable of eating, but that he chooses to argue with the gemara in this one instance and claim that Hashem changed the derech hateva and opened their mouths, all in honor of the tzaddik avraham. if so, any answer that ignores this is arbitrary and does not reflect the original intent of the authors of the midrashim. again, in my humble opinion.

    (similar to the previous post about why the Torah chose specifically to focus on the idolatry of worshiping dust. or the posts where you said that you did not think the question about Hashem's truth vs. lying for shalom bayis was well founded, but you liked the answer you could bring.)

    at the end of the day, i agree with you that this is a major hashkafic and methodological divide between us.

    kol tuv,
    josh

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  8. Let me sum up my perspective for you:
    On the one hand, Josh believes what the authorial intent in historical context (however we might divine that) is the one thing that matters.

    On the other hand, we have people like R' Tzadok reading ideas about sefiros into chumash, the Chasam Sofer explaining debates between Moshe and Pharoah as parallel to Rambam's and Ra'avad's (see his into for his explanation of that), and even the Brisker Rav or R' Shimon Shkop using lomdus that was never heard or seen before their time (just look at reactions by their critics, e.g. the intro to the Marcheshes) to explain what the Rambam in Mishne Torah.

    Since no one I have read and admire gives a jot about authorial intent and historical meaning in their learning (interestingly, in English Lit. the same holds true these days), I put those concerns aside for when I want to do history and concentrate on other things when I want to do talmud Torah.

    All that was just to clarify the obvious ground rules of this blog. The tochen is subject to debate, the methodology is not.

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  9. "The tochen is subject to debate, the methodology is not."
    the the aforementioned people do not necessarily ask klutz kashas first. the question about the dispute between the midrashim is a klutz kasha. so long as one first admits this, fine. (and it is a klutz kasha for the reasons i described. do you read my post? do you agree with it or not? can you explain?)

    "Since no one I have read and admire gives a jot about authorial intent and historical meaning in their learning"
    very post-modernist of you. this is extremely unfortunate. although i do believe that you are overstating the case. i would guess some of the people you admire took Dr. Marc Shapiro's assertion that the Brisker method is ahistorical as an insult. and i would guess that many of the people you look up to indeed thought that they *were* intuiting the original intent, and would be insulted by the assertion that they were not giving it, or interested in it. they were not post-modernists, nor were they English lit majors.

    but if you don't care about original intent, and admit up front that often "pnimiyus" is not original intent, then this is a great thing. it means that you cannot be upset at an accusation that you are reading foreign ideas into the text, which Chazal never intended. rather, you admit this upfront. you don't care about their intent, but about the arbitrary ideas you can read into their words. (a wonderful demolition of the masorah, btw.)

    and you agree that any Acharon can argue on any Rishon, because we don't care what the Rishonim actually meant. true talmud Torah does not care about what the Rishonim meant! we can override what they intended with our own ideas, so long as we can read our own ideas into them! (though why some people are upset at others who don't play this game and yet argue with Rishonim is beyond me.)

    and you agree that Chazal could be wrong in science. after all, the pnimiyus reading does not (have to) reflect their intent, but rather ideas you make up that you can read into their words.

    i am not sure that such an approach *is* actually talmud Torah (or valid psak halacha), rather than just nonsense and free-association. i'd be more confident that it was Talmud Torah if the people engaged in it thought that were divining the intent of Chazal.

    indeed, this is quite the ideological divide we have here.

    "The tochen is subject to debate, the methodology is not"
    you know, you can make it even easier on yourself if you declare by fiat that the tochen is also not subject to debate.

    at any rate, carry on. it is, after all, your blog.

    kol tuv,
    josh

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  10. what i don't understand is that if you really don't care about original intent, why even bother to ask questions?

    that is, why say in your post that "It is hard to say that there is a machlokes in "metziyus" whether angels can or cannot eat, so there must be some other explanation of what the underlying issue here is."

    why did "The Lubavitcher Rebbe replied to this letter with proof from the Rambam that no body means no body"? who cares what the Rambam meant?

    why state that The gemara text offers no explanation of why it would not hold like the Midrash, so we need some explanation?

    all this strongly suggests to me that you do care about Chazal's intent.

    and why say

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  11. Anonymous7:10 PM

    I posted this at Hirhurim, but it seems appropriate here as well.

    The idea that in talmud Torah "we" don't at least try to understand authorial intent (as well as how successive interpreters understood authorial intent) is bizarre to me, to say the least. Furthermore, I suspect that everyone, Rashi and on, would themselves be scandalized by the accusation that they were not trying to understand authorial intent. True, in a very late period you have an occasional suggestion that this or that wasn't trying to get at authorial intent, such as the Gra's statement that in the Mishna too there is pshat and drash (as reported by R Menashe Mi-Ilya). In the final analysis, isn't the position being espoused by R Micha a tactical retreat occasioned by his recognition that very often the meforshim fall far from mark of actually getting at (what seems to him) to be the authorial intent? But to suggest that Rashi personally wasn't trying to explain what he felt R Yochanan actually meant? Nonsense.

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  12. chaim b.7:39 PM

    If you mean that Rashi is sensitive to nuances like R' Yochanan had to have meant X and not Y because Y is a product of the thinking of later Amoraim (in other words, Rashi takes historical context into account), then I for one have personally never seen a Rashi (or any other Rishon) that would provide evidence that would back up your argument. Of course Rashi and everyone else was trying to explain what R' Yochanan or whoever really meant -- but they also see no problem in assuming R' Yochanan meant the idea they just thought of using their 12th or 18th or 21st century brain influenced by its own historical context. After all, R' Yochahan spoke b'ruach hakodesh and his words were pregnant with multiple meanings that become revealed and unfold over time.

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  13. Anonymous8:46 PM

    >Of course Rashi and everyone else was trying to explain what R' Yochanan or whoever really meant -- but they also see no problem in assuming R' Yochanan meant the idea they just thought of using their 12th or 18th or 21st century brain influenced by its own historical context.

    But they thought R Yochanan meant it! They didn't think "Gosh, I just thought of it and I'm living in the 11th century, having an 11th century thought."

    Here you suggest R Tzadok "read" ideas into Chumash, that is to say he thought he was "reading into." I think that's completely improbable. However, people like you and Micha are thinking with the same modernist mindset that people like Josh and me are, and recognize anachronisms and dachuks when we see it. However, for some reason you (and Micha) choose to interpret the entire mesorah as consisting of people consciously reading their own values into earlier texts such that what the earlier texts mean is "history" instead of "Torah." That's not insulting to Rashi, R Tzadok and everyone else who surely did not think they were doing what you (and we) realize they were sometimes doing? At least Josh and I credit them with the integrity to never do it on purpose!

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  14. Here is a good video on the subject: http://meat.org

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  15. Anon, I am not suggesting (as you seem to have misunderstood) that Rashi intended consciously to ignore original meaning. However, I, the "objective" observer reviewing Rashi's words, am compelled by the evidence to say that Rashi did introduce anachronisms whether he believed he was doing so or not. (Are we in disagreement about this -- do we need examples?) I, the objective third party observer, am therefore faced with one of two options: 1) I can reject Rashi's interpretation given its historical implausibility, or 2) I can accept the anachronism and say the interpretation of the text stands on its own legs irrespective of original historical meaning.

    Unless you want to start not only rejecting Maor V'Shemesh (as Josh does), hundreds of other meforshim, and even Rashi because they fail the test of historical truth, I find the second option is far preferable. Rabbinic discussion focusses on ideas in the abstract, not whether they fit a historical context (again, see intro to Chasam Sofer).

    Again, whatever Rashi thought he was doing is not the issue. The issue is how I, the reader who is learning Rashi, deal with the conflict between what I sense to be historical meaning and what Rashi tells me. I don't see how your comment addresses that...

    Finally, just for the record, lest it be assumed shtika k'hoda'ah, the idea that pnimiyus haTorah consists of random ideas that even Xtianity can be dressed up as is repulsive.

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  16. Anonymous12:55 PM

    Josh doesn't reject them, not that I'm his spokesman. But they're the "intellectual history" aspect of talmud Torah, not the "what does it mean" aspect of talmud Torah. It certainly is talmud Torah to learn and understand a Rashi which doesn't really get at the meaning of the text, just as our own musings and attempts to understand are also talmud Torah. But the texts do have an actual meaning, and often the actual meaning was already divined by the meforshim (after all, no one is contending that no one understood the Talmud or other texts until recently). But sometimes it would seem that the actual meaning was not apprehended. It's still talmud Torah, but it's the intellectual history side of it.

    >Finally, just for the record, lest it be assumed shtika k'hoda'ah, the idea that pnimiyus haTorah consists of random ideas that even Xtianity can be dressed up as is repulsive.

    I am shrugging my shoulders at that. There's a reason why Pico della Mirandola, Johannes Reuchlin and others saw Christianity in "primiyus haTorah" and it's not because they were nuts or repulsive.

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  17. "Unless you want to start not only rejecting Maor V'Shemesh"

    where did i reject Maor vaShemesh? it might be valuable, and it might be true. rather, i said that peshat x was reading arbitrary ideas -- arbitrary in the sense of nowhere near Chazal's intent -- into the gemara. you said that it was not arbitrary because it was an idea found in Maor vaShemesh. and i said that it is still "arbitrary", by my use of the term -- in the sense of not what Chazal were thinking of, as they discussed that particular gemara -- because Maor vaShemesh was not authored by Chazal. And as far as i can tell, you are conceding that.

    and i am still wondering -- did you look at the midrash eliyahu rabba inside? have you done so now? do you consider looking inside the midrash to be the approach of a historian?

    kol tuv,
    josh

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  18. Anonymous, you did not answer the question. Neicha there is intellectual history and "what does it mean" learning. Call them both talmud torah if it makes you feel happy. But what do you do when the 2 conflict? As I asked, do you erase the Rashi, the Chasam Sofer, the whoever because their interpretation of "what does it mean" cannot pass the historical truth test?

    If you don't like my answer -- namely, when engaged in the "what does it mean" learning of the beis medrash, the learning rishonim and achronim engaged in, historical concerns are pushed aside -- please propose a different solution.

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  19. Anonymous4:07 PM

    There's no need to erase anything, because intellectual history doesn't become oys intellectual history because we arrive at a different probability of "what does it mean."

    I have proposed a different solution. The Chasam Sofer tries to explain "what does it mean," but either he succeeds or doesn't. If he succeeds, great. Then his explanation can be studied to inform us what the text means. If he didn't, also great. Instead his explanation informs us not what the text means, but what the Chasam Sofer felt the text means.

    It seems that you're suggesting that between 1762 and 1839 the text meant what the Chasam Sofer suggested it meant, but between 1040 and 1105 it meant what Rashi suggested it meant, while, let's say, between 140 and 210 it meant whatever Rabbenu ha-kadosh meant, etc. I don't see that as very tenable.

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