Thursday, 10 May 2018

Daniel and his Holy Companions

The first chapter of Sefer Daniel introduces us to four Judean boys: Daniel, Hananya, Mishael, and Azarya. Through no action of their own, they are chosen from among the Judean nobility to be trained as potential members of King Nebuchadnezzar's court. By the king's decree, they are to undergo a 3 year educational program in Chaldean language. How does Sefer Daniel view the exile and indoctrination of the cream of Judean youth?

Daniel and Yosef

For starters, there are numerous parallels between Daniel in this story and the account of Yosef in Pharoah's court in Genesis. These include:
  • Both are taken as captives into a strange land
  • Both are given foreign names in place of their Hebrew name
  • Both resist sin and assimilation
  • Both are granted wisdom and the ability to interpret dreams
  • Both appear before the king and impress him with said wisdom to the exclusion of the court magicians
  • Both become members of the King's court

These persistent parallels serve to orient the reader. The Book of Daniel is not an island. The foundation is is built on is the classic story of living faithfully in exile, the story of Yosef in Egypt. The Book of Daniel will go on to explore the same themes and expand on them. This is to the benefit of it's intended audience, the many subsequent generations of Jews who live as subjects of foreign powers. So what insights does Daniel 1 add on top of the Yosef story?

The Holy and the Profane

There are some apparently irrelevant details in verse 2 when describing Yehoyakim's defeat by the Babylonians:

וַיִּתֵּן אֲדֹנָי בְּיָדוֹ אֶת-יְהוֹיָקִים מֶלֶךְ-יְהוּדָה, וּמִקְצָת כְּלֵי בֵית-הָאֱלֹהִים, וַיְבִיאֵם אֶרֶץ-שִׁנְעָר, בֵּית אֱלֹהָיו; וְאֶת-הַכֵּלִים הֵבִיא, בֵּית אוֹצַר אֱלֹהָיו
Why is the capture of vessels from the Temple mentioned here, when it plays no further part in the story? One could argue that this is simply an intertextuality with Chapter 5, setting up the story where King Belshazar uses said vessels for his idolatrous party. This may be true, but it is worth noting that there are only a handful of textual connections between the stories in the first half of Daniel. For the most part, each story stands alone.

I'd like to suggest another possible reason for the mention of the temple vessels. The reader is meant to draw a parallel between the captive vessels in verse 2 and the captive youths in verse 3. Just as the holy vessels from Beit Hamikdash are being desecrated by being brought into a house of idolatry, so to are these noble Judean youths being desecrated by being indoctrinated into Babylonian culture.

This theme of desecrating the holy is further emphasized in verse 7, when the boys are given new Babylonian names:

וַיָּשֶׂם לָהֶם שַׂר הַסָּרִיסִים, שֵׁמוֹת; וַיָּשֶׂם לְדָנִיֵּאל בֵּלְטְשַׁאצַּר, וְלַחֲנַנְיָה שַׁדְרַךְ, וּלְמִישָׁאֵל מֵישַׁךְ, וְלַעֲזַרְיָה עֲבֵד נְגוֹ

What happens to the four companions' Hebrew names? Names that proclaim the glory of God:
  • Daniel- God Judges
  • Hananya- God is Gracious
  • Mishael- Who is like God?
  • Azarya- God Helps

The boys are instead given names of Babylonian Gods:

Just as the temple vessels are profaned with idolatry, so are the four Jewish youths profaned with idolatrous names.

Of Vessels and Vassals

Yet Nebuchadnezzar's irreverent plan immediately goes off the rails. In verse 8 Daniel makes a decision not to eat the non-kosher meat and wine provided to the King's servants:
וַיָּשֶׂם דָּנִיֵּאל עַל-לִבּוֹ, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-יִתְגָּאַל בְּפַת-בַּג הַמֶּלֶךְ וּבְיֵין מִשְׁתָּיו; וַיְבַקֵּשׁ מִשַּׂר הַסָּרִיסִים, אֲשֶׁר לֹא יִתְגָּאָל

Daniel and his companions refuse to allow themselves to be profaned by their immersion in Babylonian language and culture. They are careful not to ingest impure food and they presumably hold themselves aloof from other parts of Babylonian culture. God's response to their dedication is both immediate and substantial. They are blessed and quickly become the wisest advisors in the kingdom.

וְהַיְלָדִים הָאֵלֶּה אַרְבַּעְתָּם, נָתַן לָהֶם הָאֱלֹהִים מַדָּע וְהַשְׂכֵּל בְּכָל-סֵפֶר וְחָכְמָה; וְדָנִיֵּאל הֵבִין, בְּכָל-חָזוֹן וַחֲלֹמוֹת...וְכֹל, דְּבַר חָכְמַת בִּינָה, אֲשֶׁר-בִּקֵּשׁ מֵהֶם, הַמֶּלֶךְ--וַיִּמְצָאֵם עֶשֶׂר יָדוֹת, עַל כָּל-הַחַרְטֻמִּים הָאַשָּׁפִים, אֲשֶׁר, בְּכָל-מַלְכוּתוֹ

Daniel chapter 1 carries a powerful message to Jews living in times of exile. Yes, the Babylonians succeeded in capturing and profaning holy vessels of the temple, but people are not vessels. People can ultimately choose whether to allow themselves to be profaned or to retain their sanctity. And God himself will bless those who choose the more difficult path.

The History of Daniel

So, continuing from our previous discussion of structure, let's get into the history of Sefer Daniel. The book begins with year 3 of Yehoyakim's reign and ends in year 3 of Cyrus's reign, a 7 decade period. Let's put together a rough chronology of relevant events based on Wikipedia articles and try to place chapters of Daniel within that timeline:

  • 608BCE- Yehoyakim appointed king of Judah by Pharaoh Necho
  • 605BCE- Nebuchadnezzar's father dies, becomes king
  • 605BCE- Battle of Carchemish, Nebuchadnezzar seige of Jerusalem. Yehoyakim/Judah join Babylonian Empire. First deportation of Babylonian Exile
    • Daniel 1
  • 604BCE
    • Daniel 2, 3?
  • 601BCE- Yehoyakim renews allegiance to Egyptian empire
  • 598BCE- Nebuchadnezzar seige of Jerusalem. Yehoyakim deposed, maybe killed
  • 588BCE- Destruction of 1st Temple
  • 562BCE- Nebuchadnezzar dies
  • 562 to 560BCE- Amel Marduk king of Babylon
  • 560 to 556BCE- Neriglissar king of Babylon
  • 559BCE- Cyrus the Great becomes king of Persia under Medes
  • 556BCE- Labashi-Marduk king of Babylon
  • 556–539BCE- Nabonidus king of Babylon
    • Daniel 4
  • 553-550?BCE- Cyrus conquers Medes
  • 553-543BCE- Belshazzar rules as regent while Nabonidus is in Teima
    • Daniel 5, 7, 8
  • 539BCE- Cyrus the Great conquers Babylon. Commands building of 2nd temple
    • Daniel 6, 9?
  • 537BCE
    • Daniel 10-12
  • 530BCE- Cyrus dies in Battle


Historical Problems in Daniel

What problems arise when we try to map the happenings in Daniel to this chronology?
  1. Ch. 1- The books of Daniel, Melachim, Divrei Hayamim, Yirmiaya, Josephus all give differing accounts of Yehoyakim's defeat and death(a good summary can be found in “Jehoiakim Slept with his Fathers…” (II Kings 24:6) – Did He?, Oded Lipschits)
  2. No minister by the name of Daniel is recorded in any other Babylonian/Persian source. On the other hand, Daniel is mentioned in Ezekiel(during the Babylonian exile), and Ezra(100 years later).
  3. Ch. 4- No prolonged absence of Nebhuchadnezzar from the throne is known to history. On the other hand, Nabonidus' absence is well established, including the Prayer of Nabonidus scroll from Qumran)
  4. Ch. 5, 7,8- Belshazzar never seems to have been King, rather he was Crown Prince and Regent
  5. Ch. 6, 9- The King, Darius the Mede, a contemporary of Cyrus who began his reign at 62 years old, is unknown to history. Darius the Great only came to rule the Persian empire in 522BCE at the age of 28, but perhaps the text is referring to some other milestone that happened later in his kingship. Even so, assuming that Daniel was about 10 years old in 598BCE, he would have been 110 years old by the time Cyrus the Great was 62, which seems farfetched
  6. Ch. 9- the 70 year calculation for the rebuilding of Jerusalem is not so straightforward. Different commentators attempt to explain the calculation. Many even gave up and concluded that Daniel miscalculated ("כל הגאונים פה אחת הסכימה דעתם עם דעת הקדמונים שאמרו שטעה דניאל בחשבונו" אבן עזרא על דניאל ט:ב)

Nabonidus Cylinder
The commentators take various approaches in their attempts to resolve these issues, but the overall picture that emerges is that Historical precision is less of a concern in Daniel than, say, in Divrei Hayamim. For this reason, historians find Daniel to be a less useful text for the period than, say, official chronicles of the Babylonian and Persian Empires.


These Historical issues with the book of Daniel raise the question whether the stories therein are historically factual. Did a Jew named Daniel really rise to prominence in the Babylonian and Persian courts? Did all these miracles and visions actually happen to him?

This sort of question is not foreign to traditional commentary. For instance, one Amora opined that the Book of Job is ahistorical:
יתיב ההוא מרבנן קמיה דר' שמואל בר נחמני ויתיב וקאמר איוב לא היה ולא נברא אלא משל היה(בבא בתרא טו.)
My own gut feeling about Daniel, given it's historical problems and it's structural idiosyncrasies, is that the character Daniel existed(as mentioned in Ezekiel) but that the Book of Daniel was composed after Daniel's lifetime. I assume that the writer of Daniel collected different stories and visions of Daniel, both written and oral, and wrote them into a single scroll. This writer likely belonged to the sages of the Great Assembly which would place him somewhere in the period between 530 and 150BCE, which is, admittedly, quite a long time interval.

Antiochus IV Epiphanes
The current scholarly consensus seems to be towards the end of that period, due to:
  1. The symbolic reference to Antiochus Epiphanes in Daniel 7
  2. Daniel's absence from the Canonization of Prophets and from Ben Sira
  3. It's presence in the Sibylline Oracles and Qumran Caves

The Value of Daniel

So, assuming the Book of Daniel was compiled up to 400 years after the period it portrays and it's historical accuracy is a bit sketchy, what are it's merits? More specifically, why did the Men of the Great Assembly choose to include this scroll in the biblical canon?

Daniel and his companions requesting kosher meals
Daniel contains some of the most iconic scenes in the bible, such as Daniel in the Lion's Den and the Fiery Furnace(which apparently served as inspiration for the famous midrash about Abraham). It's themes of Jews maintaining their faith while living in Gentile regimes have been relevant throughout our people's long history. Daniel and his companions were taken as slaves to Babylonia, but stayed true to God's covenant, and thrived thanks to God's blessing. Their host nations, on the other hand, rise, are judged for their sins, and ultimately fall. Daniel is the story of our covenant with God even in times of exile and subjugation.

    Monday, 7 May 2018

    Structure of Sefer Daniel

    Recently I began a project to learn sefer Daniel with the 929 site. Daniel is a book that always held a certain appeal for me, perhaps because of the memorable stories, perhaps because of the strange allure of Aramaic language and Babylonian culture. As such, for the past few weeks I've been working my way through the book, so this will hopefully be the first of a few posts on the topic. Note: I'm dedicating this series to my father, Zwi ben Yakov. May Hashem grant him a speedy and successful resolution to his current medical issues.

    High Level Structure

    Let's begin with the high-level structure of Daniel. The book has 12 chapters, which I have summarized as follows:

    Ch. Topic Narrator Hero Lang Time Period{King/Year}
    1 Children in Court 3rd Person Daniel+3 Heb Yhykm/3->Neb.->Koresh/1
    2 Dream of the Statue 3rd Person Daniel Arm, Heb Nebuchadnezzar/2
    3 The Fiery Funace 3rd Person 3 Arm Nebuchadnezzar/?
    4 Dream of the Great Tree Nebuchadnanezzar Daniel Arm Nebuchadnezzar/?
    5 The Writing on the Wall 3rd Person Daniel Arm Belshazar/?
    6 The Lion's Den 3rd Person Daniel Arm Darius the Mede/1->Cyrus
    7 Dream of 4 Beasts 3rd Person Daniel Arm Belshazar/1
    8 Dream of Ram + Goat Daniel Daniel Heb Belshazar/3
    9 Prayer for Jerusalem Daniel Daniel Heb Darius the Mede/1
    10 Vision of Angels P1 3rd Person Daniel Heb Cyrus/3
    11 Vision of Angels P2 3rd Person Daniel Heb Cyrus/3
    12 Vision of Angels P3 3rd Person Daniel Heb Cyrus/3

    As you can see, Daniel is a rather Eclectic work of literature. It's chapters comprise different languages, different timelines, different narrators, even different heroes. Is this a literary choice, reflecting the virtual Ziggurat of Babylonian culture the exiled Judeans found themselves thrown into? Does it reflect a history of editing and revision, as new stories were added to an existing text? Or is simply a collection of Daniel's writings, written at different periods over the course of a long life?

    What is generally agreed upon is that the Book of Daniel is divided into two distinct parts:

    Daniel Part 1

    The first 6 chapters take the form of Court Tales, which Oxford Reference defines as:
    A popular genre of the Persian and Hellenistic periods...that emphasize the wisdom of the courtier, often in settings of danger
    They seem to be in chronological order, at least in that they begin with King Nebuchadnezzar, move to Belshazer, and end with Darius. The stories are written mostly in Aramaic, with a third-person narrator, and Daniel as the protagonist. The exceptions are:

    • Chapter 1 and the beginning of ch. 2 are in Hebrew
    • Chapter 1 features all four companions, and Chapter 3 features the 3 others(Daniel is conspicuously missing)
    • Chapter 4 is written from the perspective of Nebuchadnezzar, who relates his dream and Daniel's interpretation
    One final point is that these stories seem form a cohesive unit, with intertextualities between them, such as:
    1. The 3 companions seem to be mentioned in Chapter 1 only because they are the heroes of Chapter 3
    2. In Chapter 5 the Queen recommends the King to Daniel, apparently based on his success in chapters 2, 4
    3. The Golden statue in Chapter 3 is implicitly Nebuchadnezzar's response to the interpretation of the dream in Chapter 2
    4. Chapters 1-4 all involve King Nebuchadnezzar and create a continued dialogue between him and God
    5. The chapters seem to come in similar pairs: 4 and 5 are visions of the downfall of haughty kings, while 3 and 6 are courtly intrigues to bring down Daniel and his companions based on their religious devotion

    Daniel Part 2

    The last 6 chapters are a collection of four dreams/visions Daniel has seen. They are a less cohesive unit than the first part of the book:
    • The first vision is in Aramaic, the other 3 are in Hebrew
    • The first and forth visions are written in first-person, while the second and third are in 3rd person
    • Besides that, the different visions don't seem to reference or build-on one another
    The general theme of these visions is the rise and fall of Babylonian, Persions, Greek, and Roman empires according to God's decrees, as well as the rebuilding of Temple in Jerusalem and return of the Judean exiles.

    Chapter 7

    Rabbi Yonatan Grossman argues that Chapter 7 actually belongs to the first part of the book. One reason he gives for this is that it is written in Aramaic, just like chapters 2-6. The other reason it that chapters 2-7 thereby form a chiastic structure.

    • Ch1: Children in Court
      • Ch2: Dream of 4-Part Statue(represents 4 Empires)
        • Ch3: Fiery Furnace(Daniel's companions are tested)
          • Ch4: Dream of the Great Tree(downfall of haughty king)
          • Ch5: The Writing on the Wall(downfall of haughty king)
        • Ch6: Lion's Den(Daniel is tested)
      • Ch7: Dream of 4 Beasts(represents 4 Empires)

    What emerges is a series of stories about lone Israelite exiles surviving among the Babylonian/Persian court. Rather than being subsumed by or trampled under the dominant culture, they hold to their faith and even thrive, dwelling among the halls of power, while their host Empires rise and fall by God's decree.

    Thursday, 4 January 2018

    Rav Kook and Science

    So here is an interesting lecture. Professor Tamar Ross speaks about her paper The Cognitive Value of Religious Truth Statements: Rabbi A. I. Kook and Postmodernism.

    Professor Ross begins with the problem: what do we do, as men and women of faith, when new scientific theories/discoveries conflict with the accepted understanding of scripture?

    She delineates 4 approaches:
    1. Why rely on science? Rationality is limited(Lubavich Rebbe)
    2. Allegory. Distinguish between content and presentation. Torah uses allegory to express itself. Torah's presentation is an allegory to scientific creation(Rambam on Aristotle's proof for eternal universe) Note: this also sounds like Professor Nathan Aviezer's "In the Beginning"
    3. Torah is not history/science book. It's narratives come to teach subjective truths, not empiric truths. Bereshit teaches us that we are dependent on a higher force, not a scientific account of creation(Yeshayahu Lebovich) Note: this sounds to me like Rabbi Natan Slifkin's The Challenge of Creation
    4. Scientific/moral insight as a form of continuing revelation. Beliefs are best chosen by world/people they create. Humanity must be ready for a particular revelation. Genesis is written in an epoch-neutral fashion(Rav Kook)

    The rest of the lecture is selections from Rav Kook's writings that exemplify this fourth approach. This is worth listening to, but I won't go into detail here.

    Professor Ross concludes by stating the relevance of this approach in our Postmodern age. In this time when objective truth seems so remote and we struggle with the question of what to believe, Rav Kook's approach can be a powerful tool for deciding which beliefs to promote.

    Sunday, 17 December 2017

    Book Review: Vagueness Vanquished

    Vagueness Vanquished: A Strategic Approach to Learning Gemara by Rabbi Peretz Segal is a 100 page handbook detailing the author's methodology for learning Talmud.

    Rav Segal  gives his method the acronym StructaPoP, which has 3 phases:
    1. Structure- structural analysis of the text
    2. Power Questioning- to identify the problems or ambiguities within the text
    3. Paradigm Shift- finding a new model for understanding the sugia
    After introducing the general methodology in Chapter 1, the following 3 chapters takes us a level deeper, with how to apply it to Mishna, Gemara, and Rishonim, respectively.

    I had the privilege of attending Rav Segal's classes for the better part of a year in 2003-4. The book does a good job of presenting his technique and includes a moderate dose of his wry sense of humor. I even found a new idea to adapt to my current learning: for each textual section, go back and formulate and write down a title summarizing the topic of the section. This helps me keep track of the big picture and the flow of the meta-narrative.

    I recall my move from Ohr Samayach to Har Etzion in 2004. At first, immersion into the Brisker methodology was a bit of a culture shock. The style of classes, their focus and even the vocabulary were completely different. Looking back, Rav Segal's methodology has a lot to say about 1) Structure and 2) Power Questioning, but not much about 3) Paradigm Shift, except that there should be one. What sort of new paradigm should we look for? How can we find it?  In the10 out of 100  pages dedicated to Paradigm Shift in the handbook, these questions are barely addressed. If anything, one would expect this to be the largest section! Structural analysis is fundamental, as is asking good questions, but at the end of the day, it is one's final explanation of the sugya that is the result of one's learning.

    The Gush's Brisker Methodology, on the other hand, is all about the Paradigm Shift. The Brisker Derech focuses on developing a library of models for explaining the sugiot of the Talmud. So, to sum up, Rav Segal's shiur gave me a great basis from which to continue in the Gush, but the difference in emphasis took me a while to process.

    Bottom line, I highly recommend Vagueness Vanquished as an introduction to Talmud learning methodology. It's an easy read and the tools for approaching texts are fundamental for the aspiring lamdan.

    Monday, 11 December 2017

    Book Review: Wrestling Jacob

    I originally heard about Shmuel Klitsner's book Wrestling Jacob on Sarah Rindner's excellent Book of Books blog. It sat on my list of books to order for a long time, but recently made the cut when I was making an Amazon order and I found a used copy on the cheap.

    What you get is 180 pages of close literary reading and Modern commentary on the story of Jacob and Esau. The analysis begins with Rivka's tempestuous pregnancy, continues through to the brothers' momentous meeting upon Jacob's return to Canaan, and ends with a final exploration of parallel passages in the Torah, specifically God trying to kill Moshe at the Inn and Bilaam's encounter with the Angelic swordsman.

    Klitsner's methodology is interesting. He has a long introduction detailing methodology and assumptions. It's important, so let's summarize the salient features:
    • Close literary readings
      • as opposed to Critical readings which put idiosyncrasies down to progressive changes/additions
      • as opposed to Fundamentalist readings which explain-away ideosyncrasies
      • instead, Klitsner takes idiosyncrasies/repetition as an authorial choice with a literary payload
    • Bible as a "Divine Anthropology" of Jewish people
      • As opposed to novels or even Greek classics which focus on Human individuality
    • Subtext gives insight into authorial intent

    Rabbi Klitsner
    Klitsner ultimately suggests these stories have as a theme, the struggle between Human autonomy and Divine destiny. Yet he contrasts how this theme plays out in the Bible with how it plays out in Greek literature. In Greek literature, people must follow their destiny as determined by the Gods, when they break this mold, bad things happen. The Bible carries this theme in the opposite direction. Characters try to fulfill their divine destiny, but suffer when they use illicit means to achieve those ends.

    This is a very Modern literary reading, with the focus being on Jacob's individual religious experience, his inner struggle, and his eventual redemption.

    Bottom line, Wrestling Jacob is a great book for anyone interested in Literary Bible studies. It's a short book, but is dense with ideas, close readings, and intertextualities. Highly recommended!

    Monday, 15 August 2016

    Yemei Iyun Be-Tanakh 2016

    I recently had the opportunity to attend Herzog College's annual Tanach Conference, Yemei Iyun Be-Tanakh. The conference takes place on the Herzog/Har Etzion campus in Alon Shvut over five days, and had 7000 attendees this year. Each day has five time slots, with seven parallel lecture tracks for a total of 175 lectures!(As you might imagine, just choosing what to sign-up for was a somewhat daunting task) The lectures are given by teachers at the college, as well as by prominent Israeli Tanach scholars. In any case, I'm only going to summarize the 10 lectures I attended over the course of two days.


    המבנה והמסר של הספר השני בתהלים, חטא דוד ותיקונו, ד"ר גזונדהייט בני

    Dr. Benny Gezundheit has a passion for structure and a love of visual aids. His lecture on the structure of the 2nd book of Tehilim came with 7 colored handouts summarizing the structure of the book at large, as well as a more detailed look at books 2, 3 and psalm 51. He argues, quite convincingly, that the second section of Davidic psalms, appearing in chapter 2, is arranged to tell an aggadic story of David's path from the sin of Bat Sheva to repentance and redemption. He also identifies a chiastic structure by which this section is surrounded by psalms of the Levitical authors, Assaf and the descendants of Korach, thus suggesting the physical layout of the Temple.

    דוד, יונתן ומפיבושת: הטרגדיה מאחורי אהבה שאינה תלויה בדבר, הרב בזק אמנון

    Rav Amnon Bazak read us through the passages where David interacts with Yonatan and his son Mephiboshet. He points out the text's repeated emphasis of Yonatan's returning to his father's house. This suggests a tragic reading whereby Yonatan is torn between his love of David and his familial affiliation, ending in his death beside his father. This explains David's anger at the loyal Mephiboshet at not following him, and his strange decision to divide Mephiboshet's inheiritance with Ziba, as an expression of David's disappointment with Yonatan's mixed-loyalties. My favorite moment from the Yemei Iyun was when Rav Bazak read the passage where David rescinds Mephiboshet's inheritance- there was an audible gasp from the audience at this emotionally loaded passage.

    כיצד מונים את המצוות?, הרב סבתו חיים

    Rav Sabato takes us through the history of medieval exegetes and their efforts to count the 613 mitzvot. He points out the Ramban's ambivalence about the number 613, based solely on Rav Shimlai's statement in the gemara.

    משנולד יוסף נולד שטנו של עשו – צאצאי רחל נלחמים בעמלק, שלוסברג יעל

    A review of biblical conflict between Yaakov and Eisav and their descendants. She pointed out some very suggestive patterns in these passages, noting that Yosef tends to attack directly while Binyamin schemes. She concludes that Shaul's mistake with Amalek was that he is a descendant of Binyamin yet he attacked them directly. This argument did not sit well with me. It smacks of mysticism and doesn't really gel with the story, as far as I can tell(Shaul's direct attack works fine, it's the aftermath in which he fails.)

    יצחק ורבקה יעקב ועשיו, הרב מדן יעקב

    Rav Yakov Medan asks if scripture is consistent with Chazal's characterization of Esau as wicked. He points out that no explicit sin is mentioned regarding Esau, though his attitude towards the bechora is disappointing. Not only that, but Yitzchak's love of Esau the hunter seems justified since food  for the wandering household is scarce, and the treaty Avimelech and Phichol is likely the result of Esau's raids. Rav Medan argues that Yitzchak actually intended to give Yaacov the blessing of Abraham while Esau was to be the military leader. Rivka misunderstands, thinking that Yitzchak intends to give both roles to Esau, resulting tragically in Esau's exclusion and the eternal enmity between the brothers' descendants.


    בכיו של נביא – אלישע בדמשק, הרב סמט אלחנן

    Rav Elchanan Samet  points out the curious story of Elisha's prophecy to Hazael. Why is the prophet in Damascus? Why does he break down and cry mid-prophecy? Why does he reveal so much to Hazael? Rav Samet answers these question by pointing out that the worst of Elisha's prophecy was not actually inflicted on Israel. Elisha used his prophecy to build his reputation among the Aramean elites. As a result, they tempered their approach to Israel and the harsh prophecy was only partially fulfilled.

    ערכה של יוזמה אנושית בספר שופטים, הרב מרקוס יוסף

    Rav Yosef Marcus points out that the six judges in the book of Shoftim are not listed in chronological order, rather in order of descending spiritual level, a well established reading of the book. He adds that there is an additional point here in that they also descend in regard to the amount of personal initiative they take in their service of God, thus estabelishing personal initiative as the central value of the book of Judges:
    1. Otniel is Caleb's son-in-law/partner, paragons of bravery and initiative
    2. Ehud is also quite proactive and inventive in his strategy to overcome Moav
    3. Devora/Barak are already a step down. Devora takes the initiative, but Barak needs a good deal of convincing and his honor is passed-on to a woman as a result
    4. Gidon doesn't take initiative, but follows an Angel's instructions
    5. Yiftach only saves Israel on the condition that he is granted permanent leadership status
    6. Shimshon helps Israel not out of his own will, but providentially as he pursues his own agenda
    This was a great shiur and I'll just take a moment to add my own twist on Sefi's idea. Many organizations go through a similar life-cycle. They are founded by highly motivated individuals, but as they grow and mature, they take on a more corporate structure, manned with by professionals who do things in a more careful, organized fashion. Perhaps the judges' descending initiative is not the result of their descending spiritual level, but rather is a separate track. Perhaps the point being made here is that, while the young nation can be founded by Otniels, the mature nation requires a more organized form of government, otherwise, the spiritual momentum cannot be maintained. In this way, Judges makes the argument for the appointing of King Shaul that follows in the book of Shmuel.

    איך נראתה "יהדות" בתקופת השופטים?, ד"ר משגב חגי

    Hagai Misgav asks how Jewish ritual/law looked in the days of the Judges, long before the codification of Jewish practice based on the discussions of the sages recorded in the Talmud. He points to a number of interesting text that give us hints:
    1. Yibum and inheritance laws in sefer Ruth differ markedly from scripture and our accepted understanding of it
    2. Shoftim mentions a number of holidays unknown to us today
      1. The Shiloh Holiday
      2. The Festival of Yiftach's Daughter
      3. Zevach Mishpacha
      4. Rosh Chodesh feast, pilgrimage to the prophet

    מגילת אסתר כסיפור קומי, ד"ר ורדיגר תמר

    Tamar Vardiger claims that, while the Tanach contains many humorous passages, such as the story of Bilaaam, Megillat Esther is unique in that the entire work is a comedy. She argues that Esther, Ahasueros, and Haman embody the comedy archetypes of the Trickster, the Fool, and the Villain. She details how nearly every scene in the Megilla acts to undermine our expectations of what will happen next, and how Ahasueros, Haman, and the Persian Legal System are humorously undermined time and again. In light of this reading, Dr. Vardiger argues that the Megilla's purpose is to temper the great Chillul Hashem of the Persian exile by showing that those who appear to be in charge rule, in truth, at the mercy of the one true God.

    ניסי אלישע - מה באו ללמדנו?, הרב מדן יעקב

    In this lecture, Rav Medan draws attention to the abundance and variety of miracles performed by the prophet Elisha. What is the purpose of this uncharacteristic focus on minor wonders? The Rav's answer is to point out that the 45 year period of Aram's domination of Israel, a domination facilitated by Elisha's own actions, was a terrible time. Jewish men were routinely slaughtered, their woman and children sold into slavery, while those who remained suffered from decimated crops and starvation. During this difficult time, Elisha wandered the land, performing miracles and giving the people hope for the coming redemption.

    Online Resources

    So, as you can see from this sampling, Yemei Iyun had a really impressive selection of lectures. You can see some more of the conference's lectures at
    (Note that only the lectures that took place in the Alon Shvut synagogue were filmed)

    We were also given a demo of Tanakh Herzog, the college's new online tanach learning platform
    It makes for a very respectable alternative to