Horayot 10a ~ Halley's Comet, or Rabbi Yehoshua's Comet?

הוריות י,א

כי הא דר' גמליאל ורבי יהושע הוו אזלי בספינתא בהדי דר' גמליאל הוה פיתא בהדי רבי יהושע הוה פיתא וסולתא שלים פיתיה דר' גמליאל סמך אסולתיה דרבי יהושע אמר ליה מי הוה ידעת דהוה לן עכובא כולי האי דאיתית סולתא אמר ליה כוכב אחד לשבעים שנה עולה ומתעה את (הספינות) [הספנים] ואמרתי שמא יעלה ויתעה אותנו]

Rabban Gamliel and Rabbi Yehoshua were traveling together on a ship. Rabban Gamliel had sufficient bread for the journey, while Rabbi Yehoshua had bread and also some flour. [The journey lasted longer than expected, and] when Rabban Gamliel’s bread was finished he relied on Rabbi Yehoshua’s flour for nourishment. Rabban Gamliel said to Rabbi Yehoshua: How did you know from the outset that we would have such a substantial delay that you would need more flour? Rabbi Yehoshua said to Rabban Gamliel: There is one star that rises once in seventy years and misleads sailors at sea, causing their journeys to be extended. And I said: Perhaps that star will rise during our journey and mislead us.

Rabbi Yehoshua knew that a comet would likely be visible during his sea voyage, and that its light would confuse the sailors who navigated by the stars.  That comet returned about once every 70 years.  Does that remind you of anything?

Halley's Comet

Halley's comet last made an appearance in 1986. I remember looking up at the night sky with my father, and being thoroughly disappointed. Alas, the comet and the earth were on opposite sides of the sun, which made the quality of the appearance "the worst in two thousand years." 

Comet over 5th ave and Broadway.jpg

Other visits from Halley's comet were far more spectacular. In 1066 the comet was so bright that it was threaded onto the the 230 foot-long Bayeux Tapestry recording the Norman conquest of England. In 1531 it was seen for three weeks, and was visible even when the moon was full. And in 1910 the comet shone so brightly that it made its way onto postcards commemorating the spectacle.

 The orbit of Halley's Comet.  From  here .

The orbit of Halley's Comet.  From here.

Renaming the comet for Rabbi Yehoshua

There are several claims for the oldest written description of Halley's Comet. The Chinese described its appearance as early as 240 BCE, but the current record is a Greek record of the comet from 467BCE.  In contrast there is apparently no dispute about the earliest description of the length of the comet's orbit.  That accolade has been awarded to Edmund Halley who, using data from comet sightings in 1531, 1607 and 1682 suggested that the eponymous comet had a periodicity of about 76 years. But today's page of Talmud is clear: a comet with an orbit of about 70 years was identified by Rabbi Yehoshua. We know that "Halley's" Comet appeared in 66CE, when both Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabban Gamliel (II) were young men, and it must be to this comet that Rabbi Yehoshua referred.  Therefore it is Rabbi Yehoshua who should be honored with first describing the periodicity of the comet, and not Halley.  This is both self-evident and beyond question. It is also another of several examples which we have mentioned elsewhere in which scientific principles or facts were not properly attributed to the talmudic rabbis who first identified them. And so Talmudology is delighted to rename the comet Yehoshua's Comet.

Here's another fun fact about Rabbi Yehoshua's Comet of 66CE. It was described by the Jewish historian Josephus, who wrote that "a star resembling a sword stood over the city; a comet persisted for a long time." Josephus also recorded that the comet was seen during Pesach in 66CE. He wrote that it was taken as a good omen by those who started the Jewish rebellion against the Romans which lasted until the destruction of the Temple in 70CE.  And who was it who led another rebellion some sixty years later? Why, it was Bar Kochvah - the Son of the Star.

1835 - The First Hebrew Book about Halley's Comet

 Hayyim Zelig Slonimski aged seventy-five. From   The Jewish Encyclopedia ,  New York, Funk and Wagnalls, 1912.

Hayyim Zelig Slonimski aged seventy-five. From The Jewish Encyclopedia, New York, Funk and Wagnalls, 1912.

To coincide with the appearance of Halley's Comet in 1835, a Hebrew book called Kokhava Deshavit (The Comet) was published in Vilna. It described where and when the comet would be visible with precise coordinates for the inhabitants of Bialystok, as well as an explanation of the nature of comets and their orbits. The author was the remarkable Hayyim Zelig Slonimski, (1810-1904), the founding editor of Hazefirah (The Dawn), a weekly Hebrew-language newspaper first published in Warsaw in 1862. He also wrote Mosdei Hokhmah (The Foundation of Wisdom), a work on algebra, and struck up a friendship with the famed German naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859). Not content with all this, Slonimski invented a method to send two telegraphs simultaneously over one wire (which was a very big deal at the time,) and developed a calculating machine that he later presented to the Imperial Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg. It was so successful that in 1845 the Russian minister of education made Slonimski an honorary citizen, a remarkable honor given the general oppression faced by the Jews at the time.

 Orbit of Halley’s Comet from  Kokhava Deshavit,  Vilna, 1835. Note that the outermost planet is Uranus. The second edition of the book (1857) described the discovery of Neptune in 1846. From the  Talmudology Library .

Orbit of Halley’s Comet from Kokhava Deshavit, Vilna, 1835. Note that the outermost planet is Uranus. The second edition of the book (1857) described the discovery of Neptune in 1846. From the Talmudology Library.

In Kokhava Deshavit Slonimski  explained Kepler's three laws of planetary motion, outlined Newton’s law of universal gravitation, and described the discovery of stellar aberration by the British astronomer James Bradley, which was an early, indirect proof of the validity of the heliocentric model of the solar system. After a description of each of the planets, Slonimski returned to the nature of comets in general and Halley’s Comet in particular. He described some of the astronomers whose findings helped explain what comets were, and ended with a depiction of the expected path of the comet.

In 1909 Mark Twain famously wrote that

I came in with Halley's Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year [1910], and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don't go out with Halley's Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: "Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together."

And he was right. He died on April 21, 1910, one day after the comet's closest approach to Earth. Twain thought the story of Halley's Comet was personal.  But Hayyim Slonimski knew that the story of the comet was national. He hoped that its reappearance would be celebrated by his descendants who had returned to their Jewish homeland. He ended his book describing how the comet would pass by the Earth, then circle behind the Sun, and then reappear sometime in March 1836. After that,

...it will continue along its path gradually becoming dimmer to the inhabitants of the Earth as it follows its orbit, until it will reappear [in 1910]. May it be then as a sign and wonder for our children after us in the Holy Land. Amen.

And so it was.

 

[For more about Hayyim Zelig Slonimski and his life as orthodox Jewish scientist, Talmudology is glad to offer this excerpt, taken from here.]

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How the Sarajevo Haggadah was Saved. Twice.

Image of Sarajevo Haggadah.jpg
Sarajevo-Haggadah ברוך.jpg

Of all the medieval illuminated Haggadot that exist, the Sarajevo Haggadah is perhaps the most famous.  It is thought to have been created in Barcelona around 1350, and today it is on display at the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina. If you are thinking of visiting it at the museum, plan ahead. The Haggadah is on display Tuesdays and Thursdays, and first Saturday of the month from noon to 1pm.  You may visit at other times, if you pony up more money and let them know in advance. According to the Museum, the Haggadah is "its most valuable holding," and for good reason. It has three sections: the first has 34 full page small biblical illuminations from the creation of the world to the death of Moses. The next is the text of the traditional Haggadah, and the last section contains poems and readings to be read on each of the seven days of Passover.  The illustrations are masterpieces in miniature; deep indigo and red across a golden background, with elegantly elongated Hebrew letters that seem to drip down the page. It is in every way, the gold standard of Haggadot.

The remarkable History of the Sarajevo Haggadah

We know little of the first five-hundred years of the Haggadah. The name of the original owner is not known, and it appears to have been taken out of Spain in 1492, when Jews were expelled by the Alhambra Decree. There is a note written by a Catholic priest, Giovanni Domenico Vistorini, who inspected the Haggadah in 1609 for any anti-Christian content. Vistorini, who was most likely a converted Jew, found nothing objectionable in the Haggadah. "His Latin inscription, Revisto per mi (“Surveyed by me”)" wrote the Pulitzer Prize winning author Geraldine Brooks "runs with a casual fluidity beneath the last, painstakingly calligraphed lines of the Hebrew text." The Haggadah then disappeared for almost three centuries, until it was sold to the National Museum by a Joseph Kohen in 1894. 

Dervis Korut saves the Haggadah

That the Sarajevo Haggadah had survived that long was highly improbable, but a series of even more unlikely events were to come.  On April 16, 1942 the Nazis invaded Sarajevo and immediately destroyed the city's eight synagogues. The museum's chief curator was an Islamic scholar named Dervis Korut. He heard the Nazis were looking for the Haggadah to add to their proposed "Museum of an Extinct Race." Realizing the danger, he was smuggling the Haggadah out of the museum under his coat when he was summoned by the much feared General Johann Fortner, who demanded it. Geraldine Brooks picks up the story:

The museum director feigned dismay. “But, General, one of your officers came here already and demanded the Haggadah,” he said. “Of course, I gave it to him.."...
“What officer?” Fortner barked. “Name the man!” 
The reply was deft: “Sir, I did not think it was my place to require a name.”

Korut eventually hid the Haggadah in the mosque of a small nearby village, where the Imam kept an eye on it and returned it at the end of the war.  The Haggadah had been saved by two brave Muslims.

Whoever saves one human life...

The man so determined to protect a Jewish book was the scion of a prosperous, highly regarded family of Muslim alims, or intellectuals, famous for producing judges of Islamic law.
— Geraldine Brooks. The Book of Exodus. The New Yorker, Dec 3, 2007.

While the Koruts are best remembered for having saved the Sarajevo Haggadah, it is not this achievement of which the family is most proud. “In our family, the Haggadah is a detail,” his son said.“What my father did for Jewish people—that is the biggest thing that we, in our family, have to be proud of.”

In 1942, shortly after hiding the Haggadah, a sixteen-year-old girl named Mira Papo came to Korut and asked to be hidden. The family took her in, dressed her as a Muslim, and passed her off as their maid. Four months later they arranged for Mira to join her aunt at an area on the Dalmatian coast where there was no Nazi presence. She survived the war and later moved to Israel. And then, in 1994, Mira wrote a testimony of her rescue and submitted it Yad Vashem.  Korut Dervis, who had died in 1969, and his wife Servet were added to the names of the Righteous Among the Nations. Servet received a certificate, a pension, and the right to Israeli citizenship.  

Just when the story seemed to have reached its conclusion, another dramatic episode began.  In 1999, at the height of the atrocities of the civil war in Kosovo, the Korut’s youngest daughter Lamija, and her Muslim husband were forced from their home by Serbian militiamen. They were sent to a refugee camp in which the conditions were so appalling that they were forced to flee. The couple were refused asylum by France and Sweden, and in desperation they turned to the small Jewish community of Skopje in Macedonia.  Somehow, Lamija still had with her the certificate that Yad Vashem had given to her mother. She showed it to Victor Mizrahi, the president of the community, and four days later, Lamija and her husband landed in Tel Aviv. The Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was at the airport to welcome them. “Today, we are closing a great circle in that the state of Israel, which emerged from the ashes, gives refuge to the daughter of those who saved Jews,” he said. And then, in the chaos of the media frenzy at the airport Lamija heard someone calling her in Serbo-Croation.

 “It was a good feeling, to have someone speaking your language,” she said. But she had no idea who it could be, greeting her so warmly. Pushing through the crowd was a slender, wiry man she had never seen before, with a shock of dark hair and a mustache. Opening his arms, he introduced himself, and Lamija fell into the embrace of Davor Bakovic, the son of Mira Papo.

The Haggadah is restored

It's a remarkable story, which I hope you will share at your Pesach Seder when you reach the passage שפיך חמתך על הגוים - "pour out Your wrath on the Gentiles who do not know You..." But having taken a deep breath and dried our eyes, let's return to the Haggadah itself. In her 2008 novel The People of the Book, Geraldine Brooks opens in Sarajevo, where, under the watch of staff from the United Nations and security officers from the State Museum, an Australian conservator works on the Sarajevo Haggadah.

 Pataki at work repairing the Sarajevo Haggadah. Photo courtesy of Andrea Pataki.

Pataki at work repairing the Sarajevo Haggadah. Photo courtesy of Andrea Pataki.

In fact the real Hagaddah did undergo conservation, but it was carried out by Andrea Pataki, from Stuttgart, Jean-Marie Arnolt of Paris, and the late Prof. Bezalel Narkiss, Professor Emeritus of Art History at the Hebrew University. These three experts wrote of their experience in conserving the Haggadah in a paper published in The Paper Conservator in 2005. For those of you who let your subscription lapse, you can find a copy here.

Andrea Pataki is a book conservator of world renown. For almost a decade she led the Studiengang für Papierrestaurierung, the Book and Paper Conservation Program at the State Academy of Fine Arts in Stuttgart, before taking up her present position as a professor at the Technical University of Cologne. Pataki is not Jewish, but had lost Jewish relatives in the Holocaust. Recalling her own role in the project, she never considered it significant that she was a Gentile born in Vienna now repairing a manuscript once pursued by the Nazis. Instead, she noted that she was hired because of her expertise and experience. Her own background was of little consequence. And that is how it should be.

In December 2001 Pataki spent nine days repairing the Haggadah at the Union Bank in Sarajevo. Each day, she recalled later in in an academic paper,

... the manuscript was brought to the 'conservation lab' in its metal box which was opened by representatives of the Museum. Working hours were from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm, after which the manuscript was locked in its box and promptly returned to the vault of the Union Bank. As a consequence, it was necessary to stop treatment each day at a stage at which the manuscript could be closed and put away safely.This meant making sure that all repairs would have adequate time to dry during the day, which required a great deal of planning and foresight.

Pataki found that the original covers of the Haggadah, which had certainly been made of vellum, were lost. In their place were cheap cardboard covers in a Turkish floral design, which were entirely orthogonal to the style of the Haggadah. Several sections, called quires, were detached from the rest of the book and needed to be carefully sewn back into place.  The book joints, where the outer boards of the cover meet the spine, had broken. This allowed Pataki access to the binding underneath. She repaired one of the four cords that ran vertically down the spine and around which the quires are sewn. The joints were reattached. Finally, she repaired the head a tail caps at the top and bottom of the spine with new calf leather that had been specially dyed for this restoration.

Of all the damage that the Haggadah had suffered, none was more important than the wine stains, just like those found on the pages of family Haggadot to this day.  Here is Pataki’s assessment:

The ritual of washing the hands twice during the ceremony had resulted in water stains on the parchment and smudges and smearing of pigments. The ceremony also calls for the drinking of four cups of wine and consumption of different foods dipped in salt water, before and during the festive meal. This activity resulted in many stains and discoloured areas on the pages which call for ritual drinking and eating…

What was to a conservator a sign of damage and discoloration was to the Jewish community a symbol of continuity. The stains were a testament that the Sarajevo Haggadah had not been left on a shelf, but had been used at the table, guiding the Seder night for hundreds of years.

Due to the use of the manuscript on the Passover table for many generations, the main damage to the text-block had been caused by liquid.
— Pataki A., Narkiss, B., Arnoult, J. The conservation of the Sarajevo Haggadah, The Paper Conservator, 2005: 29:1, 63-66.

The Sarajevo Haggadah as a symbol of  Tolerance and Hope

Neal Kritz, a lawyer at the United States Institute for Peace, was in Sarajevo in the late 1990s. He was part of a delegation that focused on the restoration of the justice system and the atrocities that had occurred during the Bosnian civil war. Kritz recalled how the Bosnian Serbs had demanded the Sarajevo Haggadah be displayed in Banja Luka, the de facto capital of the newly created Serb republic.  It was their treasure too, they claimed; it did not just belong to the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Their demands were rejected, and the Haggadah remained in Sarajevo, where a new display of it opened there only last month. Kritz received a token of gratitude from the Chief Prosecutor of the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovnia. It was, of course, a facsimile edition of the Sarajevo Haggadah, which had now come to symbolize efforts to make peace between Bosnians and Serbs. And in November 2017, UNESCO added the Sarajevo Haggadah to their Memory of the World Register to mark, naturally, the International Day for Tolerance.

Over the last seventy years the Sarajevo Haggadah has twice been saved. First, two Muslims risked their lives to rescue it from those who sought to annihilate the Jewish people. And then it was saved from the ruins of time by an expert from the very country from which so much hate had originated.  The last word goes to Mirsad Sijarić, the Director of the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina: "The Sarajevo Haggadah is physical proof of the openness of a society in which fear of the Other has never been an incurable disease."

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Avodah Zarah 51a ~ The Neck of a Grasshopper

Grasshopper anatomy.jpg

In today's page of Talmud there is a dispute about how far the prohibition against idol worship extends: 

עבודה זרה נא, א

 שחט לה חגב ר' יהודה מחייב וחכמים פוטרים

If one slaughtered a locust for an idol, Rabbi Yehuda deems him liable, and the Rabbis deem him exempt from punishment.

According to Rabbi Yehudah the neck of the grasshopper is similar to the neck of an animal; since slaughtering an animal for idol worship is prohibited, so, by analogy, is slaughtering a grasshopper.

ושאני חגב הואיל וצוארו דומה לצואר בהמה...

The neck of the grasshopper resembles the neck of an animal...

What is a neck?

The neck is the bit that connects an animal's head to its body. Grasshoppers have a head and they have a body, so perforce, they have a neck.  Here is what a typical (female) grasshopper looks like:

 

Diagram of a female grasshopper. From Pfadt, R. The Field Guide to Common Wester Grasshoppers. Wyoming Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin #912, 1994. p1.

As you can see, the pronotum  sits where the neck should be.  It is the bony upper plate of the first section of the thorax, and when viewed from the side, appears saddle shaped.  Other insects with a pronotum include ladybugs (or ladybirds, as they are quaintly called in Britain and elsewhere), termites, beetles and fleas. The pronotum covers the cervix, the neck proper, which is "a membranous area that allows considerable freedom of movement for protraction and retraction of the insect's head." Like all insects, grasshoppers possess an exoskeleton. Beneath this hard outer shell, lay all the soft squishy bits like the gut and heart, or at least what passes for a heart in an insect.

Rabbi Yehudah's Anatomy Lesson

Rabbi Yehudah declared that the neck of the grasshopper resembled the neck of an animal, by which he meant an animal that was offered as a sacrifice in the Temple. Rashi changes the language just a little, and in so doing suggests the resemblance is even closer. The grasshopper's neck does not just resemble (דומה) an animal's. Rather, they are the same:

דיש לה צואר כבהמה ולהכי מחייב רבי יהודה דכעין שחיטת פנים הוא

The grasshopper has a neck like an animal, which is why Rabbi Yehudah finds that [a person who slaughters a grasshopper like he would an animal] is liable...

Here is the explanation found in the Koren English Talmud:

Most insects possess a head located very close to the body, i.e., the thorax, and therefore lack a visible neck. Nevertheless, some types of grasshopper possess an uncommonly visible pronotum protecting the front of the thorax. This feature has the appearance of a neck, and so even though a grasshopper cannot be truly slaughtered, it can appear to be slaughtered much like animals with necks.

But animal necks and grasshopper necks are nothing like each other. 

The grasshopper neck:

  1. Is covered with a protective shell (the pronotum)
  2. Does not possess an endoskeleton.
  3. Is really the cervix which lies hidden beneath the pronotum.

The animal neck:

  1. Is covered with skin or feathers, not a hard protective shell.
  2. Has an endoskeleton made of seven cervical vertebrae.
  3. Is clearly visible and is not hidden.

It is not clear in what way Rabbi Yehudah equated the neck of a grasshopper with the neck of an animal that was sacrificed in Jerusalem, but his teaching is echoed in Jewish law.  According to Maimonides, such an act is forbidden if it is done as a part of a religious ceremony:

משנה תורה, הלכות עבודה זרה וחוקות הגויים ג׳:ד׳

 שָׁחַט לָהּ חָגָב פָּטוּר אֶלָּא אִם כֵּן הָיְתָה עֲבוֹדָתָהּ בְּכָךְ

And the Shulchan Aruch rules that a grasshopper slaughtered in front of an idol, regardless of whether this was part of a religious ceremony or not, is forbidden to be used by a Jew. 

שולחן ערוך ירוה דעה ס׳קלט, ד

שחט לפניה חגב, נאסר, אפלו אין דרך לעבדה בחגב כלל

As a result, it's probably best not to sacrifice a grasshopper to an idol, even if you can't see its neck.

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