Monday, July 21, 2008

Rabbi A. Stanley Dreyfus on the Jewish Catalog: unpublished notes

Since my last two posts were about my grandfather Rabbi Dr. A. Stanley Dreyfus and the Jewish Catalog, it makes sense in this post to combine them.

My grandfather had an incredibly extensive book collection, which includes an original folio Vilna Shas (i.e. printed in Vilna), a Hebrew-Latin Bible printed in Venice in 1551, and an edition of the Mishnah printed in Germany in 1814 with vowels and a translation and commentary in German written in Hebrew characters (not Yiddish, German) handwritten in the margins by Solomon Eppinger of Cincinnati (an original faculty member at the Hebrew Union College) around 1870. But I was mildly surprised to see that this collection also included The Jewish Catalog. But not so surprised, since many different views are represented in this library. It was located on the shelf with books about minhagim, marriage, and mourning.

Inside my grandfather's copy of The Jewish Catalog is a sheaf of small sheets of paper with his notes written on them. It appears that these notes may have been intended for a review of the book. I don't know whether this review was ever written or published (though I could check out whether the CCAR Journal ever ran a review of The Jewish Catalog when I'm back at the apartment -- I'm sure he had a complete set). I'm guessing the notes were written soon after the publication of the book, though there's really no way to know.

So here are Rabbi A. Stanley Dreyfus's notes on The Jewish Catalog (to my best ability to read his handwriting), with my attempts at commentary on this raw primary text. I wasn't surprised that his reaction was critical, but I was surprised to find myself, a do-it-yourself-type Jew, agreeing with many of his criticisms. I've never read The Jewish Catalog cover-to-cover, but this inspires me to want to write my own critique from a 21st-century grassroots-Judaism perspective.

The Jewish Catalogue [sic - of course he would go for the more British spelling], A do-it-yourself kit
Richard Siegel
Michael Strassfeld
Sharon Strassfeld

"A compendium of tools and resources for use in Jewish education and Jewish living in the fullest sense of those terms"

This is a direct quotation from the introduction, p. 8.

Expression of Jewish countercultural activity of late 60's in secular and Jewish world
Move toward communal living
Returning to the land
Relearning joys of "making it yourself"
Voicing social and political concern

This book undertakes
1) to provide immediately useful information
2) to direct those interested to additional resources
3) to present traditional dimensions of each subject covered
4) to open options for personal creativity and contemporary utilization

Ideal: personal responsibility
physical participation
These are also direct quotes and paraphrases from the introduction (p. 8-9), and the relevant paragraphs are marked off in pencil in the book. Here, he was just summarizing. Next, Rabbi Dreyfus's own reactions begin:

Disturbing aspects of book -- immediate hostile reaction

= Errors of fact

Tenaim תנאים - get
Tallit - worn by all males past age of B/M in Conservative & Reform syn, & by married men in Orthodox syn. p 52
Lulav on Shabbat

Responsibility of teacher

Here's what The Jewish Catalog has to say about tenaim (p. 162): "1. The betrothal is created by the writing of tenaim -- a legal document binding on both parties. 2. Because the tenaim are as binding as a marriage contract -- that is, they are dissoluble only through divorce or death -- the custom of signing tenaim a year before the wedding has, in general, given way to the custom of signing them immediately before the actual wedding takes place." And there isn't a section about divorce or gittin (until the second volume).

So I can't tell what Rabbi Dreyfus is getting at in his laconic note. Perhaps he's saying that a get is in fact not necessary for the dissolution of tenaim, and tenaim can be dissolved by other means? I don't know enough about tenaim to understand which part he's claiming is a factual error.

On p. 51 (not 52), it says "The tallit is the prayer shawl worn by married men in Orthodox synagogues, and by all males past the age of Bar Mitzvah in Conservative and Reform synagogues." Now which part is Rabbi Dreyfus taking issue with here? There are so many possibilities. First of all, the tallit is certainly not universal among post-bar mitzvah males in Reform synagogues, and was considerably less so in the 1970s. As a Reform congregational rabbi, this could not have escaped Rabbi Dreyfus's attention. Second of all, the custom of wearing a tallit only after marriage is not universal in Orthodox communities -- in particular, I believe it is specific to Eastern European communities. As an uber-yekke (at the very least by marriage and disposition, but his Alsatian-born father also spoke German), Rabbi Dreyfus would not have let this omission of German minhag go unaddressed. Finally, I don't know whether tallit use among Reform and Conservative women was common yet in the 1970s, but it may pose another problem with this sentence. (The Catalog takes the interesting position of "Women are not obligated to wear a tallit, nor are they prohibited from wearing one", leaving out any differences of opinion for either clause.)

On p. 73, the Catalog says "It is a mitzvah to wave the lulav on each of the first seven days of Sukkot. The proper time is in the morning -- either before the Morning Service or during the service immediately before the Hallel." (The first sentence sort of contradicts the next part about Shabbat, and the second is another factual error: according to the Mishnah, the proper time for lulav is all day.) P. 75-76 says "The lulav is not shaken on Shabbat -- because perhaps you may carry it (e.g., to the synagogue) and thereby violate the prohibition against carrying an object more than four amot (approximately eighty inches) in the public domain during Shabbat." Now this is an oversimplification of a complex issue, but I don't entirely see how it's an error. Thoughts?

I'm not sure what "Responsibility of teacher" refers to. There is a section called "Teachers", beginning on p. 292, which includes a list of "good people to talk to" ("a list of people whom the editors of this book coincidentally know"), but it doesn't say anything about teachers' responsibilities. Perhaps Rabbi Dreyfus is referring instead to p. 282, in the "How to Start a Havurah" section. This is a fascinating passage that raises questions about how truly egalitarian the early havurot were -- both in the unselfconscious use of the masculine pronoun and in the idea of a singular leader that seems to contradict havurah ideology. I'm not sure what the factual error is (or what Rabbi Dreyfus would have taken issue with, given that his own milieu at that time also consisted of Jewish communities with a singular rabbinic leader who was generally male), but it's a fascinating passage nonetheless:

"If at all possible, the group should have a committed, Jewishly learned leader
"a. whose leadership role is accepted;
"b. who fosters leadership potential among other members so as to eventually minimize or eliminate the need for his own leadership role;
"c. who does not have a holier-than-thou attitude toward other members and is thus open to criticism.
"Such a leader may be found among Jewish professionals in the city, or may be found in a nearby city. This leader should work directly with
"a. aiding work-group chairmen;
"b. changing community coordinators;
"c. teaching the entire community.
"As a teacher he should give members a sense of the geography of Jewish values as embodied in the tradition, as well as methods of access and inquiry into Jewish source material. Thus some members can eventually become teachers themselves."

Errors in balance, proportion

My own Judaism

a) kingdom of God on earth
Before Abraham, God only in heaven
Messianic era

b) Achieved by obedience to commandments
do justly
love mercy
walk humbly

c) advanced - made vivid by Jewish life style - poetry of life - & sancta as sign posts

As far as I can tell, this is in fact Rabbi Dreyfus outlining the ideas of his "own Judaism", in order to set up a contrast between his understanding of Judaism and what is presented in the Catalog. I feel like doing a much deeper analysis would be out of my league. Does anyone with a background in Jewish thought want to weigh in and place this section in context?

Part a is reminiscent of a midrash in which Abraham (and the generations until Moses) brought God's presence from heaven down to earth. I don't know whether this is an intentional allusion to that midrash. But the general idea seems to be that human action (exemplified by Abraham) establishes the kingdom of God on earth and brings the messianic era (which doesn't necessarily include an individual messiah -- a distinction that has long been present in Reform Judaism ever since ומביא גואל / "brings a redeemer" was changed to ומביא גאולה / "brings redemption").

This leads into part b - God's kingdom is achieved by obedience to the commandments, exemplified by Micah 6:8 (the haftarah from the week that Rabbi Dreyfus died, and the distillation of the 613 commandments into three according to Makkot 24a). Let no one (especially Reform Jews) make the claim that Reform Judaism is a non-halakhic movement, or doesn't believe in obligation: here we have a luminary of the Reform movement (and very much of the old guard) identifying obedience to the commandments as the essence of Judaism. Yes, the definition of which commandments are significant may differ from other Jewish movements, but that's just quibbling over the details. Doing justly and loving mercy are halakhah (not merely aggadah) and are obligations (not merely choices).

Part c: I don't think "advanced" is used here as an adjective (as in what comes after "intermediate") but as a verb -- i.e. "this is advanced by...". (What is advanced by the Jewish lifestyle, etc.? The kingdom of God on earth? Perhaps.) "Sancta" sounds Kaplanian, but I don't think that's entirely what he's going for - I think he's talking about "such ceremonies as elevate and sanctify our lives". This is where the role of ritual comes in: it is the "poetry of life" and the "sign posts", and not classified with the "commandments", which are ethical.

Not as ends in themselves
Must be rationally acceptable

I.e. rituals should not be ends in themselves, but are a means towards living an ethical life and making vivid the kingdom of God on earth.

But I have to say that this "rationally acceptable" standard leaves lots of open questions. It seems that there is plenty of room for cultural relativism here. Who is to say that wearing a three-piece suit and tie is rational, and wearing tzitzit (see below) isn't? Cultural norms may be different in different cultures, but one isn't more or less rational than another. Particularly if we're talking about the "poetry of life", poetry isn't always rational.

Tallit knots
7 windings
8 "
15 = יה
וה = 11
אחד = 13

600 = ציצית
8 threads
5 knots

p. 53
These numbers indeed appear on p.53, and it looks like Rabbi Dreyfus was doublechecking the arithmetic. He appears to be presenting this as a counterexample to "must be rationally acceptable". I would respond by saying that, rational or not, tzitzit knots aren't hurting anyone. But this is listed as an error in balance/proportion. And it's true that the Catalog focuses much more on ritual than on doing justice. Perhaps the explanation is that there was less need for a gujde to doing justice than a guide to tying tzitzit knots, because the former can be obtained from sources that aren't specifically Jewish. But there are specifically Jewish perspectives on justice that, as Rabbi Dreyfus points out, don't get much attention in the Catalog. (It's the same problem as A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice, which should be called A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice, Volume I: Bein Adam Lamakom.) This was remedied in the sequels, particularly The Third Jewish Catalog.

Must be relevant: justice, honesty, decency
I don't know. Tallit knots may not represent any of these qualities, but they are neither unjust nor dishonest nor indecent. And the social conventions of Classical Reform decorum didn't represent justice, honesty, or decency any better; what was important was that they were meaningful to their adherents.

This book -- Orthodox -- generally ignoring Reform
This is an interesting point, and I think it reflects the demographics of the 1970s havurah crowd, which primarily came from Conservative (and some Orthodox) backgrounds. One of the standard creation myths of the havurah movement is that it was created by people who came back from Camps Ramah and were empowered to start their own Jewish communities. Unfortunately, I don't think the Reform movement's educational system at this time was sufficiently empowering people to do this, so people who were disaffected with their home congregations either dropped out, frummed out, or became rabbis. More recent waves of havurot/minyanim have greater representation from people who grew up in the Reform movement, though the recent independent minyan survey shows that Reform self-identification is still low among this crowd. (In this post I tried to grapple with the frictions between Reform identity and grassroots communities.)

So it's interesting (and worthy of further study) that Reform cultural influence was lacking in the early havurah movement. So there has been a sort of convergent evolution -- if we look at communal prayer as one example, you have the older generation of havurot incorporating more English into the service than they grew up with in their Conservative and Orthodox upbringings, and you now have Reform-identified communities incorporating more Hebrew and congregational participation than were common in the Reform movement 30 years ago, leading to services that might look similar on paper or to someone looking in from the outside, yet sufficiently different (due to vestigial features left over from these very different evolutionary processes) that they appear unmistakably alien to each other's practitioners. (Then there's informed autonomy. The Reform movement talks about it but doesn't do it; havurot do it but don't talk about it.)

takes accepts every least custom uncritically
as if it were on par w/ Decalogue Except in dealing w/ women
Though it would have been anachronistic to use this term at the time (and Rabbi Dreyfus probably wouldn't have used the term more recently either, since that wasn't his frame of reference, though he did know the founder of Artscroll, whose brother is/was a Reform rabbi), Rabbi Dreyfus is seems to be accusing the Catalog of what I would call Artscrollization. This process does not belong exclusively to the Orthodox world; I have accused the contemporary Reform movement of engaging in Artscrollization by (for example) conflating kipot and tallitot into the same category.

Note the use of the word "custom". It is clear from this word, and the examples below, that Rabbi Dreyfus is not taking issue here with the idea (found to some degree on Berachot 12a, and the reason the Ten Commandments aren't included in the daily liturgy) that all 613 mitzvot are as important as the Ten Commandments (though, if asked, he probably would). He is taking issue with the implication that peripheral customs are as essential as the fundamental elements of Judaism. And the Catalog doesn't always make this distinction clear. However, to be fair, the Catalog has many authors, and some chapters do a much better job than others at making this distinction.

The comment that I have rendered above in italics was written in a different pen, and seems to have been added in later.

By today's standards, The Jewish Catalog really isn't so gender-egalitarian. God and people are referred to with masculine pronouns. On p. 111, a minyan is defined as "a quorum of ten men", and the description of the wedding ceremony on p. 161-164 is the traditional unilateral procedure without exception. Alternatives are presented in a separate section called "On mutualizing the wedding ceremony", and the possibility of egalitarian minyanim and such is mentioned in the chapter titled "A guide to Jewish women's activities" (p. 252ff.), but this is not included as part of the mainstream text. Still, I suppose this is sufficient to make these issues an exception to "accepts every least custom uncritically".

a) Trivia: Candy & raisins at aufruf - sweet life
fertility: but nothing said
Page 162, discussing the "oyfrufn" (Rabbi Dreyfus has emended this to the German spelling) says "After the groom [sic] recites the final blessings, it is the custom to throw candy and raisins at him to insure a sweet life to him and his bride." So I'm guessing that Rabbi Dreyfus is taking issue with the language of "it is the custom", which implies that this is the only custom and ignores the existence of communities where this is not the custom.

The second line seems to be saying "Actually, this custom is about fertility, not just a sweet life; why are they whitewashing the origin and leaving this out?". I've never heard that explanation before, but it's not surprising.

b) Hallah - sensitivity - cover during kiddush
as against
Cover knives at table
Pass bread on plate
But meaningful only if constantly reviewed

Page 38 says:
"10. Knives on the table may be covered before this blessing. There is a tradition not to use a hallah knife at all on Friday night as a reflection of Isaiah's prophecy: 'And they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks' (Isaiah 2:4). In addition, the stone altar consecrated to God was not built of hewn stones, 'for by wielding your tools upon them you have profaned them' (Exodus 20:22). Rather than cut the hallah with a knife -- a weapon of war -- which thereby profanes the altar and the offering, the custom has developed to break the hallah apart with your hands.
"12. There is a custom not to hand the pieces of bread directly to those at the table, but rather to put them on a plate and pass the plate around, or to place each piece of bread on the person's plate. It is not from man that we receive our bread.
"13. When the blessing is made over the wine, the hallah should be covered. It is sensitive and may be offended by being placed second to the wine. A story is told about a famous rabbi who once visited a man for Shabbat. The man, trying to impress the rabbi, set out an elaborate meal in honor of Shabbat. He became annoyed when he noticed his wife had forgotten the hallah cover, and he began to berate her. The rabbi turned to the man and rebuked him, saying, 'The purpose of covering the hallah is to shield its sensitive feelings. This teaches us concern for the feeling of even inanimate objects. How much more so should we be sensitive to another human being!'"

(This last story brings to mind a great moment of bitter humor from Yisrael Campbell's show. In recounting the story of his journey towards converting to Judaism, Campbell tells about the time he first learned about this custom, and says that he thought "Wow! If Jews are this sensitive towards the feelings of the bread, imagine how they must act towards people!")

The phrase "as against" seems to be suggesting that the idea of protecting the hallah's feelings, even with the attached story, is rather tenuous, compared to the idea of eschewing weapons of war or remembering that our sustenance comes from God.

I'm not sure if this is what Rabbi Dreyfus is getting at, but I get annoyed with these sorts of explanations of the origins of customs (even if the ideas are nice) being presented as fact, since they are often post-facto explanations, and the customs often developed as mimetic traditions rather than as a drash.

So I'll take a middle position on whether these customs are "meaningful only if constantly reviewed". If they are in fact mimetic traditions, then they don't need to be either substantively "meaningful" or "constantly reviewed", since they are harmless. But if they are picked up from a book rather than received mimetically, then these (probably post-facto) meanings become more relevant. Still, the meanings are, in some sense, just mnemonics, and reviewing them by talking about them isn't necessarily the most effective way to achieve meaning. Rachel Adler writes (Engendering Judaism, p. 79), "The performative character of liturgical language (a notion that Reform Judaism in particular has found difficult to grasp) explains why 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts' is effective as liturgy while 'Through prayer we struggle to experience the Presence of God,' however morally edifying, is liturgically inert. In the performative 'Holy, holy holy,' the congregation has the power to make God's holiness present by naming it in a threefold incantation. 'Through prayer we struggle to experience the Presence of God' rationally describes the goal of prayer, but offers no process for achieving it."

c) Tumah/taharah
There is a chapter called "Tumah and taharah - mikveh" (p. 167-171), which offers anthropological and midrashic explanations of tumah and taharah, and a section on "Laws and customs" that focuses on niddah and mikveh. (The Catalog notes "NOTE: I have not discovered any book in English on the laws of niddah and mikveh which was written for people above the intellectual level of a cretin.") Without any further comments, it's hard to guess what Rabbi Dreyfus specifically had in mind in regard to this section, since there are so many possibilities. This chapter commits the common error of classifying contemporary hilchot niddah under tumah/taharah (which is not observed today, when everyone is permanently tamei) rather than under arayot, but I doubt that that was his concern.

d) Mystic mishmash
I think the next few items (which are on another page) are intended as subheadings under this heading. But Rabbi Dreyfus also underlined the paragraph on p. 146 that talks about understanding the days of the omer as combinations of sefirot. I suppose getting annoyed at this runs in the family.

1) Gematria
2 candles as groom led to huppah
2 x [neir] = 250 =
500 = [peru urvu] = 500
(Note: Rabbi Dreyfus's original notes rendered those words in Hebrew, but I couldn't get it to align properly with the numbers in the Blogger window, so I gave up and transliterated.)

Page 46 says "The attendants who bring the groom to the huppah should hold in their hands two lit candles -- because the word נר --candle-- in gematria, doubled, is equivalent to the numerical value of פרו ורבו 'be fruitful and multiple.' And this is a good sign." Here and below, Rabbi Dreyfus has done the math for himself.
But to take it seriously!

Yeah. It's hard to see how anyone can say some of these explanations with a straight face. Clearly most of these customs had non-gematria origins, and the gematria is a post-facto game (but a much less interesting one than midrash halacha, and I say that as a "math person"). It can be entertaining, but I wouldn't go much further.

Some don't eat nuts on RH because
[egoz] (17) + 1 for word =
18 = חטא sin
There is a whole page on gematria (p. 210), describing it as "one of the haggadic hermeneutical rules for interpreting the Torah". (I missed that one on Rabbi Ishmael's list.) This page says "Sometimes when this does not work out exactly, you have the option to add 'one' for the world itself. Example: Why some do not eat nuts on Rosh ha-Shanah -- because אגוז (nuts) equals (almost) חטא (sin)." Come on. If there are people who don't eat nuts on Rosh Hashanah, that can't have been the original reason.

2) Scribal arts
There is a whole chapter on scribal arts, much of it practical in nature, but I'm guessing that Rabbi Dreyfus is taking issue with the part that gives kabbalistic explanations for each of the basic strokes. Example: "In Kabbalah, the yod is the symbol for the origin of light in the world, a pinpoint, a nekudah, a beginning musical note of a niggun, a fine point within the human being that lives in the Holy Image, the pintele Yid." (p. 187)

3) tie/mattress symbolize God's arms
I'm not sure what this is, or where to find it. (Did I mention that The Jewish Catalog doesn't have an index?) Help?

Counter culture

Picture of stiebel
vs elaborate [illegible] in Sed. Terumah
On p. 7, before the introduction, there is a full-page picture taken inside the Havurat Shalom building. Is this what he's referring to, or a picture elsewhere in the book? He seems to be contrasting the simplicity of a shtiebel (of either the older or the newer variety) with the elaborate design of the mishkan/tabernacle described in Parshat Terumah. Is this comparison made explicitly anywhere in the Catalog, or is this Rabbi Dreyfus's own comparison?

Attack on institutional Judaism
Guilty as charged. :) Except not really that much. There is a chapter called "Using the Jewish Establishment -- a reluctant guide" (p. 262-274), which begins by explaining why it's reluctant, but then doesn't really attack the Jewish establishment as much as one might expect. It says "One of our assumptions is that hardly anyone should have to resort to organizations, professional 'experts,' or service agencies in the normal course of creating and enjoying a fulfilling Jewish life. With this book, a teacher, friends (perhaps in a real community), study, and imaginative effort, almost anyone can create a richer and more satisfying Jewish life than any organization offers. There are, however, many Jewish organizations, agencies, congregations, associations, and the like which offer access to tools and resources useful in the creation of a Jewish life....." I don't read this as an attack, but just as a statement that people should be empowered to create their own Jewish lives, which is a goal that Jewish institutions should also be supporting.

Well, ok, there are some jabs as the chapter goes on. "Many pulpit rabbis are disappointing people, but if one looks he will find some who will be helpful. If one is looking for deep religious experience, it is generally best to avoid large synagogues. Like anything else, there are good and bad synagogues. If you don't like any in your area, you and your friends should start your own congregation." (p. 264) But maybe the institutions in question should see this as an opportunity for self-examination (and some have, in the intervening decades).

Self righteousness - see Waskow p. 250
P. 250 is a chapter called "How to bring Mashiah." Parts of it seem to be intended whimsically. At least I hope so. Rabbi Dreyfus has underlined two paragraphs:

"3. 'The nations ... shall beat their swords into plowshares. ... They shall never again know war' (Isaiah 2:4).
"THEREFORE: Get together a minyan and travel up to West Point. Take along ten swords and a small forge. Put the small forge in the main entrance, start it glowing, and beat the swords into something like a digging tool. Dig holes for ten trees, and plant the trees in the roadway. Meanwhile, sing 'Lo yisah goy' and 'Ain't Gonna Study War No More' alternately, and if any West Pointers stop to see what's going down, offer them a reworked sword to dig with.
"4. 'Mashiah will come when one generation is either wholly innocent or wholly guilty' (Talmud, Sanhedrin 98a)
"THEREFORE; Analyze the tax system of the United States, and publish a detailed answer to these two questions: (a) Are United States taxes used largely for purposes prohibited by Torah (e.g. oppressing the poor, destroying trees, etc.)? (b) Are any Jews in the United States successfully avoiding payment of all taxes? If the answer to (a) is 'Yes' and to (b) is 'No,' proclaim that the entire generation is guilty in fact, regardless of their personal opinions. Ask all shuls to include the proclamation in their Shabbat prayers with strong kavvanah: 'HaShem, we are at last all guilty: send him!'"

I would like to think that progressive activists (including Waskow) have gotten smarter about their tactics over the last 30 years. Somewhere between Vietnam and Iraq, we learned that blaming the troops, rather than the government who sent them into war, is unfair and unproductive. The West Point cadets are not the problem. "Support the troops -- bring them home."

And is Waskow really advocating tax evasion??? The answer to (b) is certainly yes, and they don't tend to be the Jews who share our values. To the extent that ordinary citizens bear blame for oppressive government policies, it's not because they paid their taxes (after all, we've seen during the Bush administration that the government will spend money destructively without regard to whether there is tax revenue to pay for it) but because they voted for the elected officials who implemented these policies. Any responsible progressive should be supporting the idea that taxes are the dues we pay to live in a civilized society, rather than reinforcing the Republican talking point that taxes are evil.

Values of book:
Here we get to the positive parts.

Caste system
[le?] rabbin [fait?] tout
I can't read this. Is it French? "The rabbi does everything"? Is this an allusion to something? Google isn't helping. I guess he's saying that it's a value that the book is encouraging people to do things for themselves rather than depending on the rabbi to do everything for them.

bake hallah
make candles
build sukkah
Again, Rabbi Dreyfus finds value in the nuts-and-bolts how-to sections that constitute much of the book, which empower people to do things for themselves.
Devotional guide
The last chapter is called "A first step: a devotional guide" and is by Rabbi Zalman Schachter.

There is a section called "How to Start a Havurah" (p. 280ff.). It says "You begin with a shared dissent from existing Jewish institutions and their modes of participation, and a group decision to initiate an alternative model." What did Rabbi Dreyfus, who was committed to existing Jewish institutions, see in this? Unfortunately, we'll probably never know. These somewhat cryptic notes give us but a small glimpse into how much we have lost. For everything that he wrote down, there was so much that Rabbi Dreyfus knew and thought that was never written down, and now we can never ask him.

For now, if you have additional interpretations of anything here, please post it in the comments.


  1. I *think* tannaim can't be dissolved by a get, as tannayim is legal contract pertaining to the marriage, but not the marriage itself. So if one did tannaim, then marriage, then a get, the tannaim would be dissolved. But I don't know how (or if) it can be dissolved before the marriage takes places.

  2. Historically I think that most tenaim included a provision stipulating that if one party backed out of the engagement they would pay a k'nas/fine to the other party. This constituted a clear way to dissolve the tenaim that didn't involve "divorce or death". I'm not clear on the halacha (if it exists), but I do think it's an urban myth that breaking the tenaim requires a get. The tenaim constitutes a legal contract like any other, but does not effect kiddushin.

  3. EAR's understanding is mine as well. It sounds to me that the Jewish catalog has mixed up erusin and tenaim perhaps because both translate in English as "betrothal."

    My understanding was that in practice tenaim aren't binding in that parties can walk away from the agreement with mutual consent. At least I know of a couple who made tenaim under Orthodox rabbinic supervision (a dayan in London, I believe) and walked away without as far as I know any further transaction. They were both men, though as far as I know it's just a contract so gender shouldn't matter.

    See the following: