Sunday, December 02, 2012

"Halacha b'yadu'a Esav soneh l'Yaakov"

מסירת מודעה

The assertion that Halacha b'yadu'a Esav soneh l'Yaakov is related to general Antisemitism, has no source in Chazal. As Rashi brings it down in Chumash (Bereishis 33:4), it is strictly a statement concerning the relationship between the two brothers. There is no basis for its extrapolation to broader groups of people. From my perspective, bandying the statement around obfuscates rather than clarifies, as it makes Antisemitism some intrinsic emotion innate to non-Jews. Were that indeed the case, it would seem unjust to punish those who are predisposed to it. It is also not appropriate to link this Chazal to the profound derashah (Shabbos 89a) concerning the sinah that came down at Sinai. The Likkutei Torah (R' Schneur Zalman of Liadi) explains that this derashah refers to the hatred that the Jews received at Sinai - towards the vile traits of pagan nations (see Rashi ad loc., who also seems to have understood the Gemara in that vein).

Moreover, it seems very difficult to reconcile this notion of pre-programmed detestation of Jews with our mission of Ohr la'Goyim:

...ועיקר סיבה זו שיהא רוב חיותנו בגלות, דהקב"ה גילה לאברהם אשר נוצרו בניו להיות לאור גויים, וזה אי אפשר רק כשהם מפוזרים בגלות
 הנצי"ב, העמק דבר לבראשית מז כח  
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22 comments:

מורדיא דלברות said...

It seems hard to attain a status of אור לגוים when you have שיטות such as גזל עכו"ם מותר, גזל כותי מותר, and such Dinnim. Not that I am disputing their place in תורה. Just a conflicting notion.

dlz said...

There is no such halacha as גזל עכו"ם מותר - it is in fact clearly forbidden.

מורדיא דלברות said...

What makes you so sure? You say that so authoritatively.
ע"כ כספק לא עולה לך?

dlz said...

What makes me so sure? That is what it says in the Rambam and the Shulchan Aruch. Is that good enough?

מורדיא דלברות said...

The Gemara writes it. Ay, we don't Pasken that way, still, it is written. That was the point I was trying to make.
תתרגם שמעתתיך

Menachem said...

Rashi could just have said "Esav soneh l'Yaakov". Why was it necessary to add "Halacha b'yadu'a"? My own interpretation (which I cannot blame on any others) is that when our halachos that discriminate and devalue gentiles become "yadu'a", become well known, this contributes to the hatred and persecution we have endured throughout the centuries. Unfortunately, you can go to many anti-Semitic websites and find they have collected all the halochos that dehumanize the goy, such as not saving their lives on Shabbos, not extending them a gratuitous act of kindness (Lo sichanaym), etc, etc. It is my theory that the reason why we were able to survive in exile so long without totally assimilating and disappearing is because we taught out children to demonize the goy. We taught then that Jewish souls are G-dly while gentile souls are animalistic. We taught them that when passing a church to spit three times and say “Shaketz teshaktzenu” (of course only after making sure no one was looking). The Polish peasant couldn’t exactly quote the sources of the halacha but could detect in our conduct and especially our business behavior how little we thought of him. It is very easy to find fault in others. It is infinitely more difficult to find the faults in ourselves.

dlz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Herb said...

If "Halacha b'yadu'a Esav soneh l'Yaakov" is only meant as a statement concerning the relationship between the two brothers it seems somewhat overdone. The opening phrase "Halacha b'yadu'a" is, IMHO, totally superfluous in that case and instead implies a statement that has relevance to their descendents.

In other words, the wording of the statement itself is the basis in Chazal for the understanding that it is related to general Antisemitism (with the implicit implication that Western Antisemites are perceived as descendents of Esav).

Sam Lieberman said...

Not saying that I agree but I always thought that the basis for people to extrapolate was from the concept of maaseh avos siman l'banim. The Ramban IIRC uses this concept when discussing how Yaakov dealt with Esav.

Reader said...

I recall reading that הלכה היא בידוע is a transcription error or similar, and that the real/original text was הלא היא בידוע. IIRC I read that from R. Gil Student some time ago.

Anonymous said...

whew. thank you for this press release. now 1) antisemitism will evaporate 2) at the very least it is now shown to be baseless, giving us a moral victory 3) we are in fact really very moral people with a very moral heritage, by contemporary standards.

Shades of Gray said...

From "Is Antisemitism Universal?", R. Yitzchok Adlerstein, Cross Currents,September 5th, 2006:

"Those who see anti-Semitism everywhere usually point to the midrashic passage cited by Rashi (Genesis 33:4) that roughly reads: “It is a halacha and well established that Esav hates Yaakov...” Several factors point to this teaching something universal. The unusual use of the word “halachah” /law suggests an immutable part of nature. The use of the present tense – Esav hates, rather than Esav hated – implies that the Sages were talking about a phenomenon of an ungoing nature, rather than an episode in the lives of Yaakov and his brother. Most frequently, Esav is seen as morphing into Rome, then its successor in the Holy Roman Empire, and finally into Western Civilization. Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer applied it to all non-Jews (Even HaAzel, Melachim 5:1).

On the other hand, the crucial word “halacha” is questionable. There are variant texts, which use “halo” in place of “halacha hi” as in Sefer HaZikaron. A search of a current version of Bar-Ilan shows not a single citation of the passage in the enlarged sense of Esav’s successors until the late 19th century. (This does not prove anything decisively. Many ideas fail to make it to print not because they were not available, but because they were so taken for granted, that they were not discussed. Nonetheless it is interesting that the medrash may very well have meant Esav the person to many people who saw it at earlier times in history.) The Netziv, who does accept an enlarged reading, nonetheless enlarges Esav’s reaction to his brother as well. He tells us that not only was Esav moved by sincere love for his brother, but that this would also recur in history, and that when it does, we should reciprocate it.

I am not going to be foolhardy enough to “prove” which reading is correct. I’ve been telling students for decades that virtually any question worth asking has a correct two word solution: machlokes rishonim/ it is disputed by the great medieval authorities. There may (or may not) be a real dispute here. The depth of regard and love for Jews I have seen in many non-Jews is so deep and widespread, that I would have a hard time believing that even the view that expands Esav beyond the Biblical individual means all non-Jews without exception."

R. Adlerstein's post continues with the Netziv in Sh’or Yisrael.

Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer said...

"If "Halacha b'yadu'a Esav soneh l'Yaakov" is only meant as a statement concerning the relationship between the two brothers it seems somewhat overdone. The opening phrase "Halacha b'yadu'a" is, IMHO, totally superfluous in that case and instead implies a statement that has relevance to their descendants."

The language is intriguing, but does not at all indicate the conclusion you base on it.

Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer said...

"Not saying that I agree but I always thought that the basis for people to extrapolate was from the concept of maaseh avos siman l'banim. The Ramban IIRC uses this concept when discussing how Yaakov dealt with Esav."

Ma'aseh Avos siman l'banim has to do with Ma'asim, not with Characteristics. It is the flip side of Masai yagi'u ma'asai l'ma'asei Avosai.

Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer said...

"A search of a current version of Bar-Ilan shows not a single citation of the passage in the enlarged sense of Esav’s successors until the late 19th century."

Courtesy of a correspondent, the earliest source is evidently an Abarbanel:


ספר משמיע ישועה מבשר טוב השלישי - נבואה ז'

שכמו שעשו היה שונא ליעקב ומתנחם ומבקש להרגו, ככה היו הרומיים עם בני
יהודה צרים ואויבים להם והם החריבו ארצם והגלו אותם. הנה א"כ נתישבה רומי
וכל איטליא מבני אדום ומלכו מלכיהם והתנהגו במנהגיהם ואת דתי עשו תורותיו
וחקתיו עשו כמוהו, ומה אוסיף עוד לדבר:

cranky investor said...

Esav soneh l'yakov may not be halacha

but it explains a lot of otherwise inexplicable behavior

Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer said...

Doesn't explain anything for me.

Ohr Ganuz said...

I remembered this post and was quite surprised to just tonight come across this assertion in R' Ahron Soloveitchik's "Logic of the Heart, Logic of the Mind," p. 77, where he does accept the generalized reading, even though much of the book is about acting with respect to non-Jews and, in fact, being 'Or LaGoyim'.
BTW, I would like to e-mail you, R'Bechhofer, but I can't find your email address anywhere on this site. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Since I have seen commentaries on this statement from RELIABLE 19th century Eastern European sources, indicating that indeed the generalized interpretation is accurate, why should I think that you are right?

Ohr Ganuz said...

Anon: RYGB admits there are sefarim that read it this way and even cited an Abarbanel - 15th century - in earlier comments. However, he retains the right to disagree. Interesting - see the "Meoros HaGedolim" with I believe 11 supercommentaries on Rashi, on that pasuk. One of them - Tzeida l'derech IIRC - forcefully argues that the word "halacha" is not only specifically referring to Eisav personally, but it is B'TEMIAH! See there for his novel interpretation which he says is pshuto shel ha-midrash.

Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer said...

OG: ygbechhofer@gmail.com

RAS's stand does seem out of character.

Anon: See OG's response to you. See also, from today's WSJ:

http://tinyurl.com/lp4z8za

A Righteous Priest
Père Marie-Benoît saved thousands of Jews from the Holocaust. But he never tried to convert them.

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

The Abarbanel doesn't seem to say anything about some kind of innate antipathy of Non-Jews towards Jews. He clearly is talking about the Romans and some of their European inheritors and *how they behaved* based specifically on their *following the ways and behaviors of ‘Eisav*, not on a any inborn feeling or attitude.