Was Ezra haredi?


Was Biblical Ezra the Scribe ultra-Orthodox? What lies behind this seemingly silly question is a set of serious questions: When did Torah-observant Jewry divide into Orthodox, modern Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox, etc.? Were Moshe Rabbenu, Ezra & Nehemia, Maimonides, Rashi, and Yehuda Halevi haredim?

This came to mind when someone asked me whether Ezra, the fictitious hero of Dawning of the Day, Rav Haim Sabato’s newest novel, was haredi.

For those who will be in Jerusalem on Monday after Simhat Torah (24 bTishrey) Oct. 16, there will be an evening devoted to the Dawning of the Day at 8 pm at Mishkenot Shaananim (Yemin Moshe, near Montefiore’s windmill down the block from the King David).Rav Sabato will speak (in Hebrew) and answer questions, and several literary critics will speak (in English).

The Friday English Haaretz published my review (co-authored with Jessica Setbon) of The Dawning of the Day, the exquisite translation into English translation (by Yacob Dweck a young scholar of Syrian descent) of R. Sabato’s K’Afapey Shahar. We know a lot about the book’s hero, Ezra Siman Tov, an Aleppo (Syrian) Jew living in Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda. We even know that

Ezra Siman Tov has a secret – a dark, sinful secret. He hides from it, but it intrudes like a specter on his peaceful life in the Jerusalem community of immigrants from Aleppo (Halab). “For several years he wept and pleaded for his sin to be pardoned, and he scrubbed and scoured the stain with all his might.”

We know what is in his heart, but we have no idea what kind of kippah was on his head, how he voted, or where he sent his children to school (which would help us pigeonhole him). And we should be thankful we aren’t told, because there was a time when the religious were not clearly demarcated into various camps.

From the interview with the author in the current issue of the Jewish Action one can gain an inkling of the direction from which the author, R. Sabato, is coming. From a review of his earlier two novels, Aleppo Tales and Adjusting Sights, a picture emerges of an author, indeed an entire segment of Sefardi Jewry, that is complex and resists labelling. As we wrote in Haaretz, R. Sabato

presents a spiritual journey in which Ezra faces his troubled past. A simple soul living in an old neighborhood of Jerusalem, Ezra delights in the performance of everyday religious duties like donning tefillin and reciting psalms. He enjoys the camaraderie of his fellow Aleppo Jews in their neighborhood synagogue, and gains fulfillment through respectful relationships with admired sages

Were the Jewish people better off before the sub-divisions into different Orthodoxies?
Maybe someone who attends the Oct. 16 evening devoted to the Dawning of the Day will ask the author, “Was Ezra Siman Tov haredi?”

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8 years 11 months ago

dilbert, upon reflection, I think that even if we don’t have a mutual understanding of these issues, it certainly is not a prerequisite for mutual respect, and perhaps we should agree to disagree.

How beneficial it would be for all of us not to divide ourselves with such black and white lines, and throw these divisive “wing” labels away. They don’t suit a nation such as ours. Don’t you agree?

Baruch Horowitz
8 years 11 months ago


“Ban Slifking, ban the Rambam? One doesn’t lead to the other.”

The possible comparisons between the Rambam and RNS are in the areas of:

A)Taking the pesukim of Maseh Berishis in a non-literal manner as far as the simple meaning is concerned(eg, days of creation) B) reinterpreting Torah in light of science C) preferring a rationalistic approach to supra-rationalistic approach D) Being less concerned with the multitudes who need to be protected, and more concerned with the searching intellectual E) The nature of the scientific knowledge of Chazal.

I only have general ideas of both the Rambam’s and RNS’s books, but I would agree that one has be certain before making comparison’s between the two. It is true that the Rambam was criticized by both RSRH and the Gra for crossing the line and bending Torah to conform to Greek philosophy, the equivalent of the science of his day. But I do not know enough to make comparisons regarding A-C.

However, in the last two areas(D and E), I think that the comparisons are clearer, even if RNS went further in some ways regarding Chazal’s knowledge of science(E). There are definitely some Gedolim who would likewise hold that the Rambam’s approach regarding chazal’s knowledge of science would be considered kefirah today, whether or not RNS took the approach too far(i.e., “tone” of his writings). Also, see quotations from Rav Dessler(comment #30) above, as to possible differences in historical eras regarding the approach to emunah (D).

Baruch Horowitz
8 years 11 months ago


“it is hard to conclude that R Parness’s POV is the only valid POV on that issue.”

I indeed did not say that. To generalize, I think the position of the Orthodox academics on this matter would be close to that of the Hildesheimer Seminary.

I think the issue is if everyone can say that they are on the level of the Rambam who studied heretical sources. Rabbi Carmy brings his and others’ experiences with RYBS as a Maseh Rav, but on the other hand, R. Parnes writes that the Rambam in Avodah Zarah can not be swept under the carpet. R. Parnes also wrote:

“…Nothing less than a classically documented and formulated teshuva by a recognized Torah authority either in America or in Eretz Yisael can resolve this festering issue…”

As I wrote on other blogs, I think a compromise would certainly be to allow students to avoid courses like Academic Bible or Talmud. As RHS said, it should theoretically be possible for a student from Torah Voddas to be able to study at YU without needing to be concerned about these issues.

Ori Pomerantz
8 years 11 months ago

May I make a recommendation? Dilbert, could you please cite cases where the Rambam accepted medieval scientific theories that contradicted the Gmara consensus about the same matter? HP, could you cite cases where the Rambam followed the Gmara on scientific matters despite a consensus of medieval science to the contrary?

Luckily, medieval science was relatively stable so they were more likely to have scientific consensus than we do.