Thursday, December 28, 2006

"Little Nothing" - The Discussion Continues

(Picture by Paulo Pevero)

Rabbi Avraham Chaim Bloomenstiel commenting on "Even In Eretz Yisroel":

I looked over the discussion on the site - very interesting. Here are some of my thoughts. Please feel free to quote, post, etc. :

The term nittle nacht is actually a clever Yiddish word play. The proper word for cratzmach in Yiddish and middle German was nittel, related to the Latin “natal,” source for the English “nativity” and French “noel.”

Nittel, in Yiddish, is also the diminutive form of the word “nit” – meaning nothing. Nittle = little nothing. Nittle Nacht is thus both “cratzmach eve” and “night of little nothing” or “little-nothing night.”

As far as the Minhag of Breslov, most Breslov Chassidim refrain from learning from shkia until chatzos ha-layla. The zeman here for chatzos is actually very early, being only six-clock hours after tzeis. In general, Breslov Chassidim follow the opinion of the Mogen Avrohom O.C. 1:4 who mentions the zeman for chatzos as such based upon the Zohar in Parshas Vaykhel. So, the actual time to refrain from learning may only be from about 5:00 to 11:00 PM.

As to the date of nittel nacht in Breslov – In Ukraine it was January 6th as per the custom of the goyim (this was also the date of nittel nacht in Eretz Yisrael). It seems that there was a shift in minhag when many of the Chassidim came into western lands. Those Chassidim began to regard nittel nacht as December 24th.

Both dates in Breslov are kept depending upon which date the goyim observe. In the West, most churches regard the 25th as the main point of the holiday. In the eastern/orthodox churches, most view January 6th (Feast of the Epiphany, observed on the 7th by Coptic churches and a few others) as the culmination and main celebration of the holiday.

You also asked about the minhag of Rav Yaakov Meir Schechter. I am almost certain that he keeps both dates – but my recollection isn’t 100% (this wouldn’t represent the majority practice in Breslov).

Even though I observe this minhag, I've always had problems with it. I am torn between the minhag of my Rabbonim and a statement that R’ Y .B. Soloveitchik once made echoing the opinion of many misnagdim: “I would rather see the gehinnom for learning Torah on nittel nacht than the olam ha-ba for playing cards on it.”

He has a point, but then so do those who advocate the nittle nacht minhag.

Nireh li, if one doesn’t have a mesorah he shouldn’t observe the minhag.

Yet, if a person joins a Chassidus that is particular about nittle nacht, it is considered like his mesorah and he should be particular as well and rely on the minhag ha-makom as to the date.

44 Comments:

At December 28, 2006 at 6:42:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

In response to an e-mail, Rabbi Ozer Bergman wrote:

"When I asked about this years ago, Reb Nosson Libermensh shlit"a told me that observance of Nittel was not so *nahoog* here in E"Y."

 
At December 28, 2006 at 7:05:00 AM EST, Blogger yitz said...

As I mentioned earlier, "nittel" might also be related to the Hebrew "netila" mean taken, or even taken from. Interesting that yoshko's birth is referred to in a way that most people talk about death - to be taken from the world.
I definitely like RYB's comment, as well as that of R. Ozer above. Also,
Nireh li, if one doesn’t have a mesorah he shouldn’t observe the minhag. agrees with what I've been writing all along.
Yet, if a person joins a Chassidus that is particular about nittle nacht, it is considered like his mesorah and he should be particular as well and rely on the minhag ha-makom as to the date.
I would add, b'tnai [on condition] that one keeps all of their other minhagim, including learning after Chatzos on nittel.

 
At December 28, 2006 at 7:08:00 AM EST, Blogger yitz said...

I should have written "meaning" instead of "mean" in my opening sentence above. A brief glossary follows.
"yoshko" = JC, the one Xians claim to be son of the deity.
"minhagim" = customs
Chatzos = Halachic midnight [approx. 11:30 pm in the winter months].

 
At December 28, 2006 at 7:18:00 AM EST, Anonymous Rabbi Tal Zwecker said...

With all respect to Rav Soloveitchik I humbly disagree, if you re-read that statement again it makes no sense to me.

How can one rather be in gehinom for learning (which implies that Hashem doesnt want you to learn then right because He is punishing you for it) then be in olam haba with Hashem and the Tzadikim?

If you arent studying Torah to fulfill Hashem's ratzon because He says kabayachol "dont learn my Torah right now I dont want you to" just as was quoted from Chabad sources that this ban on lerning is like the ban on learning on Tisha B'Av and when one is heaven forbid an Avel in mourning one is not allowed to learn would anyone say "I will study Torah anyway! Because its Torah!"

The same Torah that tells you what G-d wants from you to study vehigisa bo yomam valayla is now telling you its 9 Av you are an Avel, its Nittel don't learn now...."

 
At December 28, 2006 at 9:38:00 AM EST, Anonymous R' A. Blooemenstiel said...

What R' Ozer writes above is also what I was told when I was in Eretz Yisrael and is along the lines of the Minchas Elazar and others who imply (or state outright) that Nittel doesn't apply in non-Notzi countries. There are those who are still particular even in Eretz Yisrael (as I mentioned, I think Maharim Schechter keeps both dates!)

Re: R' Soloveitchik - He would answer that it is improper to draw comparisons between Tisha be-Av and nittel, being that the Nittel Minhag was more regional in practice, primarily based on kabbalo, and not uniformly held while Tisha be-Av is a halacha d'rabbanon. Also, it seems that playing games during this time pushed the whole inyan over the bittul Torah line for him.(Incidentally - R' Noson mentions a minhag to play games at this time - I don't do that because I just can't get into games - so I read something- history, etc. ).

The objections of other misnagdishe gadolim to nittel are strong and well argued.

Nevertheless - so are those of the minhag's proponents.

 
At December 28, 2006 at 9:44:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe we should study only misnagdishe writings on Nittel Nacht.

 
At December 28, 2006 at 10:11:00 AM EST, Blogger yitz said...

HaRav Tal, with all due respect, if you look at the language quoted by RYB it says, “I would rather see the gehinnom for learning Torah on nittel nacht than the olam ha-ba for playing cards on it.” That's not saying that he prefers to be in Gehinnom over Olam Haba.
Your equating Nittel to Tisha B'Av or Aveilus is also incorrect. The latter two are mandated by our Sages and accepted across the board; Nittel is a minhag, and not universally accepted. The Sefardim are also quite careful about following Kabbalah inyanim, but do not observe it, to the best of my knowledge.
Also, on 9 B'Av and during Aveilus one is allowed to learn SOMETHING - Eicha, Hilchos Aveilus, etc. Not so by Nittel [unless you want to accept Anon 9:44's proposal & learn Beis HaLevi, or Meshech Chachma]!

 
At December 28, 2006 at 10:42:00 AM EST, Anonymous Rabbi Tal Zwecker said...

Thanks for your comments:

As for my comparison of Nittel to 9 Av and Mourning its not mine to take credit for I was quoting from Chabakuk Elisha's research "In Lubavitcher seforim, Otzar Minhagim Vehoaraos, (Yoreh Deach, P. 58) & Shaarei Halacha Uminhag (Yorei Deah #64-67) I see that:

3. As to the question of how we can decree against learning Torah, and how can Torah have negative consequences, we can understand this based on the negative consequences that exist for someone who learns Torah on Tisha B’Av or while in mourning, etc…
Also see Hilchos Talmud Torah Chapter 4, Sif 3. "

The approach to Minhag as binding in Halacha is not my innovation it is found throughout rishonim, and poskim with phrases such as Minah Avoseinu Torah, and Minhag Yisroel Torah etc. I can quote sources if you need but I imagine you have seen many.

"The objections of other misnagdishe gadolim to nittel are strong and well argued. " I would be interested to see and hear them since I have never seen them in my ignorance.

 
At December 28, 2006 at 11:50:00 AM EST, Anonymous Simcha said...

Just a quick correction to your analysis of why the Western (Roman Catholic)Church celebrates December 25 and the Eastern Church celebrates January 6/7. It is not a question of the relative importance of the Nativity vs. Ephiphany. It is due to the use of different calendars.
In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII corrected dificiencies in the traditional (Julian) calendar by declaring that Thursday October 4th would be followed by Friday, October 15th. This new date was the beginning of the Gregorian calendar. The difference between these calendars increases by one day each century.
The Russian Orthodox Church, which does not recognize the supremacy of the Pope, continues to employ the Julian calendar. Therefore, when they observe Christmas on their December 25th - it is already January 6/7 in those countries which utilize the Gregorian calendar.

 
At December 28, 2006 at 11:53:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

BTW - There is a minhag to read stories of TZaddikim on Nittul.

 
At December 28, 2006 at 12:30:00 PM EST, Anonymous A Yid said...

Rabbi Avraham Chaim Bloomenstiel commenting on "Even In Eretz Yisroel":
> As to the date of nittel nacht in Breslov – In Ukraine it was January 6th as per the custom of
> the goyim (this was also the date of nittel nacht in Eretz Yisrael). It seems that there was a shift
> in minhag when many of the Chassidim came into western lands. Those Chassidim began to regard nittel
> nacht as December 24th.

This isn't at all universal. Many Berslovers didn't switch in countries with majority of catholics, and still consider nitl to fall on January 7. As far as what is nohug in Eretz Yisroel, and switching/non-switching dates - this should be addressed by someone who has a solid mesoyro. Reb Avrohom Shternhartz ztz"l would be a good address if it would be possible to find what he said about it. Ask around, from those who have a mesoyro from him. What majority of Breslov does now, isn't always a proof of original mesoyro by the way.

Rav Soloveichik is very much in his style. But chasidim aren't like that at. Again - approach of litvaks is the letter of the law, while approach of chasidim is the spirit of the law. In this vein, for litvak - the whole concept of nitl is very uncomfortable, because it's somewhat hard to fit it in the letter of the law. While for chasidim learning on nitl is very uncomfortable, because it goes against Hashem's rotzoyn, which is the spirit of the law. So you should choose, which approach you prefer - those of litvaks, or those of chasidim.

(There is a very interesting and extensive article about this key difference by Yehoyshua Munshein. You can find it here: http://shtetl.pcguy.org/Sforim/aveyro_lishmo.html

Just wait a bit, the server their is down now for a while, but try again somewhat later. You'll like this article a lot.

 
At December 28, 2006 at 12:34:00 PM EST, Anonymous A Yid said...

By the way, there were big rabonim even before Baal Shem Tov who kept this minhog. For example Moharsh"o. It is not a chasidic innovation.

Reading mayses from tzadikim, on nitl is common. Also, I've heared that some Breslover chasidim learn Sipurey Maysies for the Rebbe, because while it is Toyro, it so hidden in levushim, that klipoys have no tfisa on it.

 
At December 28, 2006 at 12:38:00 PM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

A Yid: Indeed, the customs documented that was linked to in the first posting in this series stated,

"Reb Gedaliah [Kenig] stated that if one remains awake, it is permissible to read the Rebbe’s Sippurei Ma’asiyos."

 
At December 28, 2006 at 12:40:00 PM EST, Anonymous A Yid said...

ASJ: Please! Remove the photo of the kloyster from your blog! I didn't even notice it first.

Reb Pinchos Koritzer zy"o once said - don't look at tumo. Many churches were built, just because Yiddien looked at them. If no one would look - tumo wouldn't get any chiyus, and building wouldn't be finished at all.

 
At December 28, 2006 at 1:04:00 PM EST, Anonymous Menatzpach said...

Next you will be telling him that it is assur to post pictures of non-Jews or women without their hair covered.

Have you ever noticed the add in many religious newspapers and magazines where they take clip art of some goy and air brush in a yarmulke thereby removing the "tumo"?

Keep the picture, ASJ. I know you are not trying to convert us all to Christianity.

 
At December 28, 2006 at 1:07:00 PM EST, Anonymous A Yid said...

I didn't say it is osur (did you see it?). I said - it worth to remove it. You want to disagree?

 
At December 28, 2006 at 1:08:00 PM EST, Anonymous A Yid said...

I even explained why. Or you missed it?

 
At December 28, 2006 at 1:50:00 PM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

If others feel as strongly as A Yid on this issue, please leave a comment.

I plan to leave the picture up for the time being - not because I am trying to expose others to a site of impurity, but because it is the topic of what we have been discussing this past week. It is my contention that there is a difference between a picture and the real thing.

Finally, A Yid, could you please provide me the reference for this quote from Rebbe Pinchas of Koretz? Where exactly in in Midrash Pinchas or Imrei Pinchas is it located?

 
At December 28, 2006 at 2:24:00 PM EST, Anonymous A Yid said...

I'll look up the quote a bit later.

I found out, that pcguy.org will be down at least for several days. So try the article above around the middle of next week.

 
At December 28, 2006 at 2:25:00 PM EST, Anonymous A Yid said...

Or if you want it, I can send it to your e-mail.

 
At December 28, 2006 at 2:32:00 PM EST, Anonymous R' A. Bloomenstiel said...

A Yid Wrote:

"This isn't at all universal. Many Berslovers didn't switch in countries with majority of catholics, and still consider nitl to fall on January 7. As far as what is nohug in Eretz Yisroel, and switching/non-switching dates - this should be addressed by someone who has a solid mesoyro. Reb Avrohom Shternhartz ztz"l would be a good address if it would be possible to find what he said about it. Ask around, from those who have a mesoyro from him. What majority of Breslov does now, isn't always a proof of original mesoyro by the way."

What is written in the post is as I have it from Rav Yaakov Meir Schechter and Rav Michel Dorfman. Rav Michel stated that the minhag in Uman was Jan 6/7, that Nittel is not really relavent in Eretz Yisrael, and that those who were transplanted to more westen lands did change their minhag to the 25th (R' Michel was of the opinion that it was toleh on the minhag ha-Makom of the Goyim).

What I was intending to write(I think it wasn't clear - apologies) is that there isn't a universal minhag in Breslov - not that everyone switched to the 25th - this was only those Chassidim in places where the minhag ha-goyim was to keep the 25th.

 
At December 28, 2006 at 2:34:00 PM EST, Anonymous R' A. Bloomenstiel said...

ASJ -

I have to admit - I'm uncomfortable with the picture as well.

 
At December 28, 2006 at 2:38:00 PM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Rabbi Bloomenstiel: Since you were kind enough to provide the text for this posting and comment on it as well, I have changed the picture for you.

 
At December 28, 2006 at 2:42:00 PM EST, Anonymous A Yid said...

Rabbi Bloomenstiel: Thanks for Reb Michel Dorfman's reference. I'll ask around more about it.

 
At December 28, 2006 at 2:52:00 PM EST, Anonymous R' A. Bloomenstiel said...

Simcha Wrote:
"Just a quick correction to your analysis of why the Western (Roman Catholic)Church celebrates December 25 and the Eastern Church celebrates January 6/7. It is not a question of the relative importance of the Nativity vs. Ephiphany. It is due to the use of different calendars.
In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII corrected dificiencies in the traditional (Julian) calendar by declaring that Thursday October 4th would be followed by Friday, October 15th. This new date was the beginning of the Gregorian calendar. The difference between these calendars increases by one day each century.
The Russian Orthodox Church, which does not recognize the supremacy of the Pope, continues to employ the Julian calendar. Therefore, when they observe Christmas on their December 25th - it is already January 6/7 in those countries which utilize the Gregorian calendar. "

This is disproven by the practices of many Churches (I.E. Armenian) who keep x-mas as the 6th on the modern calendar, yet those in Eretz yisrael who hold by the old calendar continue to celebrate it on the 18th (on our calendar), which is the 6th on the old calendar.

When I was ma'ayan into the nittle nacht minhag several years ago I found about four different explainations for the Dec. 25th/Jan 6th difference- The Feast of the Epiphany seems to be the most inclusive explanation as far as the various church customs go.

 
At December 28, 2006 at 2:58:00 PM EST, Blogger Alice said...

“I would rather see the gehinnom for learning Torah on nittel nacht than the olam ha-ba for playing cards on it.”

Could he have been using hyperbole versus actually making a recommendation? This is not my universe so please forgive me if that's a stupid idea.

 
At December 28, 2006 at 3:00:00 PM EST, Anonymous R' A. Bloomenstiel said...

Thanks, ASJ!

 
At December 28, 2006 at 3:11:00 PM EST, Blogger yitz said...

To Alice, & anyone else,
I think what Rav Soloveitchik meant was that he would like to see "what kind of Gehinnom" one would get for learning on Nittel, & compare that to "what kind of Olam Haba" one would get for playing cards that night. He isn't convinced that such a minhag makes sense to keep. Who am I to argue with him?

That said, I do have definite Chassidic leanings & attachments. However, this "minhag" does not speak to me, especially since some of the original reasons for it no longer apply, as we've already mentioned.

I am curious if other Kabbalistically-oriented groups, such as Sefardim [& there are Sefardim in Xian countries!] & others [there are Mekubalim in the non-Chassidic Ashkenazic world as well] observe this. Methinks not.

 
At December 28, 2006 at 3:13:00 PM EST, Blogger yitz said...

BTW, notice how much time we're spending discussing the Xian culture? Who needs this???

 
At December 28, 2006 at 3:50:00 PM EST, Anonymous A Yid said...

> I am curious if ...others [there are Mekubalim in the non-Chassidic Ashkenazic world as well] observe this.

As I said before - yes. Moharsh"o for example.

 
At December 28, 2006 at 4:02:00 PM EST, Anonymous A Yid said...

ASJ: Thanks!

 
At December 28, 2006 at 4:06:00 PM EST, Anonymous A Yid said...

> I think what Rav Soloveitchik meant was that he would like to see "what kind of Gehinnom"
> one would get for learning on Nittel, & compare that to "what kind of Olam Haba" one would
> get for playing cards that night. He isn't convinced that such a minhag makes sense to keep.

As I said before it fits well with his general approach. But it thoroughly non chasidic.
Here, I put that article on one of the free hosting servers:
http://www.sharebigfile.com/file/46841/aveyro-lishmo.pdf.html

 
At December 28, 2006 at 10:27:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is it possible that "nitel nacht" also comes from the lashon "nital," in lashon kodesh, meaning "hung." Since their god was killed by being hung, the phrase would mean, "the night of the one who was hung."

-Dixie Yid

 
At December 29, 2006 at 11:22:00 AM EST, Anonymous A Yid said...

I've heard such explanation also.

 
At December 29, 2006 at 11:32:00 AM EST, Anonymous A Yid said...

Answer from Reb Dovid Shapiro (on the subject):

Reb Gedalia [Kenig] did not say a shiur on January 6 because of nittel [in Eretz Yisroel]. I don't know if the date was because of a Breslav mesora, or simply because most of the christians in Eretz Yisroel hold that date.

 
At December 30, 2006 at 12:39:00 PM EST, Blogger yitz said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At December 30, 2006 at 12:42:00 PM EST, Blogger yitz said...

A Yid: I wrote: I am curious if... others [there are Mekubalim in the non-Chassidic Ashkenazic world as well] observe this.
And you answered: As I said before - yes. Moharsh"o for example.
The Maharsha lived centuries ago. Let me clarify my question - is there anyone TODAY, Sefardi, Mekubal, Ashkenazi, besides some Chassidim that follow this minhag? I don't know of any.

BTW, the link you posted doesn't work.

 
At December 30, 2006 at 6:56:00 PM EST, Anonymous A Yid said...

This one doesn't work?
http://www.sharebigfile.com/file/46841/aveyro-lishmo.pdf.html

The other one will be down, until I'll change a network card somewhere. But the one above should work. Figure out how to use it, isn't an instant download, it is a link to a free hosting site. It'll ask you to type in something before you'll download the file etc.

 
At December 30, 2006 at 7:01:00 PM EST, Anonymous A Yid said...

> The Maharsha lived centuries ago

So what? You confusion seemed to be that it is a particularly chasidic minhog, that no one else use. I showed that it isn't correct. Isn't it enough for you?

About today mekubolim - ask around more. For example from those who are connected with Shaarey haShomaim and the like. There are Ashkenazim mekubolim there, who aren't necessarily chasidim. I'm not so familiar with non chasidic mekubolim at large.

 
At December 30, 2006 at 9:41:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've always been uncomfortable with this minhag as well, because it seems to me that since we're doing something special on that night by NOT learning, thus giving the night significance that it hasn't earned. Nu?

 
At December 30, 2006 at 9:44:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The sefer Minhag Yisroel Torah brings down a source for Nitel from the Pri Megadim and Reb Yonason Eibeshutz. They were not "Chasidim". Also, the Arugas Habosem saysthat not learning on Nitel is a tikun for any bitul Torah during the year.

 
At December 31, 2006 at 2:50:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

> because it seems to me that since we're doing something special
> on that night by NOT learning, thus giving the night significance
> that it hasn't earned. Nu?

Such thing don't depend on what it "seems". Many things seem not what they really are.

 
At December 24, 2007 at 11:19:00 PM EST, OpenID tamaraeden said...

Funny,

Avi over at http://JewsByChoice.Org just posted on a similar topic.

And for the wary, this is not a site for converts per se, but for any Jew or Convert who chooses Judaism actively.

 
At April 10, 2008 at 12:36:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am very uncomfortable with the comments above referring to Christian churches as tuma. This was an understandable outlook among shtetl Jews subject to pogroms, but not now. "Hallelu es Hashem kol goyim", and where the nations praise Hashem is in churches (and mosques, etc.). That makes them worthy of some respect, not this denigration.

 

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