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Face to Face: An Analysis of Likutey Moharan I:19

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The attraction that books and intellectual pursuits still have for many Jews today comes from generations upon generations of people for whom study was important, and who made sure to pass on their love of learning to their children. Jews have always had the idea that sheet music isn't music until it is played and heard, Torah isn’t Torah until it is interacted with. In offering this tradition to the world, we can open up this definition of Torah to mean any text that lies at the heart of a culture, that serves as its blueprint and moral compass. For Jews this means Torah and Mishnah and Talmud and all of our sacred commentaries. For Americans this could apply equally well to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, the revelation that our founders received.

—R’ Zalman Schachter-Shalomi[1]

Though it is widely believed that Judaism, is a “religion of law,”[2] and that it therefore maintains the primacy of book learning[3] over face to face interaction, upon a deeper analysis of Jewish sources, it would seem that this belief is an erroneous one. Judaism is a religion of ‘law,’ or ‘Torah,’ in a certain respect. However, any learned Jew will likely know from their studies that Judaism is not solely a religion based on written law (Torah she-bichtav) but also on a living, evolving spoken law (Torah she-be-al-peh.) Despite the prominence of both written and spoken Torah, it is still unclear which, if either of these forms of Torah is given prominence in Jewish theology. This leads us to the broader issue of whether Judaism prefers knowledge procured through reading, or knowledge gained by listening to the lessons of a teacher in person (face to face). It would seem that some Jewish thinkers have stressed the importance book knowledge, while others have stressed the importance of learning directly from a teacher.

In the opinion of certain scholars, this characterizes one of the major differences between the Hasidim and their opponents the Mitnagdim. These scholars maintain that Hasidism valued orality over literacy, and the Mitnagdim valued literacy over orality. According to Moshe Idel, “Unlike their opponents, the mitnaggedim, whose illustrious leader, a famous scholar named R. Elijah of Vilnius, was a recluse and hardly interacted with his students but assiduously studied and wrote, Hasidic leaders preferred orality over literacy. If the Gaon of Vilnius is the most accomplished paragon of Jewish literacy and writing, the Besht is the great oral teacher.”[4] Though this distinction is generally supported by the literature, the canonical status afforded to R’ Nahman of Bratslav’s Likkutey Moharan (LM) by the Bratslav community after R’ Nahman’s death would seem to provide us with an interesting, and possibly contradictory case.[5] It is unclear, however, whether R’ Nahman himself valued orality or literacy. In this exposition, through a reading of LM I:19, I will claim that despite the substantial importance attributed to LM after R’ Nahman’s death, R’ Nahman (in LM I:19) expresses a preference for learning in person rather than from a book. I will begin with a summary of the content of LM I:19. I will then analyze I:19 in an attempt to show that this tora expresses the clear preference for orality over literacy common among Hasidic thinkers.

The overarching theme of LM I:19 is the value of learning from a person over learning from a book. In addition, according to Magid, “…it [LM I:19] undermines the very legitimacy of the book as a vehicle for lashon ha-kodesh.”[6] Though this tora also stresses the power of learning directly from the tsaddik over learning from another person or a book, even if one cannot learn directly from the tsaddik, learning from another person is nonetheless preferable to learning from a book.

A sermon delivered by R’ Nahman on Shavuot in the year 1804, LM I:19 is preceded by the following quote from Sifra de-Tzniuta,[7] which becomes a sort of recurring thesis statement throughout the tora, stressing the power of face to face transmission of Torah: “As long as there was no scale, there was no providence face to face.”[8] Though this teaching was delivered on Shavuot, which traditionally celebrates the revelation of the Torah, this quote from Sifra de-Tzniuta in its original context was discussing the process of creation. According to Magid, “Creation is center here because Nahman wanted to posit a notion of hidush that transcended revelation and reached back to creation. In some sense, the very homily was an act of subversion of the festival upon which it was delivered.”[9]

Nahman’s exposition begins with the following affirmation of the power of the spoken over the written word, which he re-visits at the end of the homily:

Everyone wonders: Why is it necessary to travel to the tzaddik to hear from his mouth? Is it not possible to simply study ethical teachings from books? But the truth is that there is a great advantage [to visiting the tzaddik]. For there is a big difference between the someone who hears directly from the true tzaddik himself and someone who hears from someone else who repeats it in his name, and certainly when he hears from someone who heard from someone else. Each time it descends from level to level, [becoming increasingly] distant from the tzaddik. So, too, there is an even greater difference between [learning from] someone who hears directly from the tzaddik and [from] someone who studies from a book.[10]

We see in this passage an affirmation of the power of oral over written transmission of Torah. Nahman presents a hierarchy, whereby hearing Torah from the tsaddik is most efficacious, hearing Torah from another person is less efficacious, and reading Torah in a book is the least efficacious of all. Magid claims that this primacy of orality is “not in concert with rabbinic teaching.” According to him, this is because “…the rabbis do not view, as far as I know, the experience of hearing the words directly from the master as a pre-requisite for achieving, or experiencing knowledge.”[11] However, in my humble opinion, Nahman’s privileging hearing Torah directly rather than from a book, is not necessarily out of sync with rabbinic thought. The Spoken Torah in general, and particularly the Talmud, was valued precisely because it was spoken, and not written. Though the Talmud was eventually written down, this was clearly not the rabbis’ preferred means of learning Talmud. The Talmud itself (Gittin 60a) relates that “Aggada is not meant to be written down.”[12] In addition, Rabbis were “occasionally criticized”[13] in the Gaonic period for using written copies of the Talmud. Therefore, I do not think that Nahman’s approach here is an anathema. Rather, perhaps in this passage Nahman is relating the view that the Spoken Torah must be learned in person, and not from a book.

Nahman continues his discussion by relaying the reason why it is that it is better to hear teachings (and especially from the tsaddik) than to read them—the face of the tsaddik shines like a mirror. When the hasid comes to visit the tsaddik, he sees his own reflection in the tsaddik’s face, noticing his own faults and assets. The tsaddik obtains this brilliant countenance by means of Lashon ha-Kodesh, the Holy Tongue.

Lashon Kodesh in this homily is not simply the Hebrew language. It is much more significant than this. The Holy Tongue is seen as being the primordial language of creation of which all mundane objects are composed. This concept is also not uncommon in rabbinic and kabbalistic literature.[14]

The great power of this language of creation, according to Nahman, is that it has the attribute of “lashon nofel al-lashon.” Nahman describes two distinct meanings for this expression. Though this phrase literally means ‘language that falls on language,’ Nahman originally describes this quality by citing the rabbinic etymology of the words ish and isha (man and woman) which is a “play on words.”[15] Man and woman are similar, as are the words in Hebrew that describe them.[16] According to Magid, there is a more intricate explanation for this expression. By using the words “leshon nofel al-leshon,” Nahman, “…employs a rabbinic phrase that refers to the similar etymological construction of Ish and Isha denoting that Adam, in naming all of creation, and woman in particular, uses language that is also the language of creation. In Nahman's use of this construction, woman (Isha) becomes language for Adam (Ish), albeit an inferior form of language.”[17] Leshon nofel al-leshon therefore also signifies a process wherein Ish assimilates the “inferior” Isha. Thus, the power of the Holy Tongue lies in the fact that it under-girds creation, and reflects the actual relationship among entities in the physical world. Also, one concept can be subsumed in the other (as in Ish and Isha.)

Next, Nahman relates the word “zot,” the deictic “this,”[18] to Lashon Kodesh. The word “zot” has been interpreted by several kabbalists (e.g.-the author of the Zohar and Isaac of Acco)[19] to refer to the Shekhinah. It is likely that R’ Nahman knew of this view, and that here he is specifically equating “spoken Lashon Kodesh” [20]with the Shekhinah. It is clear that he is relating the word zot to the word Havah which he interprets as “speech.”[21] Perhaps Holy Tongue could be compared to the Logos, the aspect of God which is also primordial information and language, while “zot” would represent this language as it is spoken, or applied, so to speak.

Later, Nahman equates ‘woman’ (and Havah) with the aspect of Targum (translation), a language which contains elements of Lashon Kodesh that still need to be purified. With this, he creates the second of three conceptual categories, which is somewhat distinct from (though still intertwined with) Lashon Kodesh. This second category encompasses speech, Targum and Havah, and several other characteristics, which I will mention later.

Nahman then compares the Holy Tongue to all the other languages, drawing on the phrase from the festival liturgy: “He exalted us above all the nations/languages [l’shonot].” (Here, perhaps, we find the relationship of this homily to the festival of Shavuot.) In this context, Nahman describes another quality of Lashon Kodesh--that it subjugates all of the other languages of the world. With this and several other associations, Nahman creates the third general category, the languages of the seventy nations. The negative characteristics of the languages of the seventy nations stem from the fact they contain “the lust for adulterous sex.”[22] This lust is overcome through Lashon Kodesh:. "By means of the Holy Tongue, the lust for sex is checked and controlled.”[23]

Through a complex series of associations, R’ Nahman fleshes out the relationship between these three intertwined categories (i.e.- Lashon Kodesh, Targum, and the language of the seventy nations.) In the process, each category becomes associated with several characteristics. The category of Lashon Kodesh becomes associated with: Ruah Ha-Kodesh, the rectification of the Covenant, the Woman of Wisdom, and wheat. He also associates the biblical Yosef with Lashon Kodesh through the statement that Yosef “had achieved perfection of the Holy Tongue…”[24] Targum becomes associated with: Havah, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, the Woman of Intellect, nogah, tardemah, and Aramaic. Finally, Lashon Ha-Ammim is equated with: Ruah Shtut, Ruah Se’arah, the biblical Serpent, seduction, lust, the seventy stars, pollution, the Woman of Folly, sin, evil, and the kelipot.

Once he has introduced us to these three general concepts, Nahman explains their relationship to each other:

And the Serpent, which is the comprehensive evil, <> that the Holy Tongue lacks perfection, it goes and rules over the Holy Tongue. This corresponds to, "The Serpent's rule is over the flesh"-namely, the concept of Chavah, mentioned above. She is `flesh of his flesh,' corresponding to (Haggai 2:12), "consecrated flesh." And this is the concept of the Serpent who seduced Chavah and polluted her (Shabbat 146a). He is the storm-wind, the spirit of folly," the "woman of folly" (Proverbs 9:13). He continually seduces the Holy Spirit, which is the Holy Tongue, the woman of wisdom corresponding to (ibid. 14:1), "the wisdom of women"-and then pollutes her…It is impossible for this "woman of folly"/the comprehensive evil of the seventy tongues to draw sustenance from the "woman of wisdom"/the Holy Tongue, except by means of the "Tree of Knowledge of good and evil" (Genesis 2:9). Through this, it lures the Holy Tongue and pollutes it. And the Tree of Knowledge, with its two aspects, good and evil, is a medium between the Holy Tongue/the "woman of wisdom" which is entirely good, and the tongues of the seventy nations which are entirely evil." Now, the "Tree of Knowledge of good and evil" is synonymous with the tongue of Targum (Aramaic) which is a medium between the Holy Tongue and the tongues of the seventy nations. When the tongues of the nations want to draw sustenance from the Holy Tongue, they can only do so by means of the tongue of Targum. The TaRGuM is synonymous with “a woman of intellect” (Proverbs 19:4)…[25]

Targum stands between Lashon Kodesh and Lashon Ha-Amim. Lashon Ha-Amim can pollute Lashon Kodesh only through its interaction with Targum. In this process, just as the Serpent in the garden seduces Havah, the language of the nations seduces Targum, infecting it with its impurity and evil. Targum “possesses both good and evil,”[26] and therefore has the capacity to be effected by either good or evil. It can become either intellect (maskil) or destruction (meshakel).[27]

Though Targum can potentially be seduced by the dark side (i.e.-the language of the seventy nations) becoming impure, it can also be “refined,” purified and made holy. “The concept of nogah/Targum needs to be refined, so that the evil in it will fall away and the good in it will be extracted and ascend.”[28] Earlier, we saw that Targum is associated with speaking the Holy Tongue. It would seem therefore, that in this process, spoken language has the capacity to be either indecent or lustful--lustful when Targum is hijacked by Lashon Ha-Ammim, holy and creative when it is redeemed through Lashon Kodesh.

Once the positive attributes of Targum are elevated, the “power of HaShem will be increased.”[29] This occurs because when the Targum’s good attributes are elevated, they in turn “complete” and “perfect” the Holy Tongue. As a result of this process of completing the Holy Tongue the letters of the Holy Tongue of which creation is comprised are quickened. “When a person elevates the good in Targum and perfects the Holy Tongue with which the world was created, this arouses and enhances the power of the letters of the Holy Tongue which are in each thing in the world.”[30]

Once a person is able to uplift Targum and enhance and arouse the letters of each object in creation, “…then his eating, drinking and all his [physical] pleasures come only from the illumination of the letters which are in eating and drinking.”[31] Though even one who is not a tsaddik may be able to sense these letters of creation, the ability to have all one’s pleasures derive from the letters in one’s food is limited to the tsaddik. Nahman notes that “…every simple sage {that is, he is only wise but not a tzaddik} is capable of knowing the letters with which the thing he is eating was created.”[32] However, he also says that “Even so, for him [the simple sage] to experience and have pleasure just from the letter permutations…is impossible.”[33] This is because the tsaddik has performed the task of “perfecting” the Holy Tongue, “breaking his sexual lust entirely,”[34] and is therefore able to create “a new illumination in the Holy Tongue of each thing…”[35] In the words of Magid, “Lashon ha-kodesh perfected is revelation revealed, which is creation.”[36]

As a result of the tsaddik’s ability to obtain all his pleasure when eating and drinking from the permutations of the letters in each thing, “his heart will shine.”[37] In turn, this causes the tsaddik’s face to shine as a mirror. “And when one’s face shines with this purity, then another person can see his face in this face as he would in a mirror, and then feel remorse and return in repentance.”[38]

After this extended exegesis, Nahman returns to the issue of the power of learning in person versus book learning; “And this is the difference between hearing something from the teacher, or from the student, or from the book. For the tsaddikim are (Psalms 103:20), ‘strong warriors doing his word.’ They make and construct the word of the Holy One—namely the Holy Tongue with which the world was created.”[39] Because the tsaddik is able to “construct” the Holy Tongue, his face shines as a mirror, teaching the student through reflecting both his attributes and failings.

However, there is still a remaining question. In the absence of the tsaddik, what would be more efficacious, to read his teachings in a book, or to hear them in person from another? It would seem that Nahman generally places oral learning on a higher level than book learning. This is supported by the following passage which occurs near the end of LM I:19:

The difference between someone who learns form a book and someone who hears [the teaching] directly from the sage is even greater. This is because a book is only for remembering, as is written (Exodus 17:4), “Write this as a reminder in the Book.” And memory is [fixed] in the power of imagination, for even an animal has memory. This we know empirically, that even an animal can recall that in this place it was bitten by a dog and so it runs away from there. This is why our Sages said (Gittin 60b): “Words of the Oral Torah may not be written down.”

There is more to this than meets the eye. For in truth, this verse “Write this as a reminder in the Book,” was said about the Written Torah which specifically needs to be written down. {All this I [Reb Nosson] heard from his [Rebbe Nahman’s] holy lips when I transcribed the lesson in his presence, but he did not fully clarify this point.}[40]

Here, we see that even hearing a teaching from a sage (hacham) (rather than a tsaddik) is considered more authentic, more powerful than reading. The Spoken (Oral) Torah is only meant to be relayed “face to face.” Nahman bases this idea on the rabbinic dictum (from Gittin) that the Spoken Torah may only be written down as an aid for memory. This passage is essential in that it affirms the power of the spoken over the written word. Even if the words of the tsaddik are written in a book, it is better to hear the words directly from someone who had heard them (either from the tsaddik, or even from someone who heard from the tsaddik.) Mykoff summarizes the Mai HaNachal commentary to this passage:

Thus, whatever is written in a book, which is only for the purpose of remembering, corresponds to Targum, which needs rectification by having the good in it elevated. Therefore, the written word does not have the same power to arouse and elevate a person as does the spoken word of Lashon HaKodesh, that one hears, even if he hears it from someone several steps removed from its source of Complete Lashon HaKodesh.[41]

Written works are always inferior, because they have not yet been elevated. Second or third hand speech, despite its ‘distance’ from the tsaddik, still retains more of the original power of Lashon Kodesh than a book. A text is less holy if life is not being breathed into it through interpretation.

It would seem from R’ Nosson’s parenthetical comment (“All this I [Reb Nosson] heard from his [Rebbe Nahman’s] holy lips when I transcribed the lesson in his presence, but he did not fully clarify this point.”) that he himself was confused. Though Nahman’s teaching that Shavuot lauded the value of speech, Nosson was nonetheless recording it in writing. Perhaps only so that he could remember it later? If it was just a reminder, then how did LM itself later end up becoming the ‘embodiment of the tsaddik?’

This preference for orality is likely confusing for those Bratslav Hasidim who treat LM as their rebbe. Mykoff writes: “The person who studies from a book is even more distant from the teaching’s source than if he had heard it even second or third hand….Why?” Perhaps Mykoff himself is somewhat confused by this teaching, as it appears to contradict the belief in the divine nature of LM common among Bratslav Hasidim. According to Magid, “In the institutionalized Breslov community, Likkutei MoHaRan is arguably more than a book. The book is the (embodiment of the) author, it is the word that embodies flesh, almost a totem of the author's spirit.”[42] Though LM has this value in the Bratslav community, perhaps Nahman himself, as we see in LM I:19 would agree with the statement that, “…as a book it [Likutey Moharan] can only re-tell, it is only mimetic, it can never re-capture the originary moment of its disclosure.”[43]

It seems that Magid is also somewhat puzzled by this blanket preference for orality over literacy. The bulk of his address (which I reference throughout this paper) deals with the idea of the special charisma afforded to the tsaddik, who embodies God “to the extent that he transcends the mere ‘image of God’ common to all human beings.”[44] Though in this system, learning directly from the tsaddik is preferable because of his special relationship to Lashon Kodesh, I claim that (as seen in I:19) learning from a book is always less preferable. Magid affirms my thesis that “LM I:19 is about the power of orality as opposed to the power of the book…”[45] However, he nonetheless seems to feel that the book LM is an exception. He asserts, “The book, his book, the words of the Zaddik as written, now becomes the body of the Zaddik. Reading it is not the same as experiencing the transformation but it may be the next best, and only, option.”[46] Is reading LM, a book of the words of the tsaddik more beneficial than hearing these words second, or third, or fourth hand? Would it not, according to the theory espoused in LM I:19, be better for a Bratslav Hasid to hear a teaching from his grandfather, who heard it from his grandfather, who heard it from his grandfather, who heard it directly from R’ Nahman?

It seems to me that Nahman would not have preferred any written teaching, including his own, to first-hand learning. This idea is evident in LM I:19, but it is also illustrated more generally in Hasidic thought. Idel writes:

Orality can explode in and overcome even the most literate cultures. Centered as the varieties of Judaism up to the eighteenth century were on study and perfor­mance, a powerful phenomenon emphasizing orality took place beginning in the mid-eighteenth century in Eastern Europe and changed the spiritual physiognomy of many Jewish communities there. Hasidism is basically a move from literacy to orality, as we saw in an example in Chapter 6 dealing with the encounter between the Besht and the Great Maggid of Mezeritch.[47]

It would seem from Idel’s analysis of Hasidism, that the shift from a culture based on literature to one based on orality is one of the central characteristic traits of early Hasidism. Despite the fact that LM took on canonical status after Nahman’s death it seems unlikely to me that Nahman would have veered so markedly from Hasidism’s emphasis on orality. In fact, one of the traits Nahman is most famous for is his story telling ability.

In the following interpretation of a Baal Shem Tov story which stresses the preference for orality, Idel also addresses the concept of the tsaddik as the Spoken Torah discussed by R’ Nahman:

There was a man who wrote down the torah of the Besht that he heard from him. Once the Besht saw a demon walking and holding a book in his hand. He said to him: "What is the book that you hold in your hand?" He an­swered him: "This is the book that you have written." The Besht then understood that there was a person who was writing down his torah. He gathered all his followers and asked them: "Who among you is writing down my torah?" The man admitted it and he brought the manuscript to the Besht. The Besht examined it and said: "There is not even a single word here that is mine.”

Let me start with the alleged interlocutor of the Besht, the studious and curious demon. He is indeed a very curious guy, who attempts to keep himself up to date with any interesting spiritual development. It seems that Jewish culture was so imprinted with the concept of the importance of books that even its demons were imagined as avid readers., In this particular instance, however, involving a story that in my opinion is emblematic of the nature of Hasidism, the very emergence of the book was regarded as questionable: the author, the Besht, was trying to preserve the oral form of his teachings as quintessential. Demons, so it seems, are especially fond of illicitly written books. In fact, in this case the demon focuses his attention on a composition that the author himself would take to be an extreme falsification of his thought. What went wrong is not a matter of bad intentions or sheer misunderstandings: it seems that, as in Plato's famous critique of writing, it is the very nature of the medium that is imagined as problematic, and not the faulty manner of its performance. This legend, which portrays the Besht's adherence to the oral form of teaching may be related significantly to R. Nahman of Braslav's description of the Tzaddiq as the oral Torah, in the explicit context of a discussion about his great­ grandfather, the Besht. Concerning the Sabbateans, R. Nahman wrote that they “left the community and spoke deleteriously about the entire oral Torah, and this happened because hard gevurot reached them and they did not sweeten them ... and those utterances fell upon the paragon of the genera­tion and the Besht was then the paragon of the generation and he departed because of it ... because when there are deleterious utterances about the oral Torah or about the Tzaddiq of the generation, this is indeed the same thing because the quintessence of the oral Torah depends on the Tzaddiq of the generation, as it is said that the Shekhinah stands between the two Tzaddikim which is the oral Torah…because the Tzaddik makes from their [utterances] a Torah.”[48]

Though it is still unclear as to the status of LM as a written work, there is no doubt as to Nahman’s preference for orality. I wonder what R’ Nosson (who wrote down R’ Nahman’s homilies) would have said in response to the Besht story in the above passage. Would he have rationalized recording Nahman’s teachings as a personal reminder of what he had heard? Perhaps, if he knew that there were “demons” (such as myself?) running around with copies of LM, he would have thought twice about committing them to the page. Did R’ Nosson, when writing down R’ Nahman’s teachings ever stop himself and consider the idea that, “…as in Plato's famous critique of writing, it is the very nature of the medium that is imagined as problematic, and not the faulty manner of its performance”? Conceivably, when he was writing down LM I:19, this thought may have crossed his mind.


[1] Schachter-Shalomi, Zalman with Segel, Joel. Jewish with Feeling: a Guide to Meaningful Jewish Practice, Riverhead Books, 2005, p. 190.

[2] Ibid. p. 192

[3] Note the following entry from the Jewish Encyclopedia: “Israel has been called ‘the People of the Book’; it may as fitly be called ‘the people of Scripture exegesis,’ for exegesis in the largest sense of the word is in a way the one indigenous science which Israel has created and developed, after having produced, during the first long period of its history, the actual subject of this science, the Bible itself.” (

[4] Idel, Moshe. Absorbing Perfections: Kabbalah and Interpretation, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2002, p. 475.

[5] Idel notes (Ibid. p. 474): “There can be no doubt , however, that in some schools the teachings of the Hasidic leader became canonical, and this happened almost immediately. This is obviously the case with the teachings of the great-grandson of the Besht, R. Nahman of Braslav, each of which was designated as a Torah.” According to Idel the canonical status of LM, peculiar in the Hasidic tradition, occurred because his Hasidim “did not choose another leader [after Nahman’s death] but relied on the guidance found in his books (Ibid.)”

[6] Magid, Shaul. Charisma Talking: Incarnation and Lashon Ha-Kodesh in Nahman of Bratzlav’s Likkutei MoHaRan I:19, [unpublished talk delivered by Dr. Magid at UCLA in January, 2005], p. 9

[7] Included as part of the Zohar. Zohar II, 176b

[8] Likutey Moharan, trans. by Moshe Mykoff, Breslov Research Institute, Jerusalem/New York, 1990.

[9] Magid, p. 7

[10] Translation adapted from Mykoff, pp. 119, 121.

[11] Magid, p. 13.

[12] Gittin 60a trans. Soncino. This exact quote is, in fact, presented later in I:19 (excerpts)- Mykoff, pp. 176-179. Note Mykoff, footnote #142: “Oral Torah may not be written down. "From here we learn that it would have been forbidden to commit the Talmud into writing were it not that the Torah was being forgotten" (Rashi, Gittin 60b, s.v., u'devarim). This also shows that the purpose of a book is only to ensure that the material is remembered. However, ideally, the main body of the Oral Torah, the Talmud, should be studied orally-"face to face"-and heard by the student…It is worth noting that in this same passage (Gittin, loc. cit.) our Sages teach that God made a Covenant with the Jews only because of the Oral Law. This ties in with our lesson in that the vast body of the Oral Law is in the language of Targum/Aramaic and, as explained, the sanctification of the Covenant cannot be attained unless one first elevates the good in Targum.” (p. 179.)

[13] According to the Jewish Encyclopedia: “There are, however, allusions, although they are only sporadic, which show that the Halakah and the Aggadah were committed to writing; for copies were described as being in the possession of individual scholars, who were occasionally criticized for owning them. This censure was based on an interdiction issued in the third century, which forbade any one to commit the teachings of tradition to writing or to use a manuscript of such a character in lecturing (see Giṭ. 60a; Tem. 14b). Replying to the scholars of Kairwan, Sherira Gaon in his letter (ed. Neubauer, "M. J. C." i. 26) alludes to this prohibition as follows: "In answer to your question asking when the Mishnah and the Talmud were respectively committed to writing, it should be said that neither of them was thus transmitted, but both were arranged [redacted] orally; and the scholars believe it to be their duty to recite them from memory, and not from written copies." From the second part of this statement it is evident that even in Sherira's time the "scholars," a term here restricted to the members of the Babylonian academies, refrained from using written copies of the Talmud in their lectures, although they were sufficiently familiar with it to be able to recite it from memory. The statement that the exilarch Naṭronai (8th cent.), who emigrated to Spain, wrote a copy of the Talmud from memory (see Brüll, "Jahrb." ii. 51), would show that the scholars of the geonic period actually knew the work by heart. Although this statement is not altogether free from suspicion, it at least proves that it was believed to be within the powers of this exilarch to make a copy of the Talmud without having an original at hand.” (

[14] See Sefer Yetzirah, and Mykoff’s translation of LM, p. 120 footnote #8: “The Midrash teaches that in making the world, God permuted creations ‘building blocks’—the Hebrew alphabet—with which He then gave form to all existence (Bereshit Rabbah 1:1, 18:4; see Likutey Moharan I, 18:6, n.58). The different permutations of these letters are the words of the Holy Tongue used in the world’s creation.”

[15] Trans. Mykoff, p. 123.

[16] See Ibid. footnote #9: “The Midrash which Rebbe Nachman quotes in the text…points to a play on words as proof that this language, Lashon HaKodesh…was sued in the creation of the world. The commentaries explain that among the ancient languages of the world, none employed similar words for man and woman, showing that, in fact, they were created as one and remain inextricably linked in essence. Only in Hebrew is this connection evident from the language itself…”

[17] Magid, pp. 14-15.

[18] Is it possible that he is making a reference to the here-and-now-ness of speech?

[19] For this reference in Isaac of Acco, see his supercommentary to Ramban’s Torah commentary, Meirat Einayim pp. 152-155 (ed. Goldreich). Also see Tikkuney Zohar 19, p. 40a

[20] LM I:19, 3.Nahman associates the words havah and isha with “…the concept of speaking with the Holy Tongue, with which the world was created

[21] He relates the name Havah (the first woman) to speech. According to Mykoff (Mykoff, p. 123): “We have just seen that everything, including the first woman, was created by means of the language of Creation, Lashon haKodesh. Adam, likewise, used the Holy Tongue to call her ishah. The name of this ishah, Chavah ... also implies speech and speaking the Holy Tongue. We see this in the verse in Psalms which relates how other elements in Creation which were also created with Lashon haKodesh (such as day and night) talk about and declare His glory: "Night ye’haveh (YHVH) to night." [emphasis mine.]

[22] ta’avat niuf (I:19, 3)

[23] Mykoff, p. 127.

[24] Mykoff, p. 131

[25] Mykoff, pp. 137-141.

[26] Ibid.

[27] LM I:19, 4.

[28] Translation adapted from Mykoff, p. 153.

[29] LM I:19, 6 [trans. mine].

[30] Translation adapted from Mykoff, p. 155.

[31] Ibid., p. 157.

[32] Ibid., p. 161.

[33] Ibid., p. 163.

[34] Ibid., p. 165.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Magid, p. 18.

[37] Mykoff, p. 167.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Translation adapted from Mykoff, p. 171.

[40] Trans. Mykoff, p. 177 (emphasis mine).

[41] Mykoff, p. 176

[42] Magid, p. 8.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Magid, p. 3.

[45] Ibid., p. 9.

[46] Ibid., p. 12.

[47] Idel, p. 470.

[48] Idel, pp. 472-473.

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