David Weiss Halivni
David Weiss Halivni (Hebrew: דוד וייס הלבני) (born
1927) is a European-born American-Israeli rabbi, scholar in the domain
of Jewish Sciences and professor of Talmud.
3.1 Source-critical analysis
3.2 Chate'u Israel
3.3 As a spiritual leader
5 Published works
6 See also
David Weiss was born in the small town of Kobyletska Poliana
(Кобилецька Поляна, Poiana Cobilei, Gergyanliget) in
Carpathian Ruthenia, then in Czechoslovakia (now in Rakhiv Raion, in
Ukraine). His parents separated when he was 4 years old, and he grew
up in the home of his grandfather, a
Talmud scholar in Sighet,
Romania. During the Holocaust, at the age of 16 he was deported to
Auschwitz. After a week he was transferred to a forced labor camp,
Gross-Rosen, then to AL Wolfsberg, and later to Mauthausen camp and
was the only member of his family to survive.
When he arrived in the
United States at the age of 18, he was placed
in a Jewish orphanage where he created a stir by challenging the
kashrut of the institution since the supervising rabbi did not have a
beard and, more importantly, was not fluent in the commentaries of the
Pri Megadim by
Rabbi Yoseph Te'omim. This was a
standard for Rabbis in Europe. A social worker introduced him to Saul
Lieberman, a leading Talmudist at the Jewish Theological Seminary of
America (JTS) in New York, who recognized his brilliance and took him
under his wing. Weiss studied with Lieberman for many years at the
Initially, he studied in
Yeshiva Chaim Berlin
Yeshiva Chaim Berlin and was allowed to not
attend lectures because of his advanced standing. Over the next
decade, he completed his elementary, high school and earned a
bachelor's degree at
Brooklyn College and a
Master's Degree in
philosophy and a
Doctorate in Talmud.
He married Zipporah Hager, a descendant of the Vizhnitzer Rebbes. They
had 3 children: Baruch (formally known as Bernard), Ephraim, and
Yeshiahu. He has six grandchildren, all of whom are scholars as well;
Avidan, Hadar, Daniel, Rebecca, Benjamin, and Eliana.
Weiss later changed his name to "Halivni," a
Hebrew translation for
"weiss" or "white." He originally wanted to abandon the surname Weiss
because that was the name of a guard in the concentration camp in
which he was interned. He was initially considering changing his name
to Halivni; however, out of respect for this grandfather/teacher
Yeshayahu Weiss, he maintained a memory of the family name, using the
compound name Weiss Halivni.
Halivni is the author of Mekorot u'Mesorot, a projected ten volume
commentary on the Talmud. He is also the author of the English
language volumes Peshat and Derash, Revelation Restored, his memoirs
The Book and the Sword and others. Halivni also served as Littauer
Talmud and Classical Rabbinics in the Department of
Religion at Columbia University.
In July 2005, Halivni retired from Columbia University. He now lives
Israel and teaches at the
Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Bar
Halivni's source-critical approach to
Talmud study has had a major
impact on academic understanding and study of the Talmud. The
traditional understanding viewed the
Talmud as a unified homogeneous
work. While other scholars had also treated the
Talmud as a
multi-layered work, Halivni's innovation (primarily in the second
volume of his Mekorot u-Mesorot) was to distinguish between the
onymous statements, which are generally succinct Halachic rulings or
inquiries attributed to known Amoraim, and the anonymous statements,
characterised by a much longer analysis often consisting of lengthy
dialectic discussion, which he attributed to the later authors-
"Stamma'im" (or Savora'im).
It has been noted that indeed the Jerusalem
Talmud is very similar to
the Babylonian Talmud, minus Stammaitic activity, which is to be found
only in the latter.
His methodology of source-critical analysis of the
controversial among most Orthodox Jews, but is accepted in the
non-Orthodox Jewish community, and by some within Modern Orthodoxy.
Halivni terms the anonymous texts of the
Talmud as having been said by
Stammaim (based on the phrase " stama d'talmuda" which refers to the
anonymous material in the Gemara), who lived after the period of the
Amoraim, but before the
Geonic period. He posits that these Stammaim
were the recipients of terse Tannaitic and Amoraic statements and that
they endeavored to fill in the reasoning and argumentative background
to such apodictic statements.
The methodology employed in his commentary Mekorot u' Mesorot attempts
to give Halivni's analysis of the correct import and context and
demonstrates how the Talmudic Stammaim often erred in their
understanding of the original context.
In Halivni's books Peshat and Derash and Revelation Restored, he
attempts to harmonize biblical criticism with traditional religious
belief using a concept he developed termed Chate'u
Israel has sinned"). This concept states that the biblical texts
originally given to Moses have become irretrievably corrupted.
Revelation Restored writes as follows:
According to the biblical account itself, the people of
the Torah, in the dramatic episode of the golden calf, only forty days
after the revelation at Sinai. From that point on, until the time of
Ezra, the scriptures reveal that the people of
Israel were steeped in
idolatry and negligent of the Mosaic law. Chate'u Yisrael, states that
in the period of neglect and syncretism after the conquest of Canaan
when the originally monotheistic Israelites adopted pagan practices
from their neighbours, the
Torah of Moses became "blemished and
According to Halivni, this process continued until the time of Ezra
(c.450 BCE), when finally, upon their return from Babylon, the people
accepted the Torah. It was at that time that the previously rejected,
and therefore maculated, text of the
Torah was recompiled and edited
by Ezra and his "entourage." He claims that this is attested in the
books of Ezra and Nehemiah, and Halivni supports his theory with
Talmudic and Midrashic sources which indicate that Ezra played a role
in editing the Torah. He further states that while the text of the
Pentateuch was corrupted, oral tradition preserved intact many of the
laws, which is why the Oral Law appears to contradict the Biblical
text in certain details.
This view was seen as possibly being in contradiction to the 8th of
Maimonides' 13 principles of faith, which states "the
Torah that we
have today is the one that was dictated to Moses by God". Some believe
Maimonides says that this applies to every single word in the
Torah. As a result, Halivni's assertions were rejected by some
As a spiritual leader
Halivni was involved in the 1983 controversy at JTS surrounding the
training and ordination of women as rabbis. He felt that there may
be halakhic methods for ordaining women as rabbis, but that more time
was needed before such could be legitimately instituted, and that the
decision had been made as a policy decision by the governing body of
the Seminary rather than as a psak halachah within the traditional
rabbinic legal process. This disagreement led to his break with the
seminary and with the movement of Conservative Judaism, and to his
co-founding of the Union for Traditional Judaism.
Until 2005, Halivni was the spiritual leader of Kehilat Orach Eliezer,
a congregation on Manhattan's Upper West Side, a position he had held
since the congregation's foundation in 1992. In 2002, many members
of the congregation wanted to allow women to be called up to the
Torah, which, while supported by a then-recent legal argument by Rabbi
Mendel Shapiro, is opposed by many rabbis for halakhic and
sociological reasons. Halivni was not excited about
the practice, and told the congregation: "I shall allow it, but only
if it is done no more frequently than a few times a year, and only if
it is done in a separate room from the ‘real’ service." Thus, the
congregation allows this practice only under very limited
circumstances. Nevertheless, even this "compromise"
was far too liberal for many congregants. On the other side, many
liberals favored a
Partnership minyan approach and were frustrated by
KOE's failure to include women in the main
In 1985, Halivni was a co-recipient (jointly with Hillel Barzel and
Shlomo Pines) of the
Bialik Prize for Jewish thought.
In 2008, he was awarded the
Israel Prize for his Talmudic
Halivni's published works include:
Mekorot u'Mesorot, a projected ten volume commentary on the Talmud.
Peshat and Derash
The Book and the Sword, his memoirs.
Breaking the Tablets: Jewish Theology After the Shoah, a collection of
The central thesis of "Breaking the Tablets" is that the history of
the Jews is "bookmarked" by two diametrically opposing "revelations":
Sinai and Auschwitz. The revelation on Mount Sinai was the apex of
God’s nearness to the Jews, while the revelation at
the nadir of God’s absence from them. Halivni’s conviction is that
Auschwitz represents not merely God’s "hiding his face" from Israel,
as a consequence of the Jews’ sins — a familiar trope in rabbinic
theology — but also his actual, ontological withdrawal from human
In Breaking the Tablets Halivni explicitly rejected the notion that
this withdrawal is simply an example of "God hiding his face" as
viewed in normative Judaism. The concept of hester panim (God's hiding
his face) is classically used with regard to punishment, and Halivni
is adamant that the
Holocaust cannot in any way be regarded as a
punishment for Israel's sins.
Bialik Prize recipients
Israel Prize recipients
^ a b c d Sheleg, Yair (February 15, 2008). "A living Talmud
^ "Schechter welcomes renowned scholar David Halivni". December 12,
2008. Retrieved 2012-07-09.
^ Encyclopaedia Judaica 2nd ed. entry "Talmud, Babylonian"
^ Encyclopaedia Judaica (2nd ed.), entry "Jerusalem Talmud"
^ Yated Ne'eman, January 14th, 1999
^ "About". Kehilat Orach Eliezer. Archived from the original on
2012-07-22. Retrieved 2012-07-09.
^ "List of
Bialik Prize recipients 1933-2004 (in Hebrew), Tel Aviv
Municipality website" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on
December 17, 2007.
^ "Recipient's C.V." (in Hebrew).
Israel Prize Official Site. Archived
from the original on 2012-09-10.
^ "Judges' Rationale for Grant to Recipient" (in Hebrew).
Official Site. Archived from the original on 2012-09-10.
^ Nadler, Allan (June 11, 2008). "Absence and Presence". The
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