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Rav Yaakov Emden: Halacha & Kabbalah Print E-mail

writingsThe 30th of Nissan is the Yahrtzeit of Rav Yaakov Emden (1698-1776), known as Yaavetz (Yaakov ben Tzvi), son of the Chacham Tzvi. Settled in Altoona in 1733. He was involved in a famous controversy over

an amulet (kameya) written by Rav Yehonason Eibeshutz, Rav Yaakov claiming that the amulet demonstrated an acceptance of Shabsai Tzvi.

(Responsa, Part I, #47) The Talmud (Berachot 5b) states that the bed should be placed between north and south, and the Halacha (Rambam, Beit HaBechira 7:9. Shulchan Aruch O”C 3:6 & 240:17) understand this to mean that the head of the bed should face north and the foot south. However, the Kabbalists say that the bed should lie form east to west.

Rumor has it, observes the questioner, that the Chacham Tzvi used to follow the Kabbalists in the matter of placing the bed, and yet he himself,rules that where there is conflict between the Codes and the Kabbalah one should follow the former.

Rav Yaakov Emden replied from Amsterdam in 1728. He elaborates on the reason for the preference of the Codes to the Kabbalah. Rav Emden was a great Kabbalist, although critical of some of the Kabbalistic assumptions – that the whole Zohar was composed by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. Like his father, he was extremely hostile to the way certain Kabbalistic ides had been developed by the Sabbateans.

Rav Emden declares that both Codes and Kabbalah are “the words of the Living God,” but that the Codes, being later than the Kabbalah, knew of the Kabbalistic rulings and yet consciously departed from them at times.

In all such instances the norm is to follow the later authorities, on the analogy of a Baraita, which was not taught in the official schools of Rabbi Hiya and Rabbi Hoshea in Talmudic times.

Rav Emden adds that where the Talmud disagrees with the Kabbalah it is not because the Talmud rejects all mystical reasons but rather because the Talmud has mystical reasons of its own, which it does not see fit to disclose.

However, where the wording of a Talmudic passage is none too clear, one is justifiedin following the Kabbalah and in interpreting the Talmudic passage so as to accord with it.

In this particular passage, the meaning is that the width , not the length, of the bed should be from north to south. The Talmud, in fact, agrees with the Kabbalah that the head of the bed should face east.

The reason is so that when a man goes to sleep he should bow to the Shechina, which is in the west.

Rav Emden then offers a novel Kabbalistic interpretation of his own. Abba Benyamin, in the Talmudic passage referred to, states that if a man places his bed in this way he will be blessed with male children. Now the term ‘north’ represents the ‘female side,’ hinting at the ‘female waters,’ which man’s virtuous deeds provide for the Shechina, the Sefirah of Malchut, which she requires for the ‘sacred marriage’ in which She is united with Tiferet.

The rabbis say (Berachot 60a) that where the woman ‘emits seed’ before the man, the child will be a boy, hence Abba Binyamin’s promise of this particular reward. The placing of the bed is really a euphemism for the marital act.

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