Strange Calendar Conjunctions

While one calendric oddity has grabbed national attention, another one seems to have gone unnoticed. Except on Cross-Currents.

Thanksgivukkah has entered the American vocabulary, for a short period of notoriety. This year will be the first, and likely the last, time that Thanksgiving will be celebrated on Chanukah. The conjunction has tickled people’s imaginations, launched a Facebook page, produced fusion recipes unheard of since the days of Poccayente, and provoked the ire of Colbert. Somehow, in the rush to make turkey-laced latkes, a different mishmash comes and goes without comment. Yesterday marked the major festival of Eid ul-Adha, the Muslim celebration of Akeidas Yishmael. (Their version differs a bit from ours. They claim we tampered with the texts to insert our own favorite son candidate in a lead role.) Is it coincidental that it fell this year in the week that Jews will read of Akeidas Yitzchok? I think not.

The identity of the protagonists is not the only difference in the story. Checking the Quran 37:102, my eye caught a few words, and I wondered if they were significant.

When he grew enough to work with him, he said, “My son, I see in a dream that I am sacrificing you. What do you think?” He said, “O my father, do what you are commanded to do. You will find me, G-d willing, patient.

Our traditional interpretation of Chumash includes the assumption of a clear, unequivocal Divine command. This came to him through a prophetic episode. At least according to Rambam, prophecy is self-validating. It is so unique and compelling, that there is no question of it being confused with anything else. Avraham was left with no room to doubt the authenticity of the message. (As many point out, the command to stay his hand and not slaughter Yitzchok came from an angel. The command to kill had to come directly from Hashem; not so the command to spare him.)

I don’t know enough about Muslim interpretation to know if the use of the word “dream” in the passage is significant. (By interpretation I mean to those who value interpretive techniques altogether. Some forms of contemporary Islam, e.g. the Saudi-sponsored Wahhabi variety that is popular with so many of the Islamists, take a dim view of traditional interpretation. They favor each person following what the text says to them.) Do they assume Avraham’s dream to be a form of prophecy, or was it akin to the dreams that all of us have? Avraham’s soliciting Yishmael’s opinion on the matter would seem to indicate the latter.

Of course, as outsiders, none of us should draw any conclusions about what to us is a closed book. We need to speak to those inside the tradition. So I appeal to readers who have Muslim friends and acquaintances to shed some light on this, and get back to us.

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17 Responses

  1. Nachum says:

    It should be stressed that the Koran nowhere says that Yishmael was the intended sacrifice. There are only two contradictory Hadith (sayings of Mohammed) on the topic: One says that it was Yitzchak, in Syria (i.e. Israel, i.e. Har HaMoriah) and the other says it was Yishmael, in Mecca. It was only subsequent generations that came down very firmly in favor of the latter tradition.

  2. Shalom Spira says:

    Ye’yasher kochakhem, R. Adlerstein and R’ Nachum. The “closed book” in question should indeed remain a closed book for us Jews, as per the ruling of R. Moshe Feinstein in Iggerot Mosheh YD 3:114-115 prohibiting the perusal of books that claim post-Mosaic changes were rendered to our Sefer Torah. Of course, leading talmidei chakhamim are allowed to be a little bit familiar with such contraband books in order le-havin u-le-horot (i.e. to protect Klal Yisrael from being misled), as R. Feinstein elsewhere writes in Iggerot Mosheh YD 2:111. The latter dispensation explains why R. Adlerstein and R’ Nachum are able to quote brief passages from the closed book in question, le-havin u-le-horot. [Of course, we do not seek to impose our beliefs upon other nations, as per R. Soloveitchik’s “Confrontation” (Tradition 6:2). We are quietly confident that in the eschatological era, the truth will be apparent for all to see.]

  3. Nachum says:

    Shalom, I studied the Koran and other Islamic writings as part of a course in Yeshiva College. Just for your information- you have a way of stating opinions of R’ Moshe (and yourself) as if they were incontrovertible and unargued facts, and it just ain’t so. I’ve known great frum scholars who were fully conversant in the New Testament (and encouraged others to be so) for reasons that had nothing to do with yours.

  4. Shalom Spira says:

    Thank you, R’ Nachum. I admit I did not attend Yeshiva College, but I could speculate that perhaps the Mashgi’ach Ruchani (who presumably bears the authority to determine the limits of freedom of inquiry at Yeshiva College) came to the conclusion that all the students in your class at Yeshiva College were of exceptional caliber, similar to the eighty students of Hillel described by Sukkah 28a, the (so-called) “least” of whom merited to be the president of the Sanhedrin. For example, it is precisely because you are familiar with the “closed book” in question that you are able (in your excellent comment at 4:38 p.m. yesterday) to refute those who perniciously deny Akeidat Yitzchak.

    But, yes, I agree that R. Moshe Feinstein’s philosophy toward secular studies deserves further investigation, in light of the following apparent contradiction: Iggerot Mosheh YD 3:82 seems to discourage secular studies (even when there are no heretical books studied), whereas Iggerot Mosheh CM 2:30 seems to encourage secular studies, declaring that everyone knows that Yeshiva students are the most diligent pupils in secular studies. Perhaps R. Feinstein saw both sides of the secular studies debate as valuable, and so he was in a situation of hen ve-lav ve-raf’yah be-yadeih.

  5. Binyomin Wolf says:

    Shalom aleichem Rabbi Adlerstein,

    Please see YouTube shiur by Rabbi Joey Rosenfeld on the akeida where he points out an angle that the akeida was not an absolute command. Very interesting contrast with what you brought down in the article.

    Kol tuv!

  6. Shlomo Pill says:

    In addition to pursuing smicha yadin yadin, I am also a doctral student working in comparative Jewish, Islamic, and American law and Jurisprudence. While tafsir (Quranic exegesis – the rough equivalent to peirushim on Chumash) is not really my field, I did a quick look through some very basic sources to see how the dream is interpreted.

    One 14th century commentary by ibn Kathir, quotes Ubayd ibn Umar (the som of the Second Kalpih, Umar ibn Kittab), and important early authority in fiqh (Islamic law – roughly the equivalent of halacha), and hadith (the orally transmitted sayings and practices of Muhammad – rough equivalent of Torah she’baal Peh), who said that “The dreams of the Prophets are revelations.” It is unclear, though, what the parameters of this statement are – whether he means every dream of a Prophet is a revelation from God, or something else.

    Tafsir al-Jalalayn, makes this assertion on his own account: “The visions of prophets are true and their actions are directed by the command of God, exalted be He.”

    It is worth noting that this notion – that the dreams of Prophets MUST be assumed to be prophecies, and that the actions of Prophets is assumed to be a righteous response to God’s command, is an important element in the Islamic theological-legal worldview. Much of Islamic law comes not from the Qur’an but from the Hadith, the orally transmitted (eventually written) records of Muhammad’s actions, speech, interactions, ect. This is precisely because it is assumed that the Muhammad (a prophet’s) actions and interactions during his period of prophecy were divinely inspired, and thus carry normative force.

    It is worth noting that the tafsir of ibn Abbas, another major work, acknowledges the the text of the Quran here is ambiguous, as it says merely that “Ibrahim (Avraham) said,” but does not specify to which son he was speaking. The author seems to accept the normative Islamic view that the subject here is Ishmael, but acknowledges the variant view that it was Yitzchak.

  7. lawrence kaplan says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein: You might wish to peruse Jon Levenson’s discussion of the Quranic view of the Akedah found in his recent book Inheriting Abraham, pp. 104-106, and the very full references provided in the endnotes, Levenson comments: In leaving the identity of the son open, the Quran indicates that the identity of the chosen nation is of no import to the story-which is quite the opposite of the biblical narrative.

    Rabbi Spira: Your ad hoc “speculation” in response to Nahum about the Mashgiach Ruhani of YC determining who is eligible to study the Quran is baseless, indeed absurd. Please, stick to what you know and do not embarrass yourself.

    [YA – Now I see the hashgachas Hashem in the presence of Jon Levenson’s book on my desk, as yet unused!]

  8. Nachum says:

    Prof. Kaplan: Do I understand you as saying that the point (or at least one point) of the Biblical story is to enforce Yitzchak’s status vis a vis Yishmael’s? I don’t see that anywhere in the text. (The Midrashim, of course, do say that, but that’s another matter.) If anything, it’s a story of how great *Avraham* was, and maybe, later on, about the holiness of Yitzchak, with nothing implied either way about Yishmael. (Who is, of course, dealt with elsewhere, but again that’s a different story.)

    R’ Spira:

    “who presumably bears the authority to determine the limits of freedom of inquiry at Yeshiva College”

    He bears no such authority. YU has believed in complete academic freedom, with no limits, since the days of R’ Revel. The class, incidentally, included only myself, and I didn’t take it for da ma shetashiv reasons.

  9. wfb says:

    The Rambam in Moreh Nevukhim (3:24) proves that Avraham’s prophesy left no room for doubt from the akedah, but the Izbicer says the opposite:
    מי השילוח (פ’ וירא עה״פ והאלקים נסה) וז״ל, והנה באמת לא היה לאברהם דיבר מפורש מהש״י שישחוט את בנו, ע״כ לא נאמר וה’ נסה רק והאלקים נסה היינו שהיה אליו דבר באספקלריא דלא נהרא, וכו’, וע״ז לא נקרא הנסיון ע״ש יצחק כי יצחק האמין לאברהם כי מה’ הוא ואינו נסיון כ״כ רק לאברהם היה נסיון לפי שלא היה אצלו הדיבר מפורש, ואם היה לו שום נגיעה כאב לבן אז היה מכריחו לרחם עליו כי באמת מאת ה’ היה שלא ישחטו והנסיון היה רק למראה עיני אברהם

  10. Shalom Spira says:

    I thank Mori ve-Rabbi R. Kaplan for his kind and correct response to me. Indeed, I acknowledge and confess that I failed to substantiate my claim that the Mashgi’ach Ruchani determines the content of the curriculum at YC. What I should have done was quoted my source, viz. a lecture on Aug. 26, 2012 by R. Willig (available on and called Dealing_with_Conflicts where – after being asked about this (both at 39:00 and again at 44:25 into the recording) – he encourages students to speak to the Mashgi’ach Ruchani.

    Earlier, at 25:25 into the recording, R. Willig mentions the problem of studying books that contradict Torah min ha-Shamayim. R. Willig says that that a student should be careful, and thereby he will derive the maximum spiritual benefits of YC.

  11. Avi says:

    Lawrence Kaplan: Respectfully I think you missed Shalom Spiras point. One should not be reading these ‘books’ unless they have a specific ‘heter’ & need to do so (as per R Moshe & many others). Are there any Torah leaders that have disagreed? His explanation of such allowance appears to be a dan lecaf zechus.

  12. Shalom Spira says:

    Due to a delay in the appearance of comments, I apologize that I had not seen R’ Nachum’s comment (Oct. 19, 6:06 p.m.) at the time I wrote my comment of Oct. 20, 12:35 a.m. Moreover, again due to a delay in the appearance of comments, R’ Avi (due to no fault of his own) did not see my comment of Oct. 20, 12:35 a.m., at the time he posted his comment of Oct. 20, 2:27 a.m. Thus, far from there being any adversarial exchange in this forum, I believe all the commentators are (more or less) in harmony. There may be slight degrees of nuance between commentators, but these are peripheral.

    [The same, of course, cannot be said of different religions. The differences between religions are not “slight degrees of nuance” but are rather fundamental, and so no attempt at conglomeration is possible, as per R. Soloveitchik’s words in “Confrontation.” Until the messianic era arrives (when we expect the Torah to be embraced by all humanity), world peace can be maintained by building a secular society where the United Nations Charter of Human Rights is respected.]

  13. lawrence kaplan says:

    Nachum: I am sorry if I was not clear. All I meant, following Levenson, is that in the Torah it is important that Isaac and not Ishmael is the son who inherits the covenantal promises made to Abraham. Of course, by the time of the Akedah it is clear that Ishmael is out of the picture, since in the previous chapter (Gen. 21:12) God had told Abraham “Ki be-Yitzhak yikare leka zera.” In the Quran the identity of who is Abraham’s heir is unimportant, since the sole focus is on Abraham as the servant of God and not as the father of a chosen people.

    Avi: I did not address R, Spira’s point regarding the propriety of reading these “books,” just his completely unfounded assumption, which the slightest research would have dispelled that the Mashgich Ruhani of YC has the authority to decide who is eligible to register for classes that involve the study of “controversial” material.” There are limits to “dan le-kaf zechut.” Indeed, as R. Spira, himself, with his usual and admirable honesty and candor, admits, he arrived at his entirely false conclusion by a completely unwarranted extrapolation from a comment of R. Willig.

  14. Nachum says:

    Thanks for the explanation, Professor.

  15. Shalom Spira says:

    Likewise, I thank R’ Avi for his kind defense of me.

  16. lawrence kaplan says:

    In my previous comment there should be comma after “dispelled.”

  17. Shalom Spira says:

    That said, I do want to thank R’ Nachum, R. Pill and Mori ve-Rabbi R. Kaplan for the excellent insights that they provided. I certainly concede that they are worthy to don the mantle of “le-havin u-le-horot,” such that for them there is no prohibition to read the book in question. [R. Adlerstein’s newly published essay today on the mitzvah of manifesting reverence to talmidei chakhamim (as per the gemara in Pesachim 22b) helped prompt this concession of mine.]

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