Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Does K represent Sadducee viewpoint?

I've been studying from the copy of Sefer Ha-Aggadah that belonged to my grandfather, Rabbi Dr. A. Stanley Dreyfus z"l. Ordinarily we just have our own interpretation of Bialik and Ravnitsky's interpretation of the rabbis' interpretation of the Torah, but this occasionally adds a fifth level. At the top of today's section on Korach, handwritten in pencil, it says "Does K represent Sadducee viewpoint?". I'd be interested in hearing thoughts on that, since I'm not entirely sure what he meant. It seems to me that Korach's main argument, as portrayed in these aggadot, is that Moses and Aaron are using the priestly cult for their own personal gain, and the rabbis'/Pharisees' beef with the Sadducees was that they were using the priestly cult for their own personal gain. The rabbis, like Korach, favored more distributed leadership, rather than a centralized priesthood. So if anyone is painted as a Sadducee here, it seems to be Moses and Aaron. Thoughts?


Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

Is it possible that your grandfather considered the Dead Sea Scroll sectarian documents to be of the Sadducees, rather than the Essenes, as is commonly thought? The Sadducee identification is a minority opinion, but of long standing. That's the only way that I could make sense of it in this context. The sectarian DSS are strongly critical of the Jerusalem priesthood.

Howard said...

Possibly your grandfather considered the Rabbis, the establishment with the power. The Sadducees represented the opposition trying to take over. It had nothing to do with the actual arguments.

Richard Friedman said...

I have thought that the most salient part of the Rabbis' view of the Tz'dokim (Sadducees) was the latter's (alleged) denial of the Torah Sheb'al Peh, the Oral Law. That is, the P'rushim (Pharisees)/Rabbis accepted a number of interpretations of Torah that do not seem to be the simple reading of the text (e.g., asserting that the Torah affirms revival of the dead; claiming that counting of the Omer begins the day after the first yom tov of Pesah rather than the day after the first Shabbat that's after that time; holding that lex talionis meant monetary damages), and the Tz'dokim took what would seem to be the more straightforward reading of the text.

I also have thought that at least one of the most salient parts of the midrash's view of Korah was his manipulation of Torah. The midrash quoted in Sefer HaAggada says that Korah and Moshe disagreed on what Torah (or God) requires. Does an all-t'chelet (blue) garment require a t'chelet thread in its tzitzit (corner tassel)? Does a library full of Torah require a Sh'ma-scroll in its doorpost? Here, probably the straightforward reading of the text supports Moshe -- there's no indication that a blue garment or a Torah library is an exception to the otherwise-applicable requirements of tzitzit and mezuza. On this analysis, Korah does indeed parallel the P'rushim.

But maybe a more subtle analysis is required. After all, the Rabbis can't easily admit that their opponents' view of the Torah fits the text more neatly than does their own view. So maybe the Korah-Tzdoki parallel does work -- the bad guys offer an interpretation that has superficial appeal (Tzdokim: Omer counting is supposed to start "mimohorat haShabbat", which sure sounds like "the day after Saturday"; Korah: why should a single t'chelet corner thread make the garment OK if thousands of t'chelet threads in the body of the garment don't?), but that interpretation is wrong.

And to combine this theological/methodological/ideological argument with Ben's more socio-political one: Maybe the Rabbis' portrayal of Korah, as one who uses superficially-appealing arguments disengenuously -- when he knows that those interpretations are wrong, for the purpose of usurping political power, _is_ at some level a swipe at the Tz'dokim, who (again, according to the Rabbis) used arguments that were superficially appealing but wrong, to obtain unjustified politcal power. And maybe the Rabbis were suggesting that the Tz'dokim _knew_ that their arguments were wrong.

This is all highly speculative; it's mostly an attempt to provide a plausible basis for your grandfather's comment. (I'll note that I am not inclined to agree with Howard's suggestion -- I think originally the _Tz'dokim_ were the establishment.)