Hands clapping 370.
Rabbi Yisrael Nissan Kupershtoch (1858-1930) grew up in the milieu of the Warka
Hassidim in Poland. After his marriage, he traveled to his wife’s uncle, Rabbi
Yehiel Dancyger (1828-1894), the founder of what would become the Aleksander
Hassidic dynasty. Rabbi Kupershtoch served in the rabbinate in Poland, and in
1924 he left for the Land of Israel.
Many of his writings were lost, but
after arriving in British Mandate Palestine, he published one volume of his
legal writings: Responsa Ani Ben Pahma (Jerusalem 1928). In this collection, he
recounts a fascinating episode that he witnessed in his youth.
As a young
boy, he had studied under Rabbi Yisrael Eliyahu Yehoshua Trunk of Kutno
(1820-1893) – a renowned halachic authority and a disciple of the Kotsker rebbe,
Rabbi Menahem Mendel Morgensztern (1787–1859). Besides serving in the rabbinate
in a number of Polish towns, Rabbi Trunk authored Yeshuot Yisrael (Warsaw 1870)
– a work on the civil law section of the of the Jewish Code of Law – and Yavin
Da’at (Piotrkow, 1932) on the ritual sections of the Code. In addition to Yavin
Da’at, his responsa were published posthumously under the title Responsa Yeshuot
Malko (Piotrkow, 1927-1939).
In a way, Rabbi Trunk represented the
resolution of the enmity between the hassidic community and the opponents of
hassidism, the Mitnagdim. His very name reflected that resolution: His parents
gave him three names – Yisrael, after the person who inspired the hassidic
movement, the famous Rabbi Yisrael Ba’al Shem Tov (c. 1700-1760); Eliyahu, after
the highest rabbinic authority who opposed the nascent hassidic movement, Rabbi
Eliyahu the Gaon of Vilna (1720-1797); and Yehoshua, after Rabbi Ya’acov
Yehoshua Falk (1680-1756), the great talmudist and author of Pnei Yehoshua
(Frankfurt-am- Main and Furth 1752-1780) – a commentary and novellae on the
Talmud. Rabbi Trunk’s parents, it appears, blessed their son with
straddling more than one world.
Rabbi Kupershtoch described how he sat as
a young boy at Rabbi Trunk’s Shabbat table, and Rabbi Trunk would often cry out
in excitement, “Master of the universe!” – first in Aramaic and then in the
Yiddish vernacular. And he would be moved to clap his hands
One particular Shabbat, this conduct apparently irked one of
the guests, as Rabbi Kupershtoch reported: “And there was one person – an
extremely learned and God-fearing person... who heard the sound and [saw] the
clapping of the hands and he bent down and whispered the following in the holy
ears [of R. Trunk]: ‘Master, does it not say that we do not clap?’”
The guest –
who, according to Rabbi Kupershtoch, was not of the hassidic ilk – was referring
to the Mishna that rules that we do not dance, clap, or drum a beat on our thigh
on Shabbat and festivals (M. Beitza 5:2). The Talmud explains that this
prohibition is a rabbinic enactment to ensure that we do not repair musical
instruments while in the ecstatic mode of moving to the rhythm of music (B.
Beitza 36b). This position was accepted as normative law, save on the festival
of Simhat Torah, when a special license to dance was granted (Shulhan Aruch OH
339:3). Thus the guest was wondering how his esteemed host, a recognized
halachic authority, could blatantly contravene Jewish law.
response – as recorded by Rabbi Kupershtoch – was surprising: “Oh, they clap by
themselves, they clap by themselves, and there is no [transgression of a]
prohibition, Heaven forfend.”
Rabbi Trunk did not clearly spell out why
he felt that his clapping was permitted, but writing many years later, his
student elucidated the master’s meaning: “Because his heart was aroused, his
limbs were aroused to movement to clap hands. Certainly he did not transgress a
rabbinic prohibition with this.”
Rabbi Kupershtoch continued to explain
that when one is enthusiastically serving the Almighty, he may clap his hands,
given that he has no conscious intention to do so. The rabbinic prohibition only
applies to those who clap their hands consciously. In the case of Rabbi Trunk,
his hands were clapping of their own accord as a result of his passionate and
unbridled Shabbat enthusiasm.
The writer is on the faculty of Pardes
Institute of Jewish Studies and is a rabbi in Tzur Hadassah.