What Do Adon Olam and ס"ט Mean ? 
By Marc B. Shapiro ס"ט
People often refer to me as a Modern Orthodox intellectual. There are actually quite a number of us out there. If you hear someone using words like “ontological,” “existential,” “mimetic,” and now, “tergiversation” you can assume he in in our club. Also, another telltale sign is that when we give divrei
Torah you will hear us refer to Philo, the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha (if we are confident that we can pronounce the word properly), Shadal, or Cassutto. Of course, we are careful to only say Midrash
, and never Medrish
, as the latter pronunciation is a sure sign of a Philistine.
It is no secret that Modern Orthodox intellectuals like to look down on Artscroll, and to let others know about this. So we must find places where Artscroll makes mistakes. It is not enough to point to the vastly different historical conceptions between us and Artscroll; we need to find places where Artscroll simply got it wrong (for one such example see here
). This will show that even if they are conquering the world, they shouldn’t think that they are so brilliant. I am not speaking about the Artscroll Talmud (which we use when no one is looking) or the Artscroll “History” series, which is not popular with the Modern Orthodox. I am referring to the Artscroll siddur
which have taken over the Orthodox world. (The Modern Orthodox intellectuals must have been so busy these last twenty years producing articles read by each other that it never occurred to them to produce their own siddur
But finding these errors is easier said than done. I am not referring to run-of the-mill errors, but the sort that will impress people at your Shabbat table. That way you can show them that you are a Modern Orthodox intellectual, and not afraid to stand up to Artscroll, this generation’s anti-Messiah. Artscroll is the Goliath, and if it can be felled, then Feldheim, Targum and certainly the minor leaguers at Aish Ha-Torah will be that much easier to take down. If the obscurantists are not yet shaking in their feet, once they see our ever-forthcoming translation of the Arukh ha-Shulhan
, which will bring back the 1950’s and the “mimetic tradition”, this will put them in their place.
As I state, it is not so easy to find the perfect mistake. One could point out that in the Artscroll siddur, p. 320, it refers to a “responsa” of Maimonides, when the word they should have used is “responsum.” But this clearly won’t do the trick. After all, no one assumes that Artscroll is an expert in English; it is because Artscroll is expert in Jewish things that it has become so popular. For a while I thought that I could impress those ever-impressionable Shabbat guests by pointing out that contrary to what the Arscroll siddur
, p. 870, states, R. Eleazar Kalir was not a tanna
. But again, this is not something that most people care about. Besides, someone always ended up pointing out that no less than Tosafot
claims that he was a tanna
, and my protestations about what Shir proved were always met with blank stares, for what does a Prague song have to do with anything?
And what about when I showed people that in the chumashim
printed until 1999, Lord Jakobovits, who died in that year, is referred to as Emeritus Chief Rabbi of the British Empire (see one of the first pages of the chumash
where it lists the important people involved with Artscroll). On the title page of Hertz’s chumash
he is referred to as “Late Chief Rabbi of the British Empire,” and the Jakobovits reference might be trying to parallel this. All my protestations that Jakobovits was never Chief Rabbi of an Empire (which had ceased to exist before he came into office) but of a Commonwealth have never found anyone showing much interest. (The technical title is Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth. The title is more grandiose than the office. At most, there are 300,000 Jews in the United Kingdom (as, at present, no one in Australia, Canada, Zambia, etc. looks to the British Chief Rabbi for religious guidance). Subtract the unaffiliated, Reform and Masorti from this, and then subtract the Haredim and the Sephardim and this will give you the number of Jews represented by the Chief Rabbi.)
There was actually a very big error I used to point out, and this was found in the Artscroll Shabbat Zemiros
(it has since been corrected). At the beginning of the Shalosh Seudos
section Artscroll wrote:
The three meals of the Sabbath symbolize the three Patriarchs, the three divisions of Scripture: Torah, Prophets and Hagiographa, and the three feasts through which Esther brought about Haman’s downfall. Many matters of awesome spiritual significance are dependent on the Third Meal as the Zohar discusses frequently (Aruch HaShulchan 291).
This is a very strange passage, since what does Esther have to do with the Three Sabbath meals? Furthermore, since when did Esther organize three feasts? Everyone who attends synagogue on Purim knows that there were only two feasts. This is what the Arukh ha-Shulhan
ויהא זהיר מאד לקיים סעודה שלישית ואמרו חז"ל דכל המקיים סעודה ג' ניצל משלש פורעניות . . . ואם אפשר שאינן ממש מן התורה מ"מ ודאי מתקנת משה רבינו הם שכן קיבל מסיני והם מרמזים נגד ג' אבות, נגד תורה נביאים וכתובים, ובשעה שניתן להם המן ניתן להם על ג' סעודות
What happened was that whoever wrote the commentary to the Zemiros understood the word המן (the manna) to mean Haman, and that he was given into the Jews’ hands because of three feasts!
Artscroll did what everyone should do when an error is brought to their attention, namely, correct it in a future edition.. (In another post I plan on noting a couple of corrections to my own writings.) In fact, this is a good lesson to all of us, because if Artscroll, whose writers are big talmidei hakhamim, could make such a simple mistake, then all of us should realize that we too can make simple errors.
The important thing is that they corrected the error. If only the same could be said about Mossad ha-Rav Kook
. There has already been discussion on this blog about some problems with the Chavel edition of Ramban. In fact, although both the Commentary on the Torah and Kitvei Ramban
have been reprinted about twenty times, many obvious errors have still not been corrected. I was planning on giving one example, but I wasn’t sure which one to use. About five minutes before writing this I received a call from the owner of www.publishyoursefer.com, which will soon be reprinting Kitvei R. Weinberg
. He informed me that there are many students at the Ner Israel yeshiva who follow the Seforim Blog
, pleasant news indeed. In their honor, since unlike myself, they spend most of their day involved in the intricacies of the Talmud and its commentators, my example will be from the introduction of Ramban to his Dina de-Garmei
, a work which only a real talmid hakham would try to tackle. The text is found in Kitvei Ramban
, vol. 1, p. 417. Ramban writes
אבל יש אשר קולמוס הראשונים סתמן
ועתה נעלם טעמן מעיני תלמידי הזמן
וחכמי הצרפתים אספו רובן אל עמן
הם המורים, הם המלמדים, הם המגלים לנו נטמן
Chavel explains the third line to mean
חכמי הצרפתים אספו רובן של הטעמים הללו לתוך ספריהם להיות לעינים של תלמידי הזמן
Yet this is incorrect. What the Ramban means is that most of the French sages have left this world and gone on to their eternal reward.
Getting back to Artscroll, I was pleased when I found the perfect example of an Arscroll error, and this in a prayer that we all know well, Adon Olam. What do these words mean? To answer this, most people will open their Arscroll siddur. Artscroll translates, “Master of the Universe”. This, or similar translations (e.g., Lord of the Universe, Master of the World) seem to be standard. Yet for a while I was convinced that the proper translation was “Eternal Lord.” After looking at the song as a whole, and seeing how it speaks of God’s eternity, it appeared clear to me that this is what the first two words mean.
I was happy to find that both Birnbaum and De Sola Pool (both of which are now almost impossible to find in any synagogue) understood the first two words this way as well. So happy was I with my idea that I made sure to tell lots of people about it, all of whom were very impressed, since here was a bona fide correction to Artscroll. I was in London a couple of months ago and was davening with the new siddur published by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Lo and behold, I found that he too translated the words as did Artscroll. After davening the rabbi of the shul asked me if I liked the new siddur and I told him yes. I also used the opportunity to point out that even this wonderful siddur mistakenly translates the first words of Adon Olam
. It seemed that he too was impressed. I certainly thought that for the rest of my life I would be able to pull this out of my back pocket whenever I needed to show that even Artscroll, the veritable Urim ve-Tumim
, can make a mistake.
But alas, all good things come to an end. The very next morning after speaking to the London rabbi, I went to a hashkamah minyan
and the siddur
I chose to use was Ha-Siddur ha-Meduyak
. This siddur
is produced by the Kise Rahamim
Yeshiva in Bnei Brak. This is a Tunisian yeshiva under the leadership of R. Meir Mazuz, who is known by the acronym נאמן ס"ט. In addition to the siddur
, they have also produced a variety of other books with the title "Meduyak
." This is because every line has been carefully examined by R. Mazuz, who does not hesitate to make corrections, even if the version he is correcting has been in use for many hundreds of years. This has been very controversial and R. Dovid Yitzchaki, in various articles, has harshly polemicized against R. Mazuz. As we have come to expect, Yated Ne’eman
quoted the condemnation issued by maranan verabonon gedolei Yisroel
, in which these books were described as terrible breaches in Judaism. The implication to be drawn from the attack is that R. Mazuz and his students are dangerous reformers.
R. Mazuz did not rest, and the 2005 edition of the siddur
(which I purchased from mysefer.com) contains letters of support for R. Mazuz from R. Ovadiah Yosef, R. Shlomo Amar, R. Shmuel Wosner, and R. Shimon Alouf of the Brooklyn Syrian community. There is also a letter from “Ha-Gaon he-Hasid
” R. Dov Kook, the son-in-law of R. Yitzhak Zilberstein, who is himself the son-in-law of R. Eliashiv. This is significant since R. Elyashiv was at the forefront of the condemnation. As the Yated
Woe to a generation in which every man does as he sees fit. And the matter should be publicized to prevent others from being drawn in by their ways," write maranan verabonon gedolei Yisroel headed by Maran HaRav Yosef Sholom Eliashiv shlita, in a letter opposing the publication of "precise" ("meduyak") editions of Chumoshim and Tehillim as well as new siddurim and machzorim that contain grave breaches and changes from the accepted tradition handed down to us.
Yet R. Dov Kook writes to R. Mazuz about how much he benefited from using the Siddur Ha-Meduyak
R. Mazuz is a very interesting personality. To begin with, he had a close connection to Habad for many decades, having taught in a Habad school in Tunis in the 1960’s. Yet when he saw the Messianic fever and other problems in Habad, he publicly condemned what was going on and wrote a long letter detailing his objections. In addition, he was very vocal in support of the Gaza settlers. He is also the only one of our gedolim
who is an expert in arcane areas such as grammar, Masorah
, and medieval Hebrew poetry.
In fact, since he is an expert in this latter field, I knew that I could ask him a question about which most other gedolim
would probably have no clue what I was talking about. One doesn’t need to have read Steve Greenberg’s book, or have listened to some of the gay advocates speaking around the time of the recent Jerusalem parade, to know that man-boy love is a theme in a number of medieval Hebrew poems. I raised this issue with R. Mazuz, and was pretty sure that he would answer the way he did:
חס וחלילה להאמין שחכמי ספרד כתבו שירים מענין משכב זכור. וראה בסוף ס' תחכמוני שהביא עשרה שירים לקלל ולארר נבל אחד שכתב "לו שר בנו עמרם פני דודי" וכו'. צבי חן הוא כינוי לעלם יפה ואין בו כל דופי. חוקרי זמננו מהרהורי לבם ותעתועי רוחם כותבים מה שכותבים
(The reference to the Tahkemoni
can be found in the Warsaw, 1899 edition, ed. Kaminka, pp. 430ff.)
R. Mazuz is also the final halakhic
authority for the Tunisian community. With the death of R. Shalom Messas, chief rabbi of Jerusalem, I think that after R. Ovadiah, R. Mordechai Eliyahu and R. Shlomo Amar, R. Mazuz is the most important of the Sephardic rabbis in Israel. He is also very close to R. Ovadiah, who has had a long attachment to Kise Rahamim
. The yeshiva is unique in that it focuses on the old Tunisian approach to the study of Talmud (the Tunisian iyyun
), and from very young the students are taught to master the art of Hebrew writing  and to acquire wide-ranging knowledge of Tanach. We are clearly dealing with an unusual man and an unusal yeshiva. Returning again to the Chavel edition of the Ramban, I should mention that R. Mazuz is pretty harsh in his evaluation of it, and he lists a number of errors.
When I first starting looking into the Thirteen Principles, I wondered how, in the Eighth Principle, Maimonides could insist on complete Mosaic authorship, and assert that denial of this equals heresy. After all, there is a view mentioned in the Talmud, and quoted by Rashi on chumash, that the last eight verses were written by Joshua. And yet, people were saying that since kelal Yisrael
accepted the Ikkarim
, this view must now be regarded as kefirah
. I asked R. Mazuz about this and he replied:
ולענין שמנה פסוקים אחרונים ודאי האומר שכתבן יהושע אינו נחשב אפיקורוס ח"ו
I was also curious to know what he would say about study of the Ralbag’s Milhamot ha-Shem
, which differs with Maimonides’ principles when it comes to creation ex nihilo
and God’s knowledge of particulars. He wrote to me as follows:
ודברי רלב"ג במלחמות ה' ידועים. וזו היתה צרת הפילוסופיא היונית שלכדה ברשתה רבים וכן שלמים (כמו שלכד יצה"ר דע"ז בזמנו את מנשה בן חזקיה וחבירו ואפ"ה למדים מהם הלכה למעשה ע' סנהדרין דף קב ע"ב). בס' מלחמות ה' אסור ללמוד רק מי שמילא כריסו ש"ס ופוסקים וצריך לעיין בו משהו לפי שעה. וכבר כינוהו הרב אברבנאל והיעב”ץ "מלחמותיו עם ה'" (ח"ו). אבל בפירושו על התנ"ך מותר ללמוד ויש בהם דברים נפלאים וחכמה עמוקה, אם כי לפעמים נטה מדרך היושר. וה' הטוב יכפר בעדו
Throughout R. Mazuz’s writings, one finds interesting comments about the great medieval Jewish philosophers. Let me offer one such example.
2:32 Maimonides speaks about the nature of prophecy and the prophet. One of the qualifications for a prophet is that he be intellectually advanced. Maimonides writes:
But with regard to one of the ignorant among the common people, this is not possible according to us – I mean, that He should turn one of them into a prophet – except as it is possible that He should turn an ass or a frog into a prophet.
Both Efodi and Shem Tov understand the last words as an allusion to Balaam’s ass and the fish that swallowed Jonah (and to whom God spoke), and understand both stories to have happened in dreams. Maimonides is, of course, explicit about the Balaam episode, and Efodi and Shem Tov see no difference between this and the Jonah story. Interestingly, Efodi says this elsewhere as well, but as Lawrence Kaplan has pointed out it was censored from the 19th century edition of the Guide that remains the standard edition (full details will be found in my forthcoming book). But the reason why that passage was censored was not because of the Jonah reference. After all, no less a figure than the Vilna Gaon saw the Jonah story as an allegory. The problem with the censored passage, and the reason it had to be taken out, was because there Efodi writes that according to the Rambam the Akedah
also only happened in a dream.
According to R. Mazuz, Efodi and Shem Tov misunderstood Maimonides here, and if he was alluding to what they claim, he would have written fish, not frog. The key to understanding Maimonides are his words earlier in the chapter:
It is not possible that an ignoramus should turn into a prophet; nor can a man not be a prophet on a certain evening and be a prophet on the following morning, as though he had made some find.
In R. Mazuz’s opinion, this is a clear allusion to Muhammad, who according to Muslims was an illiterate man to whom Gabriel appeared and commanded “Read” (or “Proclaim”), and he was thus turned into a prophet. R. Mazuz concludes, “It is this sort of ‘prophet’ that Maimonides refers to as an ass or frog.”
What does any of this have to do with Adon Olam
? When I was using the siddur
I began to study R. Mazuz’s notes (pp. 660ff.) to R. Yehudah ha-Levi’s piyyut Mi Kamokha
, which Sephardim recite on Shabbat Zakhor
. (For those who are Haim Sabato fans, this piyyut
makes an appearance in ch. 10 of his recent book, Ke-Afapei Shahar
) The first stanza of the alphabetical piyyut
begins with the word אדון. On this word, R. Mazuz explains why the first letter has a kametz
under it, and he contrasts that with אדון עולם אשר מלך, in which the aleph
has a hataf patah
since it is a construct, and means אדון של עולם.
When I saw this I was quite surprised, and upset, because here was R. Mazuz, whose knowledge of the ins and outs of the Hebrew language is perhaps unmatched except by a few specialists who spend their lives on this (while R. Mazuz’s forays into Hayyuj, Ibn Janach, and Radak’s Shorashim are as rakahot ve-tabahot
to the study of Talmud and halakhah). Yet here he was explaining Adon Olam
as Master of the World. I wrote to him asking why he assumed this is what it meant, especially as the piyyut
as a whole seems to be speaking of Eternal Lord, the one who was here before the world and who will be here when the world ceases.
Although Adon Olam
is a post-biblical prayer, as a side point I also noted that as far as I knew, the word עולם in Tanakh never means "world" (for which תבל is used) but always means ancient, eternal, eternity, or something along those lines. In fact, I was actually certain of this, and I had first heard this point twenty years ago when I was spent my junior year at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew Studies. I was fortunate to be able to study Biblical Hebrew, one-on-one, for an entire year with Professor Jeremy Hughes, author of Secrets of the Times: Myth and History in Biblical Chronology
. Hughes was a strange combination of hippie and Bible scholar, and I learnt a great deal from him. I still remember my surprise at being told, when I used the word חזר in one of my exercises, that this is not a biblical Hebrew word, and I must use שב. He also pointed out the error in Weingreen’s Practical Grammar for Classical Hebrew
, p. 110, which gives “world” as one of the translations of עולם. I wasn’t sure that he was correct, but a glance at the BDB confirmed his point.
A few weeks ago I received a letter from R. Mazuz, and well, let’s just say that I won’t be trying to impress people any more by pointing out that Artscroll has mistranslated Adon Olam
. To begin with, R. Mazuz insists that Adon Olam
is identical with Ribbono shel Olam
. As for my point about “olam
” never meaning “world” in the Bible, he writes:
זו דעת החוקרים האחרונים שעולם בתנ"ך פירושו נצח, אבל חז"ל לא הבינו כן
As proof for this he refers to Berakhot 54b
כל חותמי ברכות שבמקדש היו אומרים: עד העולם. משקלקלו הצדוקין ואמרו אין עולם אלא אחד התקינו שיהו אומרים מן העולם ועד העולם
At the conclusion of the benedictions said in the Temple they used at first to say simply, “forever.” When the Sadducees perverted their ways and asserted that there was only one world, it was ordained that the response should be "from world to world” [i.e., two worlds].
He also called attention to a passage in Sanhedrin 58b where the verse in Ps. 89:3, עולם חסד יבנה, is understood not as “forever is mercy built,” but as “the world shall be built up by grace.”
As I said, I am forced to conclude that in this case Artscroll gets a pass. What then is a Modern Orthodox intellectual to do? Anyone want to hear about Kalir?
Since everything with me seems to come back to the Thirteen Principles let me make one more point about Adon Olam. This time, I refer to the appearance of these words in Yigdal
, and here there is no question that the words mean “Master of the Universe”. The passage reads
הנו אדון עולם לכל נוצר יורה גדולתו ומלכותו
Artscroll translates: “Behold! He is Master of the universe to every creature, He demonstrates His greatness and His sovereignty.” The translation is correct, but the problem is that this has nothing to do with the Fifth Principle. The Principle says that one cannot worship any other being but God (or use these beings as intermediaries to reach God). Because of this Birnbaum has the following in his siddur:
הנו אדון עולם וכל נוצר יורה גדולתו ומלכותו
By changing one letter, the stanza now agrees with the Principle. The problem here is that Birmbaum’s emendation, while it makes sense, is not actually a “version”. That is, there is no manuscript that reads as such. It is a speculative emendation. Abraham Berliner, on the other hand, cites an actual variant text:
הנו אדון עולם וכל יוצר יודה גדולתו ומלכותו
The word יוצר is presumably a mistake for נוצר, although יודה makes sense. In fact, the Siddur ha-Meduyak
offers וכל נוצר יודה as an alternate version for those who prefer that Yigdal
actually correspond to the Principles.2.
Since I mentioned the Gaon נאמן ס"ט now is as good a time as ever to explain what the acronym ס"ט means. I am sure that even after what I write people will continue to err, but at least the yehidei segulah
who make up the Seforim blog
readership will know the truth, and will be ready offer a correction next time they hear someone refer to a ספרדי טהור.
Contrary to widespread belief ס"ט does not mean ספרדי טהור!! To be sure, you can find people today, even Sephardim, who will assert that this is what it means. But historically, it never meant this, and today, among the talmidei hakhamim
who use it, this is not what it means.
How, you might be thinking, do I know this? The easiest answer is that the Hakham Zvi and R. Yaakov Emden both use the abbreviation, and neither of them were Sephardi. What it does show, however, is that the Hakham Zvi, who studied in Sephardic yeshivot and served as hakham
to the Sephardic community in Sarajevo, adopted an abbreviation common in the Sephardic world. Those who study Sephardic works know that this is hardly the only example of an abbreviation which is not found in Ashkenazic works.
Furthermore, we have to ask what could the very expression ספרדי טהור mean? Presumably, it would refer to those who are not descended from Marranos. Yet we find that the abbreviation was used in an era before there was religious persecution in Spain. For example, R. David Abudarham, in the introduction to his work, attaches ס"ט to his name. Also, in Teshuvot R. Yehudah ben ha-Rosh
, no. 75, two people sign with the abbreviation. What possible sense could ספרדי טהור have in early fourteenth century Spain, before the religious persecutions, not to mention in a place where everyone was Sephardic and there was no need to differentiate oneself from the uncultured Ashkenazim?
So what does ס"ט mean? Some have suggested that it stands for סין טין which is the Aramaic for רפש וטיט (Isaiah 57:20) and means mire and dirt. This would be like many other rabbinic expressions that show the author’s humility. H. J. Zimmels has correctly noted that “this explanation is not convincing as one would expect SvT = Sin ve-Tin
(mire and dirt). I would also add that while authors often use similar expressions – e.g., עפר ואפר – when referring to themselves, who ever heard of referring a great rabbi in such a way? It would be the height of disrespect, and yet we do find people writing to sages and attaching ס"ט to their names, showing that they didn’t have this explanation in mind.
Zimmels notes that Zunz already pointed out that the abbreviation stands for סופו טוב, which means, “may his end be good.” It is also possible that the Aramaic סיפיה טב was intended. This is parallel to the Ashkenazic שליט"א, the difference being that, unlike with ס"ט, no one adds שליט"א to his own name. R. Mazuz sums up the matter as follows (Or Torah
[Tamuz 5733], no. 110):
ומכלל האמור תבין, שמה שכותבים כמה מאחינו האשכנזים (כגון בספר שם הגדולים וואלדען) על רבנים ספרדים ס"ט לאחר פטירתם, ויש אפילו הכותבים רב פלוני ס"ט זצ"ל, הכל טעות, ויסודו בפירוש המשובש הנ"ל ספרדי טהור, כאילו ישנה התנשאות הגזע לספרדים על אחיהם האשכנזים. ולפי הבאור הנכון "סיפי טב", נמצא הכותב ס"ט זצ"ל ככותב שליט"א זצ"ל בנשימה אחת. ופשוט שגם "אשכנזי טהור" יכול לחתום ס"ט בלי שום פקפוק, כמו שחתמו הגאונים חכם צבי והיעב"ץ הנ"ל. ותשקוט הארש
(The last words are a play on the expression ותשקוט הארץ that appears a number of times in Tanakh. Its meaning here is that all speech or utterance will cease, i.e., there is no need for any more discussion or argument about the issue.)
If there are still any who have doubts, let me also quote the words of the great R. Shalom Messas, late Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem and unquestioned leader of the Moroccan community until his death a few