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Eldad HaDani is (apparently) considered today to have been a fraud. According to this Wikipedia article, he was a traveler who told stories of his place of origin, which he claimed was a sovereign Jewish state comprised of descendants of four of the 10 lost tribes.

But he also taught Halachah from his homeland, which did not have the Mishnah or the Talmud. And, according to the above Wikipedia article, many people appreciated his additions to the Torah landscape, including Rashi, RaAVa"D and (according to Wikipedia) Avraham ben Maimon (the Wikipedia author may have meant Avraham Ben HaRaMBa"M but I don't know that for a fact).

To the extent that we take with great reverence what was written by the above sages, what has been the lasting influence of Eldad HaDani?

Also, to the extent that we HAVE accepted certain "new" manuscripts (Meiri comes to mind), how much, if any, of Eldad HaDani's statements should we accept?

And to the extent that we accept the Kuzari despite no historical evidence to support it, why are we urged to reject Eldad HaDani?

Finally, why is there so little literature on this character (such that I had never even heard of him until he started showing up on this site)?

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Now that's an Eldad HaDani question! –  Isaac Moses Jul 1 '11 at 15:16
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Seth J., where do you come by this statement re: the Kuzari "despite no historical evidence to support it"? Please read this article en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khazar_Correspondence as well as this one en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khazars . Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi was basing his work on what he saw as actual historical events based on the correspondence of Rabbeinu8 Hasdai Abin Shaprut with the king of the Khazars. –  Yahu Jul 1 '11 at 21:19
    
Yahu, what I mean is that the only evidence is second-hand in the form of anecdotal references. The only scholarship on the subject has been done by people with an agenda: Jews trying to show that "others" can embrace Judaism and/or Zionists trying to show that a Jewish state is not unprecedented; and Muslims/Palestinians trying to prove that Jews aren't from "Palestine" but from Russia. Very little else has been published or discovered on the subject. Everything is vague. I was shocked to learn this myself about 12 years ago. I thought it was a given - accepted historical fact - but it's not. –  Seth J Jul 6 '11 at 15:36
    
By the way, the Wikipedia article doesn't mention when he lived, but I found other sites that state it was the 9th Century. Can anyone find a source to back this up? –  Seth J Feb 8 '13 at 2:59

1 Answer 1

up vote 17 down vote accepted

The references to Rashi, Raavad, and R' Avraham ben haRambam* are explicated in Otzar Yisrael (and from there in the Daat Encyclopedia):

  • Rashi - to Prov. 5:19 cites an explanation of the word תשגה in the name of R' Moshe Hadarshan, who in turn bases it on an expression used by Eldad. In the area of halachah, Rashi (Pardes, Hilchos Treifos) accepts Eldad's explanation of why a delay (shehiyah) during slaughtering invalidates the animal.

  • Raavad - the reference is to Raavad II (R' Avraham Av Beis Din), author of Eshkol, who cites a couple of halachos of Eldad's (he calls them הלכות ישנות). He disagrees with some of them, but accepts one as a possibility.

  • R' Avraham ben haRambam - mentions Eldad's stories in a responsum of his (published in Kovetz Al Yad 4 (5648), pp. 62-63) as proof that the Ten Tribes are still extant and identifiable.

In the area of practical halachah, for the most part his statements (almost all of which refer to the halachos of kosher slaughter) are rejected as normative, though sometimes the posekim accept them as a stringency. For example, Eldad states that shechitah without a blessing is invalid; the accepted halachah is that it is valid, but Taz (Yoreh De'ah 19:1) cites the Bach who says that if the person did so knowingly (and didn't just forget to recite the berachah), then he himself is penalized by not being allowed to eat the animal's meat. As another example, Eldad rules that a person who has not immersed himself may not perform shechitah, and R' Yonasan Steiff cites his teacher, who insisted that the shochetim under his authority indeed immerse themselves daily (tevilas Ezra).

All told, then, we basically follow the lead of R' Tzemach Gaon, with whom Eldad was contemporary, who wrote that there's no reason to reject what he says out-of-hand despite the seeming strangeness of what he says, and certainly no reason to think of him as a fraud; each of his statements has to be examined on its merits.

[This R' Tzemach was Gaon in Sura sometime in the late 9th century - there are various views among historians (mostly due to variants in R' Sherira Gaon's letter, which lists the Geonim and their tenures) as to the exact dates. In any case, yes, Eldad made his appearance sometime in that period.]

* Yes, that's who the Wikipedia article means. It seems to be fairly common among scholars to refer to him by his grandfather's name, e.g., "Abraham Maimuni" - perhaps because Maimon is an uncommon name in Jewish history while Moshe is fairly common.

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Thank you for this. Fascinating! –  Seth J Jul 1 '11 at 19:45
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IIRC Eldad had ruled that women can't perform shechitah, which may have influenced Ashkenazic custom. –  Shalom Feb 8 '13 at 11:51
    
"In the area of practical halachah, for the most part his statements (almost all of which refer to the halachos of kosher slaughter) are rejected as normative." A source for this: Bi'ur HaGra (YD 1:30). –  Fred Mar 21 '13 at 1:43
    
@Shalom judaism.stackexchange.com/a/8539/5323 –  Shokhet Dec 5 at 20:45

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