It was a sunny morning (actually a bad thing during a drought in
First I scanned Pirkei Avot, because I was sure that I had remembered seeing it there. No luck, just a little bit of, “No Torah, no Derech Eretz and vice versa.” (I paraphrase.) Then I groan as I am forced to start up the Bar Ilan CD-ROM to do a search across Shas. No luck. Not even a single hit. At this point I am a little surprised, and I try a bunch of other searches with slight variations to the wording. No luck. (A quick tangent - I am actually using the online Bar Ilan CD-ROM which is VASTLY inferior to the actual CD. I am still annoyed at
At this point I am genuinely perplexed (and annoyed at the online Bar Ilan CD-ROM’s inferior search engine), and I do a Googlesearch on this famous aphorism. I get many hits from all corners of the Jewish universe. Here is a sample of how this aphorism is described:
- Rabbinic dictum
- Words of the sages
- Famous quote from Pirkei Avot
- Something the Rabbis said
But none of these websites actually quoted a concrete source. Finally in desperation I did a Bar Ilan search on all of the seforim on the CD-ROM to get to the bottom of this issue. Barch HaShem, I received twelve hits. But then I looked at the search results and saw that more than half of them were from R. Tzaddok and the Sefas Emes. All of the references to this aphorism were after the 17th century! So much for the “words of the Sages.” Chazal had nothing to do with this saying. It is a Rabbinic saying, but a late one at best!
I was shocked. I felt like my whole life has been a lie. How can this forgery have been allowed to go on for so long? I wanted to demand that Professor Shneur Lyman immediately go on a lecture tour explaining the etymology of this aphorism. (Good name for an article. Feel free to use it.) There should have been investigative reporting by YU; the CJF (does anyone actually know what this acronym means?);
Well, the truth is that the handy Avodah Index did already discuss the issue, but how could I let that stop a good rant. You can see some of the discussion here. At the end of the day, Derech Eretz Kadmah l’Torah is clearly a powerful Jewish idea. It just might be that it is a modern concept and not one that originated with Chazal.