Nati Faber

How Moshava Ba’Ir is Reclaiming Jewish History

In Moshava Ba’Ir and in Bnei Akiva at large, we like to incorporate education into all the nooks and crannies of our camp. So, in addition to having a daily Chinuch period and special activities, even our bunk names relate to the Tannaitic Period– the Noseh (theme) for our Machane this summer. Most of our bunks’ designations are pretty self-explanatory such as those that bear the names of Tanaaim (the authors of the Mishna), locations wherein rabbis established academies, or the communal positions they held. However, there are a few bunk names that may be a little obscure. And, of those obscure bunk names, the most esoteric one is Nitzok Chibur, a reference to a very technical Halachic argument between the Prushim (Pharisees) and Tzidukim (the Saduccees) regarding ritual purity. Now, why did we choose to name one of our bunks using such an obscure reference? It’s simple. The story of the Nitzok Chibur is a story of the Jewish People’s reclamation of their history, homeland, and heritage.

Before we can properly understand what the Nitzok Chibur is, we need to first review a few things about Prushim and Tzidukim. The Prushim and Tzidukim were two opposing sects of Judaism in the late Second Temple period (roughly from the mid-second century BCE until the mid-first century CE). For most of history, little was actually known about these groups, as very few of their writings survived past late antiquity, if they existed at all. The historical works that address the Prushim and Tzidukim are all written by outsiders, some even hundreds of years after the sects had gone extinct, such as the writings of the New Testament, Flavius Josephus, and Pliny the Elder. These sources mostly painted the differences between the sects as theological and political: the Tzidukim were a priestly sect that didn’t believe in the afterlife or Divine Providence (mostly); the Pharisees were a sect of scholars that believed in an afterlife and Divine Providence. Scholars also agree that there was an epistemological argument between the two sects, in that the Pharisees had an oral law derived from complex exegetical readings of the Tanakh, whereas the Sadducees were literalists and did not have an oral law. That argument, along with Halachic disagreements about Temple protocol, is mostly fleshed out in the Talmud. However, most scholars had placed these practice-based arguments secondary to the aforementioned theology-based ones, claiming that it was the Rabbis (the successors to the Pharisees) ascribing undue importance to Halacha, as that was their main concern. 

Now we have enough context to understand what the Nitzok Chibur really is, as it pertained to one of the Temple protocol arguments between the Prushim and Tzidukim. The Nitzok Chibur literally translates as “connective pouring” and describes the practice of pouring water from one container to another in which there is a continuous stream of water connecting one container to the other, as seen in this picture: 

Pouring water into a glass.

The Mishnah in Yadayim 4:7 tells us that the Tzidukim believed that, since the water connected the containers, if the container receiving the water was tamei (ritually impure), then the pouring container would be ritually impure; whereas the Prushim thought that the top container retained its ritually purity. 

As I mentioned previously, most scholars had rejected this argument as a fundamental difference between Prushim and Tzidukim, as they believed that only Rabbinic Jews viewed Halcha as a fundamental aspect of Jewish participation and the Tzidukim were not Rabbinic Jews. 

However, the scholarly consensus changed in 1946 when the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. It is up for scholarly debate what sect produced the Dead Sea Scrolls, but all agree that the sect holds many similarities to the Tzidukim and existed contemporaneously to the Prushim and Tzidukim. This was a huge discovery for understanding Second Temple Judaism, as these were the first contemporaneous sectarian texts found. Meaning, that unlike the sources historians were working with before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, these were written by the people  about themselves. One such sectarian text is called the Halachic Scroll or 4QMMT (standing for 4th Qumran Cave — the place where it was found— and Miktzat Maasai HaTorah, the opening line of the text, translating as “some laws of the Torah”). The Halachic scroll was a letter written from the Qumranic Sect to the Jerusalem Temple with a list of Halachot and Temple protocol that they wanted to see change in order to (re)join the mainstream sects. Among the things on this list was the following: “And also concerning flowing liquids: we say that in these there is no/ purity. Even flowing liquids cannot separate unclean/ from clean because the moisture of flowing liquids and their containers is/ the same moisture” (4QMMT; vol.2, line 58-61).  Or, in other words, our Nitzok Chibur. It must be noted as well, not included in the letter were any theological disagreements, even though they are brought up in their sectarian texts for internal use. Meaning, they viewed the main difference between them as Halachic and not theological, like the Rabbis had presented it. There is also some potential archeological evidence to corroborate this, as they found in Qumran large water barrels with wide mouths, designed for ladled water retrieval, as opposed to being used for pouring. 

This discovery, clarification of history, and the discussion of the Nitzok Chibur matter for a few reasons:

  1. It gives us the sociopolitical backdrop of Mishna: It seems the very purpose of the Rabbinic law and practice was to unify an otherwise sectarian law. Meaning, at the end of the Second Temple, Judaism and Jewish practice were divided and the very point of these Halachic discussions and the codification of the Mishna was to unify it. 
  2. It helps contribute proof that modern Jews are indigenous to the Land of Israel: This is a much larger discussion, but, unfortunately, many modern sociologists, anthropologists, and politicians want to argue that modern Jews do not fit the criteria to be considered indigenous to the Land of Israel. For the most part, their arguments are designed to create unfair double standards to distinguish between modern Jews and other indigenous groups. The only claim that held some legitimacy was that Rabbinic Jews and Temple Jews could not be considered the same people because their ethno-religious practices were too varied from one another. However, the discussion of the Nitzok Chibur (as well as many other Qumranic discoveries) show that Temple Jews did value Halacha, thus making the distinction between modern Rabbinic Jews and Temple Jews arbitrary. 
  3. The story of the Nitzok Chibur is a story of Jews’ reclaiming their history and heritage: The fact that ancient historians, and the modern historians who followed them, framed the division between the Tzidukim and Prushim as theological is no accident. The ancient historians were writing for Romans and early Christians and, therefore, framed this history as something relevant to them — theology— as opposed to the irrelevant Halacha. Modern historians are even more nefarious. They intentionally co-opted the Prushim and Tzidukim as a part of an exclusively Christian history to show that the Christians were the true inheritors of Israelite culture. This is a direct attack on modern Judaism. To invalidate the Talmud is to attack Judaism as a whole. To disregard the history of our oral tradition is to remove our claim to our written one. The Nitzok Chibur and the role it played in Second Temple Judaism gives legitimacy to our history and legacy. It shows that Mishna and its concerns were relevant and universal. It confirms that our traditions can be trusted as valid sources. It proves that we have a true stake in our history. 

Now, by no means do we expect our 4th graders to understand the nuances of their bunk name, Nitzok Chibur. But, we intentionally chose that name because the Nitzok Chibur sits at the intersection of the educational goals of our Machane. Our educational goal is to plant the seeds of Jewish identity, communal involvement, and Religious Zionism that will one day flourish into a forest, producing well-rounded, educated, and involved Jewish community members. And the story of the Tzidukim and Prushim, the Nitzok Chibur, and all of the history around it, is fundamentally a story of  Jewish identity, Torah, and a connection to our homeland. So, despite the fact our 4th graders might not be able to articulate much about the Nitzok Chibur, there might be a day in the future where those very 4th graders, now grown up, remember their 2023 summer at MBLI and know that the Nitzok Chibur belongs to them; they may later learn about the history, heritage, and homeland attached to it and realize that those belong to them as well. 

About the Author
Nathaniel (Nati) Faber is a rabbi, teacher, and linguist originally from Southfield, Michigan. Nati studied at Yeshivat Har Etzion in Alon Shvut for 7 years. He also studied at the Jacob Herzog Teacher's college, with a focus in Biblical Linguistics, Rabbinic Literature, and ESL. Nati is completing a B.A. in Sociology and Linguistics from the Open University. He received his Smicha from the World Mizrachi Musmachim program.
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