Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Sabato Morais on the unity of biblical books

One of the very interesting figures in the 19th century American scene was the hazzan* of the Spanish-Portugese synagogue in Philadelphia, Mikveh Israel, the Rev. Sabato Morais (1823-1897). Born in Leghorn, Italy, a follower and lifelong devotee to the legacy and teachings of Shadal.

He was one of the original founders of the JTS, which as many know was originally an Orthodox institution, primarily until Solomon Schechter was brought in--although Orthodox by 19th century American standards, which is not the same thing as 20th century American Orthodox.

After his death an article in the Orthodox newspaper Yudishe Gazeten wrote that he was "der grester fun ale ortodoksishe rabonim in amerike . . . on sofek" ("without doubt . . . the greatest of all orthodox rabbis in the United States").**

And no, I cannot say for sure if he is or isn't wearing a kippah in this photo.

I'm sure Menachem Butler can say a lot about him.

H*. Morais was a prolific writer of popular articles and essays. Here is an interesting excerpt from one article published in The American Hebrew on "Adar 5, 5642." The article was a rejoinder to an article called "Doubts" which had appeared in another newspaper, the Jewish South, concerning Bible criticism. Apparently that article was itself written about a lecture H. Morais delivered refuting Scottish Bible scholar William Robertson Smith's book "The Old Testament in the Jewish Church" (title tells you something about the biases of the age!) By the way, W. R. Smith is cited as a source in the commentary in the Hertz Chumash! But I digress.

This excerpt offers a fascinating window into 19th century American Orthodoxy, from one of its most capable leaders. Note especially the third line, which notes why he believes as he does.

*A Hazzan (or, should I say, Hhazan as an Italian would write it) on the American scene in the 19th century actually fulfilled the role of rabbi, which was why they were usually title Reverend, but not Rabbi, although hhazzanim like Sabato Morais, or Isaac Leeser, who he replaced were certainly rabbis in every sense but name.

**Courtesy of Kiron, Arthur ""Dust and Ashes": The Funeral and Forgetting of Sabato Morais"American Jewish History - Volume 84, Number 3, September 1996, pp. 155-188

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