Thursday, May 29, 2008
Below is from a photograph of R. Ya'akov Zvi Mecklenburg (1785-1865), author of the commentary Schrift und Tradition על חמשה חומשי תורה:
You can download his commentary from the links here. His work is normally grouped with 19th century Jewish exegete Malbim, although similar in kind (eg, for its devotion to uniting the rabbinic interpretation with the pshat on grammatical and critical, rather than homiletical grounds) R. Mecklenburg's found more use for contemporary quasi-non-traditional sources than Malbim (although this factoid should not be blown out of proportion). For example, Ha-qetav We-ha-qabbalah cites Julius Fürst and the Biurists, while Malbim will not cite contemporary maskilim and only occasionally cites someone like Philo (in his commentary) or Shadal (in Ya'ir Or, on Hebrew synonyms).
R. Mecklenburg corresponded with modern Jewish Bible scholars of his day. See below for a letter he wrote to יוליוס פורסט (and check out the umlauts he placed atop the letter ו!):
(I found this letter in article on Fuerst in the 1905 issue of Ost und West: illustrierte Monatsschrift für modernes Judentum. Click to enlarge.)
For good measure, here is a depiction of the author of the Tiferes Yisrael commentary on the Mishnah, R. Yisrael Lipschuetz of Danzig (1782-1860):
On him, see this post.
Both these images come from volume two of Gedolei Ha-dorot by Yechiel Michel Stern, a set of books which are a treasure trove of photographs and images of early modern and modern rabbis, many of whom are well known, but not their faces.
And that, my friends, is how you spin a post out of very little at all. ;)
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Señor Sabbetai Fano sent Giaronomo, a gentile, to escort us to Lugo. Also with us was the lad Señor Michael Solomon Hazaq. Two miles before our destination, people from the town came out to meet us. We arrived safely in Lugo and we stayed in the home of Señor Sabbetai Shemariah Fano, in a beautiful room, at the community's expense.
An elder named Rabbi Judah Fano told me that the Rem'a of blessed memory wrote on a small parchment שמע ישראל with the milk of mother and daughter that were nursing mixed with lemon juice.1 Accompanied by fasting and immersion, this is a wonderful segulah for whomever swallows this parchment, that he should not apostasize. It is tried and true.
Update: Later on Rav Chida applies this segulah, as follows:
28 Kislev (Dec. 28). Sunday Vayigash. Señor Elia Perpignan and his wife came to me, and I gave her a שמע ישראל to swallow, the segulah of the Rem'a, because they were afraid that she had thoughts of apostasy, God forbid. I gave them marital advice in order to make complete reconciliation between them.
1 I don't know if this was the intention, but many a child knows that lemon juice makes for a fine invisible ink, which becomes readable when exposed to heat!
Thursday, May 22, 2008
The entry for R' Moshe de Leon:
"R' Moshe earned his livelihood as a traveling scribe, copying old manuscripts. Thus, he discovered and published the Zohar, the principal book of the Kabbalah, compiled by the Tanna R' Shimon bar Yochai. . . .
Modern scholars have pointed out that the kabbalistic ideas expressed in R' Moshe's own works do not accord with those of the Zohar, making untenable the supposition, first recorded in Yuchasin and echoed by subsequent generations of the Kaballah's opponents, that R' Moshe himself authored the Zohar."
Interesting in itself that the question of Ben Yochoic authorship should find mention in a book by Artscroll. More interesting is that it marshals "modern scholarship" (whom?) in implied defense of Ben Yochoic authorship (compileship?), while modern scholarship definitely opposes the idea that the Zohar is a true tannaitic work, that is, compiled or taught mainly in the 2nd century by R. Shimon ben Yochoi (friendly trends which credit the Zohar for containing pre-13th century material that may in fact be many centuries old is not the same thing).
Still, it's worth mentioning! Happy Lag Le-omer!
*This book, and it's sequal The Early Acharonim, is a biographical compendium of the Shem Ha-gedolim genre. It is unclear if another volume in this series was ever intended, but the second volume ends at the end of the 18th century. Once you get into the 19th century, the ideological purity headache begins, and perhaps the company wished to avoid it. Perhaps not. In any case, over at What's Bothering Artscroll? I had begun a series of posts on "controversial rabbis" as covered by the company, particularly in their Early Acharonim (link). I would have - and probably will - posted about R. Yehuda Aryeh Mi-Modena, R. Eliyahu Bachur and others . These books are an example of a type of openness which Artscroll exhibited in its early years, which it later learned to check. Thus, it is doubtful to me if today they would include De Rossi and Modena in such a collection. Incidentally, in this post I acknowledge that The Early Acharonim elucidated one of my Main Line posts - even if The Early Acharonim doesn't 'fess up to its sources. ;)
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
A blow to Maharatz Chajes's reputation put into the mouth of the Chasam Sofer by a seminal zealot of the 19th and 20th centuries
He published a buch called Lev ha-Ivri (Lemberg, 1865), which includes the text of the Chasam Sofer's Last Will & Testament, along with a commentary. Although in his preface he writes that the work contains only the CS's teachings, one wonders how a short text (the Will) became a 330 page text if it truly contains none of Schlesinger's own ideas. But I digress.
After a discussion about how terrible it is that works of Torah content are being published in his generation by wicked people, there is the following interesting note on pg. 92 (text below)regarding "one of our contemporaries who wrote notes on the Talmud - all soulful people should not study Torah from it, because I know those who asked Rabbenu z"l why he would write to this individual with praises for him in the text of his responsa, and he told them a secret: this person has one foot chasing after Aher**, and if he didn't keep him close he too would join the assembly of the wicked with his scholarship - God forbid - and who knows what the end was? Therefore he put in efforts to draw him close.
Schlesinger is speaking here of none other than 'the Mahritz Chiyos,' ie, Maharatz Chajes (R. Tzvi Hirsch Chajes [1805-1855]) whose Talmud commentary (published first in 1850) is printed in practically every Talmud edition today. Accessible, if not essential, reading on him is the Ph. D. thesis of Bruriah Hutner link. Paranthetically, my impression of doctoral work is that generally the student is attracted to the topic, if not admiring. Hutner (David) must have been attracted to her subject, but ultimately he repels her, too, and this attitude predominates. I just found that interesting.
Oh, and is his charge true? Did the Chasam Sofer really write him in a respectful, praising manner only to keep him within the good group? In my opinion: maybe.
* The versions I am reading are that of Hebrewbooks.org - 1868 - and Otzar Ha-chochma - 1870. Apparently there are differences between the first and other editions. For example, in the first addition the acronym RMD is not fully explicated to mean "Rasha Moshe Mendelssohn." In later editions, M is even changed to read "Moritz." (Info courtesy of Meir Hildesheimer's exhaustive articles on the attitude of the Chasam Sofer and his disciples toward secular study, and his attitude toward Mendelssohn [in PAAJR]).
** Aher= 'Aharon Choriner Rabbiner,' ie, proto-Reform rabbi Aaron Chorin.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
"A philosopher who is a bad Catholic implores a philosopher who is a bad Protestant to grant a residency privilege to a philosopher who is a bad Jew. There is too much philosophy in all this; reason cannot but support the petition."*
- Jean-Baptiste de Boyer, Marquis d'Argens to Frederick II the Great of Prussia, petioning the latter for permission for Moses Mendelssohn to reside in Berlin.
*("Un philosophe, mauvais catholique, supplie un philosophe, mauvais protestant, de donner le privilège à un philosophe, mauvais juif. Il y a dans tout ceci trop de philosophie, pour que la raison ne soit pas du côté de la demande". )
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
I know this because it is the one the receives the most hits and searches. Apparently there are a lot of people who want to know why the nun verse is missing in this psalm, a seemingly never ending stream for two years, a few a day.
(I should revise it to make it more clear and more accurate. I should do a lot of things.)
"Not surprisingly, an analysis of how Latin functioned in Christian society sheds light on the place of Hebrew in Jewish society.The similarities between the role of Hebrew and that of Latin are many. The higher educational program of most European societies took a knowledge of Latin for granted. This was not a simple matter, for learning Latin was a long process which could take over eight years.12 However, it was necessary for the individual who wanted to go on to advanced study. The curriculum of the medieval university was based on texts written in Latin, and much scholarly work, depending of course on time and place, was done in Latin. Therefore, "Before the student could profitably attend university lectures, he must have learned to read, write, and understand such Latin as was used in the schools," 13 and this knowledge was the basic academic precondition for admission to the medieval university. University freshmen were "as a rule . . . between thirteen and sizteen"14 and most of their pre-university study was devoted to learning Latin.
"Much, if not all of this advanced education could have been in the spoken language. Indeed, the rapid spread of use of the vernacular in post-Renaissance periods shows how little education is dependent on knowledge of Latin. There is little doubt that the classical literature is well worth studying. However, for the level of understanding that most people reach, a translation is almost as good as the original. What the concentration on Latin did achieve was to weed out the number of students who reached advanced study. Tuition itself cost money. Moreover, it required long-term commitment, for the study of Latin was worthwhile only if the long course of study necessary to reach even an elementary proficiency in Latin was completed. This meant that only children of a certain level of society could in practice prepare themselves for admission to university and higher study. Access was restricted, by using language as a hurdle on the way to valuable knowledge. This in a sense is what kept up the value of the knowledge since it was not readily available to most people. To get information most people had to go to one of the individuals who had learned Latin and had access to the knowledge written in it. The change to the use of the vernacular as the language for scholarly and religious writing meant that one major barrier to the direct acquisition of information was eliminated.
. . .
"One of the virtues of Hebrew appears to have been the fact that a good knowledge of the language and of the literature16 was limited. The relative failure of the heder to produce graduates with a good knowledge of Hebrew was in this respect a very desirable goal from the point of view of the elite. It should be emphasized that both the elite and the masses were totally unaware of this function of education.17
13 Rashdall 1936, 3:341-42; (RASHDALL, HASTINGS. The Universities of Europe in the Middle Ages. F. M. Powicke and A. B. Emden, eds. New edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1936.)
14 Ibid, p. 353
16 I am well aware that the Talmud is written in Aramaic but at the time there was no distinction between the knowledge of the two languages - he who knew one knew the other.
17 For an explanation of this theme from a very original but somewhat different approach, see Funkenstein and Steinsaltz 1987. (FUNKENSTEIN, AMOS and ADIN STEINSALTZ. Sociology of Ignorance. Tel Aviv: University of the Air, 1987.)
See old post (which really could use some revision): 'Semi-talmidei hakhomim, or semi 'amei ha-'aretz: A unique modern challenge to rabbinic authority.'
There are fantastic photos and commentary. Jameel also took a wonderful video of a fellow named Yefet Ha-cohen reciting the שמע in the Samaritan dialect of Hebrew (first post, or watch and listen below).
Sunday, May 11, 2008
Did Artscroll really mean to say that the work is available only now, for the first time in English? Or is the implication that the previous, existing versions are simply irrelevant? I must say, that I heard Nosson Scherman address this topic in a speech. Cognizant of criticism of the Artscroll oeuvre from the right, he attempted to demonstrate that they have the support of the gedolim at the highest level. He recounted his and Meir Zlotowitz's meeting with Moron Rov Chaim Kanievsky. They came merely to seek his blessing, but instead he (a) stood up when they walked into the room and (b) spoke to them for 15 minutes - highly unusual. He compared their Schottenstein Shas project to the projected German Talmud translation (Hebrew commentary, actually)** proposed by R. Yisrael Salanter in the 19th century. However, noted R. Kanievsky, that edition was necessary for the non-Jews to see what the Talmud was all about (so they could overcome their prejudice against it). Today - the Schottenstein Shas is necessary for Jews to see what the Talmud is all about, for the same reason. R. Scherman admitted he was surprised at such a powerful endorsement. He then noted that a lot of frum people don't realize the vast amount of classic Jewish material there is in translation, however they are faulty! Thus, Artscroll can correct this breach by presenting well translated classics to the Jewish (and non-Jewish) public.
In any case, once upon a time a book called Making of a Godol was banned and various denunciations of the book were written. Here is a piece of one missive (in translation):
As you can see, the writer of this piece is of the opinion that over the past half-century the gedolim have endeavoring to uproot foreign matter from the study of Torah.*** See above and see prior post: Soncino Talmud statistics. Now one will no longer have to read what Zunz opined, for example, when reading Avos de-rabbi Nathan in English.
* UPDATE: Well, as it turns out this isn't an Artscroll ADRN; it is by Judaica Press. In the newspaper, the full page had combined Judaica Press and Artscroll ads and to my tired eyes it looked like one ad!
*** There is a widespread perception that R. Yisrael Salanter intended to translate the Talmud into German. However, his vision was really for a straightforward Hebrew commentary to the entire Talmud, which would have made independent Talmud study possible for the non-learned (albeit, Hebraically literate). His vision was that 100 great Talmud scholars would pledge to write a comentary on 30 Talmud folios. He did, however, advocate the inclusion of Talmud into the curriculum of gymnasia and universities, hoping to raise the prestige of the Talmud in society in general so that Jewish youth would also become interested.
*** This doesn't only refer to printed matter, but surely it includes it.
Friday, May 09, 2008
It looks like this:
In the 11-12 issue from 1927 the following appears:
As you can see, books by these authors are to be stored away so they cannot be read (and these are heavy duty heretical classics, not bush-league types like 'One People, Two Worlds, 'Making of a Godol' or 'The Science of Torah'):
1. Works by R. Abraham Isaac Kook.
2. Works by R. Aaron Chorin.
3. Works by R. Samuel Glasner.
4. Works by the rebbe of Muncacz, the Minchas Elazar.
5. The 'Bi'ur' of R. Moses Mendelssohn.
6. Works by R. Naphtali Hirtz Wessely.
Chorin's Chasam Sofer-coined euphemism אח"ר (for 'Aron Choriner, Rabbiner') is supplied. It is explained that the acronym רמ"ד for Mendelssohn means 'רשע משה דעסוי,' and, oddly yet somewhat understandably, the older Wessely is counted as a disciple of Mendelssohn.
It of course must be pointed out that it is eminently better to call for books to be 'put away' rather than to destroy them.
Wednesday, May 07, 2008
I have been accused by Dr. Edward Breuer of plagiarizing the main idea of this post from his book The Limits of Enlightenment. Without further ado I hereby credit him and his excellent book and apologize for any anguish I caused.
In 1771 German Bible scholar Johann Salomo Semler (1725-91) produced a German translation of R. Eliyahu Bahur's (Elias Levita) מסורת המסורת titled Übersetzung des Buchs Massoreth Hamassoreth.(Semler was the editor; the translation itself was done by an apostate Jew called Christian Gottlob Meyer; Meyer also eventually translated Moses Mendelssohn's prospectus to his Bible translation, the עלים לתרופה into German.)
Fortunately this edition of Massoreth Ha-massoreth is now available online (link).
A sample of the book:
Following the title page we find the following dedication:
Semler dedicated this to Moses Mendelssohn, a man he greatly admired. As a fellow Aufklärer, he assumed that Mendelssohn shared his views of modern Bible scholarship, the מסורת המסורת representing a key component of the modern view, namely that the nekkudot and te'amim were late additions to the Bible text (at least the graphic symbols, if not what they represented). In fact, Mendelssohn did not. He vigorously upheld the dominant Jewish traditional view that they were old (from Ezra, if not from Sinai). In Mendelssohn's Introduction to the Torah, the אור לנתיבה he defended the antiquity of the points and accents, citing the work of R. Azariah min ha-Adumim (de' Rossi) who was the foremost Jewish rebutter of Bahur's thesis (see here for a sample of that - in English - from 1860).
Paranthetically, it is worth pointing out that when I bring this up many are surprised Mendelssohn would uphold the more traditional, non-critical view - especially as Bahur's view would seem to cost nothing. But this is based on a misunderstanding of Mendelssohn's approach to the Bible (and the assumption that Bahur's view costs nothing!). Perhaps Mendelssohn was non-traditional, but his overall approach was not that of contemporary 18th century Biblical scholarship, but more closely resembled the peshat oriented exegesis of those rishonim who concentrated mainly on peshat.
In Semler's introduction he explains that he shares (so he believed) with Mendelssohn the struggle to rid the people - Christian and Jew alike - of superstitious sort of beliefs about the Bible. It is true, one might suggest, that Mendelssohn's peshatian orientation could be seen as closer to Semler's than whatever the superstitious Bible beliefs among Christians and Jews which Semler had in mind. But given the true nature of Mendelssohn's views about the Bible, views which actually ran counter to almost every modern and enlightened work about the Bible, it would seem to be ironic that this book specifically should be dedicated to him. It just goes to show how people can give off mistaken impressions.
Monday, May 05, 2008
Censorship and 'Correction' of 'Improper' Sources Cited in Previous Editions
Not only does Rabbi Sutton ignore academic literature and conceal his use of non-religious sources, he also censors 'improper' sources mentioned in previous editions of LiKedoshim Asher Ba'Aretz. For example: both previous editions quote in full the short work Zichron Divrei Aret"z, by Rabbi Abraham Dayan, which first appeared in 1850.42 In that composition, Rabbi Dayan included a variety of anecdotal information that had reached him regarding the city of Aleppo and the Jews within it, from antiquity until his own times.43 Inter alia, Dayan relates that one elderly scholar told him of a tradition according to which, in each one of the old city's gates was preserved a wondrous ancient object. Thus, in one of the gates there was the tooth of an ancient fish, two feet long, in another gate 'the nail of one of the giants, as [large as] a pillow and a duvet', and in a third gate, a jug of sand from the river Sambatyon. Rabbi Dayan knew that some people tend to discount the factuality of information such as this, and so he wrote:
And as I have seen some persons, wise in their own eyes, who say that “the world goes according to its ways”,44 and they believe nothing unless they see it with their own eyes or unless it's written in the books of Hamirs,45 therefore I shall transcribe for them here what was written in the book of Me’or Eynayim by dei Rossi on p. 88, in the name of the head of the Christian scholars,46 book 15 chapter 9, about the size of the giants' body. That [scholar reported that] he saw the tooth of a man which, if cut according to the measurement of our teeth, could be divided into one hundred [of our] teeth.
In other words, in order to put an end to these skeptics' criticism, Rabbi Dayan reveals that he read Azariah dei Rossi's Me’or Eynayim, and that the author quoted there information from the book of a very major Christian scholar. This Christian scholar reported that he saw a huge human tooth, and this finding verifies the fact that giants existed in the past. From this, the above-mentioned skeptics may conclude, that there is no reason to doubt the report about the giant's nail found in one of the gates of the City of Aleppo.
Let us now see, how the paragraph quoted above is paraphrased in Aleppo:
I have seen some people, convinced of their own intelligence, who think that nothing exists beyond nature and don't believe what they haven't seen with their own eyes or in secular sources. Therefore, for these skeptics I cite a book which quotes secular sources concerning the existence of ancient giants. He writes of scientific finds of the teeth of giants that are one hundred times the size of average human teeth.47
The contrast between this "translation" and the original text is striking! The title Me’or Eynayim has been exorcised and it is now cited anonymously as "a book", and the information dei Rossi attributed to “the head of the Christian' scholars” is now attributed to "secular sources". Furthermore, while that Christian scholar reported [one!] giant tooth that he saw with his own eyes, in Aleppo's rewriting this report became "scientific finds" of "teeth of giants" [=many teeth of many giants].
In order to explain this amazing transformation we should recall, that the book of Me’or Eynayim raised a huge debate when it was published, for the writer was of independent critical thought and dared to raise difficult questions regarding various traditions found in Rabbinical literature. The Rabbis of Venice imposed a ban (herem) upon ownership of the book and upon reading it, and the same was done by Rabbis in other towns in Italy, as well as by the Rabbis of Safed. The Mahara"l of Prague attacked Azariah dei Rossi and Me’or Eynayim in his book Be'er haGola.48
The fact that Rabbi Abraham Dayan, son of the most aristocratic Jewish family in Aleppo and author of several 'kosher' religious books, read Me'or Eynayim, treated it as a reliable source and attributed credibility to information quoted in it in the name of a major Christian scholar – does not at all cohere with the portrait of the characteristics of the Aleppo community and its scholars, which Rabbi Sutton would like to cultivate among his readers. Based on his (not unfounded) confidence that nobody within the English speaking Aleppan community would be likely to discover the change, Sutton permitted himself to 'purify' the original text by Abraham Dayan – a text that neither David Zion Laniado nor Mordechai Attiah had thought to change. Furthermore, knowing that English readers in the early 21st century attribute credibility to scientific findings, Sutton decided to write that in this anonymous text there are "scientific finds of the teeth of giants" – even though all that really appears there is the testimony of one man who saw one tooth.
But this Ultra-Orthodox censorship led the writers of the book to a place where they would surely be surprised to find themselves. For who is this Christian scholar, whose words they converted to "scientific finds"? If one reads the text of Me'or Eynayim one finds that Rabbi Azariah dei Rossi is citing none other than … Augustine of Hippo! Indeed, in his City of God, book 15 chapter 9, Augustine seeks to confirm belief in the veracity of the Bible's reports about the bodily measurements and the life spans attributed by the Bible to pre-diluvian humans. He testifies that on the sea shore by Utica (a city sited in what today is Northern Tunisia) he saw the molar of a human being, apparently one of the giants of yore, that was one hundred times larger than one of 'our' teeth. The bottom line is, then, that the Syrian community inBrooklyn and elsewhere were treated, thanks to Sutton's efforts at censorship, to a text in which the words of St. Augustine in his book 'City of God' were raised to the level of "scientific finds" with an Ultra-Orthodox "hechsher" from Artscroll Publishing! To which we can only say: "this is 'Torah' and this is its reward."
42 The work was published in Livorno in 1850, together with other works by the author: Holech Tamim and Poel Tzedek.
43 This is how Yaron Harel summarizes the contents of this work: 'a random enumeration of various historical events which took place in Aleppo, as traditionally told in the city. Beginning with legends about the city's conquest by Yoab ben Seruyah, and ending with events which took place in the author's times' (Yaron Harel, ibid n. 19, p. 48).
44 Hebrew: Olam ke-Minhago Noheg, i.e., reality follows the laws of nature (and thus, such anecdotes are suspect).
45 The books of Hamirs = the books of Homerus = books considered to be credible by the educated world.
46 Examining the source in the Me’or Eynayim (Mantova 1674 p. 88) reveals that Rabbi Dayan omitted one word here, maybe because it seemed unclear to him. And here is the original text: "the head of the Christians' scholars wrote in his City in book 15 chapter 9, about the size of the body of giants, that he saw the tooth of a man which if cut to the size of our teeth, would be divided into one hundred teeth." For further identification of this source, see text below.
47 P. 11.
48 See Joseph Dan, ROSSI, Azariah, in: Encyclopedia Judaica (1973) 14:315-31, and see also the editor/translator's introduction in Light of the Eyes, Azariah de´ Rossi; Translated from the Hebrew, with an introduction by Joanna Weinberg, Yale University press, 2001.
Please see my prior post 'What would R' Azaryah surely have resented? The portrayal of a controversial rabbi by Artscroll.,' which is probably the first and last time that the name of R. Azaryah de' Rossi will be mentioned in an Artscroll publication. De' Rossi's work Me'or 'Enayim was not only cited by obscure (at least outside of Aleppo) rabbinic figures like Abraham Dayan, but he was also cited by the author of Minhas Shai on the Bible - a massoretic commentary with accepted halakhic authority - by R. Yaakov Emden, by a Lithuanian roshei yeshiva such as Netziv, by modern scholarly rabbis like Menachem Kasher, whose works are considered very valuable and certainly acceptable in the faithful communities which Artscroll hopes to shape the religious thinking of.
Read the rest of Zohar's review (in English translation, as linked above, or in the Hebrew original). It includes such chestnuts as the fact that the book reproduces a photograph from an out-of-print work on Aleppan Jewry from 1910 - by a Jewish Christian missionary without explaining who he is; the book helpfully misspells his name, ve-ha-mevin yavin. Incidentally, this Joseph Segall was allowed by the communal leaders to photograph a page of the Aleppo Codex, which is wonderful because it meant that the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy from the Codex was preserved (see its image here); but also not so wonderful, since it may well be that the reason why after this point the Aleppan rabbis and communal leaders steadfastly refused to allow the entire codex to be photographed by anyone, was because of the Segall incident - a consequence that proved most unfortunate, since a lot of the Codex is now missing, unphotographed).