Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Haskamah collecting: an aspect of the literary output of Rabbi Abraham Belais of Tunisia (and Italy, and France, and England).

There once was an interesting character named Rabbi Abraham Belais.

Here's a short biography of him (in Hyamson's The Sephardim of England):

R. Avraham ben Shalom Belais wrote numerous works, many of which can be downloaded from (search for author בלעיש). He seemed to want to make his books accessible as possible, and thus some of them were published with a vernacular translation. For example, the book באר לחי רואי was printed originally in 1828 with a French and Italian translation, and was also translated into German in 1838 by Moritz Steinschneider. It is oddly enough Steinschneider's first published work. This book is described by Alexander Marx in "Essays in Jewish Biography" as "a versified collection of moral sentences."

In addition to collecting moral sentences, Rabbi Belais apparently enjoyed collecting haskamas. At the end of one his works was appended the following notice:

That's quite a list! He wasn't exaggerating either. Below are some of the haskamos:

This one is from the very first Sir Rabbi there was, Abraham de Cologna, who will be the subject of an upcoming post:

Naturally the Chasam Sopher's haskamah is of interest.

I am assuming this is the earliest bit of the Chasam Sofer's writing translated into English (1845 or 46):

He had a thing for the Montefiores, who were probably a great couple to butter up.

Here's a dedication from one of his books:

And here's a translation of a poem he wrote in praise of Montefiore's journey in Russia:

But he could write hymns and praises of others, too. For example, this was appended to one of his books, in praise of Sir Samuel Isaac Avigdor (who had been the secretary of the Napoleonic Sanhedrin):

And here is what aristocracy and royalty had to write about him, including a Hebrew letter from the Duke of Sussex:

Incidentally, this Duke of Sussex really wrote that letter himself. Although there are earlier sources discussing his Hebrew ability, below is a notice in the Jewish Chronicle from May 1943:

The Solomon Lyon mentioned as the Hebrew teacher of the Duke of Sussex taught Hebrew at Oxford and Cambrdige, and also wrote a Hebrew grammar called "A Key to the Holy Tongue." He once testified as an expert witness in a trial of 1795 called Lindo v. Belisario, concerning the legality of a certain Jewish marriage:

Back to Belais; another of his works featured the following notice at the beginning:

Below is the translator's little note at the end of the book:

That note is interesting for a number of reasons. Note the apology for deviating from the Authorised Version (i.e., the King James Bible) in biblical quotations which differed from Belais's interpretation. Secondly, he praises Morris Raphall. Although the translator is not identified in the book, I suspect that it is David de Sola, who was the Hazan at London's Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue. He also translated 18 massekhtot of the Mishna in collaboration with Raphall, a very interesting and worthy edition. In addition, de Sola's daughter Yael was married to Belais's son Shelomo.

Finally, here is the Hebrew and English introduction to his commentary to Ecclesiastes. Note his apology for writing the commentary, his perception of his uprooted and difficult life and how he signs off in the Hebrew section (i.e., which he actually wrote):

Finally, please don't get the impression that he wasn't learned. Many of his works are available, and you can see for yourself.

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts with Thumbnails