Tuesday, February 24, 2009

On Sforno's introduction to the Torah in variant copies of the 1724 Mikra'os Gedolos

You never know what arcana you'll come across. Having recently posted about the 1724-28 edition of the Mikra'os Gedolos, the 7th edition, published in Amsterdam by Mosis Francorutensis (or, R. Moshe ben Shimon Frankfurter) I found the following interesting information regarding its printing of the commentary of Sforno, this being the first Mikra Gedolah to print Sforno's commentaries.

Charles Butler, in his 1797 work Horæ Biblicæ* wrote the following:

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Is this not fascinating? Of course it is. First of all, "Rabbi Abdias Sporno" is, of course, R. Ovadiah Sforno. His treatise de Scopo Legis refers to his כוונת התורה, and it is quite interesting to learn that this short introduction was generally omitted from copies sold to Christians.

Apparently this was well known in scholarly Christian circles, for we find the following from an 1838 book**:

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Another note, from 1827:

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Sadly, the trail runs cold and I can't find this reference (undoubtedly to a work of Gerhardus Tyschen [aka Oluf Gerhard Tyschen]) to know whether he noticed or publicized this omission in some editions before Butler or not.

Here is a translation of said introduction by R. Raphael Pelkowitz shlit"a in his edition of Seforno published by Artscroll. I suppose one can see why it was omitted from particular copies:

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*Full title: Horæ Biblicæ, Being a Connected Series of Miscellaneous Notes on the Original Text, Early Versions, and Printed Editions of the Old and New Testament.

**Notes on the Four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles Illustrations of the Doctrine Principle and Practice of the Church of England by Frederic Martin.

Hang this up in your sukkah

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Clockwise from upper left: David Cassel, Moritz Lazarus, Heinrich Graetz, Hermann Steinthal and Senior Zachs.

From Nahum Sokolow's yearbook Ha-asif (1887).

Monday, February 23, 2009

The diligence of Julia E. Smith

"Julia E. Smith, when over seventy years of age, translated the whole Bible into English in one year and seven months, having no other helps than a Hebrew and Greek grammar and dictionary." So writes Edward James Young in The Value of the Study of Hebrew for a Minister, The Unitarian Review and Religious Magazine, May 1879.

The truth is less dramatic, but only a little less. In truth, it took Julia E. Smith (1792-1883?), of Glastonbury, Connecticut seven years, by her own account.

Since literalness was her stated goal, she felt confident in writing "It may be thought by the public in general, that I have great confidence in myself, in not conferring with the learned in so great a work, but as there is but one book in the Hebrew tongue, and I have defined it word for word, I do not see how anybody can know more about it than I do. It being a dead language no improvements can be made upon it." Naive, but wonderful in its simplicity! (She knew Greek and Latin from her education, but our concern here is not with her New Testament translation.)

In addition to literalness, it was apparently her understanding that tenses do not exist in biblical Hebrew--

"It is very possible that the readers of this book may think it strange that I have made such use of the tenses, going according to the Hebrew grammar. It seems that the original Hebrew had no regard to time, and that the Bible speaks for all ages. If I did not follow the tenses as they are, I myself should be the judge, and man must not be trusted with regard to the Word of God. I think the promiscuous use of the tenses shows that there must be something hidden, that we must search out, and not hold to the outward, for the " letter kills, but the Spirit gives life."

--and her translation reflects this in a most jarring manner:

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Read the fruit of her labors here.

Some samples of her unique method:

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Help me decide the fate of English Hebraica

There are one of three options:

1) Revive http://englishhebraica.blogspot.com/
2) Leave it dormant
3) Incorporate it into On the Main Line, which means gradually reposting everything (or at least the posts I like) right here

What do you think?

Parenthetically, look at this great search string which led someone to my blog:

What does Moshe Finkel- the chicken man- look like?

Valmadonna photos and comments

A couple of random pictures:

It was fun to find specific books, considering that they were needles in haystacks. (Okay, not really. After all, many of the interesting titles were places at least reasonably within eye level, and arranged by region of printing.)

Here is a title I was gratified to find (you can read this very edition here):

This is the 1728 edition of the Mikra'os Gedolos, the first produced by Jews, titled Kehilot Moshe. You can't tell from the photo just how large this edition is. The volumes are as large as a real chosson shas. This is the very edition Jean-Philip Baratier's father bought for him:

I found the Elijah Levita shelf:


And of course, Shadal:

From the manuscript room, the 12th century Samaritan Pentateuch:

It was a lot of fun to eavesdrop there, and to see the show-offs who tried to demonstrate that they could read it. You know who you are, people. You read it as well as a 5 year old reads Ashrei.

For some reason, R. Yitzchak Lampronti's 32-volume hand-written revision of the Pachad Yitzchak moved me more than almost anything. (Although I am unclear if it is in his own hand, or if this is by a copyist.)

Here is a detail of the 12th century English Pentateuch manuscript, which was one of the centerpieces of the collection:

A lot of people don't realize that one of the key medieval Hebrew grammarians and masoretic scholars lived in England: משה הנקדן (albeit, he was born after the above codex was written).

The following Franco-German (ie, Ashkenazic) codex was quite fascinating from a historical perspective, being that it is dated to the 10th or 11th century, making it quite possibly (even likely) older than Rashi himself. Not bad to see a Chumash from Rashi's region that predates him!

Here is simplicity and beauty; a private 18th century Italian translation of Daniel:

I'm not one of those people who get excited about Incunabula (at least not more so than printed books from after that arbitrary demarcation line, 1500). But it was fun to see so many of them all at once.

I couldn't believe the pristine condition of this edition of Yosippon (Gorionides; Pseudo-Josephus):

It was over 500 years old, and for all intents it looked like a fascimile printed on fine paper last week.

Everyone is interested in the censor's black ink, and here is one:

(If you enlarge the image, you can read the censored text through the ink. What's particulary fascinating is how the words meaning "God" and "godliness" were spared the ink by the censor.)

Moving on to the not-entirely-accurately-title "Reading Room":

God save the Ashkenazim!

Unfortunately I did not get a clear picture of the Hutter Bible, but it was exciting for me to see it.

Elias Hutter came up with a brilliant idea, and printed a Hebrew Bible with his innovation, which consisted of using two fonts. One was normal, and the other had a hollowed-out appearance. He printedeach word using these two fonts; the radical letters (שורש) in the normal font and the servile letters in the hollow font. In this way, the root of each Hebrew word could clearly be identified.

Since my picture is so poor, here is the title page from the edition in the Library of Congress:

As you can see, the ה in the words דרך הקדש is hollow, for it is not part of the root.

Unfortunately my camera ran out of power and I was unable to get a photo of an interesting book from the 16th century; a book of haftarot, with Yiddish translation (albeit at that time the speakers of that language did not call it Yiddish; they called it טויטש, evidently because that is what they believed themselves to be speaking; Deutsche, ie, German.

What was interesting to me was the word haftaros, which was incorrectly spelled (in square script) הפטורה. This was wonderful, because the explanation is most likely that the pronunciation of the קמץ among Ashkenazim at the time was very, very close to חולם וי"ו, hence the confusion. Indeed, to this day many pronounce haftarah as if it were haftorah, and even haftoyrah, albeit probably because of the phonetic similarity to the word Torah.

You've got your congratulations-you-are-now-a-physician poem in honor of the son of R. Yitzchok Lampronti.

Your here's-Shabbesai-Zvi-and-his-prophet announcement in Dutch:

Future post to follow.

Friday, February 20, 2009

I gently correct a 143 year old spelling mistake, or, how should "Peshitta" be spelled in Hebrew letters?

I've posted some things about the Peshitta (aka ܦܫܝܛܬܐ, Peshitto, Peschito, ' וגו) a few times. If the name doesn't ring a bell, the Peshitta is what the Syriac Bible is commonly called, Syriac being a dialect of Aramaic used by Eastern Christians.

Since the word is generally written out in Latin letters as "Peshitta" (if we are talking about this century and from a bit of an Anglo perspective) most people probably don't realize that the /tt/ represent two different Syriac letters. In Hebrew script, they are טת; that is, פשיטתא. Since in Syriac grammar, as I understand it, the ת here is pronounced רפה, that is, soft, the word is really pronounced Peshittha (with the /th/ being like the word /with/). If you like havoro Ashkenazis (for all you Ashkenazi Syriacs) then you'd say "Peshitsa," the same way an Aramaic baalebuste is an "itsa," איתתא. However, under the classical scholarly and modern Israeli convention of following allegedly Sephardic pronunciation, most people just wrote "Peshitta," and consequently a lot of people pronounce it that way instead of "Peshittha" or "Peshitsa" (which is not Syriac, so I don't know that it's more correct).

So it was with great fun that I found the following:

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Okay, granted he is technically correct that the תרגום סורי is מכונה פשיטא. Like I said, that's what loads of people call it!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Viva Valmadonna; what to do today if you can be in Manhattan and love books.

As surely most readers of this blog know, the mind-boggling Valmadonna Trust Library is now on exhibit at Sotheby's, NYC (York Ave. & E. 72nd St). If you are in or near New York City you
  • have only today and tomorrow to view it
  • will regret this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity if you don't
Words can't describe how extraordinary, unprecedented and flat-out wonderful this exhibit is, and what a privilege it is to see it. All who love seforim, all who love art, all who love beauty, all who want confirmation of the nagging suspicion that today all we produce is ugly, ephemeral crapola should go. Go today! Go tomorrow, just go!

Before it's too late and it's all packed away and sold to whoever has $40 million and is responsible.

As Menachem wrote:

Just as the Talmud (Sukkah 51a) records that one who hadn't seen the Simchat Beit Ha-Shoeva in Jerusalem hadn't seen true happiness, one day historians will add that one who hadn't seen the Valmadonna Trust Library during the one week that is was available to be viewed in New York, hadn't seen the true literary grandeur of the Jewish people.

And he happens to be right.

Good New York Times article and slideshow here.

A future post will be illustrated with photos I took, descriptions and reflections.

Rabbi Norman Lamm's sermons

I came across this interesting resource:

Derashot Shedarashti: Sermons of Rabbi Norman Lamm.

Here is a collection of the sermons given by Rabbi Lamm from 1951-2004. Included are his handwritten and typed notes. It is a veritable trove for the armchair historian interested in many aspects of American Modern (I mean "Centrist") Orthodoxy in the latter half of the 20th century, and undoubtedly a treasure trove for the critics of such.

It contains everything from a tribute to Albert Einstein on the occasion of his 75th birthday, to critiques of Conservative Judaism to reflections on the Nixon tapes, to more conventional inspirational and learned derashos, and being of that time period, much usage of the term "Please G-d."

Here, for example, is an excerpt of a sermon delivered in 1955 in honor of the 750th yahrzeit of the Rambam.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

R. Akiva Eger reminiscences from the Breslau Jewish Theological Seminary

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From Gotthard Deutsch's chapter on Layser Lazarus in his Scrolls: Essays on Jewish History and Literature, and Kindred Subjects.

Layser Lazarus was the rector of the Seminary following the death of Zechariah Frankel; he had been a student of R. Akiva Eger.

Gotthard Deutsch was eventually a prominent Reform rabbi and teacher in America. Apparently R. Akiva Eger on shaving with a razor was a favorite example of his.

See the following, from his essay "The Theory of Oral Tradition":

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Read the very interesting responsum here.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

R. Jonathan Eybeschuetz in a nearly contemporary* German periodical

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From the January 1792 edition of the Allgemeine Literatur-zeitung. Anyone want to tell us what it's about? (And, yes, I see it mentions "heterodoxie," R. Raphael Cohen and Benjamin Mussaphia.)

*Well, not really.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Jean-Philipe Baratier; Christian child prodigies with Hebrew knowledge, part II

Take your pick.

I came across the story of Jean-Philipe Baratier (1721-1740) by accident. Born in Germany to French Huguenot parents, it was apparent from an early age that the boy was extremely gifted in languages, but more than that, he also had understanding.

Many people are familiar with him, having read of him in the works of Samuel Johnson, who had written an article about him in the December issue of the British periodical The Gentleman's Magazine (link, cont. Feb. 1741, link). However, I wasn't until I came across a work for children from 1801 called The Juvenile Library (including a complete course of instruction on every useful subject), in the section titled Lives of Celebrated Children (No. VI.) that I heard of young Baratier, whose significance I will get to shortly. But first I cannot help but to point out that someone apparently thought it would be really inspirational for children to read about famous kids who are big overachievers. Me, I'm thinking kids probably really hated to read that stuff. But I digress. The Juvenile Library volume looks like this:

So, this Baratier kid turned out to have a natural knack for languages. Under his father's tutelage, the boy knew German and French (his adopted home and family's languages), as well as Greek, Latin, at five years of age. His father was especially pleased at discovering that his son was so precocious, and so he taught him Hebrew, allowing him to read the Bible in Hebrew within the year. By age nine he is supposed to have been capably able to translate the Bible from Hebrew into Latin, and then translate back from the Latin into Hebrew anew. He knew Psalms by heart, in Hebrew. By ten he had written a Hebrew grammar. Even allowing for exaggeration in the accounts, there is no doubt about some facts:

At ten he had become very interested in rabbinic literature, so his father bought him the 1724-8 Amsterdam edition of the קהילות משה Mikra Gedola (the 7th; which happens also to be the first Mikraos Gedolos edition fully published by Jews), which he soon knew very well. In case there is any doubt, he wrote an article about it which was published in the prestigious journal Bibliothèque germanique (this was a French-language journal based in Germany and intended to introduce German scholarship to the rest of Europe in the first half of the 18th century; unfortunately the volume with this article is not yet online [not that my French is good enough anyway], but here is an announcement from the 1732 volume on something by Baratier [see next paragraph]).

When he was only 12 years old he published a complete annotated translation of The Travels of Benjamin of Tudela from Hebrew into French link (or link).

His many other academic achievements in his short life are noteworthy, but not of particular interest to this blog: he was also skilled in math and science, having graduated university with a Masters of Arts at 14, and granted lifetime membership as a fellow in the Berlin Royal Society. He published several books in his other areas of interest. He was a smart young guy, who sadly did not recover from illness at age 19.

No matter what one thinks about his attainments, there is something romantic about the image of a 10 year old Huguenot boy poring over a set of Mikraos Gedolos. In his time, he was a philological Doogie Howser.

Postscript: I saw something interesting in another 18th century book (on certain British women). In a discussion about a Miss (Maria) Howel (who we are told was 11 in 1741), we find her compared to Baratier, and she fares better. Firstly, I don't know if anyone would have said this about him, but this is said of her: she had "all the charms of body that the hand of nature could put into one human frame" as well as a "soul so bright and luminous, knowing and comprehensive, so good and gentle, divine and spiritual, that she seems, in the perfections of her understanding especially, to be a specimen of the vast capacitys the human mind is capable of acquiring," who, "as a Christian" had "received all that can be given by regeneration and the grace of the holy Spirit."

Not only, does this author write, did she attain similar literary accomplishments as Baratier, but she had better judgment!

Here is the footnote on Baratier:

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Some girl! (link)

Monday, February 02, 2009

Christian child prodigies with Hebrew knowledge, part I.

This is the first in a series of posts on Christian child prodigies who knew Hebrew. Although this first one has a rather legendary quality to it, the next post will be highly interesting and no legend.

As you can see, this account is from 1679, and concerns a three-year old child of Manchester named Charles Bennet, who "doth speak Latine, Greek and Hebrew, though never taught those Languages; and answers all Questions relating to the Bible, &c., in a wonderful manner."

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