Tuesday, June 30, 2009

What time is shabbos? in 1842.

Some time ago the Lion of Zion had a very interesting post called How Did Jewish Women Know When To Light Shabbat Candles in the 18th C.?
Take Shabbat, for example—we begin and end at a precise minute, and one that varies from week to week. I always wondered, however, exactly how did people know when to light Shabbat candles in an era before clocks and watches were household items. I assume most people did not own a sundial and you can’t always rely on the skies. So how did they know it was 4:53 pm and time to light the candles? Or that the eighteen minutes were up and you had to park your horse and walk home?

A few years ago I discovered the answer of how they knew the difference between 4:53 and 5:07.

Answer: they couldn’t tell the difference.
He showed various examples of old calendars. I don't have much to add, but I did come across some interesting examples in 1842 issues of the British periodical Voice of Jacob:

As you can see, people were told that candle-lighting time was on the half-hour or on the hour, for basically four weeks in a row. Then the time moved forward by a half-hour.

In case anyone is tempted to think that this was an ignorant periodical, unconcerned about zemanim, below is a discussion about זמן קריאת שמע.

Finally, I thought this add was fantastic; someone wants to buy a sukkah, so he asks if anyone has a good size Tabernacle to sell.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Even if you don't understand Dutch . . .

. . . you'll understand this:

From the Kerkelycke historie, van de scheppinge des werelts, tot 't jaer des Heeren 1666 (1696).

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Close encounters of the Eybeschuetz kind; Christian Solomon Duitsch, an 18th century Jewish apostate recollects.

Below are some excerpts of a most interesting account by a Jewish apostate named Solomon Duitsch. Originally written by him in Dutch, excerpts are from the English translation1 published in 1771, under the title "A Short Account of the Wonderful Conversion to Christianity of Solomon Duitsch, Lately a learned Rabbin and Teacher of several Synagogues."

Born in 1734 in Timişoara (then Hungary, today Rumania) , his father died when he was four years old. After he became bar mitzvah in 1747, he was sent to the Prague yeshiva on account of his proficiency in learning. At the age of 20 he returned home and married a woman named Yentl (Jentil), who was the daughter of a wealthy man. Living with his in-laws, he enjoyed a good marriage, and studied intensely--"Being exceedingly fond of Talmud, I commonly staid in my study till after midnight." So he lived for six good years. Then suddenly his wife died, leaving him with a six-month old daughter named Esther. Three months later, at the urging of his father-in-law, he married Yentl's sister Sara. At this point he continued and excelled in his studies to the point that the Chief Rabbi of Moravia ordained him morenu in 1760 ( he doesn't name him, but it seems that this position belonged to a R. Gershon Pullitz or Pollitzer, whom I know nothing of).

Sometime in November of 1761 he read a book which warned men to "arise out of darkness" and repent. He does not say which book it was, but I have no reason to assume it was something other than some kind of mussar book. He became obsessed with it, and began to wear a hair shirt and give all his money to the poor, all the while trying to repent of his sins. Other Jews, becoming aware of his ascetic lifestyle began to regard him as a kind of tzadik. This itself greatly distressed him, and he publicly declared himself a sinner in the synagogue. At this point the translator inserts a note, because he realizes what you are thinking: "Wack-o." The translator reminds the reader that it was the Holy Ghost working through him, but his behavior was conditioned by his Jewish environment, as well as the Catholic form of Christianity in his environs.

He then describes his continued obsession with sin, and how one night he had a kind of terror and thoughts of Jesus Christ flashed through his mind. Then Satan battled with him, telling him that Jesus could not possibly be the Messiah, and why should he bring shame to the learned among his people and his righteous ancestors? At this point, he was in the closet, weeping, and his wife, baby in arms, woke up and asked him what was wrong. She tried to calm him and also to ask him why he was doing the things he was doing. He should think of her and his child and wasn't he pious enough when her sister was alive? He responded that she was wrong, he was a terrible sinner, etc.

But "my wife was subtle, and cunning and serpent-like" for she said no more. Then she moved in with her parents, taking the baby with her, and he had no more contact with her. The rabbis forced him to write her a get, and placed him in cherem (the real thing in those days).

I won't spoil the rest, but it is exceedingly sad, capital-c Crazy, and interesting.

A good long time later, although he had mentally converted to Christianity long before, he had remained attached by habit and conviction to Jewish observance. Eventually he gave it up, describing the process as follows. By chance he read Ezekiel 5:1 וְאַתָּה בֶן אָדָם קַח לְךָ חֶרֶב חַדָּה תַּעַר הַגַּלָּבִים תִּקָּחֶנָּה לָּךְ וְהַעֲבַרְתָּ עַל רֹאשְׁךָ, וְעַל זְקָנֶךָ וְלָקַחְתָּ לְךָ מֹאזְנֵי מִשְׁקָל וְחִלַּקְתָּם ; And thou, son of man, take thee a sharp sword, as a barber's razor shalt thou take it unto thee, and cause it to pass upon thy head and upon thy beard; then take thee balances to weigh, and divide the hair, and thought to himself that this seems to expressly contradict Leviticus 19:27 לֹא תַקִּפוּ פְּאַת רֹאשְׁכֶם וְלֹא תַשְׁחִית אֵת פְּאַת זְקָנֶךָ; Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard. Not understanding how God could command the prophet to expressly violate the law, and Ezekiel lodged no objection even while he objected to another command to violate the law in 4:14, he began to feel very emotionally that the words here were addressed to himself, and he began to think "How long wilt thou remain in bondage to the law? How long wilt thou oppose the word of God?" He writes that he fell on his knees, sighed, prayed and grabbed scissors and a mirror and and cut off his beard. "It is inexpressible," he writes, "what emotions I felt in my heart, during this transaction, which lasted nearly two hours." He then fell asleep and woke up feeling wonderful and comforted. The next Sunday he went to a church for the first time. He didn't care for the sermon, but was greatly impressed by the worship service.

I will say, by the way, that when it comes to these kinds of accounts I do not necessarily take anyone at their word regarding just how much of a תלמיד חכם they were. Basically all of the Jewish converts who wrote about themselves claimed to have been scholars. Some of these accounts clearly show that they were not exaggerating, but I have seen no evidence from the content of Solomon Duitsch's of his rabbinic learning. This is not to say that it wasn't there, or that he lied about receiving his ordination, or staying up often past midnight learning Talmud, only that I was unable to detect it in his account. However, the English version is an abridgment, and moreover, the translator may have been unable to make heads of tails out of the kind of material I am talking about, and left it out. Indeed, in the introduction he writes as much, that the original (and the German translation) "is extended to a great length, particularly by the interspersed accounts of the doctrine of the present Judaism." So I am not skeptical of what he claims about himself, I only note that I've seen no evidence of it in this account.

Below are some interesting excerpts. First, of his meeting with R. Yonasan Eybeschuetz (after his wanderings begun, before the scene described just above).

Next is an interesting note by the translator. In the 18th century, the only place in Europe where it was legal for a Christian to convert to Judaism was Amsterdam (it being a sever crime to convert to Judaism, or for Jews to convert a Christian). Consequently, those Christians who did convert tended to do so in Amsterdam, and there were always a number of them. The translator has this to say about it:

Finally, Duitsch recollects an interesting encounter with a rabbi about studying Tanakh:

No, this story has no happy ending.


Here is Christiaan Salomon Duitsch himself:

1 The translator's name is Gustavus Burgmann, a Lutheran minister in the Savoy Church in London. He remarks in a note that he made the acquintance of Duitsch, having been a character in his narrative (basically, the claim is that two missionaries addressed Jews in a synagogue in Wesel. Their mastery of Hebrew impressed Duitsch, who writes that he assumed they were Jewish converts. For his part, Burgmann acknowledges that he was one of the missionaries, and in fact Duitsch knew the New Testament so well, that he could not believe that he had not already converted.)

Jacob Emden in the news

New York Herald March 23, 1857


Now this would be a nice book sale. Sigh.

The Athaeneum August 1868

Some Emden/ Eybeschutz stuff, when it was current events (1753) (Jacob Herschel is R. Ya'akov Emden):

Not to mention this, R. Yaavetz's personal copy of Azaryah de Rossi's Me'or Enajim (in the JTS library).


By the way, should one infer from לה' הארץ ומלואה that R. Yaakov Emden intended everyone to read this book? (Groan. If you get it, you get it.)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

What does a Chinese chumash look like? Part II; how did Chinese Jews describe their Tanach?

Follow-up to this post. The account below is from the 1816 (first) volume of the missionary journal The Jewish Expositor and Friend of Israel. Since I know that not every reader will actually read the somewhat lengthy excerpt below, here is a sample of the interesting information contained: the word בראשית was pronounced by them as pielechitse; דברי הימים as tiveli haiamiim. More about their pronunciation and r/ l confusion to come in another post.

The first judischteutsche Bibel (Yiddish Bible) reviewed in a German periodical from 1749

Yekuthiel ben Isaac Blitz translated and produced a complete Yiddish Bible in Amsterdam in 1679. In addition to this noteworthy fact, Blitz's attitude has long been celebrated. For example, in his introduction he praised the exact and grammatical knowledge of Hebrew, differentiation between pshat and drash, singling out the Sephardim and Italian Jews of his time. I have not been able to see his introduction, but a well known passage is reproduced in Simcha Assaf's Mekoros Le-toledos Ha-chinukh Be-yisrael (Vol. I pp. 152-153):

Not having seen it, I must rely on the judgment of others. It seems his heart was in the right place and his intentions were good, but his skill as a translator? Not so much. Describing the situation, someone wrote that "Blitz's Hebrew was less than adequate and he relied heavily on translations into German, including that of Luther, often leaving his Yiddish translation resembling the German more than the Hebrew original.

In Rambaman"s introduction to the Nesivos Schalom pentateuch, the Or Le-nesivah there is a review of the Jewish Bible translations which preceded his own version, and here is what he writes1 of Blitz:

Another German (ie, Yiddish) translation by R. Yekusiel Blitz of Wittmund was also printed at Amsterdam, 5439, with haskamos and sanctions of many distinguished rabbis of that time. R. Yekusiel says in his preface that he had seen the German (Yiddish) translation of the Pentateuch printed at Konstanz, and found it so faulty and unfit that he was convinced the translation could not emanate from the celebrated German grammarian (ie, Elijah Levita). I, the writer of this have never seen the translation attributed to R. Elijah, as it cannot be found in our country, but I have seen that of R. Yekusiel, and discovered that he finds fault that he himself is guilty of. Though he may have had good intentions, and that is why the scholars of his time gave their approbations,the results of his work is not deserving of praise, because he was quite ignorant of Hebrew, and therefore could not penetrate into the depths of the Hebrew style, but what he understood he rendered into a corrupt language, so that one who has been accustomed to clear language is disgusted with it.
In view of this, I was quite interested to find a review of this very Yiddish Bible in a German periodical from 1749, the Nachrichten von einer hallischen Bibliothek.

This review is preceded by a review of another judischteutsche Bibel. (pp. 95-110) Needless to say, this review is not so impressed with Blitz's feeling for pshat, to say nothing of his language, as far as I can make out.

1 Unpaginated. Haha, it is on the 26th and 27th page of the JNUL file I linked above.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Maharatz Chajes and Isaak Markus Jost's History; when a period is really a comma...

Shmuel Feiner's highly interesting book Haskalah and History: The Emergence of a Modern Jewish Historical Consciousness (trans. by Chaya Naor and Sondra Silverston) contains a really fascinating anecdote about R. Zwi Hirsch Chajes (pg. 130. In a chapter ironically (? see below) called The Manipulation of History in Nineteenth-Century Galicia, we find the following:

An anecdote about Chajes told by Jacob Bodek reflects how studiously Jost's books were read in Galicia:
Once when I traveled with him to Brody, and we came at night to an inn in the city of Zloczow, I rested upon my bed, reading the eighth volume of a book on the chronicles of the Jews by the great and wise rabbi Mordecai Jost, which I had with me on my journey so that I might read it when the travelers stopped to feed the horses or for an overnight stay. And when Rabbi Chajes saw that book in my hand, he asked me about various interesting matters written about in this book and what I thought of them, and if I did not recall them at that moment, he said to me: But they are written for you in that book, in such and such a volume, on such and such a page, or in such and such a footnote, and he spoke to me of all the first seven volumes which I had read as if they lay open before him, just as the pages of the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud, and the books of the geonim and the ancients were open before him.262

262 From the biography of Tsevi Hirsch Chajes in the unpaginaged supplement added by J. Bodek to Triebesch, Korot ha'itim (Lemberg, 1851).
The book was previously available at Hebrew Books, but without Bodek's supplement. In its complete form it is now on Google Books (courtesy of Harvard):

Jacob Bodek was one of the famous "Spectators," and he was described elsewhere as one of the "Right-wing disciples of Nachman Krochmal," presumably like his friend R. Chajes (who refers to Bodek in the following manner ]Imre Binah pg. 948 in Kol Sifrei vol. II], ידידי הרבני החכם השלם המופלג מוהר"ר יעקב בודק נ"י, in case you are wondering if Chajes even knew him!). Any way you slice it, this story is amazing. Amazing memory, amazing book for R. Chajes to be so familiar with in this way. Let's just say that Jost's History is not the דורות הראשונים.

However, I was disappointed to see that the excerpt quoted in Feiner's book does not quite say what it claims to say (recognizing here that I have not seen his original Hebrew edition, and this might be a translating error and not a deliberate "manipulation of history").

Here is the quote exactly as it appears in Feiner:

What looks like a period at the end is actually a comma, and the passage continues. See below:

This is even more amazing, and in certain respects more radical. However, it most definitely does not say that Maharatz Chajes knew the eight volumes of Jost's Allgemeine Geschichte des Israelitischen Volkes by heart, down to it's minutest detail, just as he knew the Bavli and Yerushalmi, geonim and ancient authors (although it seems that he did!). Rather, it says that Jost's volumes were committed to memory as if open before him. Period, not comma. Then it continues, and in this manner he knew the Bavli, Yerushalmi, the halachic works of the Rif and the Rambam, as well as the Guide for the Perplexed, the Kuzari, Ramban, Albo's Ikkarim, the Akedah, Abarbanel, all the works of Moses Mendelssohn, which are filled with divine philosophy, in accordance with our Torah, all the contemporary [Wissenschaft des Judentums] books from Germany by Jewish and non-Jewish scholars, whether written in German or French, so long as it pertained to Jewish subjects, as well as all their source material, in short, he knew Hebraische literatur, and all of it was at his disposal to recall.

I do not see these as identical statement at all. Now, don't think a deliberate distortion was in order, as evinced by the continuation of the phrase Bavli and Yerushalmi to encompass also the works of the geonim and ancient scholars. However, to me it looks too much like it is trying to say that he knew Jost like he knew both Talmuds, while it really says that he knew Jost down to it's smallest detail. And also down to the minute details is how he knew both Talmuds, etc. Does anyone else see the semantic difference?

In addition, I am not a fan of the "unpaginated" mode of citation, which makes it that much harder to look the source up yourself. So what if it's unpaginaged? How about this: "twenty-nine pages from the end." That is exactly where you will find it, and it will take you two minutes instead of an hour to find it, as you would with that citation.

(By the way, Bodek recounted the same anecdote a few years later in nearly identical language an early issue of Ha-maggid [January 30, 1857, #9, pg. 33]:


Thursday, June 18, 2009

The unhappy Abraham Pass, the story of an 18 year old Jew executed Jew in England, 1743

Abraham Pass was charged with breaking and entering the home of Thomas Beate and John Dawson and stealing 250 ells of linen cloth on July 28, 1743. For this he was convicted and executed on November 21, 1743. Described here as "He did not commit Street Robberies, neither did he practice Shoplifting, but other sorts of Theft he made free with upon every opportunity. He was a most profligate, wicked young Man, wholly void of the Fear of God, disobedient to his Parents and Superiors, and unwilling to follow any settled Business."

Below is the entire story, which is well worth reading.

Prozbul: Was Hillel True to Tradition?

Menachem Mendel notes that the archives of a short-lived journal called S'vara are available here.

Volume 2.2 (1991) contains a symposium called "Prozbul: Was Hillel True to Tradition?" containing Prozbul and Legal Fiction by Pinchas Shiffman, Prozbul and Rabbinic Power by David Kraemer and Prozbul and Poseq by David M. Gordis. (link). I haven't read it, but it's an interesting idea for discussion.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A shocking doctor's prescription written by Ephraim Luzzatto

In 1840 Franz Delitsch asked David Aaron de Sola to write a piece on the poet and physician Ephraim Luzzatto (1729-1792) for the Literaturblatt des Orients. Below is a shocking, if not entertaining excerpt (Literaturblatt des Orients I (Jan 4, 1840), pp 9:

For the benefit of those who don't read Blackletter, here is my translation.
One Saturday, summoned to the Chief Rabbi, [Luzzatto] requested a quill, ink and paper so he could write a prescription; but neither the rabbi nor anyone in his family would give these to him, because he was only a little inconvenienced, and he had his office nearby1. But he had quill and ink in his bag, and tore out a page from his book and wrote something like this:

"Today on this holy Sabbath day, in the month of Shevat, in the year 5500 (ie, 1740) , [when the weekly reading containing the verse, Ex. 21.19, Parshas Mishpatim) וְרַפֹּא יְרַפֵּא, healing for the perfect haham, the distinguished judge, the pious, the modest, etc. "greater than the title 'rabbi' is the name," his honor, the rabbi . . . the Lord will send him healing . . . "

Then came the prescription in Latin, followed by four satirical lines in Hebrew, which could no longer be recalled by the person who told me about this. This was rude and callous to play with the patient's feelings and beliefs. I hope this anecdote is not true and question it's authenticity, especially because of the well-known saying de mortuis nihil nisi bene, which מליצים have given with the same truth and more wit: אחרי מות קדושים אמור.2
1 I assume this meant that Dr. Luzzatto could have gone to his office and gotten the medication, rather than write out a prescription. Alternatively, maybe they wanted him to go to the office and get the ink, etc. himself rather than handle it for him. Or maybe it means that the rabbi's illness was itself only an inconvenience and not life-threatening, therefore no prescription should have been written at all?

2 On the one hand this is surprising. It would seem to indicate that the story was true. After all, if אחרי מות קדושים אמור holds water then would the story be said if it weren't true, despite that tendency? On the other hand, I suppose it depends on why the story was being told. It certainly seems to bolster Luzzatto's quick wit and way with a pen, thus in that sense it could be a case of inflating his reputation after death. In addition, it is worth having a look at what Rashi comments on those two words (see here). Razor sharp! In any case, at least one detail of the story is obviously wrong, the date. In 1740 Ephraim Luzzatto was all of 11 years old. In addition, the overly flowery prose in the rabbi's title raises questions (גדול מרבן שמו כמהו"רר ? You've gotta be kidding me.) Indeed, one scholar identified the rabbi as Moses Cohen d'Azevedo (which would place the story after 1761) on the basis of the poor esteem which he was held as a scholar (which even caused a distinguished dayan to resign when d'Azevedo was appointed to the Bet Din).

You have to really know trop to know how to do this...

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The final pages of Shadal's Kinnor Na'im (1825). I leave it to the experts to dispute his cantillation.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A little note on the censorship of Rabbi Moshe Hagiz and Johann Christoph Wolff

See this post.

Surprise, surprise. When Mishnas Chachomim was reprinted in Chernowitz in 1864 (containing an approbation from, among others, R. Chaim Halberstam of Sanz) eight words were removed, the most prominent among them being יוחנן קרישטוף וואלף (which, as you can see, was set apart in large type in the original, in case you would miss it). So you see the entire passage below

only in 1864 there is no name.

Instead you see this:

All subsequent reprints, whether Brooklyn 1959 or Jerusalem 1974 are merely photo offsets of the 1864 edition, and are thus missing the identity of the person and his library described by R. Moshe Hagiz.

(While preparing this post I happened to see that this was already noticed by Elisheva Carlebach in her book on R. Moshe Hagiz. However, she only mentions the 1959 edition, making it appear that this is where the censorship took place. However, I see that this was simply a reproduction of the 1864 edition. As she put it, "the editors have omitted Wolf's name but retained the adulatory praise, leaving the impression that Hagiz was praising some Jewish scholar!")

A Jew takes an oath in an English court in 1783, but does not know how

In case that pathetic scene was hard to read, here is a transcript:



(Sworn on the New Testament, but on being asked by one of the officers of the Court if he was not a Jew, he answered yes, and was then re-sworn on the Hebrew Bible, which last oath he took without putting on his hat, as is the custom of the Jews.)

Court. What do you mean by taking the oath as you did?

- I never took an oath in my life; I am a butcher; I know the prisoner: I was sitting in a publick house, and I saw this good man come in, and he says to the prisoner come here my girl, I want to speak with you, and she says, if you want to speak to me speak it out.

Court. Pray friend do not you know when people of your profession take an oath, they always put on their hats?

- I work among Englishmen, and I always was among Christians.

Court. ] Do you mean to take the oath as a Jew or a Christian?

- I can call myself a Christian, because I am never among the Jews.

[Court. ] What do you call yourself, are you Jew or a Christian?

- I do not know, please your honour; what you please to call me.

[Court. ] I wish you would understand that it is an exceeding indecent thing in you, or any man, to come here to trifle with any religion, in the sort of way that you do?

- I follow more the Christian ways than I do the Jews.

Court. You are a good for nothing fellow, I dare say, whatever you are: stand down.

Jury to Prosecutor. Did you miss your watch directly as the woman ran from you?

- Yes, that moment; she was in sight when I missed it.


To be confined to hard labour twelve months in the house of Correction .

December 10, 1783 in The Proceedings of the Old Bailey

Two ways to wear a tallis in 1843

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by contrast

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From Moses Margoliouth's The Fundamental Principles of Modern Judaiam Investigated.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

An account of a stolen sefer Torah from 1707

From the Proceedings of the Old Bailey, September 3, 1707

Rabbi Moshe Hagiz and Johann Christoph Wolff

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Johann Christoph Wolff deserves a post, or several post, but this one is about R. Moshe Hagiz.

Wolff is famed for his monumental four-volume bibliographic work Bibliotheca Hebraea (1715-1733). Containing more than 5,000 pages, the nucleus of this work comes from Wolff's having read R. Shabbetai (Meshorer) Bass's bibliographic Siftei Yeshanim (on him and this work, see here) and having access to the great David Oppenheimer collection (see here. The third and fourth circumstances were his familiarity with earlier Hebrew bibliographic works by Christian scholars, and his personal relations with living rabbinic scholars.

This post concerns the last point. R. Moshe Hagiz became acquainted with him while living in Altona. The introduction to his Mishnas Chachomim discusses the meaning of an old custom of substituting the Tetragrammaton with three yuds, like this: ייי In reference to that, he writes of visting the great library at the home of יוחנן קרישטוף וואלף, and he was much impressed with the man and with his collection.

As you can see, he refers to Yochanan Christoph Wolf, the doktor-professor, the famed preacher of Hamburg, God prolong his life with good and sweet times. In God's goodness, he [ie, R. Hagiz] was able to visit his library and he saw thousands upon thousands of volumes in many languages; not only printed works, but there were many ancient Hebrew manuscripts!

For his part, R. Moshe Hagiz (or should I say Mofche Chagis) merited a five-page entry in volume iii of Wolff's Bibliotheca Hebraea (1727):

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The entry ends (pg. 755), with the following appraisal of the rabbi:

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Which seems to mean, simply, From our talks I know that he is an intelligent and straight man and very expert in Jewish law and history and also in various languages."


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