Friday, July 31, 2009

Fascinating historical anachronism in Spinka Rebbe's speech at Agudah asifah

The Rebbe also said the US is a kingdom of chessed, a nation that helps everybody. Our forefathers arrived here after the terrible churbon and they gave us permission to go and take in the refugees. “The Chossom Sofer wrote about the Kaiser Franz Yosef and his government, saying they were Hashem’s agents. The same can be said of the US government. They make sure we have an opportunity to live here with freedom and keep all of the mitzvahs, and we have to follow the law. There is no good deed, mitzvah or even bikkur cholim or hachnasas kalloh that permits violating the law,” he concluded.
Caveat; I did not watch or listen to the speech on YouTube. Thus, it is possible that the above report is not what he said. HOWEVER, assuming that it is, I found it interesting that the Spinka Rebbe referred to the Chasam Sofer (d. 1839) praising "the Kaiser Franz Joseph" (unless he only misspoke).

Franz Joseph (d. 1916) was born in 1830 and did not rule until 1848. He was indeed beloved by his Jewish subjects, so much so that he was nicknamed Yossel. Of course the Chasam Sofer might have been speaking about a Knight of the Golden Fleece, Franz Joseph of Liechtenstein (d. 1781).

In all, I think the point is that if this is even an accurate quote (that is, the Chasam Sofer praised a benevolent ruler of his time) it wasn't Franz Joseph. In the Spinka Rebbe's mouth it almost seems as if "the Kaiser Franz Joseph" becomes an archetype title for a benevolent ruler. Still, it is probably too much to construct a pilpul about historical memory or ahistoricism and Chassidism, but it is still a bit of interest.

A pseudo-reference to America by Radak

Here's a very interesting little exchange in the Voice of Jacob, end of December 1845/ beginning of January 1846.

As you can see a reader sensed a historical anachronism in a comment of Radak. How could R. David Kimchi (13th entury) write of Brazil wood when it was only known to Europeans in the 14th century?

The Radak entry in question:

A reader responded with the following reply, noting that it is far more likely that the place Brazil received its name from the wood than that the wood was named for the place. In fact, that solution should have occurred to the questioner with the fine historical sense:

Monday, July 27, 2009

Some thoughts on R. Yehuda Aryeh-Leone Modena's Riti and R. Pesach Eliyahu Falk's Guide for the Engageds.

One of the really interesting books which everyone should read is the Historia de' riti Ebraici by R. Yehuda Aryeh Mi-Modena of Venice (1571-1648), otherwise known properly as Leone Modena.1 The book was written in Italian in 1614 (download here, 1728 ed.) at the request of Sir Henry Wotton, the British ambassador to Venice, but translated to other languages soon after it was published (1637).2 The first English version was by Edmund Chilmead (1650). The second was by Simon Ockley (1707; "The history of the present Jews throughout the world," read it here). Ockley,3 a professor of Arabic at Cambridge, doesn't mention Chilmead's version and claims to have translated it from the Italian, but he obviously also made great use of Richard Simon's French translation (1681), including some of Simon's notes and adding translations of two appendices concerning the Karaites and Samaritans, written by Simon. A third translation is included in the first volume of the English version of Bernard Picard's Ceremonies et Coutumes Religieuses de tous les Peuples du Monde (1733). This version is less literal than the other English ones.

Although it seems to have been commissioned for the British king, there is another motivation which informed this work. Not long before he wrote it, Johann Buxtorf I wrote a highly detailed German book about contemporary Jews and Judaism called
Synagoga Judaica (read an English translation by Alan D. Corré here). Although not exactly an antisemitic screed, certainly not by the standards of the time, it did contain much that was negative about Jews, reflecting Buxtorf's jaundiced view of Judaism, and some that simply wasn't truthful. (Corré begins his introduction "Is Buxtorf's Synagoga Judaica an anti-Semitic text? My first answer would be: No. My alternative answer would be: How could it be otherwise?").4

For example, in Chapter 30 (on
yibum and chalitza) Buxtorf claims that during the chalitza ceremony the sister-in-law will spit in her brother-in-law's face. This is derived from Deut. 25.9 , וְיָרְקָה בְּפָנָיו, which is understood by Christians to mean "spit in his face." However, Jews understand it to mean "spit in front of him," and so that is how the chalitza ceremony actually is conducted, and so Modena writes "spit before him" (In Ockley translation; Ockley actually includes a personal note saying that both translations are possible, but affirming that in point of fact the Jews act as Modena describes, and even believe it to be הלכה למשה מסיני. His view, however, is that "it is a common thing with them, to perform things after the most easy manner, and so as to give the least Offence to the Person the Punishment is to be inflicted upon".)

Therefore Modena was in a unique position to write a Jewish description of Judaism, in the vernacular, printed entirely in the Latin alphabet, for gentiles. He stresses that he is completely truthful, as he indeed almost is. His biggest sin in this regard consists of slight omissions5 and apologetics,6 but there are no untruths, and certainly contains material that his audience would be incapable of respecting, yet he does not lie.

In the introduction to the book he explains that he was asked to write this book, despite two things. The first is that such a work already existed (i.e, Buxtorf's). The second is that, as a Jew, his partiality must be questionable. To the first objection he noted that what already existed was imperfect and unsatisfactory to "the Learned World," and in need of correction. Furthermore, what existed was "not seldom, written with a design only to render the People Ridiculous and Contemptible by interlarding [sic?] their Relations with some unaccountable and fantastical Fopperies, rather to divert their Reader, than inform him." Thus, he could correct those mistakes and divert the reader back to what is true and important and away from antisemitic distractions. To the second objection, he relays that he is known to very learned people as a man of integrity and probity, and the reader should rest assured that his impartiality is unimpeachable, and that he will write with "great sincerity and candour."

At the start of the book itself he divides the worldwide Jewry of his time into three parts, and Jewish practices into three parts. The Jews consist in the main of German, Levantine and Italian Jews. The religion consists of three kinds of practices, Torah laws (
Mizvod de Oraita) , Rabbinic laws (Mizvod de Rabanan) and customs (Minhagim). The first two kinds are observed in almost identical fashion by all three societies of Jews. It is only in the latter where they differ greatly.7 What strikes the reader, particularly if he or she is a traditionally observant Jew, is how much his description of Judaism accords with how it is presently practiced. The differences are few, but notable (e.g., in his time malkos / lashes were a common practice between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur) or minor (see n. 4 below, where he writes that the Jews recite the early morning berachos at home, rather than in the synagogue as is most commonly done today). His slightly (or some would say extremely) rationalist perspective comes through where he is willing to dismiss certains customs as superstitious (e.g., writing verses about Lilith and angels to protect a newborn baby, or the rite of kapparos ; both are still widespread).

The following about marriage deserves a little attention:

(Image is presently not loading, so in the mean time, see below)

Now, this isn't as prurient as it sounds. First, I checked the original Italian, as well as the French translation and various English dictionaries of the time and "visit[ing] his Mistress" and "dally[ing] and toy[ing] with her," as long as he does not "lie with her" simply means that the engaged man may flirt and have light conversation with his bride-to-be; however they must not sleep together. (Childmead's 1650 translation is "the Man hath liberties to visit, and to sport and toy with his betroathed Mistresse, but he must not know her Carnally.") Still, this certainly goes against present mores among some Orthodox Jews, at least officially. What I mean by that is that while really the following extreme point of view (see below) is not representative of even much of right-wing Orthodox[ies], you're just unlikely to see an official sanction by a rabbi of "dallying and toying" between an engaged couple, although in an unofficial way this is no less tolerated than it was in Modena's time. (It also needs to be pointed out that for Modena engagement meant signing a semi-official document, the
tena'im. Many, perhaps most, Orthdox Jews today don't sign such a document until the night of the wedding itself. In that sense, engagement was more official in his time or among those who sign it months before the wedding today. However, this doesn't at all relate to formal betrothal, or erusin.)

The extreme example below is from R. Pesach Eliyahu Falk's 2001 book Choson and kallah during their Engagement which sought to codify and create restrictive norms of behavior for engaged Orthodox couples, although this is how I -- not the author -- understands it. It seems that one of his ideas is that after a young man and woman get engaged, the kind of loosening of standards permitted to them so that they may discover who it is they want to marry, must tighten up until they are married. Thus, although he suggests "light enjoyable talk" (pg. 135) in his chapter on what is appropriate for a dating couple to talk about, this no longer applies once they are engaged. Furthermore, they should limit face time and phone time. I'm not sure which is the
kal and which is the chomer, but in his view flirting is inappropriate both before and after engagement. Similarly, all types of signs or terms of endearment are off (he permits beginning a letter "Dear . . . " but not "To my dear . . . ") Perhaps surprisingly, he does not take issues with letter-writing itself! Indeed, "the choson may write very friendly letters to his kallah" because "this must be done in order to maintain and even bolster good relations he has with his kallah." However, he recognizes that an alternative might be to have a phone call . . . once a week.

But all in all "it is
ossur to laugh and joke light-headedly with an ervah" and whatever Modena meant, he certainly mean "laugh and joke light-headedly!" What might R. Falk have said when confronted with apparent evidence that his norms do not cross generational and cultural lines, and that it is specifically contradicted by a rabbi who lived 400 years before him who wrote learned she'elos u-teshuvos? I imagine that he might suggest that "dally and toy" by the standards of Modena's time meant nothing more and nothing less what he suggests. Or perhaps he might not contest it and simply dismiss it as an apologetic aimed at gentiles, not a halachic source, or else as irrelevant in view of sources he marshals. I doubt he would say "I am not a 17th century Venetian rabbi and he is," but that is also true. See for yourself:

All in all, the
Riti is very well organized, thoroughly readable and familiar, and he does not shy away from many things which his Christian readers of the time would most certainly find distasteful,8 but probably succeeded in good measure in humanizing, in all senses of the term, the Jews as a pious, learned, humane, joyful and charitable people. Indeed, his book was much quoted as an authority on Jews and Judaism in the century-and-a-half that followed.

He is known by different variations of this; Leon, Leo for his first name, and "da Modena", "de Modene" or "of Modena" for his last. Leone was his Italian name, the others being acceptable translations. However, in his autobiography Chayei Yehuda he emphasizes that people are mistaken that his surname is "da Modena/ of Modena." In fact, he says, his surname is simply Modena. He was from Venice, not Modena, where an ancestor of his presumably lived (hence the surname). In Italian he signed his name "Leone Modena da Venezia." On the title page of his Novo dittionario hebraico et italiano he is called "Leon Modena Rabi Hebreo Da Venetia" and יהודה אריה ממודינא in Hebrew. However, there is no doubt that his Hebrew surname was ממודינא, from whence might have arisen the error of "da Modena." Yet others wrote of him during his lifetime as "of Modena." Indeed, when he refers to R. Menasseh ben Israel referring to himself in one his Spanish works as "II doctissimo, Rabbi Yudah da Modena" he quotes him verbatim without correcting his last name. I don't know which Spanish book he refers to, but you are welcome to peruse them and find it.

An extensive discussion of this point is on pg. xx of the Preface to the English translation of the Chayei Yehuda, The autobiography of a seventeenth-century Venetian rabbi.

2 Actually, Modena only writes that he wrote it for "an English lord" who wished the book written for the benefit of King James I. However, it is known that he knew Wotton, and he is almost certainly the one.

3 In Ockley's dedication he apologizes to Modena in case he didn't translate faithfully, but assures him that the book is dedicated to such a fine figure as Henry James of Queen's College that Modena would be pleased!

4 Stephen G. Burnett's PhD thesis on Buxtorf, or the book version From Christian Hebraism to Jewish studies is essential reading on this topic and question.

5 An example of an omission is that in discussing blessings he mentions a couple of the morning blessings:

There is nothing that is not true, but "and many such like" ("e molt altri simili") does not even bring up the one
beracha which would be of interest to the non-Jewish reader. For his part, Buxtorf writes "Praise &c. that he has made me an Israelite or Jew, or, as some books say, he has not made me a heathen. (They mean the Christians by this, whom they consider to be faithless, godless people, cursed by God.)"

6 An example of an apologetic is his discussion of usury. He chooses to interpret Deut. 23.21 ("Unto a foreigner thou mayest lend upon interest; but unto thy brother thou shalt not lend upon interest.") in the following manner:

7 In his introduction Ockley gives this rationale for why Christians should be interested in such a book as describes the religion of contemporary Jews. Although the rabbinic tradition about much earlier times cannot be taken seriously, thus the description of the sacrifices and other happenings in the Temple are unreliable and likely projections of later rabbis onto the past, the practices in common of Jews all over the world should be taken as evidence that in these the Jews reliably maintain ancient traditions and behaviors. Since these are reliable, they shed light on the commandments of the Old Testament, and most importantly, on many passage of the New Testament. This argument for the value for Christians of studying Judaism was quite commmon (and contested!) in those days.

8 I am not sure to include his description of mezizah be-feh in this category. On the one hand one would simply assume that the reader, 17th century or no, would find it distasteful to suck the wound of the newly circumcised penis. On the other hand, there is no hint that Modena felt even a little uncomfortable about it, and perhaps this is due to the state of medicine in the 17th century, where it would surprise no one to suck blood from a fresh wound. If so, all he was doing was describing a medical procedure. On the other hand, the very rite of circumcision itself must have revolted the contemporary reader, and perhaps mezizah was but a minor detail or simply paled in comparison to the rite itself, and of course there was no way or reason to omit a description of circumcision. That said, his account includes a description of the type of bandaging uses at the time that is almost poetic, or at least Harry-Potteresque:

Friday, July 24, 2009


This excerpt from a 1754 collection of hymns for the Brethren's Church is interesting, because the hymn called uses the Hebrew for sabbath, שבת, but it does so using the German Jewish pronunciation shabbas, not commonly seen in Latin script.

Here is the whole hymn.

And an interesting comment in a letter to an 1814 issue of the Classical Journal:

(You can read the whole letter here.)

The quiet demiſe of the Long S

Because of the nature of my posts, the question of the Long S occasionally arises. You can of course click the Wikipedia link, and see especially the links at the end of the Wikipedia article, but I discovered something worth seeing. Now, I didn't actually discover this, as this post at the Typefoundry blog obviously beat me to it by well over a year, but I did come across it myself before seeing his post.

I had long observed that the long s disappeared over the course of the 18th century, and was essentially gone early in the 19th, but hadn't really seen anything documenting it. It seemed apparent that the long s/ ſ suffered from a major defect: it looked an awful lot like a lower case f. At the end of the 18th century new types were designed which simply omitted the ſ without fanfare. Still, a major literary work appeared beginning in 1791, and using the new types, felt compelled to point out that they didn't use the long ſ. This was a multi-volume collection of "The dramatick works of 'Shakspere'". The edition contained two prologomena volumes, and the following notice appears in its introduction:

In a comprehensive discussion of the rules for usage of the long s, the BabelStone blog isolated the exact transition in the Times. The September 9, 1803 edition still used the long s, the September 10, 1803 didn't, without any fanfare.

This is especially interesting because it shows the conservative nature of the Times. Not only did it take over ten years to catch up with published literature, but as you can see the Times was even typesetting with the long ſ at the beginning of words, which was already archaic for decades by 1803, having long since been reſerved uſually for only the medial poſition in words.

A surprising discussion of the magen david, Hebrew pronunciation and an image of an old piece of Judaica in a slightly erotic novel from 1741

In 1740 Samuel Richardson published a hit epistolary novel Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded, a sort of sefer mussar. The novel was so popular that he published sequels, its popularity stemming not only from its literary merits, but also because despite it's premise of "virtue rewarded," it was explicit for the times. For example, there are gems like this:

In a sequel published in 1741 called Pamela's Conduct in High Life there is some interesting material for our purposes, namely a discussion of the Magen David, and some details of Hebrew pronunciation. Part of the text of Shemoneh Esrei even makes an appearance!

If this isn't enough, there's also a discussion about the meaning of the word shiloh, taking into account the views of ראב"ע and רבנו בחיי, although this is not really unusual, because of its christological import.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Portrait of the young man as a young* man

Rav Tza'ir (Chaim Tchernowitz, 1871-1949) on the right. Photo taken in 1908 or '09.

Next to him is Lilienblum, two over is Achad Ha'am, next is Mendele. Standing in the middle is Klausner, and to his right is Bialik. I don't mention the others because I don't personally find them as notable.**

* Relatively.
** Okay, they're Ravnitsky, Lewinsky and Borochov.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

An Orthodox Jewish scientist of the old school

Here's an interesting article about the recently deceased (1904) Chaim Zelig Slonimski.

(The article is by Judah David Eisenstein who, incidentally, wrote a number of interesting articles in the linked periodical, New Era Illustrated Magazine. See here for his trenchant criticism of the "legal articles of the Jewish Encyclopedia," although his overall evaluation [in New Era v. 7 1905 pg. 187] is "Altogether, the Jewish Encyclopedia is a monumental work, a storehouse of Jewish learning, of which American Israel may be justly proud.")

Eating locusts, biblical Hebrew philology and species identification in the 18th century Middle East

I came across an interesting book originally published in the early 1790s, called Collection of Late Voyages and Travels (1797, 2nd ed.). It contains selections of travel accounts in the Middle East. The excerpts below are from a German traveler called Carsten Niebuhr. The translation is by Robert Heron; the travels took place in the early 1760s.

Here are some interesting extracts.

Concerning eating locusts and the identity of the שלו:

"Haleb," by the way, is Aleppo.

Concerning manna:

Concerning the meaning of the unclear Biblical Hebrew word תחש (related):

I wonder if the "Jew from Italy" is Samuel Romanelli.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Ramchal in contemporary Latin literature

I think this is interesting, simply because it is a contemporary notice of 26 year old R. Moshe Chaim Luzzatto. This is from the 4th volume of Wolff's Bibliotheca Hebraea (1733). Wolff was personally friendly with one of Ramchal's greatest persecutors, R. Moshe Chagiz (see here, who received what was probably the longest entry for a contemporary rabbi -- five pages in volume three -- and two more in volume four.

As you can see, nothing controversial made Wolff's radar; or he simply chose not to mention it. The only thing noted is what was then his only published work, לשון למודים. However, note the absence of the "ר'" before his name, something which is not at all common in his gigantic volumes.

Hebrew prodigies II; Baratier's Voyages de Rabbi Benjamin fils de Jona de Tudele

I once posted about Jean-Philipe Baratier, a Christian child prodigy. The 12-year old's fully annotated translation of מסעות של רבי בנימין (The Travels of Benjamin of Tudela)1 can now be read here. If you're French is good you can see an impressive feat for itself.

1 Various editions: here, here, here, here and here.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Elijah Levita, a phony Moses story and . . . "historical whimsy?"

It's not every day the Elijah Levita makes it to the newspapers. This would not be the first time, but I gather it hasn't happened recently. For example, readers of The Morning Chronicle who opened their door in their fuzzy slippers on Wednsday, December 10, 1828 were able to read an article called "The Hebrew Language," which was an excerpt from the inaugural lecture of Hyman Hurwitz at London University (see below). ירידת הדורות .

By the way, here is how Hyman Hurwitz was perceived (in the Anti-Jacobin Review of 1809):

The following "story" is an additional piece of evidence confirming my running theory that every time the media covers something I know something about it invariably includes much rubbish, suggesting that every time the media covers something I know little about . . .

Apparently a genealogist concluded that a British Tory politician is descended from R. Eliyah Bahur (being that he is descended from Emile Levita, a 19th century German-Jewish Brit apparently descended from R. Eliyah). Why is this a story?

Because Elijah Levita was . . . a Levite! And this means that MAYBE this politician is . . . a DIRECT DESCENDENT of MOSES. Maybe.

Wow, I'm overwhelmed. Still, it's not every day that the Tishby makes it to the news.

The Times
July 10, 2009
David Cameron ‘could be a direct descendant of Moses’
Russell Jenkins

David Cameron could be a direct descendant of Moses, a Jewish scholar has suggested.

Political commentators have long known that the Conservative Party leader’s paternal great-great-grandfather was a Jewish immigrant who became a successful businessman.

But Yaakov Wise, a research fellow at the University of Manchester Centre for Jewish Studies, has traced the politician’s ancestry back to Elijah Levita, an eminent 16th-century Jewish scholar. Dr Wise’s study of archival material also suggests that Mr Cameron, who has described himself as an “enthusiastic friend of the Jewish people”, could be a direct descendant of Moses.

Mr Cameron’s great-great-grandfather, Emile Levita, arrived in Britain from Germany in the 1850s and rose swiftly in the world of commerce, gaining citizenship in 1871 and becoming director of the Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China, based in London.

Levita married out of the faith and adopted the trappings of an English gentleman, owning a grouse moor in Wales and sending his four sons to Eton. His son Arthur, a stockbroker, married Steffie Cooper, a relative of King George III, and Mr Cameron’s relationship to the monarchy survives to this day — he is a fifth cousin of the Queen, once removed.

Dr Wise has traced the family’s ancestral line back to Elijah Levita, 1469-1549, a central figure in the “Christian Hebraist” movement, who pioneered Hebrew and Yiddish linguistic research at the time of the Tudors.

The name Levita is the Latin form of Levite, meaning a Jew descended from the tribe of Levi, the son of Jacob, and one of the original 12 tribes of Israel. Dr Wise acknowledges, however, that Mr Cameron’s connection to Moses, who led his people out of slavery in Egypt, is less certain, describing his thesis as historical whimsy.

He said: “It is possible that Cameron is a direct descendant of Moses or, at least, a cousin. The leader of the Levites at the time of the exodus from Egypt was Moses, who was married with two sons named in the Bible.

“However, later descendants are unknown and many of today’s Levites, often carrying the surnames Levy, Levitan or Levita, could in fact be his descendants.”

Dr Wise said that Jewish records were notoriously difficult to follow because it was likely that they had been destroyed during the Jewish people’s flight from persecution. A recognisable trail to antiquity is impossible.

The Times

Daily Mail

U Manchester Press Release

Friday, July 17, 2009

"The life and ideals of Reb Yaakov Emden" by Rabbi Shimon Finkelman1

Of course you'll never see this title appear, but the following is a most interesting, and in certain ways quite admirable, passage in R. Ya'akov Emden's autobiographical Megillas Sefer:

"A miracle also occurred to me, especially relevant to matters spiritual. (It was) a miracle similar to that of Joseph the righteous and (even) slightly more so. I was a young man, tender in years, in the full strength of my passion. I had been separated from my wife for a long time and greatly desired a woman. A very pretty unmarried young girl who was my cousin happened to meet me there and was alone with me. She brazenly demonstrated great love to me, came close to me and almost kissed me. Even when I was lying in my bed, she came to cover me well on the couch, in a close loving manner. Truthfully, had I hearkened to the advice of my instinct she would not have denied my desire at all. Several times it (indeed) almost happened, as a fire (consumes) the chaff.

"Frequently there was no one in the house with me but her. They (i.e. the members of her family) were also not accustomed to come for they stayed in the store on the marketplace, occupied with their livelihood all day. Had God not given me great strength, the excellency of dignity and the excellency of power (Gen. 49:3), to overcome my fiery instinct which once almost forced me to do its bidding, (and) were it not for the grace of God which was great upon me, (I would have been unable) to withstand this very powerful temptation, greater than all temptations. I was a man at the prime of my strength and passion. There was a very pleasant beautiful woman before me who demonstrated for me all manner of love and closeness many times. She was related to me, unmarried, a tender child and recently widowed. She may have been ritually pure or would have ritually purified herself had I requested it. If I had wanted to fulfill my passionate desire for her, I was absolutely certain that she would not reveal my secret. I controlled my instinct, conquered my passion and determined to kill it. My heart was hollow and I did not. Blessed be the Lord who gives strength to the weary for I was saved from this flaming fire. "

Translation in doctoral thesis by Rabbi Jacob J. Schacter; emphasis mine. Although I do not endorse Mortimer Cohen's analysis of this event, here it is for your judgment.

Here's an interesting point to ponder: although I maintain that one will never find this account or anything like it in the kind of book we all know and love to trash, does the above account fall into the unrealistic portrayal of righteousness which the young reader can only be alienated by, or the realistic depiction of the young on their way to becoming great grappling with normal problems in a normal way?

1 What I mean.

How Yom Tov of Treves came to be Theodore John of London in 1692

There is a small genre of books which are accounts of conversions of Jews to Christianity. I gather their purpose was to give a little hashkafic jolt to the faithful, some of whom probably enjoyed reading these books. In these accounts the men are invariably former rabbis or teachers (as I'm sure some actually were). Since this can't have been the case for a woman in those times, see below for how a converted women is presented:

Not a רב, of course, but an אשה חשובה! In fact, the above account begins with a disclaimer about there being so many false converts, but this one is for real! Her story is one which rather scathingly indicts the Jews for persecuting her, according to the author, but ends on a most interesting note "I do not design to inflame any to Rage or Fury against the Jews, nor do I desire to have any force put upon their Consciences: For the Wrath of Man worketh not out the Righteousness of God." He writes that he is publishing the account simply because he hopes that in another case like hers might proceed with Christians and Jews reacting differently.

Another such account was printed in London in 1693 and is titled An Account of the Conversion of Theodore John, a Late Teacher among the Jews, Together with his Confession of the Christian Faith, Which he delivered immediately before he was Baptized in the Presence of the Lutheran Congregation in the German Church in Little Trinity-Lane, London, on the 23rd. Sunday after Trinity, being the 31st. of October, in the Year of our Lord God 1692 (Translated out of High Dutch into English).

The preface begins as follows: "I was born at Prague in Bohemia, and lived Thirty Years in Ignorance and Abnegation of Christ; I studyed the Talmud of the Jews, and the rest of their Fabulous Comments, and I became a Teacher among them at Treves in Germany. When the blind lead the blind, should they not both fall into the Ditch?

He goes on to thank God for saving his soul, and recalls that even back in his blind old days he had some inkling in his study of the Old Testament (having never seen the New) "against those Principles taught me from my Childhood." He was able to discover some "Precious Pearls," "even in the Dunghil of Jewish Fables," by which he means that he found some Christian principles or doctrines in the midrashim. He continues that he remained several years in this doubtful limbo, unsure whether he would die "in Oblivion," (ie, to remain Jewish) or to convert. Being afraid of his fellow Jews at home, he dared not contact a Christian minister, but instead decided to move to England "where the Jews are less in Number and Authority." He then discusses how he came to make contacts in England, and the rest is an account of his confession of faith before his baptism in church. Ostensibly this conversation took place in front of a full congregation.

It begins like this:

The rest continues the question-answer format, and it is apparent that the entire thing is scripted, which is not to say that Iom Tobh does not believe with his full heart and soul every word he is saying. It basically goes through every classic Christian doctrine and proof, from עד כי יבוא שילה to מלכי-צדק to the Virgin Mary. He is asked if he believes in various doctrines and to show proofs from the Old Testament, which he does.

Most of it continues in this vein, but it is worth seeing another small excerpt, where he is asked to marshal the Zohar for support:

He then confesses to being a sinner, as all men are, and is asked to recite the Ten Commandments. In all about 50 pages of text. The confession must have taken about 20 to 30 minutes.

Anyone who is interested in possessing the full account may email me for a copy.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

I didn't know they are even allowed to mention the Dead Sea Scrolls in Yated Ne'eman

Normally I stay above the fray. Sniff. But this seemed post-worthy.

The Faithful Peg printed an article, which can be read here, about quasi-rabbinic ordination of women and Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. This is their second extensive treatment of YCT, both written by someone called Yisroel Lichter (who, evidently, is a bit of a maven in J-blogs).

A part jumped out and bears highlighting:

This is perhaps why we continue to find so many serious breaches in the so called “scholarship” of YCT.

For example, YCT published a companion to Sefer Shmuel in which one contributor posits that our version of Sefer Shmuel is corrupt. He bases his opinion on a study of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Obviously this is outright kefirah.

This refers to the Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Tanakh Companion on the Book of Samuel. As only one article in the book mentions the Dead Sea Scrolls, "The Nachash Story and the Dead Sea Scrolls" by Leeor Gottlieb, this is the place to look. Fortunately the entire article is viewable on Google Books, pg 57-77 (you can search for a word like "sea" in the book and pop right to it). Or you can buy it from its publisher, Ben Yehuda Press.

What does Leeor Gottlieb write about that relates to what Yisroel Lichter wrote? Here I will only reproduce the conclusion of the article, but a little summary first. He discusses a problematic text, compares it with the Septuagint text of Samuel which does not contain the problem because it is a little more expansive. He then refers to a fragment of a Hebrew text found at Qumran which does not read like our text, the massoretic, but agrees with the expanded version of the Septuagint. He then concludes:

You can read the whole article yourself. I ask, is this "outright kefirah"? What do you think, Inquisitive reader?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

How did R. Ya'akov Kamenetzky acquire his proficiency in Hebrew language, grammar and trope?

From books, of course, at least initially.

Here is an interesting excerpt from his son's Making of a Godol:

Chaim Zvi Lerner (1815-1889)

By : Herman Rosenthal Max Rosenthal

Russian grammarian and teacher of Hebrew; born at Dubno 1815; died at Jitomir 1889. His early education in Bible and Talmud he received from his father. At the age of thirteen he was married. In 1833, when Wolf Adelsohn went to Dubno and gathered around him a circle of Maskilim, to whom he taught Hebrew grammar and philosophy, Lerner became one of his disciples. He went to Odessa in 1835 and entered the model school of Bezaleel Stern, where Simḥah Pinsker was his teacher in Hebrew grammar. In the same school he also acquired a thorough knowledge of the Russian, German, French, and Italian languages. In 1838 Lerner returned to Dubno and became a teacher of Hebrew; from 1841 to 1849 he taught in Radzivilov; on Nov. 16 of the latter year he was appointed government teacher of the Jewish public school of Berdychev; and in 1851 he was appointed teacher of Hebrew at the rabbinical school of Jitomir, in which position he remained until the school was closed by the government (July 1, 1873).

Lerner's reputation among Hebrew grammarians was founded on his "Moreh ha-Lashon." It is written in a pure, popular Hebrew, and follows the system of grammar of European tongues, enabling the student to acquire the language more easily than did the works of his predecessors. The first edition appeared in 1859; six editions were issued during Lerner's lifetime; and many more have appeared since his death. Lerner was criticized for having adopted his methods from his teacher Pinsker; he himself acknowledged his indebtedness in the second edition of his work (p. 136, note).

Besides this grammar, Lerner wrote "Diḳduḳ Lashon Aramit" (Warsaw, 1875), an Aramaic grammar; "Ma'amar Toledot ha-Diḳduḳ" (Vienna, 1876); and a translation of S. D. Luzzatto's "Diḳduḳ Leshon Talmud Babli" (St. Petersburg, 1880). He left in manuscript: "Yalḳut," a collection of commentaries on the Bible and Rashi, together with critical and literary articles; "Arba' Middot," on the Baraita of the thirty-two Middot; and a Hebrew translation of Young's "Night Thoughts" and other poems.

Bibliography: Ha-Meliẓ, 1889, Nos. 76-79;
Sokolov, Sefer ha-Shanah, i. 62;
idem, Sefer Zikkaron, p. 66.H. R. M.
At least one of the books he read, presumably the "extremely intricate Hebrew grammar book" can be download or read here. Not bad for a 13 year old, huh?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

R. Ya'akov Emden's son R. Meshullam Zalman's divorce described in 1778

This account is from The Gentleman and London Magazine, pg. 701 of the 1778 volume, December issue.

R. Meshullam Zalman Ashkenazy was R Jacob Emden's son. He was the rabbi of the Hambro' Synagogue in London, a position he held from 1764 to 1780. His tenure was not without controversy, not the least of which was that this synagogue was itself a secessionary one; R. Meshulam Zalman's cousin, R. David Tevele Schiff was the "official" Rabbi of the Great Synagogue, and thus the Chief Rabbi of the Ashkenazim in England. Prior to that point, the Hambro' Synagogue had typically regarded the rabbi of the Great as their rabbi too.

R. Jacob enjoyed some small satisfaction in life because of his son's appointment, but apparently my version is all backward, for in his it was the other shul which seceded!

It's worth reading the following from R. Ya'akov Emden's autobiographical Megillas Sefer (pp. 209-10) :

Here's a translation in Charles Duschinsky's The rabbinate of the Great Synagogue, London, from 1756-1842 (1921) (pp. 74-75) (with some minor modifications of my own):

"In the month of Nisan of the same year (1765) my son Rabbi Meshullam Zalman was elected as Rabbi of the Hamburger congregation in London, likewise a result of my activity and endeavors for some time past, and after I nearly gave up every hope for it. For he had many opponents on the part of the Synagogue in Duke's Place (דוקספלעס), which separated from the community (!) and elected another Rabbi, R. Tevele Schiff from Frankfort-on-the-Main. It was, however, from God, and so all the plotting and obstacles, the opposition placed in my son's way, could not frustrate his election. Even after he had duly been elected they conspired against him, and people wrote me letters threatening that, if he came to London, they would attack and abuse him. All this was done at the instigation of that man "Laze", a pupil of "that man" (ie, R. Jonathan Eybeschutz) who made special efforts and wrote me letters, full of perversions and untruths, with the intention of frightening me so that I should prevent my son from accepting the position. The congregation of the Hamburg Shul , however, was anxious to have him, and they had warned me beforehand to take no notice of that shameful letter. He visited us here, and remained during the past Shavuot festival, and all the most notable men of the three Kehillahs (Hamburg, Altona, and Wandsbeck aka Ah"u) gave evidence of the respect they felt for him. He left us and entered upon his duties in London at the middle of Tammuz, and was welcomed with great honors and with joy. I have since heard that even his former enemies have now become his friends. May God grant that he rise higher and higher and be blessed with children."
There is extant a printed prayer recited by R. Meshullam Zalman in December of 1776 on the occasion of a fast day declared for the success of the British soldiers fighting in America, but as of yet I haven't located it.

Historical candle-lighting times pt II; plus, the pleasant discoveries inside used books.

This post is an addendum to my earlier post about the time's for lighting shabbos candles in London circa 1840 (see here).

But first a detour. Here you can read or download Elias Haim Lindo's 64 year Jewish calendar from 1838.

One of the things which is great about library books--really old books in general, but of course those are found in great abundance in libraries--is that they often contain annotations by a former owner or reader. The book הנ"ל is a good case in point. It is on Google Books, digitized from Harvard's library. But it contains the following additions which give it a real person touch:

Not only are these a personal touch, but the latest note is from 1907, fully 70 years after the book was published. Perhaps the book was not acquired by a member of this family as early as 1838, but it certainly is suggestive. Furthermore, one of the names is a boy called חיים בן חיים, a name which is suggestive of the tragedy of a boy who lost his father before he was born. There may be other notes, I didn't look.

On this point, as Google Books contains digital copies from great libraries, many of the books were formally owned by great scholars. Thus, their version of Mortimer Cohen's Jacob Emden, a Man of Controversy was owned by Salo Baron, who actually wrote a critical review of the book which appeared in Jewish Social Studies (a copy of which is included with, and perhaps bound in this book itself). Unfortunately most of these notes are barely readable, but most are simply question marks, which at least indicate that these are points by which Baron wanted further clarification, or a more direct source, or had some question. So this is more theoretically interesting and useful than it actually is, although it is interesting to see that many of his corrections are page numbers in sources (and Hebrew spelling) which shows that Baron indeed looked up sources, at least when reviewing a book.

In any case, the real point of this post was the image below, from the 64-year calendar. As you can see, the time given for when shabbos ends is rounded off to the fives, but is still more specific than every half hour:

Also have a look at pg 101, which lists English Jewish institutions, their dates of establishment and a word or two about them. For example:

A bris milah gemach (for Ashkenazim!) founded in 1745:

Some of the institutions had great, picturesque names. For example, from 1830:

The book also includes an interesting chronological table from the creation to the present (1830s) and words of approbation from the Chief Rabbi Solomon Hirschell and acting Sephardic Chief Rabbi David Meldola.


Related Posts with Thumbnails