Monday, August 31, 2009

An early Jewish response to Biblical Criticism

In a subject that is as potent today as it was when it was raised fully more than 300 years ago, I was reading an interesting 2 volume work called Letters of Certain Jews to Monsieur de Voltaire in English translation, published in 1777. These letters are signed October 30, 1771, from Utrecht, and the signatures of men named Joseph ben Jonathan, Aaron Mathatai, and David Wincker are affixed to it. These seem to be the authors of some of the letters and/ or the collectors of others, as some are attributed to people like Joseph D'Acosta and "certain Jews of the German and Polish Synagogue at Amsterdam."

Voltaire was extremely, even violently, ill-disposed toward Judaism. Thus, one section responds to his charge that the ancient Jews were cannibals (!) and another that bestiality was common among them. One interesting section of nearly 130 pages deals with the view that Moses did not write the Pentateuch. Voltaire was not, of course, the first to claim this nor was he the most important, as he was not a Bible scholar. But he was one of the most prominent 18th century personalities to put forth this view, and the letters are addressed to him.

Perhaps the reader expects this defense to initially address the issue of anachronisms first raised openly by Spinoza, or the use of different divine names or twice and three time repetitions of stories and laws, all major aspects of the familiar Documentary Hypothesis. However, these are not the points first raised by Voltaire, and thus these are not what this defense addresses until later. Rather, it discusses the claim that it was impossible for Moses to have written the Pentateuch, because "it was impossible for him to write it in the Circumstances he was in," because with the the form of writing materials which existed at the time it was impossible to have written a work of the size and style of the Pentateuch! The second claim is that alphabets did not yet exist in the time of Moses, and kind of characters used in writing at the time could not have been used to write the Pentateuch. The third claim is that the material conditions of the Israelites in the Wilderness were most unfavorable to writing a work like the Pentateuch. It is to these three claims that this portion of the Letters responds.

I reproduce this section below:

Pages From Letters of Certain Jews to Monsieur de Voltaire v.1 1777

Another portion deals with things which Voltaire claims were physically impossible, such as many details in the episode of the Golden Calf. Apparently Voltaire wrote that it was impossible, in the words of the Jewish writers, that "Chymistry, in its highest Stage of Perfection, can reduce Gold into potable Powder" (Ex. 32.20). It was also impossible to cast the Golden Calf in less than three months, or that the Levites should have killed 23,000 men. According to Voltaire, all these things would have required a miracle.

A later section deals with the material condition of the Israelites in the wilderness. Voltaire saw them as poor desert nomads, and thus doubted they could have produced the gold necessary to build the calf or the Tabernacle. In response to this rather silly objection they get bogged down in rather silly details, reminding Voltaire that he himself agreed with the number of 2 million Israelites. This gives about 150,000 earrings belonging to women and children. Isn't that enough to build a portable Golden Calf? Surely Voltaire isn't going to deny that they wore earrings. They then suggest that even if 2 million didn't possess appreciable wealth, surely Voltaire can't deny that 300,000 of them must have had at least "25 Crowns." Why? Because even if 2 million destitute people left Egypt, certainly among them were many skilled laborers and craftsmen, and in the space of no less than three months such a group should have easily been able to generate wealth in the amount of 25 Crowns apiece for 300,000 of them.

A footnote (pg. 173) delved into a very interesting illustrative example, namely the Jews exiled from Spain. Even though they were given only four months to leave, and moreover barred from taking their wealth with them (as Voltaire himself wrote; he liked to attack Christianity too, so the expulsion from Spain was something he had brought up on his writings), yet there can be no doubt that these exiles did take some of their great wealth with them. In fact, many of Ferdinand's advisors charged him with making a grave mistake and even giving a dangerous wound to Spain by the expulsion. And yet these a amounted to only 120,000 families (high estimate) or 30,000 families (low estimate). What was this number compared to 2 million out of Egypt? "You will say, perhaps, that Spain was richer than Egypt, in the Time of our Fathers : And that the Egyptians had not the Mines of Peru? they had not, but they had Mines at home." Classical writers are cited in support for this.

The entire work is written in a very polite manner, which in truth I cannot say was characteristic of the era in general. It clearly was designed with an eye toward keeping the high road and persuading with better arguments (they have the advantage in that many of Voltaire's arguments are quite silly and malevolent). But, of course, he was Voltaire and they were not and they knew it. Thus, there is an undercurrent of frustration. Toward the end of the collection they explicitly address their frustration in that Voltaire was supposed to be a preacher of toleration and the rights of man, yet he is also hostile and hateful. The rabid critic of Christianity takes up their cause when it comes to attacking the Jews, without seeing the apparent contradiction.

The work concludes with the titles of two letter's Voltaire sent in responses to their letters and their comments on it. For example, Voltaire replies that one of the questions concerns whether or not the Gold Calf could be cast in one-night. They comment that they never said it was cast in one night, nor did Exodus! Voltaire also frames it in terms of a statue which could be seen by 2 or 3 million at once (ie, it was very large). In exasperation, they reply with the same. Neither they nor Exodus said it could be seen by all the people at once. Et cetera.

Moses Marcus on Ba'alei Shem, defending the Masoretic Bible, circumcision and my possible sighting of a literary forgery.

A little while ago I posted about an 18th century Jewish apostate named Moses Marcus, who wrote a book critical of Judaism noteworthy for his spotlighting a contemporary Hebrew work defending Judaism by Haham David Nieto, the Chief Rabbi of London's Sephardic Jews, the Matteh Dan, or, Kuzari Sheni, which is considered a classic in the field.

Moses Marcus (Moshe Mordechai) is noteworthy also for his lineage. His grandmother, who was still living when he converted, was Glukl of Hameln, matriarch of one of the most distinguished German Jewish families of the time. She would achieve posthumous immortality with the publication of her very interesting memoirs at the end of the 19th century, which give a unique window into the life of an elite early modern German Jewish family. Marcus's father, Marcus Moses (Mordechai Moshe), was married to Freudchen, who was one of Glikl's dozen children. He was one of the founders of London's Hambro' Synagogue.

Here is an interesting excerpt from the book which the prior post focuses on, as it is discusses בעלי שם, several of whom Marcus says he himself witnessed in action:

In any case, the present post focuses not on Marcus's Principal Motives and Circumstances [for leaving the Jewish faith], but on another book referred to by Wolf, below:

Here Wolf makes mention of a translation by Marcus of a work by the learned Hebraist Carpzov. This 1729 work is called A Defence of the Hebrew Bible in Answer to the Charge of Corruption directed against William Whiston, who had written defense of New Testament prophecies in a manner which amounted to a scathing critique of the integrity of the masoretic text. Marcus therefore translates a part of Carpzov's Latin introduction to the Old Testament, which has a section attacking Whiston. Marcus refers to Carpzov by reputation as a "second Buxtorf" in his introduction .


In addition to this translation, Moses Marcus also entered the fray in another contemporary Christian controversy, namely circumcision. Although circumcision itself was entirely academic for Christians, the fact remained that it was a biblical command. The question was, how should Christians relate to circumcision in the Bible? Naturally there were two camps, pro and con. Although more or less all Jewish apostates could be counted on to write or express deeply negative views about Judaism (and Marcus's Principle Motives is no exception, to put it mildly) these apostates then seemed to fall into two camps, those who nevertheless defended Judaism from Christian attack and those who did not. Marcus fell into the former camp, and just as he came out firmly on the side of the Hebrew Bible, he also came to the defense of circumcision in a work called An answer to the letter to Dr. Waterland. In Relation to the Point of Circumcision: Wherein the Letter-Writer's Gross Mistakes are Examin'd and Confuted.

The theme is the same in this as in similar works; the apostate is pretty scornful of the Hebrew knowledge of the object of his attack, and basically accuses them of being total am haratzim and therefore unable to offer a sound opinion. For example, on page 5 of this work he writes to Dr. Waterland that "I am apt to believe, you are not much acquainted with the Hebrew Language, because you have implicitely trusted others, and have not consulted it, where you ought to have done it : How then can you pretend to be a proper Judge in an Affair of such great importance?" On page 15 he takes Waterland to task for relying on a translation of a Talmudic passage by Lightfoot, "who has told us the Story by Halves." "For the Story of Rabby Nathan, in the Jerusalem Talmud, infers no such Things as you fondly imagine, from the Scrap you had seen of it in English only." What could Waterland say to that?

In any case, the must-read book about Moses Marcus is David Ruderman's Connecting the covenants: Judaism and the search for Christian identity in Eighteenth-Century England. There is, in fact, an entire chapter on Marcus and his translation of Carpzov.

However, quite by accident I discovered something which Dr. Ruderman agreed was "amazing" (I hope I am not out of line citing this one word out of a private email).

It seems that at least someone out there basically accused Marcus of being guilty of the same sin he accuses others; they don't know Hebrew, and he doesn't know Greek and Latin. How then did he translate Carpzov? He didn't. So he's guilty of an even worse sin.

Someone else said that Marcus didn't translate it, and couldn't translate it, but he himself did:

This little aside seems quite out of place in this context. This is from the published proceedings of the Old Bailey (a London criminal court). The accounts are by the Ordinary, or chaplain, of Newgate, the prison attached to the Old Bailey. James Guthrie was the Ordinary of Newgate, and as you can see, here it is: James Guthrie writes here that Moses Marcus did not translate and write the Defence of the Hebrew Bible in Answer to the Charge of Corruption but that he himself did.

Here the trail runs cold as I have not pursued it further except in a very superficial way. I have no idea what the circumstance of this accusation is, and it raises many questions (is Marcus being accused of stealing and publishing the manuscript in his own name? Was James Guthrie a ghost-writer originally and then decided to out Moses Marcus? Was someone else behind the deception? Is Guthrie himself lying?) but if it is true then it would be amazing, as Ruderman says, or at least call for revision of our image of Moses Marcus and an entire chapter of Ruderman's book.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Is "Prolegomenon" funny?

While thumbing through an old issue of Jewish Book Annual I came across the following remark given in an article called Old Friends Revisited; A Review of Judaica Reprints1 by Sefton David Temkin2.

Remarking on Ktav's "Library of Biblical Studies" reissues3:
"It has become the common practice to furnish the reprint with an introductory discourse by a contemporary scholar in the same field as the writer of the original. In many of those issued by Ktav this is called the "Prologomenon." We may boggle at these five syllables, but there is no reason to believe that the unknown genius who lighted on it was merely trying to show forth his learning; he had to find a word which had the same meaning as "Foreword," "Introduction," or "Preface" but which, since on or other of them was likely to be present already, was different."
My, my. I'm sure he was trying to be witty, which he was, but naturally he could not have been serious. I think.

I mean, he knew that prologomenon was not a pretentious word invented or found for the project. I think.

Be that as it may, Google returns no less than 766 results for the term before 1900 (not to mention many more with variant spellings, since people seem to have a hard time getting this one right). And almost 2000 results between 1900 and 2009.

1 Jewish Book Annual Vol. 28 (1970), pp. 32-40.

2 I'd never heard of him, but Temkin's bio is given as a staff editor of the Encyclopedia Judaica and a professor of Jewish history at SUNY in Albany. He was apparently also born in Liverpool, active on the Jewish historical scene there and wrote or co-wrote many articles in the original Encyclopedia Judaica (at least 60 of them remain in the 2nd edition). He passed at age 79 in 1998.

His JE articles were on topics as diverse as "Freemasons," "Boston" and "Wolf Heidenheim," as well as articles on numerous founding fathers of American Reform Judaism, such as R. Samson Rafael Hirsch's erstwhile pupil Kaufmann Kohler. (It's interesting to note that his entry on Heidenheim contradicts the faulty entry on Seligmann Baer, which I mentioned here, and correctly says that most of Heidenheim's manuscripts ended up at the Bodleian, rather than having left it to the little jüngele Seligmann Baer.)

3 Edited by Harry Orlinsky. These reprints included works like C.D. Ginsburg's "Introduction to the Masssoretico-Critical, etc.," his translation of Massoreth Ha-massoreth with Ben Hayyim's introduction to the Mikra Gedola, Arnold Ehrlich's Mikra Kephesuto and others, all dusty yet exciting tomes that were doubtlessly quite costly by the 1960s, so Ktav did a bang-up job of reissuing them, with introductions (see post).

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Controversial grammarian R. Schelomo Salomon Hanau as described by Wolf and in the eyes of R. Ya'akov Emden and the Gaon of Vilna

Initially I had planned to do this whole elaborate post about רז"ה otherwise known as Shlomo Zalman Kat"z Hanau (1687-1746) 1 but it will have to wait.

But to make sense of what follows below, some background. In 1708, at the tender age of 21, he published what would become a somewhat infamous book, a grammatical work written with a very polemical tone, the בנין שלמה ("it's the tone," if you know what I mean . . . ). Young Shlomo took issue with how people read Hebrew, past and present. He believed he could demonstrate all sorts of errors in the prayerbooks, some of them eventually gaining very wide acceptance, particularly as he was in fact a fit scholar and he continued to produce more works. An example of one such criticism that disturbed people was his dismissal of Abarbanel's view. What view? The view that the prophet Jeremiah was lacking in proper grammatical knowledge!

His most famous antagonist is R. Ya'akov Emden who wrote a whole book, the לוח ארש, attacking Hanau's grammatical comments and vocalizations, included in the siddur Beis Tefillah and Sha'arei Tefillah.2 Apparently R. Emden, already annoyed by his caustic grammatical know-it-all-ness, was quite upset that Hanau included a haskamah from . . . his father, the already-deceased Hakham Tsvi:

Did R. Emden think it was authentic? Well, what do you think?

In any case, more detailed treatment of this figure awaits another post. Meanwhile, that 18th century observer of Hebrew books and happenings, Johann Christoph Wolf, wrote the following entry in the first volume of his Bibliotheca Hebraea (1715):

What we are looking at reads more or less:

"R. Schelomo Salman the son of Jehuda Löw wrote "the Building of Solomon" which did not prove pleasing to the Jews themselves regarding what it wrote about their ancient grammarians and doctors, such as Ibn Ezra, Radak, Elijah Levita, Abarbanel and others noted freely. Because of this the Rabbis of Frankfurt were going to destroy it by flames, if they had not put listened to the milder counsel of others, and because of the retraction of the author himself.3 This 'building' is divided into twelve houses, and are split into different rooms, each built with its own windows. The grammar is complete, not only in the rudiments, but it is also exegetical and leads one by hand to the deeper study of Hebrew syntax and idioms, these worthy topics, which are being developed also by the Christian scholars. . . "3

Also worth noting is the Gra connection. I could be projecting, but it seems to me that the common view of the Gaon of Vilna is that of a scholar so outstanding that he essentially had nothing to learn from anyone, studied by himself and basically mastered all of Torah in this way. While this is not a false picture, neither does it really allow room for him to have acquired much knowledge of Torah-related topics from his slightly-older contemporaries, especially not one so . . . iffy as Solomon Hanau. Yet, a good deal of the Vilna Gaon's grammatical knowledge of Hebrew came from Hanau's books (this does not, of course, mean that the Gra did not disagree with Hanau or develope independent theories and views). More on that next time.

For more on Hanau, see this post at Seforim. In addition, naturally the happenings of 300 years ago are still highly potent and relevent today, so recently there was a heated exchange in Ha-ma'eyan about the propriety of referring to him with respect. See here, here and here.

1 He spelled his surname הענא in Hebrew, which seems to imply "Hena." Indeed, google searches for terms like "Zalman Hena," Zalman Henna" and "Saloman Hena" and other permutations all yield results, both new and old. However, the name is commonly spelled "Hanau" in German and Latin-alphabet sources, for he was born in Hanau. So while I can't say anything definitive about how the name should be pronounced, I think it is reasonable to spell it Hanau in English. On the other hand, this would also oblige one to spell "Eibenschütz" for אייבשיץ (or even "Ivančice" for ahistorical pedants) and possibly even "Embden" for עמדין, or however you prefer to spell that!

2 I haven't yet seen it, but know of at least two places to look for it, so by the time of the next post I'm sure I'll be able to give a copy of it.

3 Samuel David Luzzatto was of the opinion that Hanau was an outstanding grammarian, full of fresh ideas. He also assumed that Hanau did not know Latin, which meant that he wasn't familiar with the current European scholarship on Hebrew (so all the more in praise of his achievements). However, modern scholars point out that a contemporary source (to Hanau) claims that he lectured on Hebrew at European universities, and the system of grading he used in describing the cantillation was the one developed by Christians. Although I have not seen anyone, modern or otherwise, show that he did know Latin, if these points are correct then to me it is somewhat suggestive that he did. On the other hand, he could have acquired his knowledge of the grading from mouths, if he indeed lectured at universities, and not books.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

On the Main Line; recommended? Not recommended?

Relating to this post and adorned with this image:

my blog is described here as דער דערמאנטער בלאג אנהאלט אסאך אזעלכע חקירות but it's נישט רעקאמענדירט פאר שוואכע הערצער. Thanks, I think.

The next commenter remarks און פאר שטארקע הערצער אויכנישט ולא תתורו אחרי לבבכם זו מינות (ברכות יב.) הרחק מעליה דרכך, זו מינות (ע"ז יז. Ouch.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Not-very halakhically-correct Phylacterium

These sorts of engravings are always interesting. From the second volume of John Spencer's De legibus Hebræorum ritualibus et earum rationibus (1727 edition). There's a much better engraving of this genre as the frontspiece of the הנחתן וחליצתן של תפילין Usus Phylacterior: Judaicor of Matthias Kreher, but that one's not to be found online yet. (It's reached the point where I almost expect to find such volumes.)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Chaim Berlin Apikorus Does Teshuvah!

Got this amusing from Mordy Ovits of
Last year I shared with you the sad picture of an apikorus in the heilige Chaim Berlin Beis Medrash, easily spotted due to his blue shirt. You can see this tragic photo, chosen by Chaim Berlin to grace their 2009 calendar, here:

I'm relieved to inform you that the nebach bochur has done teshuva!! I recently received the Chaim Berlin 2010 calendar and, as you can see in the attached scan, the previously-stained bochur is now wearing a white shirt!

Yes, the attached file really is an unedited scan of the 2010 calendar cover (except for the green commentary, of course). Yes, it really is the exact same shot as the 2009 calendar with one small difference. You can verify this with anyone who receives Chaim Berlin's fundraising material.

In this time of public scandals and serious problems in our community it's good to know that someone at Chaim Berlin took the time to change a blue shirt to a white one. I'm speaking of course of the bochur, that inspiring role model who saw the error of his ways. How he got everyone to pose in the exact same way for the reshoot I don't know, but I'd guess it's because they were inspired by his teshuvah. Please forward this around and/or post it publicly so as to be mefarsem the bochur's inspiring change.
2008/ 2009

2009/ 2010

Artscroll's patent

Over the past few years Artscroll has noted in some of it's interlinear translations that the system it uses is patent pending. For example, the search string "patent-pending use of arrows" returns, many results from their advertising copy, both on and off their web site. It seems that the patent is no longer pending, as Artscroll has been referring to the patent in advertisements in newspapers recently. The substance of those ads can be found in the following post on the Artscroll Blog (did you know there was an Artscroll blog?):

Not far away from such venerable American institutions as the Capitol and the Smithsonian stands the U.S. Patent Office. Here we can find more than 5 million patents, fascinating records of humanity’s imagination and ingenuity. Among them are those that brought light (patent number 12631 — the incandescent light bulb) and knowledge (patent number 3120606 — ENIAC, the world’s first computer) to the world.

And then there is ArtScroll’s unique Interlinear Translation system (patent number 6778950) which brought both light and knowledge to the world in a very different way.

The original ArtScroll translations introduced hundreds of thousands of English speakers to the beautiful and timeless words of Torah and Jewish prayer. Yet one thing was lacking in all translations: they always appeared on the opposite facing page. It was difficult for someone who wanted to follow the translation along, word for word, with the original Hebrew.

The answer to the problem was clear: to place an English language translation immediately beneath the Hebrew words. But that raised another challenge: how to deal with the fact that Hebrew reads from right to left, while English reads in the opposite direction, from left to right? How could the English translation be readable, if you had to read it backwards?

That challenge brought about an innovation so revolutionary that it became the only patented translation system in the world of Jewish publishing. The ArtScroll Interlinear Translations, in the various Schottenstein editions, use an arrow system that guides the eye gently, directing it through the full text in the proper direction. Not sure what a word means in the Chumash or Siddur? Just glance down below and see the translation right there. Want to understand the meaning of an entire phrase or sentence? Your eye moves down to the English and then rapidly, almost unconsciously, follows the arrows to read a flowing, word for word translation, from right to left, from left to right, without interruption.

The Interlinear Translations have revolutionized the way English speakers learn and pray. With the publication of Sefer Devarim, the Schottenstein Interlinear Chumash is now complete, in five volumes. Many other classic works are available in the interlinear format: the Siddur, the Machzor, the Hagaddah, Megillas Esther, Sefer Tehilim, Zemiros, Pirkei Avos, and the Vidui service.

The very best inventions change the way we live. The ArtScroll/Mesorah Interlinear translations have changed the way we read, learn, and pray. And what could be more important than that?

Here's what they're referring to:

Curious how the patent was written, and since you can search for patents online, I went to the most logical starting place, Google Patent Search. Figuring I could just plug "artscroll" into the search box, but no results. So I entered the patent number, 6778950, and I was surprised the find that Artscroll appeared to have nothing to do with it. Patent # 6778950 was granted on August 17, 2004 to someone living in Israel named Benyamin Gohari.1 It is called "Translation arrangement" and in the abstract is described as
A method for arranging a first text in a first language having a first direction and comprising a plurality of meaningful units, and a translation of the first text into a second text in a second language having a second, opposite, direction and comprising a plurality of translation units, each of the translation units being a translation of a corresponding meaningful unit of the first text. The method includes positioning the first and second texts such that the first text reads in the first direction, and the translation units of the second text, each reading in the second direction, are positioned vertically adjacent to the corresponding meaningful units of the first text, surrounding at least one translation unit with a first type of grouping symbols, and positioning directionality symbols indicating the first direction between horizontally adjacent translation units of the second text.
You can read it here or download it as a PDF.

The patent cites "The Interlinear Hebrew/ Greek English Bible" and "The Interlinear NIV Hebrew -- English Old Testament" sample page. Now what I was expecting in the Artscroll patent!

In any case, what gives? Did Artscroll buy the patent from Benyamin Gohari? Did he merely give them permission to use his system? Artscroll doesn't exactly call it their own patent, but they don't exactly not call it that either.

All in all, unexpected, interesting and in need of further explanation and clarification.

edit: Here's another translation arrangement, from 1615:

1 Who seems to have produced a Persian-Hebrew version of the Chumash, see here. I'm not sure if he was the translator.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Non-Orthodox rabbis behaving badly in Egypt; Karaites, Maimonides and a ben Asher codex.

I came across this really interesting letter to the Jewish Observer in an early 1979 issue.

It seems that a group of American rabbis and rich laymen took a tour of Egypt. One of them, Rabbi Stanley Rabinowitz, wrote about it in a Conservative Judaism article called Yetziat Mitzrayim: From Cairo to Jerusalem. One of the laymen, businessman and bibliophile Manfred R. Lehmann felt that he witnessed some boorish and appalling behavior on the tour, not reflected in Rabinowitz's article, and he sent a letter to Conservative Judaism, which they declined to publish. So he sent it to the Jewish Observer, which delightedly published it.

Here is a part of it:

". . . Your readers may be interested in the reaction of an Orthodox person traveling for the first time at close range with Conservative and Reform rabbis. Here are some examples of my experiences, and impressions . . .
"1. When I had located the Karaite community in Cairo and reported this to the group, there ensued enough interest among its members to sacrifice a half hour of the time allocated for the Sphinx and the Pyramids, for a quick breezer through the Karaite main synagogue and community buildings. But by contrast, when I had located the Beth Hamidrash of Maimonides in the Old City -- and this was a most difficult task in itself -- and then, full of excitement, told the group about my discovery, not one member (to my utter amazement, bordering on disbelief) was interested in paying a visit to this hollowed (sic) shrine of Jewish scholarship. Could it be that Conservative and Reform rabbis feel more kinship with the Karaites, than with one of the greatest personalities normative Judaism has produced since the close of the Talmud?"
He then goes on to relate two more vignettes. One concerns an encounter with a middle-aged Jewish couple who wanted to have a Jewish wedding. Lehmann writes that the rabbis paid no attention and "avoided them like the plague." Lehmann himself performed the wedding, using a local Ketubah form he had acquired, and interviewing the woman's 79-year old mother to ascertain that she was indeed Jewish. He said that finally some of the participants helped by making a makeshift chuppah out of a tallis. The last incident concerns the Moshe ben Asher codex of the Prophets1. Lehmann had privately negotiated a deal with the custodians of this codex (presumably the Karaite synagogue in Cairo) to be loaned to the Yeshiva University Museum in New York. He writes that no one else had anything to do with the deal, but when the others learned of it they tried to have the exhibit moved to the JTS. When this failed, some even wrote letters to the Egyptian government opposing it! Lehmann concludes that he simply could not believe it, and could only think גם לי גם לך לא יהיה Kings 3.26!

1 You can read some material on this Bible codex written and collected by a Karaite, Morad el-Kodsi here.

Monday, August 10, 2009

James Kugel on Orthodox Judaism's intellectual honesty in Bible reading

If I understand correctly, Harvard Bible scholar James Kugel takes a view of the Bible that would drive pashtanim crazy. In his view the real Bible is not merely the words and stories in ancient Near Eastern context, but also the various interpretations readers (both Jewish and Christian) have given it over the centuries.

With this in mind, here is an account of remark he made (although I don't think this is intended to be an exact quote) at the 2009 International Society of Biblical Literature Conference in Rome:
At ISBL-Rome, James Kugel, formerly of Harvard, was an excellent role model in this sense. In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Pontifical Biblical Institute, he told a number of excellent jokes on Jesuits and on Orthodox Jews to illustrate his points, but also, just to put everyone in a lucid state of mind. Like the story of a Jesuit who is looking for a particular church in Paris. He asks a passerby, “How can I find St. So-and-so?” The answer, “You’ll never find it, Father. It’s right in front of you.” After pointing out a commonality between Jesuits and Orthodox Jews, their love of Jesuitical/Talmudic reasoning, he got everyone’s attention when he said that in terms of reading the Bible with intellectual honesty, Orthodox Judaism is stuck where Catholicism was 100 years

Thursday, August 06, 2009

A 'rabbinic' commentary on Luke

Here's something you don't see every day.

I mean "כאשר דרשו רז"ל" and "כדאיתא במנחות"?

Another couple of samples:


It's a pointed Hebrew translation of the Gospel of Luke by a Jewish apostate called Heinrich Christian Immanuel Frommann, with a virtual rabbinic commentary, in Rashi letters. The latter fact reminded me of the following statement Shadal wrote to Graetz in 1856, when the latter had asked him why did he not print his commentary on Isaiah in the square Hebrew letters so that all could read it:

As you can see, Frommann didn't also try to supply te'amim, which was probably smart of him.

Update: Lion of Zion points out the DuTillet Matthew. Below is a page of Sebastian Münster's Hebrew Matthew, complete with te'amim and even kesiv u-keris!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Talmudic introductions in Latin and John Hutchinson's self-evident critique of rabbinic rules

One of the tasks facing Christian Hebraists was the difficulty of penetrating rabbinic literature. While lesser lights often mastered Biblical Hebrew, and even the ability to independently read Targums, the real heavy hitters also mastered the various styles of rabbinic Hebrew, how to read Hebrew without nekkudos, and the so-called Rashi script, to say nothing of the drastically foreign teachings and mentality contained in rabbinic literature.

Nothing illustrates this problem better than a quote like the following, from Andrew Reid's review of a work called Catalecta Rabbinica by David Mill, a work intended to facilitate the study of rabbinic literature. in the 1729 volume of The Present state of the republick of letters.

To remedy this the few who were able to read rabbinic texts in the original produced Latin translations of works ranging from certain tractates of the Talmud and Mishnah, commentaries on the Mishnah, parts of Maimonides' code, etc. Especially careful attention was paid to the subgenre within rabbinic literature about rabbinic literature.

It is with this in mind that the 17th century Dutch Hebraist Constantin L'Empereur (1591-1458) produced a translation of a 15th century guide to the Talmud called Halichos Olam, alongside the Mevo Ha-Talmud of R. Shmuel Ha-naggid (called Mevo Ha-Gemara here possibly because it was so titled in the text L'Empereur used; in the 16th and 17th century the use of the word "Talmud" in a book title was basically not allowed in Italy and other Catholic areas. "Gemara" was an acceptable substitution. Allegedly the common usage among Jews of the term "Gemara" to refer to the Talmud as a whole dates to this period). The Latin title he gave to his work was Clavis Talmudica, "Key to the Talmud."

Parranthetically, the competent Hebraists delighted in mastering the arcanae of rabbinic literature and using its forms correctly, which I would assume is why זצ"ל is appended to the names of the rabbis on the title page, and not merely because he had copied the names from his text. See here.

In 1714 this work was reissued in Hanau under the title Clavis Talmudica Maxima with the fore-title מפתח התלמוד הגדול, for now it included, a 16th century Talmud guide called Mafteach Ha-gemara, as well as the סוגיות התלמוד.

In 18th century England there was a Hebraist movement led and inspired by John Hutchinson that was what might be called anti-scientific. The Hutchinsonians (as they were called) eschewed the nekkudos as an untrustworthy accretion to the Hebrew language. Consequently they groped in the dark to understand Hebrew grammar, and constructed strange theories about the nature and meaning of Hebrew words. See, for example, the following page from David Levi's fascinating Lingua Sacra for a Hutchinsonian interpretation of the Hebrew word for God:

Several of John Hutchinson's works are online. In his The Hebrew Writings perfect - Alterations by Rabbies forged we find the following quote from the מפתח הגמרא, evidently taken from a work by the Hebraist Wagenseil responding to R. Yom Tov Lipmann Millhausen's Nizachon. The following list of rules of procedure are taken as evidence of the silliness of rabbinic literature (tt hardly goes without saying that rules for pesak such as these were meant to be descriptive):

It goes on to mention (of course) the tanur shel akhnai (continue reading here, pg. 179 in the digital copy).

Here's a sample of the 5th Gate of the Mafteach Ha-gemara where this is taken from:

It is interesting that John "I don't need no stinkin' vowel-points" Hutchinson writes רבי as Ribbi. See Shabbos 31a.

(Interestingly, according to R. Ya'akov Emden although "Ribbi" ("Rivi," really) is the correct Hebrew, davka the kinnui for Rabbenu ha-kadosh is pronounced "Rabbi," but that's all academic.)

And yes, D. stands for Doctor, as in "Doctor Yishmael," "Doctor Eliezer," etc.

Misna-Bs Traut Hakad-AnP Tal=Mis-Gema Tal-jerig Tal-Bug; or, how to memorize Talmudic trivia.

People have been trying to devise techniques and mnemonic devices for memory for a very long time (I don't remember how long).

Here's a book from 1732 or so called Memoria technica, or, a New Method of Artificial Memory* by Richard Gray (and reprinted many times).

With the aid of this book you could memorize many things. From the table of contents:

Everything you wanted to memorize about the MISNA, GEMARA, TALMUD:

Gray left the heavy lifting to R. Samuel Rabbinowitz, author of המזכיר והוא ספר הסימנים על תלמוד בבלי וארבעה חלקי השו"ע

* . . . Applied to and exemplified in Chronology, History, Geography, Astronomy. Also Jewish, Grecian and Roman Coins, Weights, and Measures &c. With Tables proper to the respective Sciences ; and Memorial Lines adapted to each Table.


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