Monday, November 30, 2009
"Shall Women Be Ordained as Rabbis?" A Reform responsum from 1922, with additional responses, including some from women.
Michel de la Roche's 1710 review of a translation of the commentaries of R. Salomoni Jarchi (Rashi).
Below is a page from a 1622 translation of Rashi's commentary to Esther:
Here's a not-so-nice evaluation from 1841, in George Bush's Notes on Exodus:
For more on the former presidents' 19th century Orientalist relative, see here.
Here is Abraham Geiger's summary or what Rashi was about:
An inscribed Chavos Yair; also, Putti on title pages in seforim.
This looks like a nice Chanuka gift. It's an inscribed first edition of the Chavos Yair (1699). The inscription reads:
As you can see, this was a gift to his מחותן (why isn't there an English word for this relationship?). For some reason R. Yair Chaim Bachrach didn't rip out the title page, צ"ע. Also see this post.
At that post, critics jumped on the fact that it seems silly to even waste any space with Soloveitchik's throw-away line (obviously intended to make a point in a humorous1 way), let alone subject it to several paragraphs describing a statement by R. Shemaya about how Rashi enjoyed eggs fried in honey, and several other responsa regarding Rashi's dealing with cows, sheep and wine barrels. What the critics missed is that Gruber was making a serious point but he was being funny. Someone even suggested that he was "skeptical of these claims that the author intended the egg stuff as a joke. It would be weird for a guy to do a whole bunch of research about Rashi and eggs just for the purpose of an unfunny joke that additionally did not jibe with the rest of the article." He thinks there are two possibilities: "1) He took Soloveichik's statement about egg-dealing at face value (and frankly, without having read the original article, I don't see any reason not to), or 2) It was just an excuse to make his article seem more impressive by adding a bunch of tangentially-related research. I see this all the time in these types of articles."
However, having read the entire introduction not only can I safely say that he does not take Soloveitchik's statement seriously, but he absolutely was trying to be humorous. In fact, the introduction is peppered with many interesting and humorous bits in the footnotes. To my mind this is a good thing. It's not letzanus, it makes an otherwise highly informative read also a fun read.
With that in mind, I'd like to highlight something in foonote 32 on page 21 of the introduction. The background is a description of the character of a yeshiva in Ashkenaz in Rashi's time. Mordechai Breuer described the beis ha-midrash in such a yeshivos of the time, and according to him it seems typically to have been nothing more extravagant than the large living room of the rosh yeshiva (which was called the בית החורף, in a nod to Jer. 36:22, because it was the only room in the home which was heated). However, some archaeological evidence may show otherwise, or at least challenges this description. In Norman Golb's The Jews in medieval Normandy he describes the ruin pictured below. This ruin in Rouen was long remembered as an ecole aux Juifs, that is, a yeshiva. Golb goes on to prove that the term "school"(or scola in the Latin documentation of the time) could not have been used for a synagogue, so this is definitely a yeshiva.
In any event, Breuer was inclined to see the medieval Ashkenazic yeshiva as rather small, informal and almost ad-hoc, but Golb says not necessarily. In fact, these two accounts need not be contradictory. Golb himself is of the view that both kinds of yeshivos could have existed side by side, one more official than the other.
In his book he writes (pg. 192) "eminent scholars such as Meir1 of Rothenburg (thirteenth century) had yeshiboth in their own names, evidently not connected in any way with a public system of support . . ."
Gruber adds as follows: "[Reading Prof. Golb's words in the light of Breuer's study quoted above, I was inclined by my training as a biblical scholar to emend this word to "homes" based on the graphic similarity between the initial h of "homes" and the initial n of "names," and I assumed that Prof. Golb's secretary or a typesetter misreading initial n for h then misread o as a. Fortunately, I asked Prof. Golb (electronic communication dated 3 August, 2000) if, in fact, my conjectural emendation had correctly restored his intent. Prof. Golb kindly replied with his explanation that, in fact, Jews were forbidden by their own rules2 to conduct the classes of a yeshivah in a residence].
The irony is that Gruber's otherwise excellent book is marred by many typos. I haven't had to made any conjectural emendations of note yer.
1 "al ta'am ve-re'ach..."
2 In Saul Lieberman: the Man and His Work by Elijah Schochet and Solomon Spiro, it is recounted that when a student made the mistake of calling a tanna by their first name (e.g., "Akiva said..."), the Professor would admonish them, probably in an intimidating Litvishe manner, "Are you personally acquainted with him?"
3 The "rules" referred to are a list of twelve rules called Hukke haTorah which "were issued by a regional council meeting in a major northwestern European city, very likely Rouen, no later than sometime in the twenth, or at the latest, eleventh century." These takkanos survive in several manuscripts, and required the maintenance of a "midrash" in every town.
Thursday, November 26, 2009
During a fierce battle two enemy soldiers were engaged in fierce hand to hand combat. One soldier overpowered the other and was about to drive his bayonet into him, and the soldier called out "Shema yisrael . . . !" The other soldier was also Jewish, and answered his call, and the two looked at each other, realized who (or what) they were, and presumably the slaughter stopped. In some versions the bayonet was already lodged.
In every version of this story I heard this legend takes place in World War I. So I was interested when I came across the following version of it, printed on February 13, 1885 in the Jewish Chronicle. In this version, it occurred in the Crimean War>, approximately thirty years earlier:
As you can see, this letter concerns prayer in Hebrew vs the vernacular. I will post the entire letter, which is interesting in its own right, at the end.
Here's Allan Nadler's review of a book of Jewish war time sermons, by Marc Saperstein:
Addressing one of the earliest Jewish community rallies, held in Washington and on behalf of the Jewish victims of World War I, on October 24th 1914, Gedaliah Silverstone, a Lithuanian Orthodox immigrant rabbi, spoke in heartbreaking tones of the terrible dilemma of the Jewish soldiers who were fighting valiantly on both sides of the “Great War”:As you can see, this image was used in a sermon during WWI. It claims that such an account was in newspapers. Since Russia and Austria first fought in WWI, it would seem that the claim is that such an incident had occurred recently.
“Our brothers… are not fighting for our country, as is the Russian army, which is fighting for Russia, and the British army, which is fighting for their country, England, and the German army for Germany, and similarly the French and the Turks. Not us! We Jews are compelled to fight for all of these, not for ourselves… that is the greatest source of pain.”
Powerfully dramatizing this point, Silverstone then recounted the horrific experience of a Jewish soldier convalescing in a Russian army hospital in Petrograd:
“Whose heart did not throb with agony, whose eyes did not fill with tears, whose blood did not turn cold in his veins upon reading in the newspapers about a Jewish soldier in the Russian army who stabbed with his bayonet a soldier from the Austrian army? The mortally wounded man cried out with his last breath: ‘Shema Yisrael Adonai Elohenu Adonai Ehad’ and with the word Ehad his soul departed. When the Russian soldier realized that he had killed one of his brothers, that he had thrust his bayonet into a fellow Jew, he went out of his mind with grief.”
This particular sermon stands out from most of the 40 assembled by Saperstein, as it takes no position on the merits of a war into which America had not yet entered. There is not to be found among the book’s other sermons so blunt an affirmation that the Jewish people have no stake in the wars of the nations.
Below is a poem which was printed in 1917:
This powerful image occurs again and again.
Another from 2005:
Judith Bleich, in an Orthodox Forum volume which she edited:
Finally, the image appears in a French novel from 1886, David-Léon Cahun's La vie juive:
Here the event occurs during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Cahun tells of a soldier in Alsace who recalls the image of a Jewish soldier friend holding a Russian Jewish soldier he has slain in his arms. The Russian had recited Chema Isroel as he died, and it greatly pains the soldier who killed him.
I have no idea if this ever really occurred, or if it really occurred once or perhaps even several times. It is interesting that there are two versions, a heartbreaking one where one soldier kills the other, which was surely true to what actually happened as Jewish soldiers in enemy European armies fought in wars, and inspirational ones where the enemy-brother is spared. In any case, I was surprised (but also not surprised) to learn that the legend dates back much earlier than WWI. Indeed, since the 19th century is the first time that it became widespread for Jews to serve in European armies, it makes sense for the story to have emerged in that century. I was gratified to find a source earlier than Cahun's novel. I wonder if indeed there is any source from the Crimean War period (1853-56) for it, and that will require more research. It is interesting, however, that because of the Eretz Yisrael angle of the Crimean War, this seems to have aroused the interest in foreign events among many European Jews, who had never before read or demanded a newspaper. This war in fact seems to have spurred the creation of Hebrew newspapers for a news-hungry public. It would make sense if such a vivid scene became known at that time.
Below is the full letter from the Jewish Chronicle:
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
The Jewish Chronicle 2.02.1861
Monday, November 23, 2009
(click to enlarge)
As you can see, Rabbi Hirschensohn's age was listen as 48, occupation as "Boy School Director," his Nationality as "German Hebrew," two of his daughters were "teachers," and the other two daughters small children. It also says how much money has was said to be in possession of, although I can't read it, and rather than joining a relative, he was to join a friend, Ephraim Deinard.
All that said, I'm not sure why this entry was crossed out. Another entry which was crossed out has "(crossed off mistakenly, passenger on board)" which leads me to wonder if he actually came on this voyage after all.
Friday, November 20, 2009
From When Jews Wore Turbans by Eliezer Segal:
Perhaps the most familiar turban in Jewish tradition topped the head of Rabbi Moses Maimonides, the noted 12th-century rabbi and philosopher. The same traditional portrait of Maimonides' stern, bearded visage has been appearing on the title pages of his works since the beginnings of Jewish printing.Personally, I'd love to see that woodcut, because I'm not so sure if what he reports is accurate, since the first and last paragraph seems to contain a big error. There's been a turbaned image of the Rambam since the beginning of Jewish printing? Where? (If anyone in Israel could visit the museum and send me a photo of the picture Segal mentions, I would be very grateful!) In fact, so far the source of the portrait captioned Maimonides is the 34 volume encyclopedia Thesaurus Antiquitatum Sacrarum (1744), a monumental work which contained Latin translations of numerous Hebrew works, including a large portion of the Talmud Yerushalmi. It contained the following image:
In spite of the portrait's widespread acceptance, it has always seemed to me somewhat suspicious. It did not appear until many centuries after the Egyptian sage's lifetime, and it is doubtful that such a picture would have been commissioned by Maimonides himself, who shared his society's rigid disapproval of representational art.
My suspicions seemed to be confirmed a few years back when I visited Jerusalem's L. A. Meyer Museum of Islamic Culture. There among the many fascinating artifacts was sitting a copy of the familiar portrait of Maimonides--except that according to the caption on the exhibit, it was a 16th century Turkish merchant!
It would seem that the early Hebrew printers in Venice or Constantinople, eager to supply their readers with a tangible likeness of the Egyptian Jewish scholar, had simply pulled out an available piece of "clip art" that conveyed a rough image, of what he might have looked like. That picture has defined our conception of Maimonides ever since.
Thus, I really can't say why Segal writes that Hebrew printers in Venice or Constantinople used that image, or one like it. Since lots of old books, Hebrew and otherwise, have been pored over for centuries and no one has yet produced a Hebrew book from Venice or Constantinople with a turbaned Maimonides portrait, we must dismiss it (although the Thesaurus was printed at Venice). Of course it is unclear how this portrait came about. Obviously someone drew it and someone, perhaps the same person, captioned it "Moses filius Maimon . . . ex antiqua tabula," as it appeared in the Thesaurus. In addition, the picture looks like it was really a medallion. It would be nice to know where it came from, but I digress.
In 1847 Abraham Benisch (1811-1878), editor of the Jewish Chronicle, Two Lectures on the Life and Writings of Maimonides, which he had delivered at the "Jews' and General Literary and Scientific Institution."
The beginning of the book was adorned with the following:
What had happened was, the Italian scholar Isaaco Samuele Reggio (known as Yashar) had discovered the portrait on page 344 of the first volume of the Thesaurus. (In a way it's funny to think of someone discovering something in a book, but he was the first to call attention to it.) Writing about it in a letter he sent in 1844 to the Hungarian Jewish book dealer and scholar Zalman Gottleib Stern, Reggio also included a sketch of the image from the Thesaurus (Reggio was artistic and enjoyed painting). Stern in turn published it as a single sheet, both letter and image. Unfortunately I don't have a good image of that sheet to show, but someone was decent enough to scan it and upload a small one to the Daat web site. Here is what it looked like:
Benisch had received one of the copies -- not from Stern -- and he in turn commissioned a well known English portrait painter, Julia Goodman, to draw the image which I reproduced above.
On pg. 18 Benisch notes that "Nothing authentic has been recorded as to [Maimonides'] exterior or physical constitution." This is in contrast, by the way, with the Rambam's son, for whom a physical description of some kind does exist, if I am not mistaken. Benisch's footnote reads:
As you can see, he basically says that there's no reason to doubt Ugolini's caption in 1744 that the image or medallion was old (i.e., not invented then). Still, that really tells us nothing.
How did Benisch get hold of Stern's sheet? One would have assumed that Stern sent it to him, but someone claims otherwise. Moses Margoliouth, writing to a "Rev. J. Horlock", the letter printed in "A Pilgrimage to the Land of My Fathers" (1850) devoted almost four pages to explaining how it was he who had obtained Zalman Stern's page from a friend, and he had used the image on a prospectus he had published for a "Philo-Hebraic Society" which he had tried to form. Benisch saw the prospectus, and even inquired of Margoliouth as to its authenticity, and from him had learned the whole story (Ugolino, Reggio, Stern). Then, Benisch asked him for a copy of the Reggio sheet, and had Julia Goodman draw it anew. He then appended it and referred to it in his published lectures, not forgetting to lavishly thank Julia Goodman--
--but for all this, he did not acknowledge it or thank him, and Margoliouth was quite upset about it, assuming that it was just another example of the lousy treatment he received from Jews like Benisch, because he was a Jewish Christian (and missionary to the Jews, he forgot to mention). As you can see, he was so annoyed he even took a swipe at Goodman's artistic ability!
Interestingly, he also says that in France he saw several images which looked similar, which were claimed to be Maimonides, and heirlooms.
Here's a copy of Margoliouth's prospectus for the Philo-Hebraic Society, however it doesn't include the Rambam image:
Moses Margoliouth was born in 1819 in Suwalki (the same Lithuanian town that R. Dovid Lifschitz was the rav of, incidentally, more than a century later) and moved to England when he was 19. A year later he had converted to Christianity and went on to become a fairly prominent Anglican minister.
Here's a portrait of Moses Margoliouth -- an authentic one:
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Basically, he writes that mothers don't need to talk to their daughters. The girls can read all they need to know about it in the Bible.
Here is the full text of his remark:
You can read the whole symposium, which begins with the following: "I look upon the ignorance (adorned by the poetical name of innocence) in which young girls are kept as to the moral and physical conditions of marriage and conjugal life, as proof of the resolution on the part of man, by all the means in his power, to keep girls and women in an inferior position. Knowledge of things, individuals, and conditions of life, is freedom for every living being," here.