Friday, March 12, 2010

The wrong Hildesheimer, the other Adler, and an inflated Napoleonic reputation.

I came across something on Rabbi Berel Wein's Facebook page (did you know he had one?):

At the outset let me just say that pointing out a mistake is not a huge deal; we all make mistakes and slips of the pen or tongue, my posts included. But this is a mistake, as Rabbi Esriel Hildesheimer obviously not did not deliver any address on March 9, 1807, not being born until 1820, and had nothing to do with the Napoleonic Sanhedrin. (Actually when I first wrote the post I included the year 1823 as his year of birth. I did that from memory. However I thought it would probably not do for me to have such a mistake here, so I double checked and corrected it to read 1820, which I guess is the point.)

However, a man known as Isaac Hildesheim (who would go on to call himself Justus Hiller among other odd things) did make that address. The aforementioned Hildesheim was part of a delegation sent to the Sanhedrin from Frankfurt-am-Main. The other representative was Rabbi Saloman Abraham Trier, who is probably best known for having solicited rabbinic responsa on the grave importance of circumcision, and collected them and published them in 1844 in the face of an attempt to do away with circumcision on the part of extremist elements in the Reform camp (see here for the book, and here for a post about it from a friend). To mention some of the more famous names: Rabbis Nathan Marcus Adler, Jacob Ettlinger, Seligmann Baer Bamberger, Samuel David Luzzatto, Isak Noah Mannheimer, Solomon Judah Rapoport, Abraham Sutro, Julius Fuerst, Jacob Zvi Mecklenburg and others. In the proceedings of the Sanhedrin, you won't find the name Trier. He is called Salomon Treve, after the French name of Trier (which after all is just the German name of Treves).

For the Francophones, from Organisation civile et religieuse des Israélites de France 1808:

Some time ago I came across something I found surprising. I was surprised to read in an offhanded way that the brother of Rabbi Nathan Marcus Adler, (Rabbi) Baer Adler was also a delegate to Napoleon's Sanhedrin from Frankfurt. (I will explain the parentheses soon.) Rabbi Nathan Marcus was born in 1803, and his brother was a delegate? It seemed almost as anachronistic as placing Rabbi Israel Hildesheimer there (I've noticed that many don't realize that his legal or secular name was "Israel"). It made little sense to me. Plus there was the little problem that neither his name or anything like it appears in the published proceedings and accounts of the Sanhedrin.

Looking into it a little more, it turned out that this older Adler was not a delegate, at the tender age of 23 no less, rather he was chosen as an assistant to Rabbi Trier. But such is historical writings that even such participation (he was there, after all) sometimes gets pumped up into full membership.

Here is one the notices I saw, from a blurb in a British newspaper in 1890 (it's likely source, an extremely interesting one, will be shown below):

While it's hardly surprising that (Rabbi) Baer Adler's actual role was inflated, and his youthful prominence sort of took on a life of it's own so that 85 years after the fact his actual role -- probably sitting with a notebook and pen -- turned him into a delegate of the Sanhedrin. Let me digress to explain the parentheses. Obviously by today's standard he was a rabbi. He was one of the dayyanim of the Frankfurt beis din, along with Rabbi Trier (the Av Beis Din) and Rabbi Aharon Fuld. But the various obituaries of Baer Adler make a point of noting that he refused a rabbinic position. He was a rabbi in the classic sense, an unpaid teacher of Torah who made his living as a businessman.

The most clear statement on the entire issue I found in English is in Stephen M. Poppel's 1983 LBIY article "The Politics of Religious Leadership, The Rabbinate in Nineteenth-Century Hamburg" page 452-53: "Baer Adler was a talmudic scholar living in Frankfurt, who had trained other men for rabbinical positions, but had never accepted rabbinical appointment himself (though he had served as a dayyan). Almost fifteen years earlier, at the age of twenty-three, he had been sent by the Frankfurt community board to the Parisian Sanhedrin as the deputy to Rabbi Salomon Trier, the delegate from Frankfurt." His footnote indicates where the two chief sources of information about him are, German obituaries in two Jewish periodicals. (You can look them up quite easily on if you want, but I'm not reproducing them here. the footnote reads: "Information on Adler from obituaries in Allgemeine Zeitung des Judentums, XXX (1866), pp. 36-37, and Der Israelit, VII (1866), p. 104. (References to these obituaries from the recent and useful Hans-Otto Schembs, etal., Bibliographie zur Geschichte der Frankfurter Juden, 1781-1945, Frankfurt a. Main)"

A 19th century gossip reporter named Edmund Yates' founded a weekly magazine called The World. It regularly had a feature called 'Celebrity at Home' in which he met with and profiled famous people. There are three volumes of collected Celebrities at Home features from 1877-79. They include figures like Charles Darwin, Mark Twain, the Pope, Richard Wagner, Kaiser Wilhelm, to mention a few with name recognition in 2010. In 1889 one featured none other than Rabbi Nathan Marcus Adler at his vacation home in Brighton (he loved it so much that the 86-year old Rabbi Adler calls it "Dr. Brighton"). I also must comment on the delicious language in the piece. A sukkah described as "an al fresco bower"? Priceless.

I didn't see the original, but some of the text, or at least an account of it, was reprinted in the Jewish Chronicle. It mentions that Baer Adler was a Napoleonic delegate, and I assume this is the source for the clipping above. The whole thing is extremely interesting so I reproduce it all:

When Rabbi Baer Adler passed away in 1866, the Jewish Chronicle naturally printed an obituary. It too repeats the exaggeration that he was actually a delegate to the Sanhedrin, and one wonders in view of the fact that when his brother was personally interviewed the feature mentioned it, if the source for this wasn't the Chief Rabbi himself, who was after all only a very small child when his much older brother was hobnobbing with VIPs in Paris.

It's worth reading for some of the interesting information it contains. Here it is (first notice is dated February 2, 1866; the second is February 9):


  1. Someone who writes history books for Artscroll can be forgiven for not actually knowing actual history!

  2. Garnel, that is undue. Everyone makes mistakes, even people who don't write for Artscroll.

  3. Yeah, whatever one thinks of Artscroll or Rabbi Wein as a historian, this is obviously just a mistake. I don't think it's even possible for the periodization to be so muddled and unclear for any individual with an interest in modern Jewish history. It was just a notable mistake, and dovetailed neatly with a post I never figured out how to make about Rabbi Baer Adler. When I saw it, the whole post was able to come together.

  4. he still has it on his profile page. can someone please be nice enough and tell him to correct it?

  5. It's been removed.

  6. Its still there!!/photo.php?pid=3536386&id=88873301169

  7. No it hasn't!/photo.php?pid=3536386&id=88873301169

  8. I've just been reading a book about Europe in which it's mentioned that "Dr. Brighton" was a common nickname for that healthy English resort in the 19th century. It takes nothing away from Chief Rabbi Adler to know that he did not originate the term; it remains interesting that he became so thoroughly English as to frequent the place and call it by its colloquial name.



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