Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Montesquieu, Mendelssohn, Three-cornered hats, physically large Acharonim and evolving shi'urim.

If that didn't get your curiosity, nothing will.

Depicted are the Landaus, father and son, of Prague. Rabbi Samuel Landau (d. 1834) did not succeed his father as אב בית דין (essentially Chief Rabbi) of Prague. Rather, he had to play a secondary role in the Prague rabbinate and rabbinic court to Rabbi Elazar Fleckeles, the foremost pupil of his father. When he died (1826) Rabbi Samuel assumed the position of אב"ד until his death. In the meantime, Rabbi Samuel headed a yeshiva in Prague, was a rabbinic leader of some influence, and published his father's writings. In one volume of his fathers sermons, אהבת ציון (Prague, 1827), the son added several of his own sermons. The 12th, a sermon delivered before Prague's Chevra Kadisha on February 29, 1816 contained the following passage:

(The passage is on pp. 52-53 of the hebrewbooks pdf.)

As you can see, Rabbi Samuel notes that all the gentile scholars marvel at how the Jewish people keep on ticking despite the tribulations of exile for nearly 2000 years. This is not so for the fate of other nations, who lost their identity under similar circumstances, and assimilated into the nations which overwhelmed them. He then quotes Montesquieu (and puts Montesquieu in bold print for emphasis), whom he helpfully explains was a French scholar, as giving a reason in his Persian Letters, why the Jews were able to be strong in their exile, and the reason is the Hebrew language. They kept this language, and this was the key to their keeping their religion and customs, and so forth.

The idea in this sermon is of course directed against Reformist currents of the day which were moving toward limiting the role of Hebrew in prayer and learning, and trying to add or replace it with German. Specifically, he is bothered by catechisms and abridgments of the Bible for the youth written in German.

Incidentally, I tried to find this in the Persian Letters, but couldn't. I will note that Rabbi Landau subscribed to the Berlin periodical המאסף, and a Hebrew adaptation of the Persian Letters by Isaac Euchel called איגרות משולם בן אוריה האשתמועי appeared in a number of volumes. In the early days of modern Hebrew literature the presentation of European works in Hebrew tended to be adaptations rather than translations, reworked with Jewish characters and themes. Thus I think it is possible that Rabbi Samuel Landau did not actually read Montesquieu's Lettres Persanes, but he read Iggerot Meshullam, although I have not seen it myself and can't verify if it contains such a passage. My other possibility - apart for having overlooked such a passage concerning the Hebrew language in the Persian Letters - is that in reality the idea is found in the famous Letters Writ by a Turkish Spy, an extremely popular work which influenced Montesquieu's, and does contain some sentiments that are possible candidates for Rabbi Samuel's reference.

I think we can already get a sense that Rabbi Samuel Landau was a little bit . . . modern? It's hard to get a complete sense of him, because he is quoting Montesquieu to defend tradition. Presumably he had reason to believe that such quotations were appropriate for his audience, and that it could speak to them. On the other hand, he was a bit of a modern rabbi. In Dovid Katz's dissertation on the father, the Noda Beyehuda, he describes the son as "kind of a maskil, a member of the Prague Jewish Enlightenment which was interested in considerations of literary aesthetics in a manner that pre-Enlightenment rabbis like Ezekiel would have considered of distinctly secondary importance and not worthy of extended reflection and discussion member of." Katz notes that Jewish Enlightenment in Prague was much more moderate than in Berlin, and cites Leopold Low (writing in 1851) giving an example of how, in a practical manner, the maskilim in Prague at the turn of the century conducted themselves in contrast with the Prague traditionalists and moderate traditionalists:

Low is saying that there were three kinds of yeshivos in Prague. The traditionalists wore Tricorne hats whose sides were of equal length. The moderate traditionalists wore Tricorne hats of unequal lengths, while the maskilim wore a kind of cylindrical hats, as in e.g. the yeshivos of Rabbi Baruch Jeitteles and Rabbi Samuel Landau.

This is an 18th century rabbi in Amsterdam, which gives you a sense of what it was like back in the days when rabbis and yeshiva students wore Tricorne hats. Anyone who has seen depictions of Colonial Americans in these hats probably wondered at some point why it is that we stop seeing them suddenly, although we can't necessarily say when. According to the Wikipedia entry, they fell out of fashion sometime around the time of the French Revolution (1789). In fact, I remember that this was graphically depicted in the excellent minseries John Adams, which was conceived with great attention to historical detail. Anyone who watched the series probably noticed three-corner hat after three-corner hat, and then suddenly! no more Tricorne hats. It is perhaps not surprising that among some Central European Jews these hats did not suddenly disappear when the fashion changed, although among others it did. Draw your own contemporary analogies.

I found it interesting to see this piece of Rabbi Samuel's sermon quoted in a book by a Satmar rabbi called שלא שינו את לשונם, intended to combat the contemporary scourge of Jewish women reading Torah works, stories about Zaddikim, hashkafah and halacha in English. One wonders if they should read Montesquieu's Lettres Persanes?

Title page and contents:

Finally, below is a fascinating image which I hadn't been able to figure out a context for how to post until now:

This scene is the frontispiece to a eulogy for Rabbi Ezekiel Landau published in 1793 called אלון בכות by יוסף האפרתי of Tropplowitz (1770-1804). Here we see the Noda Beyehuda rushing into Moses Mendelssohn's embrace in the afterlife. I don't know if this would be the first imagining of real-life antagonists meeting and embracing in the next world, but it would not be the last. The following was printed in 1899 concerning the death of Rabbi Ya'akov Emden (link):

More recently, on pg. 253 of 'Pathways of the Prophets,' (Artscroll Mesorah 2009; a book which merits its own post or posts) Rabbi Yisroel Reisman writes concerning the debates between the same R. Ya'akov and the grammarian R. Salomo Hanau:

"In my mind's eye, I picture Rav Yaakov Emden and Rav Zalman Henna in Gan Eden, arm in arm, in friendly embrace.

"On second thought, I would picture them in the Mesivta d'Rakea, the Great Beis HaMidrash in Heaven, debating the law of our Holy Tongue in a more animated manner than ever!"

Although that would have been the poetically correct place to end this post, I cannot resist a couple of remarks concerning the Noda Beyehuda's physical size. While it's true that Mendelssohn was short and bent, you can see in that depiction that Rabbi Ezekiel was an uncommonly tall man. In fact, both his son (Rabbi Yakobke) and his disciple R. Elazar Fleckeles describe him as tall, large and handsome. Rabbi Fleckeles even asserts that he looked like a 21-year old when he died (aged 79)!

Rabbi Landau famously reopened a discussion concerning the size of shiurim, halachic sizes of food, which has ramifications for halachic practice even today (see Rabbi N. Slifkin's very interesting article The Evolution of the Olive: The Halachic History of the Expanding Kezayis). Briefly, one rabbinic source equates the volume of an egg and a half with the Talmud's description of a liquid measure, the revi'is, as the volume of the width of two thumbs by two thumbs, with the height of 2.7 thumbs. Rabbi Landau tried it out and discovered to his surprise that his own thumb times 2 and 2 and 2.7 produced the volume equal to three eggs! This in turn raised the question of whether or not thumbs were now larger (which he rejected) or eggs.

In any case, Rabbi Fleckeles writes that in light of the fact that Rabbi Landau was, well, huge he asked him exactly what you are wondering: Rebbe, aren't your thumbs rather big, twice as big as average?

And he responded by nodding and laughing.

Katz pointed out that the precise intention of the response, "he nodded and laughed" is debated in various other sources.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Pilgrimage fever

Here's a little blurb about Rabbi Eliyahu Guttmacher (1795-1874) of Grätz (Greidetz) which appeared in 1874:

Monday, April 26, 2010

Rabbi Moshe Sofer's responsum on metzitzah.

Here's the famous responsum of the talmudischen Autoritat Chasam Sofer on meziza as it appeared in the first volume of the journal Kochbe Jizchak (1845):

Dr. Shlomo Sprecher describes the publication of this responsum in his excellent article Mezizah be-Peh - Therapeutic Touch or Hippocratic Vestige? in Hakirah v. 3 as follows:
In fact, the Ḥatam Sofer’s original Responsum appeared in print only once―in early 1845―in the pages of the first issue of a Hebrew literary periodical issued in Vienna, entitled Kokhavei Yiẓḥak. Its editor, Mendel Stern, was a native of Pressburg and had served as a tutor in the Ḥatam Sofer’s household, instructing his children. This publication was not the usual kind of reading material favored by the disciples of the Ḥatam Sofer, and so it is not surprising that many 19th Century authorities could seriously doubt the veracity of this attribution. However, to continue to maintain these doubts or posit qualifications such as “hora’at sha’ah” given the state of information available today is simply wrong.
Here is a picture of the recipient of the responsum, Rabbi Lazar Horowitz:


A Jewish-Chinese intermarriage in 1909.

I also added a little story in the same periodical from Lemberg.

Friday, April 23, 2010

An 1897 cherem against a Jerusalem hospital.

The American Sabbath Tract Society published a periodical called The Peculiar People, subtitled a Christian monthly devoted to Jewish Interests, for a couple of years in the 1890s. Here is its platform:

This is an article about a cherem against a Christian hospital associated with various Christian missions in Jerusalem, including one run by a Sephardic Jewish apostate. The signatories are Jerusalem's Rabbis Ya'akov Shaul Eliashar, Yehoshua Leib Diskin and Shemuel Salant.

Here's a notice about a Karaite rabbi with reformist tendencies:

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Who knows Hebrew and who doesn't?

This little blurb about Isaac Euchel's biography of Mendelssohn appears in Volume 7 of The Analytical Review, or History of Literature (December 1790):

Although I suppose its pointless addressing the editor of a centuries old periodical, perhaps he should have proofread a little before speaking of the "corruptions of the Rabbinical writings." תולדית רגד החכם משהבן מנחם , indeed. Here's the book, by the way.

Since the blurb references the German journal the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung, here's a line from that journal (1792) which should be easy to understand even without knowing German:

This comes from a review of Euchel's edition of the Moreh Nevuchim with Salomon Maimon's commentary. If I understand correctly, the reviewer is impressed by the transliteration used:

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

How Heinrich Graetz describes Azariah de Rossi holding the opposite attitude he had toward a work of R. Moshe Isserles, and how it happened.

Rabbi Moses Isserles, the Rema (d. 1572), wrote a philosophical work called תורת העולה. It's contents are described below:

New Jewish Encyclopedia:
Torat ha-Olah (Prague, 1570), a philosophic conception of Judaism. In his work he endeavors to give Jewish philosophy and thought a kabbalistic basis and to establish their inner identity, maintaining that they merely used different terminology. He also explains the meaning of sacrifices and the measurements of the Temple and their symbolism.
Jewish Encyclopedia:

His works of a philosophical character are "Meḥir Yayin" (Cremona, 1559) and "Torat ha-'Olah" (3 vols., Prague, 1659). The former is a philosophical work in which he treats the Book of Esther as an allegory of human life. The "Torat ha-'Olah" is a philosophical explanation of the Temple, its equipment, and its sacrifices. In the description of the Temple, Isserles follows Maimonides' "Yad," Bet ha-Beḥirah, even in those cases where Maimonides is in conflict with the Talmud ("Torat ha-'Olah," I., ch. ii.). According to Isserles, the entire Temple and its appurtenances—their forms, dimensions, and the number of their parts—correspond to things either in divine or in human philosophy. For instance, the seven parts of the Temple (ib.) correspond to the so-called seven climates. The women's courtyard and its four chambers correspond to the active intelligence and the four kingdoms, mineral, vegetable, animal, and rational, which receive their form from the active intelligence ("Torat ha-'Olah," I., iv., vi., viii.). He also follows Maimonides in many philosophical points, as, for example, in a belief in the active intelligence, and regards the angels not as concrete bodies, but as creative; every power of God being called "angel" (messenger) because it is an intermediary between the First Cause and the thing caused or created (ib. II., xxiv.; III., xvii.; comp. "Moreh," ii. 6).

In many other points, however, he differs widely from Maimonides. He follows Albo in fixing the number of the articles of faith or fundamental principles ("'iḳḳarim") at three; viz., belief (1) in the existence of God, (2) in revelation, and (3) in divine retribution. To Albo's six derived principles Isserles adds three: free will, tradition, and the worship of God alone ("Torat ha-'Olah," I., xvi.). Belief in the creation of the world is in his eyes the most important of the derived principles; and he refutes the seven arguments of the philosophers against it (ib. III., xliv., xlv., lxi.). He does not, however, consider it necessary to believe in the end of the world (ib. ii. 2)—another point on which he differs from Maimonides (comp. "Moreh," ii. 27).

As Isserles lived at a time when the Cabala predominated, and as he was a contemporary of Isaac Luria, Ḥayyim Vital, and other cabalists, it was natural that he should be influenced by mystical views. Although, as has been already said, he was opposed to the Cabala, he devoted a part of his time to its study. His "Torat ha-'Olah" is full of cabalistic opinions. He appreciated the Zohar, believing it to have been revealed from Mount Sinai; and he rejoiced when he found that his philosophical views were confirmed by it ("Torat ha-'Olah," I., xiii.; II., i.). He occupied himself, too, with the study of Gemaṭria (ib. I., xiii.), and believed that a man might perform wonders by means of combinations ("ẓerufim") of holy names (ib. III., lxxvii.). But he refutes the cabalists when their opinions do not agree with philosophy. In general, Isserles endeavored to prove that the teaching of true cabalists is the same as that of the philosophers, the only difference being in the language employed (ib. III., iv.). Still in halakic matters he decided against the Zohar ("Darke Mosheh" on Ṭur Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 207; ib. on Ṭur Yoreh De'ah, 65).

Graetz, in Geschichte Vol. IX (1866), writes as follows:

Crudely translated this means something like:

[Isserles] wrote a kind of philosophical writing, a symbolization of the temple, the temple rituals and the devices, which, just as tasteless and stupid as it seems to us, so was it suited to the taste of time, and the scholarly Azariah dei' Rossi really liked it.

Recognizing the limitations of my translation, here is it how it appears in Hebrew (Rabbinowitz, V. 6), where you can clearly see that he is claiming that Azariah dei' Rossi approved of the תורת העולה:

How magnanimous and culturally relativistic of him! Be that as it may, it's remarkable that he writes that the educated Azariah dei' Rossi "sehr gefallen hat," because a substantial part of Chapter 11. of Section 2 (Imre Binah) of dei' Rossi's Meor Enayim is devoted to not exactly admiring תורת העולה.

Incidentally, this is the title page of the 1570 edition which dei' Rossi himself will discuss (below):

Wouldn't it be fun if today's seforim had gargoyle's on the title page too? but I digress.

Here's what dei' Rossi writes:

Dei' Rossi begins by noting the very extravagant praises of the Rema given on the title page, seven titles (pictured above). It is clear that he knows very little about him firsthand , for he writes that he has been told that he is a godly man, holy, and one of the greatest Talmud scholars of our generation (the Rema was a younger contemporary; according to Google maps it would take 11 hours and 49 minutes to drive today from Krakow to Ferrara. How much more was the distance 500 years ago). From skimming the table of contents, he saw that the Rema discusses some of the statements of Chazal, things that were discussed in this very chapter , to show how they were consistent with the views of our time. He noticed that the Rema raised the same questions that he had, and even reinforced them. Thus, dei' Rossi seems to have anticipated something special, especially in light of the Rema's reputation. Instead, he discovered that the Rema interpreted them in what he felt is a farfetched way which is inconsistent with the language of these statements of Chazal. Examples are supplied. He ends by suggesting that the Rema would have been better off if he had remained silent, rather than trying to justify the righteous (Chazal) with incorrect arguments. Why did he feel it necessary to include this piece? In anticipation of someone bringing the words of this Shalit (ie, the Rema, in Torah ha-Olah) to his attention; so now he shows that he's already seen it and here's why he rejects it. Finally, he writes that he trusts that the Ashkenazim, a wise and understanding people, who are attached to the Rema, would agree that what he's written is not incorrect. "This I know, that although he is good-hearted in his attempt to uphold the words of Chazal, he hasn't disproved me. In any event, his intention was worthy and his portion is in the pleasant eternal."

That's pretty wild, huh? Not exactly what Graetz had in mind.

This attack is apparently so famous that it made it into a small description of the Rema in a popular work, Historical dictionary of Judaism by Norman Solomon.

Why did Graetz write that? If one examines the edition of Meor Enayim he likely used, that is the latest, best edition printed a number of times in Vilna in the1860s by the holy printing press the house of Romm, which somehow printed the Meor Enayim (link) one sees what is written in the entry for the Rema in the very helpful index of sources provided by Benjacob:

Indeed, if one looked up the Rema in the index and then didn't take a look at what was written therein on pg. 179 one might conclude, as Graetz did, that Azariah dei' Rossi was a fan of תורת העולה!

Now, all this isn't my discovery. Writing a tribute to Graetz on the centennial of his birth in 1917, Gotthard Deutsch had the following to say:

As you can see, Deutsch concludes that Graetz must have misremembered or misunderstood his notes. This is understandable, as the 1863 edition of Meor Enayim doesn't include an index. Only when it was reprinted in '64 and '66 was the index included. Since Graetz doesn't indicate that he used any modern edition (but I think it's safe to say that he did use the Vilna edition) I assume that he hadn't used the '63, but the '64 one. Therefore I conclude that he got his information from the index of sources which he badly misconstrued. This doesn't mean that he never read Ch. 11 (or Toras ha-Olah) at all, but it does seem like the extent of the legwork he did for this line in his monumental history was to incorporate a few words in an index. This is how, it seems to me, such an erroneous statement made it into print, and was reprinted many times, apparently without correction. In fact, the Hebrew translation (pictured above) often includes valuable notes and enlargements, but here - nothing.

Incidentally, I've noticed that Gotthard Deutsch was a master debunker. There are numerous examples where he picked out a mistaken assumption or source and called attention to it in print. I will show some of these in another post.

The moral of the story, of course, is you have to verify. Who knows how much injustice I myself committed in the post due to insufficient verification? (Do you think I checked the accuracy of the two encylopedia descriptions? I will tell you that I did not.)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Welcome Chabad-Revisited

Chabad-Revisited seems like a worthy, relatively new Jewish history blog of quality, both in content and aesthetics.

Here's a post to start off with, about the newly released volume Treasures of the Chabad Library, a sample of which is available here (Hebrew).

As it happens, I read about this on Hagahot last week (link) and noticed some interesting things in the sample. Here's something from it which I'd never seen before, namely a younger picture of the Rogachover (only in the Hebrew sampler):

For comparison:

A curious and unintentionally humorous anecdote about Berlin's Av Beis Din Hirsch Lewin.

From Judah and Israel: or, The restoration and conversion of the Jews and the ten Tribes (1812, 4th ed.) by the famed conversionist apostate Rev. Joseph Samuel C. F. Frey:

Actually, I don't quite know what to make of it. To me this sounds like a rabbi who has given up. Note that Rabbi Lewin famously reflected on three of his rabbinic positions "In London hatte ich Geld und keine Juden, in Mannheim Juden und kein Geld, in Berlin kein Geld und keine Juden," or "In London I had money but no Jews, in Mannheim Jews but no money, in Berlin no money and no Jews."

Incidentally, here is an interesting image of his father, R. Aryeh Leib Lowenstamm of Amsterdam (who was Chacham Tzvi's son-in-law, and thus R. Yaakov Emden's brother-in-law):

Who's this?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Rav Herzog's obituary for Rav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk, 1927.

Here is an article about a recently deceased Rabbi Meir Simcha Hakohen of Dvinsk, the author of Or Sameach, which was written by Rabbi Isaac Halevi Herzog and printed in the Jewish Chronicle on February 25, 1927. In addition to being a highly interesting obituary, I personally found it most interesting for how modern it sounds. I've read many things written in Jewish periodicals of the era, and this does NOT sound like it's 1927. Although Rav Herzog was nearly 40 at this time, to me he seems to presage a later era, a point which perhaps will be fleshed out in the comments, should there be any.

Interesting quote: "[R. Chayim Solovetichik's] mind resembled a chemical laboratory," but he means it as a compliment. One should also not be surprised that he was reading the Jewish Chronicle one shabbos morning.


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