Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Another 5 years? Sure!

It's that time of year, when I realize that another year of blogging has passed. This time it's a surprising 5 years. Imagine that. I guess I should reflect on it, huh?

But I'll do that another day. In the mean time I thought it might be nice to reflect on some books which have been very influential to me in various ways. Before I mention them, I should offer the following caveats: I know that none of them are perfect. I can certainly criticize various things in just about all of these books, but the truth is the fact that authors generally don't write perfect books is a good thing. It stimulates thought and leaves room for additional discoveries. It's also a good thing that things don't have to be perfect to be influential. The other caveat is that I am only listing things which I own or read years ago, and nothing that the digital revolution laid out before me. I can't compare access to dozens and hundreds of important works that are easily available now, to a book or an article that I devoured, scrutinized and contemplated when coming across such a thing was often a case of luck or a long search. Without further ado:

1) Ashkenazim and Sephardim: Their Relations, Differences and Problems as Reflected in the Rabbinical Responsa by Hirsch Jacob Zimmels. In this excellent book published in 1958, Zimmels drew broad pictures of Ashkenazim and Sephardim as promised in the book's title. The footnotes are a cryptic mess, the conclusions are far too broad, and Zimmels did not pioneer this genre of historical research, but this book was nothing less than a lamp in the dark for me. I simply had not grasped that so much interesting information was contained in the rabbinic sources which he mined, in some cases I had even seen these sources already. But by training one tended not to pay much attention to such information, not a little bit because the necessary information to put things into a context was lacking. It didn't hurt that topics which I thirsted for information about, such as various pronunciations of Hebrew, alphabets and the like were treated beautifully in this book.

2) The short essay by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, Treasures, originally published in the Jewish Observer May 1976, but I read it in The Aryeh Kaplan Reader. This article discusses book collecting, and describes the joys and unexpected pleasures of poking around in old seforim stores, genizas and the like. His description of finding a few sheets of an incunabulum made my imagination run wild. Before I read it (as a teenager) I hadn't even realized that this was a thing that was up my alley. I don't think I even fully understood the article, not having knowledge of the necessary context, but I enjoyed his description of his hunt for bibliographical info about books he'd found. Who knew what "Ben Yaakov's Otzar Haseforim, a remarkable book listing each edition of every sefer printed until 1863" was? Under the influence of this article I began to examine my grandfather's oldest looking books, and to my surprise, many of the books with the tattered covers were treasures, among them a Slavita Zohar printed on blue cotton rag paper. Kaplan's article reminded me of an enjoyable passage in the autobiogaphy of Shadal, where he discusses his own love of books at an early age. While only 13 he enjoyed snooping through the dust and mess of the geniza of the Trieste Talmud Torah (where he was a student). There he found a manuscript copy of the Aruch, which he eventually bought from the widow of the principal decades later. In addition, it was in this place where he discovered a manuscript of an unknown commentary on Targum Onkelos written in the year [5]211/ 1451 and which he was to nickname ספר יאר, after the date (יאר being 211). This manuscript, now known as the פתשגן, was to play an invaluable role in אוהב גר, his own pathbreaking commentary on the Targum published in 1830, and Rabbi Nathan Marcus Adler's נתינה לגר. (Vilna 1886). Gone, I suppose, are the days when 13 years-olds can chance upon discarded 350-year old vellum manuscripts of considerable importance.

3) The שם הגדולים by the Chida, Rabbi Chaim Yosef David Azulai. Then as now the entries with names and dates didn't do that much for me, but the longer entries which included interesting information? Priceless. It was in the Scem aghedolim, "Azulai's dictionary of Jewish learned men and their writings," that I learned that some called Rashi "Yarchi." Much to my surprise I later learned that until the mid-19th century this was the typical way in which Rashi was referred in non-Jewish (and even Jewish vernacular) literature, and also that there is a veritable literature on this mistaken appellation.

4) About ten years ago I chanced upon a newly published book, David Ruderman's Jewish enlightenment in an English key, and thus was born my discovery of my interest in Anglo-Judaica, and Christian Hebraism. This book contained mounds of information about things I did not know I was interested in, and succeeded in whetting my appetite.

5) I was fortunate to find a cheap copy of the The Canon and Masorah of the Hebrew Bible: an introductory reader edited by Dr. Shnayer Leiman. Although I had already seen some of the articles in this book (one in particular stands out) it too served as a lamp in a way, allowing me to be aware of things I was interested in but hadn't even known it. It seems fitting here to mention the article which stands out. I refer to the late Dr. Moshe Greenberg's "The Stabilization of the Text of the Hebrew Bible, Reviewed in the Light of the Biblical Materials from the Judean Desert," a 1956 article which I had already read. It contained the following gem, which I'll always remember: "There is no standard text at Qumran. While this at first may seem strange it is not really so. Piety is not always accompanied by a critical sense." Incidentally, Dr. Leiman just added a tribute to Dr. Greenberg on his web site (link). It's worth reading this moving tribute to a great scholar, about whom he had elsewhere written had written "if I had to periodize my own intellectual development, the only natural division would be "before" and "after" I first met Professor Moshe Greenberg."

6) The 1996 Orthodox Forum book edited by Prof. Shalom Carmy ,Modern Scholarship in the Study of Torah: Contributions and Limitations was similarly eye-opening. It's probably unnecessary to elaborate on why and how. The word "contributions" in the title was sufficiently revelatory and even provocative.

7) The English translation of Israel Zinberg's די געשיכטע פון ליטעראטור ביי יידן and Mayer Waxman's History of Jewish Literature. Who know there was a history of Jewish literature? Or even that there was Jewish literature? These books - it turned out a musty copy of Waxman's was somehow already in my parent's home on a neglected book shelf - made me aware of the what kinds of things Jewish writers over the centuries had written about. I could have done, then as now, without some of the simplistic judgments and interpretations but of course these are monumental works, each in its own way.

8) The Schlesinger edition of Shadal's commentary on the Torah. I don't remember exactly how it was that I became aware of Shadal to the extent that I was interested in seeking this out - for I did seek it - but everything about the commentary, from the Hebrew translation of his fascinating introduction to the Torah, the Introduzione Critica ed Ermeneutica written in 1829 for his students, to the opening words of his commentary יבינו המשכילים כי המכוון בתורה אינו הודעת החכמות הטבעיות, ולא ניתנו התורה אלא להיישיר בני אדם בדרך צדקה ומשפט וגו excited me. Oh, it turned out later - thanks to my friend Dan Klein for pointing this out in his superb translation of The Book of Genesis: A Commentary by ShaDaL - that the Schlesinger edition is flawed, incomplete and even censored. But the precise, bold, plain, beautiful commentaries in this work lit a fire in me. This in turn led me to want to know more about its author, so I read Rabbi Morris Margolies's book Samuel David Luzzatto: Traditionalist Scholar (based on his PhD dissertation), and this was another example of a fine book which pointed and continues to point me in directions I wish to go.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

An account of the adult circumcision of a male convert in New York, 1844. also, an ode to shochetim and kosher meat..

The following appears in an article called Jewish Hygiene in the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, v. xxxi no. 16, Wednsday, November 20, 1844, by William Clay Wallace, a physician known best for his works on the eye, based in New York.

Read the rest of the article; as you can see even from this excerpt, he writes from a very admiring perspective. After discussing some of the laws of kashrut, which he interprets approvingly in a hygienic sense, he gives an anecdote concerning his attempt to buy a cancerous cow's eye from a sausage-maker. After examining it, he concludes that he could then understand why sausages are sometimes poisonous, the point being of course that diseased animals are not kosher and thus are not eaten by Jews. (In an earlier post I cited the writing of a 17th century Jewish physician who testified that some Venetian gentiles only bought kosher meat for this reason.)

After his discussion, Wallace writes - this is 1844, 60 years before Upton Sinclair's The Jungle - that:

"From all that has been written, we may see the vast superiority of the laws of the Jews over those of the gentiles. While the citizens of New York pay fifteen thousand dollars a year for an inspector of tobacco, and considerable sums for inspectors of lime, lumber and charcoal, they have no inspector of animals, nor any unclean place where they may he slaughtered. The Jews, on the contrary, have a man whom they can trust to kill their animals, in a proper manner, and to point out to them by his seal the meat which is wholesome. That he may not be stimulated by want to place his mark improperly, each congregation gives its inspector five hundred dollars a year, and permits him to charge a fee of fifty cents for every ox which he seals. When a butcher, who supplies the Jews, wishes to provide for them, he selects one of the finest oxen, and sends for the inspector. A rope is cast round the animal, and he is drawn up with the aid of a pulley and windlass ; the throat is exposed, and the inspector, with a long sharp knife, cuts it nearly to the spine at a single stroke. By the sharpness of the instrument and the extent of the wound, the blood gushes out in torrents; the animal is farther hoisted up ; by degrees the red blood ceases to flow, and nothing comes from the wound but serum limpid as water. The carcase is then lowered ; the inspector cuts into the chest; examines the heart and lungs; puts in his hand to ascertain if there are adhesions, and that all is healthy. He next examines the abdomen to observe the condition of the liver, &c.; and if he is satisfied, he thrusts a knife through portions of the flesh and fixes several leaden seals, impressed on one side with the Hebrew initial of the month, and on the other side with the day of the month, in a manner similar to that by which seals are attached to cloth. He is present again when it is cut into pieces, and affixes his seal to each portion. When Jews go to market, they can thus easily distinguish what kind of meat is healthy, and what, it is possible, may contain tubercles, abscesses, or sores."

Monday, May 24, 2010

Hebrew a Living Language; in the news in 1857.

Here's a notice about the first Hebrew newspaper, Hamaggid. The notice appeared in print in the August 1857 issue of the The Young Men's Magazine, and several other English publications.

It appears to be translated from a French notice in the March 1857 edition of the Revue Contemporaine, signed by O.S., whom I believe to be Octave Sachot.

Here's a fuller, and more accurate description by Leib Dukes in English in the February 17, 1860 issue of the Hebrew Review and Magazine for Jewish Literature:

Here is the aforementioned Eliezer Lipmann Silbermann:

Here is David Gordon, whom he later hired as co-editor (and by most accounts eventually did almost everything at Hamaggid).

New journal

You can download the new Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies Student Journal, Vol. 1, 2009-2010 (BRGSJSSJ for short!).


Thursday, May 13, 2010

A summary of Lewis Glinert review of Artscroll's Stone Chumash.

I happened to come across a review of Artscroll's Stone Chumash by Lewis Glinert that I hadn't seen ("What Makes a Chumash Very Orthodox?" Le'eyla April 1995). Since it was of some interest to me, I'll share and summarize some of its contents.

A quote concerning the translation itself:
The message seems to have gone out that every ve need not be rendered 'and': thus Bereshit 21:19 'Vayyifkach Elohim et eineha' becomes 'Then God opened her eyes'; 21:27 'Vayyikkach Avraham - So Abraham Took'; 21:32 'Vayyikhretu berit - Thus they entered into a covenant'; and 21:33 'Vayitta eshel' simply 'He planted an 'eshel.' How odd then to find Chapter 22 beginning 'And it happened', and subsequently
And He said 'Here I am, my son.'
And he said, 'Here are the fire and the

Compare [Rabbi Aryeh] Kaplan:
'Yes, my son.'
'Here is the fire and the wood[...]'

ArtScroll, it appears, cannot decide between readable translation for adults and a word-for-word chanting translation for the Hebrew classroom.

Of the frequent archaism, I would single out as particularly misleading such inversions as in Bemidbar 32:16 'Gidrot tzon nivneh lemiknenu - Pens for the flock shall we build here for our livestock' (an interrogative?).

The particle hinneh is the translator's acid test. When introducing a clause (in past or present tense), it signifies a realisation or a surprise. Unfortunately, Modern English, no longer uses a matching particle along the lines of 'behold'; instead we imply it through a verb. Thus Bereshit 22:13 'Vayyar vehinneh ayil' would be today rendered simply as 'and saw a ram,' and 22:20 'Vayyuggad leAvraham lemor hinneh yaledah Milkah' as 'Avraham received a message: "Milkah has had children"' (Kaplan's translations). But ArtScroll hangs on to 'behold' as if it were halakhah le-Mosheh misinai, with comical results: 'And saw - behold, a ram! - afterwards, caught in a thicket'; 'Abraham was told, saying: Behold, Milcah too has borne children.' For 'Vehinneh hi Le'ah (Bereshit 29:25), 'And it was, in the morning, that behold it was Leah.'
He also makes the observation that although Artscroll says it follows Rashi, which he calls "eminently reasonable," he cannot discover which principle they use when Rashi's interpretation is expressing derash or has no comment at all. For example, כִּי-מֵרֹאשׁ צֻרִים אֶרְאֶנּוּ Numbers 23:9 is translated as "far from its origins, I see it rock-like," like Rashi, but this is derash, and it ignores Onkelos (ארי מריש טוריא חזיתיה) and "the common-sense peshat."

He also notes a number of departures from Rashi's explanation, for no apparent reason.

In Ex 21:6, where Rashi translates וַעֲבָדוֹ לְעֹלָם in a derashic way (until the Jubilee year), the translators here write "forever," according to the peshat, and place Rashi's explanation in the notes. This is a pretty good catch on Glinert's part. An ahalachic translation? Is this the JPS?

לא תבשל גדי is rendered 'You shall not cook a kid,' 'despite Rashi's detailed argument that gedi denotes all young livestock.' (See Ex. 23:19) 'Uvekhol nafshekha' is 'with all your soul' although Rashi clearly would have favored 'with all your life.'

Glinert puzzles over the Hebrew animal terms in Parashat Shemini. Rashi translates the tinshemet as bat, the chasidah a stork and the anakah a heron. But Artscroll does not translate them, explaining: "Since Halachah rules that we do not know the accurate translations of the fowl in the Torah's list, we follow the lead of R' Hirsch in transliterating rather than conjecturing translations. The notes will give translations that are suggested by various commentators.' Glinert notes that 'In fact the editors have felt that they can go one better than Hirsch: they do not translate the eight sheretz haaretz either (and here no halakhah is conceivably in jeopardy).'

Glinert admits that there is a certain logic in not translating disputed terms, saving suggestions for the footnotes, which is natural given that all translations have to make a choice and save the fuller discussion for the notes. But why should it be done only for the animals in Shemini and the gem stones in Tetzaveh, when there are "hundreds of other words and structures in dispute?"

Moving along to the commentary, he calls it a "tour de force." "Blend[ing] old and new interpretations into a satisfying whole." He believes it goes "first for the literal or philosophical" interpretation, and mostly resists the temptation to mention "all those midrashim which generations of schoolchildren imagine to be peshat." Where midrashim are mentioned, there is a "commendable" attempt to offer some philosophical significance, often from the writing of recent rabbinic scholars like Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetesky and Rabbi Gedaliah Schorr. The effect is a commentary "preoccupied with timeless truths" rather than "the more topical truths" of commentary like the one in the Hertz Chumash.

He takes them to task for their "disturbing" omissions, asking where is the Torah Temimah? Where is the Machberet Menachem and Sefer Hashorashim of Janach? Glinert calls the lack of reference to the Lucavitcher Rebbe's Likkutei Sichos the 'most serious' omission, and 'one wonders if this is just an omission.'

He ends by describing the whole as a "mixed blessing." If you're looking for a message behind the words, it's a joy. (His words.) But if one is looking for the Divine words themselves, (also his words), you're out of luck.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

An 18th century Jewish response to Bible text criticism mania.

In 1775 an Italian Jewish emigre in London named Raphael Baruh published an interesting book called Critica Sacra Examined, which was a reply to the book Critica Sacra, or, A Short Introduction to Hebrew Criticism by Henry Owen.

Owen's book is a veritable how-to manual of textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible, occasioned by the atmosphere surrounding Benjamin Kennicott's project collating as many Bible manuscripts as possible with the aim of discovering the original ("primitive") uncorrupted text. The preface to Critica Sacra begins: "If the Hebraical Reader will give himself the trouble to observe and pursue these short Directions, he will find his pains in a little time sufficiently and amply rewarded. For he will be led hereby to discover and to correct many Errours in the Hebrew Text, which no other method of proceeding can so effectually enable him to perform. Nor is the benefit of the English Reader left wholly unregarded. . . " The book begins with a rule: "It may not be assumed as an allowed Maxim - That the Hebrew Scriptures have not reached us in that pure and perfect state, in which they were originally written - That they have undergone indeed many great and grievous Corruptions, occasioned by the ignorance or negligence of the Transcribers."

Here is one page, which lines up parallel passages in the Bible, showing what must be errors in transmission:

In short, this book sharply disagreed with the Jewish attitude toward the textual integrity of the Sacred Scriptures, and this Raphael Baruh sought to counter the notion expressed in Owen's maxim, by a careful examination of the book of Chronicles, set against parallel passages in the rest of Scripture. As there are indeed many discrepancies between Chronicles and the other books, this book was seen as in the sorriest state, full of errors. Baruh sought to demonstrate that Chronicles is in fact a kind of commentary on the other books, and what seem to be errors and mistakes are actually clarifications of one kind or another.

There's a reference to this book in Mordechai Gumpel Schnaber Levissohn's 1784 commentary on Ecclesiastes, תוכחת מגילה:

Below is Baruh's introduction, which is really quite fascinating, especially as a model for how to write persuasively. Owen's contention must have bothered Baruh far more than he lets on, but he writes moderately and modestly.

An 18th century notice about Chassidim; Mendel Lefin's pamphlet on Jewish reform, and Polish Jewish dress.

Here is a short review of a 1791 French pamphlet called called Essai d'un plan de reforme ayant pour objet d'eclairer la Nation Juive en Pologne & de redresser par la ses moeurs written by Rabbi Mendel Lefin of Satanow, known in yeshiva circles more for what they take as his mussar work, the Benjamin Franklin-influenced חשבון הנפש, than for works like what is described below:

Dr. Nancy Sinkoff describes the circumstances behind the French essay on pg. xiv of her 1996 dissertation Tradition and Transition: Mendel Lefin of Satanow and the Beginnings of the Jewish Englightenment in Eastern Europe, 1749-1826:

Written for the National Education Commission of the last autonomous Polish parliament, it outlined the creation of a state-appointed rabbinate, the obligatory study of Polish in Jewish schools and proposed the occupational restructuring, or "productivization," of the Jewish community of Poland.

Sinkoff writes further (pg. 73) that Lefin explained later, in an unpublished manuscript, that his pamphlet was written as a response to Hugo Kołłątaj's order (and the NEC's agreement) that all Jewish men should shave their beards. A translation of this order that Sinkoff quotes is "All the Jews living or domiciled in the States of the Republic, with no exception, must shave off their beards and stop wearing the Jewish dress; they should dress as the Christians in the States of the Republic do." While agreeing in principle for the need for reform, Lefin's belief was that non-Jewish would-be reformers of the Jews could not be successful because no matter their good intentions, they do not really know what is good for the Jews. In the essay he quoted Montesquieu's condemnation of Czar Peter I's order forcing Muscovites to shorten their beards and clothing (to modernize them). Lefin believed the analogy was obvious; such an order was despotic.

Lefin intended to not only remain anonymous, but also that the identity of the author as a Jew should not be apparent. For this reason he also wrote in the most 'objective' manner possible, even quoting from antisemites like Voltaire, with the hopeful result that the Polish Parliament would not realize that the essay they were debating was written by a Jew. In the manuscript referred to above, he writes that he adopted this method based on a Talmudic story in Meilah 17a:
שפעם אחת גזרה המלכות גזרה שלא ישמרו את השבת ושלא ימולו את בניהם ושיבעלו את נדות הלך רבי ראובן בן איסטרובלי וסיפר קומי והלך וישב עמהם אמר להם מי שיש לו אויב יעני או יעשיר אמרו לו יעני אמר להם אם כן לא יעשו מלאכה בשבת כדי שיענו אמרו טבית אמר ליבטל ובטלוה חזר ואמר להם מי שיש לו אויב יכחיש או יבריא אמרו לו יכחיש אמר להם אם כן ימולו בניהם לשמונה ימים ויכחישו אמרו טבית אמר ובטלוה חזר ואמר להם מי שיש לו אויב ירבה או יתמעט אמרו לו יתמעט אם כן לא יבעלו נדות אמרו טבית אמר ובטלוה הכירו בו שהוא יהודי החזירום אמרו מי ילך ויבטל הגזרות וגו'י
For the Government had once issued a decree that [Jews] might not keep the Sabbath, circumcise their children, and that they should have intercourse with menstruant women. Thereupon R. Reuben son of Istroboli cut his hair in the Roman fashion, and went and sat among them. He said to them: If a man has an enemy, what does he wish him, to be poor or rich? They said: That he be poor. He said to them: If so, let them do no work on the Sabbath so that they grow poor. They said: ‘He speaketh rightly’, let this decree be annulled. It was indeed annulled. Then he continued: If one has an enemy, what does he wish him, to be weak or healthy? They answered: Weak. He said to them: Then let their children be circumcised at the age of eight days and they will be weak. They said: ‘He speaketh rightly’, and it was annulled. Finally he said to them: If one has an enemy, what does he wish him, to multiply or to decrease? They said to him: That he decreases. If so, let them have no intercourse with menstruant women. They said: ‘He speaketh rightly’, and it was annulled. Later they came to know that he was a Jew, and [the decrees] were re instituted. [The Jews] then conferred as to who should go [to Rome] to work for the annulment of the decrees. . .
Interestingly, as the essay was published anonymously, for the reason outlined above, one wonders how it is that the identity of the author was already known in 1792, when the review (translated into English from a German paper) appeared.

Since his pamphlet is sharply critical of Chassidism (and it's interesting to see even a small blurb about it in English in the 18th century, as we see above) I thought it might be worthwhile to post some 18th century drawings of Polish Jews and non-Jews, in light of the oft-repeated contention that 19th century Chassidic dress (and by extension contemporary) is actually the form of dress worn by the Polish nobility two or three hundred years ago. Keeping in mind that this is only partial evidence so it can't settle the case either way, you be the judge:

Polish Jewish woman, 1766:

Polish Jewish man, 1768:

The king of Poland, 1700:

Queen, 1700:

A Polish merchant:

A Polish noblewoman:

These images were taken from a four-volume work called A collection of the dresses of different nations, antient and modern (London, 1757-72). The artists were French, the work originally written in that language.

Pages from the 1844 edition of חשבון הנפש:

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Some contemporary impressions of Rabbi S.J. Rapoport in 1839, 1843 and 1853, a meeting with an authentic apikores and Italian Jewish education.

In chronological order:

Narrative of a mission of inquiry to the Jews from the Church of Scotland in 1839:

Austria. Vienna, Prague, Hungary, Bohemia, and the Danube; Galicia, Syria, Moravia, Bukovina and the Military Frontier by Johann Georg Kohl, 1843:

The Story of My Life by August J. C. Hare, 1853:

Since the authors of the first mentions that they'd heard in Jassy that Rav Shir was "the head of the secret Society for undermining Judaism,"I thought I'd add some of what they'd heard in Jassy:


Also, there's an interesting appendix in the same book, consisting of the curriculum of the yeshivos, elementary and higher level, in Leghorn (Livorno), for boys and girls:

Some of it does remind me of the description of Sephardic education in Amsterdam, 1680 in the שפתי ישינים:

An unusual 19th century edition of Maimonides' Mishneh Thorah.

Here are a couple of volumes of the 'Tsarist Mishneh Torah':

Click here for Dr. Michael Stanislawski's article describing איזה הלכות מיד החזקה לאדמו"ר הרמב"ם נ"ע.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Golems, forgeries and images of disrobed women in rabbinic literature.

Much to my pleasure I was cited by Dr. Shnayer Leiman in his post at the Seforim Blog, The Golem of Prague in Recent Rabbinic Literature. Like all benevolent scholars, he left a few corners for gleaning so that I can hopefully add a little bit to the discussion.

First of all, just to show how deeply embedded the notion that the Maharal created a golem is, here is a note from a recently produced Torah sheet:

The Chacham Tzvi's teshuva of course does not mention the Maharal (nor was he the Maharal's grandson). It will be reproduced below. (Edit: in view of a comment which contended that I am mistaken in my point, I would like to clarify what I mean here: my point is not that the author positively asserts that the Maharal made a golem. Indeed, he writes "tale?" in a paranthetical remark. But the author is mistaken that Chacham Tzvi is the Maharal's grandson. Why should this mistake occur? See below for the teshuva which discusses his actual "grandfather." But it seems to me that when someone has it in their mind that so-and-so's grandfather is said to have created a golem, unless they're careful and unless they check, none other than the Maharal pops into mind.)

Concerning Saul Berlin's Ketav Yosher, the satire which he wrote in defense of Herz Wessely's Divre Shalom ve-Emet pamphlet concerning Jewish education, Leiman copied and translated the relevant passage, but here it is in the original (last paragraph):

For some reason the Maharal's name is given as מוהר"ר לוי instead of לוואי or some similar spelling, and maybe this is why the passage had been overlooked. Before I put in my $.02 about this, every now and then one comes across something that seems to be symbolic of a great gap in thinking between different Jewish camps. Here is what Rabbi Ya'akov Kanievsky, the Steipler Gaon, had to say when asked about the propriety of publicly discussing the matter of the Besamim Rosh, the infamous forgery apparently created by the aforementioned Saul Berlin:

"In my humble opinion it is not at all proper to publicize the disgrace of the author of "Besamim Rosh" for several reasons:

"1) Due to the honor of his ancestors (Berlin's family was one of the most elite rabbinic families in all of Europe; his father, brothers, grandfathers, uncles - we're talking the heavyweights).

"2) Perhaps his soul has already achieved it's rectification in Gehinnom, being that more than 150 years had passed. Recalling his sin will cause his soul harm.

"3) This episode brings disdain on many great rabbis who supported the forgery, but were mistaken.

"4) Many men might weaken in their faith due to the confusion caused by their awareness that one who was great in Torah (i.e., Berlin) was able to stumble into heresy, God help us.

"However, it is permissible to compile an essay regarding the accursed Haskalah (here he makes a common pun which can only be seen in Hebrew, Haskalah - enlightenment - with a sin and Haskalah with a samech are homonyms of opposite meaning) which destroyed German Jewry, which departed from its heritage, and also spread to other lands, however the names of those Torah scholars who were caught up in it should be omitted."
Here we have the דעת תורה which basically forbids the Seforim Blog, my blog, and many others. By the way, I happen to agree with some of these points.

Here's a classic excerpt from the כתב יושר:

"The actions of Haman and Ahasuerus allude to various disagreements and positions of the great posekim. Haman acted as he did because he held like the Rif, but Achashverosh held like the Rambam. Achashverosh asked like the Maharsha, and Haman answered according to the Maharam Schiff. Don't protest that this is anachronistic, Haman and Achashverosh couldn't know the disagreements of the posekim and the laws of the Talmud, because even an ox and a donkey knew more in earlier times, as we see from the greats of the present generation. Like the Rabbis said, if the earlier ones were like people, we are like donkeys, but not even the donkey of Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair. If this was said by the sages of the Gemara, certainly it applies even more so in these days."

When I happened across this mention in the כתב יושר of a miracle of the Maharal juxtaposed next to another rabbi creating a golem, I was excited. The Maharal's golem is now so embedded in the public consciousness, as we see above, that people simply cannot think of a golem without thinking of the Maharal, and perhaps they can't even think of the Maharal without thinking of the golem. Yet in 1784 (when Ketav Yosher was written) or in 1794-5 (when it was probably posthumously published) the association was obviously not embedded in the mind. I initially wrote Dr. Leiman because I figured he knew which Maharal legend it referred to. Since it's funny, I'll admit publicly that I understood הוריד בירה מן השמים to mean that the Maharal caused beer to descend from heaven for the Emperor Rudolf to drink. I couldn't imagine that בירה here meant castle; the Maharal caused a castle to descend from heaven? What on earth could that mean? Dr. Leiman knew the legend and that it indeed referred to the Prague Castle.

This legend is most interesting. In 1831-32 Julius Max Schottky published a 2-volume book called Prag, wie es war und wie es ist. On pg. 361 we find the following:

"Rabbi Bezalel Löw ("the tall Rabbi Löw") of whom we've spoken above, lived under the rule of Emperor Rudolph II at Prague, and with his excellent mathematical and astronomical knowledge became such friends with Tycho Brahe that the Emperor could honor the Jewish Quarter with a visit, in the house at the square with a stone lion in front that is still there. Among Prague's Jews there is still the following legend: They say that Löw was a wise magician, and that during the imperial visit he brought the Prague Castle into the Jewish Quarter, by magic. The legend is interesting because Bezalel Low was the inventor of the camera obscura, which was the means through which he could have shown the Monarch the Castle in the Jewish Quarter, which is right outside the Castle. "

Putting aside exactness of the translation, here we see a non-Jewish historian, relating a legend which he says the Prague Jews still told in the early 1830s. The Emperor Rudolph II had such respect for the Maharal that he visited him. As a magician, the Maharal actually conjured the Castle for him right there in the Jewish Quarter (to show his hospitality? I would have thought a beer sufficed, but I guess that's not a miracle for a royal guest). Schottky adds that the Maharal invented the camera obscura, an interesting assertion to say the least, and in his view perhaps the germ of the legend is that he was able to produce an image of the Prague Castle for the Emperor using a camera obscura. An interesting fact from the Wikipedia page: "The term "camera obscura" was first used by the German astronomer Johannes Kepler in 1604." This refers to his book Astronomiae Pars Optica. Look at the to whom Kepler dedicates this work:

In any case, clearly this is the legend which Saul Berlin is referring to, and it seems that the legend of the Maharal being הוריד בירה מן השמים which Schottky reports in the 1830s was in circulation toward the end of the 18th century.

Before I get to other golemic matters, it is interesting to pause and note that not only have no written sources prior to 1836 been found linking the Mahral to the golem, but that once they do appear they are all in German, not in Hebrew. Why is that?

In the first part of the 19th century in Europe there was a Romantic interest in collecting and publishing the oral folklore of the people, for the existence of the rich popular imagination of the masses was thought to be a potent sign of nationhood, and for the first time collectors sought to document it. This is when Grimm's collection of fairy tales were published, and the collection which included a German version of Chad Gadya (see here), with many other examples in the respective European nations. Suffice it to say, this is a 19th century genre. Schottky's recording of the legend of the Maharal and the castle is an example of this. Jews too were swept in by this trend, and they also began to print the folklore of the Jews, the popular legends which had not made it into the existing literature.

See how Berthold Auerbach wrote of whom told the the legend of the golem:

Chaya, the maid, an old woman. It was a bit of folklore, an old wive's tale. Auerbach is one of the first sources to put this story in print, in his 1837 novel Spinoza (above is an English translation from 1882).

The Jewish Romantics, writing in German, got it in the same way the others heard and then wrote down stories like Hansel and Gretel. This is why the story isn't in 'canonical' sources (ala Shu"t Chacham Tzvi) and why it appears exclusively in German in its original printed versions. It is remarkable that a story with such modest and humble beginnings eventually became a fundamental of faith. אל תטוש תורת אמך.

Here is the Chacham Tzvi's famous question concerning a golem:

He mentions that his ancestor (not grandfather) Rabbi Elijah of Chelm (also known as Rabbi Elijah Baal Shem) was reputed to have created a golem using the Sefer Yezira. Not a word about the Maharal. And why should there be? 70 years later the Chacham Tzvi's own great-grandson, Saul Berlin himself, also doesn't mention the Maharal's golem.

The question is, why doesn't Saul Berlin mention his own ancestor, Rabbi Elijah of Chelm, instead of Rabbi Naftali's golem? Here we have to guess, and my guess is that Berlin's own family was off-limits. Yes, he was mocking the concept that rabbis not only can but also did create golems, or more accurately the belief that the remains of a golem could yet be seen today, but he wasn't about to cite his own ancestor and drag him into the satire. Or maybe Rabbi Elijah Baal Shem himself could have been a target, having died 200 years prior, but mentioning him would have just drawn attention to the Chacham Tzvi, his father's grandfather. But I really don't know.

Incidentally, it seems that many believe that Rabbi Elijah Baal Shem was the Chacham Tzvi's grandfather. This is understandable, since he calls him זקני in the aforementioned responsum, and so does his son in Sheilas Yaavetz II.82:

However, think about this logically. How likely is it that Rabbi Elijah (1550-1583) was the grandfather of Chacham Tzvi (1656-1718)? How much older than you are your grandfathers? Are we to believe that the Chacham Tzvi's father was in his 70s when he was born? Not only that, his maternal grandfather, R. Elijah ha-Kohen of Alt-Ofen was born in 1616. That would mean that Chacham Tzvi's father was at least 33 years older than his own father-in-law! So logically this does not make sense, even though the Jewish Encyclopedia has Rabbi Elijah as Chacham Tzvi's grandfather, a mistake repeated in both relevant Wikipedia pages (here and here). It is also repeated in the text and the notes on pg. 150 in the very interesting Artscroll book Great Jewish Letters by Rabbi Moshe Bamberger (which I intend to review). What does Chacham Tzvi's son, Rabbi Yaakov Emden say about this ancestry? On pg. 4 of Megillas Sefer he writes:

אבא רבה הוא הגאון החסיד שבכהונה בעל ס' שו"ת שער אפרים ז"ל, ראש ב"ד בק' ווילנא המעטירה אז בהיות בשלותה, והיה לו כתב יחוסו עד אהרן הכהן, וחתן לאחד מן בני בניו של הגאון ר' אליהו בעל שמ הזקן ז"ל, שהיה אב"ד בקק' חעלם בימים ההם

In fact the Chacham Tzvi's paternal grandfather was married to the grand-daughter of Rabbi Elijah. Regarding Megillas Sefer, see here for a recent entertaining discussion about the provenance of this autobiography.

Next is a really interesting account of a golem. Commenting on Sefer Yezira 2:5, Rabbi Sa'adya Gaon writes the following:

"I have heard that Ibn Ezra created a creature before Rabbenu Tam and said 'See what God allows to be accomplished through his holy letters.'"

Rav Saadya lived 200 years before them you say? Hmm.

Since this is a Maharal post, it is worth glancing at the title page of his תפארת ישראל, published in Venice in 1599 (that is, ten years before the Maharal died):

I am not arguing anything about how the Maharal viewed such things, but facts are facts. There are many more such examples of nudes on the title pages of venerable seforim. Not only were they written by important rabbis, but in many cases we know who owned them (and who, therefore, did not deface them). A future post will show an interesting example of one such sefer owned by one rabbi with an extremely zealous reputation.

In 1989 there was a reprint of a commentary on the Torah by Rabbi Menachem Avraham Ha-kohen "Rapoport" (d. 1596).

Toward the end of the second volume is a reproduction of the famous coat-of-arms of this family, except that the bare-breasted women are now wearing "shirts" (albeit tight ones!):

Here is the original, which if memory serves is actually reproduced sans censorship in one of Rabbi Berel Wein's history books published by Artscroll's Shaar Press. I will check later.

From Herald of Destiny by Rabbi Berel Wein:

Finally, a note about my discovery of the earliest known source for the Maharal's golem (link). It's a pity (for me) that it wasn't early enough to have made it into the impressive book Path of Life. Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel (cal. 1525–1609). In the relevant article by Byron Sherwin, "The Golem of Prague and His Ancestors" it mentions that for a long time it was thought that the first appearance of Rabbi Loew's golem was in an 1841 article by a non-Jew, with it appearing in Jewish sources beginning in 1847. However, he writes, Shnayer Leiman showed Jewish sources from 1837, and [I forgot!] showed non-Jewish sources from that same year. I showed one from 1836, written by Ludwig A. Frankl, a Jew. I'm under no illusion that this must definitely be the first written source. Earlier ones may yet be found. However the way in which I discovered this should be mentioned. I'm not going to pretend that I printed out pages of the Oesterreiche Zeitschrift für Geschichts und Staatsunde for some light reading. Rather, the discovery is a nice piece of fruit borne out of the digitization of literature. Who knows what truly important discoveries are yet to be found in overlooked literature?


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