Thursday, July 22, 2010

The selling of kibudim (honors) in London synagogues denounced in 1796.

In 1796 an anonymous book called A Peep into the Synagogue; or a Letter to the Jews appeared in London. Although it is assumed that it was written by a Jew (and indeed must have been, although perhaps one who converted to Christianity) I don't think it is known who wrote it to this day. Furthermore, copies are hard to come by. None of the digital archives seem to have it. However, below is a review which gives some interesting content:

And here's another review which takes the obnoxious tone by the author to task, calling it a "rude and illiberal attack." Even if the things are true, notes the reviewer, they ought to "be reproved by the gentle voice of candour":

Le faux Messie

Here's a copy of the famous eyewitness portrait of שבתי צבי, "Sabetha Sebi", included in Thomas Coenen's 1669 book Ydele verwachtinge der Joden getoont in den persoon van Sabethai Zevi. The copy of that portrait, depicted below, is in the 1728 book Les Imposteurs Insignes by Jean-Baptiste de Rocoles.:

The original can be seen here.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

An Egyptian Pasha accuses Egyptian Jews, in 1700, of robbing Egypt in biblical times.

The newspaper the English Post Giving an Authentick Account of the Transactions of the World Foreign and Domestick on November 6, 1700:

Also see this post, this one, and this purported news story from 2003.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The canceled fast in Vilna for the Ninth of Av 5731/ 1871.

The August 15, 1871 - כ"א אב תרל"א לפ"ק issue of המליץ contained a dispatch from Vilna, which included the following about how a cholera epidemic affected the fasting on Tisha B'Av that year:

The essence of the footnote is given in the London Jewish Chronicle of October 16 of that year:

In case anyone thinks the simple, desperate people of Vilna were rationalist Litvaks, see the following:

How one of the greatest 19th century Christian Hebraists unwittingly inspired the true observance of Tisha B'av.

Some years ago Dr. Shnayer Leiman called attention to, and translated, a really interesting anecdote for the Ninth of Av buried in an obscure Hungarian rabbinic journal from the 1920s. In brief, the great Orientalist Ignaz Goldziher told a young Leopold Greenwald, later to become an American rabbi and historian, how their teacher Franz Delitzsch paid a shiva call of sorts to him and Wilhelm Bacher on Tisha B'av.

You can download the entire translation here, but here is the relevant passage in the original Hebrew and in translation:

The journal is אפריון No.2 5685 (1925), and the translation appears in Tradition 25(4), Summer 1991, From the Pages of Tradition: R. Leopold Greenwald: Tish'ah Be-av at the University of Leipzig by Shnayer Z. Leiman, where all the biographical info of the participants are given.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Solve a 300 year old mystery

In D'Blossiers Tovey's fascinating 1738 work which deals with the archaelogical remnants of English Jewry before the expulsion of 1290, Anglia Judaica, about the "the history and antiquities of the Jews in England, collected from all our historians, both printed and manuscript, as also from the records in the Tower, and other publick repositories," he reproduces an image of a vase or an urn of sorts with a Hebrew inscription. Explaining that it was found in a brook about 40 years earlier (about 1700) , he asked Jews what it was used for, but they didn't know:

Tovey's own (way off track) guess was that it was meant to store documents. But my guess is that it was a 'tzedakah box.' צדקה תציל ממות.

What's your interpretation?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Bet Din, 1920s style.

Here's an interesting depiction and description of the London Beth Din as it functioned in 1926. It is titled "The World's Oldest Tribunal, Dating From Moses, The Beth Din, Or Court of the Chief Rabbi."

Detail; that's Rabbi J.H. Hertz in the middle:

Click to enlarge and read. From the Illustrated London News, August 14, 1926.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A missing Bar Pappa.

As many readers know, when a talmudic treatise is completed a litany of names is recited in the Hadran recitation, חנינא בר פפא, רמי בר פפא, נחמן בר פפא, אחאי בר פפא, אבא מרי בר פפא, רפרם בר פפא, רכיש בר פפא, סורחב בר פפא, אדא בר פפא, דרו בר פפא. But there's no יצחק בר פפא.

Here is a Jewish Sasanian seal (between 3rd and 7th centuries CE) described as: Lulav and etrog, with the Hebrew inscription, "Isaac, son of Papa". Copenhagen, National Museum, inv. 9470. Cornelian, 13 mm (note that פפא is spelled פאפא).

Sasanian Jewry and its culture: a lexicon of Jewish and related seals by Daniel M. Friedenberg, pg. 28:

Another seal is mentioned as well:

Regarding spelling variants, I would just point out that there basically is no such thing as standardized spelling 1500 years ago. In fact there basically was no such thing as fully standardized spelling 500 years ago. To the extent that there is a canonical literature, spelling could be more standardized. For example, because of our Bible no one ever had a doubt how to spell a name like יהודה or משה, but newer names and words could be challenging and subject to the whims of the writer, who had no official dictionaries or lexicons to consult. That's why "Akiva" was spelled עקיבה or עקיבא, and there are many variant spellings in all languages.

Interestingly, there appears to be a Ge'onic variant of Kiddushin 70b's יהודה בר פפא ממזירא which reads יצחק בר פפא ממזירא, which is supported by the Munich Talmud MS. See אוצר הגאונים.

Developing the Hebrew name for the United States over 150 years ago in a Haskalah school book printed by the Romm Press of Vilna.

Here is a very interesting book, an 1849 work by Aryeh Leib Mandelstamm (1809-1889) called אלף-בית והוא ספר חנוך נערים ללמד בני-ישראל ספר ולשון מוסר, or Alphabeth, Ebraisches Elementarbuch von Sr. Erlaucht, dem Herrn Minister der Volksaufklaerung in its German title. This was a two-volume Haskalah text book for youths, printed by the famous Romm Press in Vilna. The author was Max Lilienthal's replacement, in charge of Jewish education, when the latter left Russia. Readers might also be interested to note that he recommended Rabbi Yisrael Salanter to head the proposed Rabbinical Seminary of Vilna, an appointment which the latter emphatically rejected. It is interesting to speculate why Mandelstamm thought he would accept such a position. (Also see here).

Even the appearance of the book is notable. To begin with, it uses a font styled after the semicursive Hebrew used at the time, and it is instructive to compare it with our own:

Note the forms of letters such as א ק and ש. To this eye at least they appear kind of like a transition between the old waybertaytsch script and our present form. An example of waybertaytsch, albeit used incorrectly, below:

While we're at it, it would be instructive to look another sample of printed Hebrew text to clarify a point about the form of one of the letters. Below is from a letter printed in 1605 in Hugh Broughton's Familia Davidis, quatenus regnum spectat, a letter which is certainly worthy of separate treatment:

Anyone who can read Rashi letters can read it quite comfortably. But at the same time the ש is styled very slightly differently from the form we're more accustomed to seeing today. To prove my point I took a ש from the fairly modern text (below) and then placed it side by side with the ש from 1605:

Why mention all this? Because many people wonder how it is that our cursive ש often looks like very much like a lower case e. As you can see, it is in fact basically the same form as the ש in the Rashi script, but the loop is closed to facilitate writing more quickly.

Back to Mandelstamm's book. One of the goal's of the book was to teach proper German, rather than Yiddish. But to begin doing that the novice had to know the German alphabet, the names of the letters and how they are pronounced:

It was also important to teach how combinations like /ph/ should be pronounced:

As you can see, German names, and in some cases their Hebrew equivalents were listed as well (above and below for some sample):

Other sections of the book are dedicated to geography. I though the following was quite interesting:

Since this was 1849, and Lincoln hadn't yet bought Alaska from Russia, Mandelstamm was able to state that at the Northernmost part of North America lived Russians, who came from Asia by way of Siberia. South of them in Canada are Englishman, and South them are Americans. What's interesting is the term he uses to describe the United States of America, ארץ אנשי הברית. Today the United States is called ארצות הברית in Hebrew, a coinage which dates to the 1850s at least. Some time ago Dave of Balashon wrote a post about the history of the term. He explained how some writers claimed that Mendele Mokher Seforim coined the term, but it was debunked. I feel like Mandelstamm's ארץ אנשי הברית is a little bit like an awkward prototype for the expression. As far as I can tell, most writers in his time and earlier don't really refer to the United States per se, but to אמעריקא הצפונית or North America. Possibly of some note is that in an article in Bikure Ha-ittim Vo. 7 (1826) by Yehuda Jeiteles concerning Mordechai Manuel Noah's call to establish a Jewish state in upstate New York, the author calls the United States מדינות נארד אמעריקא, the States of North America:

Friday, July 09, 2010

Will you be my Hebrew pen pal? "Chana Miriam Shurman," a 17th century Christian Hebraist.

Moritz Steinschneider, who has been called "the father of Jewish bibliography," supposedly [1] quipped ראשית חכמה—ביבליוגרפיה. Whatever one thinks of the impious biblical parody (Psalms 111:10 and Proverbs 9:10) there can be no question that bibliography is immensely important in scholarship unless your scholarly path is to choose a few classics to which you always refer. Thus bibliographers are deserving of an enormous thank you.

Rabbi Shabbethai Bass (1641-1718), the author of one of the better known of the many supracommentaries on Rashi was also a bibliographer, and in truth he is really the father of Hebrew bibliography. (In its abridged form, עיקר שפתי חכמים, it may well be the most widely printed, if not most widely read such commentary of them all. In fact, in Artscroll's all-Hebrew edition of the Pentateuch, it was included as the classic accompaniment to the great master's commentary. Since a sparse Pentateuch for weekly reading is, in a sense, like a "desert island list" one can get a sense of how traditional, if not important, it was seen to include this work. It isn't every work that assumes a place alongside Targum Onkelos, Rashi [and Toldos Aharon].)

Bass was not the first to compile a Hebrew bibliographical list, but he was the first knowledgeable Jewish scholar to do so (outside of odds and ends, medieval bookseller catalogs and the like), using his knowledge and erudition to vastly outpace all earlier works which were compiled by Christian Hebraists (such as Bartolocci's Bibliotheca magna rabbinica of 1675). His book שפתי ישינים, printed in Amsterdam in 1680 lists well over 2000 titles. Here is a mention, from 1722, of the usefulness of his great work. It is translated from French:

It is surely interesting that he does not limit himself to seforim, that is Jewish, rabbinic works, but also includes a section called שער החיצון, or Outside the Canon, listing Hebrew works by Christian scholars. Below is the small introduction. You can also see the very first work he lists is an אבן גליון, or Evangelion, that is Elias Hutter's Hebrew translation of the New Testament Gospels.

Writes Bass: "Here are listed many works translated from Hebrew to Latin, and some which are written in both Hebrew and Latin. These authors are not Jewish. This shows the power of Hebrew, that all the nations exert themselves to learn and write works in the Holy Tongue, and to translate books from Hebrew into other languages. The wise will understand the great purpose of this chapter."

So it is that the acquisition of Hebrew by Christians was appreciated as notable by at least some Jewish scholars.

Anna Maria Schurman (1607-1678), depicted above in 1632, was a legend in her own time. Originally from Cologne, she lived in Utrecht in Holland, and quite naturally was a Calvinist. From a very young age she became accomplished in the major European languages, as well as Latin and Greek. She developed a propensity for scholarship, which was considered nothing short of astonishing in her time. As the best Latinist in town, Gisbert Voet (1588-1676), Rector of the University of Utrecht, invited her to write a Latin poem for the occasion of the opening of the University. As a result of this a friendship developed between them and he taught her Hebrew. From there she progressed to Aramaic and Syriac. Because of her scholarly prowess and intense curiosity Voet had a special booth built for her to audit lectures at the University.

She became acquainted with Rene Descartes ("I think, therefore I am") who enjoyed discussing scholarly topics with her, and sitting with her to listen to lectures. One time he entered the booth and saw she was reading the Bible in Hebrew. Descartes, a Catholic, asked her why she was wasting her time over something so unimportant? She gave some kind of answer about the supreme importance of the original Hebrew for understanding God's word. In reply, he remarked that he had thought as she did and even learned the language himself. When he tried to read the first chapter of Genesis dealing with creation, instead of comprehending God's great wisdom he just found it to be very incoherent. She was extremely upset by his flippant attitude toward the language which she considered to be of infinite importance, and her attitude toward him cooled considerably. She never invited him to join her in her booth again.

Another interesting anecdote concerns the time that Queen Christina of Sweden, having heard great things about her, visited her accompanied by Jesuit priests. Christina was fairly scholarly herself, and saw she was unable to baffle Anna Maria on any topic she posed to her. So she asked the Jesuits to ask her some tough questions about theology, and they also couldn't stump her. They were so surprised by her quickness and cleverness that—you can't make this stuff up—they told Queen Christina that she must be possessed by an evil spirit. Anna replied by laughing and agreeing that she was inspired by a spirit. The friendly visit concluded with Anna quickly painting the Queen's portrait for her.

Oh, she was also a talented artist. Below are several self-portraits made at age 25, 33 and 75 respectively:

In 1824 the periodical Bikure Ha-ittim published three of her Hebrew letters, as follows:

As you can see, Anna Maria Schurman signed her name חנה מרים שורמן, Chana (=Hannah) Miriam Shurman in Hebrew. Before I get to the content of the letters, it is interesting to note that she never married and as a chaste, pious woman she was often referred to as a "Maid" or even a "Virgin," (and you will see an example in Hebrew contemporary to her time below). It's interesting that in Bikure Ha-ittim she is referred to as עלמה חכמת לב, because while it is correct, if she was referred to as an עלמה by her contemporary Christians it was meant in the sense of virgin, a meaning which Jews do not accept as valid for that word. I think a case can be made that the editor unwittingly made a sloppy choice here.

The third of these letters is most interesting. Shurman was writing to a woman named Dorothea Moore (1613-1664) of Dublin and essentially requesting that she be her Hebrew pen pal. She praises Dorothea, telling her that wisdom is only to be found among English women in her now that Lady Jane Gray (גברת יוחנה גריה) and Queen Elizabeth (מלכה אלישבע) are dead. The other letters are to Andre Rivet, who was her mentor, and the aforementioned Gisbert Voet.

Where did Bikure Ha-ittim get these letters? They were included in an anthology of her writings in Latin, Greek, Hebrew and French called Opuscula hebraea, latina, graeca, gallica, published in 1648, 1650 and 1652. Here is how they appear:

In the 1652 edition edited by Johannes Leusden a dedicatory inscription in Hebrew was included at the beginning. Here he calls her בתולת השם, a Virgin of God:

Below is yet another portrait included in this edition:

Interestingly, she eventually gave up humanist-philological studies and became a Christian mystic. What of her correspondence with Dorothea Moore? Her Opuscula also included a Latin letter. Below is an English translation from Women Writing Latin: From Roman Antiquity to Early Modern Europe:

[1] I can't verify this quote. Louis Jacobs was fond of repeating it in the name of his teacher, Dr. Siegfried Stein, who attributed it to Steinschneider.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Come my beloved, let us greet the Bride, let us receive the presence of Sunday; a vintage parody of Kabbalat Shabbat for Sunday in 1846.

On August 8, 1846 the Literaturblatt des Orients published the following parodic criticism of recent steps in German Reform Judaism, especially the desire to move the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday. It was penned by the self-styled Moses Mendelssohn of Hamburg (surnamed Frankfurter; 1780-1861; he happens to have been Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch's paternal uncle. For more info see here).

After being introduced by a fake quote from a mystical passage concerning how one is to conduct oneself on Erev Sunday (hint: it includes tobacco), and a Talmudic passage (in the "German Talmud," not the "Babylonian" or "Jerusalem Talmud") complete with a gloss from "Tosafot" ("Why does it say that whoever drinks aged wine on Erev Sunday will merit the Emancipation and not the coming of the Messiah?Answer: this is according to the view that there is no Messiah"). The piece gives instructions leading all the way up to the recitation of Lecha Dodi in the synagogue, and his parody of Lecha Dodi follows.

לכה דודי לקראת כלה, פני זאננטאג נקבלה
Come my beloved, let us greet the Bride, let us receive the presence of Sunday:

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Chassidic rebbe bashing from 1845.

Here's some nasty and crudely written bits of gossip about Chassidic rebbes in Galicia, such as R. Meir'l of Premishlan (Przemyśl) and Harry Maryles's ancestor R. Shimon Maryles of Jaroslaw. It was originally printed in the Allgemeine Zeitung des Judenthums, and translated into English where it appeared in the July 1, 1845 issue of the missionary journal Voice of Israel. This is only a footnote. Interested readers can read the complete piece here.


Related Posts with Thumbnails