Monday, November 29, 2010

Should grammatically challenged writers make digs at grammatically challenged writers? An ironic sentence in an 1882 review of a "Chareidi" journal.

Henry Gersoni, an American Reform rabbi from Vilna[1], wrote many articles about all sorts of topics of Jewish interest in American periodicals, including William Rainey Harper's excellent Hebrew Student. In 1882 he wrote a short review of all the Hebrew periodicals of his time of which he was aware.

When it came to the Hungarian organ of the Ultra-Orthodox, the מחזיקי הדת, (which you can read here) he writes that it "amuses its readers with Kabbalistic hyperbole and ungrammatical Hebrew." Ironically, he adds that "the journal has existed since four years."

You can read more about the Machzikei Hadas newspaper here.

Interestingly, Gersoni is one of the first to write in English about the legendary Count Valentin Potocki in his sketch called The Converted Nobleman; a Historical Narrative. Not only that, he apparently is the one to supply a first name, as in no earlier account - whether in Polish or in English or in Hebrew - is Potocki's first name mentioned. His account will be analyzed, with some further information about the legendary Graf Walentyn Potocki, or Avraham ben Avraham Ger Zedek, martyr of Ilya or Vilna, in a future post soon.

Here is his entire article on "Periodicals in the Hebrew Tongue:"

An American and British rabbi discuss* the Spanish origins of the Zoharic term Esnoga in 1857.

*In the broadest sense.

Here's a letter to the Jewish Chronicle dated August 14, 1857 discussing the Hebrew Zoharic term אש נוגה ("bright fire"). Apparently pioneering American Orthodox rabbi Bernard Illowy had written a letter to Isaac Mayer Wise's Reform newspaper the Israelite which "endeavored to who that esnoga" - Spanish-Portuguese for "synagogue" - "was derived from the Hebrew אש נוגה, applied in the Zohar to a synagogue."

The respondent in the JC asked one of London's most distinguished Spanish-Portuguese scholars, the Rev. David Aaron de Sola about it, and he replied that he doesn't think Illowy is correct. Instead of Esnoga being derived from אש נוגה ,אש נוגה was derived from Esnoga. de Sola explained how Esnoga comes from Synagoga, and has a Spanish prefix. He explains that "the E is constantly added by Spaniards to words of foreign origin, especially if they commence without a consonant." He is quite correct, although evidently he didn't understand the reason why, which is that Spanish doesn't allow initial consonant clusters, so out of necessity a vowel prefix was added.

De Sola does not profess to be familiar with the Zohar, requesting that Illoway should show which places in the Zohar he means. However, he says that it is "well known that in the Zohar there are many modern additions" and that this could be one of them.

Not knowing the Zohar and not knowing the literature about its authenticity, de Sola was nonetheless able to detect one of Rabbi Jacob Emden's proofs that the Zohar contains late additions, much the same way any of us would if the word "shul" was used in the Zohar in a Hebrew play on words of some kind, and if someone had then suggested that our word was derived from that Hebrew expression. (Oh yeah? You have a better example? ;-)

See third chapter in Yaavetz's מטפחת ספרים here.

Unfortunately only isolated pages of the Israelite are online, so I wasn't able to find Dr. Illowy's original piece. However, the natural place to look is in his son Dr. Henry Illoway's compilation of his letters and responsa, the מלחמות אלהים (Berlin 1914), which includes polemics written to the Israelite. Not included. Since it must have been part of a polemic, I can't help wonder if it wasn't included because the son knew that his father's suggestion was in error.

As for whether Illowy himself had seen or was even aware of מטפחת ספרים - which was probably rare in 1857 having been only printed once 90 years earlier - or not, I can't say. It's possible he was aware of it and in his opinion deriving Esnoga from אש נוגה was the solution to the anachronism. It is interesting that he was a student at the Rabbinical Seminary of Padua for a short while, and presumably Shadal taught his theory of the Zohar's origin there. Below is from his Vikuach the published version of his arguments in 1852:

Friday, November 26, 2010

A unique manuscript shows how 13th century Jewish children begin studying Torah in Ashkenaz.

This is Seder Ha-limmud BSB Cod.hebr. 153(11) (link), a beautiful 13th century document which - I surmise - was used in a child's first Torah session. Presumably the father or rabbi would recite the letters and verses and the child would repeat.

The words on the left side are the verses תורה צוה לנו, Moses commanded us a law, an inheritance of the congregation of Jacob (link), and ויקרא אל משה, And the LORD called unto Moses, and spoke unto him out of the tent of meeting, saying . . . (link). In between are two Kabbalistic versions of the אלפא ביתא. The first, Tashrak Tzaphas is the Aleph Bet backward grouped into "words," Ayak Bechar, which involves arranging all 27 letters (including the five finals) in a table three by nine. Then read horizontally, you get איק בכר, etc. Finally, there is an excerpt from a larger medieval teaching mnemonic like "The Quick Brown Fox," הקץ עצל דיך מנום גרש כזב פן תוסף חטא.

And with this a boy would begin to learn Torah (but no haircut).

Unfortunately I could find out nothing about this manuscript, except that I think it belonged to Johann Reuchlin's collection. It's in the Munich Bayerische StaatsBibliothek, the same library with the famous and unique Talmud manuscript (link).

Speaking of Reuchlin, while it's well known that he learned Hebrew grammar from Rabbi Ya'akov ben Yechiel Loans (Jacobus Jehiel Loans Hebræus as he refers to him) and Rabbi Ovadya Sforno (link), less well known is that he was initially taught the Aleph Bet and how to read Hebrew from a melammed named Kalman (Calman Judæus, Elementarius præceptor) and, no, I did not just make this up.

(A Hat-tip will be given if I get permission.) A Hat-tip to Amit Gvaryahu who linked to this ms. on his Facebook account. Nice find, Amit!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The masses with a historical sense have needs too - a reflection on YouTubegate.

A YouTube video called Yeshiva guy says over a vort has been making the rounds. Incredibly for our little circles it has 30000+ views in one week. By the J-blogosphere standards, that's like Miley-Cyrus-getting-caught-wth-cocaine-at-a-traffic-stop viral. Clearly it struck a chord of some sort.

For some reason this was deemed worthy of a public response (here) "after consultation with Gedolei HaPoskim."

The author of the response, Rabbi Yair Hoffman, does not focus at all on the target of the video "Yeshiva guy says over a vort" since he realizes that the reason why "Yeshiva guy says over a vort" is because this is what he is taught. Therefore he intuits that the video is aiming for higher hanging fruit, and responds accordingly.

He summarizes three positions on how to interpret the Gemara Yoma 28b that states that the Avos (patriarchs) kept the Torah. Not surpisingly, there are three positions, which he terms maximalist, minimalist and middle-position.

Writing about the minimalist view, he says "The minimalist position believes that this Gemorah should be understood in a somewhat allegorical sense – in other words we should and must look and view the Avos and their children in the sense that they actually did perform all of the Mitzvos. Why so? There might be a tendency among the masses to view the patriarchs of Klal Yisroel in a somewhat lesser light because they did not have the sophisticated and more developed aspects of Avodas Hashem that we might have. “For Avrohom Avinu – a Bris Milah was a nisayon – for me – it is a spiritual experience that I look forward to..” – might be an example of such thinking."

After summarizing these positions he concludes "The overwhelming majority of Torah authorities, however, clearly and completely hold of the maximalist position, and this is the general position that should be taught in our Torah institutions. When one is involved in Kiruv or deals with people that have been raised in secular environments, it is the opinion of this author that all three positions should be presented. None of the positions, however, should ever be mocked or derided. This is not the Torah way."

This is extremely interesting to me. The part I bolded speaks of catering to the needs of the masses. What I believe happened here is that Hoffman doesn't realize, or care, that this is a contradiction to his conclusion. It is not only "people raised in a secular environment" in a "kiruv" setting who cannot stomach the maximalist position - and that's why the video was created.

Putting aside the contradiction or disparity - the "mainstream" default should be to teach only one position - the maximalist - while for assimilated people all three should be taught rather than only one - the minimalist or the middle position - Hoffman sees no need for catering to the masses who can't take the maximalist position, the type who made the video viral by 1) identifying with its message and 2) passing it on. He only sees the scoffers (secretly ensconced within the Orthodox community) but not the people, who are also the masses, who also need their religion and their teachers to make sense to them.

Interestingly, there is a parallel to my position in the work of Nachman Krochmal ("Renak"). In his posthumously published Moreh Nevuchei Ha-zeman he teaches some things which are still considered controversial at best within Orthodoxy to this day; the Deutero-Isaiah hypothesis, the idea that not only weren't the Psalms written by David, but many of them were written as late as the Hasmonean period, etc. His thesis was as follows: first of all, these things are the truth and can be demonstrated through careful analysis of the books themselves. Secondly, these facts were known to Chazal and other exegetes as well, and this too can be demonstrated through careful analysis of the sources. However, they concealed these views from the masses and did not teach the historical truth about the authors of these books. Rather, they taught an edifying literary history which would inspire the masses and spoke to their spiritual needs of the time.

He conjectures, for example, that belief in the Davidic authorship of Psalm 137 (Al naharot Bavel/ By the rivers of Babylon) at one time enhanced one's appreciation of prophecy. However in our own time (Krochmal died in 1840) all this was to the contrary. Given the rise of the critical spirit the contention that David wrote that Psalm is no longer plausible, thus teaching it as historical fact is not inspiring and does not enhance one's appreciation for prophecy - it has the opposite effect on the reader. Therefore the time had come to investigate and teach the actual literary history of the Bible and this would be appropriate and inspiring for the times - and true.

This does sound wacky, but I think it is fair to understand the internal logic behind positions, whether they seem wacky or not. At the time the Jews did not yet possess their own modern scholarly literature. So if you were looking for a scholarly, "critical" discussion of Judaism written with modern research methods and principles you essentially had to read the productions of German Protestants, or Jews who basically copied them or translated their works into Hebrew. If you read these, you'd learn that rabbinic Judaism was borne in the wake of an anemic, arid and declining biblical religion corrupted by petty legalism and unspiritual priests. At that time there was a renewal of pristine religion - Christianity - waiting in the wings. Thus the Second Temple period was viewed as a period of Jewish decline, lacking in creativity and vitality.

But what if some of the best works of the Bible were produced in this period? Everyone agreed the Psalms were awesome. What if they were produced for singing in the Temple during this period? What if the productions of the early rabbis were not the remaining embers of a dying creed, but a glorious bonfire of renewed creativity?

Thus Krochmal - who firmly believed that the modern critical approach was correctly discovering the true literary history of these books - was fully able to offer a counter-approach to modern anti-Jewish scholarship. Judaism was vital after all. The 2nd Temple period was not the end of Judaism - it was the beginning of Judaism! By contrast, in earlier times the idea that all of Judaism was of the greatest antiquity was inspiring, and for that reason alone the rabbis taught it. I suspect Krokhmal would have been shocked to learn that in 2010 there would still be plenty of Jews who found the old approach inspiring, but facts are facts. People may couch questions of authorship in terms of heresy, but it's hard to make a convincing case that there's a dogma about who wrote Psalms. Who cares if some Psalms were Hasmonean? Answer: the people who care. I think that it's really a question of which religion people prefer - one substantially developed and similar to what it's like today in the very earliest times, or one in which development also occurs later.

Unfortunately it gets murky, because its no longer 1840 and Krochmal had the luxury of believing fully that the Torah was revealed to and written by Moshe even while adopting the critical approach, while at the same time today the scholarly position does not pass judgment on how vital or spiritual Judaism was in relation to Christianity.

Here is Krochmal's introduction:

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Chassidisher Ma'ase in an 1851 Singapore newspaper: Kossuth and the Rabbi.

A famous Chassidic story about the Yismach Moshe, Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum (1759-1841) appeared in The Straits Times and Singapore Journal of Commerce April 8, 1851.

(If you think periodicals reprint stories and items from each other too much these days, you haven't read too many 19th century periodicals. This story was originally in the Jewish Chronicle Dec. 14, 1849 (pp. 77-78), and republished in many British newspapers until it reached the Straits Times of Singapore in 1851.)

The story concerns Hungarian revolutionary and hero Lajos Kossuth (1802-94), who was beloved by Jews for his fair and enlightened attitude toward the Jews (see here for the Occident's coverage of him in 1849 which gives a flavor of the enthusiasm he had roused in Hungarian Jews - including the very frum ones).

In the story, Kossuth's father, an attorney (like him) was involved in a very contentious lawsuit against Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum (who is unnamed here). During this period, two sons of the elder Kossuth died and indeed he himself died. The rumor spread that this happened because the Yismach Moshe cursed him. It so frightened people that the widow, and mother of the last remaining son, visited him to request a blessing for him. After conversing with the boy, and apparently liking what he saw, the Rebbe placed his hands on his head and blessed him, applying the words of Psalam 60:6 to him and punning on his name: נָתַתָּה לִּירֵאֶיךָ נֵּס לְהִתְנוֹסֵס מִפְּנֵי קֹשֶׁט סֶלָה, "Thou hast given a banner to them that fear Thee, that it may be displayed because of the truth. Selah."

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Jerusalem Perushi of the Vilna Gaon's disciples in New York, his haskamah to an embarrasingly bad book and . . orangutans.

This is Rabbi Chanoch Zundel ben Zvi Hirsch (Enoch Zundel) of Jerusalem. He was a resident of Jerusalem, an emissary (שד"ר) from there and the Sefad community to Western Europe and the United States in the 1820s and 30s. He arrived in the United States in 1832, when the Holy Land communities were at a particular low point, suffering from cholera and oppression. Here he remained for most of the year. His portrait was drawn from memory, and much has been made in the historical sources about how this was the first published rabbinic portrait in the United States. In my opinion, that snappy scarf around his neck may well be a tallit - which is interesting, because he is wearing it scarf-style. Don't be surprised by the lack of tzizit. It was drawn by a non-Jew from memory.

The caption reads רבי חנוך צונדעל שליח נאמן מירושלים / The Rabbi Enoch Zundel The True Messenger From Jerusalem. When he was here he helped establish a fund raising society called חברת תרומת הקודש (as they usually were) for the Jews of the Holy Land. Writing in 1849, Isaac Leeser recalled:
We well recollect the first occasion when the society was established: but if we mistake now, it owed its origin to the appeals of the learned Rabbi Enoch Zundel, who was sent to this country and Europe by the congregations of Palestine to plead in their behalf. His urbane manners, and elegant countenance, we are sure, cannot have been forgotten. He, at least, was a true and honest man. (The Occident VII No. 4, Tamuz 5609/ July 1849)
We can see he made quite an impression in America. Toward the end of the post I'll post a newspaper account of his appearance and a translation of the letter he came with.

One of the people he made a profound impression on was William L. Roy, a Brooklyn-based Hebrew scholar. Roy was so taken by him that he took it upon himself to translate some Hebrew letters for the benefit of Christians, and in general he promoted Rabbi Chanoch Zundel as an exotic and profound person. In return, the rabbi seems to have written a testimonial or approbation for Roy's magnum opus A Complete Hebrew and English Critical and Pronouncing Dictionary which, as you will see, was justly criticized for being a less than impressive work of scholarship.

Here is the haskama, as printed in the second edition:

Pretty wild. It seems to say that he met Gesenius. (Gesenius, for those who don't know, was widely acknowledged as the greatest European modern Hebrew scholar of the 19th century. By comparison, Gesenius's praise of Shadal as "Italy's greatest Orientalist [Hebrew scholar]" was widely seen as high praise indeed. Of course the question of how great he was is complicated by the fact that you really couldn't compare a modern scholar at the time to Jews - perhaps that should be the subject of a future post.) Now, the idea that William L. Roy was as good a Hebrew scholar as Gesenius is a bad joke. Of course we don't know if Rabbi Chanoch Zundel was in any position to judge, if he really had any idea about Gesenius beyond meeting him, or if indeed any of this was true. It is extremely doubtful that the English was written by him, and it is possible that he simply signed whatever it is that Roy asked him to sign - of maybe he didn't even do that. Nevertheless, this testimonial appeared in both editions of Roy's book, and among other things, it was noticed and ridiculed in the press reviews.

Before I get to those, here are some samples from Roy's introduction:
"That the Hebrew is of divine origin, is beyond doubt. We read in 2 Kings xvii. 28, that "Rabshaka stood and cried with a loud voice in the language of the Jews." Yehoodith is from Yehoo, a contraction of Yehovah, and dath, the law, religion. Hence the language of Jehovah, in which his law and religion were written."
Elsewhere in the introduction he interprets Jesus's "not one jot or tittle" remark to refer to the yod and the . . . hirik. He then goes on to dismiss those who say that he meant an "accent." Roy disagrees with this, because instead of the Greek "Kereai" it would have used "milail." And besides, "an accent is as large as three hericks." He is thus taking the position that the nekkudot (points) were used in the time of Jesus.

In his entry on the root עזר there's a little discussion about Ezra, which includes a little comment that he heard from the rabbi: "A manuscript of the book of Ezra, in his own hand-writing, is said to be still preserved in the German Synagogue at Jerusalem."

The American Review wrote a particularly bad review of the whole. The excerpt I am posting focuses on his use of Rabbi Enoch Zundel:

In the second edition, Roy responds to his critics and enlarges his list of Jewish approbators - whether he is telling the truth about Rabbi Solomon Hirschell of London or not, I cannot say. the others' were printed in the book:

The review continues to deplore the other approbations, including one from the chancellor of NYU, which it says dishonors New York City. It concludes by asserting that it has nothing personally against him, only the "empty pretences of his Preface . . . especially his pretensions to Rabbinic literature, by which he professes to correct the errors of other lexicographers. Rabbinic literature! Why, there are scarcely a dozen places in his Lexicon, where there is any ground to suppose he consulted the Rabbins; and even in these, we strongly suspect that he merely repeats what others had furnished to his hand." Finally, it ridicules his titling himself "Professor of Oriental Languages in New York, questioning whether he means New York State or New York City and - exactly to whom is he a professor?

Another review also focused on the . . . naive comment about a Torah written by Ezra and Roy's ready acceptance of it:
"We cannot avoid the feeling, as we turn over these pages, that he has contracted such an affinity for the Jewish grammarians, who have been held in repute among their countrymen, as to receive, with a too ready acquiescence, whatever comes from a Jewish source. In illustration of an apparently unsuspecting confidence, we refer to a remark introduced in connection with the author's statements, concerning Ezra; a remark, which indeed, is so worded as to possess no weight, but which yet is introduced in a quite grave and imposing manner. The remark is the following: "A manuscript of the book of Ezra, in his own hand-writing, is said to be still preserved in the German Synagogue at Jerusalem. Rab. Enoch Zundel." Credat Judaeus. Some other religious bodies in Jerusalem will show what are said to be bits of the true cross."
Now, in fairness, it should be acknowledged that they are right to compare it to pieces of the "true cross" or a Rabba bar bar Chana story. BUT it should also be pointed out that this was 1836, and much of the rich discoveries of biblical archaeology and manuscripts sitting in dusty archives and corners of Europe and Asia were still unknown. No, there is no Torah of Ezra. But do you think in 1836 they dreamed of the Dead Sea Scrolls? They still hadn't found the Mesha Stele. The Cairo Geniza (admittedly, far younger than Ezra) was not at all known. 1800 year old Bibles still sat in desert monasteries. Codices like the one in Aleppo were still there, unknown or unexamined. No, none of these are Ezra scrolls, and it was naive to believe that such a thing existed (the Jews of Aleppo believed their prize was written by Ezra - it wasn't, but a real prize it was). But in a certain sense there was a failure of imagination. There were no biblical-era scrolls, but there could have been - and I don't think they realized that at all. Or, maybe I'm trying too hard to be even-handed. I digress.

Getting back to Roy, as I posted, he believed that the biblical name for the Hebrew language, Yiddish Yehudis was a composite of Yehu and -das, which is pretty embarrassing. Here are two more samples of his scholarship, this time from a later book:

Kodesh Lashon? Seriously? That's English with Hebrew words. Ouch.


Yeaaaaah. I see.

In any case, when he turned up in the New York, his presence was reported by the Christian Intelligencer. Here it is, reprinted in the Boston Investigator, December 14, 1832:

The also article also included Roy's translation of his letter from the rabbis of Jerusalem and Safed - addressed to Mordecai Manuel Noah:

This leads to the following question: which community was Rabbi Chanoch Zundel from? Was he from the Vilna Gaon's Perushim or the Chassidim? There is very little biographical information about him. It is known that he wound up in London, where he sat on Rabbi Solomon Hirschell's Bet Din for some time, adjudicating at least six cases. Writing in 1951, Abraham Ya'ari, is unable to determine which community he was a part of, and his scoop is that his father's name was Hirsch! (Yaari published a letter by Rabbi CZ in an article called "Letters of Jerusalemite Emissaries" in the 3rd volume of the periodical Jerusalem. As you can see, the English translation of the letter published in 1832 also shows his father's name.)

Now I know that more is probably known about him, and books and articles about Holy Land emissaries have already been written, but I haven't read them. So I'm going to try to determine if he was a Misnagid or a Chassid based on this letter. As you can see, it is signed by three rabbis of Jerusalem and three of Safed (Japeth; Good work reading Hebrew, Roy!)

I am guessing the following: In my opinion "Nathan Mineles" is none other than Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Shklov's son Nathan, and "Nathan Saddius" is Rabbi Saadiah, a talmid of the Vilna Gaon's, son, who also was named Nathan Nata. I haven't yet identified the others, but I don't think I have to - I think it is conclusive that this is a letter from the Kollel Perushim, the talmidim of the Vilba Gaon, and therefore Rabbi Enoch Zundel was one himself.

Now that that's out the way, one more unusual thing bears pointing out. On September 5, 1836 The Herald of New York published a piece on the astounding news that the serpent (Hebrew nachash) in the Garden of Eden was not a serpent at all, but an orangutan. Apparently oranguatans were very popular entertainment at the time, because it informs he reader that he could see them on Broadway and in the Rockaways, at various hotels and elsewhere.

Two days later the paper jubilantly reported that when the article was pointed out to him, William L. Roy showed his dictionary - then being prepared for publication - where he writes the same thing, that nachash is cognate with Arabic nachasha, which means orangutan. And guess who agrees with this? You're right: Rabbi Enoch Zundel of Jerusalem:

This being 1836, the writer goes on to ascribe the "origin of the colored races of man" to a union of an orangutan and Eve, and that in all probability Cain was the son of this union, and was not Adam's son at all. This could well explain his murder of Abel, and serves as a warning against the mingling of races. Lovely - but you can't change the past.

Although I was only able to see Roy's second edition, it is interesting that in the entry he does NOT cite Rabbi Chanoch Zundel. I don't know if he removed it since the first edition, or if it didn't make it into the first edition at all - I also don't know why he would have removed it.

In fact this idea wasn't news in 1836. Its origin goes back to a Bible commentary written in1810. It's funny that the newspaper should have written in this fashion, but I guess it shows how long it takes for technical scholarship to filter down to the mainstream. The idea that the serpent (nachash) was an ape (and most likely an orangutan) was an idea of Adam Clarke (1760-1832), included in his monumental edition and commentary on the entire Bible (link).

In the first volume, (1810), in chapter III of Genesis he commences an involved discussion concerning the meaning of נחש, serpent. After showing its wide semantic usage in biblical Hebrew, he arrives at the primary meaning of "to view attentively" or "acquire knowledge" (citing Gen. 30:27). Next he notes that the Septuagint translation "ophis" (snake) is an insignificant objection, because that is merely what occurred to the uninspired Septuagint translators, who did not investigate the range of meaning of the word. That the New Testament also uses ophis is no matter, since the tendency in the NT is to quote the Septuagint. However, if we look to Arabic we find a root which is very similar to nachash - namely, chanas, a root which means "departed, seduced, slunk away." Various Arabic words built from this root include "akhnas" "khanasa" or "khanoos," all meaning "ape." Even more interesting, is that from the same root is "khanasa" which means "devil." Clarke writes "Is it not strange that the devil and the ape should have the same name, derived from the same root, and that root so very similar to the word in the text?" Thus, he thinks he has stumbled on a further range of semantic meaning, namely ape or seducer.

Next Clarke examines what the Bible has to say about the nachash in the Garden and what can be deduced from the story - he was more subtle than all other animals, he walked erect, had the gift of speech and the gift of reason. Furthermore, Eve evinces no surprise at the creature's behavior. Clarke immediately dismisses the possibility of it being a creature never known to speak, because if so then she would have been surprised, would have acted with caution in conversing with it. Clarke is able to readily dismiss the possibility that this creature was a serpent or snake. Snakes never walked erect. They have no organs for speech; they can only emit a hiss. He dismisses a comparison with Balaam's ass, for there God opened the ass's mouth. Here no such thing is intimated; in fact, speech was natural to the creature. The text itself testifies to it by explaining that it was more wise and intelligent than all other animals - and serpents are not particularly intelligent animals. However, apes are intelligent. Furthermore, one can plainly see by ape anatomy that it might have originally walked erect - "nothing less than a sovereign controlling power could induce them to put down hands in every respect formed like those of man, and walk like those creatures whose claw-armed paws prove them to have designed to walk on all fours. The subtlety, cunning, endlessly varied pranks and tricks of these creatures, show them, even now, to be wiser and more intelligent than any other creature, man alone excepted." Nowadays they walk on all fours and are obliged to gather food from the ground, so they literally eat the dust - even though they have the physical ability to pick out the dirt or even wash their food - but they don't.

As for the power of speech, the ape's chatter appears to be all that is left of an original gift of speech, removed as a result of God's curse. These . . . facts . . . plus the original difficulty with considering it to be a snake, and the similar and appropriate Arabic root, render it likely that the nachash was an ape, or the most intelligent and man-like of the apes - the orangutan. Finally, he ends his lengthy discussion with the plea to take it as only a suggestion which anyone can feel free to disagree: "If, however, any person should choose to differ from the opinion stated above, he is at perfect liberty so to do; I make it no article of faith, nor of Christian communion; I crave the same liberty to judge for myself, that I give to others, to which every man has an indisputable right, and I hope no man will call me a heretic, for departing in this respect from the common opinion, which appears to me to be so embarrasses as to be altogether unintelligible."

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Kosher meat symbol explained to the public in 1848, along with a translation of an unusual shochet's certificate.

(The shochet, not the certificate. The certificate is not so unusual.)

Here's an interesting piece from 1848, the North American and United States Gazette (Philadelphia) January 27, 1848 about kosher. The piece is reprinted from a Cincinnati newspaper, which also, incidentally, hints at what a Jewish center in the United States Cincinnati was.

The article points out to readers that many of them may have noticed meat for sale with "cabalistic marks, resembling the Chinese characters on a tea-chest" and wondered what they were. So it points out that they are the Hebrew letters which spell kosher "signifying good, or approved, and are equivalent to the inspection marks or brands by which Gentiles buy our flour, pork, &c."

It then goes on to print a translation of a kabbalah certificate (approving a shochet), giving the interesting apology that since there are 6000 Jews living among us that the customs of such a large, local group cannot fail to be of interest to all (while disclaiming that the writer needs to make any apology).

As you can see, the certificate was dated 5492 - 1732, and is signed by "Rabbi Meir Baki." and the shochet is "Rabbi Joseph Solomon, son of Rabbi Ephraim Ottolenghe." This Rabbi Joseph Solomon Ottolenghe was an Italian Jewish convert to Christianity, who lived in England and then in Colonial Georgia in America. As far as I can tell, his kabbalah certificate for shechita was first translated in D'Blossiers Tovey's Anglia Judaica (1738) pp.299-300.

Also included are some rules of kashrut.

An American newspaper lashes out at a Jewish moser (informer) in the 1850s.

As you can see, this blurb in the Daily Cleveland Herald of November 30, 1858 reports from a story in the New York Evening Post of a rabbi arrested for illegally selling lottery tickets. Evidently he had been reported by another Jew, and was dragged out of the synagogue while services were being conducted, which the newspaper finds to be absolutely outrageous. As for the informant, he is called a miserable Jew:

The incident referred to here occurred in the Beit Midrash Ha-godol of New York on Rosh Hashana. The rabbi is Abraham Joseph Ash. He was acquitted.

(The picture of Rabbi Ash is from Dr. Yitzchok Levine's Rabbi Abraham Joseph Ash (1813-1887) from his Glimpses Into American Jewish History series published in the Jewish Press. It originally appeared on pg. 20 of Eisenstein's Otzar Zichronosai. Also see JD Eisenstein's History of the First Russian-American Jewish Congregation. The Beth Hamedrosh Hagodol here.)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The first Hebrew translation of Hamlet's To be or not to be? Also, a wacky English etymology in a Hebrew book from 1842 - & a Kesav Sofer connection.

Here's an interesting book called חקירת האמת (Investigation of Truth) by Salomon Brueck of Lemberg (1790-1846). The version I linked to is the second edition, published in Vienna 1842. It's a shame that the first edition (Altona 1838) isn't online, because apparently that edition contains a sermon in English by Brueck which the Austrian censor did not permit in the reprinting. However, the second edition contains a few interesting things.

The book is basically little musings about Truth, plus an essay about the 1826 shipwreck of the H.M.S. Frances Mary. As near as I can tell, this was written - much less included - because the author wanted to practice his Hebrew or translation skills.

Here's the title page of חקירת האמת:

The book includes an interesting and imaginative, but fanciful, guess that the reason why the English word for שקר is Falsehood is because it is a composite of the two words false and hood. This is a metaphor for what Falsehood is and does; it is not true and it "hoods" (covers) the truth. Of course "hood" is an English suffix as well as a word, and in its suffix form it means "state or condition of being," from O.E. -had "condition, position," cognate with Ger. -heit," etc.

It also contains what may well be the first Hebrew translation of Shakespeare's famous lines spoken by Hamlet, To be or not to be - that is the question! -

The biblically allusive אהיה את אשר אהיה, או אהיה אפס ואין: זאת אשאלה?י is not, in my opinion, the best possible translation. Strangely enough in the first edition the quote is להיות או לא להיות, הויה ואפס היא השאלה. Evidently he felt that אהיה את אשר אהיה improved it, which is an opinion not shared by me. I was able to find an excerpt from the first edition:

The book includes his subscription list. I'm sure most people reading this know what that means, but it's time to review. In those days a very popular method of raising funds necessary for printing a book was to get people to subscribe to it in advance. They'd give some money, and this would entitle them to a copy when the book was printed, and the names of these people were listed in the books, generally grouped by city of residence.

So here we see that one of the subscribers to this book is Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Sofer, the Kesav Sofer, son of the Chasam Sofer, of Pressburg. So if anyone ever tells you that there's no chance that the Kesav Sofer ever owned, much less ordered, a book which includes Hebrew translations of Shakespeare and essentially secular philosophical musings about the nature of emes and sheker, here is the evidence to the contrary:

It would be wrong not to include other translations of Hamlet's soliloquy, so here is another one from 1856 - perhaps the second such translation. This one is by someone named Naphtali Poper Krassensohn included in volume 22 of Mendel Stern's Kochebe Yitzchak with the title מרי שיח. It must be translated from German, whereas Brueck - who spent time in England - translated from English:

His translation of the famous To be line is היות, או לחדל! זאת נחקורה!י.

Finally, there is Yehuda Leib Gordon's translation, היות, או לחדול מהיות? זאת היא השאלה!י:

Monday, November 15, 2010

Jousting bochurim at medieval Ashkenazi weddings.

Yitzhak of בין דין לדין has a great post about jousting in Jewish sources, beginning with the famous Tosafos ד"ה מיד תינוקות שומטין לולביהן on Sukkah 45a (link):

Since Yitzhak is a high falutin' scholar he didn't explain or translate, so I'll take the opportunity to do so.

The background is that the Mishnah writes that in the Temple, on the last day of Sukkot, the people would take the lulavs from the children and eat their Etrogs. Naturally there are two ways to understand this: one is that the people would eat the etrogs, the other is that the children did. But Rashi interprets it that it was the adults who would eat them. Therefore the Mishnah is describing a situation where the adults apparently grabbed the lulavim and esrogim from the hands of the children, and Rashi explains that this was not stealing - it was a fun game.

From this explanation Tosafos derives a principle: One can learn from here that those bochurim (youths) who ride horses and war with one another, before grooms, and tear each others clothing or hurt the horse, are exempt from the damage they've caused because this is the customary way of providing joyous entertainment for grooms.

Tosafos then goes on to give an alternate explanation, that it was the children themselves who removed the lulavim (from the attached willows) and ate the esrogim.

So there you have it: in the times of Tosafos the bochurim would get on horses and joust with each other for entertainment.

Interestingly, folio 16v of the Kaufmann Mishneh Torah manuscript A77, which was produced in Northeastern France, 1296, features a pair of knights jousting (although this illustration looks a little more serious than the wedding sport). Why jousting knights are illustrating this first page of the Rambam's Hilchos Yesodei Ha-Torah is unclear to me[1], but here you go.

Next time you see the shuffle at weddings, think of how far we've fallen - or how far we've come. Read the rest of Yitzhak's post for additional sources.

[1] מלחמתה של תורה?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A hundred Jewish boxers threatened with cherem in 1809.

Here is a really esoteric notice in a British journal from 1809:

"Jewish Censure on the Pugilists, &c. employed at the Uproar in Covent Garden Theatre.-The Rev. Solomon Hirschell, High Priest of the Jewish synagogue, has caused 100 itinerant Jews to be struck off the Charity List, for six months, for making a noise at Covent Garden theatre ; he has also warned them of excommunication, in case they should be guilty of the like again."


The story is as follows. In 1809 London's Covent Garden Theatre hired a bunch of Jewish bouncers. They were pugilists, that is, boxers.

Fiddler on the Roof and imitating Chassidim and foreigners for laughs in 1916.

Here's a 1919 ad for a production of Tevye der Milchiger, "Tevye the Milk Man" by Sholom Aleichem, which was made famous 45 years later as the musical Fiddler on the Roof. I thought it was interesting because of the costume since it is very close to the era it depicts.

The ad was in the Yiddish Tage-blatt. Below is a really interesting letter printed in the English section in the February 22, 1916 issue. The first part of the letter, from a young lady named Jennie Kattler, concerns the paper's criticism of something which was said at a Harlem Zionist Society meeting, stating that this society "does not know what Zionism means."

Not so interesting, but what is very interesting is that the paper must have condemned the entertainment at the meeting which featured a performer who did impressions of Jews, which the newspaper found offensive. So Jennie writes a "but everyone does it defense," saying that "As to the comment, that among true Jews there should be no imitation of one of our race, we very often see, at very Jewish gatherings the imitation of the "Chasidim" and "Yeshiva Bocher." These are always taken as a joke, and at no times, as an insult to the Jewish people. We also, very frequently take pleasure in imitating the speech of the foreigner. . . . should have taken the above facts into consideration, and should not, as our wise men have said, המלבין פני חברו ברבים כאלו שופך דמים.

Ouch! The editor responds that it's just not funny, nor is xenophobia.

As for Jenni Kattler, I could find no information, except that I very much doubt that this is her, since this one was born in 1881 and died in 1979. According to her letter she was too young, in 1916, to be a member of the Harlem Zionist Society.

For the letter,

A Litvak social scientist reflects on what the heder was like, how many went to Yeshiva & transliterates Hebrew with Lithuanian pronunciation.

Here's a pretty interesting excerpt from an article called "The Story of An Immigrant's Experience" by Philip Davis, printed in a 1906 issue of The Chautauquan. Evidently Davis, a Lithuanian immigrant at 12 or 13, really made it in this country. He refers to his college days in Harvard and became an expert on immigration and Americanization, at Boston University, writing or co-authoring books with titles like "Civics for New Americans" (1915), and "Immigration and Americanization: Selected Readings" (1920).

In one of these books he records the following ostensibly true anecdote, meant to illustrate the "shallow Americanism" and "surface patriotism" which was being "universally" inculcated at the time, and which he was afraid could easily be grown into bigotry:
An Irish boy observed to one of our residents that on Easter Day he intended to kill his little Jewish classmate. Having long experience of the vigorous language and kind heart of the young Celt, she paid little attention to the threat, but was more startled when the soft-eyed Francesco chimed in that he was also going to destroy him "because he killed my Gawd." "But," said the teacher, "Christ was a Jew." "Yes, I know," answered the young defender of the faith, "He was then, but He's an American now."
You wouldn't know it from his name, but Philip Davis of Harvard and Boston U was born in Motol (a little town which also produced Chaim Weizmann and Saul Lieberman), or "Moteleh" as he calls it (and as it was known by the Jews).

His description of the much-derided cheder is that the Rebi (as he writes it), who is a "semi Rabbi," holds a whip in one hand and a Chumash in the other. He writes that "the exceptional boy goes on to the study of Talmud. One in a thousand eventually enters the "Yeshiveh." Even with allowance for exaggeration he does seem to be reflecting the actual situation in Eastern Europe with regard to how common Yeshiva was. Once in a yeshiva, Davis writes, the chaider-boy, now Yeshiveh-Bochur, eventually becomes one of two things, a rabbi, or a maskil. Since "of course, we can't all be rabbis" every shtetl has its quota of maskilim, whom he calls "silk and satin young [men]." I can't quite figure out that idiom, but I think that silk and satin refer to dress, not manners, therefore I think he means that they dress in a modern, somewhat pretentious and foppish way.[1] (In another place I saw contemporary Russian Maskilim defined in the following way: their "stock in trade is a vast knowledge of the Talmud and "More Nebuchim," and a smattering of European languages.")

Then follows Davis' censure of the Russian attitude toward public education (as he puts it, they don't bother making sure a person learns the "Azbukah" (A, B, C s) until and unless he is in the army), evidently under the belief that the ignorant subjects are less dangerous to the regime than the educated ones. Although Davis reserves the bulk of his criticism for the Russian government's attitude toward education, of course he doesn't think much of the Jewish attitude where none of the basics were taught in cheder, and where a vast populace not only couldn't read or write the local language, but they also couldn't speak it.

Finally, he makes the interesting comment that ultimate blame for the attitude that anything not printed in Hebrew is "Tref-Posul" is the government who have discriminated against and oppressed the people to the extent that not only is the great Russian language and its literature unknown, but literally despised. He opines that being shut into ghettos, and therefore darkness for so long, the people have become afraid of light - a people "whose motto has been "Yehee Air" - "Let there be Light!"

What's pretty cool about that is that "Yehee Air" apparently is reflective of his native Litvish pronunciation of Hebrew, where the vowel חולם becomes צירי. "Air" instead of "Or" (or "Oir").

[1] Update a reader pointed out to me that Davis was surely translating directly from the Yiddish idiom זיידענער יונגער מאן, today in Hebrew an אברך משי, so there you go.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

The Ba'al Shem of London and the Philosopher's Stone: his portrait still isn't the Ba'al Shem Tov's.

Dr. S.Z. Leiman has posted his and his son's fascinating stamp collection online, consisting of hundreds of postage stamps with rabbinic visages or references (link).

Here is a JNF stamp from 1964 with a portrait of the Ba'al Shem of London:

The portrait of Dr. Falckon, the Ba'al Shem of London, has long been confused, as it is here, with the True Image of the Besh"t. For example, in 1908 the periodical Ost und West printed the following:

It's difficult to see in this picture above (so look below), but in fact the Baal Shem is depicted with a compass, which it is certainly difficult to explain in the official portrait of the Ba'al Shem Tov. But a drafting tool makes more sense in the hands of the London Ba'al Shem who was apparently involved in Freemasonry. Most everything I read about Freemasons makes no sense to me, but I am told that the compass is a masonic symbol. In addition, as a practical Kabbalist and alchemist, perhaps such a tool is not unexpected.

Also see the following official portrait of Yihye Kafih, the anti-Zoharite Yemeni rabbi who seems to have posed with various instruments as a symbol of rationalism and scientific competence:

Getting back to Falk's portrait, as amazing as it sounds, the idea that it is really the Ba'al Shem Tov is so ingrained in some people's imagination that the Wikipedia entry for him (link) features the following image and message:

Years ago the Wikipedia page had the standard, beret-wearing picture of Falk. Then it was pointed out that this is not the Ba'al Shem Tov, but apparently that is unacceptable to some or someone with persistence, because the present page now has a modified image showing him to be wearing a kind of shtreimel and the "neutral point of view" tag explaining that "Some people think, however, that it depicts the Baal Shem of London." Ah, yes. Some people think it does, and seem people think it doesn't. Let's be yotzei according to everyone.

But who painted Falk's portrait?

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Chapters that perhaps the Young Israel would like to forget.

Successful dances? Lectures on "Jewish Movements" by a JTS professor? What's next, female shul presidents?

From the English page of the Jiddisches-Tageblatt Feb. 08, 1918.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Portrait of the Maskil as an old Johnny Cash.

I think you are likely to agree with me that this man looks just like an aged Johnny Cash, or at least what Johnny Cash would have looked like in 1856:

You know I'm right:

In any case, the story of Hermann Hedwig Bernard, born Hirsch Ber Hurwitz in Uman is quite interesting.

When the rebbe Rabbi Nachman of Breslov lived in Uman, a number of maskilim lived there too, preserved in the Chasidic memory as notorious heretics. Among them was Chaykel Hurwitz (1749-) and his son Hirsch Ber (1785-1858). According to a Breslover tradition, Reb Nachman moved to Uman specifically so that he could live near the Hurwitzes. Strange it is, but the tradition further tells that he would counsel certain depressed Chasidim that he personally draws strength from living so close to these maskilim and the fact that he separates from them, although his separation seems to have involved playing chess with them and having them read German stories to him.

Chaykel was a wealthy merchant - his mechutan's daughter married a grandson of the Noda Beyehuda, and those kinds of shidduchim didn't come cheaply. Anyway, he wrote a Yiddish book about the early history of America called צפנת פענח which he published in 1817. This book was evidently extremely popular in its time. Writing in Sholom Aleichem's 1888 די יודישע פאלקס-ביבליאטהעק A.B Gottlober recalls that Hurwitz's book was so popular that אז כמעט אלע יודען האבען עס געלעזען , almost everyone read it. Not only that, but the Jewish women put away their Tzeenah-reenah and their techinos and were only reading "Columbus" (as I suppose it was popularly called). Can you imagine the effect of this best-seller on a rural populace that knew nothing of America? It's no wonder that Chaykel and his group were regarded as dangerous and heretical. Gottlober himself recalls this from 70 years earlier (עס איז שוין דרינען געוויס 70 יאהר) that he read it too and his imagination was kindled and he sailed along with Columbus on his ships, and dreamed of the "wild Indians" (די אמעריקאנישע ווילדע מענשען). He writes that even after he was married and had learned many seforim, even including Chassidisher and Chabad books, he still enjoyed reading it.

(c.f. this book to the 1860s dispatches from America in the Hebrew journal Ha-maggid by American rabbi Henry Vidaver, which Solomon Schecter credited with introducing him and many other sheltered individuals to the New World, as Schechter put it, "a continent on which, according to my simple conceptions, people should stand on their heads, and yet somehow managed to walk erect and free and even move quicker and with a surer pace than we, with all our drill of thousands of years.)

Here is Gottlober's words:

Incidentally, Israel Zinberg (writing in the Soviet Union in the 1920s or 30s) notes that Chaykl Hurwitz's Tzofenas Paneach had by then become a rare item. Do not be misled to think that because it was rare over 100 years later that Gottlober is not telling the truth regarding the book's popularity. Such popular books are the most likely to end up in the trash. I remember about 25 years ago there was a thin little tract full of stories of hashgacha pratis. I think it was published in Lakewood and had a yellow cover. Everyone was reading it. Have you seen one lately?

What's really cool is that Zinberg footnotes his thanks to YIVO of Vilna for providing him access to a copy of this book. I myself saw this book because it is digitized on Where did HebrewBooks copy it from? From the YIVO Library now in New York City. Thus, the same copy of this book which we can see is probably the one Zinberg read.

Here's the stamp on the book itself, followed by the listing at HebrewBooks:

In any event, this Chaykel Hurwitz of Uman's son Hirsch Ber was himself a notorious maskil, in truth, far more notorious for he was directly involved in educational reform and headed a school in Uman. He is also quoted in the book Славны бубны за горами, или Путешествіе мое кое-куда 1810 года as telling it's author Ivan Mikhailovich Dolgorukov that "we Jews should be forbidden to wear our shameful dress" in response to Dolgorukov's question what he lacked to feel happy. When asked why he didn't just dress however he liked, he replied that he didn't want to upset his mother who was very pious.

Here is his name on the subscription list to Yitzchak Ber Levensohn's Teuda Be-yisrael (published in 1828, but the list was compiled in '23-'24):

Although Teudah Be-yisrael was certainly the Russian maskilic manifesto, see here where it is claimed that the Vilna av beis din felt that the only thing which could have improved the book is if it had been written by the Vilna Gaon.

As noted above, Hirsch Ber is known to Chasidic history for his games of chess with the rebbe Reb Nachman and also for having read aloud German stories to him. For a fairly complete discussion of the relationship between him and the Rebbe Nachman, see Chaim Liberman's "Rabbi Nakhman Bratslaver and the Maskilim of Uman," published originally in Yiddish in the Yivo Bleter 29 (1947) and also in English a few years later in the YIVO Annual. The complete article in Yiddish can be read in his Ohel Rachel v. II here or in Hebrew in volume II, here. His article on Hurwitz himself can be found in vol. I, here.

In any case, in 1825, having incurred insurmountable debts, Hirsch Ber Hurwitz moved to England and was reborn as Herman Hedwig Bernard, a professor of Hebrew at Cambridge - and a Christian. He published a number of books (mostly about the Rambam). After he died, his pupil Frank Chance, published his comments on the book of Job in 1864 (link). The frontispiece of the book includes his portrait, where amazingly we see this former maskil of Uman, who played chess with the rebbe Reb Nachman, in 1856 looking very much like an elderly Johnny Cash. Chance notes that he usually wore his hair considerably longer - it so happens that he had a hair cut only days earlier. Chance also writes that Bernard purposely tried to look melancholy when he posed for the photograph, as befitting one who was blind (!), but in reality he was a very cheerful, rather a sullen person. Chance also notes that he personally worked with the artist to render a less gloomy looking version - the result you see above. One wonders what the photograph looked like.

A word about his converting to Christianity. Although there is no doubt that it made his achieving a professorship easier, it was not required. His predecessor at Cambridge was Joseph Crool who not only was an unconverted Jew, but he openly opposed missionary activities directed at Jews. Further, he also opposed the Emancipation of British Jews, which of course made him a favorite of the opposers in the general, non-Jewish society. He opposed emancipation out of - you guessed it - frumkeit. He felt emancipation meant assimilation. This from the professor of Hebrew at Cambridge. Crool had some other quirks, one of which was wearing a kind of cummerbund made of parchment that had all sorts of Hebrew written all over it.

Back to Bernard. Now, Frank Chance was a loyal, devoted pupil. Writing of his master one can't help but be struck at his awe and devotion, his interest in every minute detail and mannerism, his boundless love and devotion. Irony of ironies - Hirsch Ber Hurwitz gained his own Chossid. Chance was simply floored by Bernard's (as we will now call him) Hebrew knowledge. He gushes about how Bernard could just read and write Hebrew fluently, while professors of Greek and Latin always need concordances and other aids. In other words, Frank Chance had never met an educated Jew who had learned alef-beis while yet a toddler. Not to minimize the numerous deficiencies which can be met or found in plenty of even so-called successfully educated Jews, ability to handle the language fluidly in some fashion is often not among them. Chance also published a facsimile sample of Bernard's Hebrew handwriting which simply tickled him pink:

First of all, Bernard had written this while already blind. Chance was really impressed by that. Secondly, he seems fascinated by the fact that it was written in cursive Hebrew. Chance gives an interesting footnote intended to show that this form of writing Hebrew was little known in England. It seems a Polish Jew was arrested in London, and the police didn't know what was written on some papers found on him. They consulted Samuel Lee the professor of Hebrew at Cambridge who could not translate it because he could not read it, or even recognize it as Hebrew. He sent it to Bernard, calling it "Polish," ostensibly because the arrested Jew was from Poland. Chance surmises (and probably Bernard told him) that Lee didn't even know of the existence of cursive Hebrew, but I doubt that. I bet all he meant was "Polish cursive Hebrew which I can't read."

This book contains a biographical sketch of Bernard, written by Bernard, which is notable for one especially dishonest ambiguity: he writes that he grew up in Uman and that his parents were Austrian, and that his native tongue was German. Not, chas ve-sholom, Jargon. He also neglects to mention that they were Jewish. Now this was no surprise to anyone, for everyone knew his Jewish origins. But Chance footnotes that he was under the impression that Bernard's father converted to Christianity, thus he was raised a Christian. He writes that Bernard's daughter told him that. It's possible that she made this up, or more likely, that is what her father told her.

It seems that one of Bernard's secrets was his access to otherwise inaccessible Hebrew texts. Most Christians interested in Hebrew only knew the famous stuff (e.g., Kimchi) but someone like Bernard was in a position to make use of some more obscure texts. Evidently he was a big fan of Yehuda Leib Ben-Zev (having published a translation of certain educational text written by Ben Zev under the title Hamenahel, the Guide of the Hebrew Student). So Chance's Job includes a translation of Ben Zev's introduction to the book of Job, with extensive notes. This is pretty fascinating, as I don't know if any other English translation of a leading maskil's approach to the Bible via his introduction to one of its books exists (hi Dan!).

In any case, Bernard may have liked being a Herman Hedwig Bernard more than a Hirsch Ber Hurwitz, but that doesn't mean that the old fella forgot him, or that he didn't have a private life which he obscured from his students.

An 1850 letter to Bernard by Ya'akov Goldenweiser was published in the latter's 1864 book עלים לתרופה subtitled Leaves for a Healing, being a collection in the Hebrew language, consisting of original poems and translations from Modern Languages, Friendly Correspondence and Epitaphs, etc. (link). Goldenweiser beautifully promises that the proceeds from the sale of his book is for the benefit of the ill, for בקור חולים, and it is dedicated to Moses Montefiore.

Many writers have called attention to a letter written by a famous maskil Jacob Eichenbaum, known for his mathematical expertise, to Bernard - from whom he is supposed to have learned mathematics. In this letter, Eichenbaum really chastises Bernard for his apostasy. The letter itself was published in the Russian haskalah periodical Zion in 1862 (and as a separate pamphlet in 1867).

Monday, November 01, 2010

Jewish pirates; or, how would you write "pirate" in Hebrew if it was 1773 and you needed to? How would you write "lemonade" for that matter?

Admittedly the title is stretching it, but see my earlier series on Jewish pirates or the lack of.

The fascinating book ווקאבולאריו הנקרא קהלת יעקב, also titled "Kehilath Jahacob, being a Vocabulary of Words in the Hebrew Language" deserves a series of posts, if not a book-length[1] treatment. Published in London in 1773, this dictionary was compiled by Jacob Rodrigues Moreira. Jacob arranged and carefully pointed Hebrew terms and phrases according to subject, coining new terms where needed. He also translated them into Spanish, while his son Haim translated them into English. The result was this trilingual Vocabulario. In the Preface, he explains that his aim is to aid his children and disciples who have a desire to become "masters of the holy language" and to "increase the knowledge of God's Holy Word" which at present is lacking with many who [only] read Hebrew. He also notes that the reason his work is arranged into 58 sections is because 58 is the numerical value of the Garden (הגן) and to call to mind the first command given to Adam (Gen. 2.16). That is, he wants the reader to eat the fruits of the trees! - enjoy his book.

Like I said, the book (published in 1773) is unspeakably interesting if you're the sort who likes to curl up with a lexicon. Below is the seafaring terms on pg. 11:

As you can see, in 1773 sea terms needed to include terms for oar, rudder, compass, telescope, anchor and pirates. For the latter term, Rodrigues Moreira used ליסטי הים or אפרטין. Both good choices. אפרטין is a rare rabbinic Hebrew term meaning "sea robber," and presumably derived from the same Greek source as the word pirate itself (see Yalkut Shim'oni to Lev. 19:23). Incidentally many people surmise that the rabbinic Hebrew term for bandit ליסטים is the plural, meaing bandits (see the first Rashi on the Torah). But if so, what is its singular? Uhhh. As Rabbi Elijah Levita correctly notes in his Tishbi, the Greek term from which the Hebrew is derived is ליסטיס and that is also the proper singular form in Hebrew. When pluralized the final ס was dropped and a נ is added, making ליסטין, a proper rabbinic Hebrew plural. That many (most?) texts today read ליסטים is a mistake. ס looks like ם. Thus Moreira took ליסטים as the plural, which he would not have done if he'd realized that ליסטיס is the singular. His neologism then would have read ליסטיסי הים, if not ליסטין הים. Or not. In any event, his term is ליסטי הים.

But I digress.

When it comes down to it, so much of the book is devoted to modern terms that one is left to wonder how it is that he expected the book to really increase the ability of students to comprehend Hebrew writings more so than to write new ones themselves. The book includes terms for lemonade, umbrella, a gift to a harlot, "the f[emale] secret part," itchy nose, sore throat, lawyer (תורני), Indian cane, pea soup, clean meat (בשר כשר), fourteen separate terms for "wine," wax candle, tallow candle, blunderbuss, tobacco leaves - in short, I could go on and on but it's in reality a word list for life in the 18th century.

After the categories are exhausted (and I mean exhausted) the final chapters include various appendices. For example, the 50th sections lists all the Shofetim (Judges) over Israel and the years of their reign. It also lists various converts to Judaism, beginning with Jethro and ending with Herod and Agrippa.

Chapter 55 deals with numbers and the calendar. Chapter 57 ("Of Titles of Honor") tells us how to address various classes of people: a king, a prince, a duke, a pope, a gentleman, and so forth (all in Hebrew, English and Spanish). Perhaps he had a sense of humor, for the chapter continues to instruct what sounds animals make (e.g., the Hog grunts = חזיר מלגלג). The final, 58th chapter is an imaginary dialog between the author and his son.

[1] I refuse to use the word "monograph." Or "desideratum," or "efflorescence." The book was discussed from the Spanish language point of view in a three part article called "Castellano, judeoespañol y. portugués: el vocabulario de Jacob Rodrígues Moreira y los sefardíes londinenses" by Kenneth Adams in Sefarad 26-27 (1966-67), but obviously that's not the angle I'd still like to see studied.


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