Wednesday, February 09, 2011

The story of the Swedish convert family Graanboom - from a hidden corner of the internet.

Here's a really interesting document. Written by Israel (Aharon Moshe Yitzchak) Graanboom (1769-1842), it tells the story of the Graanboom family of converts. The patriarch, known as Avraham Graanboom, was born in Sweden in 1680 (with the name Jakob). He moved to Amsterdam when he was 69 years old for the purpose of converting to Judaism, along with much of his family (the Netherlands being the only place in Europe where it was legal for a Christian to convert to Judaism). He died in 1752.

Graanboom was orphaned at a young age and raised by a very prominent Swedish military officer who gave him all the love and education a boy could want. Before his mother died, when he was around 5 or 6 years old, she asked him to promise her that he would study the Pentateuch every day (leading some to speculate that she was Jewish, and if that were so then likely she was a Polish captive from the Second Northern War of 1655-1660). He was so young that he did not heed her dying wish and forgot about it. However, as a student he had a dream in which his mother appeared to him and asked him why he did not carry out her request and chastised him for failing to do so. The next morning he went out and bought several books containing the Torah, and he read them a number of times. In time he began to be more and more convinced of the truth of the Torah and less about Christianity.

He grew older and married, and had a family. He gave most of his eight children biblical names, and only rarely went to church (when he did so it was for appearances' sake, according to his grandson). He taught his family a kind of Judaising faith. They observed the sabbath on Saturday, refrained from pork, etc.

His son Mattias (born in 1737, and thus 12 years old when he went to Amsterdam to convert with his parents) became a noted talmid chacham and dayan, under the name Yitzchak. He was often referrred to as Yitzchak Ger (see this post on Seforim for more information about him and the controversy he became embroiled in in 1795, when he accepted a position as rabbi of the secessionist so-called Neie Kille in Amsterdam).

At the time an interesting series of polemics on both sides were printed under the Yiddish title diskursen (discourses). Some of them were pretty over the top. One attack was in the guise of an advertisement for a play, to be performed on Friday night, and the play was to be called Zeh ra Yitzchak ("This evil Yitzchak"), a play on the title of R. Yitzchak Ger's sefer Zera Yitzchak ("The Progeny of Yitzchak," Amsterdam 1789). The fake advertisement continued that refreshments, such as lobsters and oysters could be had, and there would be a smoking room (this is Friday night, mind you). The great crime of this community was not eating lobsters, but seceding itself, and instituting some minor changes, like that the congregation should sing Lecha Dodi out loud together, piyutim should not be recited, and flowers and branches should not decorate the synagogue on Shavuos. I guess the one change which could be considered major in retrospect was the permission to eat kitniyos on Pesach. Incidentally, he justified all these changes halachically, and chiefly on the grounds that a new congregation is not bound by the minhagim of the old one. Historians believe that many of these changes were modeled on the behaviors and practices of the Amsterdam Sephardic kehila. The diskursen are truly nasty (and funny). At one point he is referred to as a ראהט באהרדיגער פפאף, the red-bearded priest (or Pope?). In another he isn't called Yitzchak Ger - he's called Yitzchak Getz (idol).

After Napoleon took Holland, the Neie Kille was declared illegal in 1808 and disbanded. After R. Yitzchak Ger died (1807), his son - the author of this family history - wrote a pamphlet called Melitz Yosher (1809), in which he defended the halachic propriety of the small reforms the Neie Kille had made under his father.

The family chronicle was written in Hebrew in 1841, and published in German, Italian and Dutch translation in 1856 and 1859. This is based on the original, albeit edited, Hebrew, published in Bikkurim v.2 1866. It also exists in an English translation in the collection of Leo Fuks' articles mentioned below.

For more info, see "The Lessons of Melitz Yosher, chapter 4 in by David Ellenson's "After emancipation: Jewish religious responses to modernity," "Storm in the community: Yiddish polemical pamphlets of Amsterdam " bu Jozeph Michman," "Ma'amar Or ha-Emes," a pamphlet of hasagos on Melitz Yosher by Rabbi Yosef Asher Lemel of the Hague in Otzar ha-Chaim 9 5693 and "The Hebrew Chronicle of the Swedish Family Graanboom" by Leo Fuks in "Aspects of Jewish Life in the Netherlands."


Here's the rather spooky image of Rabbi Yitzchak Graanboom reproduced from the Seforim Blog post referred to above:

I just wanted to point out something about online research, which might be of interest. This piece is printed in a periodical called Bikkurim, second volume 1866. Google did not have it (link) but it was pretty clear that they had scanned it. So where was it? Well, I could see the following info on the bottom:


This of course meant that they had scanned it from the Bavarian State Library. Searching for Bavarian state digital led me right to their digital collection. All I had to do was enter the word bikkurim in the search box, and a list of results, including the volume I desired was right there on their site. Readers and researchers should bear this in mind and know that sometimes there are other options if Google is not giving you what you know they have and you need.

Edit: Here is a clear version of the statue, courtesy of Rabbi Isaac's descendent Ole Eshuis of Amsterdam:



Here is an updated post: link.

22 comments:

  1. Interesting post.

    Eerie picture. He looks hyperthyroid...

    http://medipptx.blogspot.com/2010/10/graves-ophthalmopathy-thyroid-eye_3715.html

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  2. The patriarch, known as Avraham Graanboom, was born in Sweden in 1680 (with the name Jakob). He moved to Amsterdam when he was 69 years old for the purpose of converting to Judaism, along with much of his family (the Netherlands being the only place in Europe where it was legal for a Christian to convert to Judaism).

    1. Why change his name from Jakob to Abraham?

    2. You mean that the Nether Lands were the only place in western Europe where a Christian could convert to Judaism. Surely, such conversion would have been legal in the lands of the Ottoman Empire.

    ReplyDelete
  3. >Why change his name from Jakob to Abraham?

    It is customary for gerim to take a new name, often Abraham, upon conversion.

    >You mean that the Nether Lands were the only place in western Europe where a Christian could convert to Judaism. Surely, such conversion would have been legal in the lands of the Ottoman Empire.

    Actually, I have no idea if that's true, and I don't take that for granted at all. But even if it is, no one went to Albania to convert.

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  4. >But even if it is, no one went to Albania to convert.

    Pretty much nobody goes to Albania for *anything*.

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  5. Doesn't Voldemort hide out in Albania at some point during the Harry Potter series?

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  6. Frederic, at that point he is not, strictly speaking, alive. And if you were a fugitive evil wizard, would you go to Amsterdam where you would run into a whole community, or would you go to Albania where nobody ever goes?

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  7. some minor changes, like that the congregation should sing Lecha Dodi out loud together, piyutim should not be recited, and flowers and branches should not decorate the synagogue on Shavuos.

    Minor?! :-)

    I guess the one change which could be considered major in retrospect was the permission to eat kitniyos on Pesach.

    Strangely, I'd find this much less of a problem than Lecho Dôdi.

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  8. פפאף - that's pfaf, a pejorative word for a priest or minister. (As this is the 1800s, you could use the English word shaveling.)

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  9. Steg (dos iz nit der šteg)11:17 PM, February 10, 2011

    shaveling = גלח?

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  10. "It is customary for gerim to take a new name, often Abraham, upon conversion."

    Do you know whether this minhag is considered to be obligatory? And whether its expected that the name is formally changed to this new name or just informally?

    Tnx.

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  11. you write that getz was the pejorative nickname used by this rabbi's detractors meaning 'idol', yet the seforim blog article linked within renders it 'fool'. I am unaware of this word being used elswhere in either context, and my conjecture is that it is a non-pejorative abrreviation for ger-tzedek

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  12. It is used in a pejorative sense and is a pun. I think it's just shortened from getchke (idol).

    ReplyDelete
  13. Inspector Clouseau3:06 PM, February 11, 2011

    Then there's שעטנ"ז ג"ץ, of course.

    BTW, do you think Voldemort was worried about the Ashkenazic community of Amsterdam, or the Sephardic?

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  14. In Western Europe, Getz was a perfectly normal name (cf. German Götz), nearly a default kinnuy of Elyokim. Then again, maybe the mean allusions would work only where the name is in use or it would be to plain.

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  15. Indeed. That's where the ubiquitous East European "Getzel" (Götzel) comes from.

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  16. Albania saved their entire (small) Jewish community in WWII. Maybe we should go there as a hakarat hatov?

    Voldemort would have been more worried about the Italkim and Sefardim. Their knowledge of mysticism would have been a threat to him. ;-)

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  17. R' Shimshon of Ostropoli (Poland, first half of 17th century)10:49 PM, February 14, 2011

    Excuse me? Ashkenazim don't know mysticism?!!

    ReplyDelete
  18. "R' Shimshon of Ostropoli (Poland, first half of 17th century) said..."

    Best user name ever, bar none.

    ReplyDelete
  19. I could help you with a much better picture of the statue, since it is
    still in the house of my uncle G.A. Graanboom.

    ReplyDelete
  20. That's amazing. Would you do that?

    Can you email me? - my address is dbmin9 at aol dot com. I would email you, but of course I do not have your address. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete

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