Thursday, March 17, 2011

Have you ever seen one of these? A common synagogue plaque in the 1840s.

Writing sometime between 1842 and 1844, a Jewish-born missionary in Jerusalem named Ferdinand Christian Ewald mentioned a sign which may be seen in "almost every synagogue." As I myself have never seen such a sign, I thought it was interesting:

As you can see, he writes that these signs read שמ"ע למי שמ"ע אימתי שמ"ע, which is the clever little verse as follows
?שאו מרום עיניכם למי
. שדי מלך עליון
.שחרית מנחה ערבית

This is a footnote, where he explains what roshei tevot, or abbreviations are. The context is that he had paid a visit to Rabbi David Berliner, who was one of the lay leaders of the Jerusalem Perushim of the time, and a son of Rabbi Solomon Hirschel of London. Ewald writes that Berliner tried to prove that Jesus could not be the Messiah using an interpretation of Scripture rooted in roshei tevot. So Ewald countered that you can prove anything with roshei tevot, for example, he could prove the Trinity from the first words of the Torah בראשית ברא, with בר"א standing for בן רוח אב, or Son, [Holy] Spirit and Father.

While Ewald was in Jerusalem, David Berliner's father died in London, and Ewald writes of the memorial service he attended in the Churvah synagogue, although to be more precise he meant the little synagogue built in the Churvah courtyard in 1837, since the Churvah was not rebuilt until 1856-65. The eulogizer who spoke for four hours, Rabbi Moses theMaggeed, is none other than Rabbi Moshe Rivlin, son of R. Hillel, who along with his father was part of the first aliya of the Gra's disciples:

David (Tevele) Berliner would be murdered by poison in November of 1851. His own grandson Jonah Goldzweig was implicated, tried by the Turkish authorities and acquitted for lack of evidence.


  1. Shimshon of Ostropoli1:25 PM, March 18, 2011

    We had this a few months ago, didn't we:

    CHRISTIAN: See, the first three letters of בראשית stand for בן, רוח, אב.

    JEW: Yes, and the remaining letters spell "shit", which is what you are talking.

  2. I've never seen those roshei tevot on a plaque, but the all-Hebrew Birnbaum siddur has an expanded version of it in the commentary (Shma` for weekday Shacharit), I think quoting Shibbolei Halleket.



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