Monday, May 30, 2011

British "semi Polaken" are advised to mind their own business, in 1887. Also, a Lower East Side pickle review.

It's hard to beat the 19th century for nastiness - and hilarity - in polemics. People knew how to wield a pen like a machete in those days. The following is from Isaac Mayer Wise's American Reform newspaper the Israelite, and concerns a criticism the London Jewish Chronicle had made of a description of the ordination ceremony of a Reform rabbi in the Hebrew Union College in 1887.

As you can see, Wise was annoyed that the Jewish Chronicle had the chutzpah to criticize the Hebrew Union College ordination ceremony as theatrical, even as it admits that in England they can use a little bit of an upgrade in their own ordination ceremony in Jews' College, which fortunately acting Chief Rabbi Herman Adler is going to fix. Wise says that they've already fixed it in America.

"It is a religious service and no theatrical peformance, only that in England they understand a religious ceremony to mean wrapping up in a Talith, shaking and rocking the upper body, making a hideous noise, which we call here a farce; while we, having more aesthetical taste and more modern manners, are in your eyes theatrical, while you are in our estimation farcical, הכל לפי מנהג המדינה.
And, adds Wise, we don't tell you what to do across the ocean. 350,000 American Jews can get along just fine with paternalistic advice from "all the semi Polaken of Great Britian." So, mind your own business.

Wow. This is what he was responding to, in the Jewish Chronicle July 29, 1887:

Further points of interest: on the same page of the Israelite we find a review of William Wickes' second book on the prose accents of the Bible. Wise writes that Wickes was preceded by Heidenheim and Ben Ze'ev in such a treatise, but is unaware of any earlier such work in English. If it was 1887 I would point Wise toward a book from 1698 on the "Taghmical Art" (link). Wise remarks that "the system of accentuation was so well known and so thoroughly mastered among some learned Jews that we ourselves have known one Rabbi who, if one wrote down a series of accents occurring anywhere in the Bible, would write down to it the Bible text without ever making a mistake." I imagine Wise would not have believed that such a phenomenon still existed, and that in only 4 years a boy would be born in Lithuania who was reputed as a young teenager to be able to do a similar thing; in his son's version in Making of a Godol (pp. 81-82 and 1155-56), he says that his father was able to figure out the correct trope after being shown only one trope sign in the verse. I remember reading that Shachbadal (Shamuel Chai Lolli) who was the elder cousin, and mentor, of Shadal could be given a series of accents and determine which verses they are from. I don't have the reference offhand.

Elsewhere on the page there is a notice that the Swiss parliament reversed a legal ruling in Zurich to ban shechitah. Likely in 100 years this will still be an issue.

And, there's a review of kosher pickles for sale on the Lower East Side. Wise* likes them. He says that they are prepared just the way that his mother, now resting in Gan-Eden, prepared them. He says that one pickle in particular almost seemed to smile at him and he was about to spend his nickel when suddenly the vendor and a boy plunged their hands into the barrel and he lost his appetite. Now that we have penicillin I would for sure taken my chances. I mean, to eat a late 19th century perfect Lower East Side pickle? Is he kidding? Crunch.

*Or a New York correspondent? It's unclear to me.


  1. I'm pretty sure that sometimes there were unattributed first-person articles in the Israelite that were not written by Wise. At least, that was my impression last time I sat down with the newspaper to research.

  2. My father z"l used to home-brew pickles (and pickled tomatoes). They were goo-oo-ooood. As in, good. But I don't recall his using bread as a pickling agent. And he did use vinegar. I forgive this Wise guy for dissing my father and his condiments.

    But in terms of insults, those early modern British, with their pamphlet wars, were pretty good. Even in the titles. Thomas Hobbes, an amateur mathematician as well as a political philosopher, wrote a pamphlet, titled Stigmai ageōmetrias, agroichias, antipoliteas, amatheias, or, Markes of the absurd geometry, rural language, Scottish church-politicks, and barbarismes of John Wallis professor of geometry and doctor of divinity (1657).

    Joseph Glanvill was the author of Plus ultra, or, The progress and advancement of knowledge since the days of Aristotle / In an account of some of the most remarkable late improvements of practical, useful learning: to encourage philosophical endeavors. Occasioned by a conference with one of the notional way (1668). Better known as Plus ultra. Then along came Henry Stubbe, replying to Glanvill with my absolute favorite: The Plus ultra reduced to a non-plus (1670). (As it's usually known: the full title is Legends no histories, or, A specimen of some animadversions upon The history of the Royal Society: wherein, besides the several errors against common literature, sundry mistakes about the making of salt-petre and gun-powder are detected and rectified : whereunto are added two discourses, one of Pietro Sardi and another of Nicolas Tartaglia relating to that subject, translated out of Italian : with a brief account of those passages of the authors life ... : together with the Plus ultra of Mr. Joseph Glanvill reduced to a non-plus, &c).

  3. BT"W, Stigmai ageōmetrias, agroichias, antipoliteas, amatheias was written in Greek characters (romanization copied and pasted, not done by myself).

  4. My grandmother made pickles. Unfortunately I was too young to pay attention to how she made them, but they were definitely goo-oo-ooood.

    I can't think of any great pamphleting titles offhand, but I like Brian Walton's "The Considerator Considered," in reply to his critic John Owen's "Considerations" on his Polyglot Bible.

    Anon, thank you. I suspected that - which is why I wrote that it was unclear to me if it's Wise writing about the pickles, since that was in New York. I can think of no other reason why he would not be the author of the the other two pieces I mentioned.

  5. Does anyone out there have a recipe for bread-pickled vinegar-free pickles? I'd be interested in trying my hand at them, just so that I could gloat at how bad they are (to honor my father's recipe). (Or, if it turns out that they're good, to honor my father's open-minded streak.) (Or, if they're too much work, to not bother with it.)



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