Monday, May 23, 2011

Candlemas or Chanukah? Some notes on 18th century English prayer books.

Here's the English side from the Birkhas Hamazon A. Alexander's 1770 siddur סדר התפלה לפאר ותהלה:

Candlemas? That's quaint. In a way I wish that's the way the Jewish-English language went. If Passover, why not Candlemas?

This is the second siddur in English, although the first wasn't really a siddur per se. Rather, it was published by "Gamaliel Ben Pedahzur" (a converted Jew, using a pseudonym) as part of a larger work on Judaism. If you clicked the link, you'd see that the Jewish Encyclopedia says the identity of Gamaliel is unknown. Yet that was hardly true. In fact his identity was known even then, for we find in the Yearbook of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, Volume 16 (1905) certain hasagos on the Jewish Encyclopedia by Gotthard Deutsch, and he writes (pg. 244) :
"I notice in the "Jewish World," that the real name of the first translator of the prayer book into English, whose pseudonym was Gamaliel ben Pedazhur, was Abraham Mears, and I look up the Jewish Encyclopedia and find that the real name of this Gamaliel is not known. I enter at once, on two separate cards, both the name and the pseudonym."
This is interesting, because in David Ruderman's fantastic book Jewish Enlightenment in an English Key (pg. 243) we read that "On the basis of an article in Gentleman's Magazine of 1758, Cecil Roth identified the author as an ashkenazic Jew named Abraham Meers, "a modest man, who has favoured the Jews as much as he possible could in this whole book, converted to the Christian religion." The footnote refers to Roth's 1935 article in the JHSE Miscellanies. This is a great example of previously known facts being "discovered." Cecil Roth was a suitably modest man - the point is that he hadn't by chance read the sources from 1905 and thereabouts which mention Gamaliel's identity, and neither did Ruderman. Furthermore, the 1845 Encyclopaedia metropolitana: or Universal dictionary of knowledge identifies Gamaliel as Abraham Mears in its entry on Phylacteries, In other words, in 1935 Gamaliel's true identity was not unknown.

Why am I talking about Gamaliel/ Abraham Mears? Because A. Alexander (and his collaberator B. Meyers) specifically mentions him in the introduction to his 1770 siddur.

They write about their siddur that very little needs be said about it, "the nature of which is so obvious, and its utility so apparent." They give an interesting reason why the Jewish prayers are in Hebrew (this is 1770): "A veneration for the Holy Langauge, sacred by being that in which it pleased God to reveal himself to our ancestors, and a desire to preserve it to posterity, in firm persuasion that it will again be established in Israel; are, probably, leading reasons for our performing divine service in Hebrew[.]"

They then write that "
"It is true, such a thing [i.e., a translation] hath been attempted under the title of Liturgia Judaica, but the manner in which it was effected plainly demonstrates, that Gamaliel Ben Pedazhur, either knew nothing of the Hebrew tongue, or that his intention was to throw a ridicule upon the whole Jewish community[.]"
They continue to remark that anyone who reads his book will see that.

Indeed. For example, Gamaliel Ben Pedazhur's note to his translation of the Baraita de-Rabbi Yishmael reads "* Note, This paragraph of Rabbi Yeshmoel is just the same incoherence in the Hebrew as it is here in the English." By contrast, Alexander's edition footnotes that the passage "*Contains a system properly called Talmudic Logic."

I am sure the anxious read would like to know what he calls Chanuka. Does he also call it Candlemas? The answer is yes and no. He calls it "Hannoocau, being the 25th day of the month Kislove, which is their Candlemas . . ."

Other curiosities: it calls the person who receives hagbaah (lifts the Torah) "the Hagbaist." Now that's class.

Surely you are wondering if or how either of these translate mei raglayim? The answer is that A. Alexander does not translate Pitum ha-ketores at all. On the Hebrew side it says "The mixtures of savory spices." and gives the text of Pitum ha-ketores. In English, it goes straight from the translation for En Kelohenu to Ha-shir she-ha-levi'im. In Gamaliel/ Mears' version Pitum ha-ketores is not brought at all.

Some may be interested in the subscription list to Alexander's siddur. I didn't count exactly, but there seem to be about 250 names, which includes 9 women - three of them named Kitty (and it also included a couple named Hart - Aaron and Dorathy - from "Canady."


  1. What did you think of ruderman's reapraisal of mears's work (versus that of roth et al?)

    i forget where now, but i've even seen in recent scholarship that gamaliel's identity is unknown!

  2. Incidentally, I decided that I also have to start looking at Yiddish/ Judeo-German siddurim and machzorim to see how mei raglayim is translated. The first one I looked at is the 1769 machzor published in Metz (bearing the haskama of the Shaagas Aryeh). Know how it's translated? The entire pitum ha-ketores is not translated!

    As an aside, the siddur also prints rby according to R. Zalman Hanau (Rubbi), which I don't think I've ever actually seen before:

  3. Aaron Hart (1724-1800) was one of the first Jewish settlers in Canada. Both the Jewish Encyclopedia and Wikipedia give his wife's name as Dorothea.



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