Thursday, May 19, 2011

More mei raglayim-urine; in the Italian tradition and others.

Perhaps this is overkill, but I came across a couple of additional sources on translating or not translating mei raglayim (see part I from 2007 and part II from 6 weeks ago, and part III from 2 weeks ago).

The following example is f rom David De Sola Pool's version. This is from the 2nd edition of his Prayers for the Day of Atonement According to the Custom of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews (New York 5704/ 1943). I apologize for the awful quality of the photograph:

As you can see, his translation says "Though mey raglayim might have been adapted for that purpose, it was not used . . . " I came across a certain English mahzor from the 1860s which similarly read "meiraglayim" (one word, no italics).

Next is from an Italian machzor published in Trieste, 1928. Here is the title page:

This is interesting because "Prof. Israele Zolli, the Rabbino Maggiore di Trieste" was later the Chief Rabbi (Rabbino Maggiore) of Rome and infamously converted to Catholicism after WWII.

In his machzor, although the Hebrew side is quite complete and correct, he simply did not translate anything beyond כדי לשרות בו את הצפורן כדי שתהא עזה. That's what the red line indicates. Problem solved!

Here's the Hebrew side:

Speaking of Italian machzorim, here is a page from Lazzaro Ottolenghi's Livorno edition and translation of the machzor:

As you can see, it translated mei raglayim as "le acque del font Raglaim," water from the spring called Raglaim (as per the Kol Bo). Incidentally, many people think this machzor is from 1821 because of the title page. First, let's clear this: R. Lazzaro Ottolenghi was born in 1820, so he didn't print a machzor in 1821. Here is that title page:

As you can see, the enlarged letters in the chronogram add up to 581, so this ought to be 1821. To be honest I'm not sure exactly what year it was printed, but it's not a mistake. Rather it is a reprint of a machzor with Italian translation that was printed in Vienna between 1821 and 1829. This mahzor was produced as per the requirement of the Austrian government, printed under the name of R. Eliezer Halevi ab"d of Trieste, but translated by his pupil Shadal. With this work the latter began to achieve fame in Italy.

A clue as to the date of Ottolenghi's machzor is the mi sheberach it included, for Ferdinand III, who died in 1824.

Here it is:

I guess it's a little odd to reprint such a thing in a machzor some 40 (?) years later, but then again it indicates that it is being faithful to the original. However, it is also faithful to the original in that Samuel David Luzzatto's name does not appear. How then did he achieve fame because of this translation? According to Shadal himself what happened was that some sheets of his translation was seen in R. Eliezer Halevi's home by Joseph Tivoli, a teacher at the local Talmud Torah, who recognized his handwriting. He was very upset because he was aware of an essay written by Shadal which offered the view that Kohelet was not written by King Solomon. The whole episode is spelled it in detail in Hamaggid 1863 (Vol. 7, #31) pg. 245:

In any case, we can see that 20-year old Shadal translated mei raglayim according to the demure tradition, that is is a spring with the name raglaim. (Bearing in mind that I have not seen the original, but I assume that this whole pilpul is correct and that this is a faithful reprint.)

Finally, in an earlier post I alluded to a letter to and from Louis Ginzberg about the matter. It is printed in R. David Golinkin's The Responsa of Professor Louis Ginzberg. I will post the letter and reply exactly as it appears because it is so interesting from a historical perspective:

No. 5 Some of the Technical Terms found in Pittum Haketoret
(OH 132:2)
Source: LGA, Box 8, "Lasker" file

Congregation Beth Israel
735 McFarlan Street, Flint 4, Michigan
Phone 3 - 3586

Arnold A. Lasker
May 3, 1949

Prof. Louis Ginzberg
Jewish Theological Seminary of America
3080 Broadway
New York 27, N. Y.

Dear Doctor Ginzberg:
There has been something of a controversy raging among some of our worshipers on a Talmudic question. It is so gratifying to have such interest, that I thought I might presume to ask you to settle the question.
The problem involves the Pittum ha-Ketoret and revolves around the use of the words mei raglayim. From every indication it seems to me and to a number of others that it means "urine," but a couple of men have brought siddurim which actually forbid the reader to think that it could possibly mean mei raglayim mamash. One source suggests that it is a herb with that name and because of that name it was regarded as unseemly to bring it into the azarah. In any case, what is the actual effect of soaking onycha in the "mei raglayim?"
What is the basis for translating the Biblical shehelet and the Talmudic tziporen as onycha? Further, how was it permitted to utilize part of an unclean shellfish for such a sacred purpose?
Does the term memulah in the Bible mean salted (with the melah sedomit) or spiced in general? Is the latter the proper interpretation of Onkelos' meorav?
Has there been any progress made in identifying ma'aleh ashan and kipat ha-yarden?
Thank you very much for your attention to these questions.
I trust that you, Mrs. Ginzberg, Sophie and Eli are well.

Sincerely yours,

Arnold A. Lasker

This Year We Build!

June 8, 1949

Dear Rabbi Lasker:
Your letter of May 4th reached New York during my absence for several weeks from the city and on my return a sudden inflammation of the eyes got hold of me, which made it quite impossible for me to read a line. Hence the delay in my reply to your letter.
Let me first tell you that your letter gave me a good deal of pleasure for the reason that I often have been asked by congregations whether this or that part of the Prayer Book might be left out. I am, therefore, particularly happy to see that you have in your congregation, people whose interest is in understanding the Prayer Book and not in changing it.
Actually [regarding] the meaning of [מי רגלים] there can be no doubt that it is to be taken literally. As early as the 12th century, attempts have been made to take the phrase in an applied sense, either the name of a particular well or of a certain kind of vegetable, but the contents speak definitely against all these explanations. My son-in-law, who is a professor of biochemistry at the Massachusets Institute of Technology at Cambridge, informed me recently urea has been used in toothpaste with great success. There is, therefore, nothing strange about the statement that they knew in olden times to make some use of the alkaline contents of urea for the purpose mentioned in the Baraita about the preparation of the spices.
The most reliable description of the spices used in the Temple is given by Immanuel Low in Die Flora Der Juden, IV (Vienna 1934), pp. 99[-102]. As this is very likely unavailable in Flint, I am enclosing, herewith, a short paragraph from this book which I think you might find very useful.
With kindest regards.

Very sincerely yours,

Louis Ginzberg


I would like to, at this point, acknowledge Rabbi Dr. Morris Margolies, of Kansas City, whose phenomenal book Samuel David Luzzato, Traditionalist Scholar was a great delight to me. Recently I had an email exchange with his daughter, who told me that she remembers from her childhood that her father, Shlita, lived and breathed Shadal and that Shadal seemed like an extra member of the family! She also conveyed my good wishes to him and the fact that his writings from long ago are enjoyed today, which I greatly appreciated.


  1. Look here (page 180): salomo fiorentino

    For a reference to the Salomo Fiorentino siddur mentioned in the Shadal episode.

  2. Oddly, the listing of Ferdinand III's titles, as it appears on the Hebrew page, is not in Italian but in Spanish, or maybe Ladino. I wonder why.

    Apparently Austrian siddurim/machzorim were sometimes a bit slow on the uptake with respect to their royalty. I once saw one of these, printed about the turn of the 20th century, which still contained a prayer for Crown Prince Rudolph, even though he had notoriously committed suicide with his mistress years before.

  3. Dan: They are in Italian.

  4. Look carefully. On the Italian page, the titles are in Italian (e.g. "Ferdinando Terzo"). On the Hebrew-type page, they are in Spanish (e.g. "Fernando Tercero").

  5. Anon, thanks for highlighting that. Your pointing it out got me curious, so I found Fiorention's siddur. Stay tuned.

    I second Dan.

    By the way, in further volumes of Ottolenghi's reprint the mi sheberach is no longer for Ferdinand, but his son Grand Duke Leopold. This makes sense as the machzorim were published from 1821-29.

  6. @Dan: I looked again -- you're right! (I was looking at the Italian page).

    I know that the Sephardim of Amsterdam and London often used (or even today continue to use) Spanish in some of their Mi Shebberach prayers. I guess the Sephardim in in Italy did so, too.

  7. Yes, and to this day the Sephardic congregation Light of Israel in Rochester, NY (whose original members came from Monastir in what is now Bosnia) still recites Berikh Shemei in both Aramaic and Ladino.

  8. Sorry, that's Macedonia, not Bosnia.



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