Monday, May 02, 2011

On the Mrs. Chasam Sofer Haggadah, Mendelssohnian German, Hannibal and Yiddish.

Continuing my tradition of Pesach posts after Passover - for example, see my Chad Gadya post from last year, which is one of my favorite posts of all time. I hardly need to explain that there isn't a lot of time for posting on Chol Ha-mo'ed. There almost isn't enough time for doing Yom Tov-appropriate things. A friend of mine told me that he printed up the 18th century English Haggadah which I posted about here, and he "aspire[d] to use the Prague Haggadah on the first night and this one on the second, but will probably be stuck with a Maxwell House Hagaddah in one hand and a kid in the other." I know how it is. But I digress.

On Pesach I discovered a Haggadah that I'd heard about, but never seen. It turns out that my grandfather owned a facsimile copy of a famous Haggadah. The Haggadah was beautifully written by a student of the Chasam Sofer in honor of the latter's wedding to Sorel, daughter of R. Akiva Eger, in 1815. It was evidently intended as a present for Sorel. I am unclear regarding the circumstances, if the Chasam Sofer commissioned this Haggadah as a present for his wife, or if it was essentially a present for him and the initiative was from the student. If that were the case, that's pretty bold of him to write it for the Rebbetzin (and it is written for her, as can be seen from the blessing for her husband in the bentching). In any case, my grandfather had a facsimile copy. Not only that, to my pleasure it was wine-stained, which meant that he didn't only own it, he used it.

The facsimile edition which I now have was printed in Brooklyn in1951. Unfortunately it is black-and-white, while the original was colored. In Meir Hildesheimer's essay "The Attitude of the Hatam Sofer toward Moses Mendelssohn" (PAAJR 60 1994) he refers to this Haggadah and its reprints - Berlin 1924, Bnei-Brak 1980 and Brooklyn 1986. But he missed Brooklyn 1951.

In any case, as it happens the JNUL just put up a digital copy of the 1924 facsimile a few weeks ago (link), and I will use pictures from that edition.

There are numerous interesting things about this Haggadah. To begin with, obviously, is the fact that included a translation into German (with Hebrew letters). Now I know that some might prefer to think that the translation is Yiddish, but it is not. Not only is this clear from the translation itself, but as it happens this student copied his translation from the Berlin 1785 Haggadah (link, to the 1786 reprint). This Haggadah's translator was Joel Brüll, who was one of the most notable students of Moses Mendelssohn. He was a Meassephist (editor and contributor to Ha-Me'asseph, the Hebrew periodical of the emergent Haskalah) and a Biurist (German translator and Hebrew commentator to many books of Tanach). He is also the first to translate the Haggadah in German. Here is the title page

It shouldn't really surprise anyone that this became a sort of typical template for a German version of the Haggadah. Surely no one would expect that the student would make his own translation. So it is Brill's that he used.

Regarding the language, even without the knowledge of the source and the ability to compare them, it is clearly German and not only that, it is clearly Mendelssohnian. For example, in the Mrs. Chasam Sofer Haggadah God's name is translated עוויגר, or Ewiger, which means (in this context) the Eternal One. This is not a traditional term for God (although it's use is quite clever and well-reasoned). It is in fact Mendelssohn's idea. In his Torah translation he uses עוויגע. In his comment to Exodus 3:14 ("Ehyeh asher ehyeh") he explains his use of this term, namely that he wanted to capture the meaning assigned to the Tetragrammaton by rabbinic tradition (God was, is, and will be) with one German word that connoted eternity. He also noted that other translations had used the same idea. The translations he is referring to would seem to be Calvin's Geneva Bible, which uses l'Eternel, and also the apocryphal book of Baruch, which used a Greek word with the same meaning.

As an aside, I just came across something very interesting. Here is the inside page of a sefer owned by the Chasam Sofer and his son, R. Avraham Shmuel Binyamin, the Kesav Sofer.

What makes this interesting is that it apparently contains the youthful handwriting practice doodles of the Kesav Sofer. That's "Samuel Wolf Schreiber" on the upper right. You can also see שמואל וואלף written numerous times. The image comes from this item, auctioned by the Kedem Judaica auction house March 2. The particular sefer is the 1832 Lemberg edition of מגן גבורים.

All this talk about the Chasam Sofer and German, and the fact that he made sure his own children knew the language (also see here) got me thinking. I think his views on Yiddish have been greatly misunderstood and misrepresented. First of all, the Yiddish spoken by his native German Jews was much closer to German than the dialect spoken in the East. Secondly, it was close to the native tongue. In Poland or Russia it was very different from the native tongue. Given this fact, given the fact that he ensured his children knew the language, given his contention that Yiddish was a planned corruption of German in fulfilment of a Yerushalmi, but that of course the correct vernacular was known (see here), and given that he opposed the use of German in preaching, I think these create a sort of confluence. His intention was never that the people should be so estranged from the language around them that they could not function. Knowing and speaking in the Judeo-German of his time was probably more analogous to the you-know-what dialect of English people speak today. It definitely set Jews apart. Getting up in shul and giving a speech that begins "There's a peledige Rashi on this week's parsha" is probably closer to what he had in mind than "Es shtayt in posuk." Of course there is the matter of alphabets. What I think he did have a problem with would have been something like "The commentators offer a striking explanation of the verse." This is, I think, the kind of German he was against. He was, in other words, a proponent of Yeshivish English - not Yiddish. This is of course an impressionistic, still-formulating idea. Feel free to rip it apart.

Back to the Haggadah. As you can see by the title page, the student (Moshe ben Nosson ha-Kohen) was a very talented calligrapher, but not necessarily such a talented artist. I grant that this is only my opinion, but I think I will be able to persuade you.

Immediately following is a rather tasteful colophon, which requires a lot of Haggadah-twisting to read.

Since I don't think you'll find it anywhere online (or necessarily even in a book) I'll write it out. I almost feel like this is hardly appropriate to have been written by the student, so I wanted to say that that it was written by the Chasam Sofer himself - almost a love note - but it's also a love note to him, and definitely signed and therefore written by the student:

שייך להרבנית האשה החשובה, צנועה מכל הנשים באהל תבורך, מפז היא יקרה, ומפנינים מפוארה, לאישה היא עטרה, כל כבודה פנימה, פרשה לעני כפה, ושלחה לאבין ידיה, אילת אהבים ויעלת חן, אשת חיל מרת שרל אשת הגאון הגדול מוהרר משה סופר אב"ד ור"מ דק"ק פ"ב יע"א, לשם תפארת ותהלה, ולתת שבח והודיה, לשמות הגדולים הנזכרים, ונעשים פה בראשי תיבות, ואלו הן * שירות רוממות להגיד אף שארי תהלות הבורא, גבורותיו אגיד ורב נפלאותיו, הוא גדר דרכי, ויפנה לי מסילה, ויביאני האהלה רב רבי משנתו שמנה ההלכות סגולתו ותפארתו, פועל רברביא, איש ברורה דברתו, והוא ריש מלכיא דאורייתא, קול קדושת פיו בוטא יקרת עילת אלהא דשמיא וארעא יתברך בפי על כי הגדיל לעשות לי כל הכבוד הזה, להעביר מנחה הבאה בידי ה"ק משה הכהן

The acrostic, of course, spells out שרל אשת הגאון הגדול מוהרר משה סופר אב"ד ור"מ דק"ק פ"ב יע"א, or, Sorel, wife of the great Gaon my Master and Rabbi Moshe Sofer, Chief Rabbi and Rosh Yeshiva of the Holy Congregation of Pressburg, God protect it.

As I said, Moshe ben Nosson Ha-kohen was a beautiful calligrapher, but not a terribly great artist. The Haggadah contains 4 full page illustrations. The individuals depicted aren't fully developed or well-proportioned. Some might wish to argue that they aren't fully developed for pietist reasons, but I think that would be more plausible if the artist had demonstrated ability. Here's an example:

Since I don't want to belabor the point of his lack of artistry, and concentrate on what he did do beautifully, I'll give only one more example because it is so interesting. Everyone always wants to see how the Four Sons are depicted in a Haggadah. Here it is:

This is a famous image; a couple of weeks before Pesach I posted Israel Zangwill's review of a Haggadah. It used this same image. Zangwill was not a fan. He wrote:
Another piece of rich artistic humour is the illustration of the four sons. The חכם is represented in a long gabardine and with his right hand extended as it to receive a stroke from a cane. The " wise son " is the oldest and tallest of the four and lifts up his gabardine as though crossing a muddy road. The רשע is depicted as a warrior with buckler on arm and spear in hand, and he is running away as fast as his legs can carry him. Presumably from the Seder. תם, the simple son who artlessly observes: " What is this? " is drawn as a ploughboy idiotically digging a spear or a staff (it is not clear which) into the ground. But the fourth son, the one who "hath no capacity to enquire," takes the (Passover) cake. He is represented as a dwarf (the four sons grow smaller by degrees and beautifulyl less.) He is clothed in a gaberdine which only reaches to his stockings, and in a black skull-cap. His right arm is held out slightly curved, while his left hand points perpendicularly to the sky. What this attitude, which looks like that of a vociferous Maggid, has to do with an incapacity for enquiry, I will not even pretend to guess.
This illustration has been used in many Haggadahs. For example, Wolf Heidenheim's 1822 Haggadah, which I use, uses it. I checked two random 18th century Haggadas - both use it (here and here).The illustration originally appeared in the 1695 Amsterdam Haggadah. A reader pointed out the early history of this illustration, recounted by Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi in his seminal Haggadah and History (this famous book on the history of the Haggadah was recently called "Yerushalmi" by "Yosef Hayim" in the My Machberes column of the Jewish Press (link).

Here is the picture from the 1695 Haggadah:

The engraver, whom some say was a convert but according to my reading of his name (הבחור כמר אברם בר יעקב ממשפחת אברהם אבינו) he was more likely a grandson, or son, of a convert, based his illustrations on the engravings of Matthäus Merian. I realize that I'm taking on big guns like Steinschneider and Cecil Roth, but until I see the proof that he was a convert, I'm sticking with my interpretation of his name. More on him and the issue of whether he was a convert below.

Merian's engravings are primarily from the 1630 Historische Chronica and the figures are as follows: the Wise Son is Hannibal's father making his son swear eternal enmity to Rome, the Wicked Son is a soldier from one of Merian's battle scenes, the Simple Son is from Merian's illustration of Saul being anointed by Samuel, and the Son Who Knows Not to Ask is Hannibal himself, from the same engraving. Incidentally, it appears that Yerushalmi made a mistake. I stress that I don't have his book in front of me, but I saw various descriptions online which seem to be citing from him, and it seems that he gave the wise son as Hannibal, and the sone who cannot ask as another figure in the illustration. The wise son is Hannibal's father. And, therefore, the son who cannot ask is Hannibal himself.

Here are two view of the Hannibal engraving from the Historische Chronica:

Rachel Wischnitzer already pointed this out in 1931 (link; but also in a more accessible form in Commentary in 1951 - link). Frankel, cited above, gives the image:

Here are all the illustrations from Wischnitzer's 1939 article:

Incidentally, in the link to Wischnitzer's small letter to Commentary in 1951 it says that the image is David, rather than Saul, being anointed. Rather than assume that she made a mistake and forgot her own research, my guess is that a less-than-biblically-literate editor at Commentary was insufficienly familiar with the Book of Samuel, and "corrected" her mention of "Saul" to "David bending his head while receiving the anointing oil was used for the dull son."

Getting back to the issue of whether this engraver was a convert - it has been noted that when the Haggadah was reprinted in 1712, although his illustrations were used again, his name does not appear. Assuming that he was a convert, Cecil Roth had the following interesting thing to say: "In the 1712 reprint, however, the plates are ascribed to 'a most zealous workman in the craft of engraving'. Clearly, the publishers were by now no longer so happy in his collaboration, and it is not out of the question that his experience of Judaism had not in the end turned out so satisfactorily as had formerly seemed to be the case. It is however not without its significance, in view of the constant allegations of narrow-minded exclusiveness that are levelled against Judaism even today, that the most familiar illustrations to the most beloved of Hebrew service books are from the hand of a proselyte!"

I already explained my reason for doubting that he was a convert. As I'm composing this post I noticed that David Frankel, too, doubted that Abram ben Jacob was a convert. See Illustration, allusion, and commentary: Choosing the four sons in 1695 in Images 4 (2010). He basically notes that it's "an oft repeated story" based entirely on the man's "surname" ממשפחת אברהם אבינו.

What he doesn't note is that there is a somewhat formidable reed which this "of repeated story" is based upon. Namely, Johann Christoph Wolf apparently mentions him in Vol. 3 of his Bibliotheca Judaea (1727):

And, perhaps, once again in Vol. 4, (1733), pg. 763:

As you can see, he is described as a Swiss Minister living in the Rhine region. He converted to Judaism in Amsterdam, and produced a Hebrew map of Palestine. Since the same engraver we have been discussing did indeed engrave the Hebrew map of Israel, which was printed in the 1695 Amsterdam Haggadah (indeed it was advertised on the title page), it is clear that according to Wolff he was a converted minister. The second mention by Wolf - if it is him - claims that he produced a 130-year Jewish-Christian calendar in 1714. Still, I find the lack of any other documentation and his unusual name to be a reasonable objection and more proof is wanting. If the proof already exists then of course I will be very happy to know what it is. Of course opposing my problem with the name is Wolf, who apparently had no problem presenting an Abraham ben Jacob as a convert - perhaps two of them, if these aren't the same men, which is also possible.

Here is what the aforementioned Frankel writes about the question:
Abraham ben Jacob, the engraver who illustrated the 1695 Haggadah, is rarely mentioned without the epithet “the proselyte.” Another often repeated story identifies him as a German clergyman who moved to Holland when he converted to Judaism, while Roth goes so far as to suggest that his name was omitted from the revised 1712 edition because “his experience of Judaism had not turned out so satisfactorily as had formerly been the case.” Dr. Edward van Voolen of the Joods Historisch Museum, Amsterdam, has suggested to me that this common view may well be mistaken. He proposes that אברם בר יעקב on the title page of the Amsterdam Haggadah could be read as Abraham b[en] r[abbi] Jacob rather than as Abraham bar Jacob: that is, seeing Abraham as the son of a rabbi, not as a proselyte.

It is possible that the identification of Abraham ben Jacob as a convert has also been encouraged by three general if unjustified assumptions and attitudes. The first is that there were few, if any, trained Jewish craftsmen; the second, the often mentioned irony that these most popular Jewish illustrations were based on the work of a non-Jew and prepared by a convert; and the third, that his non-Jewish (perhaps educated or religious) background would have given Abraham ben Jacob an unusual knowledge of Merian’s biblical and other secular work. None of these need have been so. In addition, it is important to recognise that, despite the generous praise of his efforts and inspiration on the title page of the 1695 Haggadah, Abraham ben Jacob is unlikely to have been solely responsible for selecting the images: this must have been done in close consultation with, or following the advice of the publishers, editors, and printers involved in the production of the Amsterdam Haggadah.
I must point out that "בר" doesn't mean "son of a Rabbi." I mean, it means that too, but it also means anyone and everyone. In the 17th and 18th century (and the 19th and 20th and 21st) everyone and anyone gets an "ר," especially if you're referring to your own father! Even a כמוהרר doesn't really mean that we're talking about a rabbi. Frankel's other point is excellent, particularly the first of the three, that the fact that there were few trained Jewish craftsmen may have encouraged the identification of the man as a convert. As I said, Wolf apparently makes the claim but, not insignificantly, he only mentions the map and not the Haggadah. Looking at Wischnitzer's 1939 article, she cites Haggadah-collecter Albert Wolf as making my same observation, and also doubting that he himself was a convert. Wolf noted that the appellation referring to Avraham Avinu doesn't appear in his own signature in the illustration to the 1698 Shelah, and that "בר" also has the dual meaning we discussed.

Speaking of the 1698 Amsterdam Shelah, this talented man also illustrated the title page, which he signed simply אברם בר יעקב. He also engraved this, and several other pages in Amsterdam seforim of the late 1690s - early 1700s.

Incidentally, I mentioned before that Wolf mentions him in 1727 (and, possibly, 1733). There is another source from 1727 mentioning him. I am speaking of Hermann von der Hardt's Historia Universalis Judaeorum In Aenigmate, In Liturgia Festi Paschatis, of course. This work, which also has a Hebrew title "חד גדיא," mentions the 1695 Haggadah and basically writes what we already know, that he was a convert, etc. However, he seems to have derived this information from reading the Haggadah's title page, whereas Wolf somehow has detailed info about his origin (Swiss, Rhenish, etc.).

Following the text of Chad Gadya Hardt prints Greek, Latin and German translations of the song. So you know it's a good book.

But this is a Chasam Sofer Haggadah post, is it not?

The Haggadah written and illustrated for Sorel has a few more points of interest. There if the aforementioned blessing in the bentching:

This is custom written for her, את בעלי מורי מורינו רב בעל הבית הזה. The formula מורי מורינו רב is very regional. In Hungary and related regions rabbis were called to the Torah with the title מורה מורינו הרב.

It is notable (to me) that the text is fairly vulgar. I'm not sure if the author copied any one particular text, but the vocalization is hardly precise. For example, it uses the idiosyncratic שֶׁנֶאֵמַר.

The use of Rabbi with a patach, rather than the authentic traditional chirik is, I think, probably less a nod to newfangled grammarian theories, and more just a general cluelessness over the issue:

Sof davar, I hope I wasn't too hard on poor Moshe ben Nosson. He was more artistically talented than I'll ever be, and he produced a beautiful, tasteful work that is worthy of its many reproductions. I'm glad to own a copy, and I imagine I will be using it for many years to come.


  1. עוויגר
    Is one of those a typo? Or just similar meanings from the same root.

    sone is a typo for son.

    Awesome post. Keep up the great work!!

  2. The latter. Brill (and the scribe) write ewiger, while Mendelssohn writes ewige. I'm not sure if it's dialect or grammatical, since both seem to work in German.


  3. lechedud balma Eigers last name was Ganz

  4. Last I checked it's not a crime to call him Eger.

    Seems even he was willing to publish his teshuvos under the name Eger: (1835)

    Also, it was Ginz.

  5. 1. Can I ask you a question? Why is the Maxwell house considered the commonplace Haggadah? When I grew up I never heard of the Maxwell Hagaddah, but everyone used the Goldberg Hagaddah. You know, the orange and yellow one, but it also comes in red. Even today I see a lot more Goldberg hagaddahs than Maxwell hagaddahs. Is this maybe a conservative/orthodox thing?

    2. Extreme minutia - the interpretation of "Bar" meaning "Ben Rav" might be correct. There is no "shtrekkel" or line mark between the letters, but there is also no shtrekkel above the "kof" where it say "K'mar", and the kof usually stands, I think, for "kovod".

  6. There's also none in מוהרר for the Chasam Sofer. And this was very common.

    In short, you can usually draw no conclusion from apostrophes, or gershayim or simanim or whatever you want to call it, without at least other kinds of evidence.

    As for Maxwell House, although I've seen it and still see it, I agree, in my experience the red and yellow was the much more common simple Haggadah that was always around. But I think we are dating ourselves. Maxwell House definitely had the monopoly once upon a time.

  7. Might it be that the MWH was given away for free? I don't recall the Goldberg being given away at the large supermarkets.

  8. Don't forget the Hebrew Publishing Co. Hagadah.

  9. From what I can see, the haggadah here does translate God's name as "der Ewige" (עוויגע). If I recall correctly from my college German, "ewiger" is the masculine adjective form for "eternal," but the noun form, when used with the definite article "der," drops the final "r." "Der Ewige" might better be translated as "the Eternal One."

    Reggio, who closely followed Mendelssohn in many respects, translated God's name into Italian as "l'Eterno." The only English Chumash translation that I know of that uses "the Eternal" is the Rosenbaum-Silbermann Chumash with Rashi.

  10. another great post!

  11. The Bnei Yisocor in Derech Pekudech points out that the Mitzvah is סיפור not just reading, therefore one has to understand the text. Hence, someone that does not understand Hebrew should get a German or other language Hagada and read the non-Hebrew text as well!
    He then goes into his anti-Reform mode, to warn readers that some recently published German Hagados were by authored Apikorsim (I suppose he is refering to Moishe MeDesauer) and one should not use those Hagados.

  12. Thanks for that great reference, Anon.

    The Bnai Yissoschor is too late to be referring to this one alone (which was really translated by Yoel Brill, as I said, although its second edition was published by Moshe Dessauer). There were already numerous German translations, including the aforementioned Heidenheim's. I wonder if he included that one as well. Probably, although I doubt that he was compiling a bibliography of German Haggados.

  13. Ture, the Bnei Yissoschor (d.1840) was quite a while after Moshe Desauer (d.1786), and many Hagodos with German/Yiddish Translation were printed in the interim. But the BY did maintain a disdain for Medelsohn up to the writing of Derech Pekudech.
    As a proof, see 2nd paragraph of where he says that learning a foreign language can bring to Apikurus, and people who are unaware buy these books, that are like עבודה זרה an צואה, and one cannot make a Brocho in the house.
    His prime example is Medelsohn's Phädon! (I think it is unlikely that the BY is talking about Plato original)

  14. No proof necessary! Such disdain was not old hat by any means in 1840. If anything, it was renewed in strength.

    It's an interesting example. What do you think he means by chibur ha-goyim in this context?

  15. was it common to add in birchat hamozen you own version as the rebetzin hagada?

  16. Did Rebbetzin Chsam Sofer use this Haggadah?
    Nun Bau is not in it.

  17. I think she did. I mean, a present from her husband? Probably.

    No, Nun Bau is not in it. I don't know that the Chasam Sofer sang it, although there is testimony that he read and translated the Haggadah at the seder. Meir Hildesheimer apparently concluded that the Chasam Sofer read the translation from this Haggadah, but I can't make out why he assumes that, and I'm afraid he might have gotten a little confused by his sources.

  18. Well, you weren't sure if it was from the Chasam Sofer or a direct present from the student. The student could have been out of bounds and this would have been relegated to the bottom shelf.

    Nun bau is attributed to the Shloh d. 1630 pre - Mendelsohn and the sixth stanza has Ebiger Gott.

  19. What I meant was, I'm not sure if the Chasam Sofer came up with the idea and asked him to do it (in which case it was really a present from him to his wife) or if it was the talmid's initiative (in which case it was really a present from the talmid to his rebbe). Maybe it was a combination (student came up with the idea, rebbe said "please write it for my wife so I can give it to her.")

    But it seems highly unlikely that on his own he came up with the idea of writing it for the wife. What kind of present is that to the rebbe?

    As for whether it was put away, my guess is that it wasn't, since it was deemed significant enough to reprint numerous times. But maybe not.

    Great point about Nun Bau (although he didn't write it) but Ebiger Gott (Eternal God) is not the same thing as Ewige (The Eternal). The former is an adjective for God (like Great God) and the latter is a kinui for the name of God (like The Great).

  20. An idea for a post - would be the history of Nun Bau - why it was attributed to the shloh and the meanings of the names - Verdiger Gott, verdant? etc.

  21. S., why do you claim that Yoel Brill was the translator of the Haggadah into German when the title page credits the translation to R' Moshe Dessau (Mendelsohn)? It lists Yoel Brill as providing comments.

  22. >An idea for a post - would be the history of Nun Bau - why it was attributed to the shloh and the meanings of the names - Verdiger Gott, verdant? etc.

    Nice idea. It is much older. There is, for example, an article in the 1892 issue of the Journal asiatique on a manuscript Haggadah written in 1333 which includes it.

    It was attributed to him, I think, because it was printed in the Shelah's siddur (link). I have no idea if the Shelah himself wrote it in his manuscripts which the siddur is based upon, although I guess he did.

    Y. Aharon, because it is not true. In the first edition (the year before) it is clear that Brill was the translator. My GUESS is that it was attributed here to Mendelssohn because, him already being dead (January 1786), someone decided that it would sell better this way.

  23. >The latter. Brill (and the scribe) write ewiger, while Mendelssohn writes ewige. I'm not sure if it's dialect or grammatical, since both seem to work in German.

    In German, you can turn any adjective into a noun through the use of a suffix.

    ewig is an adjective which means eternal so der Ewige would be 'the Eternal' as a noun. another r is added to the end if the noun is used with a cardinal or ordinal number:

    Now, there is another grammatical construct in German where a noun can be personified by the addition of er to its end. For example Kritik means criticism. Kritiker means critic.:

    I am not sure in what context the forms Ewige and Ewiger are used in the texts in question and of course the above grammar is Hochdeutsch and there could be dialects at play.

  24. I confirmed it with my German speaking neighbor and Dan was right above.

    The r is added to the end of Ewige (or similar constructs) when the definite article is left out.



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