Tuesday, September 20, 2011

On non-Jews with rabbinic ordination, real and imagined: some notes on Dr. Leiman's post on Tychsen.

Benjacob's bibliographic masterpiece Otzar ha-Seforim (Thesaurus Librorum Hebraicorum; Vilna 1880) is bound to contain a few errors. One of these - more of a misperception, really - can be seen in one of his entries for Rabbi David Kimhi's Mikhlol:

In other words he noted that in Zedner's Catalogue of the Hebrew books in the library of the British Museum (1867), the following entry appears, regarding an edition of this book, with notes by I. Casaubon:

Benjacob knew a lot about seforim, but probably not so much about classical scholars, so he didn't realize that "I. Casaubon" is not some "מה"ר יצחק קאסובאן," but Isaac Casaubon. Unfortunately I did not discover this gem, but Solomon Schechter did. He called attention to it 100 years ago in the first volume of his Studies in Judaism, "The Hebrew Collection of the British Museum."

This then appears to be another case of "a non-Jew with rabbinic ordination" of the second type described in a fantastic post by Dr. Shnayer Z. Leiman at the Seforim Blog (link). That is, an amusing mistake caused by a Jewish writer not realizing who a particular person is and affixing a perfunctory rabbinic honorific before his name. The first type which Dr. Leiman described is more serious, and concerns the apparently singular example of such ordination in all of history.

Dr. Leiman posted the text of a "chaber-diplom," that is, the lighter form of ordination awarded to scholars capable of independent Torah study, which was customary in Western Europe in the early modern period. What made this text interesting is that it was evidently awarded to a non-Jew, the Hebraist Oluf Gerhard Tychsen (1734 - 1815) by a rabbi in Kirchheim. Before I get to the text and what else I have to say, some remarks about Tychsen. He is probably best known to students of Jewish history for his role in the early burial controversy in Mecklenberg-Schwerin. This occurred in 1772. In accordance with medical opinion of the time doctors feared that they did not possess the means to accurately detect death. To avoid burying the living, who only appeared to be dead, they recommended waiting until the first signs of decay would set in. The duke of Mecklenburg therefore decided that in his duchy all burials should be postponed. The Jewish practice is to bury the dead as immediately as possible. Tychsen submitted his opinion recommending that the Jews receive no exemption. The Jews meant to petition the duke, arguing that early burial went against their religion. To that end they requested that R. Jacob Emden write the brief, explaining the Jewish law. He did not consider himself able to write such a brief in the necessary literary German, so he told them to ask Moses Mendelssohn, who did so. This led to a famous correspondence between them, because even though Mendelssohn wrote the petition - the exemption was granted - he was of the opinion that Jewish law actually permits delayed burial, and besides, the physicians are correct in their concern. Rabbi Jacob strongly disagreed with his argument, and even warned him about his reputation, cryptically referring to something which will make an appearance in a future post. But I digress.

Tychsen's role in the early burial controversy is well known. But what is less well known is what a fantastic Hebrew and rabbinic scholar he actually was. In my opinion he may well have been the most competent Christian Hebraist of them all. This is not to comment on whether he had the most penetrating mind or the most brilliant insights. But from what I've seen, he was totally comfortable in the world of rabbinic literature to a degree greater than any other Hebraist. One gets the sense that he could sit down with a sefer and read it as easily as a Jewish scholar. If it's unclear what I mean by that, see this comment in this post:
The professor I first studied Hebrew with (who has been one of the translators for two big Bible translation committees, on Exodus for the one and Exodus and 1 Samuel for the other) confesses that, when he is in Israel (he’s American), children there reading the scriptures aloud and rather effortlessly put him to shame. He struggles more than publicly he cares to admit.
Tychsen did not appear to struggle at all, and he seems to have had mastery over a great breadth of rabbinic learning, including contemporary rabbinic works, which is probably the key difference between him an other Hebraists. True, by his period he had many predecessors to rely upon. Yet the same is always going to be true, so I give credit where credit is due.

In any case, Dr. Leiman posted the text of his haver certificate, as it was printed in Donath's Geschichte der Juden in Mecklenburg (Leipzig 1874):

As it happens, the source for this document is accessible, and I noticed that there are very minor differences. So, for posterity, here is the original (from Dialecti rabbinicae Elementa (Bützow1763):

Here is Dr. Leiman's transcription and below it my own transcription from the original, with changes indicated in red (if I can get it to work, that is):

ויעבור טיכזן מארץ מרחק נדוד מביתו וילך מחיל אל חיל ומישיבה לישיבה למד ויצק מים על ידי גאוני עמו רבים עוסק במלאכת שמים בפלפול ובסברה ה"ה הבחור נחמד המופלא כמ' אלוף גירהרט טיכזן מהאלזטיין וגם פה עבר עלי הבחור הלז כאשר ראיתיהו שמחתי ואע"ג שאינו בעו"ה נמול רק היה כשותה מים מבארות עמוקות חכמת חז"ל וכמצות ה' ואהבת לרעך כמוך שמתי על לב לעטרהו ולכבדהו ולסמכהו בסמיכת חכמים שזו תורה וזו שכרה מן השמים להיות קרוא בשם

החבר ר' טיכזן

לכל דבר שבקדושה ונוצר תאנה יאכל פריו פרי קודש הילולים' להיות בידו לתפארת ולכבוד התורה ולומדים ולמען שלא תהא האמת נעדרת חקקתי רשמתי וכתבתי דברי בעופרת לכבוד ולתפארת להיות חקוק על לבו ובידו לאות ולמשמרת.

כ"ד המדבר על כבוד התלמידים היום א' כ"ו למב"י תקי"ט לפ"ק לסדר אלה הדברים אשר דבר.
משה ב"הרב מהור"ר מצבי הירש ליפשיץ יצ"ו מצפה בקרתא קדישא קורך-היים במדינת העסן יע"א

And mine:

ויעבור טיכזן מארץ הרחק נדוד מביתו וילך מחיל אל חיל ומישיבה לישיבה למד ויצק מים על ידי גאוני עמו רבים עוסק במלאכת שמים בפלפול ובסברה ה"ה הבח' נחמד המופלא כמ' אלוף גירהרט טיכזן מהאלשטיין וגם פה עבר עלי הבח' הלז כאשר ראיתיהו שמחתי ואע"ג שאינו בע"וה נמול רק היה כבר []שותה מים מבארות עמוקות חכמת רז"ל וכמצות ה' ואהבת לרעך כמוך שמתי על לב לעתרהו ולכבדהו ולסמכהו בסמיכת חכמים שזו תורה וזו שכרו מן השמים להיות קרוא בשם החבר ר' טיכזן לכל דבר שבקדושה אשר ינוצר תאנה יאכל פריו פרי קודש הילולים ולהיות בידו לתפארת ולכבוד התורה ולומדים ולמען שלא תהא האמת נעדרת חקקתי רשמתי וכתבתי דברי בעופרת לכבוד ולתפארת להיות חקוק על לוח לבו ובידו לאות ולמשמרת כ"ד המדבר על כבוד התלמידים היום א' ך"ו למ"בי תקיטלפ"ק לסדר אלה הדברים אשר דבר משה בהרב מהורר צבי הירש לופשוץ יצ"ו מצפה בקרתא קדושא קירך היים במדינת העסן יע"א

Of course this is no big deal, and the differences are minor, and in some cases were probably not Donath's mistake per se, but a correction of a typographical error in the original. Also, as you can see, Tychsen did not write them as paragraphs. Still, it is interesting how careful one must be in making and relying on transcriptions.

Along the lines of taking great care, Dr. Leiman detected some problems in the text, because he did not merely reproduce it, as Donath did, but checked out the name and date. He concluded that the date of the week (Sunday) doesn't match the day of the Omer (26) for the year 1759. Thus, he suggests that the typesetter in the Donath volume replaced a gimmel with an aleph by mistake, and thus the ordination was written on Tuesday. Aside for that, the Omer is never counted on or near the Torah portion Devarim (Leiman gave an explanation for that, which we will see is unecessary).

We can see in the original that it indeed says aleph, thus it is not a mistake in Donath's book. Nor it is a mistake of the typesetter of Tychsen's book. I will suggest, however, that Dr. Leiman's interpretation of the acronym למב"י must be revised. It does not pertain to the counting of the Omer (למספר בעמר), but it means to say למנין בני ישראל, "As the Jews account." Thus, the correct date of this diploma is July 22, 1759 and it indeed occurs in the week when Devarim is read in the synagogue. While this is 27 Tammuz, not 26, the solution is probably that the vav needs to be changed to a zayin (or the rabbi wrote it Saturday night and/ or forgot the date, which could happen). Admittedly it's a little strange that the month is not specified if the day of the month is given, but it doesn't seem like it could be days of the Omer for the reasons specified.

The next problem is that the rabbi is unknown, and we would like to know who he was. Someone with the name R. Moshe b. R. Zvi Hirsch Lifschuetz did live approximately in this time period, as Dr. Leiman pointed out, but besides the certificate itself we do not have any evidence that he was in Kirchheim in Hesse. We know the rabbi with that name was in other places, and besides, R. Jacob Emden stated that he was no longer alive in a book which he printed in 1755 (for the date, in the beginning it says it was printed in the beginning of the year, so in this case 5516 is 1755; link). So he hardly wrote this certificate in 1759, and the identity of the rabbi has not yet been established.

We'll get back to that, but in the meantime I just wanted to point out that apart for the fact that "Dialecti rabbinicae Elementa" was hardly an unknown book, the ordination did not go unnoticed until Donath. In a biography of Tychsen published in 1818 we see the following account:

It's important to realize though that Tychsen himself does not give any account of the circumstances. He just gives this diploma among a variety of other Hebrew texts. The one before it is a kabbalah for a shochet, and the one after it is an effusive wedding invitation from someone named Yitzhak Spanier of Mainz. Thus, the circumstances surrounding the granting of the certificate appear only in the text itself, which is what the author of his biography is basing it on. Although it appears to be rather straightforward, Tychsen never actually says that he was awarded this diploma or the circumstances in which it occurs. Naturally one can't help wondering if he made it up altogether. However, here is a possible proof that he did not. Below is the only picture I could find of Tychsen. Nice silhouette.

It also includes his signature. Below it, seems to be his signature in Hebrew. Here is how he apparently spelled his own name in Hebrew:


The rabbi in the certificate spelled it "טיכזן." So I suggest that Tychsen himself did not think to spell his own name differently and therefore the document was not written by himself. Incidentally, we also see that Dr. Leiman was quite correct that "קירך היים" means "Kirchhain" (or Kirchhagen). The final ם is of course no problem. Naturally the first thing one thinks of when one hears "Kirchheim" is Raphael Kirchheim. Also see Die evangelische Christenheit und die Juden, pg. 42, where it is claimed that Tychsen was called Morenu in Buetzow! Some evidence, please? Well, see below.

Tthe book in which all this appeared contains a wedding invitation to Tychsen, as I mentioned. Here it is:

As you can see, the excited Yitzhak Spanier decides to address him as הרב המאור הגדול והחכם הכולל מאן מלכי רבנן כמהרר טיקצין נ"י. In general, one gets the sense that this is all in good fun, and that is probably the explanation for the chaver certificate as well.

The book is not all fun or implicit boasts about the penetration of this Christian missionary into Jewish communities. It also includes some interesting samples of Hebrew writing, including the famous piyut composed in honor of R. Schimenois Filii Iochai, with a Latin translation. (You know, the Bar Yochai song.) Here are the first pages:

It also included a beautiful zemer for a (hachnasat?) Sefer Torah, which he says is therein printed for the first time. As far as I can tell, this song is still quite rate.


  1. The invitation was written by the groom himself and not the father.

  2. The third letter in the signature is probably a kuf as used in the invitation. The kuf I write is very similar with a rounded top.
    BTW off topic in one of the volumes of Jews in New Haven there is letter written in hebrew from Ezra Stiles to Rabbi C. Corrigal.

  3. Nice post!
    One typo:
    "The Jewish practice is to bury the dead as immediately as possible. Tychsen submitted his opinion recommending that the Jews receive no exemption. The Jews meant to petition the duke, arguing that early burial went against their religion."
    I suppose you mean "late burial" instead of "early burial," right?


  4. Am I a bad person for loving how "chosson" is set to rhyme with "sosson"?

  5. And hoydə ~ toydə (הודו - תודה)!

  6. I recommend changing the post re: the mystery middle letter. As pointed out above, it is definitely a "koof" (standard litvish pronunciation).

    In the next few paragraphs, you yourself bring examples of his name being spelled with a koof.

    I have in my possession numerous pre-WWII letters and this is the common way of writing a koof in hebrew script.

  7. I was told there is a typo somewhere in the Pri Magedim where he quotes a non-Jew (in regards to a matter in dik-duk if I'm not mistaken) and later on a "reish" was put before his name (The person who told me said in older printings it's not there, only in the new Machon Yerushalayim Shulchan Aruch did they put it in...oops!

  8. Anonymous, you're right. Fair enough.

    Yehoshua, it refers to the Tanach of Elias Hutter recommended by the Pri Megadim in his Iggros. In fact he doesn't mention Hutter's name, but the editor at Machon Yerushalayim included it in the footnote, and gave a hr"r before the name Eliyah Hutter. This is apparently Dr. Leiman's discovery, as he was the one who pointed it out in the Seforim Blog post linked to in this post!

  9. I wanted to check out the link but in the end didn't! Now I see I should have :). Thanks for pointing it out.

  10. Did you notice my typo correction in my comment above? -- Phil



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