Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The greatest footnote in scholarly history? Probably.

Take a look at this beauty from William Henry Lowe's Fragment of Talmud Babli Pesachim of the ninth or tenth century, in the University Library, Cambridge (London 1879).

It's from the bibliography section. Since the book cites the Sheiltot (Dyrenfurth 1786) it also mentions the haskamot in this, the second printed edition. Noting that one of the approbations is from Rabbi Ezekiel Landau and the Prague Bet Din, we are treated to an approximately 600 word essay on the etymology of "Zanvil," the secondary name of the one of the members of the Bet Din. Lowe even brings Syriac into the discussion!

(The Noda Beyehuda's haskamah is very nice; he expresses the strong desire which people had to see the Sheiltot, which was not known firsthand by most scholars, as it had only been printed one time, 200 years earlier. He says that you can't even find one copy in a city.)


  1. No surprise that this epic footnote resonates with you. It reads very much like a 19th century On the Main Line post (that's a compliment). Mr. Lowe might have added that with another consonant shift, Zanvel turned into Zangwill, though in 1879 he would not yet have been familiar with the most famous bearer of that name.

  2. I think it's pretty hilarious and overblown. Enjoyable, to be sure.

  3. I had wondered once before if the Zanvil on the Prague beis din could have been an ancestor of Israel Zangwill. According to Lowe's analysis, it would not have been too much of a stretch! (I guess Dan Klein beat me to that thought.)

  4. JR, the thing is that Zanvil is not (or rather was not) a surname. It is a "Yiddish" kinnui or nickname, exactly like Leib, Zalman and so on. It just basically lost the Darwinian battle of the names and isn't too common as a first name or Yiddish second name these days.

    However, as you and Dan say, "Zangwill" is a form of the same name.

  5. The kinnuim were often transformed into surnames. See, e.g., Abraham Joshua Heschel.

  6. No aftertaste of זנגביל ?
    he asked gingerly.

    i.e. mozeson



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