Thursday, December 29, 2011

A review of a review of a review

There seems to be a hierarchy in printed matter. Books are more permanent than journals, and journals are less ephemeral than newspapers. And comic books are at the top, at least if their wise owners kept them in mylar since the 1930s, and Batman is doing the Charleston with Groucho Marx on the cover.

One of the most interesting things about books and even journals are the reviews. Because they are often published in the most ephemeral format sometimes they get lost. Oh, there was and is Microfiche, and sometimes libraries even have the physical copies. But it's safe to say that more people have read the 2nd issue of the Jewish Quarterly Review than the review of it printed in London's Jewish Standard on May 31, 1889.

So here is an excerpt from said review. The piece I post concerns Isidore Harris's (still) excellent article series "On the Rise and Development of the Massorah." The writer makes some interesting points and, most interestingly (this is 1889!), also rejects R. Elias Levita's groundbreaking position that the accents and vowels are post-Talmudic.

Another interesting thing is his mention of Claude Montefiore's essay on Purim. He writes that "Mr. Montefiore should not be always riding his hobby [horse] that the Book of Esther is not based on historical evidence. The feast of Purim kept from generation to generation furnishes sufficient evidence to that book, besides the internal detailed and clear evidence of places, names and date. It is, therefore, unjust to believe in Greek and Roman books and statements, and to disbelieve our canonical Jewish Book of Esther.

Here is Montefiore's review, to which he refers. Paulus Cassel, born Selig, was the convert brother of David Cassel:


  1. S.,
    Both Cassel and his translator, Aaron Bernstein, were not just converts but were extremely active proselytizers for the Society for the Promoting Christianity among the Jews. Bernstein is described in their history as being one of their "oldest ministers" and apparently claims that 260,000 Jews were converted.
    Would it have been acceptable for the Jewish Standard to print reviews of books by people of this ilk - or is it possible that they weren't aware of its authorship?

  2. Abul Bannat,

    The Jewish Standard was reviewing the Jewish Quarterly Review. It is the JQR which reviewed Cassel's book. That said, I would not be completely surprised if even the Jewish Standard might have reviewed it - and surely they were complteely aware of who he was.

    In many respects attitudes about such things were a bit different then. Not to say that Jews were accepting of or soft on proselytising societies, but I just do not notice the kind of almost belligerent attitude toward them like we often find today, perhaps properly so. My hunch is that in the 19th century antisemitism was so pervasive that basically the only pockets of philosemitism were among the missionaries; many of them genuinely so. Those who wrote books defending the Talmud were usually missionaries. Without a doubt the single most influential (and genuine) friend of the Jews among all 19th century scholars was Franz Delitsch, who as you know was a dedicated missionary. What can I say? Seligmann Baer co-published a Bible with him. You should read his eulogy in the JQR.

    Also, at the time much academic Bible scholarship was suffused, or at least not divorced from, theology. So anyone interested in modern Bible studies would inevitably be reading works by Christian theologians. The Jewish attitude was תוכו אכל קליפתו זרק, and you have to have this attitude if you wanted to read modern scholarship.



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