Thursday, January 27, 2011

אסמע אלחק ממן קאלה, on intellectual honesty.

The other day the question came up regarding what was Maimonides' original Arabic for his dictum "accept the truth from whatever source it comes," a phrase found in the introduction to his commentary to Pirke Avos, which is today commonly called שמונה פרקים.

Parts of his monumental Mishnah commentary were published in 1655 in the original Judeo-Arabic, with a Latin translation, by Edward Pococke in his Porta Mosis (also given the Arabic title באב מוסי, or "Bab Mosi," which is cognate with the familiar Aramaic term בבא, which also means portal).

Here is how it appears:

Ibn Tibbon's famous Hebrew translation of ואסמע אלחק ממן קאלה is ושמע האמת ממי שאמרו. Far be it from me to play Rambam exegete, but it occurs to me that Ibn Tibbon was very smart to translate סמע literally to its Hebrew cognate שמע, which usually means to hear. While it could mean "accept" (indeed, R. Kapach [sic] changed Ibn Tibbon's שמע, hear, to קבל, accept) I'm not sure that was the Rambam's intention. After all, the huge problem everyone encounters is that what is true is not always apparent or can't be tested. What does it mean to accept the truth when so many issues are inexact, to say the least? If he meant "hear the truth," it becomes much easier to understand. Maybe you're in a position to accept it, maybe not. Maybe the position is true, maybe not. But at least listen. (The preceding was homiletical, and almost certainly not what he meant. Still, food for thought.)

As for the language, a long time ago Judeo-Arabic was discussed in the comments to one of my posts, and the question of why the Jews in Spain preferred to write some of their highest level religious texts in Arabic, from responsa to investigations into Hebrew language and grammar to commentaries like these (according to medieval sources the entire Talmud was even translated to Arabic, although I doubt it), while almost every other Jewish society right up to the modern period and even to the present, they always used Hebrew for their most serious and authoritative texts. In addition, the Judeo-Arab texts use loads of very Islamic terminology as exact equivalents of Jewish terms. 'Halacha' is 'alsharia' and 'teshuva' is 'fatwa,' and so forth.

I posited that the chief difference was Arabic itself, which had two qualities that other Jewish vernaculars did not have. First, it was similar to Aramaic (and Hebrew), underscoring the fact that the Talmud and Targums were written in vernacular language. Second, the phenomenon of diglossia (one language for scholarship and one for speech) was far, far more marked in Christian society. Arabic was both the classical language of prestige and the vernacular.

In fact, as European vernaculars rose in prestige, with scholars creating lexicons and investigating their own spoken tongue, scholarship too began to be written in those languages, and the Jews in Europe too began writing scholarship in the vernacular they considered prestigious (i.e., correct Italian, German and French). Writing the vernacular in the Hebrew alphabet ultimately fell out of fashion due to other considerations, such as the widespread ability to read and write the Latin alphabet. Perhaps another difference is that the Jews perceived Islam very differently from how Jews perceived Christianity. Many parallels, from ablutions, to fixed times for prayer, to beards, to circumcision, to fasts, to nidda, to halacha/ sharia, to a body of oral teachings, etc. made "sharia" seem a lot more like "halacha" and rabbis like 'ulema' than anything found in Christendom, where these religious similarities were not only missing, but many more differences could be found. In those lands the Christians didn't esteem their own spoken language, and neither did the Jews.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Rabbi Jonathan Eybeschutz's "enkel."

If you're an American kid like me, you had a grandfather who spoke "Jewish" and liked to call you his "einikel," the Yiddish for grandchild (spelled אייניקעל in Harkavy). Since the -el suffix is also somewhat like the Yiddish diminutive you probably thought, like me, that "einikel" was the affectionate way of saying . . . einik? Or maybe, like me, you didn't really think that far, but just picked up on the fact that "einikel" sounded really warm and loving. I suppose what I'm about to say is obvious to any real Yiddish speaker, who knows that the real diminutive is -la (or -le), as in "maidele" (little girl) or "yingele" (little boy), but to American ears "einikel" sounded very much the same way. Eventually you realize that "enkel" is the German for grandchild. Oh well. I'm sure my grandfather thought I was adorable anyway.

Here is the title page to one of the volumes of בני אהובה, the 1819 publication of Rabbi Jonathan Eybeschutz's comments on the Rambam and SA Even Ha-ezer. As you can see, it was published in Prague by Doctor Gabriel Eibeschitz the "enkel" of Rabbiner und Theologen Jonathan Eibeschitz (it also includes notes by Rabbi Uri of Dresden, Dr. Gabriel's home town).

Doubtlessly you are wondering about Dr. Gabriel Eybeschutz. He was indeed a physician, and lived from about 1757 to 1849. According to one biographer he looked exactly like his grandfather, only without a beard, which may sound ad-hoc, but the same biography doesn't claim this about his other descendants, all of whom are noted. Incidentally, outside of the 'bad seed' line of R. Yonasan, namely his son Wolf and his progeny, only Dr. Gabriel was suspected of being a secret Sabbatian (grudgingly admitted by Mortimer Cohen, psycho-biographer of R. Jacob Emden). The story is that Dr. Gabriel was said to be Sabbatian, going to their meetings, and an acquaintance confronted him, telling him "You're so smart, what do you see in this nonsense?" He replied that he knows it's nonsense and he tells it to his Sabbatian acquaintances. Make what you will of that.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Beards and beardlessness in Italian Jewish history - is Rabbi Reisman correct that "all great tzaddikim" had a full beard?

On pg. 416 of Rabbi Yisroel Reisman's Pathways of the Prophets1, in the section titled Imponderables, in the paragraph called 'A Clean-Shaven Shimshon?' we read the following:
I have no doubt that Shimshon, as all great tzaddikim, had a full beard.2
This is a surprising assertion.

This is not a merely academic, old debate. Only a year ago Vos iz Neias published an interview with a[n apparently] well regarded Israeli kabbalist named Rabbi Chaim Ezra Fatchia (link). He is not merely a kabbalist, but also a maggid shiur, and mashgiach in a yeshiva. He is clean shaven.

In the comments, the fact that he is beardless was immediately noted. Readers shot back that Ramchal was beardless, and there is/was an Italian kabbalistic tradition going back to R. Menachem Azariah of Fano to be beardless outside of Israel (this is a complex discussion; it became a major issue in the 19th and 20th century; in truth it seems that he wore a beard, but it was neatly trimmed).

As I said, this is a surprising assertion on Rabbi Reisman's part. Fully realizing that he didn't mean to say that really wonderful, kind, generous, pious, righteous individuals without full beards aren't tzadikim, I think he meant "great tzadikim" in the sense that it is commonly used - exceptional, famous saints and sages. Still, it does seem somewhat surprising that he doesn't seem to be aware that most Italian Jews did not wear a beard, and surely this included many tzadikim among them - not only Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (where for him the issue seems to be that he was criticized for not growing his beard because he was - or claimed to be - a Kabbalist).

The beardlessness of the Italians was well known, and for the most part accepted. Still it should not surprise anyone that this wasn't always the case. There were many Italian merchants living abroad in various Mediterranean cities. They were known by the native Jews as Francos. As it happens, European travelers in the Middle East and Muslim countries tended to grow their beard because in those countries beardlessness was perceived as very shameful. Still, as Europeans they didn't necessarily want to wear full beards, so unless they were trying to blend in as natives they would wear a trimmed beard. Apparently this achieved the effect they were going for. On the one hand they didn't appear feminine and shameful, but they could still appear European. In all likelihood these Francos also wore trimmed beards, rather than closely trimmed to the skin with scissors, or removal by depilatory cream.

With this background in mind, on at least one occasion, apparently the native Jews of Salonica were scandalized by the closely trimmed beards of the Francos who lived among them. They demanded that they grow them or be expelled. The situation of the ex-pat Italians came to the attention of the Italian rabbis, including one of the foremost ones, Rabbi Samson Morpurgo -

Here is what he looked like:

- and he replied (שמש צדקה YD #61 pg. 102 [Venice 1743]). He calls the Francos אנשי איטליאה של יון, Italian Jews in Greece, who are being compelled by the חכמי שאלוניקי, the Salonican rabbis, to grow their beards. The question was, what happens if the rabbis carry out their threat? That is, these men will have been excommunicated, so would it be valid? He begins by saying that he will not personally address the specifics of this case, as he does not want to multiply machlokes, disharmony. However, he will address the general rabbinic audience and also the issue of rabbinic authority, and whether in this day and age any bet din has the right to compel stringencies and special pious behaviors. He discusses many laws which are no longer practices, yet the rabbis in their wisdom don't try to force people to obey, which would then result in their sinning out of rebellion. An example he gives is wearing tzitzis altogether, or to have them showing outside. He then points out that we have a reliable tradition that the term "destruction" in the verse about beard-removal refers to a single blade razor. Anyone who says otherwise is arguing on the truth and it is almost as if he is saying אין תורה מן השמים! He then deals with possible objections one may raise from the the language of the Tur, which the Beit Yosef clarifies. He also deals with a Terumas ha-Deshen (#295) which seems to say that there is a hint of sin with removing it with scissors, and therefore one should be strict. Morpurgo notes that we see from the Terumas ha-Deshen's own words at the end of the responsum what he meant to say; he writes that using scissors which are too sharp is problematic, since then there is a concern that only one blade is removing the beard, and that is prohibited. Thus he meant to say that removing it with especially sharp scissors is almost sinful, therefore it is a reasonable chumra, to be strict. He then discusses two other halachic sources, which while opposed to removing the beard, consider it a measure of piety, not law.

He gets into a lengthy discussion about piety and Kabbalah, and ultimately he hopes that the rabbis of Salonica will chill.

Not surprisingly this wasn't the only possible response to the situation, even from other Italian rabbis. Rabbi Joseph Ergas, who was one of those who had question Ramchal's lack of a beard, had reached a different conclusion - not because he was a fanatic, but because he is sympathetic to the rabbis there who desired that all residents of the city follow local custom - בין בקולות בין בחמורות - both stringencies and leniencies. Unfortunately I don't know for sure if he himself had a beard, although he must have, as a Kabbalist and, as I said, was critical of Luzzatto on this point. His responsum is quite interesting for its analysis of residency and local minhag.

Some other pictures of Italian rabbis. Below is Haham Raphael Meldola, who was rabbi of the Sephardic Jews of London. A native of Leghorn, he was ordained by the Chida (on him see here):

Here is the rabbi with the best name of any who ever lived - Rabbi Yishmael Kohen of Modena (1730-1811) who was also known by the name Laudadio Sacerdoti, which is a direct translation of "Yishmael Kohen" into Italian.

In fairness, I can't tell if he is clean-shaven or has a very closely trimmed, small beard. But he sure does have a wig on, and that is his kippah too. He was the author of excellent responsa called זרע אמת, which are cited numerous times by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein in Iggeros Moshe and many other posekim. In fact, a search of it turns up many hundreds of results besides for responsa of R. Ovadya Yosef. Although I can't say that the average yeshiva bochur looks at זרע אמת too often, I've seen that they are a normal part of the otzar (library) of many, many yeshivos. I imagine many people would be surprised if they saw what he looked like. I don't know if he was a "great tzaddik," but I'm sure he was pretty good, or at least better than average.

Interestingly enough, when Wessely wrote Divre Shalom ve-Emes, and rattled the Europe rabbinate in 1782 with his advocacy of educational reform3 he appealed to the Italian rabbis for support. Since he had mostly only been saying that Western European Jews should do what the Italian Jews had done for generations, he assumed they would support him, and he mostly assumed right. While they took pains to point out where they did not agree entirely with him, and some rabbis did so only grudgingly, they could not oppose things like a graded curriculum or secular education. Presumably they were proud of their traditional Jewish culture, and they indeed wrote words in support.

However, one of the Italian rabbis who did not support Wessely was Rabbi Laudadio Sacerdoti. His view is printed in responsum #107 in volume 2. He was concerned that Wessely's plan in effect turned the order of priorities upside down - Torah secondary, but humanistic education primary. However, he too agreed that a graded curriculum was only proper and that it is necessary to know languages. Lois Dubin pointed out that his own poetic compositions included references to mythological figures like Ulysses, which Shadal, who refers to his status as a posek by noting that he was "profondo ritualista," frankly found surprising.

Next we have the author-collaborator of a well-respected, often quoted sefer called Toldos Gedolei Yisrael by Rabbi Mordechai Marco Ghirondi, av beis din of Padua (1799-1852).

Obviously somewhat modern, yet in Rebbetzin Bruriah Hutner-David's haskalathon phd thesis, she grudgingly concludes that he was "squarely on the side of traditionalism," noting for example that in one letter he chides a correspondent for reading Karaite literature.

Interestingly, the tide in Italy appeared to have changed mid-19th century - probably on fashion grounds. Here is the young son of Shadal, Ohev Ger Luzzatto:

Of course I have to acknowledge an article which made a big impact on me - Elliot Horowitz's The Early Eighteenth Century Confronts the Beard: Kabbalah and Jewish Self-Fashioning (Jewish History 8.1-2 1994) which I read I don't know how many years ago, and in some ways was a revelation of an article for me - where some of these things are discussed in much greater detail.

And for the record, here is the much-discussed portrait of R. Menachem Azariah of Fano, who was also known as Immanuel - oddly enough, because this great Kabbalist's secular name was Manuel. Working backward, this gave him a Hebrew nickname. To the Chida this was something everyone knew - וידוע דהרמ"ע קרו ליה הרב עמנואל לפי שמנחם בלשון גוים קורין לו מנואל. Evidently it is for this reason that he sometimes signed his name מנחם עזריה עמנואל. A contemporary, Rabbi Shabbetai Sofer refers to him this way:

Which in plain Hebrew reads הגאון המקובל האלהי החסיד מהר"ר מנחם עזרי' הנקרא עמנואל. This is at the end of the third section of the general introduction to his siddur. Yes, the manuscript is online, although not very useful. Incidentally this little passage refers to a teshuva of the Maharam of Lublin, which his family censored from publication because he retracts a position in the face of Rabbi Shabbetai's arguments.

Also see this post about the rabbi depicted below's stringent stance against shaving on chol ha-moed:

1 In my opinion this book is, in certain ways, a ground-breaking and important book.

2 Interested readers will want to know that context of this line. Rabbi Reisman begins by noting that many older Bibles show woodcuts of Samson with long hair, but clean-shaven. This seems ridiculous, since he was a Nazir. (And, "all great tzaddikim" have full beards.) However, Rabbi Reisman highlights a Teshuvas Ha-rashba (1:407) in which the Rashba opines that the Nazirite prohibition of cutting hair only applies to the head, but not the beard. Regarding the beard, his prohibition is no more and no less than everyone else's.

3 Reading a headline in the blog yesterday made me smile: Agudath Israel of New Jersey Applauds Governor Christie for His Stance on Educational Reform. No, he is not opposed to educational reform. Apparently "educational reform" is okay sometimes.

Hebrew pronunciation in Samuel Romanelli's Masa Be-arav, a 1792 travel book about Morocco.

Since the other day I posted about Naftali Herz Imber, whom someone compared to vagabond poet Samuel Romanelli (1757-1814), I thought I'd post some interesting things he wrote.

Romanelli was an Italian Jewish poet who spent several years in Morocco, and wrote a famous book about it cleverly called משא בערב (Berlin, 1792). On page 9 he has some interesting linguistic information about the Hebrew pronunciation of the Moroccan Jews.

He approves of their pronunciation of Hebrew consonants. They distinguish between dagesh and rafeh and between the letters ח and כ as well as כּ and ק. However, only in the case of צ are they outdone by the Amsterdam Sephardim. They pronounce the ע as in the Arabic, and Romanelli claims they might even outdo the Arabs. In addition, they pronounce ג (without dagesh) like a g in Dutch (kind of like a rolled r to this here American ear; hear it pronounced here).

He gives them mixed marks for their vowel pronunciation. With the letters אהח"ע the sheva is sounded with no stress. Even the sheva na, they barely pronounce. They pronounce the meseg like a patach, which accords with the view of the Minchas Shai. They make the same mistake as the Ashkenazim - pronouncing milael and milera the same - only with them its the opposite. They pronounce the ו like the letter w in English (which is interesting - see below), and this is what enables them to distinguish between ב and ו. Regarding vowels, they differentiate only slightly between shurek and cholem and between tzere and chirik.

He then digresses to discuss the rather odd pronunciation of one Chacham of the Jews of Meknes, whom he heard preach in Arabic, only quoting pesukim in the original Hebrew. Romanelli writes that he heard him only barely pronounce the patach under the heh hayediah. Regarding other letters, at the beginning of a word he would pronounce patach like a chirik and vice versa. Greatly surprised at this unsual pronounciation, he asked for an explanation and none could give one. R. writes that the Chacham pronounced the ת like ch in Spanish or English, or ci in Italian, or cz in Polish. (At first I thought that Romanelli is showing off here. I doubt he knew Polish; maybe he was trying to create the impression that he knows all these languages. But the truth is that he was multilingual and had a gift for picking up languages, so he is probably multiplying examples for a multi-national Jewish audience that he knows can read Hebrew - they are reading his book after all - but may only know the pronunciation of one of these languages. If so, he is simply helping out potential readers.)

Anyway, after noting that this rabbi pronounced the ת like the ch in China, Romanelli advises the reader: Go ahead and try to pronounce the verse he was sermonizing on - טוב תתי אותה לך מתתי אותה לאיש אחר - boy does that sound bad! Finally, Romanelli notes that they shockel (sway) when they pray, like Polish Jews; some from from front to back, others from left to right.

Extra points of interest: In Romanelli's travels he wound up in England for a time and therefore he knew English. In 1799 Romanelli published a book called "Grammatica ragionata Italiana ed Ebraica: con tratto, ed esempj di poesia." In light of his noting the pronunciation of w in English, see this quote which appears as a motto on the page after the title:

I'm not sure if that W got cut off in the scan, or if it's a V, in which case that's quite an archaism! Incidentally, in this same book he mentions his firsthand knowledge of the strange Moroccan pronunciation of ת, and contrasts it with the English th:"Nell'interno dell'Impero di Marocco esprimono la ת come ci, o alquanto piu forte del th inglese."

Secondly, although I know that many erudite readers of my blog know these things, not everyone does so here's a good place to point something out. Readers will notice things like אמשטר"דם or אינגל"יש in the text. In today's Hebrew usage the " gershayim (quotes, inverted commas) are almost always used for one thing: to indicate an abbreviation. This fact seems to throw some people off and see abbreviations only in old texts, although this should not be so. In printed texts the lo'azim of Rashi also are written with gershayim. Since Hebrew does not have italics, the gershayim were employed instead, to indicate emphasis, foreign words and abbreviations. As this was 1792, Romanelli writes אמשטר"דם for Amsterdam instead of אמשטרדם. He didn't have to do this, but it was still within the ballpark of the usual.

Thirdly, language buffs will be interested in Romanelli's musings on the relationship between Hebrew and Arabic in his book. When he arrived in Morocco he did not know Arabic, but through careful listening and his knowledge of Hebrew and Aramaic he was able to learn it, although he says that it was the language spoken in the street and not literary (classical) Arabic. He makes the interesting observation that the local Jews considered Arabic to be nothing but a corrupted form of Hebrew (cf Rambam), but Romanelli considers them to be mistaken for holding it in such little esteem, for "Arabic contains the choicest bits of Hebrew," and he writes that he enjoyed figuring out the cognates in Hebrew (and Spanish, this being North Africa) for each word. Since the natives no doubt were highly aware of it, my guess is that he is impressed by the novelty of a cognate Semitic language's relationship with Hebrew, whereas they could care less. See the first image in this post, where he gives the Hebrew cognates for the names of the Muslim times of prayer.

He makes the interesting observation that all languages contain sounds which are not found in other languages, analogous to the Shibboleth/ Sibboleth incident in Judges. The Arab cannot say /p/, the Ashkenazic Jew doesn't pronounce ע, the European Christian pronounces neither ח nor ע. Gi and Ci in Italian, and J and Eu in French, the Spanish letter jota, the English th, German ch and the Portuguese ão are all stumbling blocks for those foreigners who want to learn the language in its correct pronunciation. Similarly, the vowels of Hebrew for the Western Jews, and even the consonants for European Jews.

The following passage concerns the two kinds of native Jews, those who speak Spanish and those who speak Arabic. It is interesting because he refers to "Rashi script" by name. He writes that the Spanish Jews write in "half with Rashi letters." I think he means that they write in both Spanish (Latin) letters and Rashi letters, whereas the Arab speakers write everything in the aforementioned Rashi letters. On the other hand it is possible that he is making a reference to the style of their alphabet, but if so then I'm not sure what he means to say, although I will note that often the semi-cursive alphabet of Jews in Arab lands, while resembling Rashi letters, also look quite similar to Arabic.

Speaking of "Rashi script," the other day I came across a really fascinating - and beautiful - book, a children's primer for Karaites which you probably aren't supposed to be able to download at, but you can (Constantinople, 1831). As you can see, they call "Rashi script," אותיות מהירות הכתיבה ונהוגות בכתבי חול, "Cursive hand-writing letters which we use for secular writing." As an aside, we Rabbinic Jews are referred to as אחינו התלמודיים in the text, and it's full of rabbinic Hebrew phrases like תינוקות של בית רבן, and even quotes "היום קצר,"חז"ל - "the day is short," from Mishna Avos.

Back to Romanelli - it is very hard for travelers to desist from being critical of the manners and ways of the people they are visiting, even if they honestly try to see the good as well. So it is that Romanelli is critical of the kinds of Torah discussions they had, which he sees as similar to those of the Polish Jews (that is, bad) and some of their practices which he considers superstitious and ultimately derived from the Arabs. C.f. Jacob Saphir in Yemen. On one occasion, Saphir writes, he encountered a Yemenite Kabbalist who had written an amulet referring to Yeshua and Miriam. Not believing what he was seeing, he interviewed the Kabbalist until the latter admitted to him that he really didn't know what he was writing, but that he had copied the text from some kind of mystical Arab amulet (for another post about him discussing the pronunciation of Jews in a remote land, see here).

So it is that Romanelli is not impressed by their practice of child marriage, where 15 year old boys would marry 12 or even 10 year old girls. When he asked them why they do this, they responded that it is for the mitzvah of having children, and also to safeguard youths from their sexual passions. They mentioned Rav who married at 16 - but that if he had married at 14 it would have been like an arrows in Satan's eye! And they referred to the 'fact' that the word for youth, בחור, is a notarikon for ביום חסיד ובלילה רשע, 'by day he is a saint and by night he is evil.' Furthermore, they told him that the Messiah will not come until all souls are born. This 31 year old bachelor was not convinced. He claims that he even told them that they're being fools, and how can they not see that this doctrine was learned from the Arabs? He then laments that whoever tells them anything like that is seen as a heretic, a denier of the whole Torah!

See this earlier post where I speculated (albeit very casually and clearly with no justification at all) that a certain Italian Jew in the Middle East recommended that a European traveler read a Spanish Bible translation written by Jews native of Palestine. It's an interesting old post, and I doubt anyone saw it.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Bald Jewish Women revisited - were London women expected to shave their head or skip shul in 1802?

Last February I posted on Bald Jewish Women. That post included a 1783 English poem referring to the shaved head and wig worn by a "beautiful Jewess" with a "hard fate" - the loss of her "long flowing ringlets."

In addition, I noted my provisional theory that the origin of the custom may have come about due to a hygienic issue in a time when the Plica Polonica was common, easy means of regular bathing and grooming less so, and covering the head at all times could not have been easy on the hair.

You may think it over and reject it or not. In any event, as far as I know the only Jewish women who maintain the custom of shaving their heads today are descendants of Hungarian-Romanian and Ukrainian-Polish Chassidim. However, it appears from the following source that at one time Yekke, German Ashkenazic, women did so as well.

Below are three sources from 1802 describing the same event. I include all three since two present it with a slightly different nuance and the third is simply the most readable - a clear reprint from the Times of London 10.28.1802. Also, the third one has an extra entry about whales, so that's cool.

As you can see, the "Dr. Hart, the Priest of the Dutch Jews" tried to enforce two religious norms under threat of excommunication. The first is to stop the eating of "wild fowl" and the second is that they are to make sure that their wives shave their head. Not only that, the women are barred from the synagogue until they comply.

"Dr. Hart" is of course Solomon Hirschel, the newly installed av beis din of London. The "Dutch Jews" are the Ashkenazim - in many 18th century English sources Germans are called "Dutch" which is an Anglicized rendering of Deutsch. Hence, the American Amish are also known to this day as the Pennsylvania Dutch, despite their German, not Hollandish, origin.

The Times blurb further editorializes that when he chastised his community for being "the least strict" in all of Europe, he was "complimenting" them. Traditional Jews would not have seen it or taken it as a compliment, but for Christians it was another matter.

As I wrote in another post, eventually R. Solomon would gain a reputation as being more tolerant of wrong-doing. Here we see that he came into office with a bang. I doubt he was trying to enforce head-shaving for long.

His father Rabbi Hirschel Lewin was av beis din of London for a few years in the 1750s and 60s. He was known then as Hart Lyon (hence his son being called "Dr. Hart" in 1802, whereas later it was always Hirschel, after his father's Yiddish name). If the London Jewish community was the "least strict" in Europe in 1802, it wasn't any stricter 40 years earlier. When Rabbi Hart Lyon tendered his resignation, he was asked by synagogue elders why he wanted to leave. He is alleged to have replied "Because that is the first she'eila (religious question) I have ever been asked here."

Getting back to the head-shaving, one wonders two things. First, did Rabbi Solomon Hirschel really mention head-shaving? It's hard to believe that he could have been so deluded as to think that this would fly in his new community. It seems to me that it's possible that he was talking about hair-covering in general, and the gentile press didn't realize that not all European Jewish women who covered their head shaved their hair underneath. So perhaps his chastisement about head/ hair-covering was garbled or misinterpreted. On the other hand, maybe he really was that myopic.

We can learn something about the religious strictness of London Jewry a full generation earlier in the complaints of Rabbi Solomon's father.
"Day by day we can see with our own eyes the decay of our people. We sin and act against the law of God ; all our endeavors are to associate with the Gentiles and to be like them. That is the chief source of all our failings. See, the women wear wigs (פאה נכרית) and the young ones go even further and wear décolleté dresses open two spans low in front and back (יוצאים ערומים מלפניהם ומלאחריהם טפחיים). Their whole aim is not to appear like daughters of Israel." (From a manuscript sermon translated by Charles Duschinsky.)
Note that he is critical of wearing a wig. In the 18th century this was not the hallmark of a pious Orthodox woman. Think Marie Antoinette, not Bnei Brak.

Please note also that this is not the sum and substance of Hart Lyon's critiques of the religious backsliding of his community, only what's relevant for this post. This isn't an instance of a rabbi singling out women for not being modest. It's part of a full panoply of criticisms of the religious behaviors he found lacking. Great were his intentions, I am sure, but it seems that it never occurred to him to try anything other than to chastise. It didn't work and he left after 7 years, with his son assuming his office four decades later. Little must have changed.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Naftali Herz Imber plays historian in 1889 - a half-baked theory of the origin of Chad Gadya.

On May 3, 1889 Naftali Herz Imber wrote a piece for the Jewish Standard of London called How Old is the Chad Gadyah?

Imber, described (in 1904) as "our own . . . erratic meteor on the firmament of literature, sublime genius, and lover of good red wine," is without a doubt best known for penning the poem Tikvosenu, which was adapted as the Hovevei Tzion anthem and in a slightly revised form became the national anthem of Israel, Hatikva. But here he took an interesting foray into historical scholarship, not quite making the grade.

If you didn't read it, basically he is objecting to Joseph Jacobs' then-recent contention that the Passover poem was about 700 years old. Imber notes that it is in Aramaic, and therefore it must be Babylonian. Not only that, he claims that there had been a "Babylonian liturgy" entirely in Aramaic. He compares Chad Gadya to Yekum Purkan, also in Aramaic, and also Babylonian. The problem he does not contend with is that Yekum Purkan doesn't appear in Babylonian sources like the Seder Rav Amram or Rav Saadya and was never a part of the liturgy of Sephardic or other Babylonian-influnced Jewries. It is Ashkenazic all the way, appearing in the Machzor Vitry. He also compares it with Kaddish, another remnant of an alleged Aramaic Babylonian liturgy. He surmises that there was also a Babylonian Aramaic Haggadah, and the surviving remnants are the opening prayer Keha Lachma Anya and the closer Chad Gadya.

In fairness it should be pointed out that this was 1889 and still a relatively primitive time in historical liturgical study. To be sure, the sources existed in libraries, and the greatest scholars accessed them and did serious research, but for a layman with scholarly pretensions there wasn't much to go on. The Machzor Vitry was first published in 1893. The Cairo Geniza was still a secret. But the Seder Rav Amram had already been published. There isn't even an attempt at analysis of the language.

That said, according to the most recent scholarship the Yekum Purkan prayer is a type of prayer, which was recited in Babylonia, as well as elsewhere. Still this is a far cry from the theory that it is a remnant of an entire Aramaic liturgy. Imber forgets that Aramaic was the language of Babylonian Jewry, but it is also a Jewish literary language all over the world. Akdamus Milin anyone?

See my old post So Where did Chad Gadya Come from Anyway?. I of course didn't reach any brilliant conclusion, but summarizing what was still known - in 2010 - I showed that although it first shows up in 15th century texts which we know of, one source in the 18th century claimed that the song was in a manuscript in the Bet Midrash of the Rokeach. Unfortunately we don't know anything about the date of that manuscript. I showed that at the latest it probably existed in 1406, but also may have been a century or two older. Thus we can say that Chad Gadya almost definitely existed in 1406 and for some time earlier. It is probably not 700 years old, and thus it is more recent than Joseph Jacobs surmised, and Imber's guess isn't even in the right millenium.

Imber wrote several other such articles for the Jewish Standard, and also proposed that Sheidim - demons - in the Talmud are really just small, unseen organisms that wreak medical havoc on humans.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Lubavitcher Rebbe on textual criticism of the Bible (broadly speaking).

Here's an interesting excerpt from a 1964 letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe (Iggeros Kodesh v. 23):

Speaking about manuscripts and so forth as it relates to printing Tanachs, he is saying in the second paragraph that even the German professor Kittel did not change the text of Tanach in his Biblia Hebraica.

I think this is a pretty good illustration of one of the reasons why the Lubavitcher Rebbe so appealed to educated non-Chassidim, and impressed his own Chassidim with his broad knowledge. How many other Rebbes - or Rabbis - have ever even heard of a Biblia Hebraica, let alone know what it is like, let alone know who Kittel was, let alone know who Paul Kahle was, etc? It is somewhat interesting that he is critical of using the Leningrad Codex as its basis - the Artscroll Stone Chumash uses it (see here).

You see he really knew what was going on, and therefore he could have intelligent conversations and communications with all sorts of people about all sorts of things. Unfortunately this is also an example of one of the pitfalls of broad knowledge, for it incorrectly states that the 3rd edition of Biblia Hebraica appeared after the war, whereas it actually appeared in 1937. Also, the truth is that "our mesorah" is really - at best - the second Rabbinic Bible with adjustments by Minchas Shai and other shadings to conform to specific rules and traditions. Kittel's edition certainly wasn't really the 2nd Rabbinic Bible updated for rabbinic Jews.

A Galician Rabbi, of sorts, 1805.

In a short 1805 review we are told in the Eclectic Review of a travel book by Joseph Rohrer, a Habsburg "enlightened bureaucrat," which contains a plate of "a Jewish rabbi, of Gallicia." So I thought, cool. It would be nice to see a picture of a Galicianer Rov from 1805.

Alas, it turns out that it's actually a picture of a Karaite Chacham, which is still interesting. Apparently this is the Karaite scholar and Chazan Shalom Zachariasiewicz, also known as Shalom Ha-Chelitzi, showing Rohrer the Karaite cemetery in Halicz. Rohrer wrote of him that he was 37 years old, although he appeared as if he was 57, with a bent back. He also noted that his boots were very clean, unlike the boots of "our dirty Jews."

From Bemerkungen auf einer Reise von der türkischen Gränze über die Bukowina durch Ost- und Westgalizien, Schlesien und Mähren nach Wien (Pichler, 1804).

For more see The Karaites of Galicia: an ethnoreligious minority among the Ashkenazim by Mikhail Kizilov.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

R. Jonathan Eybeschutz, censorer of the Talmud printed in Prague, 1728.

You can see the 1728 Prague edition of the first Talmudic tractate here courtesy of the Chaim Elozor Reich z"l / Renaissance Hebraica Collection and

In 1726 efforts to print a new edition of the Talmud were undertaken by elders of the city of Prague. This included getting permission of the Emperor, via the imperial censor of Hebrew books, Franz (Fransiscus) Haselbauer. Haselbauer was a Hebraist of some note, but a fervent Catholic and not exactly a partisan of free expression.

From the Jewish Encyclopedia entry on Confiscation of Hebrew Books:
About this same time another series of house-to-house searches was instituted in the city of Prague by a permanent Inquisition commission of Dominicans which had been established there. Certain books were found in the homes of forty-two families and were seized (1711). Still another search took place twelve years later under the Jesuit Franz Haselbauer.
According to William Popper (Censorship of Hebrew Books pg. 112, citing other sources) the permanent inquisition commission in Prague consisted of three Jesuits, including Haselbauer, not Dominicans. Popper further writes (pg. 116) that Haselbauer enforced searches of Jewish homes for uncensored Jewish books, which would be confiscated. Because of the unusually harsh situation, Prague's Chief Rabbi David Oppenheim did not bring his amazing and famous library to Prague with him when he assumed office in 1702. Instead it remained in the custody of his father-in-law Leffmann Behrends in Hanover. It is in Hanover where Johann Christoph Wolf used this library to compile his Bibliotheca Hebraea.

Under these conditions Rabbi Jonathan Eybeschutz, then a young rabbi in Prague with the title Darshan, obtained permission from Haselbauer to print a heavily censored Talmud.

Here is the title page.

As you can see, the word "Talmud" does not appear. In fact the volume is euphemistically named "הלכות ברכות." Perhaps this is an allusion to the removed Aggadah in this volume, similar to the title of the Rif (Alfasi) - the הלכות. A note on the page reassuringly affirms לא נמצא בו דבר המתנגד לדתם בשום פינה, that there is nothing offensive to Christians in it:

Here are the cherubs on the first page:

Since you can download a pdf copy of this rare volume now, anyone can compare it with other editions to see what changes were made, but some samples were already given by Rabbi R.N.N. Rabinowicz on pg. 99 of his מאמר על הדפסת התלמוד. One omission noted is on page 6a. Below is a graphic comparison of a present edition to the 1728 one:

As you can see, a lengthy passage is simply missing. Here is the passage, with the missing part highlighted, followed by the Soncino translation:
תניא אבא בנימין אומר אלמלי נתנה רשות לעין לראות אין כל בריה יכולה לעמוד מפני המזיקין אמר אביי אינהו נפישי מינן וקיימי עלן כי כסלא לאוגיא אמר רב הונא כל חד וחד מינן אלפא משמאליה ורבבתא מימיניה אמר רבא האי דוחקא דהוי בכלה מנייהו הוי הני ברכי דשלהי מנייהו הני מאני דרבנן דבלו מחופיא דידהו הני כרעי דמנקפן מנייהו האי מאן דבעי למידע להו לייתי קיטמא נהילא ונהדר אפורייה ובצפרא חזי כי כרעי דתרנגולא האי מאן דבעי למחזינהו ליתי שלייתא דשונרתא אוכמתא בת אוכמתא בוכרתא בת בוכרתא ולקליה בנורא ולשחקיה ולימלי עיניה מניה וחזי להו ולשדייה בגובתא דפרזלא ולחתמי' בגושפנקא דפרזלא דילמא גנבי מניה ולחתום פומיה כי היכי דלא ליתזק רב ביבי בר אביי עבד הכי חזא ואתזק בעו רבנן רחמי עליה ואתסי
It has been taught: Abba Benjamin says, If the eye had the power to see them, no creature could endure the demons. Abaye says: They are more numerous than we are and they surround us like the ridge round a field. R. Huna says: Every one among us has a thousand on his left hand and ten thousand on his right hand. Raba says: The crushing in the Kallah lectures comes from them. Fatigue in the knees comes from them. The wearing out of the clothes of the scholars is due to their rubbing against them. The bruising of the feet comes from them. If one wants to discover them, let him take sifted ashes and sprinkle around his bed, and in the morning he will see something like the footprints of a cock. If one wishes to see them, let him take the after-birth of a black she-cat, the offspring of a black she-cat, the first-born of a first-born, let him roast it in fire and grind it to powder, and then let him put some into his eye, and he will see them. Let him also pour it into an iron tube and seal it with an iron signet that they should not steal it from him. Let him also close his mouth, lest he come to harm. R. Bibi b. Abaye did so, saw them and came to harm. The scholars, however, prayed for him and he recovered.
Evidently the problem here is the how-to instructions for seeing demons rather than the discussion about them itself. Of course the relevant Rashi glosses are simply missing as well.

Rabinowicz notes that the passage about God wearing tefillin, א"ר אבין בר רב אדא א"ר יצחק מנין שהקב"ה מניח תפילין, is entirely missing. He only meant to give a sampler, so I will note another change on the very same page not mentioned by him. In the very passage after the demon-seeing-recipe, the Gemara says: תניא אבא בנימין אומר אין תפלה של אדם נשמעת אלא בבית הכנסת, It has been taught: Abba Benjamin says: A man's prayer is heard [by God] only in the Synagogue. I scarcely had to look to know that it would certainly not say this. Instead it says תניא אבא בנימין אומר תפלה של אדם נשמעת ביותר בבית הכנסת, A man's prayer [by God] is heard more in the Synagogue. My guess is that this version passed muster because although a zealous Christian censor could not have agreed with this, he certainly realized that at the end of it all the Jews believed in their own religion. Thus elevating a synagogue was not good, but understandable. But to mark it as the only place where prayer is heard was unacceptable. Alternatively, the Christians could have understood בית הכנסת in the sense of Church, but could not accept the idea that God only hears prayers in Church/ Synagogue. That it's a better place to pray was in consonance with Catholic theology (I think).

If these are the changes on only one ammud, there must be countless and I invite readers to find them. The shame of it all is that it is a beautiful, clear edition. In particular, its printing of the Rosh in square letters (similar to a page of Rif, surrounded by primary commentaries) is a pleasure.

Rabinowicz reports that when this edition appeared there was bitter anger all over Jewry, mainly out of fear that this would set a precedent for all other printings. At the prodding of Rabbis David Oppenheim and Moshe Chagiz, the Jews of Frankfurt A.M. bribed various officials in sum totalling 100,000 gold coins to put an end to this edition - although it will not be forgotten that the Prague edition would also compete with the Frankfurt edition published only a few years earlier and presumably still in print. According to R. Yaakov Emden (admittedly a hostile witness), in the end they succeeded in even extracting a royal decree to that effect. Apparently Rabbi Oppenheim had the license granted to Rabbi Eybeschutz revoked and personally forbade him from ever printing a Talmud.

Facts don't lie, but they also don't tell motivations. Alexander Putik noticed that church documents indicate that the project was not initiated by Eybeschutz which at the very least is not the way Rabbi Emden portrayed it. Furthermore, with such a watchful and zealous censor like Haselbauer the need for Talmuds in Prague was probably great. This must be why town leaders wished to print one, and realizing that this could only happen through censorship - the sober judgment of a great scholar - Eybeschutz - was appealed to for the censorship itself. Even though it is possible to interpret this favorably, or at least less negatively, perhaps people should bear this in mind when the worst aspersions are cast on rabbis, young or not, who err on the side of the less obviously frum thing to do. Sometimes there are good reasons for doing something, sometimes not so good reasons. But that doesn't mean in all cases that the person should never live it down. R. Yonasan Eybeschutz didn't desist from applying his scissor to the very Talmud itself when he was yet in this thirties, and this was hardly the worse thing he was ever accused of.

Here is R. Emden's record of it in his Hitabekut (Altona 1762):

Early 19th century pilgrims to Eretz Yisrael, meeting Prague Sabbatians and another failure to mention the Golem - this time in 1818.

As I have previously noted several times, 19th century missionary material presents some interesting, albeit creepy historical material about contemporary Jews. For all intents and purposes this material was primarily intended as intelligence gathering, and not out of purely ethnographic interest.

Once such article published in 1812, called the State of Mind of the Jews quotes a letter from a "Brother Niety, a merchant in Riga," dated May 5, 1811.

This Niety - identified elsewhere by the name of Gustavus Nietz - wrote that the autumn before his son traveled through Odessa (which is a great port city). There he learned that many Jewish families had been passing through. A German Jew explained to him that they were en route to emigrate to Palestine. When asked what their motivation was, he was told that on the one hand economic stagnation and poverty is probably impelling many of them, but overall they are driven by Messianic fervor. Their journey was funded by a collection of money from wealthy Jews. They believe that the Messiah would arrive in about 8 years. The same man told him that in 15 years there probably won't be any Jews left in the country!

Thinking these are "signs of the times," writes Brother Niety, he then sought to confirm these assertions. From two separate sources (Jewish leaders of two towns) he learned that over the previous two years one hundred Jewish families had indeed emigrated to Palestine because of Messianic expectations. Niety pointed out that they might be mistaken. In reply he was told that it didn't matter, for even if they do not live to see the coming of the Messiah, they will be buried in the Holy Land and thus in the best position to rise from their graves and greet the Messiah when he does come. Niety was told that most of these people were from Brody and Vilna.

Next, Niety relates some things he heard about Sabbatians, and conjectures - incorrectly - that these people belonged to that sect:

In 1818 a missionary named J.F. Nitschke - described elsewhere as a Moravian minister - I would have liked to have said that he is the aforementioned Niety/ Nietz, but they appear to be two different individuals - wrote a report concerning his travels in Bohemia in August and September of the same year. As you can see, he had Sabbatians on his mind:

He calls them Subsaids (read: Shabbsaites).

Writing that he made contact with some, and was given a reference to meet with Sabbatians in Prague. This he did, meeting with "Aaron Wohle," who was in fact a Sabbatian leader, but he didn't want to tell him much:

Aaron Wohle was Aaron Beer Wehle (1750-1825), a Sabbatian leader, and the brother of a more famous Frankist leader named Jonas Beer Wehle. It is with some irony that he was descended from and named for a rabbi - another Aaron Beer Wehle - who was one of the signers of the Prague cherem against Sabbatians in 1725, alongside R. Yonasan Eybeschutz who was then under a cloud of suspicion over the authorship of the document Ve-avo Hayom el ha-Ayin. Also of interest is that Zacharias Frankel's aunt Esther was married to this Aaron Wehle. See here. People interested in American Jewish, or legal, history will also find it notable that Wehle also happens to have been the grandfather of Fredericka Dembitz, who was Louis Brandeis's grandmother.

Just to give an indication of what a small world the 18th century's Jewish elite occupied, although the brothers Jonas and Aaron were Sabbatian, their brother Ephraim would seem not to have been one despite being named by R. Yaakov Emden. His son Yom Tov married the Noda Beyehuda's daughter![1]

Nitschke continues describing Prague Sabbatians, their history and doctrines. He correctly notes that they are called Schabzels by other Jews, but strangely writes that they are an ancient sect. Presumably this is what they themselves told him. Sectarians apparently don't view themselves as being created only recently. After discussing them he goes on to mention his visit at the Old Synagogue (the Altneu Schule) where he most definitely does not mention the legend that the Maharal's golem was buried in its attic, presumably because the legend didn't yet exist. On the other hand, he mentions a particularly important grave in the cemetery which people congregated around to say prayers. This could only be the Maharal's grave, yet he makes no mention of it. Presumably this is because he didn't ask or receive that information. This in turn must cast at least some slight doubt on the significance of his failure to mention the golem legend:

Friday, January 07, 2011

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Rabbi Aron Chorin pt. 1 - The Great Fish Controversy.

It was the second day of Shavuos in the town of Makó in Hungary. The year was 1840. Several synagogue officials noticed that some of the women in the balcony were sitting with their hair uncovered, sans sheitel. They ordered them to leave. The women and their husbands were outraged and brought their grievance to the relevant local official - the Bishop of Csanada - who certainly had no way of deciding himself, so he asked Rabbi Aron Chorin of Arad (today in Romania). It seems hardly necessary to say what his opinion was. Evidently the women were justified, and presumably the shul was no longer allowed to bar their attendance with hair uncovered. Maybe they mutually agreed on a doily, I don't know.

This account is from Leopold Low's Der Juedische Congress in Ungarn (1871):

For no other reason that it's cool that you can do this, here is Mako and Arad on the map:

This incident underscores a little-known fact about the rise of Reform Judaism. Only rarely were there communities who were entirely committed to retaining traditional Judaism, or to Reform. More often communities contained both elements, and the direction they went depended obviously on the size and strength of the faction, and which rabbi they were able to appoint. There were places which had a reform-minded rabbi who was unable to implement reforms. There were places with a traditional rabbi who had to fight the reformist element in the community, sometimes more or less successfully. Only in a few places was the sentiment of rabbi and people entirely in harmony, and in those places tradition remained in place, or reforms were instituted. All of this does not even take into consideration the position of the government, which in some places were vehemently against reforms, while in others they were encouraged or required.

Another story:
[My father Louis Ginzberg was fond of telling another story about Dr. [Solomon] Schechter, who was once asked whether sturgeon was kosher. He replied, "Some learned rabbis say that it is; other learned rabbis say that it is not. Who am I to say that the learned rabbis who say that it is kosher are wrong? Louis Ginzberg: Keeper of the Law by Eli Ginzberg pg. 215.
Aron Chorin (1766-1844) occupies an interesting and unique place in the history of Reform Judaism. He was a student of the Noda Beyehuda, and was already regarded as a highly suspicious individual before the turn of the century. Not at all that much different from today, somehow controversial positions may be taken by great posekim, but to be a partisan of that position can get you into trouble. The Noda Beyehuda ruled that sturgeon was a kosher fish,[1] but this opinion was not accepted by all other rabbis and became subject of a vigorous debate.[2]

Sunday, January 02, 2011

A grand-daughter of Rabbi Jacob Emden walks into the room . . .

Here's an extremely interesting passage in Joseph Wolff's missionary journal, dated May 16, 1824. The following occurred in Jerusalem. Rabbi Mendel is Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Shklov, one of the leading disciples of the Vilna Gaon, entrusted with publishing many of his works.

Not a fan of Mordecai Manuel Noah.

Someone who was being sued for $100 by M.M. Noah printed the following ad in an 1838 newspaper:

According to him, it was Noah who owed him money. Because of this fact, he then decided to try to settle it. However the writer declined, desiring to take it before a jury so that he can expose Noah as "miserable, worthless, ragged" and "ignorant."

Not-exactly-pro-Jewish references:

1 Rabbi Noah - he wasn't a rabbi.
2 old-clo-man - particularly in England, many poor Jews sold rags and were considered a sort of blight on the landscape. They were known by this term because of their call "Ol' Clo'!"
3 his progenitor Judas Iscariot - no need to elaborate
4 help himself to a $100 slice of pork - "
5 must be "schircumshized a shecond time" before a jury - mocking the accent of German Jewish emigrants. Noah was born in Philadelphia - and a Sephardi. And, of course, the reference to circumcision (or should I say, schircumshizion).

You have to admit, for a bigot the guy had style.


Related Posts with Thumbnails