Monday, October 31, 2011

Can you sell Mendelssohn's books? Especially if no one reads it anyway?

Here's an interesting teshuva from one of those horaah type collections. The question is, is it permitted to sell Mendelssohn's books?

In fact, the response only concerns his Chumash. The question is, an antiquarian book seller noticed that he had acquired a very nice Chumash which upon inspection proved to be the infamous Netivot Shalom edition by Moses Mendelssohn. Is it permitted to sell it, or not permitted either because of Lifnei Iver ("do not place a stumbling block before the blind," i.e., the buyer) or perhaps it is in the category of things which are prohibited to sell.

The reply is that since it is well known how terrible the man was, and what came about because of him, amalek, etc. of course it's terrible. However, we cannot forget that many great rabbis did not discern the impurity in it. The story concerning Maharam Shick and the Chasam Sofer is brought, where the rabbi and his student disagreed about the intrinsic evil of it. Therefore the bottom line is that we simply don't have the power to judge it literally as a heretical work according to all its laws, even though undoubtedly one must not read it.

As for the question of Lifnei Iver - which could still apply - this would certainly seem to apply. However, in the special circumstances here, where we are talking about selling and buying antique books, there is a leniency because many people buy old books without any intention of using them. He checked with Rabbi Shmuel Eliezer Stern and Rabbi Nosson Gestetner and both concurred, that to sell such books to collectors is permitted.

Indeed, many must have wondered such things when browsing the shelves of apparently piously owned book stores. Of course on the one hand business is business, and on the other hand not every apparently pious book seller has any interest in appointing himself the sefer police. And if he did, en ledavar sof. I was reminded of a recent interview in Mishpacha Magazein with the proprietor of the famed Biegeleisen Fine Emporium of Hebraic Literature in Boro Park. The owner, Shloime Biegeleisen, seemed amused/ half-annoyed by the interview. It seemed like he didn't understand why he was being interviewed , not considering himself a celebrity or a legend, and was used to people who knew seforim, not people who were trying to extract a juicy conversation for a magazine for the mass market. One of the questions he was asked was something about how does he deal with questionable books. A dumb question - my apologies to the interviewer - for a mocher seforim. So he replied, that then only book he wold never stock is one which attacks Belz (he schtams from Belz) - a reply which seems to have been taken seriously.

See these two interesting posts on Chabad Revisited on "What Mendelssohn Did Wrong." I and II.

A review of's reprints

Earlier this month I reviewed the Espresso Book Machine-Google Books partnership (link) and I found that this Print On Demand service was very satisfactory. I had suggested that it would be fantastic if the great could somehow partner with EBM as well. I of course knew that already has a Print on Demand partner, in the form of, which will prepare many pdfs for print through Indeed, each book's page on has a link to "Order Print Version (External site)." But I had never used it myself and wasn't sure how good the results would be. Surely a much-hyped $100,000 printer, partnered with a corporate behemoth like Google, working at a sage institution like Harvard, would produce a finer, more efficient and cheaper result than this.

So I tried it and here's what happened.

Out of nearly 50,000 seforim I had to pick one. Not such an easy task, but I finally settled on Pene Tevel (Amsterdam 1872) by Moses Mendelssohn of Hamburg, not as well known as his nephew Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch. This is a very important and frankly quite delicious book, and a post about it will be forthcoming. I really wanted a copy, but it also didn't hurt that the pdf isn't exactly high resolution, and the font is quite small. So if it returned a readable and pleasing result that would be all the better.

First I will go through the process as I did in the EBM post. When you're on a book's page, click the link, as below:

Since has already processed this book because of my order, the page you would go to now has a copy ready for order. So I will show a different page, which was essentially what I saw, only for the Pene Tevel:

As you can see, it gives an estimated price quote for the soft and hardcover versions. In addition, there is a link at the top explaining how you can find coupons and possibly save money on your order, All you have to do is enter your email address and fill out the captcha, and hit Submit Print Request. You will get an email confirmation, and relatively quickly more emails informing you that the hardcover and softcover versions are available for purchase. It should be pointed out that there is no obligation to purchase whatsoever, so sending a request like this costs nothing. Whether or not you purchase it, all it means is that in the future someone else will not have to wait for the processing time.

It was known to and that I was going to review the process, so you'd expect PYS to provide the very best service in this case, but I had prepared books this way in the past, only I never ordered them. So having experienced the preliminary stage of ordering without any special treatment, I can't say that there was much of a difference in how long the confirmation was received. I feel that my experience this time was probably fairly representative. It must have been a few hours until the books could be ordered.

The processing time estimated by on the site is that it will "usually take about 1-3 weeks." But I am informed that 1-3 weeks is an old estimate. Now 24-72 hours is to be expected. As you will see, his estimate was accurate. In less than a day I could order it, and from start to finish I received the books in almost exactly 1 week.

When the processing is completed, I received an email telling me that the book could be ordered, and was sent the following link:

As you can see, the price estimate was off by a little. Instead of $7, the softcover was $8.99. On the other hand instead of $19 - $21 the hardcover was only $16.99. Obviously there is also a shipping cost, but at this point it's in's hands. They offer the usual range of shipping options to be expected. An advantage here, missing in the EBM purchase, is that the size of the books is specified. In addition a 50 page pdf preview is provided, so you can get a sense of whether it processed properly. I'm told that will refund the money if it messes up the printing. Note that there is a page listing all books that have already been processed, which is updated hourly, and those in middle of being processed (link). It's worthwhile having a look.

From start to finish - my order was processed on Monday October 10, and I received it on Monday October 17. To give more precise details, confirmed the order on Tuesday 10.11, and that it was shipped on Thursday 10.13.

Here is what I received:

Please note that the poor quality of the photos is only to demonstrate my lack of skill as a photographer. In fact both books printed very nicely. The only difference was that the hardcover printed on a very white paper which was a little less nice than the softcover, which printed on a more cream colored paper that was pleasing to my eyes. Paper stock was fine in both cases. Both bindings were excellent - in fact superior to the EBM product (which is certainly very adequate).

I must reiterate that what you will get is only as good as the pdf. If it is missing a page - as this book was - then obviously a page will be missing. It is the purchaser's responsibility to ensure that they go through it and know what to expect. In some cases there may be ways of repairing a pdf. told me that the system is highly automated and there really isn't a lot of ways of tweaking it on his end. In addition, it basically operates at cost for him - as you'd imagine, there can't be much profit in a $8.99 book, which mostly goes to There is another division with greater flexibility, which is why it is called So he informed me that if you could fix the pdf, say, ordering the page correctly, or adding a missing page, etc. then the thing to do is to notify and submit the corrected pdf, and then order it once that is posted. All in all most reasonable.

So what's the bottom line? There's nothing to complain about. It's possible that EBM's prices are a bit better. If that's the case, then if you see a volume of the Aruch Hashalem that you want to print, by all means go through Google. But for tens of thousand of seforim which are on but not Google Books - there is every reason to feel confident about using reprints (via ). It would be too much flattery to give it more than the 8 out of 10, which is what I rated EBM, but I'm almost tempted to give it a 9 simply because of how impressive it is that a small business with much creativity and technical prowess can produce a result as good as a much-hyped invention partnered with a corporate entity almost as ridiculously limitless as its namesake, the number googolplex.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Hello, Shabbetai Tzvi!

While searching for something else I came across this interesting letter from the rabbis and parnassim of Amsterdam to Shabbetai Sevi. From the Ets Haim Library web site.

Here are a couple of other nice images:

1. From a 17th century calligrapher's sample book. You could commission something and choose the style of writing. As you can see, it includes a Hebrew sample as well:

2. Musical notation for the chorale singing of Befi Yesarim (בפי ישרים) in the synagogue.

By some coincidence, I see that the library was closed for the past two years due to renovations, but it is scheduled to be open to the public once again, possibly this Monday! (link)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

May God bless and keep the czar far away from us! pt II

After my post May God bless and keep the czar far away from us! my good friend Eli Genauer was kind enough to send me an amazing scan of a machzor he owns which was printed in Germany in 1938 - תרצח, of all years. This edition of the famed Roedelheim machzor, almost certainly the last produced on German soil, contained the following original and pathetic prayer for the state ("vaterland"):

Here is the title page:


To answer a 123 year old question . . .

Here is an interesting letter from H. Guedalia to the Jewish Standard (December 7, 1888) concerning the hymn Bar Yochai. He asks whether anyone knows if it was ever translated into another language. So after five generations I answer H. Guedalia's question and I say, yes, it was. Oluf Gerhard Tychsen translated it to Latin in 1763, an "Elegia elegans e terra Israel" in honor of "R. Schimenois Filii Iochai,"and he should see my post (link).

He also has some interesting comments about how he supports memorial celebrations like Lag B'omer.

Monday, October 24, 2011

R. Aharon Kotler's BMG-Lakewood brainteasers.[1]

Rabbi Aaron Kotler, the famous Rosh Yeshiva, used to set puzzles for prospective students at his Yeshiva to test what we today call their IQ. One of these was: prove which of the following two statements is true and which is false. (1) No two people on earth have exactly the same number of hairs on their head. (2) There are people on earth with exactly the same number of hairs. The proof that (1) is false is, of course, that since there are billions of people on earth it is impossible for everyone to have a different number of hairs - that would mean that there are people with millions of hairs on their head and clearly there are no such people.

A similar puzzle which I heard had been set by R. Aaron Kotler to test his student' ability to deal with problems was already familiar to me from the 'Japes and wheezes' column in my boyhood comics. A lily pond doubles itself each day and in 28 days the pond is full. How long does it take for the pond to be a quarter full? The answer is, of course, 26 days, not, as most people reply, seven days.
In Helping With Inquiries; An Autobiography (London, 1989) by Louis Jacobs, pg. 72.

[1] Actually I have no idea if this was in Lakewood, or Kletzk. See this post about R. Haim Joseph of Baghdad's brain teasers for sharpening the mind of youths.

Miscellanous notes on the author of Dikduke Soferim, the Munich Talmud manuscript, Israel Zangwill and more.

This is the death notice in the Jewish Standard (December 7, 1888), informing of the passing of R. Rafael Nata Rabbinowicz, the great scholar who compiled the Dikduke Soferim, which recorded the variant readings in the Talmud using the famed Munich Manuscript 95:

Subsequently to the first notice, the Jewish Standard added a few more sentences in the December 14, 1888 issue:

On Rabbinowicz, see Yeshurun 23 (link) which has nearly 200 pages on him, unpublished writings, newly reprinted letters, etc.

Here is his picture:

Since we are speaking of the Jewish Standard - a London newspaper which also carried the Hebrew title "דגל ישורון" - it would not at all be inappropriate to quote Israel Zangwill, writing under his pen name "Marshallik" in his Marour and Charouseth column (November 11, 1889), after noting that some newspapers crib information from them, and fail to cite the source. However,
"Some of our American contemporaries who do acknowledge their frequent indebtedness to out columns, have a habit of half veiling their obligation by quoting from the Degel Jeshurun. Of course that is our secondary Hebrew name ; but then we are not generally spoken of or recognized by it, and as side by side with an article from the Degel Jeshurun will appear one from the Jewish Standard it creates the idea that the two journals are distinct. American editors, please note."
Also speaking of the Jewish Standard - Degel Yeshurun - there is a hilarious exchange of letters in one of the issues which revolves around the proper spelling of "yeshurun," since the newspaper spelled it "ישורון," while in the Torah it is spelled "ישרון." I shall post it sometime.

I will return to the Dikuke Soferim momentarily, but first here is a witty poem called "The Shool of the Future," by Israel Zangwill (May 25, 1888):

Could this be the first time anyone rhymed "drasha" and "kosher"? Probably.

The article on Rabbinowicz mentions that his great work is based on the Talmud manuscript in Munich," the so-called ש"ס of Pfersa." This entire Talmud manuscript is online (link) on the Bavarian State Library's digital web site. But what is the reference to "Pfersa"?

Pfersee is the place where the Talmud was to be found in the middle of the 18th century, when we have two or three references to this great manuscript. Until well into the 19th century the manuscript was more associated with Pfersee than with Munich.

The first reference to appear in print is on the very last page of the Korban Netanel (Karlsruhe 1755) by Rabi Nesanel Weil, where we see the following:

He says "וראיתי בש"ס על הקלף בפערשי," "In Pfersee I saw a Talmud written on parchment . . . " and he proceeds to cite an alternate reading of a word which could be emended into two words and thus solves a difficulty. The reference is to this Talmud manuscript, of which we will see more below.

But first, it would interesting to bring what Rabbenu Yonah has to say about emending Talmudic texts, in his commentary to Pirke Avos:

"Masoret" refers to the plene and defective spellings and the cantillation-punctuation which the Sages transmitted to their students. They are a fence for the written Torah, so that there should not be editions which disagree more than slightly. By contrast, the books of the Talmud contain numerous textual discrepancies. Every day people come up with new theories, and to support it they write the text according to their understanding. Permission is granted for such textual injury, for in any case there is no completely correct text in any land. Thus they can support their errors from a book's errors, rather than their own mind.
Here is a contemporary portrait of the Korban Nesanel (1687 - 1769), looking very - Napoleonic, if you think about it:

In any case, the next textual witness is the Chida, R. Chaim Yoseph David Azulai, who refers to this manuscript several times, most well known in Shem Hagedolim, section "Sefarim," entry "Gemara." However, this is not his only reference to it. Before I give his earliest references, here is an interesting one from 1774. This is from Chida's publication of Massechet Gerim - for the very first time - at the end of Simchas Haregel V. II (Livorno 1782). The text he used is what we now call the Munich Talmud manuscript, but which was then in Pfersee.

Here Chida writes in a similar language to that which he used in Shem Hagedolim, that
"This massekhta is one of the Minor Tractates, as is known, and it was never before printed. It was copied from the Talmud manuscript which is found in Persee, which is situated at the beginning of Germany. Written on vellum in Paris in the year 5103. by one of the relatives of Rabbi Samson of Sens. I mentioned this Talmud in my small book Sha'ar Yoseph page 5b [sic!]. It is also cited in the Korban Netanel, on the last page."
As his Sha'ar Yoseph on Masseches Horiyos was printed in 1756, the Korban Nesanel is the first to mention it in print, as far as we know. However, the Chida wrote a travel diary, which was only printed in part at the end of the 19th century (link), and in full in 1924 (link; another part was also published in 1910 [link]. In addition, some parts were published in journals, including a partial French translation). His travels in Europe and elsewhere were to raise money for the Jews of Hebron. (Yes, there were Jews in Hebron in the 18th century.)

Chida's entry for 23 Sivan 5514 (June 13, 1754) is lengthy, and incredibly interesting, and earlier than the Korban Netanel. He writes that he arrived in Pfersee, which is a small town with only a few Jews. A wealthy man named R. Leib lives there, and he really hassled the Chida, accusing him of forging the letters of introduction he possessed. Fortunately Chida was able to show him a signature in one of the letters of a rabbi who R. Leib knew, who lived in a nearby congregation - and he couldn't deny that it was authentic. R. Leib continued to hassle with him, and Chida was able to again establish his authenticity. However, R. Leib made up another story: the neighboring town had an agreement with them in Pfersee, and he should first go there. Whatever money they gave him in that town, they would give in Pfersee. However, R. Leib's counterpart in the other town refused to give anything, and he laughed at him. Chida realized that R. Leib must have sent him a letter as well, telling him to refuse him. He tried to work out an arrangement, with no luck. He says that this is basically the reception he received in all the German towns, until he arrived in Frankfurt, with the exception of two out of a hundred such towns!


Here he mentions that he was able to see this Talmud manuscript in R. Leib's home in Pfersee. His description is very similar to the one in Shem Hagedolim; written on vellum in Paris in 1343 by a relative of Rabbi Samson of Sens. He mentions that he was able to read four or five pages in Horiyos, and found many variations. These are what he mentions in Sha'ar Yoseph. He also mentions the Massekhes Gerim, which he later published. He then says that he wanted to spend a lot of time with it, but R. Leib ordered his servant to usher him out quickly! "Gam zu le-tov!"

Frankly there must be more to the story, because I cannot understand otherwise how he was able to publish a text of Masseches Gerim from this manuscript! Maybe he visited at a later date? I don't know.

The nitty-gritty work showing that this is indeed the same manuscript as found in the Munich library can be found in the introduction to the first volume of Dikduke Soferim (after the Ma'amar al ha-defasas ha-Talmud, the Essay on the Printed Editions of the Talmud).

As far as I can tell, this R. Leib is none other than the R. Leib Pfersee who wrote several learned works, including Leshem Zevach (Altona 1768) on six Talmudic tractates. He was a scion of a prominent German rabbinic family. He rates a page and a half in Duckesz's Chachmei Ahu (Hamburg 1908). Duckesz has nothing but nice things to say about him. He says he spoke with R. Leib's grandson, who told him that R. Jonathan Eybeschutz told his father (i.e., R. Leib's son) that he was sufficiently learned to be the rabbi of a major city. He is also mentioned positively in R. Emden's Megillas Sefer. No mean feat, to have met the approval of Eybeschutz and Emden! It should be borne in mind that in those times there were apparently many charlatans running around posing as authorized collectors for Eretz Yisrael.

Once we are on the topic, here's something interesting. This is from the entry for Chinuch Beis Yehuda (Frankfurt 1708), the responsa of another Rabbi Leib of Pfersee - the grandfather (or great-grandfather) of the one we are discussing. As you can see, the bibliographical data says "Yehuda Leib ben Chanoch miPaparasha."

Obviously Paparasha never existed. It's not really a big deal, but it is completely unhelpful as bibliographical data, and - I say this gently - it makes a work look less learned. You see this all the time in English books which try to transliterate place names and personal names from Hebrew or Yiddish sources. Better stick to the original spelling, I say, and you can't go wrong. "ווילנא" is "ווילנא" is "ווילנא," but "ווילנא" never was and never will be "Weilnau."

Regarding the question of how long was this manuscript in Pfersee, and in the possession of this family, there is an indication I found that it was already there in 1610. In Maggid-Steinschneider's Toldos Mishpachas Ginzburg (St. Petersburg 1899), pg. 11, we read about members of the family surnamed Ulma, who lived in Pfersee in 1610, and were its rabbis. On the last pages of the Talmud manuscript there are some signatures, one of which is Shimon ben Shlomo Shalit Ulma:

The exact details are unclear to me, but at some point in the late 18th century a monastery bought the manuscript, and from there it ended up in the royal library, possibly because it was stolen nationalized. Although R. Rabbinowicz made the most significant contribution to the study of this manuscript, it was already known to scholars, described and used by them. For example, in 1862 a talmid of the Chasam Sopher named Fürchtegott Lebrecht published Handschriften und erste Ausgaben des Babylonischen Talmud which describes this manuscript (then in Munich) and elaborately discusses how to prove that it was the same one the Chida saw, on pages 57 -59 and 98 -107, and did the Chida mean "Brescia" rather than Pfersee?

Here is one of the references to the manuscript in Sha'ar Yoseph, which being printed in 1756, is therefore the second printed reference:

It's also nice to see the dedication page

As you can see, Chida dedicates it in nice Spanish to his patron, the Masquil Mical Pereyra de Leon. "Masquil," or "Maskil משכיל" was - and is - an Italian Jewish title awarded to learned individuals, roughly equivalent to "חבר," which was used elsewhere in Europe, and I guess like "רב ומנהיג" used today. In Ma'agal Tov the Chida writes about the kindnesses of Michael Pereyra de Leon. For example, when he arrived in Livorno in 1753, it turned out that some nasty letters about his predecessor, an earlier collector, were to be found in that city. So Pereyra de Leon suppressed them and they did not sully Chida's reputation. In 1755-6 he spent 15 months in Livorno, and he writes that Pereyra de Leon hosted him for all of his meals!

Getting back to the Pfersee manuscript, we can see the title page of S. Taussig's Meleches Schlome (Munich 1876), which is the printed edition of the Mafteach Ha-Talmud found in the Munich manuscript, that the ms was still known as the Pfersee manuscript - "העתקות מכתב יד הביבליאטעק מינכען ובפרט מכ"י ש"ס קלף פה הנקרא שס פפערשע המפורסם בעולם." So worthwhile are the early pages in Taussig's book, that they are actually bound together with the manuscript today. Go to to the digital site and look! Tassuig also published the version of Avoth de Rabbi Nathan from the manuscript (link).

As late as 1908, when a facsimile of a part of this manuscript was published, it was called the Pfersee manuscript in the title, Die Pfersee-Handschrift: Cod. Hebr. Monac. 95 (Leipzig and Vienna 1908).

Here is one page:

I had much more to say about the manuscript in the light of Talmud censorship, but that should be in a second post. So I close with a link to an interesting blog post (link) which tries to determine how it is that a precious, unique Talmud manuscript in wealthy Jewish hands in the 1750s, should wind up in a monastery. The erudite blogger concludes that we don't really know, but there is a gap of about 120 years before recognition and study of the manuscript begun. I would point out that that this is only true if we consider Rabbinowicz to be the first to notice the manuscript, which is a stretch (as the blogger recognizes as well). Lebrecht already wrote of it in 1862, and Steinschneider knew of it, and it is mentioned in the Orient in 1851. Nevertheless it is true that there are great gaps which need filling, unless of course they have already been filled and I am just the last to know.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Yated Ne'eman on R. Solomon Judah Rapoport (Shir) and Wissenschaft des Judentums.

This is what appeared in the Jewish History page in a recent Yated Ne'eman. The column is basically arranged by Yahrzeit:

The missing final words are "a camouflaged attempt to empty Judaism of its kedusha and eternal relevance."

The entry in this column is a little strange. After all, one doubts that they'd acknowledge Zunz's yahrzeit. What gives? The best guess is that Shir was an Orthodox rabbi, however much whomever wrote this can't bear to call him that, even putting quotes around "rabbi," and whatever books are the source of this column's yahrzeit listed Shir. It's unclear what is so terrible about the biographies of Rav Saadiah, Natan Ba'al Ha-aruch, etc. The reference to Gans is out of place, and the charge that Prague's "authentic Judaism" declined under him in the 1850s is a cheap shot, and factually wrong - as if Orthodox Judaism in Prague hadn't declined in the first half of the century, before he came on the scene.

The reference to Hirsch exposing, or not exposing as the case may be, "Rapoport's scientific scholarship as a camouflaged attempt to empty Judaism of its kedusha and eternal relevance" is to the critical review essay of Shir's דברי שלום ואמת (Prague 1861) in defense of R. Zecharia Frankel, from attacks by R. Hirsch and R. Gottlieb Fischer in Jeschurun. The essay was translated into English in Volume 5 of the Collected Writings of Rabbi Hirsch, "On Chief Rabbi Rapoport's דברי שלום ואמת" (pp. 315 - 330; link to the original). The essay is not, in fact, an expose on Rapoport's scientific scholarship, but a critique of this particular essay, although it does contain some scholarly points.

On a happier note, here's an image of Shir that I only saw recently (from here:

Saturday, October 15, 2011

A lecture on Rabbi Akiba Eger from 1888.

Here is nice account of a lecture on Rabbi Akiva Eger delivered by Dr. Michael Friedlander - a native of Posen - of Jews' College, reported in the Jewish Standard November 30, 1888.

If reading it as images below is inconvenient, you can read it here.

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.)

Monday, October 10, 2011

A newspaper dispute about Rabbi Yisrael Salanter in 1858.

Here's an interesting exchange of letters from 1858. They were printed in Hamaggid. The first is a dispatch from Minsk, signed by "D.", about the formation of a "Beis Mussar" in Kovno under R. Yisrael Salanter's influence. The writer is not impressed, doesn't think R. Yisrael's "Elixir of Life" addresses the educational needs of the time, and is quite sarcastic. He particularly deplores the involvement of R. Yehoshua Heller, one of R. Yisrael's notable students, and an opponent of Haskalah, whom he had the displeasure of hearing in Minsk, where he slammed Hamaggid from the Maggid's pulpit.

The second letter, sent from Padua, is signed by one Yosef Isser Eindorn (sic? Andorn? Einhorn) , a physician, who says he was a student of R. Yisrael for three years. The doctor is quite upset that Hamaggid printed the other letter, which he considers slander of R. Yisrael. He says that he doesn't want to get into the ideological battles in Russia. His point is evidently that what appears as a straightforward letter is really another salvo in a battle that the readers who are not there will not understand. He says that the matter of his emissaries in Minsk is a lie. Also, R. Yisrael is not an enemy of Haskalah. In fact, it was he who encouraged Eindorn to become a physician. Furthermore, if the study of mussar is opposed to chochma, then you must indict all the earlier authors of Jewish mussar literature, Rabbi Shlomo ibn Gabirol, R. Bachya, R. Moshe Chaim Luzzatto. He writes that in fact in Padua there is a Beis Mussar which studies the mussar classics every day, attached to the Ashkenazic synagogue in that city. Who heads this havurah? Shadal - Samuel David Luzzatto - and who will say that they (i.e., the Italians) are against chochma? He closes by admonishing the editor to please live up to the motto on the cover, האמת והשלום אהבו, "Love truth and peace" (Zech. 8.19).

The editor basically thanks him for his letter. He sort of accepts it, but points out that if it's true that R. Yisrael is not responsible for errant students, then neither is Mendelssohn.

Doubtlessly many have heard about another incident involving R. Israel Salanter and Hamaggid a few years later (1865). R. Yisrael's son Lipmann was basically raised without his father's constant involvement, and not surprisingly evinced interest in other things. He graduated from a gymnasium, became a proficient mathematician and attended university. Hamaggid printed a small profile about him, and added some praises of his father for supporting him in his education. Several issues later R. Yisrael sent a letter saying that although it pains him to say it publicly, since his name is being used to promote something he doesn't agree with, he states that he is not proud of him. On the contrary, he is greatly troubled by his son.

I guess you could call a college boy an "אברך" in those days. Here's a picture of Lipmann who, sadly, died when he was only 29 years old.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Reflections on Kapparot and Talmud translations from an early 19th century Christian critic of Judaism.

From January 1836 to March 1837 a Christian missionary named Alexander McCaul (often written M'Caul, in the period spelling) published a small weekly magazine which he called נתיבות עולם (Jer. 6.16) The Old Paths, which was a withering critique of Rabbinic Judaism. McCaul, who was a competent Hebrew scholar, aimed to demonstrate to the Jews the insufficiency and errors of Judaism ('Rabbinism') so that they could abandon their "Old Paths," and follow the New Paths - Christianity. Although it is a difficult book for a faithful Jew to read without provoking outrage or wounded feelings, it is not a typical antisemitic tract ay all. Although I realize some would dispute this, McCaul took many great pains to demonstrate that he is in no way opposed to Jews. He did not accuse Jews of being exploiters, uncivilized, evil. He added a remark in his introduction that he hopes that "these papers may not be misunderstood, either by Jew or Christian, but that all who read them will carefully distinguish between Judaism and the Jewish people-and a wish, that they may contribute to the welfare of Israel, and the promotion of truth." Reader take note: he said a variation on what we have all heard some Jews themselves say sometimes: Don't judge Judaism by the Jews. Except, that he says the opposite: Don't judge the Jews by Judaism.

This does not, of course, mean that an attack on Judaism is not offensive. However there can be little doubt - at least so I am convinced - that he truly harbored no ill will toward the Jews per se. Not only does he exonerate Jews, but even contemporary rabbis, for the mistakes he sees in Judaism. They are simply following the traditions established for them, but they should not because it is not good for their soul, is his opinion. He also wrote extensively against antisemitism, particularly during the Damascus Blood Libel affair of 1840, and mobilized others to speak out against persectution. Although this type of Love-the-Jews-but-convert-them-all mentality is not hard to find nowadays, this was not generally the case in the 1830s. Furthermore, he espouses what seems to be a deeply held conviction, that Christianity is a Jewish religion, just as Rabbinic Judaism is a Jewish religion. This may be old news today, but not 180 years ago.

McCaul - who after the series had run compiled them into a single volume, which was almost immediately translated into German, Hebrew and Yiddish - writes in his introduction that "It was the author's wish, not to ridicule any man's superstition, but to instruct those, whom Moses and the Prophets would have declared to be in error. He has, therefore, carefully avoided the tone in which Eisenmenger and others have treated this subject." He also writes that he avoided dealing with Aggadah, which Christian writers had loved to ridicule for centuries. Instead, he confines himself to only those things which are mentioned in the Siddur and in the Codes of Jewish law. In fact, he dwells at length about how the prayers reflect the centrality of the Oral Law.

A note about the title: Having previously written about this book (here and here) I noted the irony that although "Netibot olam" can be translated as "Old Paths," the more primary meaning of "olam" is "eternal." Thus, while he meant to say that Judaism is the Old Path, his title was inadvertently also expressing the sentiment that it is the Eternal Path. Putting aside the question whether "old" ought to be automatically equated with "obsolete" - actually, if you look at the phrase in context, Jer. 6.16, here is what the verse says, "Thus saith the LORD: stand ye in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said: 'We will not walk therein.' " (JPS 1917) Thus, even where it does, or could mean "old paths," the verse praises the old paths, and implicitly criticizes those who say "we will not walk therein"!

Now, one of the classic Christian principles is that atonement requires blood. Before Jesus this was (or could have been) achieved through animal sacrifice in the Temple. But not long after Jesus these ceased, and Jesus himself is the blood of atonement. Lacking this, there is no blood, and there cannot be atonement. Judaism - Rabbinic Judaism he would say - of course teaches otherwise, that prayer, repentance, charity - achieves atonement. On pg. 142, discussing Yom Kippur (or, an exercise in futility as he sees it) he writes that really the rabbis themselves inadvertently betrayed that they unconsciously realized that prayer, etc. is insufficient, because they added something to make up for it: Kaparot.

He proceeds to quote the Judeo-German and Hebrew text in קהלת שלמה , specifically because the latest edition had been published in 1830. Therefore it shows that it is a custom which is still very much alive and common among the general populace. After translating the passages, he offers that the Jews show that they don't really trust Chazal's assertion that Yom Kippur atones, that personal merit, zechut avot, repentance, etc. Further, it shows that even though they hit upon something worthless, the Kapparot ritual, yet they intuit that something more is needed, and they intuit that for every man, women, child - even the unborn child - every human is guilty and in need of atonement. He says that they declare by this act that atonement by blood is absolutely necessary. And would God leave them without what they know in their hearts they need for forgiveness? I wonder if he was aware of opposition to kapparot in the tradition? (See, e.g., here.)

Here is a link to the relevant passage in Koheles Shelomo in the 1847 Hanover edition: link. The book was first published in Amsterdam 1744. Interestingly, the publisher of the edition discussed here was Solomon Blogg, whom I wrote about here.

In any case, there is much more that could be written about this book, and no doubt I will return to it. In the meantime, here is an absolutely fascinating passage in the introduction to the second edition (1846), where McCaul reflects on exciting, recent developments, such as the rise of Reform Judaism in England. The West London Synagogue, and its prayer book, omitted many of the passages discussed in his book. Secondly, the two Reform rabbinical synods in Germany had discussed many of the topics as he, and come to similar conclusions regarding the Rabbinic Tradition. The Reform Societies in Germany are engaged in formidable attacks on the Oral Law. Naturally he sees these as vindication. Even if he doesn't explicitly suggest that his book influenced these things, it's hard not to believe that he imagined that his book deserved some credit.

McCaul writes that if the German Talmud translation is ever completed - he means Pinner's translation, of which only the first volume ever appeared, and which was endorsed by the Chasam Sofer, who then retracted - then it "must . . . overthrow Talmudism." Simply putting it into any European language would be most fatal attack upon it. "It needs only to be seen as it is, in order to be rejected." He then reiterates his reminder that the reader must not mistake "this discussion of the merits of Rabbinism for an attack upon the Jewish people, or the rabbies of the present day." (On Pinner, see here, here, here, here and here. )

Read McCaul's whole thing:

Speaking of Talmud translations, in Shanu Chachamim Beleshon Hamishnah by the recently departed Rabbi Menashe Klein, in his section (42) on why the correct approach is to bring Jews up to the Torah, and not the Torah down to the Jews, he talks about Artscroll. He writes that "at one of the gatherings of those who are called "Jewish leaders," - he means Agudath Israel - with Cardinal O'Connor [offensive passage omitted, but you can read it on page 98], they discussed antisemitism. They asked him why is there so much hatred for the Jews, and he began quoting Gemaras to them, with many citations from Chazal" - he lists some - and he said, "How could they not hate them?" So they asked him how did he know all these things? So he took them into the next room and showed them a bunch of Artscroll books. That this event - he says that someone told him this - is almost certainly distorted, if not completely imaginary, is not really the point.

Incidentally, in the next section he writes about how the Noda Beyehuda tore keriah when the Torah was translated into German - meaning Mendelssohn. What he doesn't write, or realize, is that the Noda Beyehuda was muskam to another Chumash with a German - yes, German - translation of sorts. The time is not yet right for my post on that Chumash, but here is a small taste.

Note please that this Chumash, published in Prague by Sussmann Glogau, and endorsed by the Noda Beyehuda, name drops Mendelssohn on the title page. It says that most of the translation agrees with Minden's Milim Le-eloah (Berlin 1760), which usually agreed with Mendelssohn's translation. This is the title page. In fact, so misleading was this that the JNUL catalog doesn't list Sussmann Glogau, whose name does not appear, but Mendelssohn, whose name does, for their holding. Apparently Glogau felt that to be competitive he had to mention that this is up to par with Mendelssohn's edition. For his part, the Noda Beyehuda liked that its language was simpler (not Yiddish - German - simpler German) and must have seen this as a kosher alternative to the Mendelssohn Chumash. However, if you actually read the haskamah, you'll see that it doesn't sound like he came even close to tearing keriah over the Mendelssohn Chumash. He writes fairly about what M. said his intentions were, and says that maybe he was sincere. But the problem is that the language is very complex (leshon ashkenaz amuk me'od) and the students aren't used to it and they'd need most of the day just trying to learn the German grammar. By contrast, this is a translation for scholars, not children so it's all good. In fact it is not a complete translation per se, but more of a clarification of selected words and phrases. But more on that in the future post.

Here are the title page, the haskamah, and the first page.

My thanks to Leor Jacobi for acquiring these photos for me. This particular copy was owned by Rothschild - the Rothschild, by the way.

Getting back to Rabbi Menashe Klein, immediately following this is a section on translations for Ba'alei Teshuva. He says the desire for such things is not from ba'alei teshuva, but the yetzer hara; ba'alei avera, not ba'alei teshuva. On the contrary, true ba'alei teshuva would realize his arguments are correct, and therefore why would they wish to contribute to this terrible thing (translations)? Rather, they would realize that all the assimilation came about because of vernacular and translations in the first place. Therefore they will learn Hebrew and then learn Torah. He then concludes with a great story about an Apikores (heretic) in Cracow and a Chazir-Fresser (pig-eater) in Lodz, who discussed with each other how they got their names. The nimshal is that the apikores could well wear tefillin, learn Torah all day, and practice Judaism meticulously. Incidentally, in these two paragraphs I there are many non-Hebrew origin words - German, English, Latin and Greek - as well as the acronym akum, which was invented by Christian censors.

Back to McCaul and his assumption that all you had to do was translate the Talmud and *poof* that's the end of Rabbinic Judaism. While we see that this was not only not true, a writer later in the century had the following to say:

In other words, McCaul's prediction was nonsense, and the case of Mormonism proves it.

The writer was Richard Burton (not the husband of Elizabeth Taylor, of course) and the book is The Jew, The Gypsy and El Islam. The book was published posthumously from Burton's papers, and the editor writes that even an appendix on the Damascus Blood Libel of 1840 is antisemitic (apparently Burton thought human sacrifice among the Jews of the East was real) so he omitted it since he didn't feel it was right to mutilate an author's words, but he could not publish it, as it was odious.

Nevertheless, he did include the section on the Jews, even though the tone is also antisemitic, but since it contains much good ethnographic material, in this case the material is too valuable to "suppress[ . . . ] merely to avoid the possibility of hurting the susceptibilities of the Hebrew community." Although he decided not to avoid offending Jews altogether, he says that actually it may well be that the Jews of the East who are not "enlightened" like the Jews of England, who are also "highly favored," aren't exactly that civilized. This accords with the principle that "Every nation gets the Jew it deserves." Hey, he is saying. If the Jews in the Orient aren't so nice, then that's what the people there generated through centuries of oppression. Not their own fault, but facts are facts - if they are facts, of course.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Espresso Book Machine - Google Books - Print on Demand review

So I bought an Espresso Book Machine (EBM). Well, maybe in my wildest dreams. (I'm pretty wild, huh?) For those who are unaware of what this $100,000 printer does, see their website (On Demand Books) or watch the video:

The printer is able to print, cut and bind a book in a matter of minutes, and for a relatively inexpensive price. On EBM's web site is a list of locations which have an EBM. Harvard has one. The library in Alexandria, Egypt has three. The NYPL? Nope. (There is at least one in New York City though.) Oddly there are two EBMs in Utah alone. I can't think of an appropriate comment to make about Mormons, but you know and I know that this reflects pretty well on, well, something. Utah just likes to keep everyone confounded.

Lately EBM partnered with Google, such that almost all Google Books that are freely available for download (this usually means pre-1923) can be printed and ordered from various locations which have an EBM machine and are willing to sell printed books to the public. Incidentally, you can order books directly through EBM's web site, where you can get many books offered to the public by self-publishers as well, but it's easier to find the book on Google if you're buying a Google Book.

Here's an example of how the process works:

Let's say you have a desire to have your own copy of the 1545 Venice edition of Machzor according to the Romaniote Rite, as depicted below.

One would click the link for On Demand Books, like this:

And you would see the following choices:

As you can see, there are 5 book locations which will print it along with the prices. The University of Utah Library one is of course useful only for people who can pick it up, since it will not ship. Also, apparently they charge a flat fee of $10 per item, which works out nicely in cases like this book which cost more elsewhere, but not so nicely if you wish to order something that costs $5.95. The prices are determined by whatever little mathematical formula the individual stores use. I'm not sure if it is solely determined by number of pages, or amount of ink, if it is heavy on pictures, etc.

For some reason the Harvard Book Store is not taking orders now, but because they were among the two offering the lowest price on the two items I had decided to purchase, and figuring they were the most reliable - based on very little - I placed my order through them. Sure enough, in a few days a package with my two books were delivered, and I was not disappointed. With the caveat that I don't know if there are uniform standards in all of these locations which partnered with Google, I will say that the paper was reasonably heavy stock, and lightly cream colored, so it is very easy on the eyes. The binding seems solid; the binding doesn't fall apart when you dare to turn the pages and press it open a little. The covers are paper, with a fairly nice, plain design. Best of all, the prints were clear and readable, although read below.

Now the criticisms and suggestions.

I realize that much of what I am going to say goes with the territory, but that doesn't mean there can't be some way of addressing these issues.

1. The title. Since it works with Google, whatever the Google title is, that's what is going to appear on the cover and spine of the book. Google Books has notoriously lousy bibliographical information. Thus, if you wanted to order that 1545 machzor be prepared for it to come back with Sēder Tefillôt ke-minhag qehillôt Rômanyâ proudly displayed on the cover and spine. So my suggestion is that there be a way for the customer to customize the title and author info.

2. Extraneous pages and mistakes. Google Books are full of irrelevant pages, typically in the beginning and end; library card jackets and so on. They also often have the title page or some others scanned two or three times. It would be nice if there was a way to edit the pdf somehow to remove these pages which you really don't want in your printed copy. Obviously the machine cannot do it, and the operator won't. But the purchaser can. It also goes without saying that Google Books can sometimes be missing pages (although not usually) or have pages out of order. Often if this is the case they will have two or three other editions which do not have that flaw. So it is the purchasers responsibility to make sure that the book they choose is not missing pages or has any out of order. That said, again, if you could edit and upload the pdf yourself then you can easily fix those things.

3. How about combining pdfs to produce a larger book? Say I want to print five related pamphlets of 45 pages each, or even two volumes of the same book. Wouldn't it be a good idea to do that and send the pdf exactly as I want it to appear rather than getting multiple books?

4. Hebrew. Someone should clue the EBM into the fact that Hebrew and Arabic read from right to left, and therefore Google Book pdfs should be printed backward so that the book starts on the right, rather than the left side. It's not a huge deal, as I readily saw when my books arrived, but it seems like an improvement that could be added.

5. Size. While EBM determines the proper size to print the books, this can result in ridiculously lopsided results. I didn't measure them, but let's say one book printed as a standard of app. 8" x 5". The other was an odd size, almost like a square - let's say 4" x 4". If the proportion needs to be maintained, I don't see why there can't be a way to at least ensure that one of them (say the width) stays consistent. In this case, instead of having a 4" x 4" book I could have customized it so that it printed 3.75" by 5" so that I could have books of the same 5" width. This is to improve bookshelf stocking, you see. (Yeah, yeah, I can't do math. Correct me with the proper proportions.)

6. Google Books's pdf are notoriously . . . spotty. In the case of one of the books, it was immaculate. The other one was only as good as the pdf. I knew this up front of course, and it is still readable and great. But cleaner pdfs - which is Google's issue, not EBM's - would be nice.

7. There seems to be an upper limit of about 800 pages. I saw that some books with some more pages could be printed. Others cannot. At the very least there should be a way of splitting up a large book into two manageable volumes rather than having no option of printing something simple because it is 850 pages long.

My chief suggestion is that EBM should have more partners. EBM should partner with, which generally has beautiful, clean pdfs and thousands that are not on Google. They also should partner with the Hathi Trust, which makes many pre-1923 books available which Google never got around to doing. Same source; Google scanned the books in the Hathi Trust. But more material would be available to the public. Also, in my humble opinion, an operation like should approach EBM and try to partner with them. Once they realize how funky and critically acclaimed HebrewBooks is, I figure it should be a cinch. Did somebody say copyright?

Naturally some will want to see the results of my fantastic photographic talent, so here is more or less what you will receive.

As is often the case with technology, the excitement is almost more about what it can and almost certainly eventually will be than what it already is, which is pretty special already in this case. All in all, I give it an 8 out of 10, but only because I know that it can be improved so that EBM books will rate a richly deserved 10.


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