Wednesday, January 04, 2012

On Reverend's Handbooks of a century ago, Pt. II.

Having posted last week about Reverend handbooks (link), by which I mean sort of do-it-yourself guides for quasi or would-be rabbis to minister to the American immigrant Jewish masses, I thought I would post about an even more interesting example, from 1898.

Note: I know this post is long, but I saved the most interesting part for the end, so by all means look there are least.

This particular book featured an English and Yiddish section (of course) and was published by someone called Pinkus Friedman. It was called, on the English side, "The Holy Speech" (ספר אמרות טהרות) and claimed to present many appropriate speeches, sermons and laws by "Dr. Jellinek, Dr. Graetz, Dr. Adler, Dr. Karpeles, Dr. Kohut, Dr. Manheimer . . . " etc. I've seen no evidence in the book for that claim, these being prominent 19th century Jewish preachers, rabbis and scholars. I suspect that Pinkus Friedman was being a little loose with the facts and trying to sell his book. Here is the title page:

As you can see, he called himself a "Hebrew Book Dealer" / "Mokher Seforim."

The big includes many oddities and miscellanies, particularly in the way of illustrations. For example, it includes this 'Gedolim' poster (click to enlarge) for no apparent reason:

In perhaps the only place in the book where he demonstrates some organizational skill, Friedman included the following acrostic poem, forming his name:

Something I'm sure some would find troubling - here is his image of a get (bill of divorce)

Lest anyone think that it was meant to be purely academic, or just for illustration purposes - I'm pretty sure this is not the case.

Here is the index of the English side, followed by one speech for a funeral, which I print because the owner of the book (see below) marked it the best one!

The owner who wrote "The best in the book. May 26, 1903" - who also underlined many words in the book, probably to learn them is my guess, was called Rev. Solomon Goldenstein.

The book includes some seemingly random miscellanies. For example, for no special reason there is a short section called History of the Great Men of Israel, and it is so sparse, a real non sequitur, that one wonders why it was included at all (although I have a theory):

My theory is that the book was as much for Pinkus Friedman's practicing writing and translating English as anything else. The Yiddish side is more full (although no less odd in many respects). For example, it includes an assortment of short essays missing in the English, such as essays on the Talmud, the Sanhedrin, Judah Maccabee, 'Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes,' and biographies of R. Yehuda Halevi and Moses Mendelssohn. The History of Great Men section in Yiddish is also odd, to say the least, but not quite like the English:

His list is Rabbis Ibn Ezra, Maimonides, David Kimhi, Amon of Mainz, Isaac Abarbanel, the Khmielnitzky massacres, the Holy City of Tiberias, uriel D'acosta, the Gaon of Vilna, Rabbis Joseph Karo and Azariah de' Rossi. How's that for eclectic?

Among the speeches, he includes a poem appropriate for a Bar Mitzvah, which could be recited by a parent or mentor:

I saved the best for last, so this is the reward if you are still reading. He includes a section of She'elot u-teshuvot/ questions and responsa. Halachic purists will probably cry seeing this attempt to address common questions of terefa in this fashion. The questions and answers are naturally in Yiddish and in English. I am guessing this makes a statement about what was expected of the people and their rabbi-reverends in those times:

Finally, after these questions is a section he calls "International Questions and Answers," which he means "Jewish responses to Christian missionaries." To read all of these, and the rest read or download the book here.


  1. A get from Sivan 26, 5200 in New York?

  2. Who was Solomon Goldenstein and what was Congregation of Zion, NY?

  3. I'm no expert, but the "question-and-answer" for dealing with the missionary seems to be in standard modern German, not Yiddish. Note, e.g., "nicht" and "war".

  4. Heavily taitshmerised Yiddish. Really a mix with words or forms that wouldn't be possible in the other language.

  5. YD, the barest I could find out is that he was formerly a cantor in St. Petersburg, and that he lived at 105th Street in Manhattan, thus Congregation of Zion must have been around there. The HUC seems to have some sheet music of a composition of his, for Hashkivenu.

  6. And he had to label the Hesped as the "best in the book" in both English and German! Hilarious--great post!

  7. The most famous of these rabbi handbooks is called the Madrich, by herman (or is it hyman?) Goldin. One rabi told me nowadays they sell them taller and thinner, instead of the old squat volumes, so the rabbi can carry it with him in his breast pcoket.

  8. Miss Fred,

    The last line of the poem (built on an acrostic of his name) promotes the book because its price is not onerous. Clearly an important selling point. Is that unusual for a sefer like this?

  9. S.,

    Is Oriel Okosta the same person as Uriel da Costa? Wikipedia has Uriel da Costa killing himself in 1640 and not 1647, although the Jewish Encyclopedia ( has the date in 1647.

  10. Yes, same person without a doubt.

  11. So this book was written in 1898, and lists Urile Acosta as a great man in Israle. Intressante. I thought the man was somehwat obscure, and only recently brought to light [relatively] as a symbol of religios intolerance. Was this man well-known enough that someone writing in English at the turn of the 19th century could refer to him without any explanation? Or perhaps 'ol Pinkus was just including a personal favorite?

  12. He was perfectly well known. That same year Israel Zangwill published his "Dreamers of the Ghetto" which included 50 pages on Acosta. Graetz of course discussed him, etc.

    I think Pinkus was including a personal favorite. There were those who loved Spinoza, and I guess he loved Acosta. Also see this:

    But like I said, talk about non sequiturs. What a weird list.

  13. Hmmm. Kind of a creepy picture.



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