Monday, July 09, 2012

The Maggid of Kelm's sermons against the Hebrew newspapers, as reported by one of the Hebrew newspapers

Here are a couple of vintage notices in S. J. Fuenn's journal Hakarmel, concerning the Maggid of Kelm's sermons in two cities, about the Hebrew newspapers of the time.

Bialystok. From a letter from our friend to his friend in Vilna we heard of the wonderful derashos of the Maggid of Kelm: 
This is what the Maggid of Kelm preached in the Bet Midrash of Rabbi S. Bulkowstein; there are four holy things - the Shulchan Aruch's four sections. Opposing them are are four satanic blemishes, Hamaggid, Hakarmel, Hameliz, and Hazefirah. A man eats and drinks on the holy Sabbath and fills his belly with good food, and sleeps a restful nap, beneficial to the body, and when he awakens he also wants to benefit his soul. With what pleasure does he feed it? Not with Mishna or Gemara, not with Shulchan Aruch or mussar works or kabbalah. Instead many gather in groups and read [these newspapers] - Woe to us! For our many sins, they read Hamaggid, Hakarmel, Hameliz and Hazefirah, newspapers which arrive by mail, even by telegraph (telegram?). These are the food for the soul, for the spirit. If there happens to be words of Torah in these newspapers, behold they are satanic, for this is the way of the Evil Inclination, to dress in white garments.
The next letter is from #16. The writer, from Pinsk, replies concerning the Maggid of Kelm, and says that he too heard one of his derashos in his city. He described how the Maggid mispronounced the word bildung (at least I think that's what it means) and called every enlightened man a "puschzak," an empty-headed person. Oh, no! Woe is us, continues the writer, that this befalls us in our times, when the Four Blights, Hamaggid, Hakarmel, Hameliz and Hazefirah, are among us. The maggid continues: Know without a doubt that if one sees a youth reading one of the gazettes then without a doubt he is a heretic. Whoever reads them is a heretic , a heretic in their youth, and a heretic as a man, and a heretic in their old age. The editors of these gazettes have no World to Come.


  1. Sounds almost as saftig as the recent ban on the Mishpacha daily in Israel

  2. the author did not know that they have no portion in the next world. He would have had to have been there and check it out and then report on his findings. But even that would not be conclusive. after all the Talmud says i have not seen is not a proof. after all he might go to Gan eden and spend a lot of time checking every knok and cranny and still not find the people that read Hebrew newspapers. that would not be a proof because they might move from location to location to avoid detection. they probably would rather not run into this character even in Gan eden.

  3. Hamaggid, Hakarmel, Hameliz, Hazefirah

    Ooh, that would have been a nice headline. :-)

    Can you briefly summarize which newspaper was published by which group? Their points of view?

  4. Sure.

    Hamaggid was the frum Haskalah newspaper. This is the one which the Netziv famously read and said ahh shabbos isn't a shabbos without it. One section was news from cities around the world, and the other was scholarly articles.

    Hakarmel was a little more scholarly, edited by SJ Fuenn of my recent RJJ post fame. I have read less of it, so I don't want to say more about it.

    Hameliz was the radical Haskalah. Yalag, why do we need rabbis, etc.

    Hazefirah was the scientific haskalah paper, edited by Slonimski. Allegedly everyone loved to read it, except of course the fanatics.

  5. FYI the archives of most of these newspapers, with the notable exception at this moment of Hakarmel, is online at

  6. S:

    "Hameliz was the radical Haskalah. Yalag, why do we need rabbis, etc."

    it's been a while, but iirc in it's earlier years (i.e., under founder alexander zederbaum), it wasn't radical?

    "Hazefirah was the scientific haskalah paper, edited by Slonimski."

    i.e., real science, not wissenschaft judenthums

  7. would you say so? Lilienblum's provocative articles on the Shulchan Aruch appeared in Hameliz. Perhaps that was a few years later.

  8. What was the viewpoint of the following papers I think [could well be wrong] I recall having read about?:


    1. No help coming, Fred? I'm hurt.


  9. "behold they are satanic"
    This sounds so, umm, rash and hotheaded in English. Does it have that same ring in the original language?

  10. The original is "hinei heimah m'sitra achra" as you can see yourself phil. which translates just like that.

  11. Although I know the /words/ in Hebrew, I don't know rash it would be considered to say. In other words, if an American described newspapers as Satanic, I'd picture Jim Bakker or Pat Robertson. But if a Jew described newspapers as "hinei heima m'sitra achra", would I picture him as the Jim Bakker or Pat Robertson of the Jewish world?

  12. (I meant to type: "I don't know /how/ rash...")

  13. "Sitra achra" would not be an especially hysterical term to use in a moralizing sermon. Sure, think Pat Robertson rather than Rowan William, but we're talking about a 19th century east European maggid, not, I don't know, Rabbi Leo Jung.

    As for the fact that we are talking about "newspapers," just think of the reaction to the internet, and then maybe magnify that.



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