Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The statue of Rabbi Isaac Ger Graanboom

Yesterday I received an unexpected, but most welcome comment on an a post I did nearly a year ago about the famous family of Swedish converts, the Graanbooms, who were important members (and rabbis) of the Amsterdam Ashkenazic community in the 18th and 19th century (link). A direct descendent of this line remarked that he could provide me with a better photo of a statue of his illustrious ancestor Rabbi Isaac Ger than the one I borrowed from this Seforim Blog post, where it was described as "a statue of him which unfortunately disappeared during the Holocaust." I'm pleased that the statue is not lost at all, but is still possessed by the family, as it should be.

Photo credit: Mr. Ole Eshuis, Amsterdam.

This is an excellent example of how badly photographed and photocopied pictures are no substitute for a good one. Many thanks to Ole!

Monday, January 30, 2012

The unwanted Samaritan Pentateuch notes in Bibles distributed in Jerusalem in the 1820s.

Recently I've been posting some interesting material from the journals kept by Joseph Wolff, a Jewish-born missionary active all over Asia in the 1820 - 40s, distributing tracts and Bibles (including Hebrew, Arabic and Persian translations of the New Testament) and engaging infidels in conversation and disputation.

He spent considerable time in the Holy Land in 1822. He writes about a controversy which occurred because of the specific content of the Hebrew Bibles which he was distributing (here we are talking about Tanakh, not the New Testament). The Bibles used a variety of symbols to indicate footnotes, one of which was a cross. In addition, the specific edition he was distributing also included the readings from the Samaritan Pentateuch.

Here's what he writes:

That is, as soon as his shipment of Bibles arrived, a fellow named Abraham ben David (Schleifer, as he writes elsewhere) whom he had converted (or more accurately, was in the early stages) bought 5 copies, and when he tried to distribute them, the cross was seen in the margins, and the people became very angry and flogged him (on the feet!) one time for every piastre he spent. So Abraham returned the Bibles.

He continues, discussing what happened when he met with a rabbi named Joseph ben Wolf, to discuss the Zohar with him. He noticed that a few pages of his copy of one of the Bibles were ripped out, and Joseph told him that an "enthusiastic Jew" (wouldn't it be great if we started calling the kannaim "enthusiastic Jews?") had torn them out because of the cross markings. He continues to relate how a rabbi, Solomon ben Menachem Shapira, substantially critiqued the specific edition of the Bible for its errors. (Read more about this student of R. Chaim Volozhin here.)

Next follows a situation where the aforementioned Abraham Schleifer informed Wolff that the rabbis had declared that the Jews must burn the Bibles, because of the cross marks and the Samaritan text in the notes. As we will see, while the crosses were bothering the masses, the quotation from the Samaritan text seems to have been the chief reason that it bothered the rabbis:

Wolff, alarmed, wrote a Hebrew letter to "Rabbi Iom Toph Danum, Morenu Meyahis and Abraham Hadid" the foremost Sephardic rabbis. He informed them that he would rather the Bibles returned to him than burned. If not, he demanded that they pay for them. He said that he distributed them so that people should learn from them, not burn them. "Woe be to you shepherds of Israel" is how he closes, and adds a postscript that the sign of the cross is simply meant to mark the Keri and Ketib.

The rabbis asked him to meet with them and drink coffee. They addressed him in Spanish and asked him if they could talk in Hebrew, and Wolff replied that they could. One of the rabbis began, explaining that many of the poor Jews are ignorant, and they (the rabbis) are not "bad shepherds" but they have a problem with the notes that print the text of the Samaritan Pentateuch, particularly to Duet. 5 (the Ten Commandments). The rabbi said that the rabbis know full well that the Samaritan version referring to Mt. Gerizim is not in the text, and "that it is not the intention of the English nation to make us believe in the Samaritan Codex." However, he said, only us rabbis know this. There is a fear that the unlearned young people, who might learn Hebrew from this edition, will be led to believe the Samaritan text. Without even mentioning the signs of the cross, he added that New Testaments are simply out of the question.

Wolff's rejoinder is that he received permission from Rabbi Mendel of Shklov to distribute Hebrew Bibles. As for New Testaments, although he vigorously disagrees with them, he said that since he doesn't want them burned he's going to stop giving them away for free, and he signed a paper to that effect.

The rabbis finished the conversation on a conciliatory note, one of them adding that they would be glad to receive Bibles from the English, "but without notes, without comment, without any preface, and without any Latin character." Wolff agrees to this.

At this point Rabbi Mendel arrived, and Wolff says that he asked him if it's true that he granted him permission to distribute Tanakhs, and Rabbi Mendel affirmed it. The other rabbis then explained their position, and Rabbi Mendel conceded it. He did, however, praise the edition of the Prophets and Psalms. They closed by asking him once again not to distribute the New Testament, and he agreed since they would burn them. No doubt he crossed his fingers when he said this (and signed) because "this does not prevent my lending copies of the New Testament to those, who, I am sure, will not burn them."

Although this is not the precise edition of the Bible which he distributed (there are no signs of the cross in it, for example) that edition is based on this one - and here you can see the disputed Samaritan text in the notes:

Finally, here is Wolff, a couple of decades later:

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The 17th century tunes for two Passover Seder songs.

In 1644 Johann Stephen Rittangel published a Haggadah with Latin translation and commentary, called Liber Ritum Paschalium. Rittangel was without a doubt one of the most proficient Christian Hebraists of his time, so much so, that later scholars were divided as to whether he was born Jewish. It seems that there is no evidence for that and some compelling reasons to doubt it, but that gives an indication of how superior his knowledge of Hebrew and rabbinic literature was seen. Rittangel made a guest appearance in an extremely popular work called Dod Mordechai - Notitia Karaeorum , published by Jacob Trigland. This book consists mainly of the extensive Hebrew response of a Karaite rabbi named Mordechai ben Nissan to Trigland's questions about the history of Karaism. Mordechai refers to Rittangel as follows:

"Any wise and learned Christian or German scholar acknowledges the the true original faith received from Sinai through the hands of Moses was preserved by the Karaites. As an example, in 1641 the German scholar Rittangel visited Troki and [displayed] his warm regard for Karaism, and intently sudied their books and visited many locations where they dwell. He praised their faith in the works which he wrote in those communities. His memory ought to ascend for good before the Lord!"
Back to the Haggadah. Although not the first Latin translation of the Haggadah (see here for the 1512 book which gets that honor, which was translated by a converted Jew) this one is far more interesting. Actually, the 1512 one is interesting too, so before I continue about Rittangel, here is the final page with the traditional prayer for "Anno futuro in hierusalem."

Without a doubt what makes Rittangel's Haggadah so interesting is that he included musical notation for two songs! (Modern notation can be found in the Jewish Encyclopedia as in, e.g., here.)

If anyone wants to break out the harpsichord and upload a recording, be my guest.

The Haggadah is also a good source if you wish to impress or annoy your family by, for example, singing Chad Gadya in Latin ("Unum hoedulum, unum hoedulum"). The Latin price of little kids is duobus solidis, by the way. And if you really want to annoy people, you can introduce the Birkhat Hamazon in Latin (if Yiddish, why not Latin?):

Finally, here is a piece of a letter of his which he sent to John Selden, and which was published, transcribed, translated and annotated by Daniel Lasker in "Karaism and Christian Hebraism: A New Document" Renaissance Quarterly, Vol. 59, No. 4 (Winter 2006), pp. 1089-1116.

"The Karaites [scholars] have had a good name for 1900 years or more. They girded their strength to propound true Scriptural *interpretations; they did not follow the way of the vipers, and did not interpet using letter permutations and gematriot of the *Pharisees. Rather only in God's Torah did they desire, and with straight and clear writings, as I have seen in many of their works."
Lasker printed the entire letter, and the next page continues to say that these works are in manuscript "בכתב מטושטש" which Lasker wisely realizes means "cursive writing," not messy. I think it would have puzzled me.

It is important to note that perushim means both explanations and Pharisees, and Rittangel is obviously punning. He of course also used the term nechashim/ vipers alluding to Matthew 3:7.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Portrait of the artist as a young mapmaker.

Here's the famous self-portrait of Ya'akov ben Avraham Zaddik (aka Jaacob Justo) in his 1621 map of the land of Israel printed in Amsterdam. You can read his entire inscription by clicking the image below to enlarge it. See the complete map here.

Sort of makes you wonder about "all of our grandfathers." (link)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A proverb about London among Polish Jews, 1822.

An almost unending fount of interesting material is the Missionary Journals of Joseph Wolf, which I've quoted many times before (see here, for example, for a bit about how the rabbis of Jerusalem stood for Rabbi Yaakov Emden's granddaughter when she walked into a room).

The protagonists in this exchange areWolf, the missionary, and Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Shklov, disciple of the Vilna Gaon and leading Ashkenazic sage in the Land of Israel at the time (1822).

I admit that it took me a minute to understand this "proverb:" "We Jews in Poland have a proverb; The wicked one draws a Jew after him to London, but as soon as the Jew is arrived in London, the Jew draws the wicked one after him."

I think it means to say that the spiritual environment in London is so bad for Jews that the Jew in London, who was after all lured there by Satan, once there he has fallen so far that he lures the very Satan himself. Have you got a better interpretation?

A rare approbation from the Gaon of Vilna

Here's something that's not found in abundance. It's the Vilna Gaon's haskamah to a work printed in Koenigsberg in 1764, Darke Noam by R. Shmuel ben Eliezer of Kalwaria, on the Rabbah bar bar Hannah aggados. As you can see in the little rhyme in the beginning, the Gaon signed because the other rabbis signed. Perhaps wisely, this wasn't something he would repeat very much.

My thanks to Eliezer Brodt for drawing my attention to this.

Friday, January 20, 2012


Blogger did something to the comments recently. Aside for the fact that I don't like the default font (I'll see if I can change it) two people told me that they can no longer comment. Gosh, thanks Blogger. But I want to know if this is a more widespread problem. If you have found that you aren't able to comment anymore then clearly you can't say so in the comment, so please do me a favor and email me. Thanks.

And because this post is boring, here's something which isn't - A Yiddish poem trying to get kids to feel good about their nose, and teaching them to drink milk at the same time. (Or, unintentionally teaching them not to drink milk is probably more like it):

From Edward A. Portnoy's PhD dissertation "The creation of a Jewish cartoon space in the New York and Warsaw Yiddish press, 1884--1939."

Thursday, January 19, 2012

On the original "Kosher Jesus" by R. Chaim Volozhiner's grandson, Universalist Dreamer.

Kosher Jesus, Shmuely Boteach, etc.

As already noted by Dr. Marc Shapiro, Rabbi Elias Soloweyczk (Soloveitchik) wrote a sort rabbinic commentary on the Book of Matthew [and also Mark]. Although it was written in Hebrew (titled Kol Kore), I haven't seen it. However, I have seen the French and German translations. (An earlier, anonymously published version exists, but it is different in content.)

I thought it would be worthwhile to print the substance of his introduction to the French edition (Kol Kore La Bible, le Talmud et l'Évangile, tr. par L. Wogue. Évangile de Marc. Évangile de Matthieu Paris 1875). Note that his purpose is to show that the New Testament and the Talmud do not oppose each other.

But before I do, here are some worthwhile images. This is the "haskamah" to his edition of the Mishne Torah printed in England in in 1863, collected in 1857, signed by various rabbis, and written by R. Jacob Oettinger of Berlin. As you can see, it makes mention of his grandfather, "Rabbi Chajim Wolozin."

Here is our author, who was blind and very poor in the period under question:

Here is the substance of his forward to Mark (from the French translation).
In the preface to my first volume of Kol Koreh I promised to show that the New Testament, contrary to popular belief, is neither in disagreement with the Old or even with the Talmud. I fulfilled my commitment regarding the first Gospel, and now I work on the second.

A few words of explanation. Many people of high intelligence of rank applauded my work, either because they agreed with me in advance or were persuaded after having read them. This encourages me.

But what a pity, there are extremists, and also those who laugh at what they think is an attempt to reconcile opposing views. Aside for the positive feedback, I was also assailed by Jews and Christians, and I think it is useful to answer their objections.

My fellow Jews said "To mention the Gospel and the Talmud together? What brazeness this author has! Doubtlessly there are good things in the former, but we do not know its source, or what the authority for such things are. By contrast, in the Talmud nothing is anonymous, everything is stated by name and by tradition, going back to Moses, from God - or else it contains the views of individuals who are known to us, respected rabbis, and tradition tells us their names and [scholarly] lineage, often going back to a very remote period. "All their words are like fiery coals" (Avoth 2:15) and this author is not afraid to destroy it! His book is an attack on the holiness of the Talmud, to blend it with the New Testament; it is sacrilege.

In parallel, my fellow Christians say the same thing. The New Testament is the Word of God, the Talmud is a human work. Not only human, but full of contradictions and inconsistencies. What one doctor disputes, another defends. One says with, the other says black. The New Testament is very different, a single doctrine, very beautful, holy and so beneficial to man that it could only come from God.

This is what they say, and here is what I answer. Jewish Brothers, I know the sanctity of the Talmud, like you. It's value is high. I have been raised on a diet of Talmud since childhood, and I learned to revere it. But believe me, these arguments do not glorify it, and our doctors would disavow them, were they alive. Those men were fair and impartial, they rarely condemned either a man or a book, and even to that which they comdemned, they knew how to do it in a just way. Look at what they say about Ben Sira (Sanhedrin 100b) "It is (generally) not permitted to read books of heretics. Rab Joseph said, this refers to Ben Sira" (Ecclesiasticus, because, Rashi said, foolish and exaggerated things are in it). However, says R. Joseph, the good things in [Ben Sira] may be read and expounded. So a book which the Talmud forbids reading, yet it does not reject that which is good in it, and it even approvingly cites it a number of times, which is evidence that it accepts the good and true whenever it encounters it. Doesn't this [approach] bring peace and harmony between people? The same Talmud which you think is a cause for discord, doesn't it contain the most beautiful sentiments? To cite but one example, we read in Sukkah 53b that ""If, for the purpose of establishing harmony between man and wife, the Torah said, Let My name that was written insanctity be blotted out by the water, how much more so may it be done in order to establish peace in the world!" This is precisely my goal, the goal that all friends of the Torah should aspire, to, every Jew and every man worthy of the name, and you my brothers, you condemn me for my effort? I say, this is not the talk of the wise.

And you, my Christian brothers, who claim that it is an offense to put the Gospel on the same footing as the Talmud, do you not know that the Talmud has a right for your gratitude, and that without if the name of your Christ may have fallen into oblivion? Many famous writers have denied the existence of Jesus Christ, and many deny it today, lacking knowledge of the Talmud which, as we shall say, excplicitly affirms his existence. . .

As for your disdain of comparing the Talmud and the Gospels, you should know that the Talmud is a unique monument of jurisprudence, deep legal reasoning and wisdom? Allow me to explain . . . (He goes on to describe Maimonides and the Mishne Torah - noting that he published the first five sections with a Hebrew commentary and German and English translation [although he doesn't note that the English translation was by Hermann Hedwig Bernard]). He suggests that he is willing to supply a French translation of any part of the Mishne Torah that one would like. One could compare those Talmudic laws with the laws of any European nation on the same subject, and see if the Jewish laws do not fare well by comparison. They will be amazed at what was produced nearly 2000 years ago, by the sheer force of the intelligence of these doctors, so abused by [these] Christians!

He ends his introduction by repeating that the Jews and Christians are unfounded in their attacks upon him. He refers to Ex. 16:8 "(your murmurings are not against us, but against the Lord") saying that he is no one, and they are not complaining against him, but against truth and peace, his only goals! He cites David in Psalms "Ani shalom vekha adabber hemmah lammilchama", which he explains as "All my desire is for peace, and even when I make war" it is only for peace. The same with me, he says, if I have come to do battle with the ancient interpreters of the New Testament, it is to bring peace and understanding between people, for false doctrines have long divided them.

He prays that he succeeds in his holy enterprise, that the favor of the Lord descend upon his work, that that it produces much and wholesome fruit in the heart of readers, and that with one spirit they embrace the worship of one God, and that it could help accomplish the words of the Prophet (Zephania 3:9) "For then will I turn to the peoples a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve Him with one consent."

Rabbi Elias Soloweyczsk
A few years later he printed a German translation, with another preface. In this one, he again addresses critics, but this time he includes a translation of a source which evidently he had discovered, and he feels will adequately answer them. He quotes R. Yaakov Emden ("foremost authority," "known for his tremendous piety and learning") in his edition of Seder Olam (Hamburg 1757):
"For thirty [sic] years the abominable sect of Shabbetai Zevi has newly arisen, and caused more evil than the Flood. God forbid that this accursed sect should ever mix with our Christian brethren. The principles of the Christian religion is a strict morality, even stricter than ours, for it prohibits things allowed by Mosaic law, e.g., marriage among cousins. These principles drive them from excess, self-denial and forgiveness for wrong, and their true saints are characterized by their exemplary virtues. We would be glad if Christians would, as we would, scrupulously observe their own law, if they (as we) would follow the good examples of their virtuous kings and saints and all their ways. People know that I flatter no one, have never lied, and that my zeal for the Jewish religion has never hindered me from acting justly. I will repeat what I have said often, that Jesus has done a double act for manking. On the one hand he has confirmed all the teachings of Moses, he explained that he did not come to abolish them or to change one iota, he claimed with equal vigor that the law is eternal and unchanging."
Although Soloweyczk does not quote the other hand, and I do not have the time to look it up now (but it is on this page, I imagine it says something positive about what Jesus's teachings did for Christians. He continues that he has just developed this idea further, and once again, that his purpose is to effect a reconciliation of the two Testaments, and two peoples, and that we should see the joyful day when Jews and Christians will shake hands and fulfill the words of the prophet, "On that day the Lord and his name will be one."

There may be a part II to this post, where I discuss the content of his work.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

"I concede the omission of the first yekum purkan." - on Orthodox reform in the 19th century.

A very interesting topic that to my knowledge has never been fully explored is reforms which the Orthodox at times adopted, or were instituted or permitted by Orthodox rabbis. The reason this is so interesting is because the very early opposition to the Jewish reformers tended to be very harsh and absolute, defending the sanctity of the slightest custom and the absolute prohibition of intentionally ending even one of them. Yet while this was occurring Jews who were definitely Orthodox were adopting some of the changes advocated by reformers.

It would be good to point out here that we should probably exclude changes like this which were implemented away from the battlefield over reform (or in an earlier period). For example, R. Zvi Hirsch Chajes advocated a more moderate position about customs, namely that while it is true that customs can and do change, the only legitimate way for that to happen is naturally. As an example, he mentions piyutim (liturgical poems). In Western Europe the reciting of piyutim became a major, major flashpoint. Removing or advocating for their removal was almost seen like apostasy. Yet, wrote Chajes, in Eastern Europe they had been quietly fading away without fanfare. Eventually this is what happened in, what I think is safe to say, most of Orthodoxy. (No need to give counter examples; I know loads of shuls say piyutim and say 'em all with gusto.) Another example would be shluggen kaporos with a chicken. While there has been a major, visible revival in recent decades, it also almost became extinct and I assume that happened without fanfare or a struggle. So even though this type of thing should also be documented, I take it as a related phenomenon. What I want to discuss is an example of reforms which took place on or near the battlefield, even if technically late in the battle.

Before I do, it would be good to cite from R. Akiva Yoseph Schlesinger's Lev Ha-ivri (Lemberg 1864) because it is a good example of the strict, Change-Nothing attitude. His book is a 100+ page commentary on the Chasam Sofer's ethical will to his family (which is only a couple of paragraphs long). Commenting on the Chasam Sofer's words that they should not get "close to the modernists who arose to distance us from God and his teaching, due to our sins," Schlesinger gives examples of what it is that the modernists have done in his time. He writes "at the time they only began to assert their new ways on small things, such as to abolish undecorous customs like the following: schul kloppen, haman kloppen, mitzvos ausrupen" (i.e., knocking on windows to wake people to come pray, knocking when Haman's name is read on Purim, announcing the sale of honors in the synagogue [at least that's what I think he means]) "and announcing the day of the omer count, announcing the time for Kabbalat Shabbat an hour before the time, and not announcing the name of a person as he is called to the Torah [instead, a card was given and they would just walk up at the right time]."

In a footnote he gives his view that perhaps the underlying cause of the end to selling aliyos and the like is because it indicates that these are unimportant in the public's eyes and they do not chase after God's commandments, and do not value them. Rather, they are embarrassed of them. In the next footnote he calls attention to the din that the child of a mamzer is not called to the Torah by his father's name, nor the son of an apostate, and the point is not to embarrass him. He sarcastically asks why the reformers didn't use this as a precedent. He then asks, seriously, why didn't the great rabbis of the past abolish calling up by the fathers' name altogether, in times when it was literally dangerous for a convert, yet they required that he be called up by name, Avraham ben Avraham?

The point is that this is the attitude that I was referring to above. Small customs should also not be abolished, and ultimately having a cavalier attitude toward them leads and led to much larger breeches. There's another fascinating footnote here about the Rema and his attitude toward minhagim, even ones which seem bad, but I'll leave that for another time (or, you can read it here).

In 1892 four British congregations under the auspices of the United Synagogue wanted to make some liturgical reforms. Their rabbis ("Ministers") got the Chief Rabbi Hermann Adler's attention, and the approach he took was to carefully review what they had in mind, and to respond what he would and would not permit. This was published as a pamphlet called The Ritual - the Reply of the Chief Rabbi. In the introduction (and the text) he makes it clear over and over again that the whole matter was not something he was happy about. He makes it clear that that which he allows should be regarded as optional by other congregations, and it would definitely be better if they did not adopt these changes but retained everything exactly as it was.

Should any congregation seek to adopt them, he strongly urges them not to "mar the peace and brotherly union" which is supposed to exist in shul, and that great care must be taken not to alienate anyone who is opposed. Nothing should be changed without a majority of members approving it; what's more, these members must be the ones who actually attend the prayers.

He makes it clear that he permitted everything that does not violate the din. In addition, he takes them at their word that their sole intention is to enhance the "impressiveness" of the services, and for this reason he also adds some suggestions of additions they could make which would "stir prayerful sentiments." He writes that these additions are not "innovations."

He ends his introduction with some advice that to really make their prayers meaningful they should make strenuous efforts with their children. Make sure they acquire a sound knowledge of Hebrew. Make sure there is prayer at home. You must be observant at home. Teach your children, and lead by example. Let them see that the daily practice of Judaism enhances life. And if you do this, then they will "preserve the same deep reverence, the same unbounded love, the same true-hearted loyalty to the Synagogue and its services which inspired their fathers of old" i.e., not you.

He then holds his nose (figuratively) and gets down to the business of permitting liturgical reforms. I will only mention the ones I found most interesting as examples (note that the pamphlet is highly organized. Each item - 44 in total - includes a little note as to which synagogue(s) requested that particular change).

1. The first one concerns the minyan (quorum of ten men) itself. He writes that some people believe that without a minyan there should be no prayer service at all, but this is a mistake. This being an issue in some of the smaller congregations out in the boondocks, he says that what they presently do, which is to wait for a minyan, and then leave if none is assembled, is wrong. A shaliach tzibbur should lead, with the same solemnity as with a minyan, only certain things which require a minyan should be omitted, such as kaddish, barechu, and the repetition of the Amidah with kedusha. He even says that the Torah should be taken out and read - only without aliyos. The haftarah should also be read, only without a blessing. If a mourner is present, instead of saying kaddish he should say Anah adonay maleh rachamim. And he closes this section with a reminder to make great efforts to ensure that there is a minyan.

2. The second is one which he does not permit. The suggestion that men would recite "who hast made me according to Thy will" is not allowed by him. He repeats the standard explanation that "hast not made me a woman" refers to relative number of commandments.

3. One of the more interesting ones. Regarding the hazzan's repetition of the Amidah, on shabbat and holidays: "After the gravest consideration of the subject, I have come to the determination that I am justified in following herein the practice of the Sephardim congregations, both here and in Amsterdam, whose rigid adhesion to our traditional enactments has never been impugned. These congregations read the Tefillah at at the Week-day Afternoon Services, and at the Mussaf on Sabbaths and Festivals only once. I therefore concede that the Amidah of Mussaf on Sabbaths be recited in the following manner:

He continues that all other times, including of course the Mussaf of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the repetition must be retained.

4. A very interesting item. He writes that the time Shabbos begins was fixed "by the learned Chacham Nieto" (in the 18th century) and there is no reason to make a change, without the concurrence of "the present Chacham" (i.e., Moses Gaster).

5. He allows the omitting of Bameh Madlikin, but recommends it being read prior to Minchah.

6. He allows an early service at 8:00 or 8:30 AM on Shabbat or holidays. (He doesn't say it, but my guess is that at least some of the people who wanted this wanted to get on with their day; likely some wanted to work. However, neither hour seems particularly late, and I can't see how he would have allowed it if he perceived that as the motivation for the request.)

7. Definitely one of the most interesting. He says that they asked that the Decalogue be read in the synagogue on Shabbat. The intention was to impress the minds of young and old. Furthermore, they claimed, they hoped that reading the 4th Commandment would stir some of the congregants to revere the sabbath and prevent them from desecrating it. Adler of course notes that this is forbidden by the Shulchan Aruch OH 1:5 based upon BT Berachot 12. However, based upon the Maharshal #54 he decided to permit it. (This is by far the most explicit halachic discussion he made in the pamphlet. Everything else comes off as if by fiat. I assume he was aware that some would know that the reading of the Ten Commandments is explicitly prohibited.) He says that based on this Maharshal he allows the Decalogue to "form part of the Bible Reading on Sabbaths." He says that it should be read after the Torah reading, and he also suggests that several other Bible passages (he gives five) be alternated with the Decalogue, so as to further prevent the impression that this is the only part of the Torah divinely inspired (as per the heresy which the Talmud meant to guard against).

8. Addressing one shul in particular, he "concede[s] with great reluctance" that they may begin praying at the late hour of 9:45. He hopes that this will induce more people to come on time, and gives the caveat that all three paragraphs of the Shema be read "at the first recital." Also in this section, he approves of regulating each section of the davening by time, with the caveat that this not cause anything to be hurried.

9. The mother of all: "I concede the omission of the first yekum purkan."

10. The Birkhat Kohanim must not be omitted. In those days many people were uncomfortable with the idea of a hereditary priesthood, and, besides, many kohanim did not hold themselves worthy. Adler (himself a kohen) says this is a misperception; it is not the kohen, but God, who blesses the Congregation.

At this juncture I relate a story about how in fact the gradual dissolution of Birkhat Kohanim was common in those times. In the pulpit occupied decades later by Rabbi Louis Jacobs, it would have disappeared as well, were it not for Rabbi Hermann Adler's own half-brother, the bibliophile Elkan Nathan Adler, who prayed there and asserted his right to bless the congregation.

12. Although he allows Adonay adonay to be recited only one time when the Torah is taken out on holidays, he says "there is no valid reason why the ancient usage of chanting the kol nidrei three times should be altered."

12. Although he rejects the proposes substitution for the Torah portion read at Minchah on Yom Kippur, he takes it seriously ("claimed my most serious attention"). He said that the Talmud Megillah 31 is clear and precise and it was indeed relevant and important to "inculcate . . . the great duty of sexual morality" on Yom Kippur. He endorses a suggestion that a little essay be inserted into future editions of the machzor explaining the importance of it.

13. He rejects the idea to not recite Ma'ariv at the conclusion of Yom Kippur. He says that in many synagogues it is read while people are bustling about noisily to leave and go home. He gives a solution for trying to make Ma'ariv more decorous, with more time left for it.

14. He does not allow sounding the Shofar on shabbat.

15. In response to a claim that the monetary obligations in the ketubbah are not fulfilled, and that the text should be revised accordingly, he denies that there is a reason to assume that "in all cases" it is not fulfilled. He also suggestions that changing the wording of the ketubbah might have the effect of "impair[ing] the recognition of the religious validity of the marriage."

16. In one of the appendices (including additional prayers, and lists of piyuttim and selichos that he allows to be omitted) there is one called Questions That May Be Addressed to the Bridal Couple. Here is one he allows:

Mesader Kiddushin: "You A.b. and C. D. are about to be wedded according to the law of Moses and Israel.
"Will you, A.B., take this woman, C.D., to be your wedded wife? Will you be a true and faithful husband unto her? Will you protect and support her? Will you love, honour and cherish her?"

Chosson: "I will."

you may read or download the entire pamphlet here.

They destroyed the tea, sacré bleu!

Here's a really interesting paragraph from Isaac de Pinto's pamphlet against the American Revolution. This is from the English translation (of course) called Letters on the American Troubles, printed in London 1776.

He also describes the revolution as caused by "the temper of Oliver Cromwell which has unhappily taken root, and germinated in the wilds of America."

Pinto, a Dutch Sephardic Jew, is probably best known for taking on Voltaire for his antisemitism - in the course of which he argued that maybe the Polish and German Jews are pretty bad, granted, but the Spanish-Portuguese ones aren't. (In fairness to him, this was an apologetic argument designed to prove that Voltaire was wrong about the Jews, that they have to be terrible and alien, that it was intrinsic. It probably was not designed to wound the sensibilities of Ashkenazim at all, even if we allow ourselves to assume that he personally probably harbored a casual sort of snobbery toward Ashkenazim.)

Here is how The Monthly Review reviewed his book against Voltaire (which was published anonymously) in 1763:

It basically says that even though the author is rumored to have influenced and softened Voltaire's stance on the Jews, he is kind of guilty of the same thing as Voltaire - slandering the many on the account of the few.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Sneaky Olomeinu!

Hehehe. I suppose inquiries can be directed to Torah Umesorah.

Hat-tip to be given with permission.

R. Chaim Yoseph David Azulai's controversial position on divorce as it was discussed in the Parisian journals. Etc.

Pre-Revolution, divorce was not legal in France, in accordance with Catholic belief and, of course, the morals of a society shaped by that belief. French Jews, however, were allowed autonomy in matters of marriage, and therefore they were allowed divorces. In 1775 a banker named Samuel Peixotto (b. 1741) decided to divorce his wife Sara (Mendes-D'acosta), his elder by ten years, whom he had married in England. They moved to Bordeaux and had three children. She refused to be divorced and apparently some rabbis supported her refusal. So he took his case to the Paris courts, arguing that as a Jew he had a right to get divorced and the court should affirm it, just as it legalized Jewish marriages. The case dragged on for years, because no one was quite certain what the exact status of the Jews in France were.

As a result, much discussion of their status, as well as public debates about how the French ought to deal with minority values that conflicted with their own, emerged. In addition to this, in the background was the movement in favor of divorce, championed by men of the Enlightenment. The case dragged on, and both he and she dragged rabbis into it, their opinions being cited in legal briefs (which were published, and dissected by the press). Tiring of the endlessness of the wrangling, ultimately Peixotto fixed upon a solution - he converted to Christianity in a ceremony before the king of Spain, apparently hoping that this would automatically dissolve the marriage. Two years later Sara died, but Samuel tried to inherit her possessions then! - he was married to her, you see.

We know from more than one source that both Peixotto and his wife tried to enlist the Chida (R. Chaim Yosef David Azulay) on their side, enticing him with promises of donations to the Jews of Hebron. From the Chida himself we see that more than he was willing to support Sara (as he in effect did) he was unwilling to support Samuel. Samuel had promised him a very, very large donation for Hebron, which he refused to accept. Sara made a donation, which he did accept. When asked his view about the case, he vaguely answered that so long as the wife was not guilty of licentiousness, if they had children, then the husband has no grounds to divorce her against her will.

This opinion was cited - and ridiculed - in one of Peixotto's legal briefs, on the grounds that the Chida had only cited an aggadah (that the very altar weeps when a man divorces his wife, as you will see below) but not the halacha!

We see, for example, the following pro-Peixotto position in "Causes Célèbres, Curieuses et Intéressantes, etc." (Paris 1780), which claimed that Peixotto's enemies were claiming that he was trying to divorce his wife so that he could convert and then marry another women. They also tout a "ban" of Rabbi Haim-Joseph Azulai. This "ban" (l'anathême) - I think it means legal decision - by him does nothing for the case, they say. His decision (against the divorce) references the Bible, the Mishnah and the Talmud, but doesn't quote them. Why doesn't Azulai give the volume, and the page number? We can read the Bible as well as him, and we can see many places in the Bible, where divorce is allowed. The Mishnah, a very authoritative work among the Jews, was translated into Latin, and is to be found in the royal library (where, ironically, the Chida himself had the opportunity to examine it, as I posted about here). Anyone can see this Mishnah and read it. As opposed to Haim-Joseph Azulai's vague words, Chapter 14 of Jebamoth presupposes that divorce is permitted.

The Talmud, it continues, is a 24-volume commentary on the Mishnah, and clearly we have not consumed the entire 24 volumes for the joy of guessing what Azulai claimed to speak about, but would not quote. However, we can still rest assured that the Talmud is far from against divorce, since the commentary must be consistent with the text (i.e., if the Mishna is not against divorce, neither is the Talmud). In fact, the piece continues, in Gittin 55 it says that a man may divorce his wife without her consent. So where did Haim-Joseph Azulai get his opinion from?

Actually, Sara's supporters resorted to trickery in getting him to support her. He was asked, if a woman is modest and virtuous, can she be divorced? Was this descriptive of the case? To divorce a modest, virtuous woman, without blemish? What kind of monster would divorce such a wife? A man would pay a price in blood to keep her, such a treasure is she. But this wife was unfaithful (says Peixotto) and such a woman can only ruin the life of her husband, people of all classes and religions know that this is so.

And as a matter of fact, it continues, when the facts were presented properly, the following rabbis disagreed with Azulai:

Saul Levi, rabbi of the Hague, in his reply, decided that since Sara asked for the property to be divided in court, Samuel can divorce her by force, and the Cherem de-Rabbenu Gershom (rabbin Guerson) does not apply.

Also Ezekiel Landau, Chief Rabbi of Prague, asked on the same issue, knows of no difficulty by law, and that the claims of the lady Peixotto are worthless. This woman, who wants to be separated from her husband, but still remain connected with him all their life, is a rebellious woman, and the Choulchan Arousels [sic] 154 teaches the rule regarding her. After a long excursus, he comes to his legal decision: the husband is not obliged to support her with food and her other needs, because she is rebellious, neither accepting the divorce or living with him.

And it continues in this vein. Here's a sample from this article, and you can read the entire thing here:

Now let's turn to the Chida's side of the story. Since Chida was keeping a diary at the time of his travels in Europe we are in a position to know his thoughts about the major things which occurred to him during that period of his life. The particular passage most relevant to this case was published three times.

Here's a summary:

This is dated 14 Tammuz 1778. As you can see, what he says is that someone (a big name in French Sephardic Jewry of the time) asked him if a man is allowed to divorce his wife against her will. He said no, and was asked to put it in writing. Since he didn't want to be disagreeable, he wrote that it is forbidden to divorce a first wife if she is virtuous, without fault, and has children with the man.

Regarding the Peixotto case, his lawyer used this opinion. The lawyer described him as an honest man, but not learned. His written opinion was written either for money, or out of ignorance. He gives no Talmudic authority for what he wrote, only quoting the Aggadah that the "altar weeps for him who repudiates his first wife."

All of this was written in a brief, printed, and distributed to the Parliament. This was advised by a half-apostate Jews named Calmer, and another named Raba (both big names, like the aforementioned Gradis). Between the three of them, Peixotto, Calmer and Raba, you get PaKaR. Chida continues that all of this stuff was printed and is going to get widely distributed in Amsterdam, Bordeaux and London (ABeL, i.e., mourning) and all this, which is very troubling to him, is for his sins.

He continues that Friday night he was further disturbed because Mordechai Venture (more on him below) brought Peixotto's printed text to the synagogue and read them to several people. He wasn't intending to humiliate the Chida, but to show what a terrible person Peixotto was. Nevertheless, he felt terribly ashamed, and tried to think of what sin this could be punishment for. And then he had a change in humours that night, so it was a bad time all around.
In 1879 parts of this diary, called Ma'agal Tov, were published in Livorno by Eliyah Benamozegh (link). Here is how the relevant passage appears:

A perfectly adequate translation of this appears in Elkan Nathan Adler's Jewish Travellers, published in 1930:

This is not the only place where Chida mentions Peixotto or his wife. On 29 Kislev (end of December 1777) he writes that
On this night the great wealthy man Sr. Peixotto spoke to me concering the matter of his wife, that I should help him try to obtain his divorce. He pledged 1000 escudos for Hebron if I would take his cause. I said to him, if you want me to make peace between you and your wife, I will do that for free, since everyone says that your wife is modest. Impose any condition on me that you want, and I will strive to fulfill them. But to cause a separation [between spouses] - that would be Hillul Hashem. I told him that according to the law it is forbidden to divorce a faithful wife, if she is the mother of the man's children, and his first wife. I told him more along these lines. Another time a man had pledge me four Louis D'or if I would sign a legal decision written by a famous rabbi allowing one Israel Vidal to remarry, and I said that even if the decision is correct, as it presumably is, in the eyes of the masses it will cause Hillul Hashem. So I did not want to even see the legal decision, much less sign it.
In any case this is more or less the story, from the point of view of Peixotto and from the point of view of Hida himself. It should be mentioned that eventually he did read the pesak concerning Israel Vidal, and he writes that it was wrong.

Incidentally, the aforementioned Calmer (Liefmann Calmer), whom he says goes to Church, etc. - Hida had some nicer things to say about him earlier in the year. Writing on 2 Tevet 5538 (Jan. 1, 1778) he describes his background (Ashkenazi, from Holland) and his powerful position at the royal court. He also says that he went to visit him, and Calmer greeted him beautifully, and gave him a donation of two Louis D'or. They also played some Jewish geography, and the Hida pointed out to him that a relative of Calmer's was in financial need, and Calmer promised to send him money. He wasn't yet part of the PaKaR trio yet.

Hida also mentions Mordechai Venture, who inadvertently embarrassed him, by bringing the pamphlet arguing Peixotto's position to the synagogue and publicly discussing the abused heaped upon himself. Mordechai Venture is a very interesting person; the Chida mentions him numerous times in his diaries. Venture (in French his name was Mardochee Venture) was a scholar who is famous for his translations; of the Sephardic liturgy into French, and of the Targum to Esther into Hebrew (Patshegen Ha-ketav Amsterdam 1770). In addition, there are a series of Hebrew and French prayers composed by him for various occasions, such as the health of King Louis XV or for the success of Marie-Antoinette's pregnancy (on the title page of these works he is described as a "teacher of Hebrew, Chaldee, Talmud, Italian and Spanish). Hida describes him (26 Kislev 5538/ 1777) as a "medakdek u-vaki be-leshonot." Venture accompanied him to Versailles in the first week of January of 1778.

Here is a sample page from his prayer for the sick king:

What is, essentially, a devar Torah by Mordechai Venture, appears in a most unlikely place. Given his skill, scholarship (and, one imagines, his connections) he obtained a position at the Royal Library. There he made the acquaintance of an Englishwoman named Mary Freeman Shepherd, whom he taught Hebrew. The following excerpt from one of her letters to to Adam Clarke (1760-1832) concerning gratitude.

She writes that how gratitude and humanity are a trait of the Jews ("the Hebrews" who do not hunt, race, bull-fight, cock-fight, etc.) and this can be attested by their "Scriptures, their law, their history." She continues to praise the Jewish belief that the damned do not suffer in hell on Shabbat, and that for this reason the Jews begin the Sabbath early and delay its close. This, she writes, is far kinder than our priests (she was a Catholic). The Jews prolong the suffering of the lost spirits without getting a penny for it. "No penny, no Pater," says she. She then goes on to quote something that Mordecai Ventura told her about the process by which Moses redeemed the Israelites and afflicted Egypt, how it was filled with symbolism of gratitude, for Egypt had reared Moses, the water had harbored him, etc. Essentially, he told her Rashi to Exodus 7:19 (from this week's sidra) based on the Tanhuma.

Finally, one point of interest. In Chida's Ma'agal Tov he transliterated monsieur as "מוסו."

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Shadal series #10 - historical notes to a book on 2nd Temple sects, and how the Master understood the story of Shimon ben Shetach and the 80 witches.

In 1844 Aurelio Bianchi-Giovini (1799-1862) pulbished a history of the Jews and their sects during the 2nd Temple period (Storia degli Ebrei e delle loro sette e dottrine religiose durante il Secondo Tempio; link).

Here is Giovini, who was a Protestant convert, and is noted as a very anticlerical (specifically anti-Catholic) writer:

This book includes an appendix of thirty pages of notes by Shadal, whom Bianchi-Giovini calls "mio amico." The author writes that most of the notes only correct small things, and some of the more major ones are just differences of opinion relating to their differing worldview. However, he says, this isn't the place for a controversy, where everyone ends up still thinking as they did before anyway, so he prints them so that the reader can read them and decide and form their own opinion. Nice!

On pp. 108 - 09 of his book there is the following paragraph:
A tradition has been preserved documenting the bloody tendencies of the time, when passions and prejudices reigned. Under Alessandra, her brother Giuda [sic] Ben Scetah and Giuda Ben Tabai ascended to power as Nasi and Patriarch of the Sanhedrin. In charge of that body, they allowed violence of all kinds, under the veil of religion and justice. Under the pretext of sorcery, Simone once arrested 80 women in Ashkelon, who fled to a cave, and he hanged them all in one day. To justify this atrocity, it was said that Simone was incited by a holy man who told him of his vision of Hell, where he saw the punishment for the Nasi of Sanhedrin if he did not exterminate the witches.
For his part, Giuda Ben Tabai cut of the head of a man accused of being a false witness, solely to refute the view of the Sadducees who did not subject a false witness to extreme punishment unless he had caused the death of the accused through false testimony. The public was very upset by this act, and word spread among the masses that you could hear groans every night at the tomb of the executed man. Simone Ben Scetah confronted his colleague, who it is said did penance, but Giuda did not fail to rebuke him too for being quick to shed blood. Each one complained to the other of cruelty, and both pretended to be more moderate and pious. It is said that Simone was so quick in judgment that the sentence was often not sufficiently established to prevent an unfortunate death. Because of the incident with the witches, his son was falsely accused in retaliation, and the council condemned him to death according to the code set by its Nasi. Realizing that he was at fault, [Simone] condemned the extreme sentence for the youth, and with the sorrow of a father, the execution would have proceeded if the false accusers had not admitted the truth.
In the table of contents, this section is called "Simon Ben Scetah e Giuda Ben Tabai, loro severita," "Shimon ben Shetach and Yehuda ben Tabbai, on Their Severity."

Shadal inserts a note for this section (pp. 606 - 08). Here is what he writes, quoting directly from the book, and commenting afterward:
On pp. 108 - 9 - Giuda ben Tabbai and Simeone ben Sciatach (Note: I have preserved both of their Italian spellings of these two names, as I did in the text translated above) are gratuitously represented here as men who "allowed violence of all kinds under the veil of religion and justice." Jost, a sufficiently bold writer, paints a very different picture (III, 84 - 93). "Under the pretext of sorcery, Simone once arrested 80 women in Ashkelon, who fled to a cave, and he hanged them all in one day." Why on a pretext? What militates against a legal presumption in favor of the judge's sentence? Is it likely that a man (and note that this is not a celibate monk, but the father of a family) secretly harbored deadly hatred toward 80 women? But — it will be argued, the accusation is itself absurd — imaginary accusations of witchcraft is a crime no less than water poisoning, and the like, which in barbarous times served as a pretext for many, many atrocities.

My answer: I do not know if witchcraft (its effects, apart from the causes to which they are attributed) is absolutely absurd (see Ennemoser "Geschichte der Magie," Leipzig 1844). Suppose it is. But the Mosaic Law expressly recommends (Exodus 22:17) to not allow a witch live. What could this judge do? He had left things alone for a long time, but when this scandal came out among the people who began to dream or say that he deserved Hell for his negligence, he could not help but to make legal inquiries into the matter, and he found that those women were practicing what was then called witchcraft and he could do nothing but condemn them to death. It happened then that his son was falsely accused of a capital offense and also sentenced to death. As the innocent young man was about to be executed, the accusers recanted. Simeone wanted to save his innocent son, but the son said: Father, if you want to do something positive for the public good, let me be like the threshold that is stepped on by everyone, without regard for me. Simeone let his son perish according to the law so that this terrible example would ensure respect for the law. It would frighten slanderers and also the wealthy, who would fear playing the courts if they would make them pay dearly for their retractions. (i.e., it shows that false testimony, where witnesses can't retract, is a grave matter. - S.)

Moving on to Giuda ben Tabbai. The Sadducees claimed that false witnesses were not to suffer the penalty of death (to which the Mosaic Law already condemned them) unless the accused had already suffered that undeserved punishment. It happened that only one of the two witnesses in this case could be proved false. The testimony was therefore left ineffective, and the slandered one was acquitted. But the witness was not found less guilty [even though the other witness was not discredited]. Giuda ben Tabbai wanted to punish the false witness to give an example, so that all should realize that the law punishes false witnesses. Despite Giuda's good intention, Simeone reproved him rigorously, and reminded him that the traditional law acknowledged that the witnesses did not incur the death penalty for slander when both of them were not proven false. The book says: "something positive for the public good," etc. Why not report it as it says in the Talmud (the only source for these stories)? It says that Giuda was going to prostrate himself on the tomb of that witness asking forgiveness. A voice was heard. The people believed that it was the voice of the dead, and Giuda said: The voice, when I am dead, you will not hear it anymore. " (i.e., it was Giuda's own voice, lamenting his guilt.) But "Giuda did not fail to rebuke [Simone] too for being quick to shed blood," the Talmud does not say this.
His reference to Jost may be unclear. Jost was a very celebrated Jewish historian who wrote a multi-volume History of the Jews (and translated the Misnah into German, which is interesting because the Tiferes Yisrael sometimes cites him, unnamed of course). He was not exactly particularly sympathetic to the Talmudic rabbis and could hardly be called an apologist for the rabbis or Talmudic tradition. Zinberg writes of him "בכלל, די פירושים, ווי זייערע גייסטיקע יורשים - די רבנים פון די שפעטערע דורות, זיינען יאסטן ניט וויניקער פארהאסט ווי [דוד] פרידלענדען," "In general, he hated the Pharisees and their spiritual heirs, the rabbis of later generation, no less than [David] Friedlaender . . . " Even if Zinberg exaggerates, this is what Shadal meant by noting that Jost was a "bold" writer, and it is therefore worth citing him since his non-apologetic portrait of Shimon ben Shatach and Yehuda ben Tabbay portrait is softer. Shadal's personal relationship with Jost is interesting. This is not the place to explore it in full, but suffice it to note that when Shadal assumed his post as Professor at the Padua Rabbinical Seminary he was recommended Jost's volumes of history to use for teaching his students, and he was appalled by what he read. So he began to write his own teaching material.

A lot of the Shadal correspondence to Bianchi Giovini is printed in Epistolario, his collected Italian, French and Latin letters. On page 441 is a letter dated Dec. 18, 1844, apparently Shadal had not heard from him in a few weeks, so he writes: "Nel mentre che il di Lei silenzio mi faceva temere che le 80 streghe fatta avessero qualche malia a danno della nostra amicizia" "Your silence made me think that 80 witches and their witchcraft came between our friendship." He then goes on to discuss his son, whom he was very proud of, who was "conceived amid criticism and antiquities" and his work on the Ethiopian Jews.

Writing once more, Feb. 3, 1845, Shadal congratulates Bianchi Giovini for the immanent appearance in Italy, for the first time, of a volume on the history of the Jews written in a spirit of fairness and impartiality. He then returns to the Talmudic story discussed in in this post, writing that he simply can't resist returning to the 80 witches.

Admittedly, he says, it is possible that some Pharisees took advantage of their favorable political moment to break down their opponents (though not with the same cruelty as the Sadducees dealt with their opponents). He says that it isn't impossible that some partisan female Sadducees were changed by legend into a coven of witches. But, we may ask, how could the Sadducees, who denied angels and demons as part of their doctrine, be susceptible to the charge of sorcery? Assuming than that the Pharisees had acted on a pretext to attack the Sadducees, something other than witchcraft would have been invented, for it is a crime which was incompatible with the principles of that sect. Why were women hiding together in a cave altogether? To practice their esoteric arts. Also, the fact that they lived in Ashkelon and not Jerusalem is significant, for they lived far away from the Court, and could hardly have aroused in the Pharisees a politically motivated hatred. As for the Pharisees, if following the law and putting criminals to death is cruel, then they are cruel and vindictive. If they do not pursue the law vigorously and make few executions, then they are the cause for the demoralization of the people through lawlessness.

Peace out,

Since Dr. Alan Brill recently posted about Chief Rabbi Hertz's treatment of "Haggadah" in his introduction the Soncino Talmud, which he calls "legend pure and simple." On pg. 313 of the Hertz Pentateuch there is nearly one-and-a-half columns about Witchcraft (Ex. 22:17 'Thou shalt not suffer a sorceress to live'). The comment

- denies there was any reality to witchcraft
- asserts that it negated the unity of God and was "an abominable form of idolatry"
- points out the Septuagint translated "mechashefa" as "poisoner"
- notes that some commentators understand it as a prohibition to allowing witches to thrive, rather than a command to put them to death
- denies that the medieval horrors associated with witch-hunts can be traced to this verse
- asserts that witchcraft, as a "sinister danger to Jewish social life" had ceased long before the 2nd Temple period
- affirms that "both-Jewish and non-Jewish scholars" have studied the Shimon ben Shetach episode and concluded that "it is merely Haggadic"
- that medieval Jewish sages denied the existence of witchcraft
- that torture to exact a confession was unknown and impossible in Jewish judicial procedure
- that Christianity casually disregards the Old Testament, even including portions of the Ten Commandments, and therefore its attitude toward any one thing cannot possibly be based entirely on a single verse in the Old Testament
- the New Testament is a demon-haunted book
- that is is estimated that in Germany alone 100,000 women and girls were killed for witchcraft over the ages
- that as late as 1709 a woman and her daughter were hung in Huntingdon for causing storms by witchcraft

Got that?

For further details on Jewish scholars who concluded that the Shimon ben Shatach story is historical, see the footnote on pg. 220 of Harvey Meirovich's A Vindication of Judaism the polemics of the Hertz Pentateuch.

By the way, I am not certain, but I think that the Hertz Pentateuch is mistaken about Huntingdon in 1709. It seems to me that the said witches were hung in 1593. However, it is no joke that a woman named Jane Wenham ran into a whole lot of legal trouble in 1712. Her case aroused a great debate about whether witchcraft was real.

Finally, I include an 1883 representation of Jost's presentation of the Shimon ben Shatach/ Judah ben Tabbai story. I include it especially because of what is written at the end which shows how their story was definitely viewed in those times, an "illustration of the hatred of the two parties, both zealous for the written law, but sacrificing their own lives and those of others for their own interpretation of it. "

The most important archaeological find in the history of the world?

From the Massachusets Spy November 1783:
A few days ago, a man digging in Seadbury Park, near Chislehurst, in Kent, found a small urn, in which were contained five small coins, nearly the size of a crown piece. On one side of which is the device of the ark, with a dove and an olive branch for the head, and round it in Hebrew characters, "Shem, Ham, and Japhet." On the other side is the head of Noah, and these words, "Noah, King of the new world, year of the new world, twice five."

Friday, January 13, 2012

Did Congress ever contemplate adopting Hebrew as the official American language?

I was reading an article called 'Spreading the Hebrew word' which is a liiiiiitle overblown. The author writes that "Hebrew [was] a language so admired by early Americans that William Gifford argued in his Quarterly Review that some members of the Congress wanted it to become the national language rather than English." This contention has been repeated many times, but what is the evidence? At most, something quite different.

While Gifford was editor of the Quarterly Review, the source for this statement is an aside in an annotated edition of Ben Johnson's works, from 1816, not the Quarterly Review. Here is what Gifford wrote in his notes to The Alchemist:

According to him during the American Revolution a person of "that state" (i.e., New England) proposed to the Congress that English be suppressed and Hebrew raised in its stead.

H.L. Mencken famously called attention to this passage in his The American Language. He refers to the Marquis Francois Jean de Chastellux's book about his tour of America, from whence Gifford "seems to have picked up the story." Here is what Chastellux wrote, in the English translation of his book, Travels in North-America, in the years 1780, 1781, and 1782, printed in 1787:

"Some persons." No mention of Congress. As you cans see, these are slim reeds for this urban legend to rest on.


Here is a resolution passed by General Assembly of the state of Massachusetts-Bay in March of 1777:

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Newly formatted Soncino Talmud freely available

Here's a very happy announcement to make. Reuven Brauner worked with diligence and toil on an important labor of love, to make the Soncino Edition of the Talmud (which had been available as barely formatted text) into a highly readable and attractive two-columned format that is a pleasure to consult.

It is now being hosted at halakhah.com. Kol hakavod to Reuven, who's website is http://www.613etc.com/ (and to halakhah.com for hosting it).

And no this is not a paid advertisement - in fact it was I who contacted Reuven to congratulate him and I expressed my wish to link to it.

Shadal series #9 - Samuel David Luzzatto's Letter to the Ethiopian Jews

This post is going to have a second part, since there is some intrigue about this letter, which I will mention at the end. First, here is my translation of a fascinating letter printed in Iggerot Shadal Volume II, pp. 1027-29.
19 May 1847 4 Sivan 5607

To His Honor the Great Sage Abba Yshaq, Father and Teacher to our Brethren the Israelites in Abyssinia, Blessings and Peace without Limit:

We learned with great joy that even in Abyssinia there are Jacob's children who observe the Torah of Moses, the Man of God. However, the news which has arrived from your land has been through the medium of men who are not Israelites, and their words are unclear and insufficient to quench our thirst to know the true facts. Therefore I, the small Samuel David Luzzatto who dwells in Padua, Italy, who instructs our God's Torah and is a father and teacher to the youths who study Torah in this land, have sent this epistle to you, inquiring from you to do us a kindness and enlighten us with your reply to the questions which I send to you this day.

First, I ask you to tells us what is the meaning of the name "Falasha" and how did you come to be called by this name.

Second, I ask you when did your branch of the Israelites arrive in Abyssinia.

Third, I ask if the Israelites came to Abyssinia at one time, or gradually, in disparate groups, and if they came in large or small numbers.

Fourth, I inquire of you to know if the Israelites were ever self-ruled in Abyssinia, and if so at what point did you become subjects to others? Were there Israelites who kept their self-rule, and if so are there any today? Are you at peace with the gentiles surrounding you; are you beloved or hated by them?

Fifth, I am yearning to know what language you speak. Is it the Holy Tongue, biblical Hebrew, with which the Torah is written, or another language? What is the origin of the language among you? Would you please write me a bilingual sample of your language, in Hebrew and the language you speak.

Sixth, please tell me when you circumcise your children, and is it true that you also circumcise the girls.

Seventh, please tell me how many months are in your year, what are their names, how many days are in a month, and if your years and months are always the same, or if occasionally you have a longer year than others, and a longer month than others.

Eighth, please inform me which festivals and holidays do you observe, and the month and day in which you practice each one of them. What are your fast days when you refrain from eating and drinking in memory of the travails of your ancient fathers?

Ninth, I ask of you if you have the books of Torah and Prophets, written in their original language, the language of Moses and the Prophets, and what is the number and the names of your prophetic and other holy books?

Tenth, please inform me if you have books other than the Torah and Prophets, and if you have prayer books with which you pray to God?

Eleventh, I ask you to know if you believe as us in the coming of a redeemer, the messiah, who will gather the scattered Israelites from the four corners of the earth, and return us to the land of our forefathers, the Holy Land?

Twelfth, I ask you to inform me if all the Israelites in Abyssinia are called 'Falasha,' or if some are called by another name. Also, do all of you share the same faith and Torah, or are there various sects and customs?

Please do me a kindness and write a learned response to my twelve questions, and give the letter to the man who brings my letter to you. I am also prepared to assist you and do anything good for you in my power. The God of Israel will bless you and all the Israelites who dwell in your land. God bless and keep your eternally, Amen. These are the words of your brother who desires good for you, written here in Padua, 4 Sivan 5607 years from the creation of Heaven and Earth as we reckon it.

The small Samuel David ben Hezekiah Luzzatto.
Now, the context is that at this time reports were reaching Europe about practicing Jews in Ethiopia. Their existence had not been unknown by any means, but only in the mid-19th century was there a sufficient and consistent European presence in Africa. There were reports printed in newspapers and journals about the Beta Israel, and this intrigued Samuel David Luzzatto and, especially, his son Filosseno. The latter, who was only 17 when this letter was sent to Abba Ishak, a Beta Israel elder, became a noted expert on that community, authoring an important book - to the extent that one could be an expert without having actually traveled there.

What is especially interesting about this letter is that Filosseno would also send such a letter; or at least that is what all the literature on the subject says. His letter is extremely similar (but not identical). A couple of years later his letter and the reply from Abba Ishak - there is a reply - were printed in journals and newspapers. My next post will show these. But I wanted to mention here that I have not found a single reference in any scholarly literature on the Beta Israel that acknowledges this letter in Iggerot Shadal. My conjecture is that Filosseno's famous letter was written by his father, Shadal, and he allowed his son to use it to help make a name for himself, or else that letter was a guide for his son. It's really quite amazing that no one seemed to have noticed this before. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Table manners for good little Dutch Jewish boys and girls of 200 years ago.

In the first decade of the 19th century, several educators in Amsterdam formed a society for the furtherance of Jewish education. Their motto (and name) was Chanoch Lanangar Gnal Pie Darkoo, as they spelled it in their Sephardic pronunciation, and Dutch orthography. The first fruits of their project was a volume printed in 1809 called Bikkure Chinuch, compiled by Mozes Cohen Belinfante, an exemplar of an elite Dutch Sephardic family which had produced rabbis and scholars. Bikkure Chinuch was intended as a kind of sampler of a teacher's edition of a text book for teachers and parents, so that students could properly be taught and tested in Hebrew and Dutch. The point of this work was to whet the public's appetite.

Here is the society's seal on this first book, along with a note saying that all authentic works of this society will bear this seal:

I don't have a picture of Belinfante, but here are images of other individuals from his circle (albeit at a later date). So you can get a sense of what he must have looked like, at least with regards to dress. One of these men, in particular, is quite important and will be featured in another post:

Title page:

The book has several parts. The first is a word and phrase list in good Hebrew and Dutch for common, polite words and interactions. For example, "Shalom adoni," "Goden dag, Mijnheer!" "Mah hiddush?" "Wat is er nieuws?" and "Lamah khol-ha-kavod ha-zeh?" Waarom doet gij mij zoo veel eer aan?"

Next are sample letters from a father to his beloved son, again, Hebrew and Dutch (as they all are). The first is for a good son, and the second is to reprove one who has strayed. Then there is a cute poem for kids, exhorting them to be good. There's a little essay about yomim tovim, prohibited work and so on. Then there is an essay on the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, and another of moral instruction on patriotism.

Finally, there is a great piece on table manners (it closes with a prayer to God). Here is the essay on table manners - tighten that tie!

"These few lines" about "courtesies" describes how of all the human actions with which one can distinguish a good and orderly person, nothing is so visible as the way a man eats at the table, whether at home among his household, in the company of friends, or among strangers. Although cleanliness in deed is not sufficient to tell us about the character of a man, experience, which is the father of wisdom, tells us that any man who is not clean and neat at the table, also lacks good character in others areas of life, for he does not act as wise and civilized men do.

It admonishes, be careful son, about your behavior at the table, that no one should discover in you something outrageous and contrary to public norms. A man who keeps this in mind keeps a good name.

Listen, son, it continues, and I will teach you several things, each one is small by itself, but are very important collectively. I will tell you what to do at your own table, or your parents, or a stranger's table.

Make sure you have releaved yourself before sitting, so you will not have to leave the table.

Do not ask what the food will be, that will make you seem a glutton.

Don't eat between meals, otherwise people will say that you have an insatiable appetite; or that your parents don't give you enough to eat!

Wash your hands thoroughly until they are clean, leaving nothing sticky or grimy, and do not take too much time doing so. Afterward say the prayer (i.e., blessing) which are commanded you.

Don't rush to take your seat, wait for your parents or betters, or until you are told to sit.

Don't sit with your arms and hands on the table, like a rude person. Don't slouch.

Do not unfold your napkin too quickly, and don't reach too quickly as if you are starving.

When the food is on the table, don't be anxious to move the dish so you can peak what's inside it, or to choose what you like the best for yourself. Wait until others have a chance to take, also do not say that "I like this, but I do not want that."

Eat calmly and slowly, without appearing greedy. Do not drink first, or speak more than necessary.

If someone brings a full serving bowl to you, don't take from it before offering your table-mate to take a serving.

And that is how a good little child must behave at the table in Amsterdam in 1809.


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