Monday, April 30, 2012

Almost a Talmud parody

This is a couple of pages toward the end of  Tapuhei Zahav - Poma Aurea, Francesco Donati's 1618 book, which contained an eclectic mixture of Hebrew studies. For example, like many Hebraists, he gives a list of Hebrew abbreviations. He also includes R. Shelomo ibn Gabirol's Kether Malkhut, with a Latin translation.

The two pages which I excerpted is a Hebrew catechism, and takes the form of a conversation between a teacher and a pupil, as these so often do. What is interesting is that Donati titles it Talmud Meshichi. A pity, because with a title like that you'd think it's going to be another one of the many Talmudic parody tractates (see here, for example, for an earlier post on a parody Talmud about the rise of Communism in the Soviet Union). Here he means Talmud in the sense of teaching.

It begins:

Melamed (teacher): Are you annointed and a believer in God's annointed?
Talmid (student): I am annointed and a believer in God's, in his grace, annointed one.
Melamed: who is called annointed?
Talmid: He who envowed to be a believer in the faith of the Messiah and his teaching.

Here's the entire Talmud Meshichi:

Pages From Poma_aurea_hebraicae_linguae Talmud Meshichi Pg. 220

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Why was Shylock named Shylock?

One of the more useful questions of scholarship is, what kind of Jewish name is Shylock? While there doesn't have to have been any specific intention on the part of Shakespeare - no law obligated him to choose a name by any method other than randomness - the question has engaged scholars since the 18th century, at least. 

Richard Farmer (1735-1797) is credited with calling attention to a little pamphlet published in 1607 which may contain a clue. Farmer's suggestion was printed by George Steevens, editor of Shakespeare's plays, and to whom Farmer had been giving some assistance. 

First, here is the first appearance of Shylock, from the first printed edition of the Merchant of Venice (1600):

Farmer told Steevens about a strange little pamphlet called A Iewes Prophecy, or, Newes from Rome. This book indulges in some ominous heeby-jeeby, prophecying a war of a heretofore unknown Jewish army against the Ottoman Turks. It claims to be translated into English from Italian, which is probably as mythical as the prophets mentioned in it.

At the end of the pamphlet there is "Caleb Shilock his prophecie, for the yeere, 1607. In the text we see that he is "a learned Jew." "The Sun shall be couered with the Dragon in the morning  . . . "

Although it was published in 1607 (or so it says on the title page - title pages have been known to lie, or be mistaken) Farmer thought it significant. As far as I know the possibility that "Caleb Shilock's" name came from Shakespeare's Shylock, which had already been performed and printed by 1600, did not occur to him. Of course it is also possible that the pamphlet was first printed prior to 1607. After all, it is a prophecy for 1607. 

Intriguingly, this strange little piece (or its source) seems to have inspired an old ballad. The famous Pepys collection of broadside ballads contains the following:

You can read the transcribed text of it here. It is no additional evidence, since from the text itself it appears that the ballad was printed in 1607. The second verse makes it clear that the present year is 1607:

And first, within this present yeere,
Beeing Sixteene hundreth seau'n:
The Prince of Planets shall appeare,
Like flaming Fire in heau'n,
     Like flaming Fire his radiant rayes
     To all shall seeme (old Shillock sayes.)
     O Lord, Lord in thy mercie,
     Hold thy heavie hand.

In case you want to know how to sing it, the sheet suggests the tune of Bragandarie. While it would be nice to go, of course, "Rabbi Calev Shaliach" or something like that, sadly we can't do that. (Not as far-fetched as it seems; R. Nathan Shapira, author of Megaleh Amukot, spent some time running around Western Europe and spreading various Messianic ideas among European gentiles, who dutifully wrote about them in their periodicals.) 

Another piece of intriguing, but ultimately probably meaningless evidence is the following. In 1645 a fun little thing to read called A New Bloody Almanack For This Insuing Year 1645 appeared in print. Our hero appears on the final page. As you can see, it claims to be a "Prophesy found of the fall of a wall, at St. Denins, written a hundred Yeares agone by Caleb Shilok an auntient Jew." If it wasn't so obvious that this was entirely made up, one would like to suggest that one hundred years prior to 1645 was 1545, a useful date for our purposes.

Other suggestions have been made. For example, in 1844 Joseph Hunter published his New Illustrations on . . . Shakespeare." On pg. 307 he writes "Shylock was a Levantine Jew, and therefore on the stage, if it is intended that strict regard shall be paid to propriety in matters of costume . . . [suggestions about stage dress. We collect that Shylock was a Levantine Jew from the name: Scialac, which is doubtless the same name in a different orthography, being the name of a Maronite of Mount Libanus, who was living in 1614.

His evidence is a library catalog from 1789, referring to the aforementioned Scialac. It appears that he referred (without knowing it) to one Victor Scialac, who was indeed a Maronite scholar, who taught in Rome in the early part of the 17th century, dying in 1635 (for fun, his Arabic name was Nasrallah Shalaq al-'Aquri). I'm not sure what the suggestion is exactly, only that it was an Eastern name? One later writer asked "How the fact that Scialac was the name of a Maronite Christian lends any probability to the supposition that Shylock was an Eastern Jew, we confess we do not clearly see." The same writer considers the Caleb Shillock angle sufficient, since it was contemporaneous enough to prove that the name was known at the time. Again, I ask, how do we know that the name didn't come from the Merchant of Venice itself? 1607 is 1607.

In a 1932 issue of Notes & Queries the great Cecil Roth, having just finished his great work 'History of the Jews in Venice' related that he could relate two points on the question. The first is that no name even vaguely similar to this is found in the Jewish communal records from Venice of this period. The second is that Shylock could not have been Levantine, for those Jews were restricted from money-lending. The Venetian Jewish money-lenders were all of the Nazione Tudesca, i.e., Ashkenazim. So much for Hunter and his Maronite theory. 

There are still other theories. One writer was convinced that the name Shylock just sounded English, and suggested various possibilities, including a corruption of Sherbrook. While those are of no value, he did point out that in some 14th century record a British man named Sylock is to be found. According to this view, there is nothing to unravel. Shakespeare just made up a name. I find this the least compelling theory, since William did make attempts to name foreign and exotic characters with appropriate names. A Venetian Jew named Smith? Not likely.

Acharon acharon chaviv. While utterly unlikely, you have to love this one. Even the writer knew it probably could not be - he calls it a philological fancy - but shared his theory anyway. In the May 9, 1896 issue of Notes & Queries Maurice Brodzky of Melbourne (d. 1919; a former yeshiva bochur, no doubt) wrote the following:

What if, Brodzky asks, the name Shylock comes from the Mishna in the 5th chapter of Pirke Avot, where "the man who says שלי שלי ושלך שלך, the man who stands on the letter of the law" is described; neither evil, nor pious. An average sort of person, who says "What's mine is mine, and what's yours is yours."  (More intriguing; the Mishnah says that some say that this person is not "average," but displaying the qualities of Sodomites, which according to Jewish tradition was the trait of inhospitality, rather than homosexuality.) Brodzky suggests that Shakespeare may have seen some Latin translation of Pirke Avot, and was struck by the recurring term "Sheloch, in connexion with sayings descriptive of Jewish business men." Brodzky does not implausibly suggest that William read Hebrew, but wonders if he discussed the passage with a learned man. Although he did not know it, his conjecture that there was a Latin version of Pirke Avot is entirely correct.

I refer to the version by Paul Fagius, the Fagius about whom R. Elijah Levita wrote "From Paul to Paul, there has arisen none among the Christians like Paul." His beautiful edition, "Sententiae Vere Elegantes . . . " printed by himself in his printing house in Isny in 1541 could well have been read by Shakespeare, although obviously the suggestion is still very wild. Are we looking at the genesis of the name Shylock?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Ten language in ten months; on the Compleat Linguist.

One of the most original ideas anyone ever had for a magazine, in my opinion, was John Henley's The Compleat Linguist. The plan was for 10 numbers, one a month, each one outlining the grammar of a particular language, with a learned introduction - usually in under 100 pages. He began in August 1719 with Spanish, and ripped through Italian, French, Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Chaldee (Aramaic), Arabic, Syriac and of course English, in that order. Although he did not achieve his goal (one a month) he did manage to print them all. I don't think anyone's going to claim that these are perfect works, but they are of surprisingly high quality. I cannot imagine knowing 10 languages, let along having the guts or arrogance to try to pull something like this off. The introductions are filled with many irrelevancies and (of course) pseudo-beliefs about the particular languages, but they also contain much that is perfectly sound and many, many gems - not to mention highly useful lists of the best available reference works in the 18th century, plus interesting advice about how best to learn these languages. Let us have a look (at the Hebrew one, naturally):

As you can see, the fuller subtitle was "An universal Grammar of all the Considerable Tongues in Being." The content is "Collect from the most Appov'd Hands." 

In the introduction to the first volume (Spanish), Henley makes the case that knowing languages is "one of the most Useful and Ornamental Parts of Knowledge, to all in general ; and to some, a Necessary Talent." He says that "He he no Right to the Name of a Scholar, that has not examin'd the principles of every Considerable Language." Not only that, nor is one a "Gentleman, who is not a Competent Master of each Tongue that is requisite to carry him thro' any Civil Employ in the Service of the Publick." 

Thus, he holds that a scholar must have studied all important languages, and a gentleman must also master languages which are relevant to his work. In England in 1719, this would of course be English, but doubtlessly also at least Latin and another European language.

He continues saying that all languages "give a mutual light to one another" since "the Alliance betwixt most of them . . . is so very obvious."

He realizes that studying grammar is usually tedious, so he intends to write clearly and concisely, without clogging it with countless examples and words, which properly belong in lexicons and dictionaries.

Then he discusses Spanish, which he says is founded upon a Latin base, with "a large mixture of the Morisco, or Arabick." He notes that there are gutturals in Spanish, which are considered to be a mark of antiquity in language, gutturals being found in the Eastern languages and in Irish and Welsh. He describes the sound of Spanish as "grave and leisurely," two adjectives that are not often compounded. He goes on to explain that the "best and most useful dialect" is Castilian, etc.

Thus for Spanish. Volume 2, published right on time in September 1719, treats Italian. He says that the close relationship between Spanish and Italian make them a natural flow from one to the other. He says that Italian is "one of the most Polite Tongues in the World" and only Greek gives any competition - it "is certainly the most Tuneful." The language is soft, it glides, and it is a "peculiarly happy" language for music. He explains this factor due to "the Natural Genius [of the language], the Climate [of Italy], and without doubt, to something particular in the Organs of the People that speak it." He explains that these are the cause of variety in all languages. He then adds some words about opera, which he is not a fan of because he thinks it is unnatural and frivolous. Opera.

Still, he's a fan of Italian and thinks it "deservedly in great Esteem." He then explains that each language has a certain place where it is spoken best (the standard), and for Italian that is supposed to be Rome and Siena. He helpfully lists the other cities where languages are in their best form, both in speech and writing: Spanish in Toledo, French in Blois, English in London, and German (actually, he says High Dutch) in Leipzig. He goes on and on about how beautiful Italian is (opera notwithstanding), and gives an interesting account of its evolution from Latin, and its numerous dialects.

In October, he printed French. Each introduction is valuable, because he makes remarks that are not mere repeats of earlier ones. So here he writes that Latin is not really the source of any of the Romance languages, but actually it is but "the largest ingredient." He says this is contrary to the common opinion. He brings proof by noting the great many words in these languages that have no affinity with Latin or other languages, and therefore must be remnants of the original tongues spoken in those countries. "The Rise of the French therefore is due to the old Celtic, blended with the Latin, Gothic, German &c." He discusses the relationships of the Celts in Britain with the mainland ones in Britanny, and opines that the true source of Celtic is from mainland Europe, since "all Islands must at first be Peopled from the continent."

Turning from history to the language, he states that French is very well suited for "Address, Amour, Dispatch and Politeness." He approves of the standardization of French due to the Dictionary of the Academy. After some more praises, he "wish[es] rather than hop[es] for" such standardization of English. He gives in a little dig at the government's priorities: "Our Court has at present other Views, and different Methods of laying out their Money, than in polishing our Tongue" through the establishment of an Academy of Language. He says that scholars in France are so successful because of their encouragement, which is wanting in England. 

Next is Greek, the first issue more than 100 pages long. The grand scope of his work must be catching up with him, for this one now covers two months, November and December 1719.

Ah, Greek. "The Common Parent of the Western Languages, and the most accomplish'd Tongue in the World." It has everything. Weight. Purity. Force. Roundness. Manly Grace. Delicacy. 

He gives lip service to another scholar who claimed to prove that Hebrew is "the main Fountain" of Greek, and says he will talk about that elsewhere. 

He brushes off modern Greek, corrupted by Turkish and other mixtures. It is pretty dismissible.

He gives the history of the language and letters, from classical sources. Although he denies the Greek philosophers the right to their own knowledge (they were "after the Time of the Jewish Prophets") he does not go the obvious route, and says that they, "as the Jews themselves did," owe their knowledge to the Egyptians.

He adds that some Greek words found their way into Jewish writings, such as Sanhedrin. In addition, many Greek names were adopted by Jews. Etc.

Again, bimonthly, Number 5 is Latin (Jan. - Feb. 1720). He gives its history, a theory about its origin, and that the praises of it would be "endless" to list. He quotes some samples of great writers. I will quote one. Isaac Causubon, he says, listed four good qualities for a language:

1. Convenience to express the Sense of the Mind.
2. Antiquity.
3. Dignity of those that use it.
4. Extent of use.

Causubon applied the first to Greek, second and third to Hebrew, and the fourth to Latin. 

Next is Hebrew, which I uploaded here if you would like to download it. This one covers three months, 
March - May of 1720.

He says that the necessity of importance of good skill in Hebrew is obvious to a scholar in general, and particularly to a clergyman (a Divine). Since Hebrew is the source of all language, he seems to accept, a scholar can never be a true judge of anything unless he can trace the origin of things, and in the case of language, this means to Hebrew. And clergymen are basically "Contemtible and Lifeless" if they lack "a vivid Knowledge of Scripure," so of course they need to know Hebrew.

In the next paragraph he expresses more skepticism, and says that the first language is doubtful. The pagan writers didn't mention it, and "the most ancient writer in the world" - Moses - only speaks of the dispersion of tongues. He does not think that it is then to be implied that until the Tower of Babel there were no changes in the language spoken. He sensibly writes that 1656 years lapsed between Adam and Noah, and during that time men spread to various climates, cities and countries, and there must have been some variety in language, as these things are wont to produce, albeit not so great as the language explosion at Babel. He dismisses the "Dreams of some" that Hebrew was kept as a pure language by "the Race of Seth, and Shem" and says it is as likely as one 'scholarly' opinion that God spoke to Adam in German.

Noting that Moses said that there was one tongue spoken (Gen. xiv. 1.) he says that Rashi (Rab. Sal. Yarhhi) and Ibn Ezra say it was Hebrew, but give no reason other than that proper names like Adam and Peleg have meaning in Hebrew. However, Henley says that Moses could have taken them from another language and just translated it to Hebrew. For all we know, Adam's name was Earth. (I said that, not he.)

He surveys foreign words in the Torah; Syriac (yegar sahadutha) and Egyptian (tzophenath paneach). As for Arabic, Job is bursting with it. He cites one author who called Job "the Divine of the Arabs," and notes that some scholarly opinions make the book older than the Pentateuch, and others that is was written by Moses himself.

He explains that some say the term Hebrew comes from Eber, but rejects it because most scholars say that Abraham was called a Hebrew from "eber hanahar," originating from across the Euphrates. In fact, Abraham probably spoke Chaldee, and learned Hebrew from the Canaanites, who were the descendents of Cham. He notes that the proper names in Canaan is Hebrew, referring readers to Joshua 15, where we learn that the original name of Devir was Kiryat Sepher.

He then continues explaining that Hebrew "has its Graces and Elegancies" and "The Jews cannot be converted without [knowledge of] it." Also, the Bible is a very important book.

He praises the rabbinic knowledge and understanding of Hebrew, although many of their mistakes comes from ignorance of Arabic (later he explains that the best of the rabbis were from Spain, and they knew and wrote in Arabic). 

He gives advice for how to study Hebrew: master the grammar of Bythner, the Thesaurus of Buxtorf, and then the Bible in the original. From there the reader can move on to a Polyglot Bible. The best Hebrew Bible is Athias. Menasseh ben Israel's was good, but not as good as Plantin's. 

He mentions Simon Ockley, who supplied him with much of the content of the preface, who told him that the best edition of the Pentateuch "is that of Roza." Sadly, I do not know which one this is. Ockley told him that a rabbi read it and told him that it is "faultless." He recommends Walton's Polyglot, and the Mikraot Gedolot printed in 1568, for it contains Rashi, Ibn Ezra, Saadya Gaon, Ralbag, Radak and the Baal Haturim.

He lays out a program for study:

"Take this way; 1. Read the Pentateuch and consult Sixt. Amama's Grammer; Martinio-Buxt. for the particular Anomalies: Then Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings . . . then the Chronicles, Ruth, Nehemiah, Esther, Ecclesiastes; and then the Prophets, and lastly Proverbs, and Job. 2. Labour to read without the Points."

He notes that the Tetragrammaton is pronounced by the Jews Adonai, and that the reader should do as well - not for any superstition, but because it will help in converting Jews.

To learn how to write without nekkudot, he recommends writing a chapter of the Bible without them, letting it rest for a week, and then point it yourself, then compare with the original. Repeat.

To understand the te'amim, he suggests various books, including the appendix of R. David Calonymus to R. Abraham de Balmes' Mikne Avram, as well as the writings of R. Elijah Levita.

He recommends various lexicons, and notes that Buxtorf got a lot from the Radak's Shorashim, just as he got a lot of his thesaurus from the Mikhlol.

He gives a long digression on the question of the antiquity of the vowel points, and the various positions. He seems to be saying that in his view if the Karaites accept them (he doesn't know) then the matter is settled. He claims that R. Elijah Levita  (and Ibn Ezra!) is considered a heretic by the Jews for arguing that the points are late.

He gives a useful example in explaining the nekkudot, using English. If you had Bll, the reader would have to decide from context alone if Ball, Bell, Bill or Bull is meant. 

He gives a sketch of Hebrew literature, beginning with the Mishnah and Talmud. Then he comes to the poskim - "the Ritual Rabbins" (best translation ever?) - and says that Maimonides is the best of them. 

He returns to the origin of languages and alphabets. He quotes on scholar who said that the Tongue of old Paradise is now unknown, saying that he can show 1000 words in Old German that have no relationship with Hebrew whatsoever. But Henley said that he only have 10 examples, and all but 2 are from Hebrew!

In praise of Hebrew, he says that it is good for "Use, Etymology, Names of People, Placed and Deities."

He gives a lengthy digression on the proper pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton, giving the arguments for reading Jehova or Adonay. 

He discusses Hebrew grammarians, and notes that Hebrew words are transliterated in all manner of ways, usually reflecting different manners of writing in the native tongue of the authors, as well as disagreements about pronunciation. He gives the following examples:

Kimchi, Kimhhi, Qimhi; Pathah, Patha, Patach, Pathach; Hirik, Hirik, Chirek, etc.

He includes a nice table showing the handwriting of Ashkenazim and Sephardim at the present time:

He notes that  in rabbinic books sometimes the aleph and lamed are collapsed into one letter.

The next part, which hopefully will follow soon, will deal with the grammar itself and the following 4 books, Chaldee, Arabic, Syriac and English, all of which are quite interesting. But in case I don't get to it right away, here is an interesting page from his Chaldee (Aramaic) issue:

As you can see, in discussing roshe tevot, he mentions the (interesting, odd) theory that the Hebrew word "selah," so commonly found in Psalms is an acronym for "סב למעלה השר," which was a fancy of way of saying "And once more, from the beginning!" (The scholar he cites for this theory, Marcus Meibomius, compared it to the Italian "da capo." C.F. the siddur of R. Yaakov Zvi Mecklenburg, where he denies that this could be its meaning, on the grounds that the Men of the Great Assembly (Anshe Knesset ha-Gedola) composed prayers which used it and it doesn't work in those contexts, and they assuredly knew Hebrew very, very well.) I doubt he read this in Meibomius' original. Although there is an endless amount of secondary literature he might have read it in, my guess is that he saw it in Ben Zeev's Otzar ha-Shorashim).

Secondly, he cautions that to properly understand rabbinic writings you need Buxtorf's Lexicon and Concordance. The problem is that the rabbis don't cite chapter in verse, they just "weave the Quotation into their own Style, without Distinction." The interesting example he provides is from the very first comment of Rashi on the Torah.

Monday, April 23, 2012

A Galician maskil defends Yiddish against its detractors in 1815.

Here's an interesting letter on the subject of Yiddish, which was printed in Kerem Chemed 1 (1833). The actual action had taken place around 1815. The author was Yaakov Shmuel Bick, who was probably the only Galician maskil who was sympathetic to Chasidim. (I want to know which Chasid was sympathetic to the maskilim.) 

What happened was, Mendel Lefin (probably most well known nowadays for adapting an excerpt from Benjamin Franklin's autobiography in a manner suitable for mussar) had made a Yiddish translation of Mishlei (Proverbs) for the benefit of the masses. This was naturally seen as uncouth pandering to the uneducated people by those who were at the time devoted to developing the prestige and capabilities of Hebrew on the one hand, and trying to promote and teach German, rather than Yiddish, on the other. One of them, a scholar named Toviah Feder (1760-1817) attacked Lefin in a pamphlet in which he accused him of terrible things, including pandering to women and whores and that Lefin had gone crazy in his old age. Yiddish? Feh. In the pamphlet he assembled a group of heavenly luminaries, including Rabbis Menasseh ben Israel, Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, and Moses Mendelssohn, who can't understand Lefin's debased Yiddish translation. Ben Israel and Luzzatto are really left scratching their heads, until finally an ignorant melamed is able to explain it. In addition, several other leading maskilim of the previous generation, such as Itzik Euchel, who translated Mishlei into German, men who personally knew and admired Lefin, are present in this fantasy scenario and feel puzzled and betrayed by Lefin's betrayal of enlightened ideals. The overarching attiude which Feder was expressing was that Yiddish is not a real language. What Lefin should have done was write in correct High German, especially considering that Lefin was highly educated, knowing German and French perfectly well. Was not his role to educate, not descend to the level of the lowly?

Lefin's friend Bik took up the cudgel to defend Lefin, and in doing so defended Yiddish as a legitimate language, with a lineage, usefulness, and a possible future. Here is his letter, followed by Feder's reply (scroll down to the end for my summary):

After praising and rebuking Feder, he quotes Jacques Basnage's History of the Jews that the foremost quality which God perceived in Moses was his empathy for the people!

He goes on to point out that the vernacular of the people is the proper medium for instructing them, noting that Tissot's famed medical book was translation in the various vernacular language of Europe; in fact, Lefin himself translated Tissot's book into Hebrew (for the benefit of Jews who knew no European language), and no less than the foremost of all translators, Mendelssohn himself, praised Lefin's translations.

For example, Cheshbon Hanefesh, which is based on a wonderful work by the scholar Benjamin Franklin of Philadelphia, in North America. This scholar is famed all over the world, and is a "Non-Jew who lit a lamp which is used as light for Israel." So R. Mendel undertook to present the good in this work to our people, and the rabbis in their approbations acknowledged that it was a lofty, new thing. And the book was well received by the people. 

Now, he continues, the language of the Proverbs translation which, to you, is like chirping birds and braying cattle; do not forget that this is the language of our fathers and ancestors here in Poland for some four centuries! [Yiddish] is the tongue in which the ge'onim the Bach, Rema, Sema, and Shach spoke, thought and preached. This is the language with which we heard the Gaon of Vilna. Not only that, the scholar Fabre (?)* in his geographical work numbered this language as a daughter tongue of German. If German is the beloved firstborn to you, why don't you denigrate the Tzeena Reena and various other translations like it? These - which were very useful in their time - were written in a very debased German, with a very sparse vocabulary. None of those were able of making an impression on a tasteful person, like the translation of Lefin, who with wisdom clarified in the best methods of translators, even without the language having been improved as of yet. 

He goes on to point out that there are vernacular newspapers throughout the Austrian-Hungarian empire, and this in the capital cities, where pure and proper German is used by the authorities! If this is so then certainly Jews who live isolated in Ukraine, who do not know how to read books in any other language. The way of scholars is out of good will and righteousness they do not neglect the people who need help, and they write works in their vernacular. This is in exchange for the hard work which the common people do to sustain their needs.

Note that French and English are also admixtures of Germanic, Gallic, Latin and Greek languages, and it was purified as a result of the work of scholars over these past 300 years. Now the most sublime poetry and the best thoughts can be expressed in these tongues, still mixed from many tongues. Only 100 years ago German was still debased. Eighty years ago Russian was a crude tongue. Even the classical languages, Greek and Latin, originally they were crude, until their scholars polished it, discoverd and expounded their grammatical principles, over generations, until they were perfected, and are the wonders we behold. The masses created the language! - and so it is in every nation. There's no difference in this stage between any language, all are originally somewhat crude, and then the sages take the formless mass (homer and golam) and shapie it, purify and perfect it. 

He closes by telling him that if when all is said and done he still didn't like the translation, why heap abuse upon Lefin, rather than focusing on the defects in it? Do you have harsh words for the incomrehensible aggadot of Rabbah bar bar Hannah? It wasn't right to write such a pamphlet, and he ought to reach out to Lefin and ask for pardon. 

Feder's reply, which you can see below as well, tries to be conciliatory, denying that such an illustrious maskil like Lefin could possibly have been wounded by his words. But he was says he will not to publish his pamphlet, which had already been paid for - if Bick pays or raises funds to reimburse him. And so it happened.

When all is said and done, eventually Bick's sympathies for the masses (which in his native Brody meant the Chassidim) led to a dramatic act of identification with them, not the misnagdim and the maskilim: he sold his copy of the Guide of the Perplexed! Allegedly, anyway. Here is the reference to this dramatic action, in a letter to Bik from Samson Bloch. I have my suspicion that Bloch meant it metaphorically although all the historians took it literally:

* I'm not exactly sure which Fabre (Fabro, Fabreaux, etc.) is intended or which work. He says he used the edition printed in Halle 1815.

A description of the 'Mitzvah Tanz' circa 1600.

Here's Buxtorf the Elder's discussion of the Mitzva Tanz in the 1643 German edition of his Synagoga Judaica (Juden-Schul; 1603). From Chapter 28.

Translation from the 1657 English edition:
After these sports and childish fooleries, they fall to feast their bellies in good earnest ; after dinner they dance many Giggs, and Capering Currantos, and when they are about to depart and to put a period to these nuptial sports, dance a dance called Mitzuah, The commandment, or marriage pavia, because it was commanded by God himself.  
This they dance in this manner, the chief man at the table takes the Bridegroom by the hand, he another, and so every one his fellow, even so many as have any skill in dancing, takes one another by the hand. So likewise the chief matron and most honourable woman in the company joynes hands with the Bride, and all the rest with one another. Dancing hand in hand and making great noise with their feet, and in this manner put an end to their marriage rites and sports. 
Here is a modern translation, which is simply not half as fun:
After this enjoyable entertainment, the real meal is offered. They are happy, and do not think much about Jerusalem. They dance and leap, as everyone who has seen it knows. 
At the end of the wedding they hold a dance which they call the Mitzva dance, that is a dance which is held at a wedding because of the law of God. The most eminent person present takes the groom by the hand, and they follow one another. Also the preeminent woman takes the bride, and all women follow, and they all dance round in a large circle. It is a horrible tossing about, and with that they conclude the joyous wedding feast.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Moses Mendelssohn for the kids

You don't see this every day. Here's a "Teacher's Guide To Moses Mendelssohn, Pioneer in Modern Judaism," published by the Union of American Hebrew Congregation's Commission on Jewish Education. Although I don't see a date, my guess is approximately 1960. It is a guide for a teacher to use while slides are shown on a projector. You can download it here. The original comes from here.

Many parts of it are interesting, such as this note toward the beginning addressing what to say if a student brings up the fact that Mendelssohn's children converted to Christianity:

Then there is the page which illustrates the saying that 'From Moses to Moses, none came unto Israel like Moses' (see here).

Mostly (or entirely) based on Euchel's Toldot Ha-Rambaman, the filmstrips begin at the beginning, with a portrayal of baby Mendelssohn's cradle placed next to his father teaching Torah to children:

He is shown leaving home for Berlin, where he will continue to study with his rebbi, R. David Fraenkel:

Iconic images, based on the painting of him playing chess with Lessing:

Here is seen explaining to Kaiser Friedrich why he dared write a critical review of his book of poems. They were in French, and Mendelssohn argued that it is a shame that he didn't write in German. And his wedding to Fromet Guggenheim is depicted:

Of course it would get around to his Chumash and opposition:

And a scene depicting him catching ill, which finally did him in. The reference to his letter meant to "prove Lessing's loyalty to ethical religion" refers to the posthumous outing/accusation that Lessing was a Spinozist, which which meant atheism in 1780s Berlin, and still a shocking charge.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Notable Torah Codes rabbis

Here is the list of notables rabbis names used in the Torah Codes thing. R. Elijah Levita was included? Cool.  

I don't know why "Eliyah Hamedakek" was out, or why by the Vilna Gaon "Rabbi Eliyahu" and "Ha-gaon" was in but "Ha-gra" was out. I like how the Noda Beyehuda is called the "Baal Ha-Tzlach." 

Here's the entire paper (link).

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

And now for something completely different.

Here's a really old man, looking pretty good for a man born in 1483:

Henry the 8th's Court Jester:

A witch, or so they said:

From what I think you will agree is a fantastic book, James Caulfield's Portraits, memoirs, and characters of remarkable persons from the reign of Edward the Third to the Revolution (link).

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

When hocus pocus peddlers would actually say hocus pocus! An 18th century Yiddish medical and superstition smashing book.

Here's a really interesting excerpt from a medical book called Sefer Refuos (ha-nikra) Ezer Yisrael, which was printed in 1790.

This book was written by a Jewish physician named Moses Marcuse. The point of it was to teach the masses proper hygiene and health concepts in accordance with the best 18th century medical knowledge, which was not as bad as it sounds. He instructs, pleads and cajoles with people to be aware of the issues, to keep clean, get fresh air, avoid witches and baalei shem, and other charlatans (bleigiessen, which people somehow still believe in, makes a starring appearance). He has harsh words for these people whom he holds responsible for murder - murdering their patients by their lack of knowledge and ineptitude. He calls them "memitim." Doctors who kill. As indicated by the title, it is not only an "ezer yisrael," "help[ful] for Jews," but a "sefer refuos," a book full of remedies for various ailments.

It was written in Yiddish rather than Hebrew so that it could be understood by more people (in this time virtually the only books written in Yiddish were moralistic or novels). Interestingly, he writes in the book that the reason why he chose to write in Yiddish was at the urging of none other than R. Rafael Kohen Hamburger, the rabbi of Altona-Hamburg-Wandsbeck, telling him that there are already plenty of scientific and medical works in Hebrew, but the people need one in Yiddish.

Also of interest - on the title page he calls the language the book is written in Polishtaytsch, meaning the "German spoken by the Polish Jews." He gives his name as Moshe hanikra Marcuze Doktor. In the seven or eight haskamos he is "Moshe ben mhr"r Mordechai" which is to be expected, as Marcuse is clearly some variant of Marcus, which was a common kinnuy for Mordechai.

The book deserves its own post, and will get one. But here is the passage where he decries fake doctors who wear "half-beardelach" (to impress the people with their physician-like look, but don't want to shave it all off, so the people will think they are pious) and who chant "hocus pocus []" so that the people think they know Latin! Now I don't really know what the third word is; it says "Ocus Bocus Taryocus? Triyocus?" I wasn't able to identify this pseudo-Latin word, or the words which follow.

Marcuse was from Koenigsberg, or so he claimed. While he undoubtedly lived in Lithuania and other parts of Poland, there seem to be some indications that he was actually a "Polish" Jew himself, not Prussian, as would have readers believe. In any case, Hocus Pocus!

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Chasam Sofer's ruling on Metzitzah Be-peh

Metzitzah be-feh has been in the news lately, as it will be every few years. I thought it might be nice to translate two important documents relating to this controversy since, to my surprise, I discovered that neither seems to have ever been translated and published in its entirety. I mean the question which R. Elazar Horowitz of Vienna sent to his teacher the Chasam Sofer in 1837, and the response he received. I once posted the letters as they were printed in the first volume of Kochve Yitzchak (1845) (link). Here are the letters and the translation:

I have of course taken some liberties. Obviously Rabbi Horowitz's letter did not begin "Dear Rabbi Sofer," but I didn't want all the titles, which aren't meant to be translated, to be distracting. On the other hand I also didn't want to completely remove the flavor of rabbinic writing, so I kept some of it in. But the main purpose is simply to make these documents accessible.
Sheviti, etc. Sunday 16 Shevat 5597 (1837) Vienna

Dear Rabbi Sofer,

Teach me, Rabbi, what is the rule regarding a question which my local friend Dr. Wertheim asked of me. According to the law of our religion is a mohel required to make that suction which is performed after the circumcision specifically with his mouth? Or perhaps it is proper to peform the suction through some other means, such as to soak a sponge in wine or water and squeeze the place of the wound with it a number of times, and through this achieve the healing effect for the infant no differently than through oral suctioning? The circumstances behind this question is that some months ago in our city many children who were circumcized by a certain expert mohel developed festering sores all over the genitals and from there it spread to the entire body. Many infants died because of this, and were unresponsive to any medical attention. Some of them lived, but were in great pain. The doctors judged that this condition was caused by the mohel's orally suctioning the wound (ha-metzitzah she-be-feh). The mohel was examined and proved to have a clean bill of health, and they could not diagnose anything like this illness in him. However, we need to know what to do in a situation like this in general. Now, I answered that in my opinion I see nothing in this suggestion which is opposed by our holy Torah. Even though Rav Pappa said (Shabbat 133b) "a circumcizer who does not suction is dangerous, and we dismiss him" nevertheless it is not explicit that the suction must be specifically with the mouth and lips, and so certainly it is alright to also do it in some other manner, so as to draw blood from the 'far places.' See what is the reason why Hazal required suction: for the healing of the circumcision. Qualified physicians attest that a sponge or something like it also does this. If so, these accomplish the purpose of healing. So why shouldn't we believe the physicians in this in the same way that we accept the many medical accomplishments and advances in recent generations, which were unknown in earlier times?

Do not reply that the expression מייץ mentioned by Rav Pappa refers only to oral suction, since we find in Shabbat 88a that the word has an expansive definition, for we find the very term in the case where "There was a certain Sadducee who saw Raba engrossed in his studies while the finger[s] of his hand were under his feet, and he ground them down, so that his fingers spurted blood." (See here.) Rashi there explains that he was pressing his fingers with his foot, and this is what drew blood from the fingers. Thus we see that מייץ refers to pressure and not only suction (he gives some similar examples in German). Also Rashi explains (Lev. 1:15) the words "its blood shall be drained out" that it is like the term mitz apayim "wringing of the nose" (Prov. 30) and "afes ha-metz" "the wringing out is at an end" (Is. 16) and "He presses the place of slaughtering against the side of the altar" ve-hadam mitmatzeh ve-yored, "the blood is wrung out and goes down" (Zevachim 65). Also Rashi explains the same verse in Prov. 33:3 mitz chalav "churning of milk" mitz skhitah "squeezing" (and he uses the Old French term empreindre, which means to press or stamp). From all this it seems to me clear and simple to permit it. However, with all this, I don't want to authorize something new like this until you my master concurs with me. So please pardon me, respecting your honor's Torah, to let me know your exalted opinion on these things. I have not been feeling well lately, so please send me your words.

Your student and beloved friend, I bow toward your honor and glory.

Ha-kattan Elazar Ha-levi Ish Horovitz
The Chasam Sofer replied as follows:
Sheviti, etc. Pressburg, Monday, 20 Shevat 5597 (1837)

Greetings and long life to my student and friend Rabbi Elazar Halevi Segal Horowitz, Chief Rabbi of Vienna.

Your nice letter reached me, and it is correct what you wrote, that we do not find the metzitzah (suction) is specifically with the mouth, save for the position of the Kabbalists who say that [the process] enacts a neutralization of strict judgment through the lips and the mouth. We are not engaged in mysteries when there is some concern for physical danger. Now, the roots mitz and matzat are the same, c.f., Proverbs 30[:31] mitz apayim and Judges 6:38 "and wrung dew out of the fleece." In all these places Rashi explains them in terms of squeezing, compressing, and suctioning something with force. Radak and Ibn Ezra similarly explain them. If so, we only need to draw the blood from the 'far places' though whichever method we are able, and we can rely on experts who assure us that some method accomplishes it. I further say that even if it was explicit in the Talmud that the suction is meant to be oral, nevertheless since this is not an integral part of the circumcision, but only adjoined because of a health measure, so if one circumcised and did not suction the blood, he has already performed the commandment, and the baby is permitted to eat terumah, and the father may make a Passover sacrifice. However he is in physical danger so long as the blood was not suctioned from the far places. In Chapter Rabbi Eliezer De-mila we find that Rav Pappa understood that suction is similar to the dressing and cumin, which are health measures. Now, we do not presently use the [particular] dressing [specified in the Talmud] and cumin, nor the particular type of dressing mentioned in the Talmud by Abbaye and Rava. Therefore we know that since these are for healing, we are not particular about which remedy we use in its place, and the same thing applies to suction - even if oral suction had been mentioned in the Mishnah, we would be able to change it to another method which accomplishes the same thing, so long as we heed qualifies physicians who will attest that in truth a sponge accomplishes the same thing as oral suction. More than this we needn't be concerned with, in my opinion. God should heal you and make you feel good!

Moshe ha-kattan Sofer mi-Frankfurt di-Main
For a listing of some people and places were doubts about the authenticity of this exchange see Shlomo Sprecher's article Mezizah be-Peh - Therapeutic Touch or Hippocratic Vestige? in Hakirah 3. He, like me, does not find such charges convincing, although whether anyone likes it or not they have to be grappled with - as Sprecher did - in contemporary debate. Maybe in the future I will translate some of the documents relating to that charge.

I want to conclude with a quote from Buxtorf's Synagoga Judaica (The Jewish Synagogue). This 17th century book was and is considered hostile to Judaism, and properly so, but it is also highly interesting. It is believed that R. Yehuda Aryeh Modena's book describing Judaism, his Historia de' riti hebraici, was written partially as a response to Buxtorf's book. So I will quote what Buxtorf writes (from an English translation of 1657) :
. . . he cuts away so much of the fore-skin that the top of the yard may be seen bare and naked, which he throws in haste into the Bason filled with sand, restoring the knife to him from which he took it, and takes on the Cips full of red Wine, out of which he sucks so much as he can hold in his mouth, which he presently spnes out again upon the Infant to wash away the blood, and also some in his face, if he perceive him to faint: instantly upon this he takes the childs yard in his mouth, and sucks as much bloud out of if as he can possible, to the end that it may sooner leave bleeding, which bloud he casts out again, either into one of the bowls of red Wine, or into the bason of Sand. this he doth three times at the least, which the Hebrews call mezizah, which Moses Commanded not, but was instituted by the Rabbines and wise men amont the Jews, as it seemed good unto them.
Similarly, Modena writes (this is from an English translation of 1650) nothing more than
the Circumciser going on in his businesse, with his mouth sucketh the Blood, which abundantly floweth from the wound, doing thus two or three times, and so spitteth it forth in a Bowl of wine.
I believe it is important to not forget the therapeutic intention behind MBP, no matter where one falls on the spectrum of opposition. This was still clear in the 17th century, when a hostile writer could think of nothing worse to say about it than that "Moses Commanded [it] not" and the apologist who wanted to portray Judaism in its most positive light left out of his book the belief in gigulgim, but not a description of MBP - in fact, he did not even see the need to explain that this was meant for the health of the baby.

Finally, it is also interesting to note that the Chasam Sofer's permission to use a sponge relies on the attestations of physicians that it accomplishes the same healing as oral suction. I wonder if this leaves a conundrum since according to modern medicine suctioning blood from a sterile wound accomplishes nothing at all.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Lord George Gordon's Haggadah connection

In an earlier post about Lord George Gordon, an 18th century rabble-rousing British nobleman who did the most radical thing he could think of, converting to Judaism, I pointed out that there was a Pesach angle to his story.:

His inspiration toward Judaism began when he noticed a sign painted above the house of a Jew named Isaac Titterman which read "Let all who are hungry enter and eat," which is from the Passover Haggadah. Intrigued, he met the owner of the house, and in no time at all he was circumcised and grew a long beard.

Some who discussed it assume that Gordon already knew [some] Hebrew in 1785, but to me it is doubtful that he could have translated the Aramaic כל דכפין ייתי ויכול; unless the story actually was that the Hebrew itself intrigued him, and when he found out what it meant he liked it even more.

Interestingly, in the records of the time his Jewish name is given as "Israel Abraham George Gordon." He adopted the Ashkenazic custom of adding the father's name as a middle name (probably the most famous exemplar of this fairly widespread custom was Rabbi Samson [ben] Raphael Hirsch). In this case, Abraham was Avraham the Patriarch.

From here.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Pesach posts

I always have grandiose plans for Pesach posts, but the harsh reality is that there is not enough time. (I also have grandiose plans for hitting all the Genizah trucks, but there is obviously not enough time either, so I just have to sit and imagine all the 18th century machzorim being snatched up by rivals or, more likely, chipping and dirty copies of 1910s Chaye Adams - or, also likely, all those 18th century machzorim ending up in the ground).

I'm sure I'll do Pesach posts after the fact, as I usually seem to do. In fact I have some pretty good ideas for them, if I do say so. In the meantime, here is a roundup of past posts - which I haven't read just now, so I can't say what I think holds up, although I remember some of them fondly:

1) What's an afikomen? Some 19th century sources for discussion

2) So where did Chad Gadya come from anyway?

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

4) On the Mrs. Chasam Sofer Haggadah, Mendelssohnian German, Hannibal and Yiddish.

5) A savage, hilarious review of a Haggadah from 1890.

6) On the first English Haggadah; a short summary of Alexander Alexander's translation and comments.

7)Should you really eat grated horseradish on Passover? Evidence from an Angleterrish Haggadah from New York, 1837. In this one I also discuss some evidence that, actually, if horseradish is used as maror then it is supposed to be the leaves, not the root (and see the prior post). And here's an old one about "grating horseradish in some little town in Lithuania, Poland, Hungary or Syria."

7) On the Damascus Blood Libel Haggadah and a Kafkaesque Yom Kippur in Upstate New York, 1928.

8) A Karaite Haggadah.

9) The 17th century tunes for two Passover Seder songs. and its recent follow-up:

10) What Passover sounded like 370 years ago - sung today.

Enjoy Pesach!


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