Friday, June 29, 2012

Roots of faith

A few months ago the follow parody of the Ani Ma'amin appeared in the pages of the Shabbos Blettel. The author (says he) is Harry Lipschitz.

Reputedly the great Alexander Marx (d. 1953) considered anything after 1800 to be "current events," and thus of little import. I disagree. Since this is really good, I figured why wait a hundred and fifty years before it is worthy of highlighting? 

More on the anonymity of the author of Sefer Habris

The other day I posted about the initial anonymity of Sefer Habris (link). Serendipitously I came across a very positive review of Sefer Habris in Hameasseph 5569/ 1809 (New Series v. 1). The reviewer discusses the anonymity. Note that the second edition, where the author uncloaked himself, had already appeared. However, this reviewer either did not know it, or the review was written before the appearance of the second edition.

He writes that some who know the author have told him that it is one Rabbi Elijah of Vilna - but not the famous, deceased Chassid Rabbi Elijah. It's another Rabbi Elijah of Vilna, albeit which family he is from is unknown to him. He says that the author had spent time n Berlin and other German cities. He adds something interesting in the a footnote which is that once it was known that he was the author, there were some who were skeptical, as R. (Pinchas) Elijah wrote in the introduction to his second edition. There the author had written that some thought it was too much for one person to have written. Here the reviewer says that in conversation some people found that he was not as scientifically knowledgeable as his book implies! But he says that this doesn't mean anything, because he never claimed to be a thorough expert in each one of the sciences he discussed in the book, as if he was formally educated and mastered them from his youth.

German beards

One of the tragicomic things about reading 19th century magazines is to see how much the Europeans really hated one another. Like, real contempt.

Here's a review of German beards in an 1848 issue of Blackwood's Magazine, contained in the article A Glimpse At Germany and Its Parliament:

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Show off

Here's a broadside featuring a hexalingual poem by John Walker, dated August 31, 1660.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Vilna Gaon story that was too weird for Artscroll.

But read to the end!

Jonathan Rosenblum's piece in Mishpacha Magazine, On Writing Gadol Biographies, just appeared on Cross Currents (link). As the author of more than a few of these, he offers his perspective on what he has tried to accomplish. Since he mentioned his translation/ adaptation (his word) of Betzalel Landau’s biography of the Vilna Gaon and how he added a chapter on the Gaon's opposition to Chassidism, which the original Hebrew book had not discussed, I thought it would be interesting to point out that there is at least one story from the Hebrew original which Rosenblum omitted. By contrast, the story appears in another popular English biography of the Gaon, "The Vilna Gaon: the Story of Rabbi Eliyahu Kramer[1]" by Yaacov Dovid Shulman (C.I.S.Publishers, 1994).

The story which, again, is contained in the Landau biography, goes something like this - but before I give it, here is what it is preceded by, which is worth quoting for it implicitly acknowledges the absurdity of the story, even as it somehow gives it credit for being a story of "the time," presumably the time of the Gaon himself:
The following story gives one a sense of how people of the time understood the conflict between the Gaon and the maskilim. It also illustrates the naive view people had of science-a weakness the Gaon tried to ameliorate.
The story is that the curators of a Russian museum had obtained some kind of precious mineral which reputedly possessed remarkable powers. Scientist could not figure out the secret of the stone, so they decided to send it to Germany, where the real great scientists were! They also couldn't figure it out, among them was Moses Mendelssohn, who suggested that they send it to the Vilna Gaon. Two German professors (Shulman says they were short and bald!) went to Vilna and brought the stone to the Gaon. The latter instructed his shammash to bring him a glass of water. The Gaon dropped the stone into the water and - poof! - the water disappeared. Seeing the shock, the Gaon explained to the German scientists that the stone was a sapphire and that when water comes into contact with sapphire the two elements of which is is composed separates and it reverts back to hydrogen and oxygen.

When the dumbfounded scientists returned to Germany and told everyone about the amazing rabbi in Vilna, Mendelssohn was excited and exclaimed that with this we can understand a naturalistic explanation for the splitting of the Red Sea! Moses' staff was made of sapphire, according to rabbinic tradition. When Moses split the sea with his staff, it was through the alchemic properties of sapphire!

When the Gaon was told of this "he was outraged. "Heretic!" he proclaimed." He then explained that the verse says harem et matekhah lift your staff and neteh et yadekha al hayam stretch out your hand over the sea (Ex. 14:16). Harem here means lift, but it also means to remove, set aside. So what actually happened was that God told Moses to set aside his rod and then stretch his hand over the sea - specifically so that the miracle was supernatural. This indeed was the miracle! He had a sapphire rod, but he used his hand.

Shulman often gives sources and here too he writes that it is to be found in Hagaon Hachassid pg. 375. The story is completely missing from the Rosenblum book published by Artscroll. You can see that Shulman himself knows it's bunk, hence the preface "the naive view people had of science." He doesn't spell it out further, doesn't note how even aside from the oddity of the belief that sapphire can separate water into hydrogen and oxygen, that the chemical composition of water was not even known until (shortly) after the Gaon died (link). Unless, of course, the Gaon already had discovered it. Interestingly, in the preface to the book Shulman relates all the sources he used, the ones you would expect. However, he pointedly writes that one famous work, "Toldos Hagra was not used despite its many anecdotes, because no sources are given." The whole thing is remarkable. And there are sources for this? As I said, Shulman himself has to obliquely note that the story is obviously a tall tale.

But it must have a source, so what is the source? For that we look at Landaus' Hagaon Hachassid.

What is Landau's source? It is the edition of Psalms which includes the commentary Parnassah Tovah (Jerusalem 1965), which is a reprint of the Tehillim with Shaare Parnassah Tovah by R. Mordechai Rothstein (Sziget 1889).

As you can see, this story is given to illustrate Psalm 44:8, "But Thou hast saved us from our adversaries, and hast put them to shame that hate us." Be sure to read it all for a nice story about how the advocate R. Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev explained how long Mendelssohn's Hell-sentence was: a yovel of Gehennom. What is a yovel in Gehenna? If a yovel (jubilee) is 50 years, then 50 years x 365 days x 1000 years per day, as a thousand years is but one day in the sight of the Lord. Doing the math we see that 50 x 365 x 1000 = 18,250,000 years. Since Mendelssohn died in 1786 this means that he has 18,249,774 years to go.

At any rate, this Chassidishe Mendelssohn story did not make it into Rosenblum's translation of Landau's Hagaon Hachassid, and conveniently the Gaon's Torah commentary Aderet Eliyahu does not cover Exodus 14.

Interestingly, the Misnagidm did not know that Mendelssohn was doomed to 18 million years in Hell, and there was a time when the following did occur.

In 1799 an anonymous book called Sefer Ha-bris was printed in Bruenn. It was written by Rabbi Pinchas Eliyahu Hurwitz of Vilna (1765-1821), although no reader would have known it at the time, unless you knew the author (and he left hints, as we will see below). He writes that he published it anonymously, but not because he is overly modest or pious, but because of an incident: in the early stages of writing the book in Butzatz (sp?) in Galicia, due to his excessive exertions in putting together this work, day and night, he exhausted himself to the point where he lost his eyesight. For an entire winter he rested and tried remedies, but nothing worked. So he set out to Lvov, and visited doctors for six months. Finally his eyesight was restored. He recalled that he had made a vow, that if God will allows his eyesight to be restored, and he could complete the book, then he would print it without his name. He continues, explaining that he got better, he finished the book in Haag, and that a certain rabbi wanted to release him from his vow for various reasons, but he declined. So the book was published without a name.

In the censor's page, Karl Fischer describes the book as full of "firsternen, kometen (astronomy), logik, physik, geographie, botannik, optik and anatomie." In other words, it is a science book. The censor further notes that the book was already printed in October 1797 (which, I think, will be somewhat significant, as the Gaon was still alive then). The censor's note is dated January 21, 1799, and the book was published the same year.

The book came with several haskamos from important rabbis of the time, the author's name removed from each one. In order of print, the approbations are from: Rabbi Saul and Rabbi David D'Azavedo, respectively Ashkenazic and Sephardic chief rabbis of Amsterdam, Rabbi Aryeh Leib of Rotterdam, Rabbi Yehuda Leib of the Hague, Rabbi Yitzchak of Krakow, Rabbi Moshe of Ofen, Rabbi Yitzchak Avraham of Pinchev.

The book became an instant classic, eventually being reprinted many, many times. It discusses everything from America to geese that grow on trees in Scotland.

In Chut Hameshulash, the biography of the Chasam Sofer written by one of his grandsons, Rabbi Shlomo Schreiber, in consultation with the elder members of his family and many others who knew the family patriarch, one footnote remarks that the Chasam Sofer said that he had had an idea to write a science book for yeshiva students, so they could know what they needed to know without having to read science books written by gentiles. However, when Sefer Ha-beris appeared, he realized that it had already been done! so this is the book he recommended for his students. (Just prior the footnote had mentioned that one time the Chasam Sofer was extolling the manifold virtues of his father-in-law Rabbi Akiva Eger; his holiness, asceticism, humility, meticulousness in observance. Notably absent was praises of his sharpness in learning, so the Chasam Sofer's son pointed out to him that he didn't mention it. The Chasam Sofer affirmed that he didn't mention it, but said that it's because his own method of learning is superior to Rabbi Akiva Eger's, essentially because it is less pilpulistic!)

The grandson goes on to note that his great purpose was to clearly explain the halacha, and for this purpose the Chasam Sofer owned two anatomical figurines, one male and one female, with removable organs. He used these figurines to learn and teach the relevant biology, although he only showed them to his best students, who were suffused with yiras shamayim, when teaching the laws of niddah and the like.

He continues to explain (claim?) that the Chasam Sofer was an expert in surveying, algebra, and the science behind the laws of kiddush hachodesh, which he was particularly knowledgable in. He also knew medicine, logic and physics. (In connection with this, in the introduction to Pe'as Hashulchan we are told that the Vilna Gaon, who mastered all knowledge except medicine, was not trained in medicine because his father felt that he would have been obligated to cure people if he knew medicine, and that would have been bittul torah.) It is after enumerating the secular subjects mastered by his grandfather that he relates that the Chasam Sofer had planned (or started?) to write a book on all these topics for his students until he read Sefer Ha-brit and realized that the work had already been done. It should be pointed out that in 1799 the Chasam Sofer had alreadyobtained the rabbinical position in Matersdorf, where he had a yeshiva, probably a small one, so this is not talking about his students in the yeshiva in Pressburg. So whatever happened to rabbis and roshei yeshiva writing and approbating science books?

At any rate, even though Rabbi Pinchas Eliyahu printed it anonymously, he began with a hint to his name:

Ani Pinchas Eliyahu ben Meir Vilna, "I am Pinchas Elijah ben Meir [of] Wilna." Clever!

And he was more clever yet. Here are how two further sections open:

The next edition of this book was printed in Zolkiew in 1807. This time the author included his name and a new preface. In it he writes about what a sensation the book had been and what sort of reception it had received. As you can imagine, an unusual, interesting book like this, and an anonymous author? Let the guessing begin!

"No longer anonymous . . . [but] some had said the author must be the famous Chassid of Vilna; others said that the Scholar of Berlin wrote it. Still others said that one man did not write it, for it was not possible for one man to have such breadth of knowledge . . . "
Again, as I pointed out earlier, although it was distributed in 1799 the censor's note makes it clear that it was already printed in October of 1797, and the Gaon was still alive then. Of course Mendelssohn was already gone since 1786, but the point is that it was at least plausibly a work of the Gaon's, even if in retrospect such speculation seems naive. Thus, we see that there was a time when the public could actually believe that the same Torah-Science work was either written by the Vilna Gaon or Moses Mendelssohn.

[1] The Gaon's surname was not Kramer. He had no surname. He was descended from a rabbi who was called Kremer, Yiddish for shopkeeper. See here where I shared an image from the 1765 census where the Gaon is called Eliasz Zelmanowiz. His surname was not, of course, Zelmanowiz either. This was a patronymic employed as a surname for the purpose of the census. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Fascinating Loewe collection artifacts

The Oxford Center for Hebrew and Jewish Studies just launched a fascinating digital exhibit, on the Raphael Loewe Archives (link).

Raphael Loewe (1919-2011) was a fourth generation British Jewish scholar and historian; the line beginning with Louis Loewe, famed in our circles as Moses Montefiore's secretary (I wrote about him here, concerning questions about his piety).

The site has many interesting items, but one which stands out for me was the inclusion of Raphael's childish Hebrew exercises. For example:

It is quite nice to see something like these from a 4, or possibly even 3 year old, version of the author of excellent studies like 'The Spanish Supplement to Nieto's "'Esh Dath"' or "The Abendana Brothers and the Christian Hebraists of Seventeenth-Century England."

Or this postcard asking for colored candles for Chanukah:

The exhibit includes artifacts from all four generations of Loewe's, such as these portraits of Louis Loewe's parents-in-law, and one of him as a young man:

And one of him as distinguished 62 year old:

And here is a fascinating document pertaining to a time when the Oxford Jewish Congregration received two Torah scrolls from a congregation which had ceased to exist. This document, from 1931) is signed by Herbert Loewe (Tzvi Mordechai ben Yaakov Chaim Halevi eid).

Finally, here are some pages from James's (second generation; he went by "Lowe," not "Loewe") translation of Rashi on Genesis:

And there is much more.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

What's a retired 'Shass Polack' to do? The eventual fate of Rabbi Hirsch Daenemark.

A couple of years ago I posted about Rabbi Hirsch Denmark, who dazzled audiences all over Europe in the 1840s with his apparent ability to demonstrate that he had memorized the entire Talmud, not only its words, but the very form of the pages. Furthermore, he seemed able to do it with any text given to him. (link)

I wondered what became of him. With the caveat, that I can't promise that this is not another man going by the same name, although that seems unlikely, it turns out that he had a second career in the 1860s, as a  traveling miracle working charlatan with, probably, some mental illness. This inspired various people to warn people about him in the newspaper Hamaggid. The first is from Hamaggid #22 1864. As you can see, the paragraph about him is actually censored by the Czar so we can't see his name mentioned. The only way I even know that this is talking about him is because a later issue refers to this one.

Writing from St. Petersburg, someone named D. Y. Kangisser wrote something about someone - we will see that it is Danemark - and in the part that we can read at the end he says that he wanted to notify the readers of Hamaggid in Galicia - where he was apparently from - perhaps they know the man, did he leave a wife behind, for example. Once the man's identity is established, maybe then we can know what to do with this "false prophet," (navi sheker).

Now that the media began covering him, another person, named Yeruchem Fischel Ze'ev Rosenzweig, sent in a letter, which appeared in #32. He says that when he met him several years earlier, he was going by the name (Rosh Barzel/ Iron Head - we will see below that he was using the name Eisenkopf). He asked him where he was staying. He told him that he was staying in a hostel owned by a Christian woman. Rosenzweig asked him why, and he told him that at that particular time he was not there for the Jews, but to perform miracles for the Christians. Upon seeing an example of his miracles, he was singularly unimpressed. Danemark told him that he can show him that he will impress people in the local (town hall?), but he merely did the same trick. Then he began to blaspheme against Judaism and even the Christian official couldn't take it, and the people wanted to beat him. The editor of Hamaggid added a note that he had also received a letter from someone in Mogilev about him, and how he impressed and collected much money from the superstitious women and fool[ish men] in his city. The editor believes it is important to publicize this man.

Then a few issues later, Shalom Barasch wrote, from Pest. This time he said that Denmark had lived in Pest for quite awhile, and married a young, poor girl of Polish origin in his city but he had divorced (or abandoned?) her. He was saying negative things (as he apparently was wont to do) and then he saw that it wasn't winning him fans, he disguised himself, dressing like a rabbi in black. He posed as an expert in Bible, Talmud and Aramaic. When he was exposed as a fraud, he left.

Then in Kovno someone came across him at the post office. He saw a crowd of men, women and children around this person, and he was saying nasty things, calling this one a bastard and that one a harlot. He asked who the man was, and was told "A crazy rabbi." He went to the police station to see if they knew anything about him, and they showed him that approbation letter he carried, which called him "The great rabbi Hirsch Denmark from Austria." So, obviously curious, he went to the place where Denmark was staying. He saw that he was surrounded by a group of course men, he was drinking, and saying terrible things about the Jews and their faith. He asked him, To which faith do you subscribe? Denmark answered "Karaite." But a moment passed and then he began cursing the Karaite. He could see, he writes, that the man was neither Jew, nor Karaite, nor Muslim - he was just a drunk.

Finally, this last piece is from Hamevasser, published in Lemberg. It refers to Barasch's letter in Hamaggid, and says that Denmark also visited his town, and called himself Eisenkopf. After doing his miracle schtick, people asked him, what did the Rambam write, what does it say in the Gemara? He declined to be tested in this manner. He was asked if he was married, and he confessed/ claimed that he had two wives. 

In any case, I do find it strange that no one seems to have recognized him from what he was up to nearlt 20 years earlier - this is a reason, I suppose, to wonder if it was the same person. On the other hand, was his nom de plume "iron head" meant to evoke the great mind he possessed, or felt he possessed? But here it is.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The lectures and responsibilities of Central European rabbinic luminaries described in an English journal.

Here's a really interesting letter that was printed in the August 3, 1860 issue of the Hebrew Review. The writer, who coyly signed Emet (which is no doubt an allusion to his name, which is not known to me) writes about "the so-titled "rev. gentleman," that is, the rabbis, who are haughty and insufficiently charitable. He unfavorably compares them with "some departed luminaries of this [19th] century," whom he personally knew, namely the Chavos Daas, R.Akiva Eger, R. Mordechai Benet and the Chasam Sofer. He describes the shiurim they gave, they piskei halacha and disputes they resolved, and their involvement in tending to the ill and the departed. In addition, they had reply to queries from government authorities and be a father figure to their students. He then suggests what these same British rabbis might do, what course of Torah study they might offer for the youth, and gives a little story about a Christian clergyman whom they might learn from. Finally, he kindly remarks that he doesn't mean any one in particular, any one may seem themselves as an exception, but some might recognize themselves and receive his mussar.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

What a handwriting! A Jewe petitions Charles II in 1663.

Here's a strange thing. It is a letter dated September 1663 to the king of England, evidently Charles II, from a person calling himself "Jacobo Ben Rabbi Samuel Augusto; a Jew borne of the tribe of Benjamin, professor of the Hebrew, Chaldee, and Syriac tongues." (Click to enlarge)
He begins:
May it please your most sacred Majesty to accept [] and letter: 
Who hath byn in England for those 5 years together & hath had many Doctors in Divinity & Ministers to instruct them in the Hebrew, Chaldee & Syriack Tongues . . . 
and then states that they tried to convert him, but he just could not find the word (i.e., idea) "Ben Elohim" (Sonne of God) out of the word "Shiloh," (Gen. 49:10). But then he was shown Proverbs 30:4, and he quotes in Hebrew, "Who hath ascended up into heaven, and descended . . . What is his name, and what is his son's name." Then he read the New Testament, and now he believes in its miracles. Before, he writes, he used to keep the principles of the Jewish Religion, such as that he would not eat the meat of any Christian. He kept to this strictness in Oxford and Cambridge as well, and also in the home of Dr. Busby, whom he lived with for two years. But now that he wants to convert, he is petitioning the king to be his witness to his baptism. Lots of blessings

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Boldly censoring a letter from Rabbi Jacob Joseph to Samuel Joseph Fuenn in RJJ's biography.

Recently I was visiting a choshuve home, and I picked up a book that looked interesting, as it indeed was. It was "The Rav Hakolel and his Generation" by Rabbi Yonah Landau, an English translation of his "ספר דער רב הכולל און זיין תקופה." This book is the fruit of his research on Rabbi Jacob Joseph, much of which had appeared in the publication Der Yid, with a series of articles beginning in 1989. Rabbi Landau seems to have single-handedly revived interest in Rabbi Joseph, New York's first and only, lamented Chief Rabbi, and out of this renewed interest has even grown a sort of cult following around Rabbi Joseph, with many pious individuals making pilgrimages to his grave on his yahrzeit and other times. It only took 100 years for him to re-enter the hearts of New York Jews. 

In any case, I didn't read the book, I had no time. But I did flip through it and found it to be very interesting. Normally one begins a review with the positive and then moves on to the negative, but first let me mention some negative and only then move on to the positive. The book was very, very sloppily edited, spelling mistakes, etc. This is, possibly, the fault of the translator, who probably didn't know much about the people mentioned in the book. Here are some examples of this. Naturally J. D. Eisenstein is a name which recurs in this book many times. It is not such a big deal that he is called "Eizenstein." Fine. But one time it refers to his autobiography as "Sefer Zichronos." Another time it gets it right, "Otzar Zikhronosai." My guess is that in the original Landau wrote (in Yiddish) "his seyfer zichroynos," i.e., "his autobiography," while in the other place he named the autobiography. The translator didn't realize that he meant "his autobiography" and therefore wrote "Sefer Zichronos." Why does this matter? Suppose a reader wants to investigate further and tries to find "Yehuda David Eizenstein's Sefer Zichronos." Not going to find it with that title. This is only an example, and similar things occur. Next, almost every American rabbi who routinely went by his English name is given by his Hebrew name. It's hard to say if this was intended to frumify them or not, but one reads about Rabbi Chaim Pereira Mendes and Rabbi Duber Drachman, both men who surely were called this when they were called to the Torah, but that's it. And then Rabbi Sabato Morais is arbitrarily called "'Dr.' Shabsai Morris." The final negative is that it lacks footnotes and a bibliography. Perhaps the original has them.

The many positives are that it is chock full of interesting sources and references, and at the very least is useful as a guide to much further investigation about Rabbi Jacob Joseph. Rabbi Landau is a great researcher and uncovered many, many obscure things. And this is my impression from merely leafing through it. Of course the book is also a religious polemic, and of course the opinion of the Satmar Rav, who apparently on occasion referred to RJJ as a sort of failed precursor to himself, which is not wholly accurate to say the least, figures prominently. How the Litvish maggid of Vilna turned into a holy saint for Chasidim is surely an interesting phenomenon. See here for example for pictures of NY State Assemblyman David Weprin, a political candidate who was apparently dragged to Rabbi Jacob Joseph's grave as part of his campaigning, complete with him writing a kvitel to RJJ. See:

In any case, the book looks great, and I want to really read it. But here's something which has to be dealt with in full because it is really low-hanging fruit. One of the book's good qualities is its many photographic reproductions of various articles, title pages and the like. Landau really dug deep to find many rare things. Unfortunately, as I said, there is very little bibliographic info. Still, these are good leads for people who want to know more about RJJ and his period. So I was leafing through the book and something practically jumped out of the page and flashed at me. Here is what I mean:

I mean, come on. Don't make it so easy for me. Are you kidding me? Yes, this "correspondence from the Rav Hakolel to a Ruv after his arrival in NY" happens to have the name of the "Ruv" blurred out. Oh, come on. And then the footnote begins with 3, meaning the first two were removed. Was this not going to be noticed? I'll get to it in a minute, but here is a detail:

So who was this Rav whom Rabbi Jacob Joseph addressed, the very week after he arrived in New York, as "zekan beit Vilna," "the elder of Vilna," as "His honor, my beloved friend, the rabbi and ga'on in Torah and [secular] wisdom . . . " (and to his son)? I guessed who it was, it was that easy, although I guess it could have been someone else. It was S. J. Fuenn, the leading maskil in Vilna. As it happens, Fuenn was very popular in his time and had a reputation for moderation and (even) piety. This letter was published originally in 1963 in, naturally, Yeshiva University's journal Talpiot 8:3-4 (Nissan 5563), as "Two Letters From New York's Chief Rabbi Jacob Joseph Charif (From a Bundle of Letters of R. Samuel Joseph Fuenn)". When you see the original in Talpiot you see that not only was the name blurred but a lot more was removed from this picture. The funny thing is, there was no reason to remove the first two footnotes, as you will see, which I had assumed discussed and identified the blurred out rabbi who Rabbi Jacob Joseph says is beloved, but cannot be named in the book because it ruins the message.

As you can see, the entire title, everything above the Aleph was removed. You can also see that three additional words, "harofei doctor fin," that is, in Talpiot Fuenn's son, a medical doctor, is named, but in the Rav Hakolel book the name is taken out and it only says "to his son, the scholar." As you can further see, the second  footnote does not explain who Fuenn was at all, it merely explain the acronym, as the first footnote did. If he hadn't removed it, by golly, it would have been less suspicious! The entire story about Fuenn is contained in an asterisk before the footnotes, so it could have kept in those first two footnotes. 

For what it's worth, Chaim Reuven Rabinowitz, who published this letter, also is puzzled at the seemingly close relationship between RJJ and Vilna's leading maskil, although he points out that Fuenn was very different from maskilim like Lilienblum and J. L. Gordon. Furthermore, it contains a hilarious oral tradition (I guess) about Fuenn. They used to say about Fuenn that he davens mincha many times a day. Why? Because someone like him could not refuse to join a minyan, saying "I already prayed." If he said that then he'd be suspected of lying and not praying at all. Thus, he had no choice but to pray a few times every afternoon. Actually, the source of this story seems to be Klausner's Volume 4 of his History of Modern Hebrew Literature, where it says "5 times a day," unless Rabbinowitz had heard it independently. The truth is, it's not so hard to explain Fuenn's relationship with RJJ. He was also on very good terms with the Netziv. It just is what it is, but it doesn't work with the polemic of the book. Similarly, a journal like Hamaggid is called "Reform," even though this wasn't known to the rabbis, including some of the caliber of R. Yehoshua Heschel Levine, author of Aliyos Eliyahu on the Vilna Gaon, who advertised his book in the pages of Hamggid,  one of countless other examples which can be given to prove that it was not "Reform." If Hamaggid was Reform, then so was J. D. Eisenstein, a well regarded source in this book. You want to see Reform? See my post on the Malbim from the other day (link). 

Edit: see below: In Jeffrey Gurock's article "How "Frum" Was Rabbi Jacob Joseph's Court?" Jewish History Vol. 8:1-2 (1994) he discusses this sort of moderate rabbinic haskalah which, he says, was not foreign to some of the dayanim on RJJ's Beth Din. One example he gives is Rabbi Israel Kaplan, the father of Mordecai Kaplan, whom he says was given a letter of recommendation by Fuenn to Rabbi Alexander Kohut for coming to America. Gurock lists the Kaplan Diaries Vol. I Jan. 30 and Feb. 1, 1917 pp. 256 - 58. Fortunately, the Kaplan Diaries are now online. Fortunately on pp. 256 - 58 Kaplan discusses his father, upon his death, and also his feelings about the "Shiba." Unfortunately, nothing at all appears about Kohut or Fuenn on these pages. But there is this about his relationship with Rabbi Jacob Joseph:

Maybe the mistake is mine, but I read and reread and then reread those pages and it isn't there.

Edit: the mistake was indeed mine. In the comments it was pointed out that the part about Fuenn is in the published version of the journals, and this caused me to give a second look at the page. It was on the page - in a marginal note at the top added by Kaplan, which I did not read carefully at all. Here it is:

You can read or download the entire letter as it was originally published in Talpiot right here. By the way, lest anyone think that I have something against the revival of interest in Rabbi Jacob Joseph - not at all. I think it's great and it is largely if not entirely due to Rabbi Yonah Landau.

Monday, June 11, 2012

An objection to Malbim's appointment in New York.

When Malbim was considered for the post of Chief Rabbi of New York (see here) the American Israelite was not a fan of the suggestion (Aug. 22, 1879) or, really, the whole concept.

After he died, the same paper passed on the request for donations to his impoverished family.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Ami Magazine draws on an old tradition?

The current issue of Ami Magazine has as striking image illustrating the cover story, "Orthodox Community Under Attack By The Press," depicting a young Chareidi man in stocks.

I thought it might be interesting to discuss the Kuna a little bit, the stocks which were often found outside Polish and Lithuanian synagogues (and Churches). Wrongdoers were places in the kuna, and sometimes people were enjoined to spit at them during the period they were confined. People could be placed in it for things ranging to financial misconduct (such as defaulting on loans) to religious misconduct, as well as things like theft.

Here is an image of the actual kuna which was used in/ by the main synagogue in Vilna during the time that - allegedly - Salomon Maimon was placed in it on orders of the Vilna Gaon for saying that the Talmudic Sages erred in giving ditza as a Hebrew synonym for "joy." The story about that story is complex; the second edition of Aliyos Eliyahu (where the story is related) acknowledged that Salomon Maimon, given as the  protagonist in the first edition, could not have been the hapless prisoner, but that it was the mysterious Glusker Maggid (aka Abba, Maggid of Hlesk) who is famed in legend elsewhere as the man whom Rabbi Yaakov Emden throw down a flight of stairs, composing a Hebrew poem as he fell. 

And here is a depiction of a man confined in a kuna, printed in Tausent Jahr Pinsk (New York 1941) by Benzion Hoffmann (from here).

And one from the synagogue in Przysucha (i.e., Peshischa):


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