Thursday, January 31, 2013

A "mash giach" and the additional expense of kosher meat explained in a Supreme Court case from 1916

This is a page from the transcript of the  U.S. v. Hamburg-Amerikanische Packetfahrt-Actien Gesellschaft, 239 U.S. 466 in 1916.

As you can see, the Hamburg-Amerikanische Packetfahrt-Actien Gesellschaft argued that its rates are reasonable and, actually, should be higher than other lines because they have a "mash giach" and only serve kosher meat, since it doesn't make sense to have two kinds of meat and therefore it costs them more to feed the passengers. I have absolutely no idea what problem the U.S. had with this shipping company, but I suppose it had something to do with the Sherman Act. You see, there are more than 10,000 pages of this case to go through.


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A tale of two pamphlets; a blood libel pamphlet and its strident rebuttal in England in 1656

In 1656 a small pamphlet was published in London called The Case of the Jevvs stated: or The Jewes Synagogue Opened. With Their preparations in the morning before they go thither, and their doings at night when they come home. Their practices in their Synagogues and some select actings of theirs in ENGLAND, upon Record.

While much of it only mildly hostile to Judaism (the Jews blaspheme when they praise God for bestowing the cock with wisdom!") the reference to "some select actings of theirs in England, upon Record" refers to the blood libel, which this book wastes no time in stating as a historical fact on the first page of the pamphlet. Here is the title page:

A little later that year a man named Joseph Copley published a vigorous, really vehement rebuttal called  The Case of the Jews is Altered and Their Synagogue Shut To all Evil-Walkers. Or, a Vindication of the JEWES From the false Imputations laid upon them in a scrurrilous PAMPHLET, INTITLED The Case of the Jews Stated, etc. Presumably Joseph Copley was really a pseudonym for Yankel Koppelberg. No, I'm kidding. I am not sure who he was, but here is his title page:

Although not really stated much in either of these two pamphlets, there can be little doubt that the background has to do with the question of the readmission of the Jews, which some in England were debating at the time. The year before Menasseh hen Israel had been a guest of Oliver Cromwell's in London, where he formally petitioned for the readmission of the Jews. Menasseh ben Israel is referred to twice in the second pamphlet, in defense of the Jews, whereas opponents of resettlement pointed to what they probably believed were the historical crimes of the Jews, as a reason for not allowing them back in England after 350 years. The background of the resettlement question can be read in this good Wiki entry here.

I will post both pamphlets in their entirety below, but here is some summary.

1. Against.

The writer begins by describing synagogues, and states that when the Jews "were in England (as Matthew Parris hath recorded...) [they] used every year to steal a young Boy (the child of a Christian, and to circumcise him, and then in their Synagogue sate in solemn Assembly, chusing one of themselves to be Pilat, who out of their Devillish malice to Christ and Christians condemned the child, and crucified him to death; and this was discovered at Norwich, where they circumcised a Christian child and called him Jurnin, and condemned him to be crucified, it was discovered, for which four Jews being convicted were drawn at horses tails, and hanged on a Gibbet, and 18 Jews were drawn and hanged for thus crucifying of one Hugh Lincoln. They were banished...and their houses was given to the Master of the Rolls." He continues, noting that the Jews above age seven were then obligated by law to wear a piece of wool on their chest "to be known."

That pleasantry out of the way, the pamphlet now described what a Jew does when he wakes up. Or, rather, first: the wife wakes up the husband before dawn, since they are supposed to pray with the sunrise. How did the wives wake up? He describes superstitions about unclean spirits that require washing, and says that the Jews blaspheme when they wash their hands after because they utter the blessing "Blessed be thou O God our God, King of all the world, who hast commanded us to wash our hands."

Upon entering the synagogue they "endeavour chearfulness," clean their shoes at the door, deposit a halfpenny in the tzedakah box, and bow toward the ark and reciting Scriptural verses "expressing a high esteem of the House of God," as this man who accepts the blood libel as a historical fact, writes. He describes the blessings, prayers, and how it includes a prayer for the destruction of Christians. He gives a complete translation of the Velamalshinim blessing, and the rest of the service, and then the men go home. Then "the Good-wife" at home sweeps in anticipation of her husband's return, and "layeth him a book on the table" from which he doth learn from for "an hours space." Then at 11:00 she serves him dinner. At 5:00 the schul klopper, or as he calls it, the Scholae pulsator, knocks on their doors to get the Jews to return to the synagogue. He describes the prayer, supper, going to bed and concludes by saying that Jews are really raunchy in the bedroom: "their chamber morals are so lascivious written upon their walls, as is unfit for chaste ears," meaning that they have some kind of pornographic (?) things written on their walls. It concludes with a quotation from Corinthians: "If any man love not the Lord Jesus, let him be Anathema Maranatha."

2. For.

This pamphlet is not anonymous, as I said. Its author, Joseph Copley, begins with both fists swinging. He calls it a Libel, and paranthetically adds that he is told that its author once "did pennance in a sheet," meaning that he is a man of low character, according to rumor. He says that one would be impressed to find so much venom in the body of a little spider, as the author (much venom, is a little spider). The insults he pours on this man goes on for lines. His heart is "filled with envy and malice" "his noddle is well gifted with a goodly talent of beastly ignorance."

The blood libel quoted from Matthew Parris is a "ridiculous fable": "'tis a likely matter, that the Jews should first circumcise a Child to make him a Jew, and then murder him." He says that it is absurd to say that one of the Jews pretends to be Pontius Pilate "when none of them that I ever spake with, believe there was any such person" - which tells you both that Copley met Jews and that they didn't believe in Pilate and therefore presumably much of the narrative about Jesus from the New Testament. Finally, Copley says that if there was any truth to it they would have given the child a Hebrew name and not "Jurnin."

He then says something amazing. True, he writes, the Jews were accused of these things, and also poisoning the wells. But guess who actually did these things? "None but the Monks and Friers." That is, the priests, who besides being sorcerers also "did frequently murder children in their Monesteries, to keep their unclean conversation from the knowledge of the world, they moved by envy at the prosperity of the Jews, crucified Children, and poisoned Wells" and blamed the Jews and provoked hatred of them among the common people. To reiterate: he assumes that the children were crucified and the wells poisoned - but it was the  medieval Catholic priests who did it and blamed it on the Jews!

He continues and says that he thinks that the terrible sin of persecution of the Jews is something which the present generation may no longer be guilty of, if the Lord will "give us good hearts toward this poor afflicted people, who are therefore dispersed amongst us." We should, he says, exercise mercy and hospitality toward the Jews, for God will judge whether "we will like savage Cannibals devour strangers, or with good Abraham and Lot, receive them kindly into our houses."

He then takes on the idea of forcing the Jews to wear an identifying mark, which had been done in England in the past, as was then the rule in Rome, and asks, should we imitate the Papists? Doesn't the author find in the Gospel that we must do good to those who persecute us? Kal ve-chomer we should not persecute those who do us no hurt, i.e., the Jews. He says that the man is not promoting the coming Kingdom of Christ, but is the voice of an Antichrist. Amazingly, he then says that some Jews living in England are obliged to be Jewish in secret because of their friends in Spain and Portugal and some parts of Italy, and if they would be forced to wear a mark identifying them as Jews, these friends would be in harm's way. To protect foreign secret Jews, Jews in England should be allowed to blend in as well as they want to.

He continues, attacking the anonymous pamphleteer's view of the prayers of the Jews, saying that it is a lie, and he quotes R. Yehuda Aryeh Modena's book, in Chilmead's translation. So, he says, the man "lyes...mingle[s] false with true." It's true, many of the blessings and ceremonies are done by the Jews, and they are not to be blamed for it. But he is simply wrong for asserting that the Jews believe God has need of rest. He makes some nice puns about Cocks and, as for the blessing in the bathroom, "when he comes to the privy he paddles to the very throat in stinking lyes, and there we will leave him" - in the bathroom - "to play the Gold-finder, for 'tis a place much fitter for him than the Pulpit." I suppose that is a hint that the author of the anti-Jewish pamphlet was a clergyman.

He says that the idea that the Jews constantly curse the Christians in their prayers is not true, the opposite is. They pray for the peace of the nations among whom thjey live, for the honor, safety and power of their temporal ruler. He then refers to Menasseh ben Israel's book. And if the man had read his book - here comes the best insult yet - reading it "might have stopt this Fellows mouth, and prevented his ugly, abortive, unlick'd Cub from creeping into the view of the world." He then says the idea that the Jews have "lascivious Motto's" adorning the walls of their homes is just nonsense. It is possible that a lewd Jew had it, and he adds parenthetically that perhaps the author knew such coarse Jews, but actually if Jews put such things up in their homes then the frummer Jews - "the graver sort, who do frequently visit the houses of the rest, would tear it down." And then he gives the interesting information that he has visited the homes of many Jews, and you know what they have hanging on their walls? "Pictures representing Bible-Histories." So now we know what Jews hung on their walls in the 17th century. And if he had actually seen such a thing in a bad Jew's home, "is it not madness in him to charge the whole nation with it? Some of all nations and religions are bad, must therefore all the men in the world be so?" He says that if not for the time of the year it was actually published, you'd think it was the Mid-summer Moon which fried this guy's brain. He picks apart the closing verse from Corinthians and the idea of anathemas.

He closes saying that he has "vindicated the honorable Nation of the Jews from the fowl aspersions of a black-mouth'd slanderer, which, if I have done with some sharpness," he understates, "it is but what his folly hath merited." He then basically warns the next pamphleteer who slanders the Jews that next time he will not use a rod of chastisement, but he will send him a rope, to make a noose and hang himself. He says he could say many nice things about the Jews, and what good they could do in England, but he can't say it better than Menasseh ben Israel. His closing verse is מִי יִתֵּן מִצִּיּוֹן, יְשׁוּעַת יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּשׁוּב יְהוָה שְׁבוּת עַמּוֹ יָגֵל יַעֲקֹב יִשְׂמַח יִשְׂרָאֵל.

Here are the full pamphlets:

Sunday, January 27, 2013

On an unusual attempt to sell the Hebrew poems of a living poet to Moses Mendelssohn's son, as the work of his father

The other day I did one of my "Who am I?" posts (link), and the answer, which no one guessed but my thanks to those who tried, was Moses Mendelssohn of Hamburg (or, Mendelson, as he actually spelled his name). Here was the complete picture in which he is captioned:

You can find this picture in the Jubilee volume of the Israelit commemorating the 100th anniversary of the birth of R. Samson Raphael Hirsch, here. Mendelson (1780-1861), who was really surnamed Frankfurt, was Hirsch's maternal uncle. The reason why he is holding a book with the title Columbus is because Mendelson's chief work was his translation of Campe's Die Entdeckung von Amerika into Hebrew, which was his מציאת הארץ החדשה, printed in Altona in 1807. The rest of Mendelson's output was mostly scatterings of poems and little articles in various journals. Notable exceptions included a short, anonymously published pamphlet, which contained a lengthy poem called בקשת הלמדין, featuring the letter lamed in each word, and what is supposed to be a Torah commentary called Schuschan-Eduth of which, I think, only one of two projected volumes appeared. I haven't seen this book, but the interesting introduction to this volume, as well as the aforementioned בקשת הלמדין, and basically most of his poems and essays, many of which are quite clever and fascinating, were collected and published after his death as פני תבל - מוסר השכל, which was printed in Amsterdam in 1872. (The Torah introduction from Schuschan Eduth is, for some reason, two essays on preachers - basically parodying and excoriating the new style praedigers (preachers) and the old style maggidim.)

His book about Columbus has many interesting things about it, naturally, so here are a couple. In his introduction he writes about meeting Wessely in his hometown of Hamburg the year before the latter died. The aged master, certainly seen as the expert Hebrew poet of the age, gave him advice in writing Hebrew. Do not, he told him, merely cobble together biblical verses. Although we should understand this ourselves, Mendelson explains that he in fact means the newfangled melitzah style, which consisted of little more than that, weaving together pre-existing phrases from the Bible into a confusing and imprecise text that was supposed to be meaningful and poetic.

The book also includes a neat little glossary in the beginning, for naturally in a work such as this using Hebrew in new ways would be required. Clearly desiring to write only in Hebrew, or as much as possible, Mendelson explains, for example, that when he writes Rifat he means England! - and gives his source for the identification of this biblical land with England as Ben Gorion. Similarly, he used Elul for August - which is not at all something unusual.You find this quite often; Adar is March and so on. However, his glossary is the only time where I saw someone who used the Hebrew months this way point out that he is well aware that the months are not a perfect match, but that most of the days overlap in the Hebrew and English months. He uses the term Dagim Me-ofafim for flying fish, Kumar Romi for pope - although there is a Hebrew word for pope, אפיפיור, this word is not pure Hebrew (See E. Ben Yehuda Milon v. 1 pg. 346). Mendelson used Mored Ha-har for waterfall (and he adds in parentheses that he knows that the rabbinic Hebrew term is Hardalit (sort of) but apparently chooses not to use it because its origin is Greek).

Finally, the book also comes with a - not quite haskama, but a rishyon, apparently some formal necessity for printing a Hebrew book in Altona at the time, by its rabbi, Zvi Hirsch Zamosc (d. 1807), who was the last rabbi of the united triple community Altona-Wandsbeck-Hamburg. Zamosc gives his license and says something like "Whomever wishes to read it, those people who are edified by reading stories like this, permission is granted." The rishyon is given to "the delightful bachelor, maskil, the honorable Moses, son of the wonderful rabbi Mendel F"F [Frankfurt]."

In any case, hopefully people are still reading because here is where the fun part begins. In 1841 Moses Mendelssohn's son Joseph placed advertisements in journals and newspapers all over Germany requesting the public's assistance on a project in which he was engaged, namely the printing of his father's collected writings. So he asked the public to please send him any manuscript they might have written by his father, and he will purchase them for a fair price, or to send and he ensures its safe return. Here is an example of such an ad:

One of the people who responded sent him some Hebrew poems by Moses Mendelson. Of Hamburg. And this person wanted to charge Joseph Mendelssohn for them and, as we shall see, he knew full well that they were written by the living poet - who was his friend, in fact - and not by the philosopher who had been dead for nearly 60 years. Joseph showed them to one of the editors who had been hired for the project, one Heymann Jolowicz, and he realized the deception. The story was originally reported in a Hamburg newspaper, but I cannot find this newspaper. So instead I will give you the version as it is was given in a "Hey, isn't this crazy!" kind of story in an American periodical called Bizarre, in 1855 (and this story was in fact copied from a French magazine from the same year, not the Hamburg newspaper).

As you can see, the story does not identify who made this deception; he is but "Dr. H..... of Berlin." The story makes a big deal about how Jolowicz (his last name cheerfully Americanized to "Jallowitz") was a great detective, and knew how rare poetic verse was in the Mendelssohn oeuvre. He discovered that Dr. H had actually published a Hebrew periodical 40 years earlier, and had included Hebrew poetry by Moses Mendelson of Hamburg, and these that were sent to Joseph Mendelssohn were unpublished poems by MM of Hamburg, that Dr. H tried to pass off as authentic. Actually, I am a little bewildered by how this deception was meant to happen for it seems that MM of Hamburg nearly always signed his work the same way, Moshe ben ha-torani ve-harabbni mohr"r Mendel F"F, or some variety. Not to mention that they were not in Moses Mendelssohn's handwriting. Were they supposed to be copies? Didn't Dr. H expect questions? While I guess Dr. H maybe thought he could fool Joseph Mendelssohn, it doesn't seem like it would have been a great feat for Jolowicz to detect the fraud and so of course he did.

But anyway, although Dr. H is not identified, we realize exactly who it is. But first, a portrait of Joseph Mendelssohn from 1830, aged 60:

Dr. H, who tried to sell poems under false pretenses, is none other than Dr. Jeremias Heinemann, a very interesting individual whom, I will have to guess, was in financial straits when he tried to sell the work of his living friend off as the original Hebrew poems of Moses Mendelssohn himself. Heinemann was an educator and scholar, a publisher, a bible commentator, involved in the earliest stages of Reform as a member of the Westphalian consistory, moved away from that early position to the point that even Rabbi Akiva Eger was willing to give a haskama of sorts to his edition of Mendelssohn's Pentateuch, see below, and someone who had spent a good deal of his life involved with Mendelssohn's writings - both Mendelssohns, in fact. Here is a portrait of Heinemann's father, a rabbi named Rabbi Meinster (or Joachim) Heinemann (1747-1825). And yes, I give this because I don't have one of Dr. Heinemann himself:

Here is Rabbi Akiva Eger's haskamah - or really not-quite haskamah - to one of the volumes of Heinemann's chumash, called Mekor Hachajim, published in Berlin between 1830 and 1833 Although we will acknowledge that he is not exactly turning cartwheels with enthusiasm, reportedly Rabbi Akiva Eger did order a copy, as he listed in the subscribers. However, one might also grant that it is possible that Heinemann simply sent him a copy. I often wonder if the big league rabbis actually ordered the copies they are listed as having subscribed to or if, at least in some cases, they are listed because a copy was simply sent to them. You know, it's like how a musician struggles for years then makes it big and suddenly Gibson is sending them truckloads of free gear. In any case, it is certainly a nice letter and it is much more than a sentence or two. No wonder Heinemann printed it.

In any case, so here's what happened. In the late 1810s Heinemann had a periodical called Jedidja. It was not a Hebrew journal, as Bizarre says; it was in German. However, it did have quite a nice amount of Hebrew material, poems and so on. It notably contains a little poetic translation by none other than Leopold Zunz, a very early literary production by him. Here it is:

So this poem, Halayla (the night), is a translation of Sommernacht (Summer Night) by Klopstock. Compare the above with an English translation of Sommernacht:

So Jedidja. Many interesting things, including work by Moses Mendelson of Hamburg. I will show the following, though, because I love finding English in non-English works. So here we have the following. What happened was, in 1815 the Duke of Sussex became a Patron of the Jews' Hospital and Orphan Asylum in London (link), which had the Hebrew title נוה הצדק. Sussex, a son of King George III, was a real ohev yisrael, which was not necessarily common in England at the time without a missionary motive, and a collector of Hebrew books.  In 1817 at the annual meeting of Jews' Hospital, Sussex came, apparently, and to celebrate this momentous occasion - poetry! And pageantry. A Hebrew poem was composed, and perhaps read, along with an English poem to be "recited by One of the Girls of the Institution." Another poem was written by Shalom Hakohen, one of the patron saints of the Haskalah (last editor of Hameasseph, later to publish Bikkurei Haittim, and several noted works of his own) who was living in London at the time (on him, and the London Chief Rabbi's haskamah to his book for children, see here). So the next year in Berlin Heinemann printed the poems for this occasion, including the English ode to be recited by a girl. Try to imagine a little Jewish orphan girl with her London accent of whatever manner it was, in 1817, reciting,

"Behold, we cry, our smiles of health,
Our moral minds, our means of trade;
Here have ye treasured up your wealth,
And thus your offerings are repaid."

I should have given this above, but here is the title page for Jedidja:

Now, in addition to publishing many letters by Mendelssohn (the first one) it also included a poem or two by Mendelson of Hamburg. Here is the end of one:

Now, some 20 years later Heinemann revived the Jedidja periodical in Berlin. In the second go-around he included much interesting material, some recycled, some new. Apparently he was strapped for cash, or at least had a lot of copies of his Chumash Mekor Hachajim he was trying to sell, because he kept including ads for it, and descriptions of it. It is of some interest that he felt like pointing out that it included a map of Israel, following the Vilna Gaon:

In any case, only a few years earlier (1833) the following appeared in one of the volumes of the Chumash Mekor Chajim; a friendly letter from Moses Mendelson of Hamburg. That is, they were firm friends.

So it was that Dr. Jeremias Heinemann in Berlin allegedly tried to sell Joseph Mendelssohn Hebrew poems written by his friend Moses Mendelson of Hamburg, and this deception was discovered by Heymann Jolowicz whom, I might add, was one of the Reform rabbis in the synod I posted about the other day (link). His grand contribution to the Simchat Torah question was: "We should read Vezot Habracha once every three years." 

It should be noted that when the Collected Writings of Mendelssohn were published a couple of years later, the volume which included the entire German translation of the Pentateuch (in German, not Hebrew letters) came with an extensive introduction by Jolowicz, and he mentions Heinemann's Berlin edition of the Chumash in very nice terms, but does not mention this attempted fraud. Truth be told I feel a little badly about it myself, seeing as how even Jolowicz saw fit not to mention it. But as I said, I strongly suspect that Heinemann was motivated by economic desperation and should not be judged harshly.

Since previously I had mentioned Jolowicz's prize comment that  "We should read Vezot Habracha once every three years," and he was a better scholar than that suggests, we should talk about him. Eventually he moved to England, where his credentials as a learned scholar enabled him to receive a government stipend (interestingly, the materials relating to this process are online - it involved testimonials, a sponsor, personal statements, and a list of his published work). I would just like to call attention to a paper he delivered for the German Oriental Society in England in 1855. Here is the title page of the published version:

In the introduction, W. H. Black recommends the paper, writing that that "For many years I have been convinced that the printed text of some parts of the Hebrew Scriptures may be fairly subject to critical emendation, especially the Psalms, and other poetical portions of the Bible." He continues, that Jolowicz presents the evidence for the position that the Bible contains errors in need of emendation from rabbinic sources.

In the paper itself, Jolowicz refers to the different Versions, and the variants found in the collations of Kennicott and De Rossi, which prove that the text as found in the manuscripts have been subject to corruption. But also "the Talmudists, and the latter Rabbis, as well as the Chaldee parphrast [sic] Jonathan ben Uziel, not only knew various readings most strikingly different from our Canonical Text, but also determined by the interpretations of the same most important usages of religious life." He begins by declaring that the Talmud gives as authors of the books mostly different people from those for whom the books are named. The reason he mentions this is to set the stage for the idea that certain words had to have been interpolated by later copyists, such as Proverbs 25:1 ("King of Judah") words which, as he points out, are missing in some manuscript variants found by Kennicott. He continues by asserting that many "among the most orthodox and greatest authorities of post-Talmudical rabbis . . . did not less practice a strict criticism of the Biblical Text." And conveniently he writes "But this subject will be more conveniently treated of in another place." He goes on to list several dozen variants implied by the Targum called Jonathan, and in the Talmud, Midrash and Zohar, and a few instances in Rashi. He closes with a much-cited passage in Massechet Sopherim, which shows that there were variant readings in the Torah. He closes by quoting a letter from Leib Dukes which notes that one of the Oppenheim manuscripts at Oxford actually contains a masoretic note which gives an interesting variant for Number 12:16, saying that this variant is a more correct reading. Jolowicz notes that one such text corrected according to this manuscript was listed by Kennicott. The paper may be read here.

EDIT: To give Heinemann more his due as an interesting and creative person, I'd to call attention to the second half of my post here, where I refer to an interesting book by him which "I have never seen anything quite like," I wrote, and that "on the face of it it seems like one of the most effective methods of learning what the prayers mean that I have ever seen." Do take a look.

EDIT II: Another angle. Here is fascinating poem by Moses Mendelson of Hamburg, in tribute to Johannes Gutenberg on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of Gutenberg's use of moveable type printing. This was printed in the Algeimeine Zeitung des Judentums May 2, 1840. Click them to enlarge and read:

What makes this all the more interesting is that Heinemann printed the same poem in his revived Jedidja in 1842. And there is no mention of Mendelson's authorship, not on the poem and not in the table of contents. Here is the first page from that reprinting. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

If you implement a Triennial Torah reading cycle well, what about Simchat Torah?

I thought it would be interesting to post my rendering of the vote about whether or not to retain Simchat Torah in the Reform Synod at Frankfurt in 1845.

The background is, of course, that the Reform rabbis were trying to implement liturgical reforms, to modernize the services, to both attract people and avoid repelling them, and do it in a way that was consistent both in Reform theory and in practice. So in this, the second of three such assemblies, held in Frankfurt A.M.[1]  between July 15 and 28, 1845, many questions were discussed. 

As part of the process of reforming, modernizing and streamlining services, the assembly had approved of implementing a Triennial cycle of reading the Torah. This would of course have the effect of shortening the Torah reading by one third which is something that people who look forward to Parshat Nitzavim can understand. Old sources showed that in ge'onic times (and later) the Torah was read and completed every three years, while our custom of reading it in one year, and celebrating Simchat Torah on the second day of Shemini Atzeret arose in Babylonia. The question therefore was, should Simchat Torah be celebrated only every three years? Or annually? Or at all? Here is what they said:
12th Question, 23 July 
President: Since the majority are in favor of the Triennial cycle for reading the Torah, a question arises: Can the second day of Schemini Atzereth, which until now was the day when the end of the Torah was read, and the Torah reading completed, be maintained? It was pointed out that the Torah describes the entire Sukkot as zeman simchoteinu, a time of joy, so as the Torah was the greatest joy of Israel, celebrating it as Simchath Torah was very suitable. 
A vote was requested, and here is is along with each rabbi's comments:  
Salomon: In the Hamburg Temple they celebrated Simchat Torah once every three years. 
Wechsler: Simchat Torah doesn't only signify that the Torah was ended, but is also a memorial to the great teacher Moses; the festival can be seen this way as well. (He is referring to the fact that we read of Moshe's death, with all of his accompanying praises on S"T.) 
Maier: Simchat Torah has the character of Yom Tov Sheini Shel Shemini Atzeret. This is when we read Vezot Habracha. (I guess he means to point out that it is the second day of Yom Tov and, hello, we are supposed to be against it.) 
It moves to a vote. 
Jolowicz: We should read Vezot Habracha once every three years, 
Lowengard: Likewise. Simchat Torah is unimportant as a memorial for Moses. This only comes as a consequence of reading Vezot Habracha
Sobernheim: Likewise. 
Einhorn: Read it every three years. 
Wagner: Likewise. 
Kahn: If we should read Vezot Habracha each year then we're guilty of inconsistency in theory. We should not say that the festival is a celebration of the Siyum. 
Philippson: Vezot Habracha should be read every three years. We already have a festival of joy for our possession of the Torah; Shavuot. 
A. Adler: Likewise. We should not allow a new dichotomy between teaching and life. 
Auerbach: Likewise. 
Süsskind: Likewise. The commemoration of Moses' death only developed from the reading of Vezot Habracha
Treunfels: Read Vezot Habracha yearly. 
Ben Israel: Likewise. 
S. Adler: I abstain from voting. 
Hoffmann: Read Vezot Habracha yearly. 
Güldenstein: Every three years. 
Herrheimer: Every three years. 
Hess: Yearly, because otherwise the communities would be opposed. 
Wechsler: Yearly, in memory of Moses, as long as Yom Tov Sheini is maintained. 
Geiger: Yearly, because otherwise you'd have to look for something new to lein for the day. Simchat Torah has importance as the final day of the festivals. 
Maier: Every three years. 
Salomon: Every three years. 
Herzfeld: Yearly, the festival was celebrated, as the president specified, because of the spiritual joy, and not for the reading of Vezot Habracha
Holdheim: Simchat Torah, as a day of significance arose late. In the original prayers it is not called as such. Only in the Piyutim is it called this. I therefore agree to reading Vezot Habracha every three years. However, the day as a memorial to Moses should be kept as long as Yom Tov Sheini is. 
Formstecher: Every three years. A memorial for the death of Moses is appropriate on 7 Adar. The Rejoicing of the Law is, as noted by Philippson, Shavuot. Rejoicing will still bring the people in. As it is, those who read the Torah the most are the least joyful, and those who are more forward-looking read the Torah the least. 
Gosen: Yearly. You can read Vezot Habracha again, just as other lessons from the law are repeated [=from time to time]. (i.e., even with a three year cycle) 
Jost abstains from voting. His personal opinion would be that the rabbis should not rob the people of a joyful celebration. But when joy comes about through inappropriate ways that harm the dignity of worship, the thing to do is to direct a nobler attitude in a better direction. (I am not sure why this is in the third person - perhaps they failed to transcribe his exact words. I think this means that he thinks that Simchas Torah excesses are not good, true, but the rabbis should not do away with it, but rather influence the people to celebrate it in a joyful, but more dignified manner.) 
Hirsch: Every three years. Simchat Torah is only a siyum (=conclusion to the Torah). Cannot sanction giving it a new meaning. We have made the decision for a three year cycle, and we have to take the consequences that come with it. 
President: Yearly. 
Conclusion: For the Triennial reading of Vezot Habracha and Bereischit we have 16, for the yearly reading we have ten. Three abstentions. 
President: I request that the Assembly also decide whether to retain the reading with the traditonal neginah (melody)...
[1] I just wanted to end with a little arcane note. I've recently been re-reading The Making of a Godol by Rabbi Nathan Kamenetsky and he included something in a note that, in part, inspired this post (which was also inspired, in the other part, by a good friend). Here is the note (p. 194):

As you can see, Rabbi Kamenetsky saw fit to add a small conclusion that he made, as we who make conclusions are wont to do. In his research he read of the Reform synods. Naturally most sources call "Frankfurt" simply "Frankfurt," even though in Germany there are two cities by that name. He happened to notice that the Encylopedia Judaica says that the Frankfurt synod was held in Frankfurt-am-Main, but he believes this is an error, because both Brunswick and Breslau are in eastern Germany. Frankfurt A.M., a major German metropolis, is in Central, maybe you can even say Western Germany, while Frankfurt-am-Oder is a small city in the east. So it makes sense that if two of the synods were in the eastern part of Germany, also the third.

The reasoning is sound, but however, there are many ways in which we can verify this, such as by reading the title page of the published proceedings of the synod, where we see plainly that it was in Frankfurt A.M., no matter the direction.

And even without such a proceeding, there would of course be other ways of verifying. Contemporary newspaper reports and other sources. Here's another example. This is the title page to Rabbi S. J. Rapoport (Shir)'s work against Reform, written in direct response to the Frankfurt synod:

As you can see, he addressed his remarks to the assembly of rabbis in Frankfurt-am-Main. Lest one think that maybe he, in Prague was mistaken, this was not only an open letter that may or may not have been sent to the assembly itself, but inside Rapoport also includes a letter he literally sent directly to the synod (dated 10 Tammuz/ July 15, the first day of the assembly).

In any case, my point is not to make a big deal about a wrong conjecture but to highlight the fact that there is a time and place for thinking very intently and cleverly about something and for just looking something up, or at least attempting to verify a conjecture from information that is readily available. Only in the absence of such information should one fill in the gap with a well-reasoned conjecture. 

Finally, I wanted to reproduce a great phrase from this book. Rapoport, in his letter to Jost, is deploring the fact that Reform threatens to tear the Jewish people apart, and so he refers to the fact that the Protestant Reformation did just that to the Christians in Europe. He writes that it isn't as if one split will happen and then that's it. No, after one sect emerges from the main group, then new sects dissent from those and so on, such as what happened with "איזה דיססענטערס בבריטאניא."

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Who am I?

And yes, the picture contains a clue, if you are eagle-eyed. A little arcane, but a genuine clue.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Chocolate laced with ham

This is an interesting passage in Robert Johnston's 1815 book Travels through part of the Russian Empire and the country of Poland; along the Southern Shores of the Baltic. He was not, shall we say, a fan of Jews. For example, visiting a town called Belitza he writes: "The population is about five hundred, partly Jews and Lithuanians.- The Jews in this place are better looking than formerly, but still Jews." To be sure, he met with a great deal of behavior that, actually, are not uncommonly experienced by first world visitors to incredibly poor countries - petty scamming, maddening travel arrangements, and personal space crowding by people with lesser hygiene. At one point he complains about all the charges and surcharges the Jews impose for driving. In one case he complains that Jews later charged a fee for "a few blows which one of our servants had given the Jew at the time he overturned the carriage!"

And he writes of  almost equal horror at the Lithuanians. He seemed to admire Russians alone. After describing his disgust the Lithuanian boys, he remarks that they are similar to boys in Sweden. He says the women in West Prussia are "even pretty" but they get uglier the farther east you go; "from Konigesberg to Memel this ratio still further holds good." His travels occurred in the aftermath of Napoleon's retreat from Russia. In Dubrovna (near Liadi) he describes the Jews as follows: 
The common Lithuanians are poor miserable abject creatures, and are servants to the Jews. The Jews are all dressed alike, in long tunics of black silk, with a broad silken sash tied round the waist; on the head they wear a small velvet cap, and over it a huge one of fur; they neither shave nor cut their hair; in their figures they are lank and squalid; they all speak the German language, but are deplorably ignorant. Although it was little more than twenty months since the French army retreated from Moscow, and partly destroyed their town, yet they did not know the month in which it took place. How different from the Russ, who never passed a spot or a well, where any event had taken place, without minutely detailing it. However the Jews informed us of the dreadful distresses which their invaders had suffered, on their return, and the miserable plight in which they appeared; they only burnt seventeen houses here."
But I digress.

In any case, here is an anecdote about ham and chocolate; to be more exact, how someone slipped a piece of ham into a cup of chocolate. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

On cutting off peyos to comply with a Czarist edict, 1845

This story from a Dublin newspaper, the Freeman's Journal and Daily Commercial Advertise (July 4, 1845) concerns the Tsarist edicts regarding traditional Jewish dress. According to this story, in Berdichev some Jews complied, and showed up in shul with their peyos cut off. They were then attacked by Chassidim. The men explained that they were only complying with the law, and the reply was that the Tsar has no authority in religious law. Interestingly, the article states that they said that the Tsar "might be the God of the Javanim" but not theirs. It explains, correctly but without comprehension, that "so the Jews call the Russians, as properly the Greeks." First time I've seen this noted in such an old source, in English no less. In any case, the article continues to report a rumor that two of the young men were killed! It should perhaps be pointed out that this is exceedingly unlikely, simply because if so then as far as I can tell no one has ever heard of this before (you know, the time Chassidim killed two young men who cut their peyos), and that would be unlikely. The correspondent reports that 15 Chassidim were sent to Siberia, and ironically would have been forced to "change their national dress" with their peyos the first to go.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A copy of the ketubah of a giyoret in New York from 1827

Nice new web site on the CJH site, called the Early New York Synagogue Archive (link). Contains some interesting archival material, including, for example, this bound collection of what are in effect copies of ketubbot from marriages performed in Congregation B'nai Jeshurun between 1826 and 1841.

Here is one example from this book, a marriage performed in 1827. The groom was named Israel Eliezer ben Gershon, and his bride was a convert named Sarah bat Avraham Avinu. Note also that the 200 zuz are also given as dolars ma'ot amerika, "Dollars, the currency of America."

A Christian observer calls attention to the lack of decorum in synagogues, and the lack of attention by London's Chief Rabbi, in 1810

This excerpt from the book The Obligations of Christians to Attempt the Conversion of the Jews (with the Hebrew title הנה מלאך יבוא לך) by an anonymous "Presbyter of the Church of England," (London 1810) compares the prayer that can be seen in London's Great Synagogue to a scene at the Stock Exchange, while "their chief Rabbi" - Solomon Hirschell - sits by "seeming to care for none of these things."

More remarkable than the criticism is the footnote, where the author basically apologizes to Jews if he caused any offense by this description, and even says that he would have kept quiet about it, except that he believes printing it has a to'elet, a purpose, in that it can stir up Christians to remedy the lack of devotion among Jews! you know, by converting them.

The above can be found on pp. 8 - 9 of the 4th edition (1813) ; the above image was digitally manipulated to put it all one one page. It also appears on pg. 9 of the 1st edition, and not one word was changed.

Jewish peddlers

Alsace, 1790. How do you suppose the tied the string to the far branch?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Would you like fries with that?

Or whatever they say.

McDonald's. Thanks, Google.

An amusing foray into philology

Just for fun I thought I'd discuss an amateur foray into the wooly world of groping in the dark for a plausible translation of a - maybe - Latin word in a rabbinic text. A friend of mine is doing some research - on what I have no idea - and asked me if I had any idea what the following word from the Yalkut Shimoni Tehillin 80 (#830) means:

יכרסמנה חזיר מיער" זה רומולוס, "וזיז שדי ירענה" זה האיסקראטורין"

So of course the answer is no, I have no idea. Here's the verse:

יד  יְכַרְסְמֶנָּה חֲזִיר מִיָּעַר;    וְזִיז שָׂדַי יִרְעֶנָּה.14 The boar out of the wood doth ravage it, that which moveth in the field feedeth on it.

So the first part is easy, it mentions Romulus, the legendary founder of Rome. Plus, in rabbinic symbolism the boar means Rome.

My immediate, definitely mistaken idea, was that the second part referred to Greece, and the reason why is because איסקראטורין, uh, sounds Greek. So I thought really hard about it and concluded that it was a metathesis/corruption of the word aristokratia, and refers to the Greek government.

My interlocutor quickly pointed out that plainly Rome is meant in both parts, and I rethought again and agreed. So my next try was to look at old texts of the Yalkut to make sure our איסקראטורין was at least spelled right. Well, not texts. One text. I looked at the Livorno 1650 edition (link) and noticed that in this text the word "Romulus" is changed to "melekh"/king and reads "האוסטרולוטון." Although I have not yet pursued this lead - forgive me, sometimes I would like to post mid-thought - it definitely indicated to me that we cannot consider איסקראטורין to be a perfect text. Could be a transcription error or corruption. In any event, I looked at a late 19th century edition of the Yalkut which has a glossary and source list on the bottom of the pages, and the editor gave סופרים as the translation.

After an embarrassing few minutes leafing through Masseches Sofrim (including the 1799 Hamburg Latin edition) I realized that he meant to define איסקראטורין, not cite a rabbinic source for it. So thinking Romish I decided that perhaps איסקראטורין is the Latin word scriptor, which means scribe, writer or author. To get at this, we of course disregard the rabbinic plural suffix ין- and also the prefix א, which is common enough in Hebrew, which does not deal well with initial consonant clusters (cf, Achashverosh, aspaklaria, etc.). Left with סקראטור, and armed with the opinion of the Yalkut editor I mentioned, I deemed it close enough to scriptor and hoped no one would know the difference. Finally, I admit that I have no idea how the second part of the verse is supposed to mean Roman scribes or sofrim or scriptor.



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