Wednesday, January 22, 2014

On Solomon Dubno's library

The Freimann-Sammlung digital library at the University of Frankfurt recently added some fantastic bibliographies, including this important one - the catalog that was prepared for the 1814 auction of Solomon Dubno's library (link).

For those who want to make inferences about contents of libraries, his includes Hameasseph, in case anyone is wondering (p. 46, 57.)

Here is the title page.

Can you help me? (No $!)

Reader request: 

If you go to Columbia University, or Harvard or Yale and you are a fan of this blog (sounds so swell-headed, but what can I say?) it is possible you could give me a hand in supporting scholarship. So if this is you, please email me ( db min9@aol .com ) and I will tell you how you can help, ask for it, and you can decide if you'd like to do so. No pressure before, during, or after. Responses themselves are highly appreciated.

Many thanks!


The stone in question

Many thanks to Michael Brocke for his cogent remarks on my post on a gravestone from Regensburg (link). Michael followed it up by sending me a photograph of the stone, with some additional remarks on the name and date.

He informs me that after the expulsion of the Jews from Regensburg in 1519 this stone, as many others, were appropriated as trophies. I don't think you can see it so well in the picture, but he says that below the inscription is the coat-of-arms of the new 'owner.'

Thursday, January 16, 2014

On an interesting gravestone from 1463

I was looking through a book called Das jetzt Anno 1723 lebende Regensburg... which is, as you surmise, about the history of Regensburg. I noticed at the end it has a number of transcriptions of gravestones in the Jewish cemetery. All are worth looking at, but here is one that caught my interest, because it calls the young woman "הבחורה." At first I thought that could have been a transcription error - there are others - and it may have actually said "הבתולה." I think this usage is interesting. Perhaps it was common, but I've not come across it before. In any case, another stone in the book, for a married woman, uses it; Justina bat Rabbi Schelomia, which one imagines, was the 15th century diminutive of Shelomo, eshet Rabbi Menachem.

Here is my translation:
Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night (Jer. 8:23)
On the passing of the modest lass ("בחורה"), Miss Gutrut,
Daughter of Rabbi Jacob Halin, [her] slumber was requested from Heaven*, on Friday,
The 24th of Kislev (Dec. 15), in the year
224 (1463)
*If I got that right.

It is worth noting that the verse in Jeremiah ends with the phrase "for the slain of the daughter of my people," so one wonders if it was left off because Miss Gertrude died of natural causes or if, to the contrary, this verse was chosen because she was, indeed, slain.

One final note. Another grave, from 1540, is from a woman named Blume (that's how the German translator understood it) and here is how it is written in Hebrew letters: פלומא.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

On decrees concerning rabbinic ordination from 1603

In 1603 rabbis in Germany[1] held a synod in Frankfurt, where they enacted takkanot. The takkanot were translated into German (three separates ones, according to Rabbi Marcus Horovitz[1]) since, in the prior century, various rabbinic synods were treated highly suspiciously by the non-Jews. 

Many of these takkanot are of interest (such as #6, which comes down harshly against coin counterfeiting and the forging of debt documents, stating that much harm has come to the Jews because of this, and decreeing both herem and turning counterfeiters over to the king). But I want to highlight #5, because I came across a summary of it in English in a book from only a few years later, which is interesting to see.

Here is the text of the takkana, as printed by Horovitz. It concerns the manner in which rabbis can be ordained in Germany (and, incidentally, we see that the term bahur was used even for a young married man).

And here is how it is summarized in Purchas his Pilgrimage, v.5, (London 1626).[3] As you can see, he refers to this very takkana, enacted by the "Chief RR [=rabbis] of Frankford":

Since Purchas, in his attempt to explain the Jewish forms of ordination then in vogue, the titles Morenu, Chaver, and Bachur, relates them to the Christian university degrees of Doctor, Licentiate and Bachelour, I thought it worth highlighting an interesting couple of sentences from Abarbanel's commentary to Mishna Avot that I was recently looking at (link). He writes that in Spain and the places of its exiles, they did not ordain rabbis, following the old practice not to ordain outside of the and of Israel. He continues as follows:

"But after arriving in Italy I found there a widespread custom to ordain one another. I saw that the Ashkenazim had all been ordained, and ordained others, as rabbis, and I do not know who gave them permission to do so. [I thought] perhaps they had followed the gentiles in making themselves Doctors."

And since we mention Italy, here is how Rabbi Leon Modena described ordination in his Riti (1650 English translation:

[1] Obviously not in the modern sense. For example, Takkana 12 concerns printing, and refers to Basel, then a major center of Hebrew printing, and juxtaposes it with "or another city in Ashkenaz." Basel, in Switzerland, was in "Germany."
[2] Die Frankfurter rabbinerversammlung vom jahre 1603, p. 5. See also Louis Finkelstein Jewish Self-Government in the Middle Ages, Chapter 8, on the 1603 Frankfurt synod and the takkanas.
[3] The full title of this book, by Samuel Purchas, is: Purchas his Pilgrimage. Or Relations of the World and the Religions Observed in all Ages and Places Discovered, from the Creation unto this Present. And since this continues for a paragraph, here is the title page:

Thursday, January 09, 2014

A 21st century responsum - the Shabbos Blettel asks if it is permitted to lie on a school's internet questionnaire

One of the more interesting, creative works I've seen in the past couple of years is the Shabbos Blettel, which is an incredible (mostly) Yiddish periodical published online.

After a hiatus, there is a new issue (#11) and it contains the following responsum concerning the question of whether or not it is permitted to lie on a Chareidi school's questionnaire about technology use. These invasive questionnaires are increasingly standard, requiring parents to respond. But with only one kind of answer acceptable, parents who own devices such as smartphones generally feel compelled to answer untruthfully, or invite scrutiny that they do not need. Currently, these questionnaires mostly rely on some form of the honor system (with caveats). So, is it permissible to lie?

Here is the responsum:

Here is a link to a pdf of this responsum: link

And to the entire issue: link

Monday, January 06, 2014

A beautiful translation of a Gordon poem; a guest post

I would like to post this wonderful free translation of the first part of Yehuda Leib Gordon's 1875 poem Kotzo Shel Yud. This was originally posted by my talented friend הערשי at Kave Shtiebel, and he gave me permission to post it here:

Jewish wife, who shall know your life?
It comes in the dark, and leaves no mark
Your joys and your anguishes, your hopes and your wishes
In your heart born, and in your heart worn

The world and all the pleasure
For others to treasure
The life of the Jewess a perpetual grind
Forever in her house confined
Bear, deliver, rear, and litter
Bake, and make, and wither

So what if you’re blessed, beauty you possessed
A heart refined, a keen mind
Study is bane, beauty vain
Talent a defect, knowledge abject

Your voice is crude, your hair lewd
You are naught, a goatskin filled with blood and rot
The Serpent’s pest, in you rests

Like the infected, by your own kin rejected
From scholarship, and from the house of worship
In the houses of merriment, you but lament

Good you don't master, the tongue of you ancestor
Thus you are barred, from the Lord’s yard
And you don't hear, the blessing the jeer
“Lord we bless, for not creating us a lass”

Like the heathen and the slave you are rated
Like a hen to breed fated
A heifer threshes, milk gives the cow
What use is it with knowledge to endow?
Why waste time you to rear
Those who follow your counsel in hell will sear

Not only has God closed your womb
Took your husband in your bloom
The cream of your days you while through
But you await your husband’s brother to pull his shoe

On your fathers bed you most grieved
From his inheritance nothing received
They deprive you not only the material
But keep from you the ministerial
For themselves commandments two forty eight
Only three for poor you, said the cheapskate

You are miserable so, Jewess!
You crave to know, to live, but alas
God’s sprout, wilting in drought
Not by sun rays dry, but away from the eye
Fertile soil, bearing luscious fruit with toil
For want of plow, grows weed now

Ere you matured into a conscious soul
You were thrust into a motherly role
Before they taught her, to be a daughter
She married, and her own children carried

Wed him, have you even met him?
Love him, aye; have you cast an eye?
You’re loved, what? Wretched, you know not
Love is apart, from the Jewish heart?

Forty days before, her mother bore
Her match-maker, destined her taker
What good will it do, to take a view
What will it add, to see the lad?

What’s love? Our mothers knew not
We shall not put off, our sister a slut
Head furled, face shrouded in veil
Hair curled, to the razor avail

Why have you eyed, who stands by your side
Whether crippled or bald, whether young or old
It’s all to the same use, you don’t get to choose
Your father will accord, he is your lord
Like chattel sold, from hold to hold

Are they like Aramites to inquire, after the girl’s desire?
As a maiden, your father is your warden
Your husband you please, under his auspices.

Your husband knows no art, he is not skilled
Never planted a vineyard, nor a house built
When the dowry is drawn
The family spawn
He sets looking for a trade
Dejected and dismayed
With options few, he has no clue
He runs away in the night, and leaves you chained in plight.

This is the story, of the Jewess’ glory.


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