Thursday, August 30, 2007

Rashi script* and other Hebrew examples in Pantographia from 1799

Over at the Main Line I posted about a beautiful book called Pantographia; containing accurate copies of all the known alphabets in the world; together with an English explanation of the peculiar force or power of each letter (by Edmund Fry, London, 1799).

Great examples of many different kinds of alphabets included, with sources given. In addition, the Lord's Prayer is presented in each alphabet (and language) along with English transliteration. It is the nature of the beast that such a work would include lots of examples which look a little bit strange to the modern eye that has seen many of the actual scripts, as opposed to Western renderings of them (see, e.g.).

From his presentation of Hebrew (pp. 142-151):

1. The regular Hebrew script:

The source given for this example is Claude Duret, which is to say it is from a 16th century book.

Later an example of the modern Hebrew is given:

2. This one, also from Duret, is described "very early used by the Jewish Rabbis
in Germany, by whom it was much esteemed, as a handsome current letter, and easy to be written on account of its roundness, wherefore they generally used it in their commentaries-
and translations."

That is, it's purports to be an Ashkenazic script.**

3. This one is a Sephardic script, also from Duret, but it cites as an authority notable Hebraist Sebastian Muenster.**

4. To me this one is the most interesting. As you can see, it's the script we call Rashi script:

"The alphabet of Rabbinical Hebrew, of which there are three sizes at the Type-Street Foundery."

And a typical printed example is supplied (but no source is given):

* I know; don't hassle me. Mashait, blah blah.

**It's worth comparing with these two charts from the Jewish Encylopedia entry on the Hebrew alphabet (click to enlarge):

An 18th century English version of Raschi script

What's this about?

Rashi script* and other Hebrew examples in Pantographia at English Hebraica.

*See asterisk over there.

A 1500 year old list of Hebrew Bible books in Latin characters

As one of the early Church Hebraists, Jerome's writings contain many interesting elements to people interested in Hebrew and Tanakh, among them issues of pronunciation.

Here is a list of the names of the books of Tanakh, as the Jews called them, in his introduction to Kings:

Iosue Bennum

It should be noted that I merely copied this list from someone who translated his Latin introduction into English. I didn't compare it to any other versions; I realize the anachronism of using the letter J rather than I in some of the words (but then, it is also an anachronism to call him Jerome) (ed.--thanks to Reb Berel I was able to correct the list; minor things like Daniel to Danihel, I to J have been corrected). Furthermore, these words were obviously subject to the same potential copyist errors that all manuscripts are, particularly as most scribes over the years did not know Hebrew (which could account, for instance, for Iosue bennum or Dabreiamin).

I recently came across a wonderful and fascinating book called Pantographia; containing accurate copies of all the known alphabets in the world; together with an English explanation of the peculiar force or power of each letter (by Edmund Fry, London, 1799).

In the entry on Hebrew it contains the following, on the authority of Jerome:

"St. Jerom, in his preface to the books of Kings, puts
"this matter in a still stronger light : he says, the Samaritans
"often copy the five books of Moses, in the same number
"of letters as the Jews do, but their letters differ in form,
"and the use of points

This last line is interesting because Jerome lived in the 4th and 5th century. He did receive Hebrew instruction from Jews living in Israel. Doesn't this quote confirm the widely believed traditional view that the points, that is the nekkudot, were not invented by the Masoretes after the Talmudic period?

In fact, the Pantographia is in error, but it's understandable. Jerome wrote "The Samaritans still write the Pentateuch of Moses in the same number of letters, only they differ in shapes and points (apicibus). The misunderstanding is in the meaning of apicibus in this context. It can mean points, but it also means endings. Jerome's intention was to note the existence of final forms in Hebrew letters used by Jews (מנצפ"ך). See.

More on the Pantographia will be at English Hebraica.

Palm reading in pre-war Eastern Europe

There's a historical point in these Shana Tova cards (click to enlarge). Does anyone know what it is?

Louis Ginzberg: Good historians avoid a common pitfall

R. Moses Sofer combined all the great virtues of the old Jewish scholar with fighting courage and determination, and therefore he was not only the head of a Yeshibah, but also the leader of a strong party, especially strong in Hungary, which opposed the new tendency in Judaism with success. It was not lack of comprehension of the new tendency that made Sofer its violent opponent; his keen vision gave him insight sooner than anyone else into the radicalism into which it would degenerate. And it was [Eisik Hirsch] Weiss who, in his sketch of Sofer in the Hebrew monthly Mi-Misrah umi-Ma'arab (Vienna, 1896) meted out full justice to this great personality, although Weiss did not adopt Sofer's conception of Judaism as his own. Moreover, Weiss did not descend to the manner of the so-called historians who are incapable of appreciating a great personality or a spiritual movement in its totality, but lose themselves in details and designate as characteristic the most insignificant points if they are bizarre, and the most unessential minutiae if they are curious. They judge accordingly, and as a result we hear opinions of the Jewish past and of certain tendencies in Judaism which, if the same logic were applied to the interpretation of general history, would give something like the following: Aristotle was a fool; he believed that the heavenly spheres were animated. Kepler understood nothing at all of physics, because he did not know so much as the law of gravitation, which is now known to every school-boy. And the fathers of the Dutch Republic were mischievous reactionaries, for in their political program they did not adopt universal suffrage.

Louis Ginzberg, 'Isaac Hirsch Weiss' in Students, Scholars, Saints (Philadelphia, 1928), pp. 235-236.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Fascinating Footnotes II

It may be somewhat remarkable that Bernard of Clairvaux, who records so many miracles of his friend St. Malachi, never takes notice of his own, which in their turn, however, are carefully related by his companions and disciples.

Chap. 15, n. 81, Edward Gibbon, History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 474.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Who drew Rashi and when?

Zev asked me (and others) if I knew where this ubiquitous image of Rashi comes from and hold old it was. More specifically, could I point to somewhere from before the 20th century?

I could not. However, in the Jewish Encyclopedia (1901-05) entry on Rashi this image is not include, while other Rashi-related images are. Furthermore, the ubiquitous image of Maimonides is included, as are images of the Rif, Maharsha, the Gaon of Wilno and many images of lesser figures. Therefore I think I do not draw an unwarranted conclusion that when the JE was prepared the image either didn't yet exist, or at least wasn't popular.

This question is almost as important as knowing what color shirt Rashi wore or what brand of tobacco he smoked. Anyone know anything about where this image came from, and when?

Friday, August 24, 2007

Another Ari K. post: A Geonic Precursor of Wissenschaft?

Ari posts: A Geonic Precursor of Wissenschaft? -- about an 11th century Ga'on's critical reading of a text.

I commented that the טענה of Wissenschaft pioneers (at least the more pious ones among them) was that many of their methods had noble antecedents in traditional sources.

This of course continues today--with Ari's post, for example (however tongue-in-cheek he meant it). But it also continues with nearly every volume of the Orthodox Forum series, it continued with the writings of Louis Jacobs, it continues all over the place, including my own posts. "Look, Rashi interpreted a passuk against the interpretation of Chazal." "Look, Heidenheim changed the nussach based on grammatical principles." et cetera

These scholarly pioneers often posited a Jewish Dark Age beginning right about the end of the European one and lasting until their own period. Let's say from 1600 to 1800. They pointed to poets and playwrights and physicians and astronomers in the Jewish past; to correct vernacular usage (overstating the case) and reasoned that present state of Jewry around them was not the traditional one.

Of course not only Wissenschafters and Reformers posited this. R. Samson Raphael Hirsch did as well. It was a self-serving claim, but not totally lacking in all merit. (It should be borne in mind that in truth these centuries were very creative ones for Jews. They were just centuries that were diametrically opposed to rationalism and various things which they advocated. They perceived the earlier period as one of liturgical creativity, and the later period as one of liturgical freezing. The earlier period as more conducive to critical study of rabbinic texts, the latter the age of pilpul, etc. Of course the dates were not fixed and figures who flourished in that period--such as the Ga'on of Vilna--were regarded as precursors to their type of thinking.)

In any case, certainly manuscript criticism dates back to the time when all books were ms! Before printing, any literate person would have been puzzled by the idea that all texts don't need correcting.

An Ari K. post is always interesting

Ari's Hebrew for the Ignorant: An Historical Overview. Have a look!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

In the eye of the beholder

Reading the same old texts, there are many people who see only this:

ברוך אתה ה' אלהינו ואלהי אבותינו אלהי אברהם אלהי יצחק ואלהי יעקב האל הגדול הגבור והנורא אל עליון גומל חסדים טובים וקונה הכל וזוכר חסדי אבות ומביא גואל לבני בניהם למען שמו באהבה מלך עוזר ומושיע ומגן ברוך אתה ה' מגן אברהם

and there are many people who see only this:

תקע בשופר גדול לחירותנו ושא נס לקבץ גלויותינו וקרא דרור לקבצנו יחד מארבע כנפות הארץ לארצנו ברוך אתה ה' מקבץ נדחי עמו ישראל

Not as many see both.

(From סדר רב עמרם גאון סדר תפילה Seder Rav Amram Ga'on, two representative samples.)

R. Zecharias Frankel's piety described by Hermann Cohen (Frankel/ Hirsch Pt. II)

Pt. I

Jeschurun 7 (1861): p. 297

In this article, R. Hirsch quotes a young Hermann Cohen's letter that he received which described R. Frankel as a pious Jew: "mit dem Tallith über dem kopf in der Synagoge stehe," praying with the tallis over his head, "Freitag Abend Semiroth singe," singing zemiros on schabbos, and even "auch beim Schiur bei Gelegenheit eifrig bemerke: ein Jere Schamaim muesse hier machmir sein!," sometimes saying in his shiurim that Yarei Shamayim should be machmir!

Hermann Cohen* (1842-1918) was then a young student in R. Frankel's rabbinical seminary in Breslau at the time when the controversy between R. Hirsch's Neo-Orthodoxy and R. Frankel (representing the so-called Historical School) was raging. At that particular time the issue was not the seminary, but Frankel's Darkhei Ha-Mishnah (1859). Cohen sent this letter to R. Hirsch in his teacher's defense. R. Hirsch, of course, responded that Frankel's pious behavior are entirely besides the point. Indeed, no negligible number of those attracted to R. Hirsch's teachings and leadership were hardly scrupulously observant. But they were Orthodox, and in those times (and R. Hirsch would say in all times) that was the ikkar.

* A possibly interesting footnote: Hermann Cohen was the subject of the young R. J.B. Soloveitchik's doctorate.

Arabic with Hebrew letters

Interesting, and useful chart at Omniglot depicting how the Hebrew alphabet was used to write Judeo-Arabic:

Useful if you ever want to write about שריעת מוסא.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

No hint of textual criticism of the Bible in Artscroll's siddur; Psalm 34, shabbat davening's missing (?) vav.

Alphabetical acrostics are not an uncommon form of Biblical poetry. In this form each stanza begins with a letter of the aleph beis (alphabet), either in descending or ascending order. There are many such examples, including what is perhaps the most famous one*, Psalm 145, beginning אֲרומִמְךָ אֱלוהַי הַמֶּלֶךְ. The next verse begins with a בְּכָל יום אֲבָרְכֶךָּ; ב, and then a ג and so forth. Other examples include each chapter in Lamentations.

Another example from Psalms is Psalm 34.

As it happens, sometimes these poems are imperfect. That is, the precise order of the alphabet is not completely followed (see Lamentations 4:15-17, where נ ס פ ע is the order rather than נ ס ע פ (the equivalent** of M N P O rather than M N O P in the Latin alphabet). Or an expected verse is entirely missing (see: No nun--in ashrei).

Psalm 34 is interesting because the ו vav verse seems to be missing, but as the ו is the conjuctive in Hebrew, the ה verse naturally contains a word beginning with ו.

The entire verse (Psalm 34:6 reads הִבִּיטוּ אֵלָיו וְנָהָרו וּפְנֵיהֶם אַל יֶחְפָּרוּ They looked unto Him, and were radiant; and their faces shall never be abashed (JPS 1917). I only highlighted the ו in red to show that there is a ו in this verse; if you read on it will become clear why I point this our. However, the next verse (34:7) begins with a ז zayin. Thus, either we are missing the ו or somehow, for some reason, this verse is meant to be split in half and that way nothing is missing.

That is kind of weak, because not only does it involve splitting a verse into two it also ignores the mode of poetry used in this Psalm, parallelism. As the name implies, parallelism simply means that one stanza contains an essential idea stated two different ways or that the second part completes the thought begun in the first. Thus, Psalm 34:1 begins I will bless the LORD at all times and then His praise shall continually be in my mouth. The essential idea given in two forms. The second verse begins My soul shall glory in the LORD and then it is restated as the humble shall hear thereof, and be glad and so it continues.

Although the identification of this chief form of Biblical poetry is attributed to British bishop Robert Lowth's 1753 workLectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews, the phenomenon was of course noticed and remarked upon (albeit not systematically) by earlier exegetes. By the 19th century this feature was accepted as a given and it still is seen as such, although it has been subject to modification and even attack in modern scholarship. The reality of parallelism was accepted by modern Jewish exegetes, with the notable exception of Malbim. Central to his system of close reading of the Bible was the idea that there is no such thing as style choices in the language of the Bible; thus, there aren't really any synonyms--all similar words mean subtly different things. Similarly, parallelism isn't correct because the same essential idea could never be restated. That would be superfluous. Rather, a new idea is contained in what we see as restatement. Be that as it may, I think it's fair to say that even among Orthodox Jews Malbim's position about this is not regarded as authoritative and many will agree that there is parallelism in biblical poetry.

If you're still reading, then we now come to the point of this post. In the Artscroll commentary on the siddur*** we find the following comment on Psalm 34 (which is part of the liturgy for shabbos morning): "...David composed this beautiful and profound hymn. Its verses begin according to the letters of the Alef-Beis, to show that we are to praise God with our every faculty, and to acknowledge that whatever He created--from aleph to tav--is for the good."

In their commentary to the aforementioned אַשְׁרֵי prayer we find the following: "Beginning with the word אֲרומִמְךָ, the initials of the respective verses follow the order of the Aleph-Beis. According to Abudraham the Aleph-Beis structure symbolizes that we praise God with every sound available to the organs of speech. Midrash Tadshei records that the Psalmists and Sages used the Aleph-Beis formula in chapters they wanted people to follow more easily or memorize."

As noted in my Ashrei post **** the missing nun is explained as absent due to a specific reason in the Talmud; conversely, a nun verse is found in a Dead Sea Scroll psalter (perhaps an artificial one, perhaps the original one). Artscroll notes this in the commentary: "No verse in Ashrei begins with a נ, because in the context of this verse that speaks of God supporting the fallen, the letter נ can be taken as an allusion to נְפִילָה, Israel's future downfall, ח"ו, and the Psalmist refused to use a letter that could suggest such tragedy. Nevertheless, knowing that downfalls would take place, the Psalmist comforted Israel by saying God supports the fallen ones (i.e., the next verse--MFM). This is an implied guarantee that even when a dreaded downfall happens, the people can look forward to His support." Artscroll then attributes this explanation to the Talmud, Berachos 4b.

However, there is no Talmudic explanation for a missing vav verse in Psalm 34. Artscroll therefore does not mention it. In fact, Artscroll doesn't believe there is a missing vav verse. It prints this psalm the following way (I used red where bolded in their text):

אברכה את-יהוה בכל-עת; תמיד, תהלתו בפי
ביהוה, תתהלל נפשי; ישמעו ענוים וישמחו
גדלו ליהוה אתי; ונרוממה שמו יחדו
דרשתי את-יהוה וענני; ומכל-מגורותי הצילני
הביטו אליו ונהרו;
ופניהם, אל-יחפרו

זה עני קרא, ויהוה שמע; ומכל-צרותיו, הושיעו

As you can see, the editors chose to separate verse 6, הביטו אליו ונהרו; ופניהם, אל-יחפרו, into two lines--the only verse so separated--bolding the first letter of the second half of the verse, creating a vav verse, as it were. Obviously Artscroll could not go so far as to truly create a new verse, so the comma is found after the first part and a period only after the second. Technically the entirety of the verse is preserved. But now parallelism is lacking only in these two lines. And even if you choose not to accept that there is any such thing as parallelism in Biblical poetry, following Malbim, it certainly is curious that the acrostic was meant to include one complete verse as two distinct stanzas.

In my opinion the more likely explanation is that there is a vav verse missing, just as there is a nun verse missing in Ashrei. However, lacking an explanation from the Talmud Artscroll will not even draw attention to the missing vav verse! Instead, through creative formatting it appears that nothing is amiss. In the Birnbaum edition its absence is noted without ceremony, introducing neither Biblical textual criticism nor a new formatting that runs contrary to the idea of parallelism of the masoretic separation of the verses.

Paranthetically, I might add that the final verse of Psalm 34, after the ת verse, begins with a פ and may be an appendix of sorts or--and this is completely ad-hoc and discard it if you like--maybe there was some doubt as to whether this was the missing vav verse (itself missing its vav!) and was therefore appended to the end of the Psalm.

* Due to its prominence as the core of the אַשְׁרֵי prayer of the Jewish liturgy, recited three times each day.
** I don't mean a letter by letter correspondence; I simply thought that M through P provides a good English example, with some equivalence (e.g., נ and N).
*** As it happens, I've used the Artscroll Rosh Hashanah machzor, since I had it on hand. But the commentary for the parts of tefillah that are the same as the shabbos liturgy is the same here as in their siddur.
**** Interestingly enough, and I'm sure there is some reason for this, my post on the missing nun in Ashrei is probably the single most searched post I have ever done. For whatever reason a lot of people out there are looking for info about that missing nun!

EDIT: this post got lengthier than I intended, and in its wordiness I forgot to mention a point that I had planned to make; Mivami reminded me; the occasional lack of order in the alphabetical acrostics, like my example of Lamentations 4, may not be a corruption of the text. There is ample evidence (in the form of Semitic abecedaries) which indicate that at first the precise order of the Aleph Beis was not entirely stable. If so, a chapter like Lamentations 4 might have had verses in the order of נ ס פ ע rather than נ ס ע פ simply because the former was an acceptable alternative order at that time. This wouldn't be very unlike what one does with the final forms of the kaph, mem, nun, tsadei and peh letters in Hebrew. Is it appropriate to give them after the initial form or list them after the entire alphabet? The choice is entirely up to you, although conceivably in the future there will be some rigid convention which no one would dream of breaching.

No hint of textual criticism of the Bible in Artscroll's siddur; Psalm 34, shabbat davening's missing (?) vav.

at What's Bothering Artscroll?.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Israel Zinberg's volkisch view of the Talmud

Read about Israel Zinberg, author of a multivolume tour-de-force in Yiddish, Die Geschichte fun der Literatur bei Yidn, which surveys Jewish literature from the 10th century to the 19th. It is available in Hebrew and in 12 beautiful volumes in English, and is best read, in my opinion, as a companion to Mayer Waxman's multivolume tour-de-force. And then you can add icing and read Klausner's multivolume tour-de-force Historia Shel Ha-Safrut ha-Ivirit ha-Hadasha if you are so inclined.

In any case:

"Because the Talmud is the result of many generations of collective effort, because the entire community built this mighty structure, there had to be in it all types of folk creativity--religious laws, philosophical ideas, and speculative doubts, together with popular stories, legends, magical incantations, proverbs, jokes, dancing songs, and the like. The Talmud also is, by its very nature, an anonymous work; its author is the entire people of Israel, from the greatest scholar to the meanest ignoramus. This great anthology is a monument of popular creativity as well as of national literature. The folkloristic and the national, the personal and the communal, the individual and the collective--all are fraternally braided together in it."

(History vol. VIII, pg 4., also in vol. I, I think)

There are obvious technical problems with this paragraph, but it contains an interesting idea.

See comments.

The limits of Orthodox Halacha

Interesting letter in last week's Jewish Week by Prof. Marc B. Shapiro regarding an ostracized Neturei Kartanik:

Missing Element

The story about the fanatic Moishe Arye Friedman is missing one important element (“After Tehran, Paying A Steep Price,” July 13).

In defending their decision not to permit Friedman’s children to attend the local fervently Orthodox (and anti-Zionist) school, Friedman’s opponents have submitted to the court evidence that he is not Orthodox, a requirement for all parents who want to send their children to this school. They are correct in their assertion, as there are videos of Friedman speaking into a microphone, on Shabbat, at an Islamic anti-Israel rally.
Marc Shapiro
Scranton, Pa.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

אלסלאם עליכּם in Judaism and Islam

Someone asked me the following interesting question:

Jews say Shalom Aleichem, and Muslims say "As-Salamu Alaykum" (or something like that). Is it a cognate, or a loan translation? And if the latter, who borrowed from whom?

To rephrase that, the classic Jewish greeting in Hebrew is שלום עליכם and the classic Muslim greeting in Arabic is السلام عليكم / אלסלאם עליכּם . When returning this greeting Jews respond עליכם שלום and Muslims ועליכּם אלסלאם / وعليكم السلام. These are certainly parallel. The question is, cognate or loan?

In truth, I had no idea and I still have no idea. But I thought a good place to start would be to determine how old the Jewish greeting is. I honestly could not recall seeing it in the Talmud (Babylonian, that is) where the greeting Shalom שלום certainly appears.

If it didn't appear before the Islamic era, perhaps that would indicate that it was indeed a loan translation (=Arabic words and custom translated into Hebrew and becoming Jewish custom).

Using my vast bekius and geonus (yes, I am kidding) I discovered that שלום עליכם appears in some of the Massekhtot Ketanot (minor tractates appended to the Talmud which are post-Talmudic, that is, of the Islamic era). But I also discovered that it appears in the Thalmudh Jeruschalmi (presumably redacted at about 400 CE) as well ( three times, actually). Similarly it is found in Genesis Rabbah (now, why is the convention to translate בראשית וכו but not רבה? Things that make you go 'hm.'). But not even once in the Bavli, confirming my prodigious memory of things I didn't see.

This would indicate, if not a Palestinian origin, at least that it was a greeting in use in Talmudic Palestine (unless somehow these specific words are later interpolations, but we obviously shall not take that as a given). However, the reversal greeting (עליכם שלום) is not indicated in these sources. There is still no indication if it was of Jewish origin. It may seem likely, but we shall recall that there was no lack of contact with Arabs, especially in Southern Palestine, and attested amply in the Talmud.

That said, we can probably see that the greeting was in use by Jews, in Hebrew, well before the rise of Islam, which of course spread this Arabic greeting into China to the East and Spain to the West, and deep into North Africa to the South (and of course into post-Talmudic Babylon).

In addition, I looked up the Syriac for Matthew 13:10's "your peace return to you." In the Peshitta it's שלמכון עליכון. Now, I don't know exactly what the date of the Peshitta Matthew is, but it's obviously older than Islam as well (and also warrants discussion about it's place of origin, and its relations to Arabs). Of course this could merely have been a literal translation from the Greek Matthew--or even influenced by the greeting itself.

My questioner told me that he suspects it to be a loan translation (one way or the other) for the simple reason that it is so specific. It isn't merely two words meaning "peace" and "on you," but also the matter of reversal in response.

Finally, I wonder about the geographic distribution of the use of the greeting. Here is description from an 1867 visit to Mountain Jews of the Caucuses by Yehuda Chernyi:

"[When one such man arrives,] the host relieves him of his things, takes him to the guest room, shouls him the best place on the pillow to rest from the road, and then washes his feet. . . . Soon after, elders and respected people will gather in the house and offer the guest their hands with greetings in the biblical language: Shalom aleichem which means "I wish you health," or Barukh-gabo which means "May your stay be happy," and the guest must say Aleichem shalom which means "May you be healthy and happy!"

cited in Sascha L. Goluboff, Are They Jews or Asians? A Cautionary Tale about Mountain Jewish Ethnography, Slavic Review, Vol. 63, No. 1. (Spring, 2004), pp. 113-140.

In any event, what do you say? Note that I have said not a word about the age of the greeting in Arabic. This is because I don't know what it is.

לא תקפו פאת ראשכם

Egypt: 1180 B. C. Libyan. Foreign prisoner tile. Cairo Museum. He wears side-locks and his body is tattooed.

Shim`on ha-tzaddiq

Simon the Just or Simon the Righteous?


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