Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Christian depiction of phylacteries from the 8th century

The 8th century Codex Amiatinus features this interesting illustration of Ezra wearing what would seem to be tefillin on his head.

Click image to enlarge or here for sharper detail.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Good news for bibliophiles

Yesterday (Nov. 26th) the Knesset passed the National Library Law
which formally establishes a National Library of Israel.

While the Jewish National and University Library has served as the de
facto national library (of the Jewish People since the early 1900s and
of the State of Israel since its establishment) it has formally been
an administrative unit of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The new law, which goes into force on January first, provides that
the Library will first become a semi-independent unit of the Hebrew
University, with independent financial systems and fund raising.
Subsequently, within a period of three years, the Library will become
fully independent.

The Library's new name will be "ha-sifriyah ha-le'umit" (The National
Library of Israel). It's mandate is to serve as the national library
of both Israel and the Jewish People, as well as continuing to be a
general humanities research library for both the Hebrew University and
other scholars.

The Library's funding will now be primarily directly from the
State, although the Hebrew University will continue to contribute part
of the budget.

As a result of this change, the Library's budget is expected to
increase significantly, and the planning of a new building, the
contribution of Yad Hanadiv Foundation, is underway.

The law emphasizes the role of the Library in using technology to make
its collections accessible, and specifically authorizes the library to
archive and preserve the Israeli Internet domain.

Elhanan Adler
Deputy Director for Information Technology
Jewish National and University Library


Another שלמה ב''ר יצחק; Judeo-Arabic in "England," forced conversion to Islam in Spain.

This interesting seal was found around 1850 near Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh, Scotland.

In 1887 the Anglo-Jewish Historical Exhibition was held in London. It featured all sorts of fascinating exhibits and relics of Anglo-Jewish (and general Jewish) history, from before the expulsion of 1290 and from more modern times. It's catalog is about 200 pages with ten entries per page. It was a sort of highbrow celebration and tribute to and about English Jewry. This seal was among the exhibits.1

From the Catalogue of the Anglo-Jewish Historical Exhibition (pg. 189-190):

Solomon ben Isaac. Red sealing wax. 1 1/16 in. xiii. Cent. [L. 8.] Round seal : a head in profile to the left, wearing a fillet with tasselled ends, the neck draped. Field replenished with foliage. Borders beaded, שלמה בן יצחק See Proceedings of the Soc. of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol. i., pp. 39, 502 ; H. Laing, Supplementary Catalogue of Scottish Seals, No. 1294, from which it appears that the brass matrix of this seal was found on the east side of Arthur Seat near Duddingston, and is now in the Museum of the Soc. of Ant. of Scotland.

As you can plainly see, more than שלמה בן יצחק is written on this seal (actually, in fact, it says שלמה בר יצחק, and by the way, this isn't רש"י). Unfortunately this is the best image I could find and is hard to read precisely, even if you are aware of suggestions as to what it says. But let's get to that.

In the original PSAS article various suggestions of how to interpret the legend are given.

Among them are:

שלמה בר יצחק אלמעמס:אלה זל'ו
Recognizing the Arabic prefix al- אל, this interpretation assumes that אלמעמס is derived from either עמס, to take or carry up, or עמם gathering or collection, and is the family name of this שלמה בר יצחק. The last word might read זכר לברכה, but the interpreter was unable to make sense of the last letter, which he thought might be either a ו or a י.a

1061 שלמה בר יצחק אתעמס אלה

The second interpretation reads the word following the name differently, thinking that אתעמס is an Aramaic form of עמם, and translates it as "caused to bear [the government]" and thinks that the final letters are actually Arabic numerals that read 1061, for a year. (Parenthetically, this reading is interesting because it could be a dating from the destruction of the Temple, putting the seal to the early 13th century).

שלמה בר יצחק אִמ עָמַס אֶלָה וְלִין

This interpretation, a most poetic one, reads as follows: "Solomon, Son of Isaac! if God has loaded thee with benefits, then take thy rest." The interpreter instructs the reader to compare with Psalm 68:20: בָּרוּךְ אֲדֹנָי,יוֹם יוֹם יַעֲמָס לָנוּ הָאֵל יְשׁוּעָתֵנוּ סֶלָה, Blessed be the Lord, day by day He beareth our burden, even the God who is our salvation. Selah.

Then there is a gematria gobbledygook interpretation which doesn't bear mentioning.

Joseph Jacobs quotes Isidore Loeb and Joseph Derenbourg who realized that it probably said the following: Solomon ben Isaac who has donned the turban. May Allah guard him. (Joseph's English rendering.)

Indeed, אלתעמם does mean "who has donned the turban," ie, became a Muslim. The turban, 'imama or 'umama in Arabic عمامة, was a potent symbol of Islam in the Middle Ages (see).

Although I definitely see an abbreviated form of Allah, אלה, I cannot clearly read the final word as Jacobs read it, and only possessing his translation, I am not sure what Arabic word or acronym is supposed to be signified as "May Allah guard him."

According to this reading, this Solomon bar Isaac converted to Islam. Jacobs conjectured that he in fact fled to England as a result of this, about 1145, due to Spanish persecution. Jacobs further speculates that Solomon bar Isaac was none other than a Solomon bar Isaac mentioned in a responsum of R. Tam, Sepher Ha-yashar 71a. However, Wilhelm Bacher dismissed this as an impossibility, since that particular responsum is headed שאלה מאורליינס לרבינו תם, that is it came from Orleans and not Spain. Jacobs rejoined that it could still be the same Solomon bar Isaac for several reasons, but nevertheless he accepted Bacher's critique and all but withdrew his identification with the seal and the man in the responsum. I might add that we are not exactly dealing with the most uncommon configurations of names either.

Finally, in Malachi Beit-Arie's The Only Dated Medieval Hebrew Manuscript Written in England (1189 CE) and the Problem of Pre-Expulsion Anglo-Hebrew Manuscripts there is the suggestion that the "Solomon ben Isaac" listed in a Pentateuch Codex written in 1189 is this same person.

In any event, this most interesting seal in an unlikely place is worth pondering.

1 Speaking of Jewish England, in medieval Hebrew sources England is referred to variously as Engliterra, ארץ האי (the island country), and ריפת, which seems to be a transposition of the letters in Paris. Make of that what you will.

2 The catalog is in error. The article is on pp. 39-41. link


The Jews of Angevin England: Documents and Records from Latin and Hebrew by Joseph Jacobs, 1893, pg. 24-26.

Jews of Angevin England reviewed by Wilhelm Bacher, JQR, Vol. 6, No. 2. (Jan., 1894), pg. 357 (3rd pg. in Jstor article).

Catalogue of Antiquities, Works of Art and Historical Scottish Relics, 1859, pg. 93.

"Bronze Matrix with Hebrew Inscription," by Daniel Wilson, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Vol. I, 1851-1854, pp. 39-41.

Malachi Beit-Arie, "The Only Dated Medieval Hebrew Manuscript Written in England (1189 CE) and the Problem of Pre-Expulsion Anglo-Hebrew Manuscripts," Appendix II by Zefirah Entin Rokeah.

Max Markreishc, "Notes on Transformation of Place Names by European Jews," Jewish Social Studies, 23:4 (1961: Oct)

Another image:

Friday, November 23, 2007

A 17th century meeting with the Samaritan high priest

In 1697 an Englishman named Henry Maundrell (1665-1701), was elected Chaplain at the Levant Company in Aleppo. That year he embarked on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Easter. The trip was chronicled by him and published in 1703 as Journey from Aleppo to Jerusalem at Easter, A.D. 1697. The book went through many printings, as well as translations into other languages.

There is an interesting part about his visit to the Samaritan כהן גדול while in שכם.

Leaving Sebasta we passed in half an hour by Sherack, and in another half hour by Barseba, two villages on the right hand; and then entering into a narrow valley, lying east and west, and watered with a fine rivulet, we arrived in one hour at Naplosa.

Naplosa is the ancient Sychem, or Sychar, as it is termed in the New Testament. It stands in a narrow valley between Mount Gerizim on the south, and Ebal on the north, being built at the foot of the former; for so the situation both of the city and mountains is laid down by Josephus, Antiq. Jud. lib. v. cap. 9. Gerizim, says he, hangeth over Sychem; and lib. iv. cap. ult. Moses commanded to erect an altar toward the east, not far from Sychem, between Mount Gerizim on the right hand (that is, to one looking eastward on the south,) and Ebal on the left (that is on the north); which plainly assigns the position of these two mountains. From Mount Gerizim it was, that God commanded the blessings to be pronounced upon the children of Israel, and from Mount Ebal the curses, Deut. xi. 29. Upon the former, the Samaritans, whose chief residence is here at Sychem, have a small temple or place of worship, to which they are still wont to repair at certain seasons, for performance of the rites of their religion. What these rites are I could not certainly learn: but that their religion consists in the adoration of a calf, as the Jews give out, seems to have more of spite than of truth in it.

Our company halting a little while at Naplosa, I had an opportunity to go and visit the chief priest of the Samaritans, in order to discourse with him, about this and some other difficulties occurring in the pentateuch; which were recommended to me to be inquired about by the learned Monsieur Job Ludolphus, author of the Ethiopic history, when I visited him at Frankfort, in my passage through Germany.

As for the difference between the Hebrew and Samaritan copy, Deut. xxvii. 4, before cited; the priest pretended the Jews had maliciously altered their text, out of odium to the Samaritans; putting, for Gerizim, Ebal, upon no other account, but only because the Samaritans worshipped in the former mountain, which they would have for that reason, not to be the true place appointed by God for his worship and sacrifice. To confirm this, he pleaded that Ebal was the mountain of cursing, Deut. xi. 29, and in its own nature an unpleasant place; but on the contrary Gerizim was the mountain of blessing by God's own appointment, and also in itself fertile and delightful; from whence he inferred a probability that this latter must have been the true mountain, appointed for those religious festivals, Dent, xxvii. 4, and not (as the Jews have corruptly written it) Hebal. We observed that to be in some measure true which he pleaded concerning the nature of both mountains : for though neither of the mountains has much to boast of as to their pleasantness, yet as one passes between them, Gerizim seems to discover a somewhat more verdant fruitful aspect than Ebal. The reason of which may be, because fronting towards the north, it is sheltered from the heat of the sun by its own shade: whereas Ebal looking southward, and receiving the sun that comes directly upon it, must by consequence be rendered more scorched and unfruitful. The Samaritan priest could not say that any of those great stones, which God directed Joshua to set up, were now to be seen in mount Gerizim; which, were they now extant, would determine the question clearly on his side.

I inquired of him next what sort of animal he thought those Selavae might be, which the children of Israel were so long fed with in the wilderness, Num. xi. He answered, they were a sort of fowls; and by the description, which he gave of them, I perceived he meant the same kind with our Quails. I asked him what he thought of Locusts, and whether the history might not be better accounted for, supposing them to be the winged creatures that fell so thick about the camp of Israel? but by his answer, it appeared, he had never heard of any such hypothesis. Then I demanded of him, what sort of plant or fruit the Dudaim or (as we translate it) Mandrakes were, which Leah gave to Rachel? he said they were plants of a large leaf, bearing a certain sort of fruit, in shape resembling an apple, growing ripe in harvest, but of an ill savor, and not wholesome. Of these plants I saw several afterwards in the way to Jerusalem; and if they were so common in Mesopotamia, as we saw them hereabout, one must either conclude that these could not be the true mandrakes (Dudaim) or else it would puzzle a good critic to give a reason, why Rachel should purchase such vulgar things at go beloved and contested a price. This priest showed me a copy of the Samaritan pentateuch, but would not be persuaded to part with it upon any consideration. He had likewise the first volume of the English Polyglot,which he seemed to esteem equally with his own manuscript.

Don't blame God if you catch a cold: orphaned sayings of the Sages pt. II

Second in this series, another 'orphaned' saying of the Sages.

What everyone knows

הכל בידי שמים חוץ יראת שמים
Everything is by the hand of heaven except the fear of heaven.1

What many do not know

הכל בידי שמים חוץ מצנים ופחים
Everything is by the hand of heaven except cold and heat.2

1 Brakhos 33b and parallels.
2 Ksubbots 30a and parallels.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Mules, hot springs, giants, Punic, Hebrew and Jerome

Genesis 36:24 (Parashath Va-yishlakh)

כד וְאֵלֶּה בְנֵי-צִבְעוֹן וְאַיָּה וַעֲנָה הוּא עֲנָה אֲשֶׁר מָצָא אֶת-הַיֵּמִם בַּמִּדְבָּר בִּרְעֹתוֹ אֶת-הַחֲמֹרִים לְצִבְעוֹן אָבִיו 24 And these are the children of Zibeon: Aiah and Anah--this is Anah who found the hot springs in the wilderness, as he fed the asses of Zibeon his father.

I had an interesting conversation with my חבר mevaseretzion about this interesting verse. I quoted at the top from the 1917 JPS because it is a good baseline, but it differs from the dominant traditional Jewish translation (interpretation, really) of the ambiguous word in red. The interpretation is mules, which the King James Version followed ('And these are the children of Zibeon; both Ajah, and Anah: this was that Anah that found the mules in the wilderness, as he fed the asses of Zibeon his father').

What are other interpretations?

Targum Onqelos renders as גיבריא, mighty people, which actually accords with the Samaritan Torah, which has האימים for our הימים.

This is probably a reference to the Emim of Genesis 14:5: וּבְאַרְבַּע עֶשְׂרֵה שָׁנָה בָּא כְדָרְלָעֹמֶר וְהַמְּלָכִים אֲשֶׁר אִתּוֹ וַיַּכּוּ אֶת רְפָאִים בְּעַשְׁתְּרֹת קַרְנַיִם וְאֶת הַזּוּזִים בְּהָם וְאֵת הָאֵימִים בְּשָׁוֵה קִרְיָתָיִם And in the fourteenth year came Chedorlaomer and the kings that were with him, and smote the Rephaim in Ashteroth-karnaim, and the Zuzim in Ham, and the Emim in Shaveh-kiriathaim. The Samaritans themselves understand it this way; the Samaritan Targum reads עם אמאי, the Emite nation.

Moving along, there are other versions such as
  • Septuagint - Ιαμιν Iamin, Yamin. He found "Yamin," which appears to be a proper name, since the Septuagint transliterates it rather than translates it
  • Peshitta - מיא, water
  • Vulgate - aquas calidas, hot water (ie, hot springs)
  • Targum Pseudo-Jonathan has a more free translation, and gives mules - וַעֲנָה הוּא עֲנָה דְאַרְבַּע יַת עֶדְרַיָא [צ"ל ערוציה] עִם אַתְנִי וְלִזְמַן אַשְׁכַּח יַת כּוּדְנַיְיתָא דִי נְפָקוּ מִנְהוֹן כַּד הֲוָה רָעֵי יַת חַמְרַיָיא לְצִבְעוֹן אָבוּי - he is Anah who coupled the onagers with the she‑asses, and after a time found mules which had come forth from them (see)
  • בראשית רבה- not a version, but a Jewish interpretation - here is the relevant quote for our purpose1 - חציו חמור וחציו סוס
What gives? What is it?

I don't know, but Jerome (who translated the Vulgate from Hebrew, which he had much knowledge of, instead of the Greek Septuagint. It was he among the Christians who introduced the concept of Hebraica veritas) has a very interesting comment on this verse, which I reproduce here:

Among the Hebrews there are many differing discussions about this verse; among the Greeks and ourselves, however, there is silence about it. Some people think that aimim refer to 'seas,' because 'seas' are written with the same letters as this word is in the present verse. And they maintain that while he was pasturing his father's asses in the wilderness, he discovered a gathering of waters which are called 'seas' according to the idiom of the Hebrew language: that is to say, he discovered a pool. The discovery of such a thing in the desert is difficult. Some think that this word means 'hot waters,' in accord with the near likeness of [a similar word in] the Carthaginian language which is closely related to Hebrew. There are those who think that wild asses were admitted by this man to the she-asses, and that he discovered this manner of mating, so that from them were born very swift asses which are called iamim. Most people think that he was the first who made herds of mares in the desert be mounted by asses so that new animals, called mules, should be born from this mating, contrary to nature. (From Saint Jerome's Hebrew Questions on Genesis by Robert Hayward. )

This is an important comment for several reasons. In addition to listing many of the interpretations given above, including the one he ultimately chose for his own translation (ie, hot spring) he also makes a observation about language, namely that the language of Carthage--Punic2--is cognate with Hebrew. In addition, if I understand correctly he seems to define the proper noun iamin in the Septuagint as referring to mules, and apparently attests that this was the dominant interpretation among the Jews, as it remains today (see Artscroll's Stone Chumash which translates as mules, following Genesis Rabbah, Targum Yonathan, Rashi, the King James Version and possibly the Septuagint, according to Jerome).

1 Here is the complete, and interesting, passage (Gen. Rabbah Vayishlakh 82:15): ואלה בני צבעון ואיה וגו' ואלה בני צבעון ואיה וענה מה ראה הכתוב לכתוב ענה ענה תרי זמני תרי נינהו, לעולם חד הוא אלא שבא צבעון על אמו והולידה ענה, ונעשה בן ענה ובן צבעון ובן שעיר מ"מ חד הוא, תני האש והכלאים לא נבראו בששת ימי בראשית אבל עלו במחשבה להבראות, כלאים אימתי נבראו בימי ענה, הה"ד (בראשית לו) הוא ענה אשר מצא את הימים במדבר, ר' יהודה בר סימון אמר המיונס, רבנן אמרי המיסו, חציו חמור וחציו סוס, ואלו הן הסימנין א"ר יונה כל שאזניו קטנות אמו סוסה ואביו חמור, גדולות אמו חמורה ואביו סוס, ר' מנא הוה מפקד לאלין דבי נשיאה דיהון זבנין מן אלין דאודניהון דקיקין מפני שאמו סוסה ואביו חמור, מה עשה ענה הביא חמורה וזיווג לה סוס זכר יצאת ממנו פרדה, א"ל הקב"ה אני לא בראתי דבר של היזק ואתה בראת דבר של היזק, חייך שאני בורא לך דבר של היזק, מה עשה הביא חכינא וזיווג לה חרדון ויצאת מהם חברבר, מעולם לא אמר אדם שנשכו כלב שוטה וחיה, חברבר וחיה, פרדה לבנה וחיה, האש, ר' לוי בשם ר' נזירא שלשים וששה שעות שמשה אותה האורה, י"ב של ערב שבת, וי"ב של לילי שבת, וי"ב של שבת, וכיון ששקעה חמה בלילי שבת בקש הקב"ה לגנוז את האורה וחלק כבוד לשבת, הה"ד (שם /בראשית/ ב) ויברך אלהים את יום השביעי, במה ברכו באורה, וכיון ששקעה חמה בלילי שבת והתחילה אורה משמשת התחילו הכל מקלסים להקב"ה, הה"ד (איוב לז) תחת כל השמים ישרהו, מפני מה ואורו על כנפות הארץ, וכיון ששקעה חמה במוצאי שבת התחיל החשך ממשמש ובא ונתיירא אדם הראשון, דכתיב (תהלים קלט) ואומר אך חושך ישופני, מה עשה לו הקב"ה זימן שני רעפים והקישן זה לזה ויצאה האור ובירך עליה, הה"ד (שם /תהלים קל"ט/) ולילה אור בעדני, אתיא כדשמואל מפני מה מברכים על הנר במוצאי שבת, הואיל ותחלת ברייתו, ר"ה בשם ר' יוחנן אף מוצאי יום הכפורים מברכין עליו מפני ששבת האור כל אותו היום

2 See also.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Geniza doodles at JRUL

Manuscript Boy notes that the Johny Rylands University Library now has nearly 4000 Geniza fragments online (link).

Lots of interesting things. Looks like kids had to write lines a long time ago:

Maybe it's because of doodling:

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Judeo-Arabic history of Hebrew grammar and Bible study

Here is an interesting bit of Judeo-Arabic from an anonymous Hebrew grammatical work of the 9th or 10th century:1

ג' פצ'איל כאנת לישראל פי ג' מואצ'ע ואנבסטת פי אלעמה פמנהא לגה אלדקדוק וג'ידה אלתפסיר פמנהא כ'רג' אללה מן אצפהאן ואלג'דל ואלנט'ר אלחסן כאן אצלה מן אלעראק ואלקראן אלפאכ'ר אלחסן אצלה מן נחלת נפתלי והו מדינה טבריה

Israel had three excellent assets in three place, from which they spread among the (rest) of the people. These include the discipline of diqduq2 and the excellence of exegesis, which God brought from Isfahan. The origin of dialectic and fine logic was in Iraq. The supremely beautiful reading of the Bible had its origin in the inheritance of Naphtali, which is in the town of Tiberias.

1In Jacob Mann, "On the Terminology of the early Massorites and Grammarians," pp.437-445, "Oriental Studies Published in Commemoration of the 40th Anniversary of Paul Haupt as director of the Oriental Seminary of the Johns Hopkins University," 1926.

2 Geoffrey Khan quotes this in his "The Early Karaite Tradition of Hebrew Grammatical Thought: Including a Critical Edition, Translation and Analysis of the Diqduq of Abu Yaqub Yusuf Ibn Nuh on the Hagiographa" and adds a note on this reading: The reading that is given by Mann לגה אלדקדוק is difficult to construe, perhaps the original text read אללגה ואלדקדוק 'lexicography and grammar.'

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

On the meaning and origin of halakhah, Hebrew or Aramaic?

What is the etymology of halakhah?

The meaning of הלכה is understood to mean משפט and דת, to use the definition supplied by R. Elijah Levita in his תשבי. It was usually understood to be derived from the Hebrew root הלך, to go.

(For an ancient source, see Targum Onkelos, which sometimes translates the term משפט as הלכתא. For example, it translates Gen. 40:13's כַּמִּשְׁפָּט הָרִאשׁוֹן as כהלכתא קדמיתא, Ex. 21:9's כְּמִשְׁפַּט הַבָּנוֹת as כהלכת בנת ישראל , but Ex. 21:1's וְאֵלֶּה הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים is translated as ואלין דיניא.)

The question is, how did a root meaning to go turn into the term for Jewish law? Or did it?

There is an interesting footnote in R. Saul Lieberman's essay on the "publication of the mishnah"1 in Hellenism in Jewish Palestine, pg.83-84. I present it below:

As you can see, he notes that in the Aramaic portion of Ezra there is a term הֲלָךְ which meant toll.2 Gesenius identified Ezra's הֲלָךְ with ilku from the Babylonian for tax. Furthermore, in Aramaic a land tax was called הלכתא.

In short, the word halakhah (in Hebraized form) may have Aramaic roots in the sense of a fixed rule, from a fixed land tax.

Incidentally, what R. Lieberman calls its Latin equivalent, regula, R. Elijah Levita gives לייציון as the לע"ז. I'm assuming he meant German? Although it does look vaguely French. A European Latin legal term? Does anyone know what לייציון refers to?

1 I believe he deliberately used the term "publication" anachronistically, to buttress his view that the mishnah remained oral, rather than written, and could be "published" in that form. See Menachem Mendel's here and here.

2 He called it tax, but I simply went with the 1917 JPS's "toll," as per my practice to use that translation unless I have a specific reason not to.

3 In case you are wondering why I restate his comments which are in the image, it's because I want the discussion to be archived by search engines.

Friday, November 09, 2007

It's a generation thing: orphaned sayings of the Sages pt. I

I once posted about what I call a lucky midrash.

I thought it might be interesting to occasionally point some things which have gone overlooked.


יפתח בדורו כשמואל בדורו
Jepthah in his generation is like Samuel in his generation


ירובעל בדורו כמשה בדורו
Jerubaal in his generation is like Moses in his generation

(Honorable mention (unlucky): בדן בדורו כאהרן בדורו
Bedan in his generation is like Aaron in his generation -- all from Rosh Hashana 25b)

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Eliezer Ben Yehuda, Hebrew &c.

Eliezer Ben-Yehuda is sort of in the news again, being that UNESCO announced that he, along with Darwin and the Maharal, among others (link) would be included in a list of contributors to civilization.

As an aside, let me just make my view clear: he was not the "creator" of modern Hebrew, so no need to tell me that. Yes, he was elevated as a symbol, but his contribution to the revival was real and important. So without overstating things, and without understating things.

Couple of tidbits:

From a interview conducted in 2000 with Dola Wittmann, Ben-Yehuda's daughter:

Dola lit up when I asked her if Ben-Yehuda had a sense of humor when he created the modern language. "Oh, yes, definitely! There are many examples of whimsy in his choice of words." For example? She laughed. "Clitoris. He decided on דגדגן dagdegan, from the root לדגדג l'dagdeg, to tickle."

Dola died in January of 2005. Yes, she was over 100 year old--but being whose daughter she was, it sort of puts time into perspective. Her father's famous activity took place in the late 19th and early 20th century. Not so long ago after all.

The following is an interesting excerpt from the chapter called "The Debate Over Hebrew," in Guardian of Jerusalem, the Artscroll biography of R. Chaim Sonnenfeld (which was based on the three volume biography of R. Chaim, האיש על החומה, by his grandson Shlomo Zalman Sonnenfeld).

Read the whole thing, but I want to highlight the bit which I'll type below:

The footnote to the story of the exchange between R. Shmuel Salant and Ben-Yehuda:

Ben-Yehuda replied hotly to this statement saying, "What kind of shtusim (nonsense - in Yiddish) are you speaking!" R' Shmuel smiled and immediately corrected the famous grammarian, "shtuyot is the proper Hebrew form of the word ..."

and the following footnote:

R' Moshe Blau related in his book: "My revered father-in-law, R' Yaakov Orenstein, was a fiery zealot on behalf of Orthodox causes yet also an extremely pleasant person. Once, while R' Yaakov was delivering a shiur, someone entered and whispered something to him. R' Yaakov interrupted the shiur and stepped outside. When he returned, he explained that Ben-Yehudah had been standing outside, waiting to ask him the meaning of the word amin which appears in the Talmud, Zevachim 40b.1 R' Yaakov maintained that it was a kiddush Hashem for a Yiddish-speaking rav to explain to Ben-Yehuda the meaning of a Hebrew word that he, the famous Hebrew lexicographer, could not fathom."

These may well be completely accurate. The first story is not surprising; Ben Yehuda thought in Yiddish, obviously. Secondly, even great scholars make mistakes. The point of the story is evidently that Ben Yehuda did not know the proper form of the word, but of course he did.

The second story has all the earmarks of a classic (important person summons the hero whilst a crowd waits, and the hero dazzles the important person), but it too is probably essentially true. Of course Ben Yehuda sought the views of traditional Jews and rabbis. Apart from being sound on linguistic grounds, it is also a mark of humility. The point of the story seems to be that Ben Yehuda "couldn't fathom" a Hebrew word. Whether true or not, the story also makes the point that Ben Yehuda could admit this fact and was indeed interested in hearing what truths could be taught about his beloved language wherever it could be taught.

When the Sages "couldn't fathom" Hebrew words they too had the humility, honesty (and keen language sense) to seek an explanation (see prior post which discusses a famous Talmudic passage about the Hebrew language).

In any case, the point of the stories seem also to promote that idea that Ben Yehuda really wasn't *that* great an expert in Hebrew, at least not as much as the traditional rabbonim. That's why it's a story. If R. Blau's father-in-law had went to Ben-Yehuda, that wouldn't have been a story (that is, repeated). It isn't a "story" that R. Benjamin Musaphia's מוסף הערוך used Buxtorf's lexicon to fathom words in Talmudic literature, nor is it a story that R. Hai Ga'on sought clarification for the meaning of a Hebrew from a Christian patriarch (see). Oh, wait. These are stories too. Just different people tell them. ;)

1 Speaking of the word in question, אמין, it's clear from the context that it's some kind of blemish or sore. Rashi translates it as וירוא"ה in Old French. Soncino translates as wart, (which is what וירוא"ה verrue means), Artscroll as blister. Why? I'm not sure, but in the printed texts Rashi does not read וירוא"ה, but וושיא"ה . This is a mistake. In the manuscripts Rashi says וירוא"ה. In fact, there is an earlier לעז on the page which is וושיא"ה. Evidently the printers made a mistake and repeated that, which is why this word appears twice in close proximity.

Have a look at the Bomberg 1520-23 edition:

I guess the preparers of the Artscroll did not see the earlier manuscripts, which Soncino based its translation on (or examine an
אוצר לעזי רש"י), and had to approximate a translation based on guesswork or another source.

I wish I had access to Ben-Yehuda's dictionary at the moment so that I could see what the man himself wrote, but I don't.2

Further reading:

  1. Menachem's post about the ban placed on R. Hayyim Hirschensohn for his association with Ben Yehuda.
  2. From the Language of G-d to the Language of the Devil: On the Struggle of Orthodoxy Against the Hebrew Language by Prof. Be´er Haim in BGU Review, Spring 2005.

תמונת אליעזר בן יהודה

EDIT (11/12/07):

2 I do now. Dave from Balashon was kind enough to send me Ben Yehuda's entry for אם, and here it is:

March of the Sa'ud

Sure, 8 billion blogs are going to post this, but this is special. :D

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Aramaic Sudoku

Try Nabatean or Estrangela if you're real hardcore.


Half-mud mice in the Mishnah and Google Books

So how cool is the internet? Ah, information.

I've already posted many cool finds from Google Books, but here is another wonderful illustration of how much information is rapidly becoming available instantly (if you know what to look for and how to look!).

There is a well known mishna (Cholin 9:6) which references an animal born through spontaneous generation:

שרץ שחצייו בשר וחצייו אדמה

Also mentioned in BT Sanhedrin 91a

עכבר שהיום חציו בשר וחציו אדמה

This is a rodent of some kind which is "half flesh and half earth." There is an abundance of literature on this, commentaries, discussions, etc. A wonderful overview by R. Natan Slifkin is here; it is also discussed in much more detail in his Mysterious Creatures.

One of the more famous comments is by R. Yisrael Lipschuetz in his commentary on the mishnah Tiferes Yisrael. It is this:

R. Slifkin already translated the relevant part, so here is his translation:

I have heard heretics mocking regarding the creature that is discussed here and in Sanhedrin 91a, and denying it, saying that there is no such thing at all. Therefore, I have seen fit to mention here that which I found written in a Western European work compiled by a scholar renowned amongst the scholars of the world. His name is Link, and the book is titled Urwelt. In Volume I, page 327, he writes that such a creature was found in Egypt in the district of Thebes, and that rodent is called, in the Egyptian language, dipus jaculus; and in the language of Ashkenaz it is called springmaus. Its forequarters – its head, chest and hands – are perfectly formed; but its hindquarters are still embedded in the earth, until after several days when it fully changes to flesh. And I say, “How great are Your works, Hashem!”

Look what Google Books does. Here is Heinrich Friedrich Link's Die Urwelt und das Alterthum from 1821.

nus Lotus Desfont bie gçpftfc e S3one Ne lumbium specioSum unb ba fogenannte эсо с iTêov гоа фешИф Arum Çolocosja batí SBorf fommt f ier nur attein t or tint ijî iefleic f au хоЛокаоча öerfhmunelt aß aber i ie &iere bort juerjl gebilîjft rourben beroeifet folgpnîjeêr fc einung n Débats fte i тан пат 1ф ju gf roiffrn Seiten eine foíc e Kenge unb fc fonïer bare 9 îâufe ertjorfommen baß man darüber er jïaunen mup benn einige fïnb am Sßorberi eiie on53ru îunï 5û en fe c roo gebilbet unb bemegen рф ber intert eii aber tfl поф ungebiíbet nnb at bie Statur ber rbfd o e 9Гиф menn SRihr affer паф ber 11е

True, you need to be able to read German (in gothic script, no less). But it took me about 10 second to find this.

(It is no matter that Dr. Shnayer Leiman showed that R. Lipschuetz misunderstood his source. However, it is worth noting that when Artscroll discusses this half flesh-half dirt mouse in its commentary to Cholin 127a they note that Tiferes Yisrael's reference is a mistake according to "modern scholars," "modern scholars" meaning "Dr. Shnayer Leiman.")

EDIT: On page 184 fn. 36 of Hellenism in Jewish Palestine,"The Natural Science of the Rabbis," R. Saul Lieberman writes: "Comp. also בועז in Mishna ed. Romm. The book referred to by the author is inaccessible to me."

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The complete, accurate, original and authentic Vilna Romm Shas?

The following advertisement appeared in last week's Jewish Press:

What's interesting about this ad is the following under the heading "complete and accurate": "Each page has been thoroughly checked against the original Vilna-Romm Shas and retouched to enhance legibility and insure authenticity."

It's unclear to me what is meant by "authenticity." An authentic Shas or an authentic Vilna Shas?

There is an interesting sefer by by R. Dovid Cohen called העקוב למישור which tracks and correct printing errors in the original Vilna shas (Rashi and Tosfos included). Some of these were due to the usual suspects, graphic similarity of letters, dittography, haplography, etc. Interestingly, some were due to the Lithuanian pronunciation of Hebrew (or, Aramaic, as it were)! The typesetter would listen to someone read the text, and sometimes think another word was being read, for example, confusing a שׁ and a ס.

I wish I could supply examples, but I gave my copy to someone. In any case, there are hundreds of examples.

Many of these mistakes were long since corrected, so your gemara may well not reflect these errors. However, it seems to me that if this new version aims to match the "original Vilna-Romm Shas" for its "authenticity," then its barking up the wrong tree.

Are Hebrew Artscroll gemaras more revealing than English gemaras?

at What's Bothering Artscroll?

Hebrew Artscroll gemaras as more revealing than English gemaras?

Menachem Mendel posts on a comparison between Artscroll's English and Hebrew Talmud's treatment of an issue possibly affecting the text of the Torah.

He finds that the notes in the Hebrew version is a serious attempt to discuss the issue, while the English version simply ignores it.

This dovetails with my observation that Artscroll sometimes attempts to hide things, as it were, in English, but not in Hebrew. This example is even more radical, because it seems to mean that the kind of discussions differ in the two versions.

I'm not certain what to make of it. I recall Nosson Scherman noting that Artscroll has made sure that major university libraries have copies of the English Shas, so that readers at universities have an authentic translation to look at (presumably Soncino, Steinsaltz, Blackman, Herbert Danby etc are not authentic). He even cited R. Chaim Kanievsky, saying that he compared the project to R. Yisrael Salanter's never-realized German Talmud translation. It could be that since Artscroll knows that at least part of its English audience is not, shall we say, initiates, it is more reluctant to discuss such things. But more confident about doing so in Hebrew.

"While the Artscroll English Talmud is an important work, it seems that it intentionally avoids confronting problematic passages in the Talmud, at least in this one instance. Are English-readers unable to confront difficult Gemara texts while Hebrew readers can? Ironically, the Artscroll web site says that their edition of the Talmud is for the “intellectually adventurous”, I guess just not too adventurous."

Aleppo Codex news

An eight-centimeter-square piece of the 1087-year-old Aleppo Codex will be given to a representative of the Ben Zvi Institute in Jerusalem on Thursday, following 18 years during which Israeli scholars tried to retrieve it from businessman Sam Sabbagh.

Sabbagh salvaged the fragment from a burning synagogue in Aleppo, Syria in 1947.

Inscribed on both sides, it is one of the lost fragments of the codex, a copy of the Bible written in 920 C.E. in Tiberias by the scribe Shlomo Ben Buya'a. The fragment Sabbagh had bears verses of Exodus chapter 8, including the words of Moses to Pharaoh: "Let my people go, that they may serve me..."

Sabbagh believed the small piece of parchment was his good luck charm for six decades. He was convinced that thanks to the parchment, which he kept with him always in a transparent plastic container, he had been saved from riots in his hometown of Aleppo during Israel's War of Independence, and he had managed to immigrate from Syria to the United States in 1968 and start a new life in Brooklyn and make a living. The charm was with him when he underwent complicated surgery.

Just two years ago, it completed its task, when Sabbagh passed away.


In 1987 Professor Menahem Ben-Sasson, then head of the Ben Zvi Institute and now chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, went to the U.S. to obtain funding from a wealthy member of the Aleppo community, Steve Shalom, for an urgent restoration of the codex.

"While I was meeting with him, another member of the community came in and said that the codex had burned but that his brother Sam had a page. I asked for the brother's phone number and called him right away. He told me 'I won't give it to you under any circumstances. It has saved me from disaster.' I asked if at least I could photograph it, and he agreed."

Ben-Sasson says that since he found the fragment Sabbagh had, whenever he would give a lecture to Jews of the Aleppo community, he would ask them to find the missing pieces of the codex. "They bring me all kinds of manuscripts and charms but it was never that. I've even asked the community's rabbis to place a ban on anyone holding parts of the codex, but they told me it wouldn't help. The connection between the Aleppo Jews and the codex is just too strong."

Read the rest (I also only posted excerpts, so read the whole article).

I just have to say that in my opinion Ben-Sasson was played:

"I've even asked the community's rabbis to place a ban on anyone holding parts of the codex, but they told me it wouldn't help."

As he said, "The connection between the Aleppo Jews and the codex is just too strong." The community rabbis are also Aleppo Jews. A herem wouldn't help? I'll believe it if they tried it.

That said, the connection between them and the codex is strong, and deservedly so: they were excellent custodians of a most valuable manuscript for 600 years. It just happens to be that the safest and best place for it today is in the custody of Israel, so the fragments, if they exist, do need to be reunited with the rest of the codex. But the community should be respected for its relationship with the codex, so the solution is probably to continue to make the case and hopefully persuasion will lead to the recovery of whatever else might exist.

Hat tip goes to Ari, who always scoops me on these things!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Why is Massekhes Shekalim studied in Daf Yomi?

A reader asked me the following question:
Why is Masechta Shekalim included in the Daf Yomi cycle?
In the Talmud Bavli there is no gemara for Shekalim, but there is one in the Yerushalmi. However, there are gemaras for other massekhtot in the Yerushalmi for which there are none in the Bavli, and these did not become part of the Daf Yom cycle. So why should Shekalim alone jump borders and be included in the study schedule for the Babylonian Talmud? That is the question.

The answer is neatly summarized as follows: the Yerushalmi Shekalim has long been an honorary massekhet in Talmud Bavli. Thus, the Daf Yomi project begun in 1923 was not so much choosing to include a single Yerushalmi gemara, either arbitrarily or for a particular reason, as continuing a longstanding custom.

A good place to begin would be the famous manuscript Hebraicus 95, the Munich Babylonian Talmud manuscript from the 14th century. It included Shekalim.

Marvin Heller cites1 R. Saul Lieberman

a renowned authority on the Jerusalem Talmud [who], testifies2 to the frequent and early study of Shekalim as part of the Babylonian Talmud dating back to the time of the geonim. He writes that he has examined many manuscripts of Shekalim that were attached to codices of the Babylonian Talmud . . . . Lieberman also remarks that the text of the Jerusalem Talmud Shekalim attached to the Babylonian Talmud varies considerably from the text of Shekalim in the Jerusalem Talmud.

In Heller's survey of printed editions, he refers to an edition of Shekalim printed by Balthassar Wust in 1689 with the commentary of R. Elijah of Fulda. In the introduction R. Fulda wrote

וזה אשר יצא לי ראשונה להביא לבית הדפוס מסכת שקלים לבדה לפי שרבו עלי הוצאת הדפוס אפילו לסדר מן הסדרים בכן ראיתי להביא המסכת הלן לבית הדפוס כדי להשלים הסדר כפי אשר נדפס עם הש"ס בבלי בדפוס יוסטניאה

The reason why this tractate, Shekalim, was printed first and by itself is because of the expense of even printing one order [out of six]. Therefore I chose to have this tractate printed in order to
complete the order as it was printed in the Giustiniani edition [1540s].

1 Marvin J. Heller, "Printing the Talmud: A History of the Individual Treatises Printed from 1700 to 1750," pg. 21.

1 Saul Lieberman, "The Old Commentators of the Yerushalmi," Alexander Marx Jubilee Volume, pg. 295. n. 29.

Who to ask a technical Hebrew/ Bible query?

There seems to be a popular idea that to be a trustworthy expert in any particular subfield of Torah one must also be a posek, or the converse, that the greatest poskim are also experts in all subfields of Torah.

R. Josh Waxman at Parsha Blog posts a responsum of R. Ezekiel Landau with translation. He notes that "[t]here are great quotes to be culled from this."

Indeed. Here is one:

והנה אני תמה על שבחרו לשלוח שאלות הללו לחכמים ולרבנים זיל קרי הוא שאלו לבעלי מקרא
And behold, I am astonished that he chose to send these halachic queries to Chachamim and Rabbanim! Go and read his query to experts on Scriptures. (translation is Josh's.)

See his post for the full text of the teshuva, which is found in the first section of נודע ביהודה, second responsum in אורח חיים.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The two brothers who loved each other so much that their land was the site of the Temples

Jerusalem was a cultivated field; two brothers possessed that part of the ground where now the temple stands; one of the brothers was married and had several children, the other was single; they cultivated in common the field they had inherited from their mother; when harvest time was come, the two brothers bound up their sheaves, and made two equal heaps of them, which they left upon the field. During the night, the unmarried brother had a good thought; he said to himself, ' My brother has a wife and children to keep; it is not right that my share should be as large as his ; come, I will take some sheaves out of my heap and add them secretly to his; he will not perceive it, and so he will not be able to refuse them.' And he did as he had thought. The same night, the other brother awoke and said to his wife, ' My brother is young; he lives single and without company; he has nobody to assist him in his labour or to console him in his weariness; it is not right that we should take as many sheaves from our common field as lie. Let us get up, and go and carry secretly to his heap a certain number of sheaves; he will not perceive it, and so he cannot re fuse them.' And they did as they had thought. The next day, each of the brothers went to the field, and was very much surprised to see that the two heaps were still equal : neither one nor the other could account to himself for this prodigy. They did the same for several successive nights,but as each had carried to his brother's heap the same number of sheaves, the heaps still remained equal; until one night both stood sentinels to search out the reason of this miracle, and they met one another carrying the sheaves they had mutually designed for each other. " Now the place where so good a thought came at the same time and recurred so continually to two men, must be a spot pleasing to the Deity ; and men blessed it, and chose it to build on it a house for God."

--A beautiful midrash Palestinian Islamic folktale .

On a private email list which must not be named, someone asked

"Is there any authentic basis to the legend that the Beis Hamikdash was built
where two brothers secretly brought part of their harvest to each other in the
belief that the other needed it more than him?"

The answer is that it seems to be just what I wrote above. In short, the first appearance of this story in Western literature seems to be Alphonse de Lamartine's travelogue from the 1840s. The first appearance in Jewish literature is in Louis Ginzberg's Legends of the Jews. The first appearance in yeshiva or Bais Yaakov? Who can say. But it's a nice story, isn't it? Sort of reminds me of the Romantic poem Abou Ben Adhem (a historical figure) by Leigh Hunt.

See this article from 1994 by Eliezer Segal and this post by Menachem Mendel from last year, as well as the Ha-Safran archives where this topic popped up two weeks ago.


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