Monday, May 05, 2008

R. Azariah De' Rossi in - or out of - Artscroll

Here is an excerpt from a review by Zvi Zohar of Artscroll's Aleppo; City of Scholars by David Sutton (link):

Censorship and 'Correction' of 'Improper' Sources Cited in Previous Editions

Not only does Rabbi Sutton ignore academic literature and conceal his use of non-religious sources, he also censors 'improper' sources mentioned in previous editions of LiKedoshim Asher Ba'Aretz. For example: both previous editions quote in full the short work Zichron Divrei Aret"z, by Rabbi Abraham Dayan, which first appeared in 1850.42 In that composition, Rabbi Dayan included a variety of anecdotal information that had reached him regarding the city of Aleppo and the Jews within it, from antiquity until his own times.43 Inter alia, Dayan relates that one elderly scholar told him of a tradition according to which, in each one of the old city's gates was preserved a wondrous ancient object. Thus, in one of the gates there was the tooth of an ancient fish, two feet long, in another gate 'the nail of one of the giants, as [large as] a pillow and a duvet', and in a third gate, a jug of sand from the river Sambatyon. Rabbi Dayan knew that some people tend to discount the factuality of information such as this, and so he wrote:

And as I have seen some persons, wise in their own eyes, who say that “the world goes according to its ways”,44 and they believe nothing unless they see it with their own eyes or unless it's written in the books of Hamirs,45 therefore I shall transcribe for them here what was written in the book of Me’or Eynayim by dei Rossi on p. 88, in the name of the head of the Christian scholars,46 book 15 chapter 9, about the size of the giants' body. That [scholar reported that] he saw the tooth of a man which, if cut according to the measurement of our teeth, could be divided into one hundred [of our] teeth.

In other words, in order to put an end to these skeptics' criticism, Rabbi Dayan reveals that he read Azariah dei Rossi's Me’or Eynayim, and that the author quoted there information from the book of a very major Christian scholar. This Christian scholar reported that he saw a huge human tooth, and this finding verifies the fact that giants existed in the past. From this, the above-mentioned skeptics may conclude, that there is no reason to doubt the report about the giant's nail found in one of the gates of the City of Aleppo.

Let us now see, how the paragraph quoted above is paraphrased in Aleppo:

I have seen some people, convinced of their own intelligence, who think that nothing exists beyond nature and don't believe what they haven't seen with their own eyes or in secular sources. Therefore, for these skeptics I cite a book which quotes secular sources concerning the existence of ancient giants. He writes of scientific finds of the teeth of giants that are one hundred times the size of average human teeth.47

The contrast between this "translation" and the original text is striking! The title Me’or Eynayim has been exorcised and it is now cited anonymously as "a book", and the information dei Rossi attributed to “the head of the Christian' scholars” is now attributed to "secular sources". Furthermore, while that Christian scholar reported [one!] giant tooth that he saw with his own eyes, in Aleppo's rewriting this report became "scientific finds" of "teeth of giants" [=many teeth of many giants].

In order to explain this amazing transformation we should recall, that the book of Me’or Eynayim raised a huge debate when it was published, for the writer was of independent critical thought and dared to raise difficult questions regarding various traditions found in Rabbinical literature. The Rabbis of Venice imposed a ban (herem) upon ownership of the book and upon reading it, and the same was done by Rabbis in other towns in Italy, as well as by the Rabbis of Safed. The Mahara"l of Prague attacked Azariah dei Rossi and Me’or Eynayim in his book Be'er haGola.48

The fact that Rabbi Abraham Dayan, son of the most aristocratic Jewish family in Aleppo and author of several 'kosher' religious books, read Me'or Eynayim, treated it as a reliable source and attributed credibility to information quoted in it in the name of a major Christian scholar – does not at all cohere with the portrait of the characteristics of the Aleppo community and its scholars, which Rabbi Sutton would like to cultivate among his readers. Based on his (not unfounded) confidence that nobody within the English speaking Aleppan community would be likely to discover the change, Sutton permitted himself to 'purify' the original text by Abraham Dayan – a text that neither David Zion Laniado nor Mordechai Attiah had thought to change. Furthermore, knowing that English readers in the early 21st century attribute credibility to scientific findings, Sutton decided to write that in this anonymous text there are "scientific finds of the teeth of giants" – even though all that really appears there is the testimony of one man who saw one tooth.

But this Ultra-Orthodox censorship led the writers of the book to a place where they would surely be surprised to find themselves. For who is this Christian scholar, whose words they converted to "scientific finds"? If one reads the text of Me'or Eynayim one finds that Rabbi Azariah dei Rossi is citing none other than … Augustine of Hippo! Indeed, in his City of God, book 15 chapter 9, Augustine seeks to confirm belief in the veracity of the Bible's reports about the bodily measurements and the life spans attributed by the Bible to pre-diluvian humans. He testifies that on the sea shore by Utica (a city sited in what today is Northern Tunisia) he saw the molar of a human being, apparently one of the giants of yore, that was one hundred times larger than one of 'our' teeth. The bottom line is, then, that the Syrian community inBrooklyn and elsewhere were treated, thanks to Sutton's efforts at censorship, to a text in which the words of St. Augustine in his book 'City of God' were raised to the level of "scientific finds" with an Ultra-Orthodox "hechsher" from Artscroll Publishing! To which we can only say: "this is 'Torah' and this is its reward."

42 The work was published in Livorno in 1850, together with other works by the author: Holech Tamim and Poel Tzedek.

43 This is how Yaron Harel summarizes the contents of this work: 'a random enumeration of various historical events which took place in Aleppo, as traditionally told in the city. Beginning with legends about the city's conquest by Yoab ben Seruyah, and ending with events which took place in the author's times' (Yaron Harel, ibid n. 19, p. 48).

44 Hebrew: Olam ke-Minhago Noheg, i.e., reality follows the laws of nature (and thus, such anecdotes are suspect).

45 The books of Hamirs = the books of Homerus = books considered to be credible by the educated world.

46 Examining the source in the Me’or Eynayim (Mantova 1674 p. 88) reveals that Rabbi Dayan omitted one word here, maybe because it seemed unclear to him. And here is the original text: "the head of the Christians' scholars wrote in his City in book 15 chapter 9, about the size of the body of giants, that he saw the tooth of a man which if cut to the size of our teeth, would be divided into one hundred teeth." For further identification of this source, see text below.

47 P. 11.

48 See Joseph Dan, ROSSI, Azariah, in: Encyclopedia Judaica (1973) 14:315-31, and see also the editor/translator's introduction in Light of the Eyes, Azariah de´ Rossi; Translated from the Hebrew, with an introduction by Joanna Weinberg, Yale University press, 2001.

Please see my prior post 'What would R' Azaryah surely have resented? The portrayal of a controversial rabbi by Artscroll.,' which is probably the first and last time that the name of R. Azaryah de' Rossi will be mentioned in an Artscroll publication. De' Rossi's work Me'or 'Enayim was not only cited by obscure (at least outside of Aleppo) rabbinic figures like Abraham Dayan, but he was also cited by the author of Minhas Shai on the Bible - a massoretic commentary with accepted halakhic authority - by R. Yaakov Emden, by a Lithuanian roshei yeshiva such as Netziv, by modern scholarly rabbis like Menachem Kasher, whose works are considered very valuable and certainly acceptable in the faithful communities which Artscroll hopes to shape the religious thinking of.

Read the rest of Zohar's review (in English translation, as linked above, or in the Hebrew original). It includes such chestnuts as the fact that the book reproduces a photograph from an out-of-print work on Aleppan Jewry from 1910 - by a Jewish Christian missionary without explaining who he is; the book helpfully misspells his name, ve-ha-mevin yavin. Incidentally, this Joseph Segall was allowed by the communal leaders to photograph a page of the Aleppo Codex, which is wonderful because it meant that the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy from the Codex was preserved (see its image here); but also not so wonderful, since it may well be that the reason why after this point the Aleppan rabbis and communal leaders steadfastly refused to allow the entire codex to be photographed by anyone, was because of the Segall incident - a consequence that proved most unfortunate, since a lot of the Codex is now missing, unphotographed).

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