Friday, June 27, 2008

Photoshopping women out of the Chofetz Chaim's vicinity

Ishim ve-shitos notes that a yeshiva mailed a photograph of the Chofetz Chaim that was visited by the Photoshop Fairy:



Of course it is not clear if this particular yeshiva was responsible for removing the women from the photo. Perhaps their source (e.g., a book) was the photo already doctored. But one thing is certain: someone removed two women from the private garden photo.

Some aspects of the Netziv's youthful bookshelf

Holy Hyrax called my attention to the 5th annual Ariel Avrech z"l Yahrzeit Lecture at the Young Israel of Century City (listen).

The lecturer was Gil S. Perl; the topic "What Was the Rosh Yeshiva Reading? Intellectual Openness in 19th Century Lithuania?" Drawn from his research for his dissertation on the Neziv (see my prior post On the alleged average intelligence of the Neziv), a couple of points he raised are worth mentioning (although this should not absolve you of listening to the very interesting talk - but if you don't want to, here is a summary of the lecture topic: link).

The first point (discussed in his dissertation on pp. 345-46) concerns the great depth and breadth of Hebrew grammatical knowledge in possession of the Neziv. The memoir by his nephew R. Baruch Epstein contains the following story:

The maskil Joshua Steinberg asked the Neziv how it was that he was had become so adept at grammar, Bible and cognate studies, when clearly he was a traditional talmid chochom who occupied his time entirely with Talmud and rabbinic literature? Furthermore, he - Steinberg - achieved his expertise in these subjects only after many years of hard toil in these subjects.

The Neziv, says Epstein, replied with a parable of two linen merchants. One has a huge business, the other barely anything. Noticing that the bales of linen in the stock of the larger merchant are bound by fine straps that are worth something in and of themselves, the lesser merchant asks the other where he gets those straps. He is told that he gets them from his supplier. Thinking of an opportunity the small merchant tries to get many straps from the supplier, who charges for them in accordance with what they're worth. The merchant doesn't understand; why are they thrown in for free for the larger merchant? He is told that they are free if you buy a great amount of linen, but not if you only came for the straps.

Is the message of the parable not clear?

(It does not need to take up four pages, as it does in the memoir. Therefore I put them in a pdf, which you can read if you like: link)

Now, it is not possible to know if this exchange took place or not, or if it did exactly as recounted, but the implication is certainly that the Neziv kind of acquired this great knowledge by osmosis, and with divine help. It certainly does not imply that he learned grammar by reading books on grammar, for example, or at least it skirts the issue.

Yet Perl notes that the Neziv quotes such works in his early work on the Sifre (which was published under the title עמק הנצי"ב fifty years after his death). For example, see the following (Shoftim, vol. iii, pg 189):

As you can see, he directs the reader to the introduction of the grammatical work אשכול הכופר by the Karaite scholar Yehuda Ha-dassi, which obviously was on his reading list. The commentary contains references to other works, like Levita's Massores Ha-massores, so it's obvious that the Neziv was familiar with high level standard grammatical and massoretic works.

It should be noted that even though the Neziv's knowledge is therefore no mystery, that doesn't mean that the exchange never took place - only that the significance of it is not as it appears. This is similar to a popular belief that the Chazon Ish was very knowledgeable about medical topics, without having perused medical literature. In fact, it appears that he was very knowledgeable about medical topics, and he had perused medical literature.

The second interesting point concerns the very same passage (this is discussed on pp. 56-58 of the dissertation).

As you can see, another source is the introduction of חומש באסו ות"א. This looks like a chumash with Targum Onkelos, but the title or publication place of the chumash is unclear. באסו? Besso? Bessau?

Of course readers of this blog already understand that its an error and should read דאסו, Dessau, and that means that ת"א stands for Targum Ashkenaz, with German translation. This means that the reference is to the introduction of Mendelssohn's edition of the chumash, the אור לנתיבה. As there seems to be no באסו chumash in existence, and as Perl looked up the reference and found it in the אור לנתיבה, it seems beyond doubt that this is what was meant. The only question is whether it was an honest error (for example, the ב looked like a ד in the manuscript or just a simple typo) or a willful one.

Perhaps the latter is less likely, because removing the reference would have accomplished the same purpose without possibility of discovery (the manuscript is in possession of descendants of the Neziv). However, Perl found that when he wished to see the manuscript he was allowed by them to do so, but under difficult conditions.* First, he was seated in between two people. Second, he was not allowed to actually look at it freely. He had to tell them what he wanted to see, then they looked at it and decided if he could see it, sometimes letting him, sometimes not letting him. Perl realized what was going on, so he began to ask to see passages a little before the ones he was interested in, hoping that what he was interested in would be on the same page. In this particular case, he only got a quick glance at the reference and he couldn't see if it was written with a ד or a ב, or a ד that looked like a ב. But he did see that it was underlined in pink pencil, which suggests at least that this passage was noted by someone, perhaps the publisher of the work, and perhaps it was a willful distortion of the text.

Paranthetical side point: can you imagine today's gedolei yisrael posing for a studio portrait with an open sefer sitting on a table next to them? Times (and conventions) do, indeed, change.

* Of course, it was nice of them to give him the time of day at all, especially considering the fact of their own religious sensibilities and that his research was for a university doctorate.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

So, was Aharon ben Moshe ben Asher a Karaite?

I doubt it.

In the comments in the Rema post below the issue of Karaism and masoretes was raised, so I thought it's an opportune moment to review some of the discussion concerning this matter.

It seems that ever since Simcha Pinsker published his monumental and groundbreaking history of Karaites and Karaite literature Likute Kadmoniot (Vienna 1860) , the following assertion by him was widely accepted as reasonable: when dealing with the grammarians and masoretes (including Ben Asher and BEn Naftali) of the ge'onic period if there is otherwise no indication that they had anything to do with the Talmud then they should be suspected of Karaism, or at least Karaitic leanings, since Rabbanites did not solely occupy themselves with Bible and grammar to the exclusion of Talmudic learning! This applies before R Saadya especially. Of course once Rabbanites began to more closely study the Bible exegetically and grammatically in response to the challenge of Karaism this rule loses it's force, even without evidence that such grammarians engaged in Talmudic learning as well.

Pg. ל"ב:

So this view was accepted and applied to Ben Asher by Graetz, and accepted ever after (although Aron Dotan notes that O.H. Schorr rightly dismissed Pinsker's axiom as arbitrary in his review of the book):

(Unfortunately the German original of this volume (V) of Graetz's History isn't yet digitally available. Although my German is limited, the popular English translation is insufficient - it is much, much less scholarly, and in this case all the evidence Graetz marshaled is omitted, but it will have to do for an illustration.)

His arguments are that in some texts Ben Asher is titled "מלמד" (see post below!), and that was a Karaite title of the time, Dunash records that Rav Saadya wrote responsa directed against a Ben Asher, whom he did not respect. (Paranthetically, Harry Orlinsky used to say that the authority of Ben Asher over Ben Naftali lies solely on the basis of Maimonides' endorsement - not that this is really true - and really Rav Saadya would have been a better judge, and he would have endoresed Ben Naftali over Ben Asher!) Additionally, Dunash and his students did not mention Ben Asher in their arguments with Menachem and his students, despite being Palestinian and therefore surely familiar with him. They would have done mentioned him, unless they realized he was a Karaite! Finally, a bonafide Karaite (Yehuda Ha-dassi) seems to have thought Ben Asher was a Karaite, judging by the favorable and respectful ways he refers to him.

Other arguments, brought by other scholars, included the evidence found in the treatise Dikduke ha-te'amim (said to be written by Ben Asher), where it seems to be say that all of Tanakh is useful for determining halakhah, not just the Torah.1 This is the Karaite, not Rabbanite view. Additionally, he sometimes uses specifically Karaitic hermeneutical terminology. Finally (and rather lame) is the argument that since the colophon of the Cairo Codex of the Prophets (codex written by Moshe ben Asher) said that it was commissioned by a Karaite, and indeed this codex remained in possession of Karaites, that he himself must have been a Karaite!

Suffice it to say these arguments are insufficient, as Aron Dotan meticulously showed half a century ago in Sinai 41 (his article ? האמנם היה בן-אשר קראי was expanded and published in English as Ben Asher's Creed).

Dotan reviews in detail all the arguments that were made until his time, pro and con. Some of the arguments that Ben Asher was not a Karaite focused on the idea that Maimonides would not have considered him authoritative if he was a Karaite. The insufficiency of this idea on several grounds needn't be stated. More potently, no Rabbanite ever accused Ben Asher of being a Karaite until 1860! Others disputed that the Ben Asher that Saadya argued against was our Ben Asher.

Dotan's work is really well argued, but I will only review his specific objections to Graetz's proofs.

- it can be shown that מלמד was not only a Karaite title, but also a technical term - teacher - also used by Rabbanites

- the fact that Dunash doesn't mention Ben Asher is meaningless. Neither does Menachem (who was not Palestinian and therefore would be unlikely, according to the argument, to know that he was actually a Karaite)

- Ha-dassi's respectful language is not unusual. Fortunately outside of polemics we do find cordial references between Karaites and Rabbanites. The same Ha-dassi also refers to Yehuda Hayyuj and Yonah ibn Janach (known Rabbanites) in a pleasant, cordial way.

- the idea that Ben Asher's expression that the Prophets "complement" the Torah is Karaitic in intent is faulty, since Karaites viewed the Prophets as Torah itself - there was no tripartite division in the Bible for the Karaites. Rather, this is a Rabbanite view. In addition, the Hagiographa is not included here, and that is not a Karaite view. In addition, the issue of halakhah being derived from the Prophets is far more complex than Graetz presents.

In all, Dotan convincingly refutes the contention (originally based on little more than a tantalizing and contrarian assumption) that Ben Asher was a Karaite. Yet prior to his work it was almost a dogma that Ben Asher was a Karaite. For example, Paul Kahle wrote (1956) "We know with certainty that Moshe b. Asherand his son belonged to the community of Karaites and it is therefore very likely that also the other members of the Ben Asher family were Karaites." ("The Masoretic Text of the Bible and the Pronunciation of Hebrew, JJS 7).

We do not know this with certainty.

Finally, a note to potential Karaite readers of this blog (and I know I have such readers): I personally would not mind at all if Ben Asher was a Karaite. It's only a matter of the evidence and arguments for me. For another point of view, see the following post and comment in this post by Nachum::

"Oh, and one more thing- it seems there's a growing number of Orthodox (again, leaning right, not part of any of the categories listed above) who have taken a real interest in Masoretic issues. An offhand reference to Ben Asher and Karaism by a speaker at the conference brought an impassioned reaction from one audience member, for example, and I've been seeing quite a bit of this in recent times. I'm getting the strong feeling that a lot of people are starting to grasp that something's not quite right with the party line ("every letter from Sinai" is just the tip of the iceberg). Lord knows where it will end, especially when combined with the other sentiments above."

I asked what that was about and was told:

"One of the speakers made an offhand reference to the Leningrad Codex as having been written by a Karaite. One audience member (no one was asking questions mid-speech) protested vehemently, and wouldn't let it go, even though it was off-topic and the speaker conceded the point."

1 סדר הנביאים האשמרת התיכונה שלום התורה כמעמד התורה ומורים מהם הוריה כתורה

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A copy of the Aleppo Codex in the Rema's synagogue in Cracow; also, minor C.D. Ginsburg errors

There's an interesting bit in C.D. Ginsburg's Introduction to the Massoretico-Critical Bible (pp. 241-242):

As you can see, he calls attention to an interesting fact (top pg. 242): The Rema synagogue in Cracow had a Bible manuscript which belonged to him (Rema = R. Moshe Isserles). The particular manuscript cost 100 ducats (that must have been expensive).

Ginsburg gives the reference (Ha-maggid) and from there we can see that he made some mistakes. First of all, the manuscript was not a copy of the Cairo Codex by Moshe ben Asher. It was a copy of the Aleppo Codex, written partly by his son Aharon (ben Moshe ben Asher). A minor quibble is that according to the Ha-maggid article Ginsburg refers to, this codex was sent to R. Isserles in the year ש"ל corresponding to 1569/ 70, and not 1530 (when Rema was only 10 years old). Either math was not his suit, or the ל through him off, which is understandable. He also left out a couple of interesting points, namely that the manuscript was sent to Rema by R. Yosef Caro (!), and Rema used the manuscript to write a Torah scroll. Both the manuscript and Torah were still in that synagogue in the 20th century, only to disappear during the Holocaust.

Although one must be careful to say that this manuscript was allegedly copied from the Aleppo Codex, it did contain part of the lost colophon of the Aleppo Codex, in conformity with a scribal practice of copying colophons from manuscripts for proof of its provenance.

The relevant column in Ha-maggid (26 Marcheshvan 5718/ 13 November 1857; two part column on Kracow by Mordechai Weissmann) follows:

Weissmann copied it from the manuscript (תיקון סופרים) , which he says he could not completely read, so I'm not sure how reliable his transcription is, but it is interesting that he gives אהרון בן מר רב אשי, an Aramaic diminutive form of the name, instead of אהרן בן מר רב אשר. In the first issue of Textus (1960) Izhak Ben-Zvi published the complete text of this colophon as copied carefully by R. Meir Nehmad (and printed in his book מאמר חקירה על הכתר היקר הנקרא כתר ארם צובה Aleppo, 1933). There it is given as אשר and not אשי. Paranthetically, Ben-Zvi (d. 1963) asked anyone who had any information about either the Rema's Torah or the manuscript to contact him.

Learn Hebrew. Learn Greeke. Learn Latine. Learn Chaldean. Learn the Rabbinicall.

Excerpt from a 1646 Treatise Concerning Tongues Appertaining to Learning: viz. The Hebrew, Greeke, Latine, Chaldead, Syrian, and Arabian

Vintage Solomon Schechter/ JTS as viewed from the Lower East Side

Here's a really interesting cartoon. It depicts Solomon Schechter grinding up Lower East Side immigrant boys (with the help of Jacob Schiff, who is providing the "gold oil" to lubricate the grinder, which itself is marked "Jewish Theological Seminary") and churning out Reform rabbis, one of whom holds a Bible and another a ham sandwich!

The caption reads:

"The Jewish Theological Seminary, established to provide the East Side with Orthodox rabbonim, manufacturing Reform rabbis for the West and South."

Shaul Raskin (1878-1966), Der Groyser Kibitzer, 22 January 1909

I can't find a lot of information about Der Groyser Kibitzer, but it appears to have been just what it sounds like: a Yiddish parody sheet. I copied this image from David Weinberg's article on the JTS and "Downtown Jews" in Tradition Renewed.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

From the Chasam Sofer's hair, to the Sdei Chemed's shoes

Continuing my series of posts where I present images of people-you-know-but-I-think-are-little-seen --

This portrait of R. Moses Sofer (1762-1839), the Chasam Sofer, was made in 5571 - 1811. I have only one thing to say: that can't all be peyos.

The following is R. Samuel Strashun (1794-1872), more commonly known as Rashash. Most well known because of the inclusion of his Talmudic notes in the Romm Press's Vilna Shas. To see how his slightly left-of-center orientation (or left-of-right, as the case may be) means that he is a slightly controversial figure in some circles today see here, including an oft-repeated rumor about why his notes are in that Talmud edition (and therefore almost all editions since) Also here.

Finally, for tonight, here is a beautiful portrait of R. Chaim Chizkiyahu Medini (1833-1904), author of Sdei Chemed. Just note his truly awesome Ottoman shoes!

Coming soon: what color was Rashi's shirt?

Third post in a series. II

Vintage coverage on the death of the Chafetz Chaim; a new digitization project

Tel Aviv University is now hosting a digital newspaper project (link), and there's a very promising beginning. Although some of the newspapers are in French, which means that for me personally it's not very useful, also included are 19th century Hebrew newspaper's Ha-Maggid and Ha-Levanon, which were already digitized by the JNUL. However, TAU's interface and search are actually far more useful. In addition, they've also got the English language Palestine Post (forerunner of the Jerusalem Post). Not bad!

So I've done some poking around and found a few nice things. To start with, here is the notice of the Chofetz Chaim's funeral (11/19/33):

Nothing more than a blurb, but the following day they ran a tribute headed The Jewish Gandhi (!), which is quite an interesting read:

(click image to enlarge and read - be advised that it's two images.)

Finally, here's an interesting image from the funeral itself - note from the newspaper! (click to enlarge for detail).

Note the seforim in his casket. Also, my eyes must be deceiving me, but it seems that there is a women in the crowd. How could that be?).

(Also, see this old English Hebraica post: link.)

Update: better photo from here:

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

כט אלסאמרה

This is a Samaritan alphabet abecedary from a medieval Jewish manuscript called Sha'ar Ha-razim, written in the late 1460s. The reading in the margin (in Arabic and Hebrew) is כט אלסאמרה והו כתב עברי, 'the Samaritan alphabet, that is Old Hebrew.'

(From Haham Moses Gaster's Jewish Knowledge of the Samaritan Alphabet in the Middle Ages Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 1913, reprinted in Studies and Texts.)


Monday, June 16, 2008

The pronunciation of 'Ehud' at the BBC

Sometimes a rabbinic derashah allows the letters ח and ה interchange with one another. They're so close in sound (and appearance) that it's understandable. (See here for a post which supplies an example and sources for further research.)

The average person probably doesn't realize that in Semitic languages there are consonants which are not found in Western languages until it is pointed out to them (although they may have some sense that Middle Easterners seem to be clearing their throat a lot when they talk). Of the two letters already mentioned, one (the ה) is more or less pronounced just the same as the H is in English, while the other (ח) is nowhere to be found. But it's close to the same sound. That's why in English transliteration words containing these two consonants usually just write them with an H: 'Hanukkah', '[Shalom] Haver,' 'Hizbullah' and so forth, although they all begin with a ח rather than a ה.

Why do I mention this? Because I say that the average person probably doesn't know it, but not everyone is average and some people know this well. But that doesn't stop some of them from making mistakes. It seems that BBC reporters in the Middle East forgot that there is an H sound in Hebrew as well as a ח (leaving aside the question of how the ח is actually pronounced in MIH (=Modern Israeli Hebrew).

It must be five or six times already that I have heard a BBC correspondent in Israel refer to the Israeli Prime Minister as Echud (אחוד) Olmert. Some of these reporters can do a pretty good Middle Eastern ח, and they spit out "אחוד" in a way that would sound clear and authentic from Baghdad to Beirut. Others can't do it and pronounce it the way Ashkenazim and Israelis would: ח, and they spit out "אכוד".

But both, of course, are wrong. It's Ehud (אהוד) with the actual H. No need to get fancy (and wrong). Of course, I've also heard it pronounced correctly!

Another milestone

Thank you! (I)

What happens when a traditional yeshiva is compelled1 to conform to a foregin format on paper

Ishim ve-Shitos presents an amazing excerpt from what must be an amazing dissertation2:

Now, I'm sure that if someone requested a curriculum from BMG this is what they could receive (of course it might have been modified since 1981). After all, BMG is a university, students have to register for courses (I would think) and it can grant degrees.

I remember having to register for "classes" when I was in (other) yeshiva(s). We'd have to write down what Bible books we would study, what Jewish philosophy, ethics, and so forth. All these forms would be neatly filed away, against the outside chance that anyone ever wanted to check them over to make sure that the yeshiva was offering a full theological university curriculum. As I recall, someone from the yeshiva office would even tell us with a wink that we're actually responsible to learn these things - or else it wouldn't be honest, and it was on us to ensure that we completed our courses. Then we'd go back to the Beis Midrash, resume seder and attend shiur on Tuesdays.

I think I wrote that I'd take a course in Chronicles one time. Perhaps Radaq was involved, but I can't recall.

Anyway, someone should have advised Lewitter to do some real research and go to the yeshiva, rather than the mail order kind. I think I wrote the Delaware Chamber of Commerce when I was doing a report on that state in the 3rd grade, but past that point it's appropriate to go to Delaware itself when writing about it.

1 Of course no one is compelling BMG to be a degree-granting university.
2 A school for scholars: The Beth Medrash Govoha, The Rabbi Aaron Kotler Jewish Institute of Higher Learning in Lakewood, New Jersey: A study of the development and theory of one aspect of higher education in America

S. R. Lewitter - 1981 - Rutgers University

Chaim Potok at Yeshiva University, JTS - Bible study & the history of the Hebrew language

Here's an interesting excerpt from an essay1 by Chaim Potok in A Sign and a Witness: 2,000 Years of Hebrew Books & Illuminated Manuscripts (exhibit book from a 1988 showing at the New York Public Library):

Over the words of the teacher I hear the rustling of newspapers. I am in my senior year in Yeshiva College. The school authorities have decreed that students of Talmud ought also to be studying Bible. And so each Thursday one hour has been taken from Talmud study and given over to the Bible. For reasons known only to the faculty, the text that has been selected is the Song of Songs.

Most of my classmates are angry at this theft of precious time from Talmud. They manifest their anger by openly reading newspapers in class as the teacher-a mild, mustached Bible scholar in a rumpled gray suit, steel-rimmed spectacles, and a wide-brimmed gray fedoraattempts to cut a path through the text. The noisy pages of the Post, PM, the Times, the Herald Tribune display an open disdain of the harried efforts of the teacher of Song of Songs.

He is teaching the text in the traditional manner: it is a love song between God and His people Israel, written by King Solomon in his lusty youth. How hard he tries to arouse our interest in its bizarre similes! It is all in vain; the air of the classroom is dense with stoney resentment. Clearing his throat, he gazes down at his text. In a suddenly lowered voice, he reads the words, "Your breasts are like two fawns, / Twins of a gazelle, / Browsing among the lilies," and explains them by saying, "This refers to Moses and Aaron." Behind me a newspaper rustles. All around me there is a low buzz of conversation. The classmate to my right yawns audibly and without embarrassment.

Eight months later, I am sitting in a Bible class in the Rabbinical School of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. We are studying Song of Songs.

The tradition of Solomonic authorship has been briefly explained by
our professor, and dismissed. "If Solomon wrote Song of Songs, there is no history of the Hebrew language. " He dates the book to the third century B. C.E. (A book of the Bible with a specific date! What a rousing notion that was to me!)

1 "Text and Texture: Early Adventures in the Fourth Dimension"

Friday, June 06, 2008

I'm no Hebrew paleographer . . .

. . . but neither was William Chomsky.

William Chomsky was a Hebrew scholar who wrote one of - if not the best - popular histories of the Hebrew language in English ( Hebrew: The Eternal Language Philadelphia : Jewish Publication Society of America, 1957). In addition, he authored scholarly articles and translated, annotated and reorganized the important medieval Hebrew grammar and dictionary, the Mikhlol of Radak (unfortunately without including the Hebrew text).

It is probably impossible to not mention that his son is MIT linguist Noam Chomsky, so I did not do the impossible.

Getting back to "Hebrew: The Eternal Language." The book is full of most interesting information presented in a very clear and engaging format. It contains a wealth of technical information which doesn't seem technical. It is suffused with a very Jewish spirit and a love for the Hebrew language and literature. t's a very good book.

Yet, it is not without factual error and the favoring of pet theories. For example, Chomsky adopts Solomon Zeitlin's war against the Dead Sea Scrolls view that the Dead Sea Scrolls are medieval and Karaitic (p. 298 n. 2) - although he does present the prevailing scholarly view regarding their antiquity, if not the identity of their authors (which can now be considered fact) and gives his reasoning for rejecting that view.

In any case, on pp. 87-88 we find the following about the Yiddish cursive script:

" . . . the Yiddish or neo-Hebraic current script . . . [along with the Rashi script] . . . of course, evolved from the square script, in different localities and periods. . . . Although the cursive script is clearly traceable to the square script as its origin, it also possesses traces of the old Hebrew script. This is particularly evident in the case of the Aleph letter, which in the Yiddish cursive form is closer to the old Hebrew than is the same letter in the square script."
(The letter he is talking about looks like this: )

One wonders, what could Chomsky have meant by this? Now, as trivia - as opposed to useful information - it is true that the letter aleph in the "neo-Hebraic current" script does more closely resemble a Ktav Ivri/ paleo-Hebrew aleph than does a square aleph. In fact, I once wrote out the Ktav Ivri script for a 12 year old who promptly told me that he thought the paleo aleph looked like the cursive aleph he was used to. But what could Chomsky have meant that "it also possesses traces of the old Hebrew script"? Traces? Does he mean this literally? How would that be possible?

As I said, I'm no Hebrew paleographer, but actually it seems to me that the aleph of the "current neo-Hebraic," or "Yiddish cursive" is derived from the form of the aleph in the Hebrew cursive form known as Rashi script.

Here are some examples.

This title page from a mid-19th century siddur for travelers to America is interesting in its own right, but take a look at the aleph in the name Ephraim (and the others). In virtually all respects this signature facsimile is written in the current cursive script, but instead of the right side of the aleph being a semi circle, it is more like a "greater than" sign.


This well known signature of Wolf Heidenheim appears on the title pages of all the books outputted by his printing firm in Roedelheim. Same form of aleph appears.

Many, many more examples can be supplied, but here is a sample of 19th century writing (this word happened to have been written by R. Yosef Feimer, rabbi of Slutzk).

Virtually all the letters (written by Ashkenazim) reproduced in the excellent series Shenos Dor Vador (by Reuven Dessler, publ. Mesorah/ Artscroll) show that this was by far the common way this letter was written until the 20th century.

Here is a chart from the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia:

Note that in every example prior to 1900 in this chart has the two elements making up the letter attached - granting, that in the 19th century there were also those who wrote the aleph as a line with a half circle. But that was a later development in this script.

As near as I can tell, originally this particular letter was essentially of the the same appearance as the Rashi aleph. It was written in an easy way, by writing a line and a little <-like stroke. What basically happened later was, the right side rounded and detached from the left bar. Today one usually sees it written that way, but on occasion one sees it the older way as well (although often the < attaches in the center of the bar, instead of closer to the top, as it used to).

Now, it is true that the rounded form, the current one, looks kind of like that paleo-Hebrew aleph. But did the original form look like a paleo-Hebrew aleph? I submit that it did not. It looked kind of like a ches, as the Rashi script aleph tends to look. Does the Rashi script aleph "possess traces of the old Hebrew script"? I highly doubt it - how would it? I am sure there are excellent charts showing the development of that letter from a regular, garden variety square aleph.


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