Wednesday, December 24, 2008

An interesting contemporary critique of R. Nathan Marcus Adler's Nethina La-ger on Targum Onkelos

In the 19th century there was a great deal of Christian missionary activity directed toward the Jews emanating from England. This activity was concentrated in the lands under British imperial rule, but also in eastern Europe, and in England itself. For example, there was the London Society for Promoting Christianity Among the Jews. This society, and others, produced Hebrew and Yiddish translations of the New Testament, and printed Hebrew Bibles without Jewish commentaries for distribution among Jews. Many of the missionaries were themselves Jewish. It is my sense that there was no small amount of evangelical Jewish Christians in England during that century.

Famous among them was Christian David Ginsburg, but there were others as well. (You can hear a most interesting lecture by Shnayer Leiman on a former Chassid, Ezekiel Stanisław Hoga, who translated a famous missionary tract into Hebrew, here. The tract was The Old Paths by Alexander McCaul [1837], and was translated as נתיבות עולם by Hoga. The lecture discusses various Jewish legends surrounding the mis-identified author of this book, including a story told by R. Kook)

Previously I had posted on some interesting information by one such Jewish missionary, Moses Margoliouth (here and here). Margoliouth was born in 1820, became a Christian in 1838, was ordained a minister in 1844, and died in 1881. In an obituary I read, it was noted that he had been a student of the aforementioned McCaul in his youth. He wrote a number of books aimed at refuting Judaism, and was editor of a journal called The Hebrew Christian Witness, from which the following very interesting material is culled.

The first is a review of an amazing Rabbinic Bible (מקראות גדולות) published in 1874 by British Chief Rabbi Nathan Marcus Adler, under the title תורת אלהים. Take a look at this:

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As you can see, in addition to a very good choice of rabbinic commentaries, the edition includes the rare Masorah of the Targum Anqylas, with notes by Shadal, as well as publishing for the first time the apparently anonymous commentary on that targum, which had been known as the יאר, after the date (רי"א is יאר , that is 5211, or 1451 CE) written in the manuscript, which was then residing in the British Museum (I think). It's previous owner was Shadal. It was he who discovered this manuscript (as a teenager, in a dusty geniza in his hometown) and he made great use out of it in his commentary אוהב גר on the Targum , as well as in his המשתדל commentary on the Torah. Rabbi Adler also refers to this commentary by its true title, as identified by Shadal: Pathshegen פתשגן, (from Esther 3.14), as it is now known. In addition to that commentary, he also included his own commentary on Targum Onkelos (י"א Anqylas) called נתינה לגר.

Here is the preliminary review by Margoliouth:
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As you can see, he was not a fan of Adler, and took to harping on the name of his commentary as a means of ridiculing him. In truth, it is highly unlikely that Adler did not remember the origin of the term netina la-ger; rather, in keeping with the spirit of melitzah (for better or worse) he chose a clever name for his work.

What follows is from a later issue, allegedly a letter received from a reader (as opposed to written by Margoliouth). As you can see, this critic takes the interesting tack of attacking Adler for writing his magnum opus in rabbinic Hebrew, rather than English, and publishing it in Vilna, rather than in Britain. He assumes that Adler did so to basically hide it from his public.

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