Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The missing Mendelssohn Pseudo-Tze'enah U-re'enah edition of 1822

One of Artscroll's many useful translations is a two-volume book called The Weekly Midrash, subtitled "Tz'enah ur'enah the classic anthology of Torah lore and Midrashic commentary."

A good overview of the צאינה וראינה can be read here, or in the introduction to the English volume under discussion.

The following appears in that introduction:

I thought the usage of "pirated" is strange. After all, the titles of many classic Jewish works are reused without such a harsh description as "pirated." Okay, maybe that's style. I would have said recycled, and some would say that's not really a good term to use either. But I wondered about the 1822 Basle edition of the Mendelssohn Bible. (Parenthetically, at this point it should be clarified that Mendelssohn's Bible was only a Pentateuch. However, in the generation after Mendelssohn's death, followers of him and his approach translated the rest of the Bible into German and wrote commentaries, according to the principles of his edition of the Pentateuch. Many later editions of the Bible included the original Biur to the chumash alongside the other biblical books. So it seems that is the sort of work this introduction is talking about.)

In any case, I tried to find the edition of the Biur deceptively (or mischievously) called צאינה וראינה, and I came up with nothing. In fact, there was a Mendelssohnian Bible printed in Basle in 1822 (2 volumes, printed by Wilhelm Haas, edited by Schlaume Kasselberg). But it was not called צאינה וראינה. It was called חמשה חומשי תורה כאשר ניתנה למשה מפי הגבורה.

Maybe the title page of the second volume read צאינה וראינה? In any case, I am unable to locate a reference to *any* edition of the Mendelssohn chumash or Bible with that title, even one besides the 1822 Basle edition.

I realize that the excerpt actually says that the words צאינה וראינה were embossed on the outer cover; taken literally, I am not looking for such a Bible called צאינה וראינה in catalogs. I am looking for the cover, which I do not have access to at the moment, or any time soon. That said, it seems highly improbable that the book truly rolled off the presses and was shipped with the non-sequitur צאינה וראינה on the cover. As cute and devious as that would be, the publishing house of Wilhelm Haas was trying to sell deluxe new Biurs, and this could not be accomplished by fooling innocent eastern European Jews into thinking they were buying a homey Yiddish Woman's Bible. (For actual quasi-deceptive efforts to spread the Biur Chumash in the east, wait for a future post.) On the other hand, either the translator of the Artscroll work saw such a copy herself, or read of it somewhere. Barring the possibility that her source simply made it up, I wonder if the source for this assertion lies in a single copy of this Bible, somewhere, which someone did emboss, probably mischievously, with צאינה וראינה on the cover. As we know, to this day it is common practice (at least in the Orthodox community) to emboss names onto the cover of books. If this is the case, than all we are talking about is a single copy of the Bible, or just a few.

On the other hand, maybe I am wrong and what she was talking about did not turn up in my, admittedly inexhaustive, research for this post.

However, also bear in mind that at a much later date there were several new German titles (for German Jews, not eastern Europeans) with that name. See this one by Emanuel Hecht subtitled der Pentateuch in lehrreichen und erbaulichen, and printed in 1862. Or the Tsenerene by David Schweitzer (1861), which openly spoke of the original version as "unsuitable and even obscene."

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