Thursday, August 27, 2009

Controversial grammarian R. Schelomo Salomon Hanau as described by Wolf and in the eyes of R. Ya'akov Emden and the Gaon of Vilna

Initially I had planned to do this whole elaborate post about רז"ה otherwise known as Shlomo Zalman Kat"z Hanau (1687-1746) 1 but it will have to wait.

But to make sense of what follows below, some background. In 1708, at the tender age of 21, he published what would become a somewhat infamous book, a grammatical work written with a very polemical tone, the בנין שלמה ("it's the tone," if you know what I mean . . . ). Young Shlomo took issue with how people read Hebrew, past and present. He believed he could demonstrate all sorts of errors in the prayerbooks, some of them eventually gaining very wide acceptance, particularly as he was in fact a fit scholar and he continued to produce more works. An example of one such criticism that disturbed people was his dismissal of Abarbanel's view. What view? The view that the prophet Jeremiah was lacking in proper grammatical knowledge!

His most famous antagonist is R. Ya'akov Emden who wrote a whole book, the לוח ארש, attacking Hanau's grammatical comments and vocalizations, included in the siddur Beis Tefillah and Sha'arei Tefillah.2 Apparently R. Emden, already annoyed by his caustic grammatical know-it-all-ness, was quite upset that Hanau included a haskamah from . . . his father, the already-deceased Hakham Tsvi:

Did R. Emden think it was authentic? Well, what do you think?

In any case, more detailed treatment of this figure awaits another post. Meanwhile, that 18th century observer of Hebrew books and happenings, Johann Christoph Wolf, wrote the following entry in the first volume of his Bibliotheca Hebraea (1715):

What we are looking at reads more or less:

"R. Schelomo Salman the son of Jehuda Löw wrote "the Building of Solomon" which did not prove pleasing to the Jews themselves regarding what it wrote about their ancient grammarians and doctors, such as Ibn Ezra, Radak, Elijah Levita, Abarbanel and others noted freely. Because of this the Rabbis of Frankfurt were going to destroy it by flames, if they had not put listened to the milder counsel of others, and because of the retraction of the author himself.3 This 'building' is divided into twelve houses, and are split into different rooms, each built with its own windows. The grammar is complete, not only in the rudiments, but it is also exegetical and leads one by hand to the deeper study of Hebrew syntax and idioms, these worthy topics, which are being developed also by the Christian scholars. . . "3

Also worth noting is the Gra connection. I could be projecting, but it seems to me that the common view of the Gaon of Vilna is that of a scholar so outstanding that he essentially had nothing to learn from anyone, studied by himself and basically mastered all of Torah in this way. While this is not a false picture, neither does it really allow room for him to have acquired much knowledge of Torah-related topics from his slightly-older contemporaries, especially not one so . . . iffy as Solomon Hanau. Yet, a good deal of the Vilna Gaon's grammatical knowledge of Hebrew came from Hanau's books (this does not, of course, mean that the Gra did not disagree with Hanau or develope independent theories and views). More on that next time.

For more on Hanau, see this post at Seforim. In addition, naturally the happenings of 300 years ago are still highly potent and relevent today, so recently there was a heated exchange in Ha-ma'eyan about the propriety of referring to him with respect. See here, here and here.

1 He spelled his surname הענא in Hebrew, which seems to imply "Hena." Indeed, google searches for terms like "Zalman Hena," Zalman Henna" and "Saloman Hena" and other permutations all yield results, both new and old. However, the name is commonly spelled "Hanau" in German and Latin-alphabet sources, for he was born in Hanau. So while I can't say anything definitive about how the name should be pronounced, I think it is reasonable to spell it Hanau in English. On the other hand, this would also oblige one to spell "Eibenschütz" for אייבשיץ (or even "Ivančice" for ahistorical pedants) and possibly even "Embden" for עמדין, or however you prefer to spell that!

2 I haven't yet seen it, but know of at least two places to look for it, so by the time of the next post I'm sure I'll be able to give a copy of it.

3 Samuel David Luzzatto was of the opinion that Hanau was an outstanding grammarian, full of fresh ideas. He also assumed that Hanau did not know Latin, which meant that he wasn't familiar with the current European scholarship on Hebrew (so all the more in praise of his achievements). However, modern scholars point out that a contemporary source (to Hanau) claims that he lectured on Hebrew at European universities, and the system of grading he used in describing the cantillation was the one developed by Christians. Although I have not seen anyone, modern or otherwise, show that he did know Latin, if these points are correct then to me it is somewhat suggestive that he did. On the other hand, he could have acquired his knowledge of the grading from mouths, if he indeed lectured at universities, and not books.


  1. " In addition, naturally the happenings of 300 years ago are still highly potent and relevent today"
    Is this sarcasm, or not?



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