Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Maskilic zemiros in 19th century Lemberg.

I was reading the extremely interesting עראינערונגען פון מיין לעבען (1936) by Joseph Margoshes (1866-1955) (which was recently translated into English and published as A world apart: a memoir of Jewish life in nineteenth century Galicia. One of the interesting things about this book was to read about the early life led by a man who died in 1955, which in many respects differed little from life in Galicia in the 18th century. Parts of it reminded me of Salomon Maimon's autobiography; not in the skeptical/ heretical sense; only in the description of rural life in eastern Europe in what was still essentially under the serf system, being married at 15, etc. His great-grandfather was the last secretary of the Va'ad Arba'ah Aratzos (which folded up shop in 1764), and his father was one of the founders of the rigid Orthodox Machzikei Ha-das Society (see Rachel Manekin's PhD dissertation). Margoshes describes what life was like growing up in the upper stratum of Galician Jewish society, as he reminds the reader on almost every page.

But I digress. This post is about an interesting passage in the book:

The shaleshudesn in Reb Votshi's Kloyz were really impressive. We lived not far from the Kloyz. My father would come home right after Mincha, wash in preparation to eat, and taking with him some requisite ritual amount of challah bread, return to the kloyz and spend time with everybody. For shaleshudes everyone would usually drink mead. It always ended up that some balebos "was required to provide liquor" and soon a "big zaddik" or at least a "small zaddik" of mead would appear (a "big zaddik" was a bottle that held 90 glasses of mead, and a "small zaddik" only held 60). People would comment on the Torah, sing zmires, and each zmire had its regular singer. Reb Shmuel Shaynblum, Reb Vovtshi's son, had a nice, pleasant voice. And because he was a maskil, he sang the zmires that had been composed by the great old Hebrew poets, Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra and Dunash ben Labrat, i.e., "Ki eshmera shabbos" and "Dror Yikra."
(Translation taken from the English version.)

Also interesting is Margoshes's description of how the 4th, 5th and 6th issues of the Machzeikei Ha-dos newspaper (how a newspaper was deemed to be kosher is interesting in itself) was hand-written and lithographed. The first three issues were printed, but that proved too expensive. By the 7th issue it was realized that the large run (3000 copies) required better paper, so it was back to the printer's. Margoshe's writes about how young men were encouraged to master various Yiddish and Hebrew scripts for the purpose, among them his brother, who was responsible for certain parts of these issues. He included a picture of one:

He also writes that because there was a special tax (or, deposit, really) which was required by the authorities for weekly newspapers, it was the practice of weeklies (Jewish and non-Jewish) to change the name of the paper slightly every other issue. For example, one week the Machzike Ha-dos would be called by that name, and the next week it would be called Kol Machziek Ha-dos. The government was aware of it, and turned a blind eye, unless someone lodged a complaint, which is how some newspapers were shut down by opponents.


  1. maskil in this context just means a smart man, not necessarily a believer of inappropriate things.

  2. Uh, no, maskil in the context of Margoshes's autobiography means "maskil." And maskil in no context means "believer of inappropriate things," except as a stereotype and a smear.



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