Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Imagine if he'd written "vuv" and "tuff"

This is a review of The Aleph-Beth; or, The First Step to the Hebrew Language by Hayim Vita Bolaffey. See the last sentence to make sense of the title.

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Putting that aside, who was the author? Not a lot of material is available on him. Here is his obituary in the Gentleman's Magazine, April 1836:

There is the following from Cecil Roth in "Two Livornese Jews in England" in Vol. 16 1945/51 of the PJHSE (1952):
I suspect Michael Bolaffi to have had some sort of family connection with Hayim Vita Bolaffey, also of Italian origin, whose career in England seems to have been longer, more varied, and less respectable. When the latter came to England I do not know, nor his object in coming: but he was a brother-in-law of Raphael Meldola, appointed Rabbi of the Spanish and Portuguese synagogue in London in 1806, and may conceivably have come from Leghorn to London with him, as his first traces are about the same year. He seems to have set up as tutor in Hebrew at Eton and at Oxford. In 1820 he published two grammatical works: The Aleph-Beth, or the first step to the Hebrew Language (London, n.d., 36 pp.; the date is apparent from the advertisements in the work): and An Easy grammar of the primaeval language, commonly called Hebrew (pp. xvi, 492, London, 1820). Later he appears as tame Hebraist to the eccentric Rachel Fanny Antonina Lee, soi disante Baroness Despenser, and translated her absurd Circular Epistle to the Hebrews into Hebrew, his version appearing with the original (London, 1822). But he very soon quarrelled with his patroness, an unedifying exchange of recriminations taking place, in the course of which he was accused of apostacy (he was once, she said, a Roman Catholic Priest), theft, and other misdemeanours (the Baroness’ Declaration about Bolaffey’s conduct [4 pp., London, 1824],is amusing, if nothing more). The accusations were certainly exaggerated, as about this time Bolaffey had produced an anthem to be recited by the boys belonging to the congregational school of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue (Hebrew and English: pp. 2, London, 1820?) and in 1825 translated into English the form of service composed by his brother-in-law, Haham Meldola, for the anniversary of the dedication of the Bevis Marks Synagogue. Signor H. V. Bolaffey, “teacher of languages at Oxford,” died on 13th March, 1836.[1]

[1]I suspect but cannot demonstrate that Hayim Vita Bolaffey is identical with Hannanel Abolaffiah, teacher of languages, who was born in Florence in 1779, and came to England with his wife Grace in 1798, details of whom and whose family may be found in the muniments of the Spanish and Portuguese synagogue in London.
As a gleaner of crumbs, I am happy to say that I can make a correction to Cecil Roth's comment concerning the date of this book. As the review above appears in the November 1811 issue of Monthly Review, it is clear that the book is not from 1820 (see bold text above). In addition, through the magic and wizardry of the internet I've seen many reviews and advertisements of the book from various dates between 1811 and 1820. For example, in a book published in 1814, Motives to the study of Hebrew by Thomas Burgess, there is this:


In any case, Roth's suggestion that Bolaffey is one Hannanel Abolaffiah is interesting, although it appears that this person was actually named Hananiah, as can be seen on page 16 of the Biography of David Aaron de Sola, Late Senior Minister of the Portuguese Jewish Community in London by the Rev. Dr. Abraham de Sola of Montreal, his son (Philadelphia, 5624[=1864]). In addition, in 1887 we find the following entry by Lucien Wolf in the Jewish Chronicle:

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which is taken from this larger article:

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In terms of the name Bolaffey being identical with Abulafiah, the following appeared in an article on Jewish surnames in the Jewish Chronicle, 1902:

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Here is the ascama to another work, this one from 1820, written by Haham Raphael Meldola, who was his brother-in-law as per Roth:

Here is an interesting excerpt from that book, about the way of pronouncing the ע, in effect a much more advanced an accurate entry from what one would normally find in a work from this period:

Nevertheless, elsewhere he appears to almost endorse this pronunciation:

And he uses the vulgar spelling convention for that letter, which is certainly not surprising:

And yes, it's vav and tav all the way:

As for the name, Roth must be absolutely correct that Hayim Vita Bolaffey is Hanania Abulafia.

See also Steinschneider on that name:


  1. I have written to Mr Macdowell about my extensive research into the career of H.V. Bolaffey but he has as yet not replie
    S.W. Massil

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