Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Ashkenazi ibns; R .Elazar Fleckeles and Isaac Leeser.

This is an addendum to my Hirschel Lewin post. I had intended to include this tangent in that post, but it deserves its own one.

In examining Rabbi Elazar Fleckeles's Ahavas David I was surprised to see that on his title page he wrote his name אלעזר ן' דוד, see:

I then noticed that he did this in all his books. Writing the name like that implies Elazar ibn David (or Aben David, see this post). Such a convention is commonly found among Jews of Sephardic descent, but not Ashkenazim. It seemed evident that Rabbi Fleckeles was being . . . fancy? Affectatious? Still, it was interesting.

It also reminded me that a number of years ago I made what was to me a shocking discovery. I learned that Isaac Leeser's surname as he wrote it in Hebrew was ן' אליעזר, get it? Leeser = Eliezer, or more precisely "ibn Eliezer." Eliezer wasn't his father, but a grandfather or even an older ancestor. As you can see below (in the title page of a siddur he published in 1848) his name was יצחק בן אורי ן' אליעזר.

When I realized this, I instantly thought "Aha! Isaac Leeser was descended from Sephardim, then." Which was theoretically possible, as there were Sephardic communities in Hamburg and Amsterdam, and he served as Hazzan and de facto rabbi in an American Sephardic congregation. But what a slender reed for such an assumption! In fact, I think he was just being fancy, just like Rabbi Fleckeles probably was.

Here is a rare miniature portrait of Leeser, painted by James Peale in 1840:

Bald Jewish women.

The topic of certain kinds of Ashkenazic Jewish women who shave their head never ceases to fascinate and horrify. The origin of this seems lost in the mists of time. The custom makes its appearance in Jewish literature of the 19th century in defenses of the practice, as well as in a decree of forcible Russification forbidding it in the mid-19th century. Speculations about its origin range from it being caused by external forces (some sort of attempt at warding off marauding lords or Cossacks who raped Jewish women) to internal ones (some sort of extra stringent approach to mikva, perhaps decreed by the early modern Council of the Four Lands). No evidence, as far as I can tell, exists for either theory. My own provisional theory is that it may have evolved from some sanitary need, perhaps occasioned by the practice of married Jewish women to always keep their head covered, and whatever might have bred underneath such perpetual coverings in those less sanitary times; see below. But who knows?

In any case, I came across something interesting:

Although this excerpt is from a later reprinting, this is part of a poem which appeared in the October 1783 issue of the London Magazine.

Secondly, in 1790 the medical researcher Mastallir published a book called "Praktiche Abhandlung uber den Wichtelzopf," or "A practical Treatise on the Plica Polonica," which is a nasty dermatological condition (I think that anyone who ever wondered about Rabbi Aharon Leib Steinman's beard should have a look at that Wikipedia link). Mastallir reviewed four case studies, including one Jewish woman who had no hair on her head, but "was attacked in another part."

Also, the following appeared in an 1853 issue of the British humor mag Punch:

More forthcoming, if there's any relevant info to uncover, so to speak.

R.Hirschel Lewin and Moses Mendelssohn, collaberators and friends; & Wessely's -- ultimately censored -- testimony in favor of R. Jonathan Eybeschutz

In 1780 the Hofund Kammergericht (like the Justice Department) of the Prussian government requested that the Berlin Jewish community under the jurisdiction of its Chief Rabbi Hirschel Lewin [1] furnish for them a digest of the Jewish marriage, financial and inheritance laws. The purpose of this tract was to supply the state with a working knowledge of Jewish laws. At the time there was ferment in the direction of incorporating Jews into the state, and following the direction of the Jewish rights' advocate Dohm there was some interest in learning how to apply Jewish law to judge cases brought to secular courts on appeal (that is, after failure of a Bet Din to reach a satisfactory conclusion) according to Jewish law. As wild as this scheme sounds, it was probably sincere, although adjudicating cases between Jews according to Jewish law could not have been its only purpose. Another reason was probably to learn if Jewish laws were compatible with secular law. (Similar works were requested at other times. For example, the author of the responsa Noda Beyehuda, Rabbi Ezekiel Landau, produced a work on Jewish marriage law called Das mosaisch-talmudisch Eherecht for the Emperor Joseph II.)

Rabbi Lewin was requested to produce it in two weeks, but it didn't appear until six years later. It was then published in 1778 under the title Ritualgesetze der Juden. Judging by the title page this work seemed to be a collaboration between Lewin and Moses Mendelssohn, in fact it was really the work of Mendelssohn. The rabbi, who was a good friend of Mendelssohn, only reviewed it and made necessary corrections.

Below are two reviews of this work (admittedly they don't tell us much) which appeared in British periodicals:



Rabbi Lewin was a good friend of Mendelssohn's. He was among the only rabbis whom Mendelssohn asked for an approbation for his Pentateuch translation, and certainly among the only rabbis at the time to specifically concur with the need for a a modern Jewish translation into the vernacular. The complete text of his haskamah to Mendelssohn's Biur (ie Chumash Nesivaus Scholaum) was only included in the very first edition of 1783 (at the beginning of the 2nd volume, Exodus). Excerpts from it were published in Landshuth's biography of Lewin. The entire piece, however, was printed at the beginning of the Romm edition printed in Vilna 1849. Here is the original followed by the more readable Romm version:

This approbation includes the observation that the Gentiles believe in the Torah and prophets, understood them and have made vernacular translations of the Bible. Yet the Jews, especially the Ashkenazim, don't speak a clear language (*coughYiddishcough*). He writes that he's seen a Yiddish Bible printed in Amsterdam in 1679, and also another one, both of which are greatly wanting, but they were the only ones available for Jews who wanted to understand Scripture. However, there were the impressive non-Jewish translations, and these are stumbling-blocks for young people. So it is that an honorable rabbi, scholar and sage, famous and expert in Torah, Talmud, science, Hebrew grammar and the German language, not one in a thousand is like him -- Mendelssohn -- has written such a needed translation . . .

Although this approbation was written in Berlin in 1778, it has been noted that their friendship dates at least as far back as 1764 - 1770, when Lewin served as rabbi in Halberstadt. In Geiger's JZWL 1872 pg. 232 a letter is printed, written in August, 1770, in which the poet Gleim informs F. E. Boyzen that Rabbi Lewin ("Herr Loebel") was an admirer and friend of Mendelssohn. (This letter is also reproduced in Latin letters in Landshuth's Toldos Anshe Hashem U-peulosam be-adass Berlin pg. 83) There is a possible earlier connection: in 1756 a German translation of sermon of Rabbi David Frankel, author of the Korban ha-Edah commentary on the Jerusalem Talmud, was printed. Shortly thereafter followed an English translation, which was reprinted many times, including in America! Rabbi Frankel was Mendelssohn's rebbe; he was also Rabbi Lewin's first cousin. It was, in fact, Mendelssohn himself who had made the German translation of Rabbi Frankel's sermon (see Gad Freudenthal's article in the EJJS 1 on this sermon). At the time Rabbi Hirsch Lewin was beginning to serve as Rabbi Hart Lyon in London, where the English version of the sermon appeared. Although I've no proof to give of any involvement on the part of the rabbi, much less that he and Mendelssohn knew one another yet, one might say that their circles overlapped even at this early period, although Lewin was eight years older than Mendelssohn.

Here's a notice of the rabbi's leave of England toward his post in Halberstadt (Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser (London England) Wednesday May 23 1764):

Ultimately their friendship was tested over a notorious incident, namely the Wessely Divre Shalom ve-Emes affair. Demonstrating that one can't always predict affinities and affiliations -- as I will elaborate -- Rabbi Lewin was outraged by Wessely's pamphlet in which he called for a restructuring of the Jewish educational system (or some might say, he called for structuring that "system") and insulted the rabbis. He was so upset that he sought to toss Wessely out of Berlin. Wessely was Mendelssohn's close friend, and their varying viewpoints came between the rabbi and the philosopher. Eventually Lewin made it clear that either Wessely goes or he goes. In fact, neither went.

What I meant by not being able to predict affinities was that one of Mendelssohn's fiercest rabbinic critics, Rabbi Elazar Fleckeles, the foremost student of the Noda Beyehuda, appears to have held a fairly mild, and even positive view of Wessely. In addition to quoting him several times in his writings, it seems they also had a correspondence, although I'm not sure how extensive. In 1800 Rabbi Fleckeles published Ahavat David, a stridently anti-Frankist/ anti-Sabbatian tract, based upon sermons he had given on the subject (see this excellent post by Rabbi Eliezer Brodt). The book included a 1796 letter from Wessely, which Fleckeles offered as evidence that Rabbi Jonathan Eybeschutz was innocent of Sabbatianism! I'll get to the content of the letter in a moment, but first I will just note that I examined the pdf of Ahavas David twice, and I was unable to find the letter. I couldn't understand why I couldn't find it, so I asked several friends (literary men) if they knew what page it was on. Dr. Marc Shapiro replied that this edition -- a Copy Corner reprint -- is censored; it doesn't include the letter! I suppose it's theoretically possible that the censorship, ie, removal of the letter occurred long before the scanning of the book. That is to say, there's no way at the moment to tell who removed it and when, but we can probably guess why. In any case, at the same time I asked Shapiro for clarification, Rabbi Brodt told me that his copy of Ahavas David includes the letter, and he sent it to me. Here it is:

As you can see, Wessely writes:
"By my life, I heard in my youth from the mouth of the great kabbalist, who knew the Zohar and all the works of the Ari by heart, the rabbi, my master, Rabbi Jonathan Eybeshutz ZZ"L, that he used to say to his audience when they were hesitant to accept a kabbalistic teaching, 'if you don't believe it, it's no matter, because it isn't from the fundamentals of faith.' So he used to say to those who brought kabbalistic teachings to explain a piece of Gemara or Midrash, 'I don't desire this. What's the use? According to kabbalah you can explain anything you want to; just tell me the simple meaning via "niglah"' -- it's completely true!"
One imagines that Rabbi Fleckeles sought such information which had the two-fold advantage of showing that a great Kabbalist like Rabbi Eybeschutz ultimately marginalized kabbalah, something which was important in combating Frankists and the vestigial Sabbatean movement. Secondly, it also strongly suggested that Rabbi Eybeschutz himself was innocent of the charge that he himself was a secret Sabbatean. As a student of Eybeschutz, Wessely was in position to recall his master's views for the benefit of Rabbi Fleckeles, nearly 30 years his junior, who was only 10 years old when Rabbi Jonathan Eybeschutz died.

Actually, it's a crude case of censorship, because the eagle-eyed reader could notice that the last page of the introduction promises that the first word on the following page will be האלדים. Instead the first word is אשר. As you can see, when these two pages are inserted properly the leading words are quite correct:

In any case, the complete letter was also printed in Hameliz 48 pg. 750, May 7, 1886:

Finally, it doesn't seem inappropriate to add something interesting relating to the controversial son of Rabbi Lewin, Saul Berlin (1740-1794), known as the forger of the Responsa Besamim Rosh. In 1844 an old man living in London named Meyer Joseph submitted a piece for Julius Furst's Literaturblatt des Orients. Joseph had been a close friend of Saul Berlin in his youth:

It was in the year 1794 when this exceptional man died here, and I think I have the right to publish this article as I was the only friend he had here. He was on a long journey, the object of which I do not remember anymore, and intended also to stay in London for some time. I visited him daily, we remained often together for hours at a time, and, although I am now 83 years old, the impression he made upon me, his eloquence and his whole personality remain unforgettable to me. A few months after his arrival he fell ill with cramp and it was I who closed his dying eyes. On his death the London community paid him respect. He was buried with great honors on the 25th of Marcheshvan, 1794. On arranging the things he left behind him I found his will, which I then copied for myself. (translation by David S. Katz in 'The Jews in the History of England,' 1485-1850, pg. 325, except that he translated "Heshvan" while I preserved the "Marcheshwan" of Joseph's original) The piece included the will, which Joseph himself copied:

Writing to the Jewish Chronicle on October 4, 1935, Cecil Roth noted that as Yom Kippur approaches, it should be noted that in "most London synagogues" there is Yizkar recitation of a list of rabbis, but it seemed this custom was on the wane. So as to "refresh [the] memories" Roth included a list of the 10 rabbis. Number 6 is Rabbi Saul ben Rabbi Zevi, ie, Saul Berlin. His name is included in the list "out of compliment to his father, and in view of the fact that he died in London."

[1] Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch ben Aryeh Leib ha-Levi (1721-1800), also known to history as Hart Lyon, was the Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi in London between 1757 and 1763. He was appointed Chief Rabbi of Berlin in 1772. His youngest son Zalman (1761-1842) would achieve fame as Rabbi Solomon Hirschell of London. Another son, Saul would achieve notoriety as the presumed forger of the Besamim Rosh.

Here is his portrait:

Many thanks to Rabbi Eliezer Brodt, who sent me much valuable information regarding Rabbi Fleckeles and his attitude toward the Zohar.

Update: November 22, 2010 - Recently HebrewBooks added an uncensored version from the Chaim Elozor Reich Collection, which you can access here.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A primary source for seconday sources on Frankel, Geiger, etc.

Recently Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz of the Yated Ne'eman wrote a column called 'Orthodox?'

A quote:
Zacharias Frankel, referred to as the Conservative movement’s intellectual ancestor, wrote that, “The means [of transformation] must be grasped with such care, thought through with such discretion, created always with such awareness of the moment in time, that the goal will be reached unnoticed, that the forward progress will seem inconsequential to the average eye.”
Obviously Frankel did not write "The means [of transformation] . . . etc.," and most likely Rabbi Lipschutz didn't translate this himself, I wondered where this quote came from.

More recently, Rabbi Yitzchok Fingerer wrote a column in the Jewish Press called 'A New Denial of Traditional Judaism.' His column had this quote:
In 1837, Abraham Geiger called the first Reform rabbinical conference in Wiesbaden, Germany, and declared: "The Talmud must go, the Bible, that collection of mostly so beautiful and exalted human books, as a divine work must also go."
(and this mind-blowing one: Were Julius Caesar to visit Rome today, he would be at a total loss. He wouldn't understand the lingua franca, the dress, or mannerisms. On the other hand were Moshe to visit Meah Shearim, he would, essentially, feel at home. )

Since I assumed these came from a secondary source, I plugged them into Google and learned that both of these quotes are almost certainly from a column called 'Different Sects of Judaism - The Difference Between Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox Branches of Judaism,' by Rabbi Lawrence Keleman on a site called Simple To Remember. He cites his source: both of them are from Michael Meyer's Response to Modernity: A History of the Reform Movement in Judaism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988).

The Frankel quote is from a letter written in 1836. The footnote in Meyer reads "Frankel to Solomon Herxheimer in Bernburg, June 30, 1836, CAJHP, P46/3." Frankel, formerly a moderate reformer, famously and abruptly broke with nascent Reform during the 1845 rabbinical conference in Frankfurt. His status as "the Conservative movement's intellectual ancestor" do not date to his early flirtation with Reform. Indeed, if not for being "the Conservative movement's intellectual ancestor" he'd likely be lauded as a great ba'al teshuva and inspiring example for his principled break with Reform. Furthermore, the quote is not so bad. Although Rabbi Lipschutz must assume it sounds shocking and scandalous, actually Frankel was positing a very moderate, quiet course, the idea that changes in Judaism must not be disturbing and must not cause disunity. There were and are many potential changes in the way Judaism is practiced, well within the bounds of halacha, but he is opining that change must be imperceptible. I assume it's Frankel's "goal" which raises the alarm, but that is what context is for. Frankel's "goal" of reform was modest, organic and halachic. There was hardly a greater or more thorough critic of Frankel than Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch, but somehow Frankel as a theoretician of halachic reform never occurred to Hirsch to be a weak spot to attack.

As for Geiger, while it's not as if the actual quote gives a much better impression, it is interesting that Keleman cites it only partially. In Meyer it reads: "The Talmud must go, the Bible, that collection of mostly so beautiful and exalted -- perhaps the most exalted -- human books, as a divine work must also go."

In any case, it's interesting to see that Keleman's essay is starting to become a primary source book itself.

A 19th century Protestant Semitics professor's Goral ha-gra (bibliomancy); also, uncovering a Shapira fraudulent Hebrew manuscript.

Cyrus Adler writes in his autobiography of an offer extended to him in 1890 to be Commissioner to the World's Columbian Exposition (a precursor to the World's Fair) to Turkey, Persia, Egypt, Tunis and Morocco. The purpose of the trip would be to secure items for exhibition from these exotic lands.

Although greatly excited ("I had never crossed the ocean; I had never been further away from home than Chicago.") he had some misgivings, especially as his mother and uncle were nervous about it, though proud.

He discussed it with his teacher and colleague, famed German scholar of Semitics at Johns Hopkins university Paul Haupt, who thought it was an excellent idea ("though an orientalist he had never been to the east"). Adler raised another issue: a 20-year old that he knew had asked him if he could join him, at his own expense, as a secretary. Adler's first thought was the added responsibility. So
Haupt had a Hebrew Bible lying on his desk. He opened it at random, and there on the page he pointed out to me the passage: "Two are better than one," so that decided the question."
Cyrus Adler, I Have Considered the Days (New York, 1941), pg.75.

The book is filled with many interesting reminiscences. For example, he writes (pg. 36) of his unmasking another Shapira forgery when he was 18 or 19 years old. Two years later he had the opportunity to tell about it to William Dwight Whitney, a great Sanskrit scholar:
There was a famous collector and seller of books and manuscripts by the name of Shapiro, who lived in Jerusalem. A Philadelphian named Macaulay had purchased from Shapiro four or five Hebrew rolls written on leather, which were exhibited in the Philadelphia Library. I heard about these and went to see them. They seemed of great age, were mottled here and there with a green substance which looked like mold, and bore a label which said they were several thousand years old, together with a letter by the great New Testament Greek scholar, Tischendorf of Leipzig, testifying to their genuineness. I had not at the time seen many Hebrew manuscripts -- the one that I saw most frequently was the Scroll of the Law in the Synagogue. I had seen a few that belonged to my cousin, Mayer Sulzberger, and particularly a fragment of a biblical manuscript in the handwriting of Menahem Recanati, about which I wrote a paper that was published by William R. Harper in his Hebraica -- my first published paper. To get back, however, to the leather rolls, the writing looked to me rather late, very regular, and very much as though it had been influenced by printing, and I had my doubts of its antiquity. I went to the chemist Dr. Henry Leffman, who died just at the end of 1930, told him about it, and asked him to go down with me to the Library with a microscope and anything else that was necessary, for I wanted to know what those green spots were. He examined them very carefully and said they were not mold, but had been produced by dropping acid on the leather; he showed me under the microscope how these spots radiated out from a center. My uncle's business place was on Third Street near Callowhill in those days, and most of the neighborhood was occupied by the leather business. I went to one of the leather merchants and asked him to go with me to the Library in order to determine whether the leather was old. It was colored very brown, apparently with age. We were allowed to take one of the rolls out of the case and with the help of an attendant held it up to the light. The expert informed me that the leather was artificially colored. When I asked how he knew it, he showed me the evidence of it in what is known as the "butcher cuts," since no person is ever skillful enough to take off the hide of an animal evenly, and these thin places occur in all hides. At all events I told this story to Professor Whitney. He became greatly excited and told me that I must make this statement before the American Philological Association. I demurred, but he explained the importance of the matter in this way:

It seems that the previous year Dr. Isaac Hollister Hall, a Syriac scholar and one of the curators in the Department of Sculpture of the Metropolitan Museum in New York, had published a paper on these scrolls, declaring them to be genuine and of great antiquity. Professor Whitney thought that their fraudulent character would soon be determined, and he did not want this done by a European scholar to shame the Americans. American scholarship was not so well established in those days and the scholars were a little sensitive. Besides, Whitney had been engaged in a great controversy with Max Muller of Oxford. So in my twenty-first year I was elected a member of the American Philological Association, and from notes which I made on a train on the back of an envelope, read the paper. It was received with mixed feelings. Doctor Hall, who was present, never quite forgave me. But Professor Francis A. March of Lafayette, the distinguished Anglo-Saxon scholar, particularly praised my method of investigation, and indicating the advantage of being practical even in scholarship, said: "Now, if you'd been a German, instead of getting a chemist and a leather merchant, you would have read the articles in the Encyclopedia on Chemistry and Leather." I think it was the praise of these older men, men famous in their day, that really encouraged me to go on with my philological studies."
How interesting! Here is Cyrus Adler's remarks, which he had read off an envelope:

As you can see, this doesn't match in all details Adler's recollections in his old age. (The 'mold' was white, rather than green, etc.) It should be noted that this book was essentially dictated by a Septuganarian Adler to his daughter while under doctor's orders to lay flat on his back for two hours each morning.

Naturally I wished to see Isaac H. Hall's paper on these scrolls, declaring them to be genuine and of great antiquity. To my surprise, no such paper seems to exist. Instead, in May 1884 (fully two months before Adler delivered his findings to the American Philological Association) Hall said and published the following to the American Oriental Society:

For more on the more famous Shapira forgery see here.

Finally, another excerpt: Adler had been born in Arkansas in 1863. His father died when he was 3, and the following year all the money he had left his family was lost on Black Friday of 1867. So it was under these unfortunate circumstances that in 1869 his mother took the family to Philadelphia, the city of her birth, to be with her relatives. Adler writes (pg. 9):
It was here that I first me a child of Polish-Jewish origin and acquired a knowledge of the dialectic pronunciation of Hebrew which I never forgot. It was just before Passover, and this little child said to me: "Do you have 'cider'? that being their pronunciation of the word seder (the home service for the Passover), to which I responded: "No, we use raisin wine."

Monday, February 22, 2010

Vos tut zich, Gesenius?

I don't think Gesenius had a problem with Jews, but I doubt he'd want it claimed that his first language was Yiddish!

From this strange book.

An invitation by Abraham Jacob Leon, the Meah Shearim proselyte.

I came across a very interesting little pamphlet on called הגרים - גרי הצדק בארץ ישראל, which was published in 1932. On page 4 Rav Kook writes about a ger he knew named Abraham Jacob, who had been a minister in New York. He and his family converted, and moved to Jerusalem. He was known as Leon the Ger Zedek. Rav Kook recounts meeting him in 1906.

Interestingly enough, the 7th volume of the New Era Illustrated Magazine (1905) includes a picture of his son Benjamin, along with his wedding invitation:

This invitation and photo was owned by J. D. Eisenstein. Although the invitation does not have the year, the Friday in which August 12 and the 10th day of Av coincided was 1894. The wedding took place in the relatively new Jerusalem neighborhood Meoscheorim.

The groom was 16 years old.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Is this possible?

Yoma 23b:

‘The father of the young man came and found the boy in convulsions. He said: "May he be an atonement for you. My son is still in convulsions, etc." To teach you that they looked upon the purity of their vessels as a graver matter than bloodshed!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

An old calendar.

From a calendar published by John Selden:

Detail for the Fast of 17 Tammuz:

This refers to the story extensively recorded in Avoda Zara 17b-18, an excerpt below:

It was said that within but few days R. Jose b. Kisma died and all the great men of Rome went to his burial and made great lamentation for him. On their return, they found R. Hanina b. Teradion sitting and occupying himself with the Torah, publicly gathering assemblies, and keeping a scroll of the Law in his bosom. Straightaway they took hold of him, wrapt him in the Scroll of the Law, placed bundles of branches round him and set them on fire. They then brought tufts of wool, which they had soaked in water, and placed them over his heart, so that he should not expire quickly. His daughter exclaimed, 'Father, that I should see you in this state!' He replied, 'If it were I alone being burnt it would have been a thing hard to bear; but now that I am burning together with the Scroll of the Law, He who will have regard for the plight of the Torah will also have regard for my plight.' His disciples called out, 'Rabbi, what seest thou?' He answered them, 'The parchments are being burnt but the letters are soaring on high.' 'Open then thy mouth' [said they] 'so that the fire enter into thee.' He replied, 'Let Him who gave me [my soul] take it away, but no one should injure oneself.' The Executioner then said to him, 'Rabbi, if I raise the flame and take away the tufts of wool from over thy heart, will thou cause me to enter into the life to come?' 'Yes,' he replied. 'Then swear unto me' [he urged]. He swore unto him. He thereupon raised the flame and removed the tufts of wool from over his heart, and his soul departed speedily. The Executioner then jumped and threw himself into the fire. And a bathkol exclaimed: R. Hanina b. Teradion and the Executioner have been assigned to the world to come. When Rabbi heard it he wept and said: One may acquire eternal life in a single hour, another after many years.

Combustus est R. Hanina Ben Tardion una cum libro legis.

Some useful digital resources.

I thought it would be nice to list and discuss some digital resources that are freely available. Every one of these has been useful to me.

1) Google Books.

Definitely the king of free digital resources. It keeps getting better, not only becoming more comprehensive, but better features are constantly being added. Unfortunately it is a great big jumble, requiring one to become adept at searching. Still, I imagine they'll devise solutions for this. In the meantime, to use it properly it's important to master search.; titles, authors, dates, key words, with a variety of spellings, etc.

2. Hathi Trust.

Google has an interesting system. In partnering with great libraries around the world, Google ''pays'' those libraries in the following manner: in exchange for opening up their priceless collections for digital scanning, with Google owning a digital copy of each work, Google gives each library a digital copy which they own (I think). Basically what's in it for the libraries is that Google is scanning their collections for them at virtually no cost to them. I'm not sure what process Google goes through to clear each book for adding to their database, but very often you can come across a book on Google with all the data indicating where and when it was scanned. For example, it might say that the book is from Harvard's library and it was scanned on May 3, 2009. But the book is not online yet. Presumably each book has to be legally cleared and/ or there is a backlog. But I've come across many books like that. A couple of years ago I noticed that only one university library -- Michigan University -- seemed interested in making their books which Google scanned available on their own servers, integrating them with their catalog.

Enter the Hathi Trust. Hathi's formation was not motivated by the use I've found for it (which I'll spell out) but to address a simple, fundamental question: who says that Google Books will be there forever, or will always be free? In fact, Microsoft had a digital project ( which it abruptly killed once it realized it could never compete with Google Books. Overnight thousands of freely available books scanned by Microsoft disappeared. So the Hathi Trust aims to be an alternate repository of books scanned by Google. Libraries need only sign up and add their collections. Only a small number of libraries have joined, but more join constantly. Early on Michigan U joined. Columbia University recently signed up. So what I've found is that sometimes books which were scanned months ago but not yet on Google are on the Hathi Trust. In one case, I was able to download an important book which wasn't available on Google for over a year. Incidentally, the Hathi Trust is especially good for users outside the United States who face additional restrictions on Google Books, in many cases they are not even aware that the version they use, whether in Europe or Israel, is skeletal. So after checking Google, check the Hathi Trust.

3) is similar to Hathi in that it also includes many books digitized by Google (in case Google disappears or goes rogue, you betcha) but includes much, much more. Some smaller libraries that aren't likely to be approached by Google have modest digitization efforts of their own, and share them on Other large libraries simply don't want to deal with Google, yet want their digital offerings available. There are thousands of Yiddish books via the National Yiddish Book Center; many of these works are as orphaned as they come, but as they were printed after 1923 they will never be available in their entirety on Google. In terms of free resources, I would place this behind Google (Hathi is more the place to go once you've ascertained that a book was scanned by Google in a library which participates in Hathi, yet isn't on Google; this would apply to Michigan U, but not Harvard).

6) Hebrew Books.

In a class of its own. I hardly know where to begin, but anyone who is interested in seforim ve-sofrim knows what I mean.

7) Seforim Online.

Back when was "only" a repository of seforim printed in America, with some miscellaneous RCA handbooks and the like, Seforim Online was a modest in size, rich in content, archive of rare and interesting seforim, from Menasseh of Ilya to Christian David Ginsburg. Although it is not what it was since so many other resources have sprouted and supplanted it, occasionally it comes back to life, e.g., not long ago scans of some valuable Hebrew Bible codices appeared on the site, which are unavailable elsewhere.

8) Compact Memory
. is an amazing archive of German Jewish publications encompassing approximately the years 1800 to 1940. It isn't comprehensive, and as more time goes on many of its offerings are on Google as well, but there are treasures on Compact Memory. Many a footnote has sent me there.

9) JNUL.

The JNUL has an excellent, selective digital archive. They're constantly adding things, and the scans are of very high quality. Great for first and early editions, and their basis -- the JNUL library itself -- is a deep well which promises great offerings for years to come. Unfortunately their files are not available in pdf, which is a little annoying, but you can download entire books as djvu files for viewing on your own computer. In addition, there are archives of six important early Hebrew newspapers, and a nice collection of Ketubot and manuscripts. For this purpose (Hebrew and Jewish newspapers) see also the Historical Jewish Press site from Tel Aviv University.

10) Judaica Sammlung Frankfurt.

This web site contains hundreds, if not thousands, of European books of Jewish interest, primarily German, but many are in English, French, Italian and Hebrew. When Google and the others fail, Judaica Frankfurt doesn't let down.

11) Gallica.

The Bibliothèque nationale de France's digital collection contains many rare books and periodicals.

12) Bavarian State Library.

This is where the digital Munich Talmud is; but it also contains excellent scans of rare Judaica and Hebraica.

13) Gottinger Digitalisierungzentrum.

14) Universidad de Sevilla.

15) Internet Library of Early Journals.

16) Making of America pt I and II.

These are university libraries with digital collections. It's not like I visit them daily, but these and others are reminders that if you're looking for something online, you must never assume it's unavailable. You simply must dig deeper. In my recent post on early printed images of the shekel I used Google Books, the JNUL and Seville University; it's not like I have Arius Montanus' Antiquitatum Judaicarum Libri IX (Leyden, 1593) sitting on my book shelf; but it's also not on Google Books. Remember, these are only the tip of the iceberg. Dozens and maybe even hundreds of universities have digital projects. Also, these resources are unique to my interests. There are countless free digital collections containing much material of interest to you.

16) Simonsen Collection at the Denmark Royal Library.

17) The Braginsky Collection.

Both of these are one of a kind, since they include unpublished manuscripts of great worth and interest.

Edit: I think it's a good idea to add resources as I find them.


18) The Leiden Manuscript of the Jerusalem Talmud.

19) The University of Haifa Library has a modest digitzation project which is just getting underway. with some interesting titles.


20) Various zeitschriften.

Also, many periodicals are available. Just because it seems obscure, doesn't mean it's not worth googling and checking past the first and second pages. I've discovered that much is available if you know what to look for and you actually look.

Finally, network. You never know who has what, who has personally scanned something, or received something from the author or publisher directly. If you develop or join a group of like-minded individuals whom you can ask "Have you got this?" your chances of acquiring what you're looking for goes up. You will likely find that people are happy to share what they have.

Remember, all these are perfectly free and don't require any subscriptions. There are certainly hundreds of thousands of free books and periodicals in these resources. In a matter of hours you can probably find 100 books of great personal interest, you only need to look. Subscription resources will be for another post.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Trying to read Canaanite in the 18th century; how "Hebrew" was the language of Canaan?

Isaiah 19:18 the language of Canaan - שְׂפַת כְּנַעַן

In 1743-5 Richard Pococke published his multi-volume account of his travels in the Near East, 'A Description of the East and Some other Countries.' The second volume included a plate of some inscriptions he copied in Citium in Cyprus. He described it as follows "the walls seem to have been very strong, and in the foundations there have been found many stones, with inscriptions on them, in an unintelligible character, which I suppose, is the antient Phoenician..." (v. II pg. 213)

Here is his plate:

This post concerns the second inscription:

Remember, he describes them as unintelligible and has to guess which alphabet it is. His transcription certainly may contain error.

In 1764 the Abbe Barthelemy wrote an article about these inscriptions in vol. 30 of the Histoire de l'Académie royale des inscriptions et belles-lettres. Barthelemy was an expert in the Phoenician alphabet, and is credited with being the first European to decipher Carthaginian inscriptions which he did in 1758 with the aid of a dual Greek and Carthaginian inscription from Malta. (The alphabet of Carthage is very similar to the Phoenician alphabet, which in turn is very similar to the ancient Hebrew. For all intents and purposes they are one alphabet.)

In his article he read Pococke's transcription the following way:

John Swinton believed that Barthelemy had completely misread the inscription, and published a long article in the Philosophical Transactions of 1765 -- 56 pages -- from a paper read in December of 1764. Here is what he came up with:

Interestingly, he read the first three letters אנך as "onyx," which he translates here as "a marble." That's pretty imaginative and even brilliant. This was more than a 100 years before the Mesha Stele was found, so I suppose אנכי did not seem obvious. But it would not take 100 years before someone read it that way.

In 1801 Akerblad wrote a small book called Inscriptionis Phoeniciae Oxoniensis nova interpretatio (Pococke transcribed no less than 33 inscriptions in 1738. In 1750 an English physician named Porter had brought one of them -- this one, carved into white marble -- to Oxford).

Here is his reading:

Edit: In the comments Nachum asked f0r more clarification, and I confessed that I didn't know anything about subsequent study of this, and other Phoenician, inscriptions. However I learned that the great Gesenius devoted a lengthy book to the topic, to the topic called Scripturae linguaeque phoeniciae monumenta in 1837.

Below is his reading, as well as a chart of the relationship of the alphabets:

Reflecting the thinking of the time, Shadal writes in his introduction to the Pentateuch (pg. 7), which he wrote around 1830 for his students in the Rabbinical Seminary of Padua "Ne altra lingua che l'ebraica avevano i Fenici, i popoli cioe di Tiro e di Sidone, dei quali monumenti tutti che ci rimangono, colla cognizione della lingua santa spontaneamente s'interpretano," which means that the Jews and the Phoenicians spoke the same language, which is why a knowledge of Leshon Hakodesh is what is required to understand their inscriptions.

Why does he mention this? A great part of this introduction is spent refuting the critical theories of his time, and earlier, which maintained that Moses only wrote a part of the Torah, if that. One of the observations made by critics in his time is that the language of the Hebrew Bible, from beginning to end, is so uniform that it is impossible for them to have been written over a period of 1000 years, for no other language furnishes an example like it! Given this, the likely explanation was that the Torah was not so early, but written hundreds of years later, in the time of David. In other words, by compressing the period of biblical literature into a much smaller time frame, the lack of linguistic evolution of biblical Hebrew can be explained. This is kind of amazing, in light of the opposite posture maintained today. Indeed, Hebrew linguistics has not remained static in 180 years. In any case, Shadal's contention is that while it is essentially true that biblical Hebrew does not exhibit anything like the evolution of other languages, this can be explained in the following way. Languages evolve mainly through interaction with other peoples, friendly or hostile. For example, when Latin met the Northern countries, it evolved into the respective languages of those places (Spanish, Italian, French). Similarly, in his own time, the French, English, German and Italian languages were continually loaning words to each other, due to the heavy interaction between these peoples. However, for most of the biblical period Israel only had interaction with neighboring peoples who also spoke what was essentially Hebrew. Only when Aramaic speaking invaders from the North came on the scene did Hebrew begin to take on an Aramaic flavor, a development from which it never ceased.

Getting back to Gesenius, the book which I linked to above, contains dozens of amazing plates at the end. Have a look:

Lyon Hart and another Jewish youth and their compatriot are executed, 1789.

This notice from December of 1789 records the death sentence of three men convicted of robbery, two of whom were Jews; Lyon Hart and Emanuel Marks. Them, along with Andrew Haikes were "all three little better than boys," and according to this report held out hope for mercy and were shocked when sentenced to death.

They were indeed executed by hanging on January 21, 1790. They had beaten and robbed a man named Samuel Bastin at cutlass-point of "two shillings in monies" -- less than $20 in today's money.

Here are the details and testimony in the case:

Monday, February 15, 2010

A rabbi's son dancing with the finest Duchess in all of England in 1711?

Every now and then one comes across something fairly obscure and amusing.

Below is a letter sent to the London Examiner which appeared in is January 24, 1712 issue:

Not a bad question.

I think my normal MO would be to identify "Rabbi Solomen de Med_" who is "happily versed in the art of explaining Mysteries," and under what circumstances "the finest Dutchess in England" danced with his son, apparently causing quite a stir in the summer of 1711. Having not done that, in other words, normally this would not be ready for posting. But instead I'll leave it to readers to speculate (won't that be more fun?) or enlighten us all.

When Moshicha [sic] comes, will yeshivos be machshiv dikduk?

DovBear hilariously notices that the official name of the Lakewood Yeshiva, Beth Medrash Govoha [sic] ignores the Furtive Patach rule (פתח גנובה) wherein a final ה ,א or ח with a פתח underneath is pronounced as if a פתח א preceded it; this is why there is a messiah, but not a messiha.

Actually, this is interesting, because somehow everyone seem to know the rule for ח. In fact, I have a very clear memory of my rebbe teaching this rule to rows of us doe-eyed toddlers. Our אלף בינה had numerous examples to practice; מצמיח ,משיח etc. But nothing about the others. I can only assume that my rebbe didn't know it himself, which would not make him unusual. As a result, every month בעלי תפילה show if they do or do not know the rule as they publicly read בצאת ישראל ממצרים. It is especially funny when such prayer-leaders emphatically pronounce the

Obviously this is a symptom of the didkuk neglect of centuries (at least among Ashkenazim), often lamented, rarely rectified. The question is why this rule is only partially known. My guess is because of the three letters, only the ח is emphatically pronounced. Indeed, if Ashkenazim didn't pronounce the ח like the כ, but more like it's true Oriental consonantal sound partway between ה and ח, they'd probably have developed the pronunciation Moshihha!

In fairness to BMG, the name it's stuck with on its stationary and in it's legal filings don't reflect the dikduk knowledge or lack of on the part of anyone in particular. Although I'm not aware of any evidence that R. Aharon Kotler was a medakek in his pronunciation, certainly he knew the פתח גנובה. He had nothing to do with how the name is written in English; besides, if we're getting pedantic "Medrash" is misspelled too. Still, this is amusing, or at the very least, a perfect foil for my observation about why only a part of this rule seems widely known.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Here's a nice review of Hakirah 9: link.

I heard through the grapevine that they're getting more submissions than they know what to do with these days, so evidently they're accomplishing their goal, as I understand it, to respond to and cultivate intellectual curiosity among Jews in a less highfalutin' ivory tower way, which never seemed to get very far in the past. It's interesting that this should be so in a time when other journals are biting the dust.

See also this post.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Great Hebrew translations.

There can be little doubt that this piece from 1817 is among the best Hebrew translations of all time -- רחים רבנן ומוקיר רבנן - "a cordial admirer and honourer of literary men of all classes."

Early printed images of ancient shekels, archaeology in halacha, and a Christian Hebraists's role in the first printing of the Zohar.

In 1267 Nahmanides arrived in the land of Israel. When he arrived at Akko he experienced something interesting and significant enough that he included an account of it as part of an appendix to his commentary to the Torah:

In Acre he learned that some elders possessed an ancient silver coin. Engraved upon one side was a branch of an almond tree, and on the other side a jar. There was some writing on both sides. Unable to decipher the script, they showed the coin to some Samaritans who could read it without hesitation, since the ancient Hebrew script is used by them, as mentioned in Tractate Sanhederin. On one side it read שקל השקלים, sheqel of sheqels, and on the other ירושלם הקדשה, Holy Jerusalem. The Samaritans explained that the branch is the rod of Aaron and the jar is the jar of manna. Weighing it on a scale, they were able to see that it weighed 10 pieces of silver, which is equal to half an ounce, as indicated by Rashi. He also saw a coin with the same emblems which weighed half the weight of this coin, which could be used to weight out the amount used for the sacrifices.

However, in the commentary itself he had questioned Rashi's measure (Exodus 30.13):

Rashi wrote (Exodus 21.32): "A sheqel weighs four gold coins, making half an ounce according to the correct weight of Cologne." This is based on the Gemara, which gives such an equivalence (i.e., gold and silver denars had the same weight). Ramban goes on to cite sources which assert that gold coins no longer weighed what they once did, while Rashi seems to be assuming that the weight remained constant (and that is why he cites the gold coins of Cologne). According to the Halakhot Gedolot and the Rif, "our" gold coins are almost a third smaller than those in the time of the Talmud. They therefore opined that a sheqel would weigh 3/4th of an ounce, and this is the opinion Ramban seems to accept. However, his later experience with what seemed to be actual sheqalim show Rashi to have been entirely correct.

(Both images are from the 1490 Naples edition.)

This passage became quite famous to anyone interested in what the ancient shekalim, as well as the ancient Hebrew, looked like. Rabbi Azariah dei Rossi quotes this passage in the 56th chapter of Meor Enayim, which is titled על האותיות של כתב עבר הנהר ושקל הקדש. The book included engravings of a table of the Samaritan alphabet as compared with the Hebrew, and copies of both sides of such a sheqel as described by the Ramban (see here). What were his source for these images?

For the alphabetical table, de Rossi writes:

He had thus seen no less than three examples of this alphabet. The first was a page written by a trustworthy person from the land of Israel for Rabbi Petachya Yada of Spoleto, to whom the former had been teaching Arabic. His son showed it to de Rossi. The second was an autograph manuscript of Rabbi Moses Basola (1480-1560) describing things which he had seen on his journey. (This account remained unpublished until 1785, when it was printed for the first time in Livorno under the name Masaot Eretz Yisrael.) The third is a text shown to him in Mantua by Rabbi Reuben of Perugia. The text had been given to him by a Christian scholar in Bologna.

As for the sheqel, de Rossi writes that one of them was in the possession of the widow of Isaac Haggio of Ferrara. He had moved to Jerusalem, where he died. So his widow who still had children to care for moved in with her son Rabbi Yom Tov in Ferrara, where he managed his father's estate. It was this coin which de Rossi had seen, and which is pictured in his book. He writes that the coin read שקל ישראל on one side, and ירושלים הקדושה on the other. In addition, there were the letters שד on the שקל side. De Rossi offers the suggestion that שד stood for שקל דוד, however we are in a position to realize that it stood for שנה דל"ת, that is Year Four, as in the 4th year of the establishment of the Hasmonean House, or the revolution against the Romans, i.e, 70 CE. The reason we realize this is because in our time we don't have to scrape together evidence, and we have coins which read שא and so forth. Indeed, I have seen many examples from the 18th century where it is recognized that these are acronyms for years. There are 5 such coins, corresponding to years 1 through 5.

As for the discrepancy between the Ramban's שקל השקלים and the coin which de Rossi himself saw, which read שקל ישראל, he assumes that writing from memory, the Ramban transcribed mistakenly. De Rossi then discusses whether the other side should be read ירושלים הקדושה or ירושלימה קדושה, relating this to a passage in the Jerusalem Talmud where it is reported that the people of Jerusalem would write ירושלימה in place of ירושלים. In addition, this grammatical tendency even explains a position of Beit Shammai on permissible levirate marriages!

Although the Meor Enayim was first published in 1573 this is not the first time that an image of an ancient shekel was printed. In 1538 a very unusual scholar named Guillaume Postel printed a book called Linguarum Duodecim Characteribus Differentium Alphabetum, or an introduction to 12 alphabets. The following appeared on the 22nd page:

Postel was a Christian kabbalist who played a minor but notable role in the very first printing of the Zohar. He had been working on a Latin translation of the Zohar and Bahir, but considered it only proper that the original Aramaic version be printed first. To this end he encouraged Rabbi Moshe Basola -- the same Rabbi Moshe whose travel manuscript contained the Samaritan alphabet and was consulted by De Rossi -- to print the Zohar. Basola was involved in having this accomplished in some way, which is not entirely clear to me, but his approbation does adorn the תקוני הזהר published in Mantua in 1558:

This kabbalist, about whom it is reported that Rabbi Moshe Cordovero kissed his hand upon meeting him, dates his approbation "February":

Interestingly enough, Rabbi Moshe Basola appears on the Dei'ah VeDibur web site three times: as "HaRav Moshe Basola", "Rabbi Moses Basola"and "itinerant traveler Moshe Basola." More trivia: his grandson was the rabbi Mosè della Rocca for whom Rabbi Yehuda Aryeh Modena wrote his incredible bi-lingual poem קינה שמור at age 13.

Postel was unusual in other respects. In a Hebrew book about the mystical significance of the menorah, which he called אור נרות המנורה, he refers to himself as איש כפר סכניא ושמו אליהו כל-משכליה שנתגייר לחיבתו של ישראל. The great Konrad Pellikanus translated this book into Latin the following year, under the title Candelabri typici in Mosis Tabernaculo, but he left this line untranslated! This of course doesn't mean to say that he converted to Judaism, but evidently he was some kind of Judaizer, and one learned enough in Talmudic lore to adorn himself with the nom de guerre of a Christian who appears in the Talmud.

Although Postel's was the very first image of an ancient shekel to be printed, in an article called "Shekel Medals and False Shekels" Bruno Kisch drew attention to what he considered a far superior early publication, which also preceded the one in Meor Enayim.

This is from Arius Montanus' Antiquitatum Judaicarum Libri IX (Leyden, 1593 - this is from the second printing, but the first was printed at the end of the Antwerp Polyglot Bible in 1572, thus prior to de Rossi's Meor Enayim, printed in 1573).

Here is the full page, in which he recounts that while participating in the Tridentine Council (1545-1563) he was studying the Ramban's commentary on the Torah (Mosem Nehemani filium Hebraeum Gerundensem is the Ramban). On the very night when he'd studied the bit about the shekel, he received 13 ancient gold coins from an archbishop friend, who asked his expert opinion about them as an antiquarian. He was told that he could choose one to keep as payment. One of them was not gold, but was a genuine silver shekel!


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