Tuesday, September 28, 2010

We know what Etrogim cost now, but what did they cost historically?

What did an etrog cost about 100 years ago? What about closer to 200 years?

Writing of Sukkot in Egypt in 1888, Elkan Nathan Alder speaks of having to pay "a very European price" for his etrog and lulav, but doesn't say what that is (Jews in Many Lands):

An American source, the 1914 Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture, edited by Liberty Hyde Bailey, gives $5 to $10 as the price:

What was $5 to $10 in 1914 in today's dollars? There are a few ways to measure that, but very crudely I used some online currency calculators which give a value of about $110 to $220.

A British diplomatic source from the early 1880s says that an etrog could be had for as high as £1 or £2. In today's pounds that should be 75 or 80, which is something like $115 to $125 today (or twice that).

Another source from 1893 gives the same £1 price:

In 1829 a British source claims that they would sell for 2 or 3 guineas, which is like $212 or $318 today. Noting that this is expensive, it reports that about two sets would be found in the synagogue for people who didn't own one to use. Some enterprising businessmen would purchase one and then go around to the homes to allow people to make the blessing and take the lulav and etrog in hand for the sum of 2 to 7 shillings, which comes out to $8 to $27 in today's money. They could go to as many as 20 to 40 houses!

There is no specific reason to doubt this, but it should be borne in mind that the wealth of British Jews was sometimes exaggerated in the British periodicals. For example, in 1802 the very credible Gentleman's Magazine reported that the newly installed British Chief Rabbi Solomon Hirschel's salary was £4000 a year. In today's money that's about £296,000, or about $468,000. This salary is not a gazillion billion dollars a year, but it is only on the outer reaches of possible. While Hirschel actually died a wealthy man, it was not from his salary, which initially was the far more modest sum of £250!

Getting back to Etrogim, although this surveys is crude and only speak of two geographic areas, one gets the sense that Etrogim were very expensive, just as we might have predicted. Although Etrogim can still be had today at those high prices (adjusted), today more than $100 (or $200 or $300) are not the norm. While Etrogim are still pricey for a fruit, clearly they were out of reach of many in those times, while today there are enough imported and at a manageable price so that almost every one with an interest can purchase them. Of course replacing the more modest cost is the social pressure to purchase several sets per household - even for children. So perhaps on balance purchasing Etrogim today turns out to be as expensive, or even more so.

These aren't Jewish pirates, part IV.

On a fabulous blog I found pictures of the actual location drawn by Bernard Picart. Picart's engraving (as seen in part II of my Pirates Series™):

Professor Laura Leibman of the awesomely named Early American Graveyard Rabbit blog took wonderful pictures of the old Spanish-Portuguese graveyard in Amsterdam, the Beth Haim Ouderkerk. Funny times we live in: this cemetery has a web site.

First, as she explains, the building in which the men are seen is a funeral home of sorts (as we conjectured in the comments). It was a "House of Rounds," or Casa de Rodeos or Rodeamentos, as they were (are? hopefully) known. The "Rounds" are the very hakafot! Such a building was where the bodies were prepared for burial (the tahara), and where the circuits around the body took place. Picart drew the interior of the Beth Haim Ouderkerk's Casa de Rodeos, which was built in 1705 and still stands. Here is a photograph taken by Leibman:

Even better, she took a beautiful picture of the plaque itself:

(If you click the image you will see it at a much higher resolution as well as many more details, such as sinks, another inscription, etc.)

Prof. Leibman is quite the connoisseur of old cemeteries and her blog is a must visit. But she also posted many photographs taken in the Jewish Hunt's Bay Cemetery in Jamaica (the subject of the first post in this series). Here are two of her photographs:

The first is the same grave shown in the Flatbush Jewish Journal (original post), and the second is surely one of the other graves in the same cemetery mistakenly presumed to be those of Jewish pirates.

Finally, just to point that the skull imagery was not only used by bewigged Western Sephardic assimilators, here is one from Frankfurt 1740, the same Kehilla Kedosha which the Chasam Sofer would proudly refer to all his life in his signature משה הק' סופר מפפ"דם:


The above image is from a selichos manuscript written in 1740 and used by the Chevra Kadisha of Frankfurt. In the mid 18th century there was a Jewish revival of manuscript writing, and many beautiful hand written and illustrated siddurim and the like date from that era.

Not a Pirate, part III, with additional info about attitudes of Sephardic Jews toward their brethren burned at the stake.

Pardon my absence. :-)

As an extension of my post I doubt he's a pirate, part II: Charity delivers from death! (part II of this post) I add some additional details.

The second post depicted a scene from the very famous 18th century book about the rituals, customs and costumes of various religions, Bernard and Picart's Religious Ceremonies and Customs of All the Peoples of the World. In that post the point was to show skull imagery used by Jews as a reminder of mortality, a well known motif of the time period which had nothing to do with pirates.

The actual image showed Dutch Sephardic Jews performing hakafot or seven circuits around a coffin. Rabbi Leone Modena mentions this custom in his Riti without giving a reason:

Interestingly enough, although there were already two separate English translations of Modena's Riti (Edmund Chilmead's in 1650 and Simon Ockley's in 1707), the English version of Bernard and Picart's work included yet a third translation.

Trachtenberg, in his Jewish Magic and Superstition, after describing the magical powers of circles writes: "it is interesting that in the Orient the general practice at a funeral is for the mourners actually to encircle the coffin seven times, reciting the "anti-demonic psalm." Similarly the late custom among East-European Jews (which also prevails in the Orient) for the bride to walk around her groom under the wedding canopy three, or seven times, was probably originally intended to keep off the demons who were waiting to pounce upon them." But alas, he just says it, and doesn't give a source or much beyond a "similarly" and a "probably originally." Although he mentions the "anti-demonic psalm" (which is Psalm 91) that is not the ritual I have seen.

The prayers recited during this ritual are found in a fascinating siddur published in New York 1826.

Nary a demon nor a Psalm 91 to be found. Of course it is possible that in other rituals this psalm was recited, but I bet Trachtenberg was conflating it with the Ashkenazic custom of stopping seven times during a funeral procession. Incidentally, the translator of this siddur, Solomon Henry Jackson, produced the first Jewish newspaper in America. In 1823 he published The Jew, which came out in 24 monthly issues. The purpose of this paper was to counter and refute the American Society for Meliorating the Condition of the Jews. Eleazar Samuel Lazarus, who was responsible for the Hebrew text of this siddur, was the poet Emma Lazarus's grandfather.

Since we are discussing Spanish-Portuguese Jewish liturgy, here seems an appropriate place to post some images from Alexander Alexander's siddur, published in London in 1773. Horrifyingly, it includes the following Prayer For Martyrdom (השכבת השרופים על קדוש השם), for burned victims of autos de fé.

Immediately following this prayer for those burned at the stake is . . . Birkhat Ha-mazon (Grace After Meals).

Talya Fishman notes (Shaking the Pillars of Exile, pg. 57) that "Many conversos who had escaped the wrath of the Inquisition and relocated to safe havens suffered from what we might describe as "survivor's guilt." They had saved their lives by dissembling, while others, less fortunate, were burned at the stake."

She goes on to describe their "need . . . to lionize the victims." Such former conversos idealized martyrdom as the highest religious ideal. For some reason she then switches to Iberian exiles in general, and footnotes R. Yosef Karo's desire to be burned at the stake, like Solomon Molcho had been. Here is one of the famous passages in Maggid Mesharim (זאת הברכה), where the Mishnah tells him that he will be burned at the stake:

"I will make you worthy to be publicly burned in Eretz Yisrael, to sanctify my name in public, and be a burnt offering on my altar. Your sweet smell like incense will rise before me and your ashes will be piled on my altar. . . Your name will be remembered in synagogues and Batei Midrashot . . . You will be worthy to sanctify my name in public, just as my chosen one Shlomo, who was called Molcho, was worthy. . ."

In case anyone thinks that the Mishnah is being harsh on him, note the very end: "I am the Mishnah speaking with your mouth, I kiss you with kisses of love and I embrace you."

Thus for the prayer for martyrdom and the strong Sephardic feelings regarding the executions by fire.

This post has gotten to long, so the hakafot themselves and more skull imagery will come in yet a fourth post. Also see this earlier post (Nobody Expects the Spanish Inqusition - in the late 18th century the autos de fe were no less fresh in the mind's of Sephardic Jews than the Holocaust is today).

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The 300-year old mystery – the bowl is located! a guest post by Paul Shaviv.

Recently, there was a lively discussion regarding the purpose of the medieval bronze bowl with a Hebrew inscription found in a stream in eastern England some 300 years ago. It is described in d’Blossiers Tovey’s ‘Anglia Judaica’, and in the discussion it was pointed out that Rev. Moses Margoliouth had also described it and discussed it extensively in his 1870 book on the “Anglo-Hebrews” of East Anglia[1]. Three issues were identified:

· What was the meaning and significance of the inscription?

· What was the purpose of the object?

· Where is the bowl now? Its whereabouts were a mystery to Margoliouth.

The bowl is found!

It was acquired by the great antiquarian and bibliophile, Richard Rawlinson (1690 – 1755), who left his collection to the Bodleian Library in Oxford. The bronze urn was deposited in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford – where it is today, and is known as ‘The Bodleian Bowl’. [I should have known this….. PJS ]

Tsadik Kaplan noted that a ‘similar’ object was on display in the great 1964 ‘Monumenta Judaica’ exhibition in Cologne, and was kind enough to scan and send the full [and extensive] catalogue entry (in German). But it is not a ‘similar’ object – it is the SAME object, presumably loaned by the Ashmolean for the exhibition.

Some further notes and references:

1. Do not rush to Oxford to examine this object between the beginning of October 2010 to the end of January 2011 – it will be on display in the Norwich Castle Museum as part of an exhibition of artifacts from different religious communities who have made their home in the region – see details here: ‘The Art of Faith’ http://tinyurl.com/359jjul, which also has a very good photo of the bowl.

2. The bowl was discussed by Israel Abrahams in the JHSE Transactions, 1905, and Miscellanies, 1925. A further reference in the Cologne catalogue is given to an article (or book?) in Ivrit by I.L. Bialce (?), 1963.

3. Further information is noted in the excellent (and, I think, little-known) www.oxfordjewishheritage.co.uk website – see link under ‘Projects’>Inventory..> Ashmolean. An excellent guide to Jewish Oxford, including directions of where to find the bowl in the Ashmolean, can be found at the website of Oxford Chabad – http://tinyurl.com/2c5cpqo - see the very end of the article, written by Marcus Roberts (2005).

4. The claim of Colchester, rather than Bury St. Edmunds, as the home of the bowl is discussed here: http://cat.essex.ac.uk/reports/EAS-report-0007.pdf

[1] East Anglia is the area on the east of England consisting mainly of the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk. It is known for its very flat topography, fertile farmland, and in medieval times was a prosperous wool-trading area. It was an area of Jewish settlement in pre-Expulsion times. Ipswich and Norwich, the two main towns, both had important Jewish communities – that of Norwich, in particular, is well-documented.

Paul Shaviv is Director of Education at TanenbaumCHAT, the community High school of the Greater Toronto Jewish community. He is a keen blogger and a keen Jewish history enthusiast. He has published the standard work on Jewish school management - 'The Jewish High School - a complete management guide' (ISBN 1449920586, from Amazon).

Heinrich Heine on the magical powers of cholent (schalet) circa 1840.

Apropos Paul Shaviv's post (directly above), below is an image of an inscribed Ashkenazic cooking pot. This is one is dated, because its inscription gives the date. My thanks to Tsadik613 for providing the image:

The catalog which this is from gives the following inscription הירץ פופרט זיין ב[ת] ז[וג] בת משה צור ליטר בשאלט לפק, or, "Hirtz Popert's s[pouse], daughter of Moses zur Leiter, in [the year 5]340 (=1579/80)."

What's especially cool is that the year 340 is written as שאלט instead of שם so that it reads schalet, or the original German Jewish word for that familiar dish known as . . . cholent.

Speaking of schalet/ cholent, a lot of people think that 20th century Jews involved in Kiruv (outreach) discovered the seductive powers of cholent. In fact Heinrich Heine knew all about it well over 150 years ago, when he wrote a poetic odes to cholent (schalet):

For example, these lines from his poem Princess Sabbath ("she" in the poem is the Sabbath itself):

She allows her lover all things
Save this one, — tobacco-smoking:
" Loved one ! smoking is forbidden,
" For today the Sabbath is.

" But at noon, in compensation,
" Thou a steaming dish shalt taste of,
" Which is perfectly delicious —
" Thou shalt eat today some Schalet! "

" Schalet, beauteous spark immortal,
" Daughter of Elysium !"
Thus would Schiller's song have sung it,
Had he ever tasted Schalet.

Schalet is the food of heaven,
Which the Lord Himself taught Moses
How to cook, when on that visit
To the summit of Mount Sinai,

Where the Lord Almighty also
Every good religious doctrine
And the holy ten commandments
Publish'd in a storm of lightning.

Schalet is the pure ambrosia
That the food of heaven composes—
Is the bread of Paradise;
And compared with food so glorious,

The ambrosia of the spurious
Heathen gods whom Greece once worshipp'd
And were naught but muffled devils,
Was but wretched devil's dung.

In 1840 Heine wrote a book, a tribute to another very Germanized converted Jew, Ludwig Börne (born ליב ברוך). He writes the following:
I cannot help remarking in this connection that Börne invited me during my stay in Frankfurt to dine at midday with a friend, because the latter, in persistent loyalty to Jewish customs, would set before me the cholent stew (schalet); and indeed I enjoyed there the dish that is perhaps of Egyptian origin and as old as the Pyramids. I am surprised that Börne later, when, apparently in a humorous mood but in truth out of plebian intention, agitated the mob not only against crowned monarchs but also against a crowned poet - I am surprised that he has never told in his writings with what appetite, with what enthusiasm, with what devotion I once devoured the ancient Jewish cholent meal at the home of Doctor St....! This dish is indeed quite excellent, and it is most painfully to be regretted that the Christian church, which has borrowed so many good things from ancient Judaism, has not adopted cholent as well. Perhaps it is reserving it for the future, and when things are really going badly for it, when its most sacred symbols, even the Cross, will have lost their power, the Christian will grasp at the cholent meal, and the peoples who have fled will crowd back to its womb with renewed appetite. At least the Jews will then join Christianity with conviction, for, as I can clearly see, it is only cholent that keeps them in their old covenant. Börne even assured me that the apostates who had gone over to the new covenant had only to smell cholent in order to feel a certain nostalgia for the synagogue, that cholent was, so to speak, the cowherd's melody of the Jews.
Lest one doubt that this tribute to cholent was really written in 1840, complete with Heine's (half-kidding) and ironically wrong prediction that cholent would bring Jews to the church, here are the pages

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

How did people pray before printing? A fascinating piece of evidence from a 17th century commentary on Rav Alfasi.

Summary: How did people pray before printing? A: The men memorized the prayers in Hebrew and the women memorized them in Italian or another vernacular.

Giuseppe Almanzi (1801-1860) was one of the great 19th century Jewish book collectors. He inherited the nucleus of his collection from his father. Baruch Chaim, his father, purchased a great library from the son of another great book collector - the Chida. Rabbi Chaim Yosef David Azalai's son Raphael Isaac sold it to him. It is interesting, because I had assumed that he sold it after the Chida died, but according to Shadal who wrote the catalog of the Almanzi Library the sale took place in 5506 (1805 or 1806), while the Chida died in March of 1807. I'm not sure what to make of that - did he give it to his son (Rabbi Raphael Isaac) while still living, or did he authorize him to sell it on his behalf? Who got the check?

In any event, Almanzi embellished and eventually inherited this great collection, his father dying in 1837. As a scholar and a man of wealth and taste he greatly expanded it into an even great library. He wrote and published poetry in Hebrew, as well as biographical articles and writings by Ramchal, who apparently was a favorite of his, among others. A fellow citizen of Trieste and virtually the same age, he was a very close friend of Shadal (who writes that the two forged a ברית נאמנה which lasted 38 years). The latter was naturally granted total access to his library, which he used to great effect all his life.

In the 1850s he began to catalog it for Almanzi, and the results were published piecemeal in Moritz Steinschneider's bibliography journal המזכיר, or, Hebræische bibliographie, blätter für neuere und ältere literatur des judenthums. In 1864 the collection was put on auction, so the complete catalog was published in a separate volume called יד יוסף, or by its French title Catalogue de la bibliothèque de littérature hébraïque et orientale de feu Joseph Almanzi. Most of the manuscripts were bought by the British Museum, where it still remains as the Almanzi Collection (albeit now the BM is called the British Library). Most of the books were bought by Temple Emanu-El in New York, but it eventually gave them to Columbia University.

Although the catalog is useful, the version in המזכיר is much more interesting because Shadal included many interesting summaries of some of the entries. For example, below is the entry to one such manuscript in the catalog, and below it the same ms. is described in המזכיר:

This particular manuscript includes four documents bound together. The first is a small lexicon of unusual words in the Targum, which Shadal believed is the "Aruch Katan" of one Rabbi Shmuel Shaar Aryeh. The second is a eulogy for a good woman. The third, rabbinic legislation against the "מצחקים" - gamblers, and the fourth is novellae on the Rif on Berachos and Bava Kamma written by Rabbi Shlomo Shaar Aryeh, the brother and student of the Shmuel. I'm not quite sure of exact dates when they lived, but they belonged to the famous Italian Jewish family Portaleone, one of the more famous members being the author of שלטי הגבורים, and he signed his name שער אריה or משער אריה in Hebrew. These brothers were also Portaleones (Shaar = porta = gate, Aryeh = leone = lion). There is some doubt when exactly they lived, were they personalities of the 16th and 17th centuries, or more or less the 17th century? The date is somewhat relevant because of what was shown above and will be translated below.

Shadal quotes what is probably the most historically interesting comment in this commentary. Rabbenu Yonah, commenting in his commentary on the Rif to Berachos 13a,[1] had written that the custom is that the women pray in other languages (= not in Hebrew). He gave an explanation according to the French rabbis. On this, R. Shlomo Shaar Aryeh suggests a different, historical reason:
"It is possible to give a reason for this, because necessity is the mother of invention: average women are not learned enough to learn the prayers by heart in Hebrew like men. In earlier times there was no printing, so they would teach women the prayers by heart in the vernacular, because it is much easier to learn it that way. This continued for awhile even after printing was invented, and the original custom was maintained. However nowadays when the problem has been addressed through siddurim which are printed quite easily, by far the majority of women pray (in a siddur) according to the fixed Hebrew text. However it seems to me that the original custom was very proper and beautiful, because that way they knew what they were saying. But now that they pray in Hebrew most of them are just chirping, and they have no idea what they're chirping."
Wow! Although it would be great to have an exact date when this was written, here we see history happening before our eyes. In the time of this writing most Italian Jewish women had siddurim and learned to read Hebrew. But apparently some women continued the earlier custom, which was the practice out of necessity before printing: they prayed in Italian from memory. Why were women taught to pray in Italian? Because most people had no text to read the prayers from. Books were expensive. So most people had to memorize the prayers. Since most women didn't understand Hebrew, it was obviously easier for them to learn to pray by heart in the language they spoke. Men, on the other hand, understood Hebrew (or at least were in synagogue constantly so they heard the prayers all the time) so they would memorize the prayers in Hebrew. This changed with printing. Now praying wasn't a matter of memory, but reading. So the women could learn to read and most of them in his time no longer prayed in Italian from memory, but in Hebrew from a siddur - but without understanding their prayers!

[1] Shadal writes 9a, but he is not referring to the Gemara. He is referring to an early printed edition of the Rif, presumably the 1521 Venice edition. However, I checked and in this edition it's actually on page 8a-8b, so he was off slightly. In our own "standard" Rif printed at the back of the Vilna Shas it is on page 18a, first column.

I doubt he's a pirate, part II: Charity delivers from death!

Follow-up to Yo Ho Ho, and I doubt he's a pirate, in which I discussed popularity of skeleton imagery as a reminder of human mortality in, approximately, the 18th century.

An eagle-eyed reader pointed out to me that one of Bernard Picart's engravings in Jean Frederic Bernard's massive Cérémonies et coutumes religieuses de tous les peuples du monde (1723) features the following wall hanging (in a shul ? funeral parlor? the home of the deceased?) in Amsterdam:

The Portuguese sign reads:

Feitano Anno
5465 Sendo David
Espinoza Gatela

and below the skull is

Caridade Escapa
De Morte

The inscription means "Made in the year 5465 (1705), being David Espinoza Gatela Admenistrador" (readers, help please?).

Incidentally, Espinoza is the same name as Spinoza, the former being how a Spanish or other Iberian language speaker must pronounce a word with an initial consonant cluster, (I think it's called a word-initial epenthesis), analogous to the aleph prostheticum, or prosthetic aleph, in Hebrew and Aramaic, in which certain words require adding an aleph to the beginning for ease of pronunciation. One famous example is, probably, the name Ahaseurus, as well as other Persian names in the Bible, which lacked the initial consonant in the original language. Of course here the opposite is the case: Spanish required Espinoza, but that is the real name - but other European languages did not require it, so it became Spinoza.

Below the spooky skull is Caridade Escapa De Morte, which is of course, צדקה תציל ממות!

The complete image below is small so that it fits here, but please click it for much greater detail. The details of the dress, expressions, etc. are not to be missed!

The French caption is Les Acafoth ou les sept tours, autour Cercueïl, which means The הקפות (using the Western Sephardic transliteration, Acafoth), or seven circuits around the coffin.

Also note the horn book style tablets they're holding for more easily reading whichever prayer it is that they read while engaged in this funerary custom, which is describe in the 1733 English translation as follows:

"After the coffin is nailed down, ten chosen Persons of the most considerable Relations and Friends of the Deceased turn seven Times round the Coffin, and all the Time offer up their Prayers to God for his departed Soul. This is the Practice in Holland, where the Design of the Plate which represents this Ceremony was drawn from the Life."

A big thank you to Mordechai Ovits for solving a technical problem for me, namely grabbing images from a tricky flash viewer (extremely high resolution ones at that).

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Haym Solomon of Philadelphia in an 18th century Dutch responsum.

Rabbi Aryeh Leib Breslau (also known as Levij Heiman van Breslau; 1741-1809), Chief Rabbi of Rotterdam, has an interesting question in his Pne Aryeh (#41). It apparently concerns the Revolutionary War financier that all Jewish kids know about, Haym Solomon (הנדיב הרר"ח שבפילידעלפיא).

A prominent Dutch Jew named Gumpel Wolfenbütel asked Rabbi Aryeh Leib about a charitable donation he received from Haym Solomon, to be given to a specific needy person. Subsequently the person's fortune changed and the charity was no longer needed. The question was, is Wolfenbüttel obligated to give the money to the individual? Or perhaps he should return the money to Solomon, so that he will be inclined to give in the future?

(He finds that according to halacha once the money was pledged, let alone sent, it is already a binding transfer and thus already given. to change that would be like breaking a vow. Thus Solomon has no claim to it - not that he was asking for its return. The man should be given the money, but since he is not in need of charity then he should dispose of it in a charitable way.)

Here is the title page of the Pnei Aryeh:

Here are two images of Rabbi Aryeh Leib; one artist was kinder than the other:

Was Maimonides's last name Sitzel? Of course not.

Below is a great discussion of the problems of library cataloging.

The appendix referred to is, sadly, not online (yet) but is called the 'Appendix to the Report of the Commissioners appointed to inquire into the Constitution and Management of the British Museum.' This report (and appendix) was issued in 1850. Matters concerning Hebrew (excuse me, Oriental) books were written by the Hebraist Christian Heinrich Friedrich Bialoblotzky (1799-1869). The aforementioned Bialloblotzky was referred to by a contemporary as "a converted Polish Jew, of portentous learning and amazing subtlety and minuteness of familiarity with the sacred languages." He was also the translator of The chronicles of Rabbi Joseph ben Joshua ben Meir, the Sphardi in two volumes, the עמק הבכא of Yoseph Hakohen.

As you can see, here he touched upon a very real problem. Many people - and not just Jews and other "Orientals" - were known by a few different names. How do you pick one, how do you make sure there aren't multiple entries for the same person, and how do you avoid embarrassing errors like "Rabbi Moses Bar Maimon Sitzel" (זצ"ל) when dealing with thousands and thousands of books?

The reviewer of the Appendix put the problem into broader context thusly: "In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries people were sadly ashamed of their own vernacular names, and would have them transferred into either Latin or Greek. A certain German whose family inherited the name of Sch warzerd or Black earth, was so ashamed of its barbarism that he had its meaning translated into Greek, and so gave distinction to the name of Melanchthon."

Strangely enough, the ultimate suggestion proposed was to carefully apply a consonant by consonant rendering as best as the English alphabet could support, but "the vowels will be taken in their Italian value." Huh? This would "would decide the question whether we should write Zacut, or Socuto, or Zacuto; Moses, Mose, Mosche, or Mosce; Quimchi or Kimchi ; Mishnah or Meshne."

Who knew bibliography could be so amusing?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Shelo asani ishah offends a 19th century San Fransisco feminist.

The following article appeared in the Women's Journal May 7, 1870. "Calypso," some kind of Sabbatarian Christian feminist decided to go to a Jewish synagogue one Sabbath morning "to worship with my sisters of the Hebrew faith." I don't know much about her theology, but she quotes Dean Stanley, a leading 19th century liberal theologian, and the "sublime passages in the Bgadvat Geeta [sic]."

Her first major culture shock came when reading the translation of the Mishnah Peah 1:1, the אלו דברים שאין להם שעור, which forms part of the beginning of the service. Amazingly we can know exactly which edition of the siddur this congregation was using, because she includes the translation which offended her; "the appearance of every male", and this being a non-literal translation of הריאיון it was an easy matter to find the siddur. It was Tefilat Yisrael - Prayers of Israel (originally published in 5609; the edition I linked to is the fifth, from 1854). As you can also see, she didn't seem to have any idea what was meant by "commandments" in this text. Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if a good many worshipers didn't really understand it either:

The next part of her cultural shock and distaste appears to be from memory rather than an actual text (unless I am mistaken about my identification of the siddur). She has no problem thanking God for not making her a heathen, but was quite surprised at the blessing Shelo asani ishah. She looked "at the numbers of elegant, refined women" who looked on as the men recited it, and the alternative blessing for women was announced. At this point it is interesting to note that in her description it is a "handful" of men who said the blessing, and the formula "and the women shall say" is heard by the women. This is not a very active audience participation service. Calypso also notes the organ being played.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Medieval Hebrew tombstones embedded in London Wall.

Recently I was discussing Christian Hebraism in England with a friend. We noted that even though there weren't many Jews around when intense interest in Hebrew was revived, there were many traces of the Jews extant in England, and a great deal of Hebrew material from the time when there was a Jewish community in London, before they were expelled in 1290.

Here is a drawing from 1753 of an old Hebrew inscription in a stone found in London Wall:

This find was written up in the Gentleman's Magazine of August 1753, "Of an antique Stone in London Wall."

As you can see, apparently the reason why there were stones with Hebrew inscriptions in London Wall is because in the time of King John, in1215, some rebellious barons seized Jewish property ("such as they knew favoured the king") and afterward stones from the property was used to make repairs in the wall:

However, although it was understood in 1753 as being from the time of the 1215 rebellion, Marjorie B. Honeybourne argues that they were more likely taken from the Jewish cemetery and used for city defenses after the expulsion of 1290, giving several reasons why this might be so.

This was not the first such Hebrew inscription found in London Wall. In fact, in total six have been found. "Rabbi" John Selden discussed one in 1629 (Marmoa Arundelliana, 1629 p. 177):

and H. Prideaux included discussed the same inscription and included images others in his enlargement of Selden Marmora Oxoniensa (1676, pp. 311-14):


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