Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Seven Deadly Sins in Hebrew garb; also, a slyly censored word in the Shnei Luchos Habris?

The Seven Deadly Sins - wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony - are probably as well known, at least the concept, as the Ten Commandments. Which, come to think of it, is also probably better known as a title. The Wikipedia entry gives a very good overview and history (link).

Less well known is that Lekach Tov by Avraham Yagel by (1553 - 1623), a sefer quoted in Shnei Luchos Habris (link), contains the complete list, and an exposition of the Seven Deadly Sins.

As an aside, I linked to the first edition of the Shelah (1648). In a later edition (1698) he is called "החכם הר"ר אברהם סג"ל" instead of "יגל."

First edition, followed by second:

Now this could be an innocent printer's mistake, but something did change between 1648 and 1698 - a rumor that Avraham Yagel had converted to Christianity. In 1675 Giulio Bartolocci began to publish his epochal Bibliotheca Magna Rabbinica. Here is his entry for Avraham Yagel. What's relevant is that he claims that Avraham Yagel and a certain Church censor Camillo Iaghel are one and the same person:

As it happens this would seem to be a case of mistaken identity because it can be proved that he was known to be Jewish while Camillo Iaghel was already working as a censor. According to the Jewish Encyclopedia it was Rabbi Anania Coen of Reggio who made this point in an 1827 book. Rabbi Anania Coen is extremely interesting and deserving of a post, while will happen in the future. Although not mentioning Coen, David Ruderman devoted a special appendix in his book on Yagel (link). In Did Abraham Yagel Convert to Christianity? Ruderman answers decidedly in the negative ("at best inconclusive") and rebuts arguments raised by Meir Benayahu that he did convert. I would also add that although the Shelah 1698 edition may have reflected the rumor propagated by Bartolocci, in Rabbi Shabbetai Bass's Siftei Yeshenim (1680) he mentions Avraham Yagel 3 or 4 times and does not even hint that he converted. This is significant simply because he knew Bartolocci's work; indeed, he used it. Here is his entry for the Bibliotheca Magna Rabbinica, where he states that he saw the first volume, which is where Yagel's entry appears:

Getting back to the Seven Deadly Sins. Lekach Tov is a catechism, in the form of dialog between a rabbi and his pupil. The rabbi asks the questions, and the pupil answers them. The first part concerns the 13 Principles of Faith articulated by Maimonides. More on that later.

Later in the book we find the following:

The rabbi asks, what are the seven to'evot of the soul? The student answers that they are the seven primary sins from which all others stem. They are batalah (sloth), ga'avah (pride), gargranut (gluttony), zimah (lust), ka'as (wrath), kamtzanut (greed) and kin'ah (envy). No doubt some would be surprised that he would adopt such an obviously Christian list, especially since Proverbs 6:16-19 actually lists 7 things which God hates and considers an abomination (actually, 6 + 1), and they are not the Seven Deadly Sins. So you would think these verses in Proverbs is the basis for an official Jewish list of Seven Deadly Sins. However, as you can see in this excerpt, Yagel finds these Seven in the Prophets, and he lists the nasty things they called those sins. Clearly he felt that these have a Jewish scriptural basis.

The book was very popular and was translated into Latin (more than once), German, Yiddish and English. The Yiddish version (Amsterdam 1657) was called תורת לקח טוב. Here, for example, is the Yiddish translation of the passage. The glutton is called "ein grausser fresser."

Why was it translated to other languages? We will look at the English translations. The first one is from 1680, and was actually translated from Latin. See the title page:

Here are the pages on the 7 sins (from the 1721 reprinted version):

In the preface the anonymous translator of The Jews' Catechism writes that he is a friend of the Latin translator. He explains the use for the book:
The book contains an Accurate Description of a great part of a Christians Duty, thought the author of the Original was not a Christian : But certainly He was not such an Enemy to Christianity as All the Socians are :
In other words, it's good mussar. The book also contains Yagel's preface - which is omitted in the 1721 republication of this book (yet another example of why one ideally needs to see all editions of a book). However, the second edition contains its own preface, and reviews why the book is good for Christians:
Let not the Title of this Book deter Christians from looking into it, there being nothing in it repugnant to Christianity, as some ignorant People erroneously imagine, who have conceiv'd false Notions of the Jews Belief, merely impos'd on them by others, as if they had no charitable thoughts of other Religions, by asserting, They do not believe that any Nation of a different Religion can be saved, for which no authority can be quoted
It continues in this vein, proving from the Bible that the Jews believe that salvation is open for non-Jews. One wonders just who is writing these words, especially as it concludes with a translation of The Jews Prayer for King George and the Royal Family. My Jew-O-meter is beeping. This is 1721, after all.

And indeed, after writing the preceding paragraph I saw that the manuscript version of the book existed in 1875, for a reader sent the following to Notes & Queries
An Interesting MS. Book.—I have been shown a curious and interesting little book in manuscript, which has been in the family of the present owner (himself a Jew) for more than a century, and is a translation of a work written in very remote antiquity. The title is as follows :—"The Jews' Catechism, containing the Thirteen Articles of the Jewish Religion, formerly translated out of Hebrew, with a Prefatory Discourse against Atheism. Writ by me, David de Castro, in Dublin this 4th March, 1727."
As for the date, I assume that the writer just misread 1721 for 27. He goes on to ask if anyone knows if the book was ever printed and if anyone can tell more about this Rabby Jagel mentioned in the preface. So, my Jew-O-Meter is definitely working. The book was reprinted by a Jew from Dublin named David de Castro.

Getting back to Yagel, he begins in his preface (called The Proaeme in the 1680 version) explaining that it has long been the practice of the Jews to "Hedge in the Law" (to use the language of the English version; לעשות סייג לתורה) and "to reduce it all to certain Heads." That is, Yagel understood the compiling of Ikarim as falling under the category of hedging in the law.

At the beginning of the dialog, the Master asks the Scholar:
Mast. What are those which they [i.e., the Prophets] have declar'd to be Believ'd by us ?

Schol. Truly they are very many : But there are Thirteen Articles, which 'tis necessary that every Man should Believe, that is joyn'd in Communion with the Israelites. Moreover 'tis necessary that his Belief in these Articles be known and manifest to all Men : And whosoever shall deprave but one of them, he is declar'd to have deserted the Synagogue, and to have renounc'd his Religion, neither shall he be any more called an Israelite.

Mast. Recite these Thirteen Articles, these Foundations of Pure Religion, shew plainly what they are.
And then follows an extensive description taken verbatim from Maimonides.

The English version is great. For example, in the Seventh ikkar, concerning Moses' prophecy, the student distinguished between the other prophets and Moses. ". . . at the Breathing of the Divine Spirit, the strength of the other Prophets fail'd them, and their Senses were benum'd with Horror : But Moses talk'd with God, as one Man is wont to do with another, without any Trembling, or sudden decay of strength."



    would love your thoughts on this letter

  2. It sure is interesting. It seems obvious that this is true, but somehow it takes a R. Chaim Kanievsky to say it. He certainly would know about himself. I wonder where he would draw the line? And will this letter count for anything in the future if people are trying to understand Reb Chaim? I doubt it.

  3. every religion has the things you can do and stuff you should avoid.



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