Monday, October 24, 2011

Miscellanous notes on the author of Dikduke Soferim, the Munich Talmud manuscript, Israel Zangwill and more.

This is the death notice in the Jewish Standard (December 7, 1888), informing of the passing of R. Rafael Nata Rabbinowicz, the great scholar who compiled the Dikduke Soferim, which recorded the variant readings in the Talmud using the famed Munich Manuscript 95:

Subsequently to the first notice, the Jewish Standard added a few more sentences in the December 14, 1888 issue:

On Rabbinowicz, see Yeshurun 23 (link) which has nearly 200 pages on him, unpublished writings, newly reprinted letters, etc.

Here is his picture:

Since we are speaking of the Jewish Standard - a London newspaper which also carried the Hebrew title "דגל ישורון" - it would not at all be inappropriate to quote Israel Zangwill, writing under his pen name "Marshallik" in his Marour and Charouseth column (November 11, 1889), after noting that some newspapers crib information from them, and fail to cite the source. However,
"Some of our American contemporaries who do acknowledge their frequent indebtedness to out columns, have a habit of half veiling their obligation by quoting from the Degel Jeshurun. Of course that is our secondary Hebrew name ; but then we are not generally spoken of or recognized by it, and as side by side with an article from the Degel Jeshurun will appear one from the Jewish Standard it creates the idea that the two journals are distinct. American editors, please note."
Also speaking of the Jewish Standard - Degel Yeshurun - there is a hilarious exchange of letters in one of the issues which revolves around the proper spelling of "yeshurun," since the newspaper spelled it "ישורון," while in the Torah it is spelled "ישרון." I shall post it sometime.

I will return to the Dikuke Soferim momentarily, but first here is a witty poem called "The Shool of the Future," by Israel Zangwill (May 25, 1888):

Could this be the first time anyone rhymed "drasha" and "kosher"? Probably.

The article on Rabbinowicz mentions that his great work is based on the Talmud manuscript in Munich," the so-called ש"ס of Pfersa." This entire Talmud manuscript is online (link) on the Bavarian State Library's digital web site. But what is the reference to "Pfersa"?

Pfersee is the place where the Talmud was to be found in the middle of the 18th century, when we have two or three references to this great manuscript. Until well into the 19th century the manuscript was more associated with Pfersee than with Munich.

The first reference to appear in print is on the very last page of the Korban Netanel (Karlsruhe 1755) by Rabi Nesanel Weil, where we see the following:

He says "וראיתי בש"ס על הקלף בפערשי," "In Pfersee I saw a Talmud written on parchment . . . " and he proceeds to cite an alternate reading of a word which could be emended into two words and thus solves a difficulty. The reference is to this Talmud manuscript, of which we will see more below.

But first, it would interesting to bring what Rabbenu Yonah has to say about emending Talmudic texts, in his commentary to Pirke Avos:

"Masoret" refers to the plene and defective spellings and the cantillation-punctuation which the Sages transmitted to their students. They are a fence for the written Torah, so that there should not be editions which disagree more than slightly. By contrast, the books of the Talmud contain numerous textual discrepancies. Every day people come up with new theories, and to support it they write the text according to their understanding. Permission is granted for such textual injury, for in any case there is no completely correct text in any land. Thus they can support their errors from a book's errors, rather than their own mind.
Here is a contemporary portrait of the Korban Nesanel (1687 - 1769), looking very - Napoleonic, if you think about it:

In any case, the next textual witness is the Chida, R. Chaim Yoseph David Azulai, who refers to this manuscript several times, most well known in Shem Hagedolim, section "Sefarim," entry "Gemara." However, this is not his only reference to it. Before I give his earliest references, here is an interesting one from 1774. This is from Chida's publication of Massechet Gerim - for the very first time - at the end of Simchas Haregel V. II (Livorno 1782). The text he used is what we now call the Munich Talmud manuscript, but which was then in Pfersee.

Here Chida writes in a similar language to that which he used in Shem Hagedolim, that
"This massekhta is one of the Minor Tractates, as is known, and it was never before printed. It was copied from the Talmud manuscript which is found in Persee, which is situated at the beginning of Germany. Written on vellum in Paris in the year 5103. by one of the relatives of Rabbi Samson of Sens. I mentioned this Talmud in my small book Sha'ar Yoseph page 5b [sic!]. It is also cited in the Korban Netanel, on the last page."
As his Sha'ar Yoseph on Masseches Horiyos was printed in 1756, the Korban Nesanel is the first to mention it in print, as far as we know. However, the Chida wrote a travel diary, which was only printed in part at the end of the 19th century (link), and in full in 1924 (link; another part was also published in 1910 [link]. In addition, some parts were published in journals, including a partial French translation). His travels in Europe and elsewhere were to raise money for the Jews of Hebron. (Yes, there were Jews in Hebron in the 18th century.)

Chida's entry for 23 Sivan 5514 (June 13, 1754) is lengthy, and incredibly interesting, and earlier than the Korban Netanel. He writes that he arrived in Pfersee, which is a small town with only a few Jews. A wealthy man named R. Leib lives there, and he really hassled the Chida, accusing him of forging the letters of introduction he possessed. Fortunately Chida was able to show him a signature in one of the letters of a rabbi who R. Leib knew, who lived in a nearby congregation - and he couldn't deny that it was authentic. R. Leib continued to hassle with him, and Chida was able to again establish his authenticity. However, R. Leib made up another story: the neighboring town had an agreement with them in Pfersee, and he should first go there. Whatever money they gave him in that town, they would give in Pfersee. However, R. Leib's counterpart in the other town refused to give anything, and he laughed at him. Chida realized that R. Leib must have sent him a letter as well, telling him to refuse him. He tried to work out an arrangement, with no luck. He says that this is basically the reception he received in all the German towns, until he arrived in Frankfurt, with the exception of two out of a hundred such towns!


Here he mentions that he was able to see this Talmud manuscript in R. Leib's home in Pfersee. His description is very similar to the one in Shem Hagedolim; written on vellum in Paris in 1343 by a relative of Rabbi Samson of Sens. He mentions that he was able to read four or five pages in Horiyos, and found many variations. These are what he mentions in Sha'ar Yoseph. He also mentions the Massekhes Gerim, which he later published. He then says that he wanted to spend a lot of time with it, but R. Leib ordered his servant to usher him out quickly! "Gam zu le-tov!"

Frankly there must be more to the story, because I cannot understand otherwise how he was able to publish a text of Masseches Gerim from this manuscript! Maybe he visited at a later date? I don't know.

The nitty-gritty work showing that this is indeed the same manuscript as found in the Munich library can be found in the introduction to the first volume of Dikduke Soferim (after the Ma'amar al ha-defasas ha-Talmud, the Essay on the Printed Editions of the Talmud).

As far as I can tell, this R. Leib is none other than the R. Leib Pfersee who wrote several learned works, including Leshem Zevach (Altona 1768) on six Talmudic tractates. He was a scion of a prominent German rabbinic family. He rates a page and a half in Duckesz's Chachmei Ahu (Hamburg 1908). Duckesz has nothing but nice things to say about him. He says he spoke with R. Leib's grandson, who told him that R. Jonathan Eybeschutz told his father (i.e., R. Leib's son) that he was sufficiently learned to be the rabbi of a major city. He is also mentioned positively in R. Emden's Megillas Sefer. No mean feat, to have met the approval of Eybeschutz and Emden! It should be borne in mind that in those times there were apparently many charlatans running around posing as authorized collectors for Eretz Yisrael.

Once we are on the topic, here's something interesting. This is from the entry for Chinuch Beis Yehuda (Frankfurt 1708), the responsa of another Rabbi Leib of Pfersee - the grandfather (or great-grandfather) of the one we are discussing. As you can see, the bibliographical data says "Yehuda Leib ben Chanoch miPaparasha."

Obviously Paparasha never existed. It's not really a big deal, but it is completely unhelpful as bibliographical data, and - I say this gently - it makes a work look less learned. You see this all the time in English books which try to transliterate place names and personal names from Hebrew or Yiddish sources. Better stick to the original spelling, I say, and you can't go wrong. "ווילנא" is "ווילנא" is "ווילנא," but "ווילנא" never was and never will be "Weilnau."

Regarding the question of how long was this manuscript in Pfersee, and in the possession of this family, there is an indication I found that it was already there in 1610. In Maggid-Steinschneider's Toldos Mishpachas Ginzburg (St. Petersburg 1899), pg. 11, we read about members of the family surnamed Ulma, who lived in Pfersee in 1610, and were its rabbis. On the last pages of the Talmud manuscript there are some signatures, one of which is Shimon ben Shlomo Shalit Ulma:

The exact details are unclear to me, but at some point in the late 18th century a monastery bought the manuscript, and from there it ended up in the royal library, possibly because it was stolen nationalized. Although R. Rabbinowicz made the most significant contribution to the study of this manuscript, it was already known to scholars, described and used by them. For example, in 1862 a talmid of the Chasam Sopher named Fürchtegott Lebrecht published Handschriften und erste Ausgaben des Babylonischen Talmud which describes this manuscript (then in Munich) and elaborately discusses how to prove that it was the same one the Chida saw, on pages 57 -59 and 98 -107, and did the Chida mean "Brescia" rather than Pfersee?

Here is one of the references to the manuscript in Sha'ar Yoseph, which being printed in 1756, is therefore the second printed reference:

It's also nice to see the dedication page

As you can see, Chida dedicates it in nice Spanish to his patron, the Masquil Mical Pereyra de Leon. "Masquil," or "Maskil משכיל" was - and is - an Italian Jewish title awarded to learned individuals, roughly equivalent to "חבר," which was used elsewhere in Europe, and I guess like "רב ומנהיג" used today. In Ma'agal Tov the Chida writes about the kindnesses of Michael Pereyra de Leon. For example, when he arrived in Livorno in 1753, it turned out that some nasty letters about his predecessor, an earlier collector, were to be found in that city. So Pereyra de Leon suppressed them and they did not sully Chida's reputation. In 1755-6 he spent 15 months in Livorno, and he writes that Pereyra de Leon hosted him for all of his meals!

Getting back to the Pfersee manuscript, we can see the title page of S. Taussig's Meleches Schlome (Munich 1876), which is the printed edition of the Mafteach Ha-Talmud found in the Munich manuscript, that the ms was still known as the Pfersee manuscript - "העתקות מכתב יד הביבליאטעק מינכען ובפרט מכ"י ש"ס קלף פה הנקרא שס פפערשע המפורסם בעולם." So worthwhile are the early pages in Taussig's book, that they are actually bound together with the manuscript today. Go to to the digital site and look! Tassuig also published the version of Avoth de Rabbi Nathan from the manuscript (link).

As late as 1908, when a facsimile of a part of this manuscript was published, it was called the Pfersee manuscript in the title, Die Pfersee-Handschrift: Cod. Hebr. Monac. 95 (Leipzig and Vienna 1908).

Here is one page:

I had much more to say about the manuscript in the light of Talmud censorship, but that should be in a second post. So I close with a link to an interesting blog post (link) which tries to determine how it is that a precious, unique Talmud manuscript in wealthy Jewish hands in the 1750s, should wind up in a monastery. The erudite blogger concludes that we don't really know, but there is a gap of about 120 years before recognition and study of the manuscript begun. I would point out that that this is only true if we consider Rabbinowicz to be the first to notice the manuscript, which is a stretch (as the blogger recognizes as well). Lebrecht already wrote of it in 1862, and Steinschneider knew of it, and it is mentioned in the Orient in 1851. Nevertheless it is true that there are great gaps which need filling, unless of course they have already been filled and I am just the last to know.


  1. Fotheringay-Phipps12:46 PM, October 24, 2011

    It would appear that you've interpreted R' yonah as approving of changing the Talmudic texts. My reading is that he was criticizing it.

    [I've not read this entire post, but the RY part seemed self-contained.]

  2. I did not interpret him whatsoever - and that is because I can see it both ways. Really, one and a half ways. I'm pretty sure he's not approving of it, but he's describing a fact of life. And thus we see what Talmud study, and the Talmud text, was like in his time and place.

  3. "Frankly there must be more to the story, because I cannot understand otherwise how he was able to publish a text of Masseches Gerim from this manuscript! Maybe he visited at a later date? I don't know."

    I'm sure you have heard in yeshiva the story that is told about the Chida filling in the missing page from memory to a sefer his host had brought him to use. I don't know what the source is but I am sure you can dig it up.
    I somewhat doubt that it is true. That is not to say that the Chida didn't have a phenomenal memory. The latest sefer that they printed of his attests to this. In it he quotes chiddushei torah he heard when he was 5 years old, and the sefer was written when he was much older. But with the enormous corpus of his writings that we have we can discern many forgotten things between one sefer and the next. Especially revealing are his encyclopedic works which make this very easy. R' Shmuel Ashknazi has written a Ha'alem Davar to the Chida! I find particularly annoying his contortions of names of cities and foreign words (that is even after reckoning his different pronunciation). Even so I believe that the cognitive process for different materials can have such results where one can remember pages word for word and forget other details.

    For the skeptics out there I want to say that such ability has been documented in scientific study; in one case a man was even able to repeat long speeches word for word. A similar story to that of the Chida is related in the book Melech Byafyo about R' Ovadya Yosef. He had given his manuscript for print, but the printer lost one page. He told R' Ovadya, who promptly rewrote the page. Later the printer found the lost page and lo and behold it was word for word what R' Ovadya had rewritten for him. In a recent show about his life on reshet eser (available on youtube), there is one politician that claims that R' Ovadya challenged him to take any sefer that he had off the shelf (he has many, 30,000 of them) and read him the page number. He did, and then R' Ovadya continued to recite the whole page by heart. But I seriously doubt the veracity of that story, based on my proficiency in his works.

  4. Anon, the memory part I understood. (Although I think that particular story is actually about Rabbi Akiva Eger; but as we know, many stories are told about many different people.) It's just that you can't publish a minor tractate for the first time from manuscript because you've got a scary memory, which of course he did. At least I think so. On the other hand, maybe I'm wrong and you have the correct explanation. In the introduction to Dikduke Soferim he says that there are some differences between the Gerim published by Chida and that in the manuscript, but he says they are minor and accepts that it really is from the manuscript. Perhaps this even supports the thought that he memorized it, although I think that copying is also susceptible to errors anyway. I guess he would have had time to read it, but probably not to copy it.

  5. I had a feeling someone would beat me to commenting on what you said about how the Chida was able to publish what he saw in the manuscript if seemingly according to the story he only saw it for a short amount of time. Everything was already said... :). I'll go with the version that he memorized it.

    The story about R' Ovadia Yosef if true is of course unbelievable. There is truly no one in this generation like him, no? You can find people that know a lot about seforim, however to find those that not only know the seforim but what it says *inside* of them is more rare. He should have many more long and healthy years!!

  6. "In the introduction to Dikduke Soferim he says that there are some differences between the Gerim published by Chida and that in the manuscript, but he says they are minor and accepts that it really is from the manuscript. Perhaps this even supports the thought that he memorized it, although I think that copying is also susceptible to errors anyway."

    Funny to mention copying errors in connection with the the Dikdukei Soferim. Kasher caught him on more then 25 on the first amud in Brachos. And in regards to publishing from memory, R' Rabinovitch also relied heavily on his memory, see the description of him during his compilation of his work in the volume of Yeshurun that you referenced.

    "you can't publish a minor tractate for the first time from manuscript because you've got a scary memory"
    I don't think that he only used what he memorized. He says that he is printing maseches Geirim "that is known from the small tractates" . He probably memorized what he saw in the Munich and soon after committed it to writing. Later he published it and but probably compared in to other copies for reference. I once checked the Manuscript library for masches Tzitzis and there were like 12 copies together with the other small tractates.

  7. Fotheringay-Phipps5:59 PM, October 24, 2011

    S.: "I did not interpret him whatsoever"

    I considered as interpreation your translation as "they can support their errors", instead of the correct "they ascribe the errors". You changed a statement of fact to a statement about what can be done.

  8. That was just a faulty translation on my part.

  9. "It's just that you can't publish a minor tractate for the first time from manuscript because you've got a scary memory"

    I was not suggesting that he published it entirely from memory. What I think is probable that happened is that he memorized when he saw it and soon after committed it to writing. Later when he published it he used other available manuscripts. He does say that "it is from known small tractates" suggesting that copies were readily available. Last time I checked the manuscript library there were 8 of them.

    That you juxtapose the Dikdukei Sofrim with publish to memory is amusing. See the description of him at work in the volume of Yeshurun you referenced. He relied on it heavily when he wrote his work. Also the reference to copy mistakes is interesting when you try to contrast it to the Chida's inferior work based on memory. In the Dikudkei Sofirim itself there are many copy mistakes. R' Mendel Kasher found 23 on the first amud of Brachos. These weren't really mistakes but textual variations that showed have been included in his work.

  10. I was thinking about it more, and I guess I didn't consider that he had another manuscript, or access to one. It's also only about 1500 words, so it doesn't seem the mental feat I originally thought it was.

  11. >>"with the exception of two out of a hundred such towns"

    this seems to be your translation of כאשר יבא לפנינו תרי ממאה, but I think the correct translation of the Chida's מליצה is "as will be described below even if only a small percentage of it"



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