Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Little Leonard Cohen in Hebrew.

Here's something interesting. Leonard Cohen's grandfather Rabbi Solomon Klonitsky-Kline wrote a book called Otzar Taamei Hazal (New York 1939) which was a compilation of the various interpretations to biblical verses found in Talmudic literature, arranged according to the order of the Torah, with his own notes. The English title page says it "Contains all the interpretations of the Pentateuch as given in the Talmudim, Tosefta, Mechilta, Sifra, Sifre, Pesiktot, Midrash Rabba, Tanhuma and other Midrashim."

Being well aware of many similar compilations, past and present (he mentions in his own time ha-Aggadah by Bialik and Rawnitsky, as well as Torah Temima) he differentiates all these from his own by claiming that his purely concerns biblical interpretation, rather than aggadah and mussar. The intention is to present a clear Torah commentary as seen through the words of Chazal. He writes that he can't understand why no one had done this before. He also has a little side attack on Bible critics who emend the text wildly without even having enough sense to use dictionaries or lexicons which presumably if they used they would realize that they are not as competent Bible scholars as they think. Such scholarship is called madda (i.e., scientific) because people don't know better, and then it gets repeated, canonized and raised to the level of Torah from Sinai. Therefore he feels that in his own time it is a double obligation to make such a compilation, to show the true interpretations of the rabbis.

Interestingly, not only is the book dedicated to Leonard Cohen's father Nathan (and two others, one of whom is the author's son) but at the end of the introduction is a mention of Leonard himself, then just a few weeks shy of 5 years old (as well as his mother Masha, and the other members of the family):

I wonder if Leonard Cohen knows of his grandfather's shout-out to him.

As for who the author was, by the description of his grandson (see here) it sounds like he was one of those maskil torani types that time and some people forget or act like they forget existed (the author refers to his "friend" Prof. Louis Ginzberg in the introduction, which was done in those days). Leonard said that he was a student of R. Yitzchak Elchanan, but of course I have no idea what that means. He also says that he "closed his eyes" when R. Yitzchak Elchanan died. I think the authority for that was Masha Cohen, who also said that people came 100 miles to hear him lecture in Kovno. So I guess the point is that he was a talmid of R. Yitzchak Elchanan. Unfortunately I didn't yet uncover even basic facts like year of his birth or death.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Here's an interesting article from 1903 on a newly arrived immigrant "Jargon poet," Yehoash i.e., Solomon Bloomgarden (1870-1927).

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Montefiore is asked to judge the Old Yishuv, 1875.

Here are a few excerpts from a travel diary of Moses Montefiore from his 7th trip to the Holy Land, in Sept. 1875. He was then 90 years old.

The truth is there are a couple of dozen interesting things worth excerpting, but here are three:

1. Here we see him mentioning his receiving an invitation to attend the corner-stone laying ceremony for Meah Shearim "a new row of houses."

2. Here he mentions receiving a delegation from a yeshiva; the delegation consisted of the yeshiva. The yeshiva, which consisted of Turkish Jews, was called Yeshivat Ekhad, because there were 13 members (13 = the gematria of ekhad, which means "one").

3. Finally, here is an account of a demonstration of how well the little girls were learning in their Beis Yaakov school, meant to counter a report to the contrary, which really merits its own post. But see more below.

The English is from "A narrative of a forty days' sojourn in the Holy Land" (London 1875) and the Hebrew from Sippur Moshe Ve-rushalayim (Warsaw 1876). Here's a facsimile of his Hebrew signature, in the Hebrew version:

Alluding to the bad report concerning the Yishuv (which we now call "the Old Yishuv") one of the points raised was that the level of education was very bad; the Sephardim having a very poor level, but far superior to the Ashkenazim, and in both cases, education for girls and women was utterly lacking, with illiteracy in any language being the rule. One point specifically raised was that the Sephardim at least teach [their boys] Hebrew, Arabic, and 'Leshon Espagnol', while the Ashkenazim only teach Hebrew.

In an open letter to Montefiore Rabbis Mayer Auerbach and Samuel Salant attempted to rebut each point of the critique. In the case of this one about education they reply defending the mode of education which, they claim, is identical among Sefardim and Ashkenazim, is rooted from the days of Sinai, and is meant to deeply root principles of the faith. It follows Hazal's order, 'mikra, mishna, gemara,' and essentially needs no defense. However, once these have been imparted, who is against secular studies or languages? They acknowledge that languages and various sciences like astronomy and math are indeed important even for Torah study. They invite Montefiore to see for themselves if the girls are uneducated, and as we saw above that the girls whom Montefiore saw were not!

Here is an excerpt from their letter. I do not publish the entire excerpt, or more of it here, because I want to save it for a future post.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Why did Seligmann Baer prepare an edition of the Bible with Franz Delitzsch?

Many thanks to my friend Reuven Brauner who enriched my life by sending over these amazing photos.

Seligmann Baer is a name well-known to Jewish liturgy and masorah buffs (and even many of those who do not know him do not know that they know him, since they still know his siddur Seder Avodat Yisrael). Reuven informed me that not only is he well-known and respected in his hometown of Biebrich, and his birth house marked with a plaque, but his portrait is painted on the wall of a local beer-hall. Part of a series of locals who did well, I guess.

Now that we have seen such an oddity (a very cool one at that) I thought it might be interesting to discuss something unusual about Baer. His edition of Tanakh was produced in collaboration with Franz Delitzsch, each volume including an extensive Latin preface by that great scholar. Baer was a pious Orthodox Jew, and Delitzsch was a pious Christian - but one involved in missionary activity. Here is the title page and the first page of the preface of one volume:

Before I get to that, here is something which I've been waiting for years for the right moment to post. In Delitzsch's Commentary to Isaiah he refers, in an appendix, to Shadal, who had sent him a copy of his own perush to a part of Isaiah. Since Shadal had recently died, Delitzsch took the opportunity of recalling the assistance he was given from him as early as 1836. Nearly twenty five years had elapsed between that period and when Delitzsch wrote him again, and when he did Shadal replied and asked him why he hadn't written for so long? He then asked "Is it because we form different opinions of the עלמה and the ילד ילד לנו of Isaiah?" Shadal continues that if he is a sincere Christian than he is 100 times more dear to him than a Jewish Spinozist.

One can find this letter in Epistolario, Shadal's collected letters in European languages, which was published in 1890. We see that Delitzsch really liked those words.

And here is the part from that letter in Epistolario:

This in turn reminded me of another letter from Shadal. This is an excerpt from an 1856 letter to Heinrich Graetz:

Evidently Graetz had suggested to him that it would be a good idea to print his commentary to Isaiah in square Hebrew letters, rather than the Rashi script which he used. He says:
"You mentioned that I ought to print my commentary in square script, for the ease of the non-Jewish scholars. Is it for the non-Jews that I explicate Isaiah? Goodness, no! My intention is not to distance a man from the faith of his fathers. If a Christian believes that "Behold an alma shall be pregnant" was said about Mary, I do not seek to challenge him. And if the Rationalists say, etc., I also do not mean to debate them. I know there is no fix for them. My only intention is to benefit my people, the ketanim if not the gedolim, in order to accustom them to taste of the sweet honey that are the words of the Prophets, and not to resort to false prophets and the commentaries of unbelievers.

Bless you and yours, Padua, 18 Shevat 5516, 1:00 AM.

Your Friend and Servant,
Back to Baer. Why did he collaborate with Delitzsch? To put it another way, today a Jew who is not Messianic would not produce a Bible with a Christian actively engaged in missionary activity.

I have my speculative reasons, but I also found out what Delitzsch's perspective was. I do not think they contradict one another. So first, here is my contextual speculation. My tentative thought is that Jews act differently when in a position of political power than in a position without such power. In the 19th century in Europe there were philosemites, as well as antisemites. But almost to a man the philosemitic gentiles had a missionary motivation. These were men who weren't merely political liberals, but Hebrew scholars, and scholars of rabbinic texts. It was they who argued against the blood libel, who defended the Talmud from calumny (an example of such a man is Hermann Strack). These scholars came in different flavors, of course. Some were men like Alexander McCaul, who on the one hand wrote a scathing critique of rabbinic Judaism ("Nesivot Olam/ The Old Paths") which was circulated among Jews in Hebrew, Yiddish, German and English. But the same man forthrightly and loudly defended the Jews during the period of the Damascus Blood Libel. On the other hand there were men like Strack and, especially, Delitzsch, who did not criticize Judaism as such, even though they were missionaries. They also endowed Jews and Judaism with grandeur and dignity. There is, for example, a book in which Delitzsch write enraptured about the Hebrew attitude toward color, and he writes without irony about - of all things - the descriptive colors of different kinds of female discharges mentioned in rabbinic literature. See this post.

This is an attitude toward rabbinic Judaism that is quite different from the antisemites, and even philosemitic missionaries like McCaul. In addition, Delitzch's aforementioned first book was on Hebrew poetry, including modern (i.e. up to 1836) poetry, where he also wrote with much praise and sentiment about the Jews and their talents, and how they eclipsed the scholarly non-Jews in knowledge of Hebrew and the Bible. He also would regularly and respectfully quote his contemporary Malbim in his own commentaries (obviously from a later period), not only earlier Jewish scholars like Radak and Rashi, who were familiar to Christian Hebraists. Also see this post.

In short, he was a special man. In addition, I will say that as far as I can tell Franz Delitzsch was not a sneaky or a deceptive man, nor did he prey on the ignorant Jew. Perhaps this, or some combination of all this, was key. You also see relations and collaboration with missionaries - of a far less respectful and sincere kind - among the leaders of the Perushim in Jerusalem in the early part of the century (before 1840). I've posted about that several times. I would say also that if Jews have more principled policies toward Christian missionaries now, it is with knowing more in hindsight and also that Jews have more friends who are not trying to convert us. In addition, in a manner of speaking Jews simply are less in need of friends today. A paradox - we have more friends and we also don't need every one as much as we did 150 years ago. I'm sure some will dispute this.

I also have in mind a story about the Netziv. It is related in Mekor Baruch that some Jews wanted to give some kind of honor to Daniel Chwolson. Chwolson was the head librarian in the Judaica section of the St. Petersburg library, and a proven friend of the Jews, defender against slander, blood libel, etc. He also happened to be an apostate. It is claimed that he once was asked if he converted out of conviction, and he responded "Yes, out of the conviction that it's better to be chief librarian in Petersburg than a melamed in Shklov" (or some place like that). Whether he was a sincere convert or not I don't know, but it is not impossible that this story arose to explain how come he was such a "good" apostate.

Be that as it may, unlike many other meshumadim, he really was a friend of the Jews. When people wanted to honor him, the Netziv was asked his opinion and replied with a parable. A girl was ill and the physician said the only remedy is for her to eat pork. The girl was reluctant, to say the least. Finally she agreed on condition that even though it is pig, it should be shechted and salted according to all the dinim of shechita. Since they knew it was the only way for her to eat it, they complied. Lo and behold the shochet, while doing the bedika, noticed a she'ela. He brought it to the rav who looked at it and concluded that the particular issue was fine, however, he said "I can't bring myself to say the word "kasher!"

I think that he point of the story is not only that the Netziv was *against* showing honor to Chwolson. The point is that others thought they should show him honor! I don't know who, but I think we can all agree that today few if any Jews would think of showing honor to a famous meshumad!

Thus far my speculation, although it should be pointed out that Baer was not the only non-Christian Jew to assist missionary scholars with Bible work.

In any case, we have an account by Delitzsch about how he came to know and work with Baer. It was printed in the Zeitschrift für die gesammte lutherische Theologie und Kirche, edited by Delitzsch, in 1863.

What he says is that in 1852 Baer's Hebrew work Torat Emet on the cantillation appeared. It included a learned letter from Shadal and a preface from I.M. Jost, who spoke exceedingly highly of Baer's devotion and expertise, and that this small work was only a sample of his much greater research and capabilities. The letter aroused Delitzsch's curiosity, and he sought out Baer. He found that he was indeed a very meritorious scholar, laboring in obscurity, working as a teacher of children, and without a lot of financial remuneration (which makes sense, since it would also explain Baer's foray in publishing popular history books). For twenty years Baer had been accumulating an important library, which cost him the little money he had., and which bought him nothing in return. Delitzsch also found him to be of good character, working lishma as it were, sacrificing himself for a labor of love, to work on God's Word, the Old Testament. They had many fruitful scholarly discussions, and he discovered that this man, Baer, possessed more knowledge in grammar and masorah than any scholar, Jewish or Christian. Since he liked to promote scholars that's just what he did. A student of Delitszch also added, in a memorial to him after he died, that Delitzsch even secured a doctorate for him. Thus, if he is called Dr. Baer (as he often is) it is because of Delitzsch.

Although I am sure that some would read all this and boil it down to "he did it for money" - and how much money could he have even made? - I think it's not quite as simple as that.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Baba Sali's signature

I came across this interesting item on auction. It a sefer which includes a signature by its apparent owner, the Kabbalist Baba Sali. As you can see, part of his signature is in Latin letters, what looks to me Spanish influenced, although given the geography it is probably French-ish; Ysrail Abiks[help me out here]. It also says "Erfoud, Boudnib" and "Erfoud, Morocco." Interesting.

I rotated the image so you can see, but click to enlarge and see it with the Hebrew part the right way.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Are Yiddishe names Yiddish?

Somehow the subject of Yiddish names came up recently. Although I expect many readers to know all about this, it also seems that many do not realize quite the way they used to be perceived. Today it is not uncommon for a boy to receive a name like Zalman at his bris, but in the past this was almost never what happened. A boy who would be called Zalman, or even Shlomo Zalman, was invariably given the name Shlomo. This became known as his shem kodesh the holy - Hebrew - name, and when he grew up it was the name he'd be called to the Torah with. Some time after the bris there might be a small ceremony where he'd be given the name Zalman, which is what he would actually be called. This name was the shem chol, the secular or pehraps better, daily - name.

This was an old Ashkenazic custom going back to early medieval times; certainly in some places there may not have been a ceremony, but they just started calling the baby by the Yiddish, or German, or Judeo-German equivalent of the Hebrew name. It was known as "chol kreisch," which I guess means something like "calling of the secular [name]," although it must be pointed out that it is spelled "Hollekreisch" in Latin letters, and some pesky scholars conjecture that it refers to a female demon called Holle or Hulda who was active in bothering babies in German speaking lands many centuries ago. See M. Guedemann ספר התורה והחיים בארצות המערב בימי הבינים vol. II (Warsaw 1898) p.85 (link). It must be noted though that as early as the 15th century the term was explained by a rabbi as referring to chol in the sense of secular - see Maharam Minz (#19). While this cannot fully refute the previously mentioned conjecture, surely it is notable that this was asserted in the still demon-haunted middle ages. Besides, the Jews had their own baby demon, Lilith. Actually I think that fact can be used to support either conjecture.

The ceremony continued into recent times, and perhaps still continues (as opposed to being resurrected by Neo-Ashkenazim, as undoubtedly it also has). Here for example is the "liturgy" to be recited at such a ceremony as printed in Seligmann Baer's Seder Avodat Yisrael (Roedelheim 1868):

As an example of the two-name phenomenon, although I do not claim that these represents cases of a ceremony, many medieval Asheknazic rabbis were called Leon, and are referred to as "Rabbi Leon" in the literature. Some are sometimes called Rabbi Yehuda or Aryeh and the like, so we plainly see that at least some of them had both names. In all likelihood the Hebrew name was what they were named at the circumcision, while Leon was what they were called on a daily basis, no different from the "Leib" of later time. For example, the rebbe of Rabbenu Gershom was named Rabbi Leon (sometimes Leontin). See Maharam Rothenburg (#264): "ר' ליאון רבי שלמדני רוב תלמודי זצ"ל חכם מופלא."

No one really thought of these names as anything more than nicknames. They were not holy Jewish names. Naturally, however, an entire literature developed around the proper spelling - and origin - of these names, since when writing gittin - divorce documents - halacha requires precision even in spelling. See for starters Beit Yosef Even Haezer 129, where the spelling of names, including Leon, is discussed (this is only the tip of the iceberg for this literature).

As an illustration of this, here is the title page of a book from 1789:

This collection of R. Mordechai Halberstadt's responsa was published posthumously by his grandson, who included some of his father's own original Torah insights as well, under the title Lechem Eden. The title page informs us that the name of these are derived from a word play on his father's name: "ששמו הקודש מנחם ושמו החול מענדל מכוונים בתיבות הללו," "For his holy name, Menachem, and his secular name, Mendel, are intended by these words."

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

David Levi's tiny alphabetical Hebrew poems

Without a doubt one of my favorite books is a three-volume work called Lingua Sacra written by David Levi (1742-1801) and published beginning in 1785. It is part Hebrew grammar, part dictionary, and part Encylopedia. Levi possessed great learning, and Lingua Sacra is unusual, but highly pleasing mixture of traditional Jewish learning and modern European scholarship (modern=18th century). For example, it includes copious quotations from works like the Aruch and Sefer Yuchasin, as well as the Shulchan Aruch and Talmud. In the latter case, many of these quotations are quite possibly provided for the very first time in English translation. He also included transliterations in English of these passages - he calls them from the Gemara, not Talmud - which give an interesting guide to his pronunciation. It also includes a very handy 85-page English-Hebrew dictionary - as opposed to the lexicon proper, which is exhaustive of entries on the gamut of Biblical Hebrew, Aramaic as well as Rabbinic Hebrew, and ordered by Hebrew. What is special about this dictionary is that it is 18th century English. Thus, "צבי" does not appear under "Deer" but under "Roe, Roebuck"; "אף" is not "even" but "Yea, adv."

Levi himself was a one-man whirlwind of literary activity - a lonely Jewish one in late 18th century England. He translated the Chumash, multivolume sets of machzorim in the Sefardic and Ashkenazic rites. He also translated the siddur, wrote Lingua Sacra and a whole host of polemical pamphlets against Deism. He did this on the sidelines, as he was a hatmaker by trade.

I noticed that at the end of every letter in the lexicon part of Lingua Sacra (which is most of it) there are little Hebrew couplets for each one. Since I am pretty sure no one has ever called attention to them, I conveniently collected them, and here they are:

Monday, February 13, 2012

How a ban over Graetz's history book led to detention in jail in 1876.

In October -November 1876 the following little notices appeared in successive issues of Der Israelit, Frankfurt's Orthodox newspaper edited by Rabbi Marcus Lehmman:

It seems that in Lancut in Galicia a Mr. I. Weissmann bought his copy of the 9th volume of Graetz's History of the Jews to a bookbinder. It was seen, denounced, and he was placed in cherem by the local rabbi (who may or may not have been R. Menachem Pinchas Spira, a son of the Bnai Yissaschar).

Trouble is, the cherem was against the law. Seven people were convicted; three received four weeks detention, three received three weeks, and the book-binder received two weeks. They appealed the conviction.

If we are talking about the same Weissmann, then we can identify this man as the "Weissmann Isak (aus Lancut)" described as בקי בחדרי תורה ובמשכלות ידיו רב לו in Lippe's Bibliographisches Lexicon (Vienna 1881) p. 528.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

On Nahum ish Gam Zu's name

Evry child knows the Gemara Ta'anit 21a, "ואמאי קרו ליה נחום איש גם זו דכל מילתא דהוה סלקא ליה אמר גם זו לטובה," "Because whenever something untoward happened to him he would say: "This, too, is for a good purpose."

Normally the construction "ish such-and-such" indicates place of residence, and the Aruch pointed out that גִּמְזוֹ, Gimzo, is a place listed in ii Chron. 28.12: "גמזו. בתענית בפרק סדר תעניות בגמרא נחום איש גם זו י"מ שם מקום ואמר בדברי הימים יששם אחת מן העיירי' גמזו שמה."

Some have suggested that the Gemara's explanation must have been absent from the Talmud used by R. Nathan, author of the Aruch, because it explains the name based on his trait of saying "gam zo le-tovah" and he doesn't even mention it. Furthermore, Sefer Yuhasin quotes the Aruch followed by R. Nissim Gaon, and he simply gives the Gemara's explanation. Therefore it has been suggested that R. Nissim's explanation later became incorporated into the text of the Gemara from marginal notes (likely he had some source or tradition, or perhaps he just based it on the story, which quotes him as always saying gam zo le-tovah. One might even say that the story is clearly alluding to his name, even if the Gemara didn't spell it out.).

Whatever the case, it occurred to me that maybe he really was called "Gam zo," (or "Gamzo") rather than "Gimzo," and perhaps the Gemara (so to speak) or R. Nissim, being well aware of ii Chron. 28:12 was really asking how come his name is pronounced gam rather than gim. Not "why is this his name?" but "Why is his name pronounced this way?"

(I started writing this post last night, but then I looked in the edition of the Tishbi with the commentary Raglei Mevaser printed in 1910 and I saw the author, R. Eliezer Herstick (sp?) literally says exactly what I was thinking, although he takes it as an authentic original part of the Gemara.)

But I further wonder if this isn't a phenomenon of vowel shifting between /a/ and /i/, c.f., aben versus ibn (see my post) or names like miriam and mariam (Μαριαμ, in the Septuagint). There are many more examples.

Graetz made a very interesting and possibly compelling suggestion that Nahum ish Gimzo is identical with נחמיה העמסוני, mentioned in Pesachim 22b and Kiddushin 57a. In both places the Gemara first calls him Shimon, and then Nehemia. In other words, it is uncertain even of his name. Graetz points out that we know nothing of this person, but his teaching method is similar to that adopted by Rabbi Akiva, otherwise known as Nahum's student (or in one version, the teacher-student relationship was reversed). Furthermore, Hagigah 12a attributes the same exegetical method (explaining each particle et) to Nahum. Also a very guttural ayin is similar to gimmel, close to or identical with the letter ghayn in Arabic, and there are several examples in the Septuagint of words spelled in Hebrew with an ayin being transcribed by a gamma. The upshot is that עמסוני may be identical with גמזו (or, if you like, גמזוני). Graetz further explains both as the same as the place known by the Greek name Emmaus. See the Monatsschrift für Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judentums, Volume 19 pg. 527, and others accept this identification as well.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

The Karaite ikkarim, or principles of the faith.

This is the list of 10 principles of faith for Karaites printed in the book Petah Tikva (Constantinople 1831), which you can read or download at hebrewbooks.org here. (I know!) The book was intended for children.

The seventh is particularly interesting: "ובלשון העברי נתנה תורת האלהים ולכן חוב ללמוד ולהגות לשון התורה ובאורה," "In the Hebrew language was God's Torah given; therefore it is an obligation to learn and contemplate the language of the Torah and its explanations."

These come abstracted from Elijah Bashyazi's אדרת אליהו, in the section called עשרה עקרים. In the edition which I linked it is on page מח., although it is number 6, not 7, as in this list. I didn't look them over to compare them, although I'll do that later. Or eventually.



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