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.


  1. Very neat. My father is a contemporary of Leonard Cohen, and they shared a tent as counsellors at the B'nai Brith summer camp on Lac la Peche in the Gatineau area (north of Ottawa, Canada), in the late 1940s. Apparently he was poetic and "moody" even as a teenager.

  2. I've found many nice things in this Sefer. He made a good work. As well I appreciate the fact that he left out the aggadah and mussar. Sometimes someone wants nice things from Chazal on the pasukim without all the of 'additions'.

  3. While I don't know if Leonard Cohen is specifically aware of the dedication to him, he has often referred to his grandfather's influence on his life and art. An Oct 6, 2004 article By Michael Regenstreif in the Canadian Jewish News notes "Growing up, Cohen studied extensively with his grandfather, Rabbi Klintsky-Klein, and was profoundly influenced by him on several levels. He and the rabbi would spend many hours discussing the meaning of a single sentence. Cohen has said he often devotes similar amounts of time, sometimes more, to a turn of phrase in a poem or song." One of Leonard Cohen's many nicknames, in fact, is "Grandson Of The Prince Of Grammarians."

  4. in 1941 he printed a Lexicon of Hebrew homonyms, with interpretations of meaning, grammatical analysis and adequate references.
    and צבי הר זהב - גולדברג helped him, see: אנציקלופדיה לחלוצי הישוב ובוניו, חלק ג, עמוד 1346.

  5. Leonard says that his grandfather Lyon was a founder of the Shaar Shomayim. Shaar Shomayim as the footnote says it was founded in 1846. Can't be by his grandfather. It was for the establishment and his great-uncle Hirsch Cohen was the chief rabbi of the East European Jews


    Hirsch Cohen was Volozhiner talmid with smicha from the Ridbaz



    נולד בשנת תרכ”ה בעיירה קטנה בליטא לאביו ר’ חיים, למד בוואלוזשין ובווילנא ונסמך להוראה ע”י הרידב”ז בסלוצק.

    בשנת תר”ן היגר לקנדה ונתקבל כרב בעיר מונטריאל בה כיהן לששים שנה עד קרוב לפטירתו בשנת תש”י, הוא היה מהרבנים הכי פעילים בקנדה וייסד הרבה מפעלים לכשרות וליהדות, יהא זכרו ברוך.
    [י.ד. מיללער]


    Above link has a picture of Lyon Cohen , Yossele Rosenblatt & Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Cohen

    This was a venture where they started a magazine Yiddishe Licht to strengthen yiddishkeit and Rosenblatt was swindled out of his money.


  6. How on earth did you find this?

  7. I read the wiki thing on Leanord Cohen. Other than Hallelujah, did he write anything particuarly noteworthy? I cant figure out why he's in the Rock Hall.

    On the sefer itself, Fred, can you explain how Cohen and others, most notably the Torah Temimmah, dealt with the hundreds or thousands of Talmudic passages cited by Rashi in his commentary? Rashi is considered so basic, it would be redundant to cite something he already quoates. I think the TT has a note about methodology in the beginning somewhere, but dont recall seeing this addressed.

  8. http://forward.com/culture/books/307727/the-sephardic-bibliophile-of-brooklyn/

    If you come on a good day, you might get Mizrahi to tell you some of his more fascinating finds, like the time he discovered Leonard Cohen’s name written by Cohen’s grandfather in a book

  9. It was a mix-up. My friend Israel Mizrahi referred to this in one of his posts, and Batya read that post. Totally innocent.



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