Wednesday, March 28, 2012

What Passover sounded like 370 years ago - sung today.

Here's something very cool. In January I posted a Pesach post, featuring a 17th century Latin Haggadah (link). The translator, Johannes Rittangel, happened to have included the musical notation for two Passover night hymns according to the tune which they were sung among Western European Jews in his time. I jokingly, but hopefully, asked talented readers if they would care to play those tunes on a harpsichord and upload it so we could hear it. One polymathic reader did just that (link; although I suspect that we ought to call that "harpsichord" style).

Paul Shaviv, principal of TanenbaumCHAT in Toronto was so intrigued by those tunes that he asked the school's music directors if they could transcribe the music in modern notation and arrange it for the school's choir to perform, and they did. Here it is!

As was already noted in the comments, Adir Hu in particular, while certainly sounding antique, is recognizable as the common tune still sung by Ashkenazim. The other one, Ki Lo Na'eh, sounds very medieval and both of them sound great. One teacher at the school said "It is not exactly what I would describe as jaunty . . . it is more of a dirge than a toe-tapper" which I cannot disagree with - as quoted in the National Post, which did a nice story about it here.

I should repost the music as it appeared in Rittangel's Haggadah, so here it is:

I should also mention that I asked Paul if he could get his choir to give life to Christian Gerson's notation for Talmudic chant circa 1600 [1]:

Gerson, a convert, printed this sample. Note that it is set to be to a tune which rhymes "herring" and "pfenning." I'm not sure if Gerson's point was that this traditional chant for reading the Talmud was to this folk tune, or if he was mocking the Talmud and setting it to trivial words. Alternatively, they may actually be a translation of a few lines in the Talmud - of course trivial seeming ones - but I'm not sure.

In any case, whether or not I ever got to hear a good version of Christian Gerson's rendition of The Lady Gets a Herring for Three Pfennings to a tune probably used by the">Maharsha, I couldn't be happier than with what Paul did with the Pesach songs. Many thanks to him for thinking of it, and for his talented students and teachers for making it happen.

[1] I'm not sure if it's a good idea to give a hat tip to the individual who supplied me with this image, so let me just say thank you.

To wear a "yarmulke" when giving a Hebrew lecture on a Jewish subject in a Jewish institution or not? A controversy of 1919.

In 1919 the scholar A.S. Yahuda (Abraham Shalom Yahuda, 1877-1951, best known, I think, for his work on the relationship of the ancient Egyptian language and the Torah) lectured in Hebrew at Jews' College in London. Here is Yahuda:

Dayan Harris M. Lazarus (1878-1962) of the London Beth Din attended the lecture and while he had words of praise for the lecture generally, he felt that Yahuda had committed an affront to Jewish sensibility by giving this lecture with a bare head. So he fired off this letter to the Jewish Chronicle (July 25, 1919):

Lazarus says that he assumes that Yahuda has covered his head when visiting mosques and speaking to Arabs about their sacred literature. Should not respect be heeded to Jewish modes of propriety? He particularly found the fact that he was quoting biblical verses bareheaded to be objectionable. He thinks there were no gentiles present, and even if there were, well, there presence was mooted by the larger number of Jews, and therefore it is Jewish custom that ought to have been respected. Furthermore, felt Harris, Yahuda's display plainly contradicted that of another speaker, who explained that no one should think that Palestine reborn will become Westernized. It ends with a complaint about Zionists (Nationalists) flouting ancient Jewish customs.

Not surprisingly Yahuda did not agree that he did anything wrong. He wrote back (Aug. 8, 1919):

Yahuda responds to the charge that he showed "little deference for Jewish custom" as follows.

It happens that he personally has no preference for Jewish or Western customs, but always wishes to be considerate. Also, it was neither a religious service, nor a sermon, or even a religious lecture. It was "a simple lecture on a literary matter from a purely scientific point of view" that happened to be delivered in Hebrew.

He goes on to say that he hardly needs to quote halachic opinions about head covering, which state that head covering is permitted outside of "religious exercises." (He probably has in mind sources like the Maharshal.) Since the Dayan seems to be particularly perturbed that it was a Hebrew lecture, he is making the same mistake as as many others (i.e., the Ultra-Orthodox in Palestine) who consider speaking Hebrew to be a religious act. Hebrew is being reborn at the moment, and is not only restricted to prayer and learning, etc. So Lazarus either must side with the extremists or acknowledge that he is correct.

He then cites an unnamed "very pious and learned Rabbi in Jerusalem" (Rav Kook?) who was asked how it was possible to tolerate Hebrew-speaking by bareheaded people, and replied that if speaking Hebrew was a religious ceremony then simply speaking secular matters in it would be forbidden (i.e., and that plainly isn't true, ergo headcovering is not required when speaking Hebrew either).

He then says that he objects to Lazarus' characterization of him as "a man who does not mind hurting Jewish feelings, but who, when having intercourse with them, would make every effort to avoid hurting the feelings of non-Jews. Really," he says, "I always endeavour to behave with due courtesy to everyone."

And he continues: Besides, what is Lazarus talking about? Aside from the women [who were wearing hats, fashionable ones pinned to their hair, presumably] there were probably not even a minyan of men sitting in the audience with a covered head. So all the talk about sensibility, whose sensibility was wounded? A bareheaded Jew was talking to an audience of bareheaded Jews. Actually, he suggests that many of the audience would have considered covering the head on such an occasion hypocrisy rather than proper deference ot Jewish custom.

After dismissing the presumption that he must have adhered to Arab customs and paying them respect when discussing their sacred literature with them, he addresses what he realizes was the Dayan's major objection: quoting pesukim, biblical verses. Lazarus wrote "passages from the Bible verbatim." Yahuda says that his quotations were not, in fact, verbatim, but he "adopted some alterations of the traditional text." This is most interesting, and I wish he had explained. It sounds like he was either following halacha in not quoting scriptural verses by heart, or perhaps even not being willing to recite them bareheaded. Alas, he does not explain. But since he is annoyed with the letter, he gets in a little dig about how Lazarus seemed not to notice such alterations in the text despite his weekly reading shenayim mikra ve-echad targum. On the other hand, from reading on it seems that Yahuda meant that his quotations were of emended verses. If that's the case, he's ridiculing Lazarus' seeming insistence that he cover his head to read emended pesukim which "from an orthodox point of view, gives better ground for challenge."

Finally, he is sorry that the only takeaway Lazarus got was that his head was uncovered. He agrees that the New Palestine should not be frivolously Westernized, and that's why he thinks that Orthodox customs imported from European Christianity, such as the insistence of covered head like among Catholic priests, also have no place there. (Yahuda was Jerusalem-born, but descended from an Iraqi and, I think, Indian Jewish family.)

In the same issue someone called E. Carmel wrote as follows:

Monday, March 26, 2012

On the New York cheders of 1906

During the heyday - or was it the waning days? - of the cheder as an institution, it faced a lot of criticisms for being pretty much everything terrible; educationally unsound, stifling and unsanitary. Here is a long article which appeared in the New York Daily-Tribune April 1, 1906. about the "Jewish Boys Who Risk Health By Long Study in Foul Rooms." They "Learn Hebrew for Hours in Private Ghetto Seminaries After the Public Schools Have Let Them Out." The cheder which would become Yeshiva University makes an appearance as well. Also interesting is the discussion of a kindergarten ("gan yeladim") where 130 three-to-six year olds learn how to cut out paper kittens in Hebrew "so to speak." The article is not quite as hysterical as the headlines.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

How do you say "Extra soul" in Latin? A guest post on neshama yetera by Leor Jacobi

Ever wondered how to translate “Neshama Yeseira” into Latin?

Spiritu Excellentiori!

That's from the translation of Surenhusius (1664-1729) described here. He is translating the phrase as it appears in Rav Ovadia Bartenura six lines up from the bottom (click to enlarge and view the whole page).

Yes, he translated the entire Mishna, Rambam and Bartenura commentaries and then some. Here is the translation.

By the way, it appears that the Hebrew transliteration transliterated to English in common speech as "Bartenura" is in fact an accurate spelling of the name of the town in the regional dialect, as opposed to the “proper” Italian Bertinoro which many scholars insist upon. (So informs me Shemuel-Deborah Sa.)

The Talmud Bavli Betza 16a concludes that the gentiles know not of the nature of the Neshama Yeseira:

ואי בעית אימא: מתן שכרה נמי אודעינהו, נשמה יתירה לא אודעינהו

I leave it to the reader to decide to what extent this may apply to Surenhusius himself, the learned Christian translator.

It seems like his “rationalist” approach is in fact discussed by the Meiri:

הקדמה לבית הבחירה למאירי

וזה אצלי גם כן ענין נשמה יתירה יש בו באדם בשבת ולמוצאי שבת נטלה הימנו ואע"פ שהדברים נראים בתחלה דברי הבאי הם אמת ודבריהם אמת וכבר פירש בו זולתי שבאה מלת יתרה ליתרון מעלה לא ליתרון מספר כאלו אמר נשמה פנויה ומרווחת להתבודד על דרך נכון לא יבלבלהו דבר אבל אצלי לבאר יתרה ממש ליתרון מספר וכמו שכתוב בקצת הספרים להדיא שתי נפשות יש לו לאדם בשבת ולמוצאי שבת ניטלה אחת מהן והוא שכבר ידעת שנפש האדם עם היותה אחת תחלק לג' חלקים יאמר על כל אחת נפש עד שיאמר דרך העברה שיש לאדם ג' נפשות והם הצומחת והעיונית והמשכלת

בית הבחירה למאירי מסכת חולין דף סא עמוד א ומפרשים יתרה גדולה על הדרך שביארנו בנשמה יתרה והיא אמורה על אצבע האמצעית כלומר שיש להם שלש אצבעות והאמצעי הוא הגדול והנשר אין לו אלא שתים לפניו ואחת לאחריו

However, it seems highly doubtful that Rav Ovadia himself had this rationalist approach in mind since he felt no compunction in immediately before citing the even more mystical interpretation from Ta'anit 27b: “quia dies tertius est creationis hominis.”

Soon I hope to discuss Rambam's take on the Neshama Yeseira . . . the floor is open for sources.

Before I sent this post to S. I had asked some people if they could guess what "Spiritu Excellentiori" is in Hebrew.

Kudos to Marc Epstein who correctly guessed the Hebrew from the Latin translation! This is a good opportunity to mention his beautiful new book on the Medieval Haggadah, which in the first chapter alone solves the even greater riddle of the birds-heads and shows how a bright 10-year old kid can outsmart the whole scholarly community with his Hebrew Day School knowledge of Midrash. This is the all-time lomdus of coffee-table art books.

S. adds: Now would be a good time to mention that I, too, was struck by the very acute observation made by Epstein's son who successfully decoded an image in the famed Bird's Head Haggadah in a way that is very probably correct. Apparently not only was Epstein receiving נחת, but Leor and I were independently as well. I will save more discussion of that for my own review of his beautiful book.

As for Surenhusius (or Surenhuys, in his native Holland), although as I have posted before, he did not translate the entire Mishnah - he included whatever already existed in Latin translation, numbering a fine handful of tractates - the fact is that he did translate most of the Mishnah, along with the commentaries of the Rambam and Bartenora, as well as countless learned notes of his own. Not bad at all. And as long as we're talking about him, do you know how he translated Beit Hillel? Schola Hillelis. For some reason Shammai is still Schamai, not Schammeus. Here is my prior post on the Chida and his examination of the Latin Mishnah (link).

Finally, here are Leor's prior two guest posts: I, and II.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

An impressive, socially conscious English Beth Midrash described in 1888.

A gentleman named Simon Cohen owned a private Beit Midrash called Beth Hamedrash Lomdi Torah in London in the late 19th century. Cohen was extensively involved in charitable works, as can be seen in his letter to the Jewish Standard from 1888:

As you can see, this Beit Midrash was opened from 6:00 AM to 12:00 AM daily (I assumed that 12:00 PM is a mistake). Anyone could learn there at any time. There were constant minyanim, to accommodate those wanting to say kaddish. In addition, it was responsible for creating a school for children (where "they now teach Gemora for one hour a day") and numerous charities for the poor and for women. It provided a place for poor people to take shelter and warmth. He contrasts it with another Beit Midrash which is only open for a few hours in the evening (and the gas lights go out at 9:00 PM).

Not mentioned in the letter is that the Beit Midrash which Cohen founded in 1879 actually encompassed even more than what he outlined. For example, attached to it were public baths for the poor, who presumably had nowhere else to bathe. Cohen established a fund to aid persecuted Jews in Russia, for which 100,000 were raised. Initially three hot meals per week were provided for as many as 200 people, but the amount was raised to five. Cohen petitioned the Shah of Persia and the Pope in Rome to assist persecuted Jews. It took steps to promote Shabbat observance. It took on landlords who were raising rents to very high amounts in the (poor) East End. In addition, Cohen cultivated good political connections, especially with the British royalty.

See A review of the work and correspondence of Simon Cohen, on behalf of the East End Jews and the Beth Hamedrash Lomdi Torah (1901).

Naphtali Herz Imber on Freedom

Here is an interesting letter from the Jewish Standard (9.14.1888) from Naphtali Herz Imber, most known for writing Hatikvah. He gives his view of "Judaism and Freedom," which is different from what many would think in light of the criticism which was leveled at the poem which speaks of "a free people" but does not mention God (one statement of this viewpoint goes like this: "הרוצים להיות עם חפשי מן התורה.")

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The 1843 Circumcision Regulations issued by the Frankfurt Dept. of Health

Here are the circumcision regulations the Department of Health in Frankfurt issued on February 8, 1843, following the death of some children, which were believed to have been caused by improperly performed circumcisions:

They are:
1. No mohel (circumciser) will be allowed to perform a circumcision, who hasn't reported to the Health Department and demonstrated anatomical and physiological knowledge, as well as competence in circumcision.

2. Any circumcision must be carried out in the presence of a physician, even when the circumcision if performed by an approved mohel (i.e., don't think otherwise).

3. Jewish residents, insofar as they want to circumcise their children, this is only if they use a circumciser approved for this purpose, who takes proper precautions (i.e., but they don't have to circumcise their children).

4. Those who violate these regulations may be fined or imprisoned, depending on the case.

Frankfurt a.M.
8 February 1843
Health Department

The High Priest in his Finery

Yes, the joke only works in English, but come on, it's funny.

From Johann Lund's Die Alten Jüdischen Heiligthümer (Hamburg 1701)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


Here's a great entry in the 1769 catalog listing books in the (very enviable) library owned by Hermann Samuel Reimarus. As you can see, it records a redundancy as "דיטא."

From Bibliotheca Reimarianae (Hamburg 1769), p. 101.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

1841 Purim in New York

These are two pieces that ran a week apart in the New York Herald (Tribune) in March of 1841. They describe Purim before, and after. The quality of them is not the greatest, so I also typed them below:

March 3, 1841: On Saturday evening and on Sunday morning next, all pious Jews and Jewesses attend the Synagogue, on which occation the Book of Esther, Megillath Estar, will be chaunted by brother Jaques Lyons, and perhaps by brother Ellis, also, both very competent hazanim, readers, and very frum withal. On Sunday, most of the Jews will receive calls, similar to those made on New Year's day. Tables will be set out, furnished with the choicest viands and liquors. Presents of various kinds will be given to the poor, whose hearts will, on this day at least, be made to rejoice. A piece of advice, and we close. Let there be no hammers or mallets used in the Crosby street , when the name of Haman is mentioned; but, in its proper place, let every one exclaim at the top of his voice, zachor letob. We wish one and all, a happy, happy Purim.

March 9, 1841: Purim - This feast, in commemoration of the Salvation of the Jews by the lovely Queen Esther, was very merrily and delightfully kept. We were deprived from visiting the Shule on account of the tremendous storm; and very sorry we are that we could not listed to the sweet chanting of the Megilla by the Reverend Jacques Lyons. We understand that there were only about forty-five who attended. On Sunday, however, it was somewhat pleasant; which afforded an excellent opportunity to hear the Magilla, and to pay Purim calls. The Spanish Jews behaved well throughout the day and evening; but some of our Tiche friends eat and drank too much. They must learn to deny themselves both in the Succa and on Purim day,- and indeed, on all other holy days. They must not "make their God their belly." We are happy to learn that no noise was made when the name of Haman was read; and also that with one shout of triumph every Hebrew cried out zachor letob after the word leharbona, following the good advice of the Herald.
Sure wish I knew who wrote these. First published use of "frum?" Maybe.

Jacques Lyons (b. 1813) was the hazzan-minister of Shearith Israel ("the Crosby street Shule) from 1839-1877.

Friday, March 02, 2012

The Shaagat Aryeh is recalled in Metz, 1828.

Here's a fascinating footnote about the Shaagat Aryeh included in a book published in 1828, less than 45 years after his death. He was then still a living memory. In fact his son was then a rabbi, as mentioned in this footnote.

"Msr. Lyon-Asser was promoted to the much-sought after position of Chief Rabbi of the Jewish community of Metz, on the reputation of one of his works titled Schagatharié (the lion's roar), a folio volume printed in Germany. I acknowledge that I am unqualified to pass judgment on such a work. According to the testimony of our learned Hebraists, especially of Mr. Gerson Levy, considered very astute in Hebrew literature, this book, full of the subtleties and controversies that make the base and seasoning of Rabbinic scholarship, demonstrates that had Asser Lyon chose to train for instruction in another career, he would have made a name in the literary world because of his elevated mind.

"He died in 1784, leaving a son who is today the rabbi of Karlsruhe, in the Grand Duchy of Baden, and whose name is still dear in Metz. The scholarship of Asser's son has not been merely to fathom the depth of rabbinic scholasticism, to seek clarity amid the darkness of the Talmud, the Midrashim and Zohar - it is learned and literate in our own way; to whit, he was the friend and rival our learned countrymen [Moses] Ensheim, who now lives in Bayonne, and Isaiah-Berr-Bing, who died twenty years ago, who was the administrateur général of Salines de l'Est.

"To conclude this brief notice of Lyon Asser, allow me to link a name dear to France with the Metz rabbi. The Comte de Provence (Louis XVIII), during his stay at Metz in 1782, went to visit the synagogue, where he attended the Friday evening service. He was received by the trustees, headed by Lyon Asser, a venerable looking old man, whose noble and serious mien recalled the idea of ​​a priest of the old law (i.e., a biblical kohen).

"The prince received the tributes of the Israelites and did not despise the blessing of the chief rabbi, who presented him with a Bible written on a scroll. The memory of this old minister remained in his memory; one was surprised to see praises of a Jew coming from his mouth. "Jew or Christian, what do I care," said the brother of Louis XVI to me, whose virtue I honor wherever it presents itself. These words were not wasted. Judge if the Jews of Metz saw this same prince happily return to the throne of his fathers!"
Guillaume Ferdinand Teissier, Essai philologique sur les commencements de la typographie à Metz (Metz 1828), pp. 144-45 (link).

In case it isn't clear, Lyon Asser is the Shaagas Aryeh. Lyon = Leib, or Aryeh, and Asser = Asher, his father's name. His son was known as Asser Lyon. For a time he was the rabbi of Wallerstein, and he took that as his surname. Eventually he became rabbi of Karlsruhe, as mentioned in this excerpt, and he was about 74 at the time of this writing, 1828. It's interesting that it says that he is remembered well in Metz, because according to Jay Berkovitz (The shaping of Jewish identity in nineteenth-century France p. 95) he was going to become the rabbi of Metz (actually, the consistorial grand rabbi), but then accepted a different position "dismay[ing]" and "anger[ing]" communal leaders.

ETA: This is an image of the Shaagat Aryeh made after his death, from his actual body as it lay on a bed. It is supposedly authentic -

The image is reproduced on pg. 134 of Nathan Netter's Vingt Siècles d'Histoire d'une Communauté juive (Metz et son grand passé) (Paris 1938).

There, Rabbi Netter writes that he learned of the image's existence from R. Isaac Herzog in Dublin (he describes him as the successor to R. Kook in Jerusalem, which indeed he was then). He was able to obtain this very image through Esther Herzog-Goldberg of Paris, who I guess was his sister. She explained the origin of the image as follows. Their father, R. Joel Leib Herzog, who was a rabbi in Paris, met Louis Bloch, who was a sixth generation descendent of the Shaagas Aryeh. Rabbi Herzog asked him if the family had any portrait of him, and to his surprise he was informed by Bloch that his sister owned an oil painting of the Shaagas Aryeh, executed while he lay on his deathbed! Rabbi Herzog paid to have a reproduction made, and this is it. The section of the book concludes with a well-known story which Esther Goldberg told him, about how the Shaagas Aryeh was already aged - nearly seventy - when the community of Metz appointed him. He came highly recommended, and his reputation, because of his work Shaagat Aryeh, was high indeed. However, when they met him he appeared quite old, and this concerned them. He told them that he realizes they think he is too old; how long do they want their rabbi for? They replied "twenty years." He assured them that he would be their rabbi for twenty years, with God's help - and he was.

And here is the Lion Asser's son, Asser Lion (R. Asher Wallerstein) mentioned in the post, from the same book:

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Grant grants a $25 donation

I don't usually do reposts, but I was reading Prof. Jonathan Sarna's article "Gen. Grant’s Uncivil War Against The Jew," and I was reminded of a post I did 2 years ago about how "Ulysses S. Grant donated $25 to a Yerushalmi Jew's hachnosas kallah fund," and received a micrographic portrait in Hebrew letters in return.

From The presidents I have known from 1860-1918 by Simon Wolf.

Here was the original post (link).


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