Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Moritz Steinschneider deigns to drop down into the fray to defend the Talmud in a footnote.

Johann Andreas Eisenmenger earned a place in infamy for his anti-Jewish book Endecktes Judenthum (Koenigsberg 1711) - Judaism Discovered - which compiled countless strange or offensive aggadot from a great variety of rabbinic sources. At the beginning of the book he lists about 225 separate Jewish works which he used (the Talmud Bavli and Yerushalmi are two single sources out of the 225). 

Here is how it begins, in the English translation printed in 1742 (although this is from another part of the book):
Enthusiasm on the one Hand, and a Spirit of Domination on the other, are, and have ever been, the Disgraces of the Priests of most Religions: But None are, or have been, more extravagant on the other, than the Rabbins, or Teachers amoung the Jews. The Rabbinical Domination and Enthusiasm will appear in the following Extracts from the best and most celebrated Writings of the Rabbins . . . 
Moritz Steinschneider, celebrated as the father of modern Jewish bibliography - which, I promise, is more exciting than that sounds - was commissioned to write an encylopedia entry on Jewish literature for Ersch and Gruber's Allgemeine encyclopädie der wissenschaften und künste. He submitted a very, very, very long article - book, really - and it was actually  printed under the heading Judische Literatur covering pages 357 - 471 in the 20th volume, which was printed in Leipzig, 1850. Several years later this "article" was translated to English as Jewish Literature from the Eighth to the Eighteenth Century, a 375 page book, which is still useful - believe me. Now, Steinschneider (1816-1907), scholarly to a ridiculous degree and legendarily unsentimental, was one of the scholars who took writing with objectivity as the 11th Command, to unprecedented degrees. Thus, while his works are brimming with useful and fascinating information, he generally took care to betray not the slightest bit of enthusiasm or personality in his work. (Yes, there may be no Yiddish hartz, but often this means that you get facts which you yourself are then free to project your own opinion on.) Thus, it is interesting that he inserted what is, truthfully, a useless - but interesting footnote - into his encylopedia entry, concerning Eisenmenger. Useless as scholarship per se, but useful as a stealthy defense of the Jews in a scientific German encyclopedia in 1850.

Writing about the history of the development of Halacha after the Temple's destruction, there is the following (p. 365):

In the sfas hamedinah, this says that "under the Halacha more and more things were collected which would not be of practical import until the advent of the Messiah (Hilchetha Lemeshicha). Thus arose the idea that the law can be fulfilled through study, since with the Temple's destruction, it was impossible any other way: "Since the Temple was destroyed, God has only the four cubits (one's personal space) of the Halacha." 

Moritz footnotes: "Eisenmenger writes: "[God has ] Only four cubits [ells] of space to go," while halacha can only be taken to mean "to go" by translating it maliciously, since in this sense the term is halicha. In his translation he ignored the genius of the language!

In other words, this aggadic passage in Berachos says that after the destruction of the Temple, God's place on earth, his place became the four ells of the halacha. Eisenmenger says that the passage means that after the destruction of the Temple God is restricted in space, period.

Here is Eisenmenger in the original:

1 comment:

  1. I see your fond of Rabbi Wachsman's phraseology of the tuma'digeh shprach - English:

    "Rabbi Wachsman apologized because he was going to switch over and speak in the "sefas medina," the State Tongue, "Ainglish."

    Always appreciate the sense of humor you incorporate into your posts. A friendly pen, brings a friendly smile.



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