Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Cuba in the Bible? In a book eulogizing R. Chaim Volozhiner, 1821

Here's something interesting. In 1821, R. Zvi Hirsch Katzenellenbogen of Vilna (1796-1868) published his  sermonic and poetic eulogies for R. Chaim Volozhiner, Nachal Dim'ah (link). Katzenellenbogen was one of the circle of early Vilna maskilim, which of course is not polite to say nowadays, since his works were used by Torah scholars. I note that in truth lines were blurry in those days, and circles overlapped, and some would say that he shouldn't be flatly categorized as an early Vilna Maskil (see, e.g., Gil S. Perl's dissertation on the Neziv, pg. 138 n. 330; I assume this is included in the book version, the recently published The Pillar of Volozhin).

However, the same way the story is that R. Yisrael Salanter declined to be Instructor of Talmud at the maskilic Rabbinical Seminary in Vilna, indeed fleeing into exile to avoid it, Katzenellenbogen was the one who filled a very similar position at the Seminary. Similarly, he represented the Vilna maskilim when Montefiore made his famous trip through the Pale in 1845, reportedly conversing and conferring with Montefiore's secretary Louis Loewe in Latin.

In any case, after the 40 pages devoted to R. Chaim, he included about ten pages of his own chiddushim on Talmud, Midrash and Tanakh, with the title Nachal Adanim. On page 24 (Hebrew pagination) he writes the following:

No doubt he captured many excited hearts with his attempt to identify the obscure places mentioned in Ezekiel 35:5. But it surely is of interest, at least some, that he thinks that it refers to the archipelago near Australia which was - then - known as the "Gesellschaftliche Inseln." I think he may mean Indonesia, although I am unsure. He also suggests that it is the Freundschaftliche Inseln, which is a straight translation of the "Friendly Islands," so-called by Captain Cook. Finally, he suggests that Cub (Qub) could be a reference to . . . Cuba! (In the "West Indies," says he.)

Here seems like a good place to note that Ezekiel 30:5 (eretz ha-berit) is the scriptural basis for the term "Artzot Ha-berit," which has been used in Hebrew to refer to the United States for over 150 years. See my earlier post (link) on developing the Hebrew name for the United States, which takes us from   מדינות נארד אמעריקא  in the 1820s to ארץ אנשי הברית in the 1840s, and finally, ארצות הברית.

Finally, it should be noted that Katzenellenbogen (or Katzenellen Bogen [קאצענעלין בוגין], as he styled himself, using the now-archaic version of this surname) also wrote and published a eulogy for Hayyim Parhi (link) the wealthy Acre communal leader, treasurer and adviser to the Ottoman Pasha governing the Sidon province. He writes that after Farhi died, they said eulogies in the main Beit Midrash in Vilna. His own teacher, R. Saul, asked him to deliver a eulogy as well, which he did. He decided to write a poem, which takes the form of a conversation between Sefarad and Ashkenaz, with the theme that also these two branches of one family are separated, ultimately they are one. On pg. 10 he writes (under the rubric of "Sefarad and Ashekenaz" [together]) that

A voice on high is heard, there is no peace, only fear
A voice of dirge, from Sefarad and Ashkenaz, saying, "These two edges have been consumed by flames
In the North . . . and the South . . .
Living (chaim) they were, their souls departed . . ." 
While I don't vouch for the quality of the verse, there is a footnote, and he explains that here he refers to the departures of R.Chaim of Volozhin in the North (i.e., Lithuania) and his counterpart Chaim, the righteous, wealthy, Hayyim Farhi, of the Land of Splendor.


  1. by "Gesellschaftliche Inseln", he was referring to the Melanesian and Polynesian islands (Tonga, Tuba, Nora, Fiji). Loosely translated it would be "peaceful islands", although the literal translation of his choice of words is "social islands". No, he didn't explain himself very well.

    Granted he lived some time ago and many were misinformed in lots of areas of their secular knowledge, but Australia? Polynesia? I mean, you shouldn't need to be a cartographer to cross off this suggestion, basic knowledge of Jewish history (as portrayed in the Torah and divrei Chazal) would steer you clear of that area.

  2. by "Gesellschaftliche Inseln" I think he means the Society Islands,

  3. A number of your posts have mentioned the Vilna Maskilim , I remember your comments on the Achris Davar of the Vilna Shas. Perhaps some definitions would help those of us who think of Ayit Zavua as opposed to Nachal Dima as the typical maskil book.

  4. "the obscure places mentioned in Ezekiel 35:5."

    it is in Ezekiel "30":5.

  5. I loved reading R. Menashe Ben Yisrael's mikveh yisrael, and his attempt at identifying parts of sourth america with places in Tanach. Ophir he said was Peru (same name, and also it was known as a place of gold, just like in nach.) I also remember something about the one of the early generations between Adam and Noach, Yoktan, being identifed with the Yuccutan peninusla.


  6. over one hundred years before R. Menashe Ben Yisrael's mikveh yisrael it was printed in מאור עינים דף נח ע"א: 'שהיא מדינת הפיר"ו הנמצאת בעולם חדש'.

    and he was not the first to print that, a lot of humanists wrote about it, the first was francois vatable, see:

  7. “Ophir he said was Peru”.
    Nope, in fact HE did not maintain this suggestion, it was the proposal of Arias Montanus which R. Menashe immediately dismissed (Mikveh Yisroel, middle of ch.1 and again beg. of the app.). Same goes for the comment on יקטן/Yucatan. (Montanus was a contemporary of the Meor Einayim that Anonymous quotes.) The similar sounding name does not substantiate the theory. Perhaps Shlomo HaMelech vacationed there and they named it Yucatan referring to Agur ben Yakkeh. Don’t these sound alike too? Don’t get me wrong, there are many places today identified partly because of the contrast between their names (e.g. Hadhrmaut being the biblical Chatzarmaves, is just one amongst many other examples from the book of Genesis.) Ironically Yaktan was the father of many sons who settled in Middle Eastern countries, so unless all these bachurim left their South American home and went to learn abroad it’s a bit farfetched to suggest יקטן/Yucatan. Jokes aside, it’s academically ungrounded.)

    Anonymous @ 4:09 – don’t know which ed. you’re looking at but it can be easily found in chelek Imrei Binah ch. 11

    The (one of them, at least) difficulty with the Meor Enayim is, he lumps Ophir together with Parvim (“zehav Parvim” Chron. 2, 3:6), whereas in the Sefer Eldad HaDani (beg.) Parvim is identified as the region of Chavila (“asher sham ha’zahav” (Gen. 2:11), which as we know is not in South America (if Shlomo HaMelech was next to Colombia, he was probably importing coffee too, nay? I know I would). See also R’ Kaplan (ibid.) and Cassuto (Chron. ibid.).

    (In the sefer ‘Tapuchei Zahav B’maskiot Kesef’ by R. Makhlouf Amsalem (Jer. 1927) he offers a very interesting Kabbalistic exposition on the interpretation of these “goldmines” (pun intended). As a precaution, in case you comment on any of his dreams that he records there, I suggest you take a look at who gave him haskamos.)

    R. Menashe b. Israel however did suggest that the ten lost tribes were the Indians of his day in the South American region mentioned earlier. A problem he overlooked is that the Amerindian tribes themselves originate from Asia (hence the anthropological similarities too). This doesn’t have to mean they’re Chinese, because back then there were many tribes in China, just as their Japanese neighbors have a language she’lo naga v’lo paga yet they use the same script with some other marks, as opposed to Korea who uses a similar language, the native script was Chinese until not so long ago ad she’ba King Sejong (15th c.) and promoted the new script v’heir eineihem. In any case, to say the ten lost tribes are siting and making Tequila cocktails is probably just fueled by excitement and curiosity. (Interesting to point out; in Mexico dozens of statutes with inscriptions were found. Because in Gualing, China they found similar statues (numbered in the hundreds I believe), they phoned China and an old scholar who devoted his life to studying the Song dynasty couldn’t fathom how, but confirmed the inscriptions were in their language. Sleep on it, together with the theory that the ten tribes are in Central America. Meilah you tell me Afghans Pathons (פתאום – aside for many other reasons) many of them Taliban from Kabul are from the Aseres HaShevatim - I can sleep, but Indians? )

  8. .... Kivan d’asinan l’hacha there is this enigma that’s been very perplexing and I hope some readers can shed some light upon it: You probably never heard of a name like Ashkenaz Berkowits or Ashkenaz Cohen. But, the strange thing is that amongst Armenians they in fact have ‘Ashkenaz’ as a first name! Their transliterated spelling is like this: Asqenaz or Askanaz. The interesting thing is that the ties between the Jews and Armenians go a while back. For instance, much Sefardic and European Jewry (Hungarian, Polish, Israeli, Iranian) have a tradition that Armenia is Amalek. One example; a story is recounted in ‘The memoirs of Ber of Bolechow’ where the author, who was a wine merchant importing from Hungary (then the Austro-Hungarian Empire) and reselling in Galicia, once told a seller “I’ll meet you by the mochesher kloiz in Lemberg”. What in heaven’s name is that, right? So in the footnotes, the editor tells us, “This was how they referred to the Armenian Church in Lemberg in the late 1700’s as an abbreviation for macho timcheh es zecher Amalek”. In accordance with the halacha not to designate a time/place with regards to a church this is how they got around it. Cool. But again, where did they have this tradition that Armenia was Amalek. True they’re an Indo-European people and under the Ottoman rule they were always vying for the Jews and had much interaction with eacthother. In fact, R. Gershon Shtern (Yalkut HaGershuni) was the rav for some time in Gherla as it is called in Romania (Szamosujvar in Hungarian, and Armenoville in Armenian). The town was mostly Jewish and the rest Armenian. Indeed there was much enmity between the Jews and Armenians, but still, none of this explains why they had this tradition that Amalek was Armenia. Who told the melamdim “teitsch of Amalek is Armenia, Togarma and Riphath tahuinin biur, but Amelek is zicher Armenia”? In any case, till today Armenians carry the name Asqenaz. Why? The obvious explanation is as Nicholas Awde writes in his book on Armenian first names under this entry “ancient biblical name for Armenia”. Correlatively, Togarma is identified by some as Armenia too. Fine. But where’d they get this? Who introduced this to the Armenian people (which this tradition amongst them goes back a heck of a long time) that Armenia is Ashkenaz? Why not attach themselves to Repheth? Also, if they’re Ashkenaz, how does Amalek come into the picture?

    I apologize for the length. The comments lead me to put it out there.



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