Thursday, December 06, 2012

A gematriya by a Rev. Mr. Hurwitz of Frankfurt who was probably *not* R. Pinchas Horowitz, unfortunately

Here's something very amusing. In 1830 Isaac Leeser translated from German a book of instruction for Jewish children, and he called it Instruction in the Mosaic Religion. Translated From the German of J. Johlson, Teacher of an Israelitish School at Frankford on the Maine (link). The book is in the form of questions and answers and covers the gamut from matters of faith, tradition, and Orach Chaim-type practical law. Compared to the original it's actually quite pale, or, to put it another way, one imagines that the German author perceived a much higher level of learning than Leeser did among his potential audience in the United States. In any case, in a footnote in the section on Tradition, we find the following:

I was excited, as I was pretty sure this gematriya must be referring to something which no less than the author of the Hafla'ah, Rabbi Pinchas Hurwitz, ("The Rev. Chief Rabbi Mr. Hurwitz") had told Johlson (b. 1771), or which Johlson had heard from him indirectly. 

However, whenever possible one should always try to look at the original, and when I did, I realized that Johlson was quoting his son, R. Hirsch Horwiz (original spelling). Probably, anyway. Oh well. 

However, it gets even more interesting because while Johlson does quote R. Hirsch Hurwitz in another place, he does NOT give this gematriya here. Or anywhere in the book. And it isn't like I didn't look at various editions. I looked at the 1819, 1824, 1829 and even 1839 edition. Nothing. Now barring the possibility that I somehow overlooked it - and I looked through the entire book four times over - it seems that Isaac Leeser may have added this in by himself and amazingly ascribed it to the author, Johlson, for his very next note is one signed by himself (L.) in which he explains what a gematriya is. Very curious is all I can say. If you can find it in one of the original books, please do so and let me know.

Here is the one place, as far as I can tell, where Johlson did quote Hurwitz (and in other place, indirectly):

To make matters easier, here is how Leeser translated this footnote:

Finally, for posterity, here is a fascinating footnote by Leeser. The context is, Johlson had asked what is the duty of rabbis? His mildly reformist reply is that they must distinguish between true religion and the accretion of superstition and foolish customs that have been added to the law. In the translation, this continues, and then on the next page Johlson says that the rabbis can abolish customs that assumed the force or law under the principle of Et La'asot - and Leeser gives a lengthy footnote in which he claims to "explain" (rather than contradict) Johlson, about the importance of maintaining Hebrew as a language of the synagogue. Remember, this is 1830:


  1. Also, we see that Rav Hirsch Hurwitz propounded the idea of Catholic Israel 100 years before Solomon Schechter. Haha.

  2. "always try to look at the original, and when I did, I realized that Johlson was quoting his son, R. Hirsch Horwiz"

    You mean "when I checked the German copy" and there he explicitly says it was R' Hirsch who told it to him?

    In any case, it's from R' Hirsch's sefer Lachmei Todah ( as quoted by R' Yitzchok Weiss in his Minchas Yitzchok al HaTorah (5735, pg. 214), but I have never seen this particular source in the Lachmei Todah itself (not that it's not there, just saying that I can't point you in the direction). It's a jam packed sefer full of genious pilpul and drush with multitudes of chiddushim, so knock yourself out.

    A few years later R' Aaron Tennenbaum also came up with this gematria ( and presumably did not "borrow" it.

    R' Chanoch Levine, son in-law of the Sfas Emes - who I highly doubt read the German or English book you mention unless he took it from the aforementioned seforim which I doubt too - evidently thought of the same gematria ( And I wouldn't be surprised if others already thought of it. Yeah, it's one of those.

    Just saying...

  3. Huh? What do you mean Germany copy? That's the original book.

    Thanks for the great sources.

  4. "In 1830 Isaac Leeser translated from German" - yes, I meant the original. Is that where you realized he was referring to R' Hirsch and not the father?

  5. Right. In Leeser's he omitted the crucial initial, H. That's why I originally thought it was probably referring to R. Pinchas.

    Truth is, I can't find the thing in the book at all, so I'm not sure that Leeser somehow didn't introduce it himself, although that seems likely. Just didn't find it in any of the four editions of the original that I checked.

  6. I did find a clue. A catalog of Isaac Leeser's library was published, and I looked up which edition of Johlson's book he owned. It was the 1814 edition. The earliest one I looked at was 1819 - maybe it was in the 1814 edition and somehow removed from the later ones? I'll see if that's online.

  7. How amusing. Yes, it is in the 1814 edition. It is not in the 1819, 1824, 1829 or 1839 edition, but it is in the original 1814 edition which is what Leeser used.

    Here it is. Interesting, because this was published before לחמי תודה. I'll have to update the post.

  8. Um, so my German is not that polished and certainly not with older characters but from what I can make out not only does he not attribute it to R' Hirsch he doesn't mention the gematria either in the ha'arah in the link you posted. Or does he?

    Even if it's attributed to R' Hirsch, it's still possible he heard it from him before R' Hirsch actually printed it (his sefer).

    More interesting than who said it first is, how on earth did you come across that site? Clearly (from your posts) you frequent German sites because you [more than] dabble in German-Jewsih History.

  9. I originally commented with the wrong page, the page earlier. Check the link again, it's there in the note.

    Right, of course he might have heard it from him directly. I assume he did, or may have heard it in a drasha. I just happened to find it interesting that it appears in his name in the 1814 edition, then in R. Hurwitz's own sefer, in 1816 (have to find it in the sefer proper still, but let's assume) and then it is taken out of all the later editions of this book. I can't even begin to guess why, but it's interesting.

    To be honest, if Leeser had originally quoted it in the name of R. Hirsch Horowitz I don't know if this would even have been a post. I thought he was quoting R. Pinchas, and that was very cool. You do not expect to find the Hafla'ah quoted in an English catechism type book for Israelitish youth in 1830, printed in Philadelphia.

    As for the site, that is a treasure trove of books, not all in German. Some very important and interesting material there. This is part of the Freimann collection at the University of Frankfurt, "Freimann" referring to Aron Freimann, one of the great Jewish bibliographers (who also happened to be a grandson of the Aruch Laner). See here. The site actually has several Judaica sections, all incredibly interesting and important.

  10. S

    Maybe I missed it, but a post listing some of the sites which you have found useful would be fascinating. While many of your readers may be familiar with such sites, I am probably not the only one whose knowledge
    stops at


  11. Midwest, I have done one or two posts like that (I'll look for the links) but they are old. You're right, time for an update. I'd like to describe some of my, haha, methods so we can crowd-source my schtick - finding the teeny-tiny interesting crumbs scattered in thousands of books and seforim over the centuries.

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