Sunday, January 27, 2013

On an unusual attempt to sell the Hebrew poems of a living poet to Moses Mendelssohn's son, as the work of his father

The other day I did one of my "Who am I?" posts (link), and the answer, which no one guessed but my thanks to those who tried, was Moses Mendelssohn of Hamburg (or, Mendelson, as he actually spelled his name). Here was the complete picture in which he is captioned:

You can find this picture in the Jubilee volume of the Israelit commemorating the 100th anniversary of the birth of R. Samson Raphael Hirsch, here. Mendelson (1780-1861), who was really surnamed Frankfurt, was Hirsch's maternal uncle. The reason why he is holding a book with the title Columbus is because Mendelson's chief work was his translation of Campe's Die Entdeckung von Amerika into Hebrew, which was his מציאת הארץ החדשה, printed in Altona in 1807. The rest of Mendelson's output was mostly scatterings of poems and little articles in various journals. Notable exceptions included a short, anonymously published pamphlet, which contained a lengthy poem called בקשת הלמדין, featuring the letter lamed in each word, and what is supposed to be a Torah commentary called Schuschan-Eduth of which, I think, only one of two projected volumes appeared. I haven't seen this book, but the interesting introduction to this volume, as well as the aforementioned בקשת הלמדין, and basically most of his poems and essays, many of which are quite clever and fascinating, were collected and published after his death as פני תבל - מוסר השכל, which was printed in Amsterdam in 1872. (The Torah introduction from Schuschan Eduth is, for some reason, two essays on preachers - basically parodying and excoriating the new style praedigers (preachers) and the old style maggidim.)

His book about Columbus has many interesting things about it, naturally, so here are a couple. In his introduction he writes about meeting Wessely in his hometown of Hamburg the year before the latter died. The aged master, certainly seen as the expert Hebrew poet of the age, gave him advice in writing Hebrew. Do not, he told him, merely cobble together biblical verses. Although we should understand this ourselves, Mendelson explains that he in fact means the newfangled melitzah style, which consisted of little more than that, weaving together pre-existing phrases from the Bible into a confusing and imprecise text that was supposed to be meaningful and poetic.

The book also includes a neat little glossary in the beginning, for naturally in a work such as this using Hebrew in new ways would be required. Clearly desiring to write only in Hebrew, or as much as possible, Mendelson explains, for example, that when he writes Rifat he means England! - and gives his source for the identification of this biblical land with England as Ben Gorion. Similarly, he used Elul for August - which is not at all something unusual.You find this quite often; Adar is March and so on. However, his glossary is the only time where I saw someone who used the Hebrew months this way point out that he is well aware that the months are not a perfect match, but that most of the days overlap in the Hebrew and English months. He uses the term Dagim Me-ofafim for flying fish, Kumar Romi for pope - although there is a Hebrew word for pope, אפיפיור, this word is not pure Hebrew (See E. Ben Yehuda Milon v. 1 pg. 346). Mendelson used Mored Ha-har for waterfall (and he adds in parentheses that he knows that the rabbinic Hebrew term is Hardalit (sort of) but apparently chooses not to use it because its origin is Greek).

Finally, the book also comes with a - not quite haskama, but a rishyon, apparently some formal necessity for printing a Hebrew book in Altona at the time, by its rabbi, Zvi Hirsch Zamosc (d. 1807), who was the last rabbi of the united triple community Altona-Wandsbeck-Hamburg. Zamosc gives his license and says something like "Whomever wishes to read it, those people who are edified by reading stories like this, permission is granted." The rishyon is given to "the delightful bachelor, maskil, the honorable Moses, son of the wonderful rabbi Mendel F"F [Frankfurt]."

In any case, hopefully people are still reading because here is where the fun part begins. In 1841 Moses Mendelssohn's son Joseph placed advertisements in journals and newspapers all over Germany requesting the public's assistance on a project in which he was engaged, namely the printing of his father's collected writings. So he asked the public to please send him any manuscript they might have written by his father, and he will purchase them for a fair price, or to send and he ensures its safe return. Here is an example of such an ad:

One of the people who responded sent him some Hebrew poems by Moses Mendelson. Of Hamburg. And this person wanted to charge Joseph Mendelssohn for them and, as we shall see, he knew full well that they were written by the living poet - who was his friend, in fact - and not by the philosopher who had been dead for nearly 60 years. Joseph showed them to one of the editors who had been hired for the project, one Heymann Jolowicz, and he realized the deception. The story was originally reported in a Hamburg newspaper, but I cannot find this newspaper. So instead I will give you the version as it is was given in a "Hey, isn't this crazy!" kind of story in an American periodical called Bizarre, in 1855 (and this story was in fact copied from a French magazine from the same year, not the Hamburg newspaper).

As you can see, the story does not identify who made this deception; he is but "Dr. H..... of Berlin." The story makes a big deal about how Jolowicz (his last name cheerfully Americanized to "Jallowitz") was a great detective, and knew how rare poetic verse was in the Mendelssohn oeuvre. He discovered that Dr. H had actually published a Hebrew periodical 40 years earlier, and had included Hebrew poetry by Moses Mendelson of Hamburg, and these that were sent to Joseph Mendelssohn were unpublished poems by MM of Hamburg, that Dr. H tried to pass off as authentic. Actually, I am a little bewildered by how this deception was meant to happen for it seems that MM of Hamburg nearly always signed his work the same way, Moshe ben ha-torani ve-harabbni mohr"r Mendel F"F, or some variety. Not to mention that they were not in Moses Mendelssohn's handwriting. Were they supposed to be copies? Didn't Dr. H expect questions? While I guess Dr. H maybe thought he could fool Joseph Mendelssohn, it doesn't seem like it would have been a great feat for Jolowicz to detect the fraud and so of course he did.

But anyway, although Dr. H is not identified, we realize exactly who it is. But first, a portrait of Joseph Mendelssohn from 1830, aged 60:

Dr. H, who tried to sell poems under false pretenses, is none other than Dr. Jeremias Heinemann, a very interesting individual whom, I will have to guess, was in financial straits when he tried to sell the work of his living friend off as the original Hebrew poems of Moses Mendelssohn himself. Heinemann was an educator and scholar, a publisher, a bible commentator, involved in the earliest stages of Reform as a member of the Westphalian consistory, moved away from that early position to the point that even Rabbi Akiva Eger was willing to give a haskama of sorts to his edition of Mendelssohn's Pentateuch, see below, and someone who had spent a good deal of his life involved with Mendelssohn's writings - both Mendelssohns, in fact. Here is a portrait of Heinemann's father, a rabbi named Rabbi Meinster (or Joachim) Heinemann (1747-1825). And yes, I give this because I don't have one of Dr. Heinemann himself:

Here is Rabbi Akiva Eger's haskamah - or really not-quite haskamah - to one of the volumes of Heinemann's chumash, called Mekor Hachajim, published in Berlin between 1830 and 1833 Although we will acknowledge that he is not exactly turning cartwheels with enthusiasm, reportedly Rabbi Akiva Eger did order a copy, as he listed in the subscribers. However, one might also grant that it is possible that Heinemann simply sent him a copy. I often wonder if the big league rabbis actually ordered the copies they are listed as having subscribed to or if, at least in some cases, they are listed because a copy was simply sent to them. You know, it's like how a musician struggles for years then makes it big and suddenly Gibson is sending them truckloads of free gear. In any case, it is certainly a nice letter and it is much more than a sentence or two. No wonder Heinemann printed it.

In any case, so here's what happened. In the late 1810s Heinemann had a periodical called Jedidja. It was not a Hebrew journal, as Bizarre says; it was in German. However, it did have quite a nice amount of Hebrew material, poems and so on. It notably contains a little poetic translation by none other than Leopold Zunz, a very early literary production by him. Here it is:

So this poem, Halayla (the night), is a translation of Sommernacht (Summer Night) by Klopstock. Compare the above with an English translation of Sommernacht:

So Jedidja. Many interesting things, including work by Moses Mendelson of Hamburg. I will show the following, though, because I love finding English in non-English works. So here we have the following. What happened was, in 1815 the Duke of Sussex became a Patron of the Jews' Hospital and Orphan Asylum in London (link), which had the Hebrew title נוה הצדק. Sussex, a son of King George III, was a real ohev yisrael, which was not necessarily common in England at the time without a missionary motive, and a collector of Hebrew books.  In 1817 at the annual meeting of Jews' Hospital, Sussex came, apparently, and to celebrate this momentous occasion - poetry! And pageantry. A Hebrew poem was composed, and perhaps read, along with an English poem to be "recited by One of the Girls of the Institution." Another poem was written by Shalom Hakohen, one of the patron saints of the Haskalah (last editor of Hameasseph, later to publish Bikkurei Haittim, and several noted works of his own) who was living in London at the time (on him, and the London Chief Rabbi's haskamah to his book for children, see here). So the next year in Berlin Heinemann printed the poems for this occasion, including the English ode to be recited by a girl. Try to imagine a little Jewish orphan girl with her London accent of whatever manner it was, in 1817, reciting,

"Behold, we cry, our smiles of health,
Our moral minds, our means of trade;
Here have ye treasured up your wealth,
And thus your offerings are repaid."

I should have given this above, but here is the title page for Jedidja:

Now, in addition to publishing many letters by Mendelssohn (the first one) it also included a poem or two by Mendelson of Hamburg. Here is the end of one:

Now, some 20 years later Heinemann revived the Jedidja periodical in Berlin. In the second go-around he included much interesting material, some recycled, some new. Apparently he was strapped for cash, or at least had a lot of copies of his Chumash Mekor Hachajim he was trying to sell, because he kept including ads for it, and descriptions of it. It is of some interest that he felt like pointing out that it included a map of Israel, following the Vilna Gaon:

In any case, only a few years earlier (1833) the following appeared in one of the volumes of the Chumash Mekor Chajim; a friendly letter from Moses Mendelson of Hamburg. That is, they were firm friends.

So it was that Dr. Jeremias Heinemann in Berlin allegedly tried to sell Joseph Mendelssohn Hebrew poems written by his friend Moses Mendelson of Hamburg, and this deception was discovered by Heymann Jolowicz whom, I might add, was one of the Reform rabbis in the synod I posted about the other day (link). His grand contribution to the Simchat Torah question was: "We should read Vezot Habracha once every three years." 

It should be noted that when the Collected Writings of Mendelssohn were published a couple of years later, the volume which included the entire German translation of the Pentateuch (in German, not Hebrew letters) came with an extensive introduction by Jolowicz, and he mentions Heinemann's Berlin edition of the Chumash in very nice terms, but does not mention this attempted fraud. Truth be told I feel a little badly about it myself, seeing as how even Jolowicz saw fit not to mention it. But as I said, I strongly suspect that Heinemann was motivated by economic desperation and should not be judged harshly.

Since previously I had mentioned Jolowicz's prize comment that  "We should read Vezot Habracha once every three years," and he was a better scholar than that suggests, we should talk about him. Eventually he moved to England, where his credentials as a learned scholar enabled him to receive a government stipend (interestingly, the materials relating to this process are online - it involved testimonials, a sponsor, personal statements, and a list of his published work). I would just like to call attention to a paper he delivered for the German Oriental Society in England in 1855. Here is the title page of the published version:

In the introduction, W. H. Black recommends the paper, writing that that "For many years I have been convinced that the printed text of some parts of the Hebrew Scriptures may be fairly subject to critical emendation, especially the Psalms, and other poetical portions of the Bible." He continues, that Jolowicz presents the evidence for the position that the Bible contains errors in need of emendation from rabbinic sources.

In the paper itself, Jolowicz refers to the different Versions, and the variants found in the collations of Kennicott and De Rossi, which prove that the text as found in the manuscripts have been subject to corruption. But also "the Talmudists, and the latter Rabbis, as well as the Chaldee parphrast [sic] Jonathan ben Uziel, not only knew various readings most strikingly different from our Canonical Text, but also determined by the interpretations of the same most important usages of religious life." He begins by declaring that the Talmud gives as authors of the books mostly different people from those for whom the books are named. The reason he mentions this is to set the stage for the idea that certain words had to have been interpolated by later copyists, such as Proverbs 25:1 ("King of Judah") words which, as he points out, are missing in some manuscript variants found by Kennicott. He continues by asserting that many "among the most orthodox and greatest authorities of post-Talmudical rabbis . . . did not less practice a strict criticism of the Biblical Text." And conveniently he writes "But this subject will be more conveniently treated of in another place." He goes on to list several dozen variants implied by the Targum called Jonathan, and in the Talmud, Midrash and Zohar, and a few instances in Rashi. He closes with a much-cited passage in Massechet Sopherim, which shows that there were variant readings in the Torah. He closes by quoting a letter from Leib Dukes which notes that one of the Oppenheim manuscripts at Oxford actually contains a masoretic note which gives an interesting variant for Number 12:16, saying that this variant is a more correct reading. Jolowicz notes that one such text corrected according to this manuscript was listed by Kennicott. The paper may be read here.

EDIT: To give Heinemann more his due as an interesting and creative person, I'd to call attention to the second half of my post here, where I refer to an interesting book by him which "I have never seen anything quite like," I wrote, and that "on the face of it it seems like one of the most effective methods of learning what the prayers mean that I have ever seen." Do take a look.

EDIT II: Another angle. Here is fascinating poem by Moses Mendelson of Hamburg, in tribute to Johannes Gutenberg on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of Gutenberg's use of moveable type printing. This was printed in the Algeimeine Zeitung des Judentums May 2, 1840. Click them to enlarge and read:

What makes this all the more interesting is that Heinemann printed the same poem in his revived Jedidja in 1842. And there is no mention of Mendelson's authorship, not on the poem and not in the table of contents. Here is the first page from that reprinting. 


  1. Gorionides = Josippon.

  2. Another impressive compilation!

    "Rabbi Meinster (or Joachim) Heinemann": the caption under his portrait appears to say "Meister [i.e. Master] Joachim".

    1. His shem chol was "Meinster;" Heinemann always wrote "Ben Hagaon R' Meinster Sega"l zatza"l" or something like that. This is from memory, didn't check my sources at the moment, but I think the Joachim corresponds to Chaim, so his name was Chaim Meinster or something like that. I can check later.

      I suppose that is "Yiddish" (you can see from many sources that there was/is such a name). In German it was, unsurprisingly, given as "Meister." I imagine this is similar to how in Jewish sources the grand old man of the Rothschild family was "Meir Anshel," whereas in German it was "Meyer Ansel" and you also find the Anschel/ Anselm interchange.

  3. Another possible defense of Heinemann - maybe he didn't keep good records of who wrote what, why else would he have published MM of Hamburg's poem in tribute to Johannes Gutenberg without crediting the author?

    1. We-ell. My implication here was that he was "at it" again, removing MM of H's credit. Not really sure why he would do that, if it was printed a year earlier.

      I will say that I basically think it was impossible for H, who was actually something of an expert in Mendelssohn, to not realize what he was doing, so I don't think it was inadvertent. However, like I said, I bet he was desperate for money.

    2. I got it, but that doesn't explain why he wouldn't have given credit in his publication, Jedidja.
      I guess you could say he was saving money on royalties; this was only a year after his failed attempt at passing the living Mendelssohn's writings for the deceased one after all, he could have still been in financial straits.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Where does Anschel come from? sometimes it is written as Amschel?

    1. Yes, always, actually, in a European alphabet. The founder of the banking dynasty was Mayer Amschel Rothschild. It is basically the equivalent of the European name Anselm (or one of its variants, such as Ansel). I think you have the same phenomenon at work in Yiddish or Judeo-German. The /m/ /n/ switch is very common in language, just think of the plural ending in biblical vs mishnaic Hebrew. I've heard some people say that Anshel came from Angelo, but I'm skeptical. Why would Angelo be paired with Asher? As it happens, the Italian Jews often used Angelo for their Mordechais and this is because Mordechai and Malachi are identified as one and the same in the gemara. So that pairing makes sense. So rather than coming from Angelo I think it comes from Anselm, and indeed you find this. So, for example, the author of an 18th century work, Masores Syag Le-Torah, the physician Asher Anshel Worms, used the name "Aser Anselmus" in his practice as a doctor (his university dissertation on leprosy used that name). Also see the last page of his sefer, here.

  6. please excuse my ignorance, what does anselmus mean? and why would it be paired with Asher?
    Also Simcha Bunim? Bunim = bonhomme?

    1. I think it is just a sound-alike, which was also a factor in pairing names. The reason why I find it more convincing than seeing its origin in Angelo is because we have definite proof that Jews named Anshel perceived it as being identical with Anselm, not Angelo. Granted, these were German Jews, and Angelo is not a German name.

      Bunim is supposed to come from Bonhomme, but I haven't independently looked into it. See the Rema's introduction to the Shulchan Aruch where he writes that "us Ashkenazim" are physically descended from the French Jews.

    2. Anselm means, apparently, God's helmet, in the sense of God's protection. Or in its French soundalike, Ansel, it means follower of a nobleman. At least according to my quick second of looking up the baby name meaning.

  7. In fairness to the poetic talents of Moses Mendelssohn (the philosopher), he translated Judah Halevi's "Tziyyon halo-tishali" into German. His translation can be found in old editions of "Yekkishe" kinnot. As Zev Harvey notes, in places the translation is very free and could be considered an original poem. Also in Koheleth Mussar he translated the Englih poet Edward Young's "Night Thoughts" into Hebrew.

    Lawrence Kaplan

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