Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Trying to make a ba'al teshuva out of a Christian missionary over kugel in the 1820s

Yesterday I posted about Joseph Wolff's interaction with a Jerusalem Ba'al Shem in 1823. Having previously posted several times about his talks with Rabbi Mendel of Shklov, who was if not the most famous student of the Vilna Ga'on after Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin, certainly in the top five, I thought of posting something interesting about R. Mendel which I don't think is to be found in Wolff's Missionary Journal. Rather, this is from an oral conversation Wolff had with John Cam Hobhouse, Lord Broughton (1786-1869).

Lord Broughton's daughter published four volumes of his memoirs, called Recollections of a Long Life. In Volume 3, pp. 171 - 172, Broughton discusses Wolff, whom he met in 1827. He tells an anecdote about Rabbi Mendel, which he may have read in Wolff's Journal, since it is brought there. The anecdote is that after Wolff told Rabbi Mendel that he could achieve peace by converting to Christianity, the rabbi took Wolff to a window and pointed to Mount Calvary, and pointed out the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. And he said to him, In this monastery, Armenians, Catholics, and other Christians are daily quarreling, and would kill each other, if not for the swords of the Muslims who keep the tensions in check and preserves some order.

As you can see in Wolff's Journal, in these conversations two things were going on. He was trying to convince Rabbi Mendel of the truth of Christianity, and Rabbi Mendel was trying to make a ba'al teshuva out of Wolff.

On this, Broughton quotes Wolff further.

You call it "plumb pudding," I call it "kugel." Rabbi Mendel of Shklov was trying to get Wolff to say or feel something nice about the Talmud over kugel, and the nice experience of a shabbos se'udah, and Wolff said: "'Tis a lie in spite of your plumb pudding."


  1. One Litvak defeated by another one.

  2. Replies
    1. Haha, classic you.

      I know I have to get back to you. :/

  3. Intresante. So the old kiruv trick - feed 'em gefilte fish - was being used back then, eh? According to chazal, it goes back to Abraham.

  4. It's easier than being a sincerely nice and good person like the Christians who try to missionarize me. (And I say this as someone whose wife can convert the most heathen with her cooking.)



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