Thursday, December 29, 2005

Manasseh of Ilya and Y. Barzilay

I recently finished reading Yitzhak Barzilay's book on R. Manasseh of Ilya. R. Manasseh was a fascinating character. He was a student of the Vilna Goan, but wrote a pamphlet arguing for reconciliation between Hassidim and non-Hassidim. He wrote another work discussing the trop or cantilation marks and yet another, his mangum opus, on the Talmud. It is the later work that he is most well known for, although not necessarily in a positive way. The Tefferet Yisrael (R. Yisrael Lifshitz) on the Mishna quotes a brief passage from this commentary. R. Menasseh's comments appear on the first Mishna in Perek Alu Mitzhut. (Baba Metziah 1:1). He understands the Mishna in a different fashion than the Talmud, thus provoking some to argue such a position is heritical.

R. Manasseh was a controversial figure. His book on the reconciliation, Pesher Davar, was publicly burnt. His work on Talmud, Alphei Menashe, after either the publisher or some outsider (depending on the source, there are a couple versions of the story), destroyed it right before it was completed. R. Manasseh was forced to reproduce the entire work from memory and find a different printer.

Additionally, although he had a close relationship with the Vilna Goan, the Vilna Goan severed that relationship after learning R. Manasseh had been in contact with R. Shneur Zalman of Lida (Ba'al haTanya).

All this being said, he is ripe for an excellent biography. Unfortunately, Barzilay does not deviate from his norm, and put out another poor work. Although Barzilay has written on many other interesting figures of Jewish history, almost always he fails to do anything substantive or worthwhile with the subjects.

This work is full of gross supposition that are never supported by any facts. For instance we have sentences like this "It may be assumed that in a talented person like Manasseh, his critical faculties must have awakened rather early, and already in his youth he may have arrived at some of his nonconformist views with regard to the Halakhah and its historical development." (p. 24). Therefore, Barzilay wants to then claim and project back on Manasseh's early years and label him as a radical even then based only upon "his critical faculties." While that may be the case, there are also a million other possibilities. For instance, Manasseh was influenced later in life by someone else or he came to his "nonconformist views" based upon years of study and when he was 17 (according to Barzilay, again a guess) he did not hold these views.

Another example, where Barzilay is discussing Manasseh's frequent trips to his wealthy relatives house who had a terrific library, Barzilay makes the following statement: "The role of this library in Manasseh's life and intellectual growth cannot be overestimated . . . It may be further assumed, with a high degree of probability, that there also were to be found there the recent works of the Berlin maskilim, as well as those of the enlightened orthodox Jews from both Eastern Europe and the Germanies." Barzilay then goes on to cite to the many subscribers of various haskalah literature as "proof" this library contained these books. There a basic problem with this argument. Since Barzilay is able to point to where these books went to as the subscriber list, lists both person and place, why then isn't this rich relatives name ever listed if he was a collector of such works? Instead, Barzilay is satisfied to assume that the books were there as there were many haskalah books that "found [their] way among the Jews of Eastern Europe."

These are but two examples from a book that is rife with such sloppy work. The only redeeming fact of the book is the extensive quotation from R. Manasseh's works. As mentioned above, this is not the first book Barzilay wrote that fails miserably. He also did another biography on R. Shlomo Yehudah Rapoport (Shir), the son-in-law of the Ketzot HaChoshen and one of the leading figures of 19th century Eastern European Haskalah. This book is also disappointing.

unfortunate, the only other biography, Ben Porat Yosef, is no gem either. It was written by Mordechai Plungian an editor at the famed Romm press. This is more of an anecdotal than scholarly work. However, this work got Plungian in trouble as some claimed he attempted to make R. Manasseh into a maskil.

What is particularly strange is that a book review of Plungin's book appeared in HaMagid. At the JNUL site, which contains old Hebrew newspapers, the version they have appears to have that portion blacked out. The review in question appeared in HaMagid on March 8, 1858.

The full citation for Barzilay's book is Manasseh of Ilya: Precurser of Modernity Among the Jews of Eastern Europe (Manges Press, 1999).

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Chanukah Customs and sources

While the only mandated mitzvot for Chanukah consist of lighting candles and saying the full hallel, there are numerous other customs that have come to be associated with Chanukah.

The custom to play driedel on Chanukah is steeped in mystical allusions. From the letters which appear on the driedel to the way the driedel spins, people have offered explanations to link this to Chanukah. The Beni Yisscar, R. Tzvi Elimelch says that the reason the dreidel is spun from the top and the gragger on Purim is turned from the bottom has to do with how each holiday's miracles were effected. On Chanukah the miracle came from above, directly from God. However, on Purim, the miracles were directly brought about by the actions of Ester, Mordechi and the Jewish people. Thus, the dreidel is spun from the top showing the miracle came from above, and the gragger from the bottom showing the miracle came from below. Others explain the symbolism of the letters that appear on the dreidel, נ, ג, ה, ש. According to one explanation these hint to the mitzvot that we have on Chanukah, נרות שמונה (candles all eight nights) and הלל גמר (the complete hallel). Others note the gematria (numerical value) of the letters which correspond to the same gematria as משיח (the Messiah). Others still, link the letters with גשנה the city Yosef secured for his family in Egypt.

According to at least one source, the custom of playing dreidel was actually started in the time of the Maccabis. They say that in an effort to circumvent the Greek decree against studying the Torah, children and their teacher would have a dreidel handy to start playing in case the Greeks came upon them studying the Torah. They would claim they were not studying instead they were just playing dreidel.

Despite all of these explanations, in truth, dreidel is not Jewish in origin. Rather, driedel is really the rather old game of teetotum. Teetotum, which uses a top with four sides and four letters is one and the same with dreidel. The letters that appear on the dreidel are really just the Hebrew letters that appear on a German or Yiddish teetotum, G, H, N, S. G= ganz (all), H halb (half), N nischt (nothing) and S schict (put). Teetotum dates back to at least the 16th century long before we have any Jewish allusions to dreidel(it was originally totum or top, but became TEEtotum due to the use of T for take all, on the top). The well-known depiction of children's games done by Brueghel in 16th century includes Teetotum(see here and here for the complete painting). The earliest Jewish mention of dreidel or the significance of it dates to the late 18th century.

The story connecting dreidel to the ruse of the Maccabis was first published in the book Minhagi Yeshurun, which was first published in 1890 (the name was changed to Otzar Kol Minhagi Yeshurin in the third edition, which is available online here from Hebrewbooks.org . The author included a nice picture of himself at the beginning, although he was a Rabbi in Pittsburgh at the turn of the twentieth century, he is holding a quill pen.) His source is a contemporary of his. [As an aside, although his explanation of dreidel is well-known he offers a similar explanation for playing cards on Chanukah, i.e. that the Maccabi did so. However, that one is not nearly as well know.]

The custom of Chanukah Gelt appears to have changed over time. The earliest sources that mention money on Chanukah connect it with either collecting money for the poor (presumably for money to purchase the necessary implements for the Chanukah lights)(Sefer Mataamim) or giving money to ones children's teachers. (Hemdat Yamim, Chapter 3 Chanukah early 18th century, anonymous author, some claim was Nathan of Gaza, Shabbtai Tzvi's "prophet" others just a student of the Ari).

Again, especially amongst the Hassidic commentators, the custom took on a life of its own, both in its scope to include giving money to children and in its significance. There was also a special emphasis on giving their respective Rebbi money as well. R. Chaim Palache (Pellagi) (1788-1869) is the first to mention giving children money. He offers a kabbalistic reason "as children are representative of נצח והוד (eternity and glory). Something I don't profess to have any idea what that means.

Another custom, again somewhat late in origin, is the custom to not study Torah on Christmas eve. Menachem Butler has a post here on some sources, however, one should add that there is now a full length sefer devoted to this topic, Yisrael Barukh Mestinger, Nitel U'Meorosav, 2000. As well as a pamphlet, Hefaru Toresecha, maamar maktif mminhag avotanu bi-yadun (sic) odot lel ha-ofel nitel nacht, u-minhag yisrael l'vatel ma-asek ha-torah, 2004. Additionally, R. Gavreil Zinner, devotes a section of his work, Neta Gavreil on Chanukah to Nitel.

For more on the various customs associated with Chanukah, see Neta Gavreil Chanukah; Pardes Eliezer Chanukah 2 vol.; R. Yitzhak Tessler, HaDreidel (Sivvivon) B'Chanukah: Mikoroteha, Tameha, u'Minhageha, in Ohr Yisrael 50-62, vol. 14 (Tevat תשנ"ט).

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Attack on Rabbinic Judaism and Historical Orthopraxy

What is perhaps one of the more intreging sefarim ever published. Behinat HaKabbalah is two books in one. The first, Kol Shakal (the voice of a fool), is a scathing attack on Rabbinic Judaism. Basically, anything not found explictly in the Torah is claimed as false. For example, the requirment of mikva is deemed wrong as the verse only requires one to "wash one's body." This first portion takes up the majority of the book. The second half, Sa'agas Areyeh, (roar of the lion) is a defense of Rabbinic Judaism. However, the defense in some sense proves the first half as it is so sparse leaving the reader to posit that the author of Sha'agas Areyeh actually agreed with the author of Kol Shakal. Some even go so far to claim the author really wrote both works in an extremly sly attempt to gain wider readership. That is, they created a work which externally would be viewed as a defense of Rabbinic Judaism i.e. Sha'agas Areyeh, only to be able to slip in the most more persausive Kol Shakal.

Typically, the second portion is attributed to R. Yehuda Areyeh of Modena. (Mar Gavriel has an excellent post on him here). If that is so, some then argue he was a closet heritic or perhaps in today's vernacular- Orthoprax. That is, although R. Modena sat on the Venice Bet Din, wrote numerous traditional sefarim, and even authored on the selichot that is said on Yom Kippur Katan, in his heart he really did not believe in any of it. This, of course, is rather shocking.

In truth, the authorship of both of these works is somewhat up in the air. As mentioned, some attribute it to R. Modena, however, this is not certian. The reason being, this work was not published until 1852 and Modena died in 1648. The work was first published by Isaac Shmuel Reggio (YaSHar) a rather interesting character in his own right. [As an aside, Reggio was far from what many would consider "traditionally orthodox" he permitted shaving on Hol HaMoad which got him into trouble. (His father wrote a pamphelet against him on that issue). However, this year someone from Monsey reprinted his commentary on the Torah, apparently Reggio's biography was unknown to the sponser of the printing.] Reggio claimed to have published this from a manuscript in Modena's own hand. He has an extensive introduction as well as notes thourhout.

Others have questioned Reggio's assertion that it emenates from Modena. One has even pointed to Saul Berlin the author of the noted forgery Besamim Rosh as the author of this. However, that has been discredited.

In the end, whom ever the author maybe this work still stands as one the most interesting and entertaining attacks on Rabbinic Judaism.

There is much in this area and the interested reader can consult Reggio's introduction; T. Fishman, Or Hadash al Zemano shel Sefer Kol Shakal v'al Mekom Hibburo, in Tarbiz 59 (1990) 171-190; Fishman's book length treatment in "Shaking the Pillars of Exile'Voice of a Fool,' an Early Modern Jewish Critique of Rabbinic Culture;" E. Rivkin, Leon da Modena and the Kol sakhal; B. Kahlar, Shagas Areyeh al Kol Shakal in Mehkarim v'Inyuim (Tel Aviv, 1954) 357-378.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Racy Title Pages Update II

While I do not intend to focus solely on racy title pages, I do have a futher update to my previous posts I, II. It appears that the title page used in the Levush (Prauge, 1590) was actually a recycled page. It was first used in the Prague 1526 Haggada.

Now aside from this page, which we have seen is objectionable to some today, there were other objectionable illustrations in this edition. Yerushalmi in his Haggadah and History, notes that there was an illustration accompaning the verse found in haggadah from Exekiel 16:7. That verse reads "I cause you to increase, even as the growth of the field. And you did increase and grow up, and you became beautiful: you breasts grew, and your hair has grown; yet you were naked and bare" Accompaning this verse the following illustration appeared, which as you can see, really just shows just what the verse describes.


Now in the Venice 1603 they wanted to illustrate this verse, however, they did not want to use a nude, so they replaced it with a picture of a man, which of course, has little to do with the verse. In fact, they felt the need to place a legend on the picture so the reader would not be too confused the legend reads "A Picture of a Man!" (on the right)

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Magnes Press Sale

For a limited time, Magnes Press is having a sale, buy one book get the second at 70% off. They have some great new titles including Censorship, Editing and the text Catholic Censorship and Hebrew Literature in the Sixteenth Century; two books from the Italia series one devoted to Shmuel David Luzzato (Shadal) and other about R. Yehuda Areyah of Modena and many others including some other noteworthy ones that Manuscriptboy has recently blogged about.

Racy Title Pages Updated

As I had previously noted, many older seforim include what may be deemed objectionable by today's standards. I had mentioned how one book had attempted to rectify this, the new edition of the Levush. In this edition the title pages from some early editions of the Levush are included in the introdoction, however the title pages has been "touched up." Now that I have learned how to include images, I present both the original and the touched up version.

Although, the publishers of the Levush decided to alter the original, the new edition of the Tashbatz Koton did include a reprint of the first edition (1556) with the original title page unaltered. However, as is apparent, there are images on this title page that some might find objectionable.

[Unfortunately, I can't get the pictures to layout nicely, if someone knows how to fix that please let me know]


Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Anonymous Sefarim

Although, taken for granted today, there is a rather interesting discussion regarding putting ones name on one’s sefer. The early Jewish books we have- Tanak, Mishna and Talmud, the authors or compliers did use their names. It appears that this practice started in the times of the patanim. R. Yehuda haHasid says
In the early days, the patanyim - the ones that appear in Tanakh - did not use acrostics. Further, early blessings that were fashioned by the Great Assembly do not either have such attributions. However, when wicked people began creating songs of nothing . . .and people could not discern what the righteous people had written and what these wicked people wrote, the righteous people began putting their names in the acrostic . . . and with this the wicked could no longer take credit for poems that were not theirs.
Sefer Hasidim (ed. Wistinetzki), Frankfort 1924, no. 470, p. 133.

Thus, the practice of taking credit for one’s written came in order to allow the reader to know the provenance of the work. Others claim the use of the acrostic was just borrowed from non-Jewish sources. Be it as it may, these claims only date the usage of the writing the authors name to the time after the Talmud.

Some, however, go to some length to show that even in the books of Tanakh and the Mishna the authors or compliers did, at the very least, hint to their name. The Midrash Tanchuma explains why the letter Hey in the verse in Hazenu (Devarim 32:6) H-l’shem tigmilu zot (ה-לה')is separate from the name of God. The Midrash explains that this unusual separation is to “tell the reader to take the first letters of the verses up until this verse. The Hey (ה) from האזינו, the Yud (י) from יערף, the Kuf (כ) from כי שם, the Hey (ה) from הצור, the Shin (ש) from שחת לו, and finally the Hey (ה) from ה-לה'. Those letters numerical value equal the name of Moshe as this is Moshe signing his name just as a person who finishes his book signs his name to it.” (Tanchum Hazenu 5). Though some note that this quote may have actually been inserted later, it does demonstrate that at a fairly early time people felt it was important to claim authorship to their own work.

At times, however, there were some even long after the Talmud who wrote works in an anonymous fashion. One book provoked a discussion that sheds some light on the above discussion. R. Shmuel Aboab (1610-1694), wrote the ethical work Sefer HaZikronot, first published in 1631 in Prague, recently reprinted in 2001. However, the book was published anonymously. R. Hayyim Yosef David Azulai (Hida) in his bibliographical work, Shem HaGedolim, has an extensive discussion on the entry for the Sefer HaZikronot whether one should or should not note that one is acatully the author of a book. Hida quotes another passage in the Sefer Hasdim that offers an explanation why some do not note they are the author. “The early ones did not write their names on their works for example who wrote Torat Kohanim, Mehilta etc. so that they would not derive benefit from this world and lose any reward they will have in the world to come.” Sefer Hasidim, ed. R. R. Margolis no. 367. However, Hida notes that although for the “early ones” such as the those before the time of the Geonim, they did not reveal their authorship, from the times of the Geonim this has become common practice and thus in today there is no longer a reason to hide who the author is. Hida explains that the nature of R. Aboab’s book was the reason he did not reveal his authorship. The Sefer HaZikronot is a book of exhortations, a mussar book, as R. Aboab did not want to appear as more righteous in giving ethical direction he decided to remain anonymous.

Interestingly, the Hida nor anyone else, ever mention any prohibition in revealing the name of an anonymous work.

Sources: Yakov Shmuel Speigel, Amudim b’Toldot HaSefer HaIvri - Kitiva V’Hatakato, Ramat-Gan 2005, pp. 307-317; R. Hayyim Yosef David Azuali, Shem HaGedolim, Jerusalem 1997, vol. 2 Sefarim, 46-49.

ADDITIONAL NOTE: for further on the pronunciation of the word ה-לה' see David Yishaki, in R. Jacob Emden, Luah Eres, 2000, appendix.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Minhagim Books No. 1

I hope to present a couple of post on various Minhagim books. Some will focus on communal Minhagim books, and others on the minhagim of specific people.

The Tashbetz, also known as the Tashbetz Koton to distinguish between this the teshuvot haTashbetz, are the customs of R. Meir of Rothenburg as recorded by his disciple. The disciple's name formed the title, however, it is unclear what exactly was his name. Obviously, it is linked to the title, Tashbetz. Some explain the title as Talmid Shimon ben Tzodok others say he was Talmid Shmuel ben Tzodok, or Tosefot Shimon ben Tzodok, Tosefot Shimon ben Yoitz, orTikkun instead. The book was supposedly written when R. Meir was imprisoned.

The book collects all the customs of R. Meir dealing with the holidays, prayers and everything in between. As R. Meir is one of the gedoli Ashkenaz many of his customs were followed by subsequent generations. Of course, his customs were generally highly influential also due to his students, R. Mordechi ben Hillel haKohen, author of the Mordechai code on the Talmud, R. Asher b. Yehiel (Rosh) as well as his son R. Jacob (Tur) as well as many others.

There are many fascinating customs, whose sources are from the Tashbetz. , standing during the recitation of the Torah, washing ones hands after the kiddush, eating head of a ram on Rosh haShana, saying Zikhron Terura when Rosh haShana is on Shabbat, reciting both Eloki 'ad shelo netzarti and aloki netzor on Yom Kipppur and the list goes on. There are also some key passages, which explain other unclear customs. For instance, Naftali Wieder explains a rather cryptic passage in the Tashbetz as offering a totally new rational for why some people switch the word b'Fie (Bet-Peh-Yud) in Barukh She'amar to b'Feh (Bet-Peh-Hey). According to Wieder, Fie, is a curse in numerous languages, [think fie fi fo fum] and thus, the Tashbetz is saying for that reason one must alter the word.

There is actually a new edition of this book, however, it has some rather glaring flaws. The editor of this edition, [Sefer Tashbetz haKoton, Israel, 2005 Machon Torah S'beketav] states that he used a specific manuscript for this version, namely the one that he matched up with R. Yosef Karo. From the fact that this manuscript conformed with R. Karo's readings, this was the manuscript of the Tashbatz. Why the manuscript R. Karo, who lived some 300 years after the time of the transcription of the book, is left wholly unanswered. Further, aside from matching up a couple of passages from the Tashbetz with that of R. Karo, nothing further is offered about this manuscript. The editor never dates the manuscript, talks about where it was written and by whom. In fact, the reader is left to guess whether this manuscript was written after the Shulhan Orakh and Bet Yosef and was done with the specific purpose of conforming with the readings of R. Karo. The editor never says which of the "hundreds" of manuscripts there are of the Tashbetz is actually the oldest. Only that if R. Karo may have used one then that one is dispositive of R. Meir of Rotenberg's statements. Obviously, this is absurd.

This fundamental flaw aside, there are some positive points of this reprint. The first is that they have reproduced the first edition of the Tashbetz, Cremona 1556. This is reproduced fully, including a interesting title page which can be added to a previous post of mine. The editor has also added some notes, which at times are helpful. He generally uses abbreviation in referencing other books, he includes a key to explain these abbreviations. However, he cites to R. Daniel Goldsmit's Machzor as well as Weider (cited above) but for those abbreviations, the reader is left on there on. I assume he did not want to "taint" anyone with citations to scholars that although he saw fit to use, did not wish to fully reveal to his readers.

For further reading on both R. Meir and the Tashbetz, see Arbach Ba'alei haTosefot, 552-564; Yode'a Sefer (in vol. 2 of the Roest Catalog) no. 2525; Encyclopedia Judaica 11:1247-53; N. Wieder, Hisgabsut Nusakh haTeffila b'Mizrak u'Ma'ariv (The Formation of Jewish Liturgy in the East and the West) Jerusalem 1998 469-491.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Simchat Torah Book

I was going to post about the most comprehensive book on Simchat Torah, Avraham Ya'ari's Toldot Hag Simchat Torah, however, Miriam has already posted a very nice summary of it.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Besamim Rosh

In the previous post, I mentioned a new book which is a collection of articles by Moshe Samet, who is well-known for his studies of the Besamim Rosh. In the comments section it appeared that some wanted more information regarding the Besamim Rosh. I hope this will answer some of the questions raised and give a more comprehensive background.

The Besamim Rosh is a book of reponsa first published in Berlin in 1793. It contained two parts, the teshuvot and a commentary titled kasa d'harsena. The person who published it, R. Saul Berlin was the Berlin Chief Rabbi's son. R. Saul claimed the teshuvot were from a manuscript which he attributed to the Rosh, R. Asher ben Yehiel. The commentary, kasa d'harsena, was from R. Saul. Right after it appeared there were some that doubted the authenticity of atleast some of the teshuvot. They claimed that those teshuvot were not from the Rosh.

There were many novel teshovot. Among these was one permitting shaving on Hol haMo'ad, permitting kitneyot and claiming kitneyot was actually a Karite custom, and relaxing the restrictions on a suicide.

The first book to come out against the Besamim Rosh was written by R. Ze'ev Wolf, titled Ze'av Y'trof and was published that same year, 1793. In it he takes issue with some of the teshuvot that are in the Besamim Rosh. He also, claims that R. Saul retracted one, the teshuva permitting shaving on hol haMo'ad. However, it is unclear whether R. Saul admitted it was a forgery or he retracted in a less sensational manner.

After this book, there were numerous others who doubted either the entirety or at least portions of the book. However, R. Saul's father, R. Tzvi Hirsch Levin (Berlin) defended the work of his son and vouched for the authenticity of it. He claimed to have seen the actual manuscript, something that no one else had seen. There were others who also supported the book. It appears that R. Yosef Hayyim David Azulai, Hida, also vouched for it, based upon the testimony of R. Tzvi Hirsch.

R. Saul, actually had a history that may explain why some were suspect of him. He published under a pseudonym a book title Mitzpeh Yekutel which attacked R. Rafeal Hamburg, the chief Rabbi of Altona, Hamburg, Wansbeck (AH"U). This book was put in herem and burned in some cities. [As an aside after he was unmasked there were at least two teshovot published by different authors dealing with jurisdiction in herems. That is, whether the herem of one city, namely AH"U, can be enforced in another, namely Berlin. Obviously, this has many modern day implications, but it appears that many are not aware of such jurisdictional limitation of herems.]

Thus, it appears that some people already had rather negative opinions of R. Saul and this may have influenced their opinion of the authenticity of the Besamim Rosh.

As mentioned above, the Besamim Rosh was first published in 1793, however, it was not republished until 1881, nearly 100 years later. In this edition, two teshuvot were removed. The teshuva relaxing the rules for a suicide as well as one that permitted one riding on a horse on Shabbat. This second teshuva dealt with a case where one was riding on a horse and the Shabbat was approaching. The rider was faced with a dilemma, should he stop and thus have to scourge and rely on the hospitality of others or continue on to avoid that type of "embarrassment." The teshuva permits him to continue based upon the rule kovod habreiot dokhe l'o s'ashe. That is, for respect one can violate certain prohibitions.

Finally, the Besamim Rosh was republished from the original edition in 1984. This edition has an extensive introduction that attempts to rehabilitate the Besamim Rosh. However, there are numerous flaws with the introduction. The publisher twists and in some instances perverts statements of those that question the authenticity of Besamim Rosh. He also make absurd arguments in support of his goal.

For example, one of the people that doubted the authenticity of the Besamim Rosh was R. Moshe Sofer, Hatam Sofer. Hatam Sofer calls the Besamim Rosh the Ketzvi haRosh -the lies of the Rosh. (Orakh Ha'ayim no. 154) However, the publisher claims this is an error. He explains that the Vienna edition (1895) of the Teshvot Hatam Sofer don't read kitzvi haRosh, rather it reads kitvei haRosh- the writings of the Rosh. Thus, according to the publisher, all the editions of the Hatam Sofer that people relied upon were incorrect.

This, of course, is silly. The first edition of the Teshvot Hatam Sofer of this volume, was NOT the Vienna edition, rather it was Presburg, 1855. In that edition, which the publisher conveniently ignores, it says "kitzvei haRosh" the lies of the Rosh. This is but one of the numerous examples that can be found in this 1984 reprint.

In conclusion, there is a long running debate about the authenticity of this work, which has not been fully resolved, although at least one blogger may have a method to do so.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Moshe Samet and Manuscripts vs. Books

Manuscriptboy has two very nice posts today. One discusses a new book and various talks connected to the book. The book is a collection of articles by Moshe Samet. Moshe Samet has written some of the best pieces most notably on the Besamim Rosh, the teshuvot that were atributed to R. Asher b. Yehiel (Rosh) but are most likely a forgery and the product of the publisher, R. Saul Berlin. Samet has also written on the R. Moshe Sofer (Hatam Sofer) and more generally on the clash between the Reform movement and the Orthodox movement.

The second post discusses the conference held in honor of Benjamin Richler, the head of the manuscript department at the Jewish National University Library at Hebrew University. There was, what appears to have been, a facinating talk on the "evils" or more correctly the effect of printing on the preservation of manuscripts.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Update- Temple Service on Yom Kippur

Amshinover has a very nice post on the piyyutim connected to the temple service on Yom Kippur.

Temple Service on Yom Kippur

A significant portion, and perhaps the highlight, of the repetition of the Yom Kippur mussaf is the description of the Yom Kippur service as preformed in the temple. Many, however, are unfamilar with this service. There is an excellent book on the korbonot generally which devotes a portion to describing the Yom Kippur service, including the disagreeements amongst some Medievil commentors. The portion on the Yom Kippur service is highly readable and full of facintating details.

R. Raphael Nathan Nata Rabbinovicz, famous for his Dikdukei Soferim, (also recently reprinted) published the work of his Rebbi and father-in-law, R. Yosef Fadua, Ikrei haAvoda, in 1863.

The first printing was titled Ikrei haAvoda and the second printing in 1910, the book's title became Ikrei haKorbonot.

R. Yisrael Meyer Kagan, (Hafetz Hayyim) promoted the republication in 1910 and according to the publisher, the Hafetz Hayyim himself wanted to republish this book due to its importance. The Hafetz Hayyim thus allowed for the inclusion of his introduction to his own work on the korbonot, "Asefat Zekanim." This introduction includes why studying the korbonot is so important event today when one can't offer them. The publisher also states that at that time (1910) the first edition was exteremly rare and thus there was a need to republish the book.

Although, the printer does not offer why he changed the title, perhaps due to the inclusion of this additional materials that he felt he was kone b'shinu ma'ashe.

This book was recently republished by Mochon Mishnat Rebi Ahron. In this new edition they have reset the type and added footnotes and some minor corrections. (Although, they have also added some typograpical errors as well. (See, e.g. pp. 82 and 83)). They have kept the second title, Ikrei haKorbonot. I purchased this book at Beigeleisen books in Boro Park.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Collection of Articles on Sabbatianism Online

The book The Sabbatian Movement and Its Aftermath: Messianism, Sabbatianism and Frankism, edited by Rachel Elior, is available online, in its entirety, for free (see here).

The book includes articles by Elisheva Carlebach, "The Sabbatian Posture of German Jewry," Jacob J. Schacter, "Motivations for Radical Anti-Sabbatiansim: The Case of Hakham Zevi Ashkenazi," as well as an excellent article in Hebrew by Moshe Fogal "Sabbatianism of the book Hemdat Yamim: A New Exploration."

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Where to get out-of-print seforim

Question: Where can one get out-of-print seforim?

Answer: Some can be purchased via auction. There are a few auction houses that specialize in seforim. Kestenbaum, Baronovitch, Asufa, and Jerusalem Judaica are some.

Then there are dealers and stores. I would always first check Biegeleisen (718) 436-1165 to see if it is truly out-of-print. Then there is Seforim World, which is right next door to Biegeleisen who has out-of-print seforim.

Then there is also Pinters Hebrew Book Store, 4408 14th Avenue (718)-871-2260 who in theory is a repository of seforim people no longer want, however, if you dig one can find some gems there.

I also use Rabbi Eliezer Katzman (718)-851-0490 and R. Wigder in Mount Kisco (914) 242-0324. I have also received via email, a catalog from a dealer in Melbourne Australia, Adir, the catalog has some terrific items, and the contact email is sba-at- sba2-dot-com

One can also try bookfinder which has some Judaica dealers as well as well as Ebay.

The easiest place to get out-of-print seforim is at the library, most major university libraries contain Judaica.

These are some of the ones that I am familiar with, if you know of others please let me know.

Book on Yeshivot

Shaul Stampfer has republished a revised and expanded edition of his HaYeshiva haLita'ot b'Hitavato. The book which is devoted to three yeshivot, Volozhin, Slobodka, and Telz, as well as the Kovno kollel. The book tracks the Volozhin yeshiva from its inception to its closure and the Slobodka and Telz yeshivot until the turn of the twenteenth century.

This book was originally Stampfer's dissertation, Shlosh Yeshivot Litayot b'Meah haTisha Asarah (1981) and was published in book format in 1995. This edition includes numerous updates as well as much new information, especially regarding the closure of Volozhin. Stampfer now argues, based upon new Russian governmental documents, which he includes Hebrew translation of, that the Yeshiva was closed due to the its own internal upheaval. This internal strife was caused by R. Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin (Netziv) attempting to install his son as Rosh haYeshiva. At Telz a similar fight broke out also regarding succession, as well as in Volozhin itself, on two separate occasion. However, the last fight caused such a rapid decline in the internal going ons of the Yeshiva, the government had it shut. The closure did not have to do with the haskala, the Russian government wanting to meddle into Jewish education or any of the other reasons offered. Instead, as has been borne out throughout Jewish history, the Jews brought it upon themselves. For example, the burning of the Talmud in France after the controversy regarding Rambam's writings as well as the banning of the Talmud in the 16th century were caused or at least the catalyst was internal fighting amongst the Jews.

The book also debunks other theories regarding the opening of Volozhin. Some claim the R. Hayyim Volozhin ask R. Eliyahu of Vilna (Gra) and received his blessing to open the what was the first Yeshiva. Stampfer, however, questions this and notes that in the initial Kol Koreh R. Hayyim Volozhin makes no mention of this, something that would have bolstered his fundraising efforts. Second, Stampfer also proves that the opening of Volozhin was not in response to the Hassidic movement.

Aside from the above, the book is full of first hand accounts of the Yeshivot. These include, Volozhin started praying in the morning at 9 am and the prayers only ran 15-20 minutes. Stampfer qualifies this by noting haNetz haHama in Vilna (just north west of Volozhin) during the winter is 9:17 and also notes the 15-20 minutes is probably slightly exaggerated. Telz yeshiva was the first to institute grade levels in a yeshiva. Also, according to Simcha Assaf's account, R. Lazer Gorden encouraged him to learn Russian and had his son teach Assaf in his own home. Stampfer includes much about the influence of Zionism and the haskalah on the yeshivot. All you ever wanted to know about all the infighting in the Yeshivot. The first to move to establish a kollel was R. Yitzhak Ya'akov Reines, who was highly controversial with the establishment of his yeshiva in Lida - arguably a precursor to Yeshiva University. These are only a tiny portion of the terrrific nuggets that can be found in this book.

I purchased this book at Beigeleisen in Boro Park (718-436-1165)

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Rabbinic Pictures

Menachem Butler notes that the custom of having portraits done of Rabbinic figures dates back to the 16th century and has now been applied to YU. He also raises the issue of the permissibility of such portraits in like of the injunction against making graven images.

There is a fairly substantial literature on the topic of Rabbinic pictures. In my previous post, I note that Mark included a picture of himself in his book. This was fairly common to include on the frontispiece of ones book a portrait. Menashe ben Israel, Yosef Delemdigo, Yehudah Modena as well as numerous others did so. In Cohen's book, mentioned by Menachem, he discusses this. R. Reuven Margulies in his Toldot Adam, Lemberg, 1921, 8-9 and Aviad Cohen, De'uknot Hakhamim bein halakha u'masse in Machanayim 2 (1995).

However, the most complete discussion as to the halakhic implications of this custom as well as a fairly extensive list of seforim containing rabbinic frontispices, can be found at the end of book having very little to do with this topic. R. Areyeh Yehuda Leib Lifshitz's first published in Warsaw in 1927 and reprinted in Israel, 1965. The book is devoted to the somewhat mythical R. Saul Wahl. In the first edition, however, R. Lifshitz included a picture of himself. This picture was placed loose in the book. At the end, R. Lifshitz includes a lengthy teshuva devoted to demonstrating that portraits pose no halakhic problem. [There is also a well know from R. Jacob Emden discussing both a portrait of his father, the Hakam Tzvi as well as a medal struck in honor of the chief rabbi.]

Another, more contemporary article discussing this issue can be found in the book Mo'adim l'Simhah b y R. Tuvia Fraind vol. 1 where he has an article on this.

Perhaps one of the strangest pictures is that of R. Yehuda Aszod. R. Aszod held that it did violate Jewish law to take pictures. His students, however, really wanted a picture of their teacher. They decided on a plan to obtain his picture, that after he was dead to prop him up and take his picture. Sure enough, that is exactly what they did. They also decided that proceeds from the sale of his picture would go to his widow and his children. At his funeral, there was a rather big to do about this especially in light of the fact that it is generally not allowed to profit from the dead. However, some permitted this and his picture was sold. [You can see this picture in the book Gedoli Dorot the three vol. picture/biography book.]

This story is recounted in biography done by his grandson that appears at the beginning of his commentary on the Torah Divrei Maharia. This was first published in 1931 and republished in 1970, in both these editions this story appears, however, in the most recent reprint in 1986 this story has been removed.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Biography of Gedolim

Long before Making of a Godol there was another book that contained terrific stories of Gedolim. These stories are especially refreshing in that they give a "human" look at gedolim. This book was originally published in Yiddish and subsequently portions were translated into Hebrew. The book written by Ya'akov Mark, (1857-1929) is titled Gedolim fun Unzer Tziet (or the great ones of our time). This book was first published in New York in 1927 and included a picture of the author. Mark was from Palanga, Lithuania (or Latvia depending upon how the wind is blowing). Palanga is a resort town on the Baltic Sea where many gedolim came for vacation. Mark, thus was afforded first hand contact with many of the greatest Rabbis at the end of the 19th and the turn of the 20th century. Eventually, in 1920 Mark moved to America and his book was published there.

The book is divided by type of person, namely, Rabbonim, Manhigim, 'Askonim, and Maskilim. It includes biographies and stories about, among others, R. Y. Salanter, R. Yitzhak Elkhonon, R. Hildesheimer, Shmuel Yosef Fuenn, R. Ma'atishyau Staushun.

Mark's work was utilized by many. R. Dov Katz in his Tenuat haMussar uses it extensively. In another work on the early ba'ali mussar, haMeorot haGedolim by R. Ha'ayyim Zaichyk, (New York, 1953) also uses Mark, especially in the section devoted to R. Y. Salanter. The use of Mark is documented in the footnotes. In the most recent reprints of haMeorot haGedolim, all footnotes that reference Mark have been removed. Of course, the publishers that reprinted haMeorot haGedolim don't mention this, let alone offer a reason for this omission. Perhaps it was one of the following "sins" that "warranted" the exclusion of Mark from this edition. The first, he was an accountant and not a Rav. The second was that he offers a more human portrait of the persons mentioned in his book. The third is that includes "questionable" people in his book such as Saul Pinhas Rabinowitz (Shepher) or Dr. Harkavy. Again, I don't know that these were the reasons, however, I think they are plausible although inexcusable.

In 1958, Mark's work was partially reprinted and translated into Hebrew. The Hebrew title is b'Mihitzham shel Gedolei haDor. This edition only included the portion of the original Ra'abanim and Manhigim those in the second half of the original under 'askanim and maskilim were not included. The publishers stated that they planned on publishing a second volume which would include those, however, it seems that never happened. The one exception was R. Ma'atishyu Staushun, who although was in the later category was included in this edition.

Either edition is worthwhile reading full of fascinating anecdotes and stories. The Yiddish is more difficult to obtain, but not impossible.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Differences btwn the "Improved" Making of a Godol and the Original

Differences between the "Improved" Making of a Godol and the Original
by Dan Rabinowitz

As previously mentioned at the Seforim blog, Rabbi Nathan Kamenetsky's Making of a Godol has been reprinted in an "improved" edition. In the new edition there are a few significant changes, which appear to have been done to appease those that originally banned the original.

It is fairly easy to find these changes with the help of the index in the "improved" edition.

Here are some of the highlights of these changes:

First Edition ("FE") - Also like my father, R' Aaron Kotler dabbled in secular studies at this time. He was more interested in literature than in the sciences which attracted my father's interest. (305)
Improved Edition ("IE")- Like our protagonist, young Aaron Pinnes picked up some secular knowledge as an early teenager in Minsk. (305)

FE- . . . during a visit with a young, intellectual protege of the Hazon-Ish who headed a yeshiva in Ramalah, R' Aaron blurted out, "This was expounded by Aleksander Pushkin" (305)
IE- not there

FE- nothing
IE- A story how he utilized this youthful experience to benefit the Torah community in Israel, came to light in an interview with R' Dov-Tzvi Rothstein.

FE- nothing
IE- In the Talmudic Yeshiva of Philedelphia mail is censored till this day: the students are "appeased" by being told "Without censorship, R' Aaron Kotler would have been lost."

FE- It maybe postulated that R' Aaron had too much self-confidence, as per what . . .
IE- In my fater's opinion, R' Aaron had very definate self-confidence, as per what . . . (386)

FE- "What is the difference? Before you go to his [R' Aaron Kotler's(D.R.)] yeshiva, you don't know how to learn anyway; and after you have been there a bit, you will already be considered [by him] that you do know how to learn. . . " Then our protagonist mitigated the seemingly sarcastic remark by explaining
IE- What is the difference. . . [same as above D.R.] Then our protagonist went on to explain his words by adding.

FE- the Lithuanian government issued an edict saying that the students of any yeshiva without secular studies would no longer be eligable for draft deferments. At a rabbinical assembly called to discuss the issue, it became evident that the Telz Yeshiva was ready to bow to the order, while the Slabodka Yeshiva, . . was uncompromisingly opposed. (510)
IE- the Lithuanian . . . eligable for draft deferments. Only the Telz Yeshiva , which despite opposition had started a mekhinah (preparatory school) with secular studies recieved recognition.

FE/IE There are a couple minor changes on 510-13 not worth getting into here

While there are numerous other changes, the above represent the "most controversial" passages from the first edition, and how they appear in the current edition.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Second Rabbinic Bible/Chapter Divisions

University of California at Berkeley has purchased a copy of what is known as the Second Rabbinic Bible (seen on PaleoJudaica here). This Bible was published by Daniel Bomberg and edited by Jacob ben Hayyim ibn Adonyahu. Without denigrating the importance of owning the original, I think the article describing the value added to Berkeley is a bit misplaced or at the very least overblown.

First, this book is now available online via the Hebrew Univesity's program of digitilizing parts of their collection (the First Rabbinic Bible is also available there as well). Second, a photomechanical reproduction of this book was done in 1972 with an additional introduction by the Bible scholar, Moshe Goshen-Gottstein. Additionally, one of the most important portions of this Bible, namely Jacob ben Hayyim's introduction was published with an English translation and extensive notes by C.D. Ginsburg in 1867 and republished by Ktav in 1968. Basically, if one wants to examine this book, without paying a huge amount of money to purchase it, there is no lack of places to do so.

The article also neglected to mention a feature of this edition that is particularly important, the inclusion of chapter breaks. Although, Jacob b. Hayyim attempted to obtain the Jewish chapter breaks, the ones created by the ba'alei mesorah, Jacob only got these at the end of the printing a instead utilized the non-Jewish chapter breaks (which we use until today). He did, however, include a list of the Jewish breaks after his introduction but the actual divisions used in this edition are the non-Jewish ones. As the article correctly points out, this bible became the template for almost all future bibles and thus, we are consigned to use those divisions eventhough, at times, they run counter to Jewish law and tradition.

[For an excellent exposition on the chapter divisions, see Shmuel haKohen Weingarten, Halukat haTora l'Perakim, in Sinai vol. 42 (1958) pp. 281-293; R. Pesach Finfer, Mesoret ha-Toah veha-Nevi'im, Vilna 1906 (republished in 2005).]

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

New Auction Catalog Online

The Baranovitch auction catalog for their Nov. 9th auction is now available online. It has some nice seforim, including one of my favorite, R. Y. Shapotshink's Shas haGodol s'begolim, the largest Shas ever published. Shapotshink, who was a real character, utilized R. Pinner's shas and then added notes on the side of the page, creating the largest in size shas ever published. As many of his books, he only published a single volume. In this case, only Berachot was published.

The auction also includes some books with pictures in them. One of the more interesting ones is the Vienna, 1813 edition of the Marsha (R. Shmuel Edels) that contains his "portrait." R. Edels lived 1555-1631 and there is no known portrait executed during his lifetime. The portrait that appears in the Vienna edition is a product of the artist imagination and probably bears no relationship to what R. Edels actually looked like. In the portrait the Mahrsha appears with long, shoulder length hair, wearing some type of slippers, surrounded by hundreds of books.

At the same time, the Vienna publishers also published an edition of the Rif (R. Yitzhak Alfasi) also with a portrait, which is also a product of the artists imagination.

"Improved" Making of a Godol

R. Nathan Kamenetsky has republished the first volume of his book, "Making of a Godol." This new edition is labeled "Improved Edition." The reasons for the improvements are well-known. The original edition was placed under a ban due to perceived slights in the honor of certain Gedolim.

In this new edition, there is a helpful index which shows what exactly has been improved upon. According to the index only one story has been removed in it's entirety. That story, in which R. A. Kotler responded to an interruption during his shiur from a "red-bearded scholar." R. Kotler responded by saying "Red Heifer, be still!" This was removed due to the source of the story. Apparently, the source for this particular story did not support R. Kamenetsky when R. Kamenetsky questioned the validity of the ban, and thus R. Kamenetsky did not want to include this persons comments.

According to the index there are no more omissions in this new edition. Instead, there are numerous elaborations, corrections, and a significant amount of new information. R. Kamenetsky states in one of the first "elaborations" that "the unexpected ban issued on the original, unimproved, version" helped the current edition be of value for all time.

unfortunately, this improved edition still suffers from a serious lack of editorial oversight. Although, the book has been altered to conform and appease those that issued a ban, it was not altered to make it more reader friendly. The improved edition still utilizes the same format of text followed by excursuses with numerous footnotes and tangents. It still requires, as R. Kamenetsky points out, a pencil and paper to be able to be able to flip back and forth through the book and keep track of what page one is on.

There is one important addition to the book, while not solving all the difficulties, at least alleviates some of them. R. Kamenetsky included a timeline line which tracks both significant events in world history with a parallel timeline that tracks significant Jewish events. When the Jewish events appear in the book, R. Kamenetsky included a footnote to alert the reader which page they can be found on. This allows, if one so desires, to read the book in a chronological order.

Although, the original book was only $40 (when it was published, subsequent to the ban the book was selling and continues to sell for outrageous prices) this improved version is $125. I assume that the steep raise in price was to allow for R. Kamenetsky to recoup some of his losses he suffered from the first edition. There were only 1,000 copies of the first edition published, however, R. Kamenetsky stopped selling and ordered his distributor to stop distributing them once the ban was pronounced. While it is impossible to know with certainty, this probably left him with numerous unsold copies thus causing significant loss. R. Kamenetsky implemented this policy even though he stood to profit immensely from the ban, he has said he felt bound by the ban even if he felt it was unjust.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Hebrew Dictionaries

The post below focuses on R. Elijah haBahor's dictionary- Sefer haTishbi. There are, however, numerous other Hebrew Dictionaries. R. Elijah haBahor himself wrote another focusing on Aramic words from the Targuimim, titled Sefer haMiturgumin. The most complete exposition on Hebrew Dictionaries is Shimeon Brisman's "A History and Guide to Judaic Dictionaries and Concordances." While the title indicates it also discusses Concordances, in truth, there is a second volume, not yet published, that focuses on those. This volume, however, is devoted to the history of the Hebrew Dictionary. While Brisman does a very good job of giving a very good overview, at times, I found the book somewhat lacking. He focuses much of his attention on the bibliographical details which causes the content to suffer.

Perhaps the most well-known dictionary to students' of the Talmud is Marcus Jastrow's dictionary. While recently there have been a few dictionaries that claim to be comprehensive dictionaries of the Talmud for the English reader, Jastrow's is still king. The University of Pennsylvania has now posted online a permanent exhibit on Jastrow as well as on Hebrew Dictionaries. The exhibit has reproduced many of the title pages and given brief histories on many of the most important Hebrew Dictionaries.

Perhaps one of the more interesting dictionary was done by a Jew who converted to Christianity. Philippe d'Aquin (originally Mordechi) wrote a commentary on the famed dictionary of R. Nathan of Rome - the Arukh. His commentary, Marikh haMarkhot was published just once (you can see the title page here) . His commentary was not that novel, most of it was "borrowed" from earlier commentaries on the Arukh. R. Yosef Toemim, author of the Peri Megadim, states that the commentary that one should use when studying the Arukh is Marikh haMarkhot -the commentary d'Aquin. [There is no other commentary by that name, nor is the fact that the author was a non-Jew hidden. On the title page it states that the author is a professor of Hebrew at the University of Paris.]

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

New Book Censored

R. Elijah haBahur's Sefer haTishbi has just been republished. The Sefer haTishbi is a dictionary devoted to words that do not appear in R. Nathan of Rome's Orukh. This particular reprint contains many important additions. It contains Solomon Buber's biography on R. Elijah as well as an extensive introduction on the various editions and the importance of the Sefer haTishbi. Furthermore, it contains several commentaries, some published for the first time. It contains the commentary of R. Menhem Shmuel Hirschtik, Ragle Mevaser originally published in 1910. However, it also contains the commentary of R. Jacob Emden and that of R. Yeshya Pick, the author of the Mesorat haShas. While R. Emden's commentary had been published in part in two journals, for the first time both those are collected together. R. Pick's commentary had never been published, although there had been some who alluded to it.

This book also contains an index as well as the Iggeret Pri Megadim from R. Yosef Teomim. This letter is typically published at the beginning of his commentary to Orakh Hayyim, however, due to the fact that he a) advocates for the study of R. Elijah's books; and b) has numerous comments on the Sefer haTishbi, this was included here. There is also an index of just these letters.

Now, on to the controversial portion of the book. This book also contains the critique of R. Shlomo Schick on the Sefer haTishbi. R. Schick, in his commentary on the Torah, Torah Shelmah (1909, Satmar) takes issue with many of R. Elijah's statements, not just his Sefer haTishbi. However, the editors of this edition of the Sefer haTishbi have collected R. Schick's comments that relate to the Sefer haTishbi. The editors have also included a rebuttal of R. Schick titled Tzidkat haTzadik.

While this may seem rather innocuous, R. Schick is considered in some circles to be unacceptable. This is especially true amongst the Hungarian Haredim. R. Schick, who was a Rabbi of what was known as a Status Quo community in Hungary, was himself a Haredi. However, he felt that instead of alienating his community and many others in Hungary he would take a more reconciliatory stance. This put him in conflict with the majority of the Haredim in Hungary. They wanted to cut off all the non-Haredim. In fact, they issued an edict that all shecita by members that considered themselves Status Quo, was to be considered non-kosher. Importantly, many in the Status Quo community kept Torah and mitzvot a fact R. Schick pointed out in many of his teshuvot. This placed Schick outside the camp of the "frum" and thus among some his writings are unacceptable.

Therefore, there are two editions of this newly reprinted Sefer haTishbi. One that contains an actual photocopy of the haskama of the Betaz of Jerusalem and a second version that does not. In the edition that contains the haskama both the comments of R. Schick as well as the rebuttal does not appear. In the edition that does not contain the haskama you get what I described above, the comments of R. Schick and the editor's rebuttal.

The editors even note this in the edition that contains R. Schick's comments. They explain that the Betaz gave them a haskama (they even quote it but do not reproduce the actual letter, so they get to say they got the haskama without offending the Betaz) but that the Betaz told them they found R. Schick to be unacceptable and thus would not want to give a haskama to such a work.

Therefore, one now has a choice between the Betaz haskama or the comments and rebuttal of R. Schick.

I obtained both editions from Beigeleisen in Brooklyn.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Racy Title Pages

Printing was started by non-Jews, however, Jews quickly entered the printing business. However, at times, Jews "borrowed" from non-Jews sources with some interesting repercussions.

Early on many of the Jewish books borrowed title pages from non-Jewish works. This was so, as early title pages utilized woodcuts, which were rather expensive to make. In an effort to cut costs, printers would reuse these woodcuts from other books. Soncino in his early Talmuds as well as in other books used the title page that was used for Aesop's Fables. (See Marvin J. Heller, The Printing of the Talmud, p. 68-70)

In 1697 the Teshuvot haBakh were published for the first time. This first edition actually has two variant editions. The first one was published with a rather elaborate title page that included unclothed women. It appears this edition was immediately pulled and a second title page was substituted. This second page was much simpler with just two cherubs above the text of the title no more nudes. (For more on this topic of altering title pages, see Isaac Rivkind, Sefer Ashir B'Sha'arim, in Studies in Bibliography and Booklore, vol. 1 1953 p. 96-100; A. Freimann, "Ueber Schicksale hebraischer Bucher," in Zeitschrift fur Hebrasche Bibliographie, X (1906) esp. p. 175)
More recently, R. Mordechai Yaffo's Levush was republished. This reprint, aside from resetting the type, adding the Eliyaha Rabba and Zuta, and adding additional notes also includes an extensive introduction. This introduction traces the history of the various editions of the Levush as well as explaining its overall value. When it traces the printing history, it includes reproduces the title page of the first edition (Lublin 1589). However, this title pages has strategic white outs. In the first edition on the title page it includes female nudes, these are now whited out.

The inclusion of nudes was not that uncommon. I have seen other seforim that include such depictions either on the title page or at times even in the text. One notable example is a Mahzor published in Venice in 1710. This edition includes a depiction of semi-nude women right before the start of Barukh She'amar. From an artistic perspective this arguably adds to the book, however, from a religious perspective one must assume that it may offend some. However, there is no explanation for this picture so we are left to wonder what was the motive of the publishers.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

How Many Seforim, and why too much is not a good thing

On the Main Line asks how many seforim are actually out there. Although, it is probably impossible to give an exact count there are ways to give a fairly good estimate. In Y. Vinograd's Thesaurus of the Hebrew Book, he lists by year the amount of seforim that were published. Vinograd's work, however, only covers from the beginning of printing until 1863. According to that count I came up with approxiamatly 32,503 seforim published. The CD Rom, The Bibliography of the Hebrew Book which spans until 1960, estimates that they have approximately 85,000 titles. Now both of these lists include printed books and not individual books, thus, if a book was published multiple times it is counted as such. Consequently, we can't tell how many seforim were actually written only that the number must be significantly less than those totals as many are probably reprints, siddurim, humashim and other works of no one single author.

Furthermore, this counting issue is compounded in that it is unclear what exactly would be considered a "sefer." Should we include all books printed only in Hebrew or do other languages count? In both the above counts, they include books published in other languages. Also do the seforim have to be about "Jewish" topics or is it sufficent that they were written or published by a Jew. Some seforim are about what can be considered secular topics, natural sciences, math, history etc. Again the above lists include all of these. However, what the above lists don't reflect is when multiple works are included in a single work. Should each of these works be considered a seperate work or not? Therefore, there really is no one single method to arrive at a number and all the figures have what to quibble with.

What is perhaps relevant to this discussion is R. Jacob Emden's comments on the proliferation of seforim in his time. He says "How great is the hole in this orphaned generation. Any idiot or fool who's spirit takes him can write a book, this is so even if he doesn't know mikra, mishna u'derek eretz. He doesn't have to know Hebrew nor is he congent of suta d'rabonon. He takes his stuff and displays it in the marketplace . . . and he wastes Jewish money." R. Jacob Emden, Amudi Shamyim [Siddur], Ma'amodot l'yom rishon [p. 563 Eshkol ed.].

R. Emden continued and advocated for some board or committee to oversee what should and should not be considered worthy of printing.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Tisha B'av and History of the Temples

There is a new book out, Elefh Dor, by Yeruchum Horowitz (2 vol.). This book gathers from hazal and various secular history works to give a complete picture from the Second Temple until the closing of the Mishna. The author does an especially good job of collating and arranging the various sources in a coherent manner.

As it is tisha b'av I will focus on the parts of the book dealing with the destruction of the Temple. As anyone that has read Josephus is aware many of his histories are spread out in various volumes of his books. For example, the destruction of the Temple appears in both the Wars of the Jews as well as Josephus. Horowitz, however, is able to mesh all these sources together. What is also refreshing is that he notes where there are problems with Josephus's recounting of the story. Further, the book contains separate articles that go into greater depth regarding the general veracity of Josephus as well as Josephus the person.

He also has an article on where the Temple vessels currently are. However, on this point he has some inaccuracies. For example, he accepts the well known story about the Hafetz Hayyim that appears in "All for the Boss." This story claims that a farmer in Israel located the temple vessels while digging in his field. He then traveled to America and met with R. Shain who sent a letter to the Hafetz Hayyim. The Hafetz Hayyim "confirmed the man's find by looking in various books." This story is unfortunately, preposterous. Why would the man travel to America from Israel when he could have gone to Rabbis in Israel or Europe. America at the turn of the century was not exactly known for its wealthy of Rabbinic scholars. Second, which books did the Hafetz Hayyim look into to confirm the story. The only books that are really relevant are secular history books dealing with the rise and fall of Rome and where the spoils of Rome went to after that. He also doesn't cite to the most relevant articles on this issue, namely, Hans Lewy, Olomot Nifgashim, 255-58; Abraham Berliner, Divrei yemi hayehudim b'roma, vol. 1 107-110.

Besides for the above issue, this book provides a basic understanding of the periods it covers, and in particular a rather good overview of the history surrounding the destruction of the second Temple.

The book is available at your local bookstore, I purchased it for $28.50 from Beigeleisen Books.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Pashkevilin (Broadsides)

Pashekevilin, or broadsides, are commonplace all over Israel, but perhaps they are most associated with Meah She'arim area of Jerusalem. There is a permenant exhibit on some of these at JTS.

There is now a book devoted to these. The book, Pashkevilin: Modo't Kir u'kruzot Pulmus b'rehovot haharedi ("Broadsides: Wall Announcements and Polemical Proclomations in the Ha'redi Street") contains three articles and 150+ pages with pictures of these broadsides.

The first article is by Menachem Friedman (a recent topic on AJHistory) on the history of these broadsides. (This article is available online here.) The second article focuses on death notices and the third article focuses on the language of the broadsides. The rest of the book is devoted to pictures of these broadsides. This section is divided into seven sections by topic: the controversy about the Yishuv haYashan; HaHinuk haTohar (Jewish education); Zionism; Hillul Shabbat; divisions between various camps of Orthodoxy; Tzniut; and various fights.

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