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All about Seforim - New and old, and Jewish Bibliography.

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    Most books, and Hebrew books are no exception, contain introductions. The introduction may lay out the author's vision for the book, or describe the motivation for publication. Additionally, it is not uncommon to find material which has little to nothing to do with the work which follows. One example, is the introduction to the third edition of the work Or Enayim.[1] This work by R. Shlomo b. Abraham Peniel discusses "the fine attributes of the Jews and the good that is awaiting for them in the world to come." It is divided into three parts, the first part discusses the heavens and their effects on the Jews, the second part discusses the Creation story, and the final part discusses the Avot.

    In 1806, this work was republished with an introduction from the editor of this edition. The editor was R. [Yisrael] Aryeh Leib ben Saul, the Chief Rabbi of Stettin.[2] The editor was the son of R. Saul Berlin, the latter who is perhaps most well-know for editing/authoring the Teshuvot Besamim Rosh. (For earlier discussions of the Besamim Rosh at the Seforim blog, see here.) The introduction contains some unusual items. It mentions Thomas Paine, Aristotle and other Greek philosophers, as well as the French Revolution and the bloody aftermath.[3] He specifically vocalises the name Abarbanel with that reading.[4] As is common in introductions, R. Aryeh Leib includes a brief history of his upbringing and eduction. He notes that he studied with both his grandfathers, R. Tzvi Hirsh Levin the Chief Rabbi of Berlin, as well as his maternal grandfather. Additionally, R. Aryeh Leib studied with R. Pinchas Horowitz, the author of the Haflah.

    While all the above is interesting in its own right, the more interesting and important portion of the introduction discusses R. Areyeh Leib's father, R. Saul. R. Aryeh Leib notes that his father left numerous works in manuscript and specifically lists them. R. Saul himself also discusses his unpublished works in his last will and testament - although only to issue a warning that "all of [his] writings, however... shall be forbidden to anybody to take even one leaf and to read it. Everything shall be left in paper, be sealed up and sent to my above-named father or to my children..." R. Saul doesn't provide any other information about these "writings." R. Aryeh Leib, however, discusses them in detail. First, he explains his father left notes and thought on the entire Sha's titled Perek Hasheg Yad. The other titles, also on GeFeS, include Deh Lachmo, Resisi Lilah, as well as Ateres Zekanim on various aggadot. Finally, R. Saul left "his piskei dinim."

    R. Aryeh Leib continues that his father left extensive notes on a work, Or Zarua of R. Isaac of Vienna. At this time the Or Zarua had not been published, instead, the Or Zarua although well-known, wasn't actually first published until 1862 and then only a portion of it. R. Aryeh Leib wanted to publish this work, it seems with his father's notes.[5] As R. Aryeh Leib was well aware of the controversy his father prior works had caused, he took a proactive stance and sent the manuscript to two persons, R. Chanina Lipman Meisels of Peiterkov and R. Tzvi hirsch David HaLevi of Krakow. R. Aryeh Leib was fearful of "the kat ha'tzvoim who are unfortunately very common in this generation, they always treat as suspect the holy works as perhaps they will find something objectionable in these works, and [when they locate something they claim is objectionable] they stir up the populace with this."

    R. Aryeh Leib never was able to publish the Or Zarua, however, his discussion enabled one scholar[6] to cast serious doubts on the traditional story associated with the discovery and printing of the Or Zarua. Specifically, in the introduction to the Or Zarua, there is a description of the travels of the manuscript, and the relevant part states "[i]n earlier days this beautiful book used to be the proud possession of the author of the work Besamim Rosh, R. Saul, son of Tzvi Hirsch, Chief Rabbi of Berlin, as it is written on the cover of the [manuscript].... After [R. Saul's] death the book was sent to another city ... by ship over the sea, and the ship and everything that was in it was wrecked, and the manuscript that was inside went under the sea and the waves went over it ... God ... protected this book and prevented it from going down to the depths and saved it from destruction. He sent a stream through the mighty waters a brought the book to the border ... and led a fisherman to the place. He saw the book, lifted it from the sea and brought it to a certain Jew." From there it was transfered to another and was then published. While this story makes for good reading, based upon the introduction in the Or Enayim it seems that it is not true. Contrary to the story, R. Saul did not send the manuscript only to have the ship wreck - instead, as R. Aryeh Leib says, he received the book from his grandfather, R. Yitzhak Yosef Toemim who R. Saul had given it to. It was not then lost in the sea, rather, as we have seen, in 1806 R. Areyeh Leib had it and was hoping to publish it.

    What is true from the above story, and is confirmed in part by R. Aryeh Leib, is that the manuscript which the Or Zarua was published from, contains the notes of R. Saul. These notes have never been published although the manuscript is still extant in the Bibliotheca Rosenthalina in Amsterdam and is available at the JNUL (Mss. R. R. Film No. F 10455).

    [1] On the title page of this edition it states that it is the second edition of this work. This is incorrect. The Or Enayim was first published in Istanbul in approximately 1520. It was then published for a second time in Cremona in 1557. In 1806, we reach the edition discussed above. Thereafter, in 1967, a photomechanical reproduction of the Cremona edition was published together with R. Emmanuel Benevento's Leviat Chen. [It is worth noting that although the Leviat Chen is also a photomechanical reproduction of the earlier, and only, 1557 Mantua edition, for some reason there are two pages missing at the end. Specifically, these two pages are a dirge bemoaning the 1554 burning of the Talmud in Ancona.]

    [2] On the title page his name appears as Aryeh Leib - as the two approbations address him, while he signs the introduction with the additional Yisrael Aryeh Leib. R. Aryeh Leib had a rather colorful life, including converting to Christianity later in life. According to some, however, he repented and returned to Judaism. For more on Aryeh Leib, see Landshuth, Toldot Anshe ha-shem u'Polosum (Berlin, 1884) pp. 109-110. Landshuth cites E. Rosenthal, Yode'a Sefer p. 16 no. 93 as the source for the story that Aryeh Leib converted and that at the end of his life returned to Judaism. R. Saul also had a daughter, Hena, who married R. Abraham Hertz and they had a son, Saul.

    [3] These persons and events are included to highlight the distinction, according to R. Aryeh Leib, between Jews and non-Jews. He claims that although one may find wisdom in non-Jewish as well as Jewish sources, in order to fully appreciate wisdom one can only do so through the study of the Torah and fulfilling its commandments. Thus, Duschinsky's conjecture that R. Areyeh Leib mention was "to impress the reader with his profound knowledge in all subjects," has little basis. See Charles Duschinsky, "The Rabbinate of the Great Synagogue, London, from 1756-1842," Jewish Quarterly Review (n.s.) 9:3/4 (January - April, 1919): 383.

    [4] See S. Z. Leiman, "Abarbanel and the Censor," Journal of Jewish Studies (1968): 49, n. 1.

    [5] Although Schrijver, see next note p. 78 n. 63, alleges there is "no clear textual evidence to support [the] assumption that Aryeh Leib wanted to include his father's notes in a printed edition." It seems from the fact R. Aryeh Leib went so far out of his way to defend the work against possible detractors I don't think it far fetched to understand that the detractors would question the work of his father.
    The above noted works are not the only works of R. Saul, R. Saul himself mentions other works he authored, none of which were published, in his notes Kasa D'harsena. For a complete list see Landshuth, supra n. 2, pp. 105-106.

    [6] Emile G.L. Schrijver, "Some Light on the Amsterdam and London Manuscripts of Isaac ben Moshs of Vienna's Or Zarua'," Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, 75:3 (Autumn 1993): 53-82, esp. 73-82 where he includes an appendix on "The Story of the Shipwreck of the Rosenthaliana Or Zarua' and its Demystification."

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  • 07/26/07--05:59: New Book on Weddings
  • Now, with the passing of Tisha B'Av and the three week period, we now enter the wedding season. Appropriately, there is a new book on the laws and customs of weddings. The book, Beyom Chasunaso, by R. Zev Cinamon, is in English with Hebrew footnotes. The book is highly readable and covers just about every practical aspect of a modern Jewish wedding. There is a discussion about untying knots, the recent emphasis on praying under the Chuppah, removing jewelry and the list goes on. The book does a very good job of distinguishing which customs and laws are obligatory and well-accepted and which are not. Thus, for example, the custom of praying under the Chuppah with long lists of names or having singles go under the chuppah after the ceremony, R. Cinamon notes that this is a new custom and carries with it some possible halakhic problems. Or he discusses the custom some have of singling out the wedding witnesses to the exclusion of all others and why one would do that.

    The footnotes are all in Hebrew as has become common in a growing number of English Judaica books. The notes, while not comprehensive do provide ample basis for one to look further into a particular topic. The English written in a very clear fashion which makes this accessible for almost anyone. It is also nice that each time a person is quoted, his birth and death dates are included which enables one to put the comments in perspective. Included are the opinions and customs of modern day rabbis including R. Joseph Baer Soloveitchik, R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, and R. Yisrael Chait of Far Rockaway.

    The book can be purchased directly from R. Cinamon's Yeshiva, Yeshiva Gedolah of West Hempstead by calling 516-882-3765 or emailing and indicating you want the book. The book is $12.

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    The Legend of R. Yehuda Halevi's Death: Truth or Fiction
    Eliezer Brodt

    Among the more famous kinos that we recite on Tisha B'Av is Zion Halo Tishali. This kinah was written by one of the greatest paytanim, R. Yehudah Halevi author of the classic Kuzari. This piyut is about the author’s passion to walk on the holy soil of Eretz Yisrael. In the Artscroll commentary on the kinos, R. Avraham Chaim Feuer writes
    an ancient manuscript states that R. Yehuda Halevi composed this kina while journeying towards Eretz Yisroel and recited it when he reached Damascus, facing the direction of Zion. Although many historians believe that R. Yehuda Halevi only got as far as Egypt, never even reaching Damascus, tradition has it that he finally reached Jerusalem (in 1145). There he fell to the ground in a state of ecstasy. . . . As he was embracing the dust near the temple mount, he was trampled and killed by an Arab horseman.
    In this post I intend to discuss the above legend of R. Yehuda Halevi's death, did he actually reach Eretz Yisrael? When did he compose the piyut of Zion Haloeh Tishali? I will conclude with a discussion on R. Yehuda Halevi's connection to R. Abraham Ibn Ezra. I do not, however, intend to discuss R. Yehuda Halevi's classic work the Kuzari nor his life in general for more on those topics one can see the excellent study by Adam Shear, "The Later History of a Medieval Hebrew Book, Studies in the Reception of Judah Halevi's Sefer HaKuzari" (PhD dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 2003); soon to be printed in book form.

    R. Abraham Zacuto (1452-1514) in Sefer Yuchsin (first printed in 1566) writes that "R. Yehuda Halevi was fifty [years old] when he came to Eretz Yisroel and he is buried together with his first cousin, the Ibn Ezra." (p. 217, Filipowski ed.). Later, however, R. Zacuto writes that R. Yehuda Halevi is buried with R. Yehudah Bar Elayh in Tzefat. (idem., p. 219). Setting aside the apparent contradiction regarding R. Yehuda Halevi's burial place, in both of these descriptions R. Yehuda Halevi actually made it to Eretz Yisrael. Nevertheless, the legend of an Arab horseman killing him is absent. The earliest source for Arab horseman legend appears in R. Gedaliah Ibn Yachi, Shalsheles Hakabbalah (first published in Venice, 1587) and he states that he heard this legend from "an old man" (p. 92). Although the Shalsheles Hakabbalah appears to be the source for the R. Feuer's statement, the Shalsheles Hakabbalah has one addition to the legend -- omitted by R. Feuer -- that R. Yehuda Halevi recited the kinah of Zion Halo Tishali right before the Arab horseman killed him.

    The next time that this legend appeared, after the mention in the Shalsheles Hakabbalah, is by R. David Conforte (1618-c.1678) in Koreh Hadoros (first printed in Venice, 1746), p. 13, followed by R. Yechiel Halprin (1660- died sometime between 1746-1749) in Seder Hadoros (first printed in Karlsruhe, 1769), p. 201, it is then repeated by R. Wolf Heindheim in his edition of the Kinos. By the 19th century, this legend became perhaps the most famous story about R. Yehudah Halevi as not much else was known about him.

    R. Matisyahu Strashun, however, questions the legend. He explains that Jerusalem, in the times of R. Yehuda Halevi, was ruled by Christians and not by Arabs. R. Strashun allows that although it is possible R. Yehuda Halevi composed Zion Halo Tishali when he got to Jerusalem -- not that we know that he did -- but the part of the story with the Arab killing him is certainly not true. As a general matter, R. Strashun notes that it is well known that the Shalsheles Hakabbalah is not a reliable sefer at all (Mivchar Kitavim, pp. 215-216). R. Shmuel David (ShaDaL) Luzzatto in his collection of poems from R. Yehuda Halevi, Besulas Bas Yehuda (Prague, 1840), also questions the the legend due to the Christian and not Arab control during the time of R. Yehuda Halevi. Further, even if there were Arabs around they would not have done such a blatant act right at the city gate (pp. 25-26). So Shadal concludes that he died on his way from Egypt never even reaching Eretz Yisroel. Interestingly enough, David Kaufmann uses other evidence to prove that the poems of R. Yehudah Halevi have Jerusalem under Christian rule (Mechkarim Besafrus Haivrit Byemei Habenyim p. 194).

    Israel Zinberg writes that most likely R. Yehuda Halevi returned home to Spain, after visiting Eretz Yisrael, based on the fact that R. Shlomo Parcon, a student of R. Yehuda Halevi who lived in Spain, quotes a statement from R. Yehuda Halevi "after R. Yehuda Halevi was in Egypt" (Machberes Hauruch p. 5). Specifically, R. Yehuda Halevi had told Parcon that he was doing teshuva and therefore no longer composing. Independently, we know that during while R. Yehuda Halevi was in Egypt he composed much, Zinberg therefore argues that this statement to Parcon must have taken place after R. Yehuda Halevi was in Egypt, thus R. Yehuda Halevi must have returned to Spain (Toldos Safrus Byisroel, vol. 1, p. 115). David Kaufman also uses R. Shlomo Parcon to adduce how R. Yehuda Halevi died. Kaufman points out that had R. Yehudah Halevi died in such a spectacular fashion as the legend has it, R. Shlomo Parcon was sure to note it. As R. Parcon makes no note of an extraordinary death, R. Yehuda Halevi must have died a natural death. (Mechkarim Besafrus Haivrit Byemei Habenyim, p. 195). In Amudei Avodah, Landshuth also questions the legend due to lack of evidence that R. Yehuda Halevi ever made it to Eretz Yisrael. (p. 70).

    In regard to the piyut, Zion Haloh Tishali, Landshuth brings different opinions where this was written, in Spain or Damascus, Syria (p. 76). Yitzhak Baer (Kinos p. 130) and David Kaufmann (supra, p. 195) cite an manuscript -- housed at Oxford -- which says that R. Yehuda Halevi said this piyut when he got to the Yerushalayim. Shadal writes it was written in Spain (supra).

    Earlier I mentioned that the Sefer Yuchsin writes that R. Yehuda Halevi was fifty years old when he came to Eretz Yisrael and he is buried with his first cousin, Abraham Ibn Ezra. Later he writes that he is buried with R. Yehuda Bar Elayh in Tzefas. In the Travels of R. Benjamin of Tudela, written around 1170 - thirty years after the R. Yehuda Halevi died - Benjamin records that he visited the grave of R. Yehuda Halevi in Teveriah (there are actually various readings of these words in the manuscripts, but Adler accepts this as the correct reading; p. 29). In the travels of R. Yitzchak Ben Alfurah, written around 1441, he writes that he visited the grave of the Ibn Ezra and R. Yehuda Halevi (Avraham Yari, Masos Eretz Yisrael, p. 110). Both of these provide strong evidence that R. Yehuda Halevi actually made it to Eretz Yisrael. Nevertheless, an anonymous traveler in 1473 (Masos Eretz Yisroel, p. 113) and R. Yosef Sofer in 1762 (Iggrot Eretz Yisroel, p. 301) write that they visited the grave of the Ibn Ezra but make no mention that R. Yehuda Halevi is buried there as well. In the travels of R. Moshe Yerushalmi from 1769, he writes that he visited the graves of the Ibn Ezra and R. Shlomo Ibn Gabriel (Masos Eretz Yisroel, p. 438). I would venture to say the author confused R. Shlomo Ibn Gabriel with R. Yehuda Halevi both being famous composers and are sometimes confused. Furthermore, we have no source that R. Shlomo Ibn Gabriel ever came to Eretz Yisrael (aside from a very late letter written in 1747 printed in Egrot Eretz Yisrael, p. 273). (See also David Kaufmann, p. 205 and Sinai, vol. 28, p. 290). In a manuscript from the author of the Koreh Hadoros (printed in Sinai vol. 28, p. 284) it seems that the R. Yehuda Halevi was buried in Jerusalem.

    Over one hundred years ago the Cairo Genizah was accidentally discovered and due to this incredible find every areas of Jewish Literature and History have been greatly enriched. Before this discovery the history of R. Yehuda Halevi written by the early scholars of Jewish History was based on the poems of Halevi that were printed by Shadal and others. However, much has been discovered in Geniza Manuscripts in the past sixty odd years which adds an incredible amount of detailed information to what we knew about the end of R. Yehuda Halevi's life including original autograph letters of Halevi. [One can view some of these online here, and here is an example of one of documents relating to R. Yehudah Halevi.] These discoveries were made by the great scholar of the Cairo Genizah, Shlomo D. Goitein. Starting in 1954, Goitein printed his discoveries with his explanations of the material, in various journals mostly in Tarbitz. Later on, in his classic A Mediterranean Society (volume V, pp. 448-468), he included an excellent chapter on R. Yehuda Halevi based on all the material which he had found over the years. Most of his interpretations of the material he discovered have been accepted by Professors C. Sherman and Ezra Fleischer. In A Mediterranean Society Goitein writes “a full publication of all the geniza letters referring to Judah Halevi would fill a book.” (p. 462). Although Goitein never got around to writing such a book, in 2001 Professors Moshe Gil and Ezra Fleischer did write such a book. The title of the book is Yehudah Halevei U'bnei Chugo this book is a six hundred and forty page study of all the material from the genizah discovered by Goitein. This book includes all the original documents with notes and an in-depth history of all that can be gleaned from these letters. It is simply incredible to read what Goitein and than Gil and Fleischer discover in these letters.

    The relevant documents are from a Cairo business man named Abu Said Halfon who was a very close friend of R. Yehuda Halevi. What follows is a brief time line of R. Yehuda Halevi's journey to Eretz Yisrael based on the research of these professors. In 1129, when R. Yehuda Halevi was fifty four years old he decided to make the journey to Eretz Yisrael. In the year 1130, R. Yehuda Halevi began his journey. He intended to travel through Egypt. We don’t know why he didn’t. But we do know that he ended up in North Africa. In North Africa, he became good friends with the Ibn Ezra. For some unknown reason, he ended up back in Spain. Not too much information is known about why this journey to Eretz Yisrael did not end up happening. Ten years later, in 1140, R. Yehuda Halevi began the journey again. He ended up in Alexandria on September 8. He had intended to leave from Egypt to Eretz Yisrael immediately, but was delayed. He ended up going to Cairo until Pesach. After that he returned to Alexandria. A few days before Shavuos of 1141, he boarded the boat, and on Shavuos, he set sail to Eretz Yisrael. In a letter written about 6 months later indicates that R. Yehuda Halevi was no longer alive. It seems that he was alive for 2 months in Eretz Yisrael. We don’t have any information about his stay in Eretz Yisrael. It would seem that either he got sick or died a natural death. There is no clear answer whether the legend is true or not. It’s rather sad that with all the manuscripts discovered in the Cairo geniza that enriched us with an in-depth, heavily detailed history of R. Yehuda Halevi’s last years until he left to Eretz Yisrael, does not tell us anything more. However, there was one letter written three months after the death of R. Yehuda Halevi that does indicate that perhaps the legend is true. The letter (the ellipsis appear in the original) says as follows:
    ולא נעלם ממנה אודות רבינו יהודה הלוי הצדיק החסיד זק"ל אשר עליו באמת ניבאו נביאי האמת עין לא ראתה, ההיה גבור ביראת אלהים ובתורתו, ומאמרי פעליו מעידים צדקו, באודותיו ירונו כצפורים בעתותן למנוחת עולם הוטע כבוד גן אלהים, וברמה הוא נשא נס גדולותיו והליכות גבורותיו, אשר תרונה ביקרו, והתיקר... וביקרו, ותמונת ה' הביט... בשדה צען להאירה... זק"ל לא... צור... מחנה שדי... להתנחל לרשת... עזי...וישם... בדמות השכינה ובמראה... בשערי ירושלים
    This letter was first printed by Jacob Mann, Goitein highlights the line ולא נעלם ממנה אודות רבינו יהודה הלוי הצדיק החסיד זק"ל which would seem to indicate that his death was not natural (calling him a kodesh is typically reserved for a martyrs) and especially the end where it says בשערי ירושלים but the letter is damaged and hard to read so one can not say anything conclusively. But Fleischer (pg 255) is willing to use the letter even with it’s missing parts to support the legend! Especially, he says, the author of the letter using the word קודש twice in the phrase זק"ל instead of the usual ז"ל. From this concludes Fleischer that we are not far off at all about Halevi death. Fleischer concludes by noting that one should be careful not to make fun of legends!

    There was certainly a strong connection between the Ibn Ezra and R. Yehudah Halevi. Professor D. Kaufman (supra p. 206) gives a listing of the many times which the Ibn Ezra quotes Halevei throughout his works. R. Azariah de Rossi, in his Me'or Eynaim, writes that R. Yehuda Halevi was the Ibn Ezra's father-in-law (chapter 42). Koreh hadoros also brings that he heard this (p. 13). Shalsheles Hakabblah brings a whole legend which he had heard how exactly the Ibn Ezra became the son-in-law of R Yehudah Halevi (pp. 92-93). Interestingly enough the Meiri in his Seder Hakablah and the Sha'ari Zion make no mention of this relationship between the Ibn Ezra and R. Yehuda Halevi. Both Goitein and Fleischer say that although R. Yehuda Halevi was not the father in law of the Ibn Ezra the son of the Ibn Ezra, Yitzhak did marry R. Yehuda Halevi's only daughter (see Yehuda Halevei U'bnei Chugo pp. 247-251). However, M. Gil writes that in the end Goitein changed his mind and realized there was no relation through marriage (p. 250-251). Also, see N. Ben Menachem, Inyai Ibn Ezra, pp. 224-240, 346-356 regarding the relationship between Ibn Ezra and Yehuda Halevi including any relationship through marriage.
    It is worthwhile noting that R. Immanuel Aboab in his Bemavak 'al Erko shel Torah, written in 1615, claims that the Ibn Ezra was both R. Yehuda Halevi's son-in-law as well as a cousin. (p. 247).

    On this topic in general see also: Adam Shear, The Later History of a Medieval Hebrew Book, Studies in the Reception of Judah Halevi’s Sefer Ha Kuzari, pp. 95, 513-514; C. Shirman, Toldos Hashirah Haivrit Besefard Hamuslamit, pp. 441-443. On the Ibn Ezra and Eretz Yisrael in general, see N. Ben Menachem, Sinai, vol. 10 p. 276 and onwards; see also N. Ben Menachem, Inyai Ibn Ezra, pp. 182-190.

    More sources on R. Yehuda Halevi and Eretz Yisrael see: Adam Shear, supra, pp. 516-517; C. Shirman, Letoldos Hashirah Vehadramah Haivrit, vol. one, pp. 319-341; C. Shirman, Toldos Hashirah Haivrit Besefard Hamuslamit, pp. 466-480. Franz Kobler, A Treasury of Jewish Letters, vol. one, p. 155; Abraham Haberman, Toldos Hashirah Vhapiut, vol. one, p. 185;

    On the reliability of Shalsheles Hakabbalah in general see: A David’s doctorate and E. Yassif in Sippur Ham Haevrei pp. 351-371)

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    Forgery and the Halakhic Process
    by Marc B. Shapiro

    What is the role of academic learning in the determination of halakhah? In particular, I am referring to knowledge which is not available to the posek and which would affect his halakhic decision. This is, of course, a wide-ranging issue of which I will only discuss one aspect here, that relating to forgery. However, since the issue of the Mosaic text and R. Moshe Feinstein is relevant here, and I mentioned both of them in my last posting, let me make a few brief preliminary comments on this.

    In The Limits of Orthodox Theology I quoted the following comment of R. Bezalel Naor, who was quoting his teacher, the Gaon R. Shlomo Fisher of Jerusalem: “The truth, known to Torah scholars, is that Maimonides’ formulation of the tenets of Jewish belief is far from universally accepted.” For those who don’t know, R. Fisher is one of the gedolim of our time, and you can see many of his shiurim on Many of these shiurim focus on Talmud (and he has published the great rabbinic work, Beit Yishai), but R. Fisher is also the only one of our gedolim who is an expert in Jewish philosophy. This explains why his Derashot Beit Yishai are very different than other collections of derashot. Professor Zev Harvey told me that from R. Fisher’s edition of Crescas’ Or ha-Shem, it is clear that he used Wolfson’s Hebrew text found in Crescas’ Critique of Aristotle.[1]

    Someone I know currently attends R. Fisher’s weekly shiur on Avnei Miluim, the last half-hour of which is devoted to issues of hashkafah. Interestingly enough, he reported to me that a few weeks ago R. Fisher declared that he believes the Rambam abandoned his system of 13 Principles, the proof being that they are never mentioned as a unit in the Mishneh Torah.[2] In my book, I noted that R. Shlomo Goren held the same view. R. Goren also makes another interesting point, that while in the Commentary on the Mishnah Maimonides requires one to actually believe in certain principles, in the Mishneh Torah he only requires you not to deny any principles. One who has never heard of a principle obviously does not believe in it, which makes him a heretic according to the Commentary on the Mishnah. But according to the Mishneh Torah, since this person does not actually deny the principle, he is not regarded as a heretic.

    Getting back to R. Moshe, as is well known, he ruled that the Commentary of R. Yehudah he-Hasid was a forgery, as he could not imagine that a rishon would acknowledge that there were some post-Mosaic passages in the Torah.[3] Only after my book appeared did Rabbi Naor tell me that the comment I quoted above in the name of R. Fisher was stated precisely with reference to R. Moshe’s positon on this issue. After R. Moshe banned R. Yehudah he-Hasid’s Commentary, R. Fisher commented that R. Moshe assumes that R. Yehudah he-Hasid has to accept the Rambam’s Principles, but in truth there were many disagreements with the Rambam, and R. Yehudah he-Hasid’s position on Mosaic authorship is one of them.

    Along these lines, I read a recent shiur by R. Moshe Zuriel, a well-known baal machashavah in which he affirmed that all must accept the Thirteen Principles. I wrote to him asking what he would say about those who accepted the views of sages who disagreed with the Rambam, and I specifically referred to Ibn Ezra’s (exoteric) position that the last twelve verses were written by Joshua, which is a rejection of Maimonides’ insistence in the Eighth Principle that the entire Torah is Mosaic. He replied (emphasis added):

    ודאי אני מודה שהסומך על ראב"ע (או אברבנאל וכיו"ב) ביחס לפסוקים הנוספים, איננו
    נחשב לכופר, והוא נחשב ישראל . . . וכן כל דבר שיש מחלוקת ראשונים

    In fact, in addition to the sources I cited in my book, Ralbag also says something interesting in this regard. Joshua 24:6 states:
    ויכתב יהושע את הדברים האלה בספר תורת א-להים
    Regarding this verse, the Talmud records a view that the reference is to the last eight verses of the Torah. But Ralbag explains it as referring to different verses:

    ויכרת יהושע ברית לעם: על זה להיותם עובדים את ה' ולהשאיר זכר לזה המעשה למען יבושו ישראל אם יסורו מאחרי ה' כתב יהושע את הדברים האלה בספר תורת הא-להים

    Another relevant source, which I also recently found, is R. Solomon David Sassoon, who wrote as follows (Natan Hokhmah li-Shelomo, p. 106; emphasis in original):

    הדגש הוא על מה שאומר כי משה אמר זה מפי עצמו, אבל אם יאמר פסוקים אלה נביא אחר כתב אותם מפי הגבורה ומודה שקטע זה הוא מן השמים ומפי הגבורה, אדם שאומר כך אינו נקרא אפיקורוס, מה שהגדיר אותו כאפיקורוס אינו זה שאמר שלא משה כתב את הקטע אלא בזה שהוא אומר שדבר שזה מדעתו ומפי עצמו אמרו ושאין זה מן השמים

    According to R. Sassoon, one who believes that parts of the Torah were written by a post-Mosaic prophet is not a heretic. (In another post I might speak more about the great R. Sassoon and his unique family.)

    One of the strange passages in R. Yehudah he-Hasid’s Commentary is his assertion that the Hallel ha-Gadol (Psalm 136) was originally part of the Pentateuch and was later removed by David and placed in the Book of Psalms. In my book I note that this idea is also found in both R. Avigdor Katz (a rishon) and R. Menahem Zioni. I wrote: “Apparently, there was some tradition regarding this verse, the source and nature of which is unknown.” After my book appeared, R. Yaakov Hayyim Sofer published his Hadar Yaakov, vol. 1. On page 39, he notes that in two works of R. Eleazer ben Judah of Worms (the Rokeah), he mentions that Hallel ha-Gadol was recited by the Israelites at the Red Sea, a notion that is not found in extant rabbinic literature. (In Pesahim 117a it states that they recited the regular Hallel.) In R. Eleazar’s Siddur, p. 214, he cites Seder Olam as the source for this tradition. The editors refer the reader to Seder Olam Rabbah, yet nothing relevant appears there. Either R. Eleazar had a different version or he was referring to another book with this title. What is important for our purposes is that this tradition ties in with what is quoted by R. Yehudah he-Hasid and R. Avigdor Katz, even though the Rokeah doesn’t mention anything about this section being removed by David. Hopefully, more research into the writings of Ashkenazic rishonim will further illuminate matters.

    Let me now speak of another issue, not of falsely ascribing forgery where there is none, but accepting as authentic that which is actually a forgery. The classic example is, of course, Besamim Rosh. There is no doubt that the volume is a forgery. There are those who have believed that at least some of the responsa are authentic, but it is more likely that the non-controversial material is a smokescreen for the controversial responsa. I plan to write an article about Besamim Rosh so I will not now reveal an internal proof, arrived at by use of a computer, that the book is a forgery. In an earlier article, I called attention to the fact that the Besamim Rosh assumes that a suicide has no share in the world to come, which is a popular 18th century conception, but not found among Ashkenazic or Sephardic rishonim.[4]

    There is a talmid hakham, Rabbi Reuven Amar, who republished the Besamim Rosh and argues in his introduction that Saul Berlin was one of the gedolim. For all of his talmudic learning, Amar is very ignorant in this matter. He knows nothing about the history of Berlin and his haskalah ties. If he did, he would not have wanted to defend him. Yet Amar did know that many halakhic authorities quoted the Besamim Rosh, and he therefore wanted to turn it into a kosher book.

    The problem Amar was faced with is what concerns me. What is one supposed to do with pesakim that rely on the Besamim Rosh? Fortunately, there can’t be many. In fact, offhand, I don’t know of any responsum in which a decision is based entirely, or even heavily, on Besamim Rosh, so that if you took this work away the decision would fall.

    However, this is not the case with another forgery, as here the forgery is cited by all halakhic authorities of the last 140 years. I am referring to the Sefer ha-Eshkol, attributed to Rabbi Abraham ben Isaac. It was published by Rabbi Zvi Benjamin Auerbach (1808-1878), one of the leading German rabbis of his time. He was also the most prominent member of the famous Auerbach rabbinic family, which together with the Bamberger and Carlebach families (the ABCs, as they were known) were the most prominent rabbinic families in Germany.

    According to Auerbach, his Sefer ha-Eshkol came from a Spanish manuscript. The work quickly became popular among scholars and was adorned with Auerbach’s commentary Nahal Eshkol, which is a mine of rabbinic knowledge. It came as quite a shock when in 1909, many years after Auerbach had died, the great scholar R. Shalom Albeck accused him of having invented the story of the Spanish manuscript in order to enable him to forge the work. This accusation aroused a great storm and four of the leading Orthodox scholars – David Zvi Hoffmann, Abraham Berliner, Jacob Schor, and Hanokh Ehrentreau – rushed to defend Auerbach, publishing the booklet Tzidkat ha-Tzadik (Berlin, 1910).

    It is obvious that Auerbach’s defenders never gave Albeck’s charge any serious consideration. In their eyes, the fact that Auerbach was universally regarded as a tzadik, as well as one of the gedolim of Germany, rendered the accusation invalid from the start. There was no way they could impartially consider the evidence. In their mind they knew that for a pious Jew, some things are just impossible. Albeck responded to Tzidkat ha-Tzadik with the booklet Kofer ha-Eshkol (Warsaw, 1911), which explains how Albeck knew that the work is a forgery. In discussing the dispute between the four scholars on one side, and Albeck on the other, R. Shlomo Yosef Zevin[5] showed which side he was on.

    אחד מול ארבעה – וההרגשה היא, שהנצחון לצדו של האחד

    As far as I know, every academic scholar who has examined the evidence has concluded that Albeck is correct, and Auerbach’s Sefer ha-Eshkol is a forgery. This is so despite the defense of Auerbach by Issachar Dov (Bernard) Bergman in his essay in the Joshua Finkel Festschrift (New York, 1974;[6] it also appears in Sefer ha-Eshkol, vol. 4 [Jerusalem, 1986]).[7]

    Needless to say, the supposed Spanish manuscript has never been found. In the words of Prof. Haym Soloveitchik, “Auerbach’s Eshkol appears as a clear forgery, incorporating arguments found in sixteenth, seventeenth, and even eightennth-century writings. . . . [The work] should not be used for historical purposes.[8] For this reason, I criticized Avi Sagi and Zvi Zohar for citing Auerbach’s Eshkol in their Giyur u-Zehut Yehudit.[9] R. Bezalel Naor writes:
    I was told the following anecdote by Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein. Licthenstein’s father-in-law, Rabbi Joseph Baer Soloveitchik (of Boston) expressed to Rabbi [Hayyim] Heller his amazement that the same obscure opinion of Mordecai in Niddah was to be found in the Eshkol, to which his mentor Hayyim Heller responded: “That is all?! You can find in Auerbach’s Eshkol a peckel Peri Megadims.” (Yiddish, a pack of Peri Megadim). . . . Prof. S.Z. Leiman informs me he found other irregularities in Auerbach’s historical works.”[10]
    The late Prof. Israel M. Ta-Shma assumed that Auerbach’s Eshkol is a fourteenth-century forgery that he innocently published.[11] In discussing the issue, Ta-Shma makes the following incredible statement:

    לדעתי עשה זאת משה די ליאון, וכך שמעתי גם מפי חברי פרופ' י. זוסמן

    De Leon is commonly said to have died in 1305, so unless the forgery was done at the very end of his life, we would be dealing with a 13th century forgery. In his Ha-Nigleh she-ba-Nistar, p. 144 n. 203, Ta Shma indeed writes

    ויש רגליים לדבר כי זיופו, במגמה לקרבו לספר הזהר ותכניו, נעשה כבר במאה הי"ג

    Yet Ta-Shma’s assumption doesn’t take into account that Auerbach’s Eshkol almost certainly contains material from later centuries. Furthermore, Ta-Shma ignored the well-founded assumption Auerbach forged other documents. According to Moshe Samet, some of Auerbach’s forgeries were actually designed to further a Neo-Orthodox agenda.[12] (It is well known that people who forge rarely do so once. Rather, seeing that they got away with it, they continue in this path, getting some sort of perverse pleasure from fooling the world.)

    In Mordechai Breuer’s Modernity Within Tradition, p. 202, in discussing Orthodox scholarship and how it was often not rated highly by others because of its binding preconceptions, he writes:
    One such example was the attempt of some scholars, especially R. Kirchheim in Frankfurt and Schalom Albeck in Poland, to expose the chief scholarly work of the late Rabbi B.H. Auerbach of Halberstadt (Ha-Eshkol, with commentary and notes, Nahal Eshkol, Halberstadt, 1861), as a plagiarism and a forgery. In spite of certain discrepancies in Auerbach’s work, this attempt failed after his defenders could prove that the attacks had not been free of prejudice.

    In Between The Yeshiva World and Modern Orthodoxy, p. 77 n. 8, I responded to this as follows:

    Breuer seems to be mistaken in pointing to the dispute over the authenticity of B. H. Auerbach’s edition of the Eshkol as an example of this phenomenon [i.e., Orthodox scholarship being looked down on]. To begin with, the main assault on Auerbach was led by Shalom Albeck (1858-1920), himself an Orthodox Jew. Secondly, this dispute had nothing to do with dogma interfering with scholarship, but was simply a question of whether Auerbach had forged the text. Finally, it is not so clear that Albeck’s attempt failed, as Breuer would have it. On the contrary, the authenticity of Auerbach’s edition is still highly questionable.

    When I wrote this paragraph I didn’t want to appear disrespectful to Prof. Breuer, which is why I used soft language. In truth, as far as scholars of medieval halakhic literature are concerned, Albeck was entirely successful. As I note above, the attack of Albeck on Auerbach had nothing to do with the sort of “Orthodox scholarship” Breuer was referrring to, and which was subject to criticism by non-Orthodox scholars. Albeck wasn’t attacking Auerbach because of his supposed Orthodox close-mindedness.

    Yet the point Breuer makes actually has relevance to another aspect of this dispute, and here I refer to the defense of Auerbach by the four scholars. Here we do find dogma of a sort, since they make it clear in their defense that the whole accusation is ipso facto invalid, and they even cite the Rambam, Commentary to Avot 1:6, that if you see a tzaddik do something that looks like a sin, you must assume that there is a reasonable explanation, even if it is very far-fetched.

    Albeck’s response to this is that the Rambam is referring to a tzaddik who commits a sin between him and God, but not someone who

    מתעה את לבות גדולי ישראל מורי ההלכה ודורשי החכמה, ודאי מצוה וחובה על כל איש המכיר בו, להוציא את בלעו מפיו, למען יהיה לאות לבני מרי, ולא יוסיפו לחלל ש"ש ולזייף את התורה

    The issue mentioned by Albeck, that of the poskim being misled by a forgery, is what I would now like to raise. What is one to do if one sees that a posek has decided a halakhah based on the forged Eshkol? Is this person obligated to reject the pesak, or can he rely on the authority of the posek, even though the posek himself was misled. This obviously has implications for the use of the Zohar in pesak as well, as the poskim regard it as a tannaitic work. Yet I think everyone outside of the haredi community who has studied the issue assumes that it is a medieval work.

    Rabbi Jehiel Jacob Weinberg raised a similar concern with regard to the Shulhan Arukh. There are certain halakhot which are based on false readings. He wondered if in a case like this we have to establish a new halakhah, or since we have accepted the Shulhan Arukh’s ruling we don’t change the halakhah but rather find a different justification for it.

    Some might also see some connection with another position of R. Weinberg. As I noted in my book. R. Tam’s states that sex with a Gentile does not cause a woman to become forbidden to her husband. R. Weinberg had ethical problems with the reason R. Tam gives, and I don’t think it goes too far to say that he thought that, from our modern perspective, R. Tam’s justification is to be regarded as immoral.[13] Yet I also note that in seeking to find a heter for a woman who committed adultery with a non-Jew to return to her husband he is prepared to make use of R. Tam’s position.[14] I don’t think this raises any problems, since at the end of the day, R. Tam’s position is part of the halakhic tradition. If it can be used to to reach a lenient decision, then it serves a purpose, even if the contemporary posek doesn’t agree with the underlying assumptions of R. Tam’s pesak (Parallel to this is the widely accepted view that there is nothing wrong with using information derived from Nazi experiments on humans if it can help people. Obviously, everyone agrees that the experiments should never have been carried out, but once they were, the information can be used) As I said, I don’t see this as problematic, but I mention it since some might see it as an inconsistency in R. Weinberg.

    An example which is more directly relevant is the following. In June of this year Prof. David Berger gave a presentation at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah on Jewish views of Christianity (as well as how to relate to Chabad). In his discussion of Christianity he explained the concept of shittuf, first mentioned by the Tosafists, and how in its original meaning it did not mean that non-Jews are permitted to believe in one God divided into different parts. Those who want the details on this can see Katz’ discussion in Exclusiveness and Tolerance. Katz was the first academic scholar to point to what he regarded as the common misinterpretation of the Tosafot. In addition, a number of poskim have concluded similarly, most notably the son of the Noda bi-Yehudah, whose responsum was published in his father’s work.

    In my response to Berger I asked the following question (addressing myself to him):

    You are certain that the common understanding of Tosafot is mistaken. Yet this understanding became the standard for poskim in Western Europe. It is also shared by the Rama. Do you feel that there is anything wrong with someone who agrees with you as to the historical truth nevertheless relying on those poskim who misinterpreted the Tosafot? In other words, do the decisions of the poskim based on Tosafot have independent validity even if their interpretation of Tosafot is incorrect?[15a]

    Prof. Berger replied that he did not regard as illegitimate to rely on a pesak even if from the standpoint of historical scholarship, the pesak is incorrect. In the case we were discussing, one could legitimately rely on heterim which are based on the notion that according to Tosafot Gentiles are not obligated in shittuf, even though from a historical, i.e., factual perspective, Tosafot never said this. Historical truth and halakhic pesak thus occupy different realms.

    While I understand Berger’s point, I think some reading this might be very uncomfortable with such a notion, namely, that one can have a historical truth and a halakhic truth, with the two being at odds with each other; or to put it another way, that a halakhic truth can be based on a historical error and yet still have validity. This brings us dangerously close to the old Latin Averroist notion of "double truth." [15b]

    Returning to Auerbach’s Eshkol, I am aware of only one posek who has refused to grant it any validity, and I daresay that the overwhelming majority of poskim are not even aware that it has been subject to controversy. The posek I am referring to is Rabbi Yitzhak Ratsaby. For those who don’t know, R. Ratsaby is one of the leading – if not the leadiing – Yemenite posek in Israel. He is an incredible scholar whose many works are particularly valuable as he records a variety of Yemenite practices and quotes from relatively unknown Yemenite writings, including from manuscript. He comes from the Kabbalah-friendly Yemenites, as uses the appellation of אחר in referring to R. Joseph Kafih. [16] Reflecting the typical haredi outlook, when he needs to refer to R. Kook, he writes "הרא"ק." Doing so denies R. Kook the rabbinic titles given other great rabbis, and also spares haredi eyes from even seeing the name “Kook” in print.[17] Most haredi readers won’t even recognize who he is referring to. This is particularly unfortunate as it was R. Kook who stood together with many of the great Yemenite rabbis in opposing R. Yihye Kafih’s anti-Kabbalah stand. In Emunat ha-Shem, the volume published against R. Yihye Kafih, R. Kook’s two letters appear at the beginning. R. Kook is referred to as

    רבנו הכהן הגדול נר ישראל וקדושו גדול הדור ונזרו מרן

    R. Ratsaby is an example of how Ashkenazic haredi extremism and close-mindedness has also influenced those who do not come from this tradition.

    Despite this flaw, there are many very interesting things in his works. Because my last post dealt with issues of dogma, let me refer to what R. Ratsaby states in Olat Yitzhak vol. 1 no. 259. He refers to the list of 24 heretics with no share in the world to come, enumerated by Rambam in Hilkhot Teshuvah, ch. 3. Among those are people who say there is no God, or there is more than one god – in other words, classic heretics. But according to R. Ratsaby, even though these people are heretics with no share in the world to come, that doesn’t mean that they can’t fulfill someone else’s religious obligation. As R. Ratsaby puts it

    אפילו אותן עשרים וארבעה והנוספים עליהם שברור ומוסכם שאין להן חלק לעוה"ב, לא שמענו שאינן מוציאין אחרים ידי חובתן בברכות וכיוצא בזה, דסוף סוף הוא מחוייב בדבר וכל המחוייב מוציא יד"ח

    R. Ratsaby is not referring to allowing such a person to daven for the amud, for which someone must be a proper Jew. Rather, he is speaking of the halakhah per se, i.e., if a heretic can be motzi someone else. I think the instinctive response of people would be that, of course, someone who is a heretic cannot be motzi someone else, and R. Moshe Feinstein states so explicitly. R. Ratsaby removes the issue from one of belief, and instead focuses on the obligation.which all Jews share.

    In this same teshuvah, R. Ratsaby also points out something else quite interesting. Following the list of the twenty four who have no share in the world to come, Rambam gives a list of another group who, if they persist in certain evil actions (e.g., embarrassing someone in public, shaming scholars, etc.) also have no share in the world to come. He quotes R. Avraham ben ha-Rambam (hiddushim at the beginning of Ma’aseh Rakah) who cites his father as explaining that the way this works is that someone who is accustomed to do such bad things things will, almost of necessity, not be inclined to do what needs to be done to achieve immortality. In fact, it is much more likely that he will be led to those sins that really do deprive you of the world to come. But one should not take what Rambam writes literally, namely, that these sins by themselves cause one to lose his share in the world to come.

    Returning to the Eshkol, many years ago I was studying R. Ratsaby’s Olat Yitzhak, vol. 1, and on page 410 I came across the following:

    לענ"ד אין לחוש לדברים מחודשים שבספר זה שהוא בחשש גדול של זיוף, ואין להכחיש מה שהלב מרגיש

    I found this quite amazing, since I knew of no other posek that recognized what modern scholars had determined. I was curious if he came to this on his own or had read Albeck’s pamphlet. He replied to me on 13 Iyar 5750

    חשד הזיוף אצלי הוא מתוך העיון בדברים החדשים שם בקרב הראשונים ולקוחים מדברי אחרים (מה שראיתי דר"כ [=דרך כלל] היה לקוח מהבית יוסף) וגם הסגנון, שחנני השי"ת להכיר כזאת בטביעות-עין והלואי שאני טועה, אבל רחוק בעיניי מלצרפו עכ"פ לענין הלכה. ספר כופר האשכול לא בא לידי

    I wrote back to him asking why, if he regards Auerbach as a forger, does he cite the Nahal Eshkol. He replied

    נחל אשכול שאני מביא על אף החשד שלי נגד ספר האשכול גופו משום שאין לפסול גוף הדברים אם הם ניתנים להאמר מצד עצמם, רק לא לסמוך על ספר האשכול כמשקל בהכרעה בהלכה

    R. Ovadiah Yosef offers the same justification in his haskamah to Amar’s 1983 edition of Besamim Rosh

    חרף הביקורת שנמתחה על הספר "בשמים ראש", במילי מעלייתא דאית ביה דרשינן

    The last words come from Sanhedrin 100b, where R. Joseph says about the book of Ben Sira, “we may expound the good things it contains.” It would seem that using this logic, there can be no objection to studying the talmudic commentaries and halakhic writings of non-Orthodox rabbis, since one might find there a good argument or explanation of the sources. After all, Saul Berlin, the forger of Besamim Rosh, was a subversive, trying to destroy traditional Judaism from within. This makes him much worse than the typical Reform rabbi who has nothing to do with the Orthodox.

    The summer is fast coming to an end, and with it, my free time to

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    There are a significant number of seforim that are considered “classic” commentaries on the Torah, including, for example, Rashi, Ibn Ezra, Radak, Ralbag and Ramban, In this post, we shall discuss the Ramban’s commentary on the Torah, as it is also on important work in the history of Hebrew printing.

    The first edition, published between 1469-72,[1] in Rome was the first book published in that city and is available online here [it was also reprinted by Mekor with a short introduction by A.M. Habermann]. Over the years the Ramban's commentary increased in popularity and in commensurate with that popularity many books have been written to further understand this commentary. The most commonly used edition today is the edition by Charles B. Chavel.[2] This edition, published by Mossad HaRav Kook, in two volumes contains a critical edition of the text as well as explanatory notes.

    There are two interesting points about the above edition that are perhaps less well-known. The first, a fairly minor point, is the “problem” some apparently have with the fact Mossad HaRav Kook published this edition. In R. Wreschner's excellent commentary on Masekhet Avodah Zarah, Seder Ya'akov first printed in 1988 (reprinted in 2004, third edition), in his introduction he discusses the problem of censorship (in the “Jewish/Non-Jewish” sense, i.e. removal of mentions of Jesus) in Hebrew books. While he rightfully decries the numerous instance of censorship in the history of the Jewish book, he notes with that of late we have been partially able to rectify the omissions due to censorship.

    He singles out various editions and says:
    ובעזרת הית"ב החומל על דלותם באורך גלותם, נדפסים היום ספרים כאלו [אם המילים החסרים] מחדש כגון ספר הרמב"ם בהוצ[ת] פראנקל, וכן פרש"י והרמב"ן ורבנו בחיי עה"ת . . . בהוצאת ה.ק. עכ"ל

    “With the help of God who has pity on our impoverished state due to the lengthy exile, today we have many such books [with the censorship replaced] anew, for instance the Frankel edition of the Rambam, and also Rashi's commentary and the Ramban and the Rabbeinu Bachya on the Bible printed by Hey. Kuf.”
    What does ה”ק stand for? R. Wreschner a two pages later provides a full page explaining all the abbreviations in his book - this one, however, does not appear there. Of course, this abbreviation is for HaRav Kook, that is, Mossad HaRav Kook. It appears that even fully mentioning the name of this publisher was, in R. Wreschner's mind, unconscionable, even while bemoaning other forms of censorship. That is, not R. Kook, but a publishing house named after him is also taboo.

    What is worthy of noting is that there may actually be a reason not to mention this particular edition - not because of the publisher but of the content. In one of the more interesting introductions, R. Moshe Greenes, in his commentary on the Ramban Karen Peni Moshe, takes the Mossad HaRav Kook edition to task for, in his mind, serious errors in that edition.

    R. Greenes opens (after going on a couple of tangents including claiming that then [1988] people were so lazy they can't get up to look for a sefer, or even turn pages they are so lazy) by praising R. Chavel’s work on the Ramban. Soon after that praise, however, R. Greenes spends the next 8 pages or so pointing out all the inadequacies of R. Chavel's edition. First, he claims that R. Chavel plagiarized on many occasions from the earlier commentary on the Ramban by R. Mordechai Gimpel, Techelet Mordechai. R. Greenes then accuses R. Chavel of plagiarizing from R. Menachem Zvi Eisenstadt's edition (recently reprinted both volumes in a single volume but unobtainable by R. Greene at the time).[3]

    R. Greenes includes numerous examples of the alleged plagiarisms and even explains that the footnotes with asterisks one can identify with the Techelet Mordechai. These, alleges R. Greenes, were put in only after R. Chavel got the Techelet Mordechai and thus required the insertion into the existing footnotes which necessitated not altering the number scheme and instead we have numbers with asterisks. Whether or not R. Chavel quoted these sources without proper attribution is still up for debate. But, irrespective of whether there was in fact plagiarism, the fact remains that R. Greenes introduction is one of the more unique ones out there.

    [1] On the date of publication see Moses Marx, "On the Date of Appearance of the First Printed Hebrew Book," in Alexander Marx Jubilee Volume (New York, 1950) pp. 485-501. For additional information on the Ramban's Commentary see M.M. Kasher, et al., Sa'arei haElef (Jerusalem, 1985), pp. 90-91, 571.
    [2] For bio-bibliographical details about Chavel, see Moshe D. Sherman, Orthodox Judaism in America: A Biographical Dictionary and Sourcebook (Westport; Greenwood, 1996), s.v. "Charles B. Chavel."
    [3] Perush ha-Ramban al ha-Torah (Brooklyn: 5762)

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    Manuscripts at the Jewish National and University Library:
    NEJ Redux

    By Benjamin Richler

    In a previous post at the Seforim blog, Shnayer Z. Leiman reviewed New Encyclopaedia Judaica (NEJ) and I should like to add a few observations from my admittedly narrow perspective as a student of Hebrew manuscripts and former director of the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts (IMHM), situated in the Manuscripts and Archives Wing on the ground floor of the Jewish National and University Library, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

    The main entry on “Hebrew Manuscripts” consists of a verbatim reprinting of the entry by D.S. Loewinger z”l and E. Kupfer z”l in the first edition of EJ followed by a reprint of A. Katsch’s article on "Hebrew Manuscripts in Russia" from the EJ Yearbook of 1977/78. The article by Katsch is disproportionately longer than the main entry on Hebrew Manuscripts, and a competent editor should have noticed that. No attempt was made to revise or update the entries and no errors were corrected. Any reviewer can easily criticize the choice of material included in the entry and the material omitted, the number of words devoted to a particular aspect of the subject and the lack of attention to other aspects, and it is not my attention to do so (though I just did so). However, some obsolete passages should never have escaped the eye of an editor even if he had just perused the entry casually. It is ludicrous to read, for instance, the following statement in the Loewinger-Kupfer entry, accurate as it may have been in the first edition:
    The Institute for the Photography of Hebrew Manuscripts was founded in 1950 by the Israel Government (Ministry of Education and Culture) in order to enable a comparative processing and registration of all possible material. In 1962 the institute was placed under the authority of the Hebrew University and became affiliated with the National and University Library. During its 20 years of activity the Institute has photographed – mainly in the form of microfilms – approximately half of the collections of manuscripts and fragments scattered throughout the libraries of the world.
    'During its 20 years of activity'!! Does the entry have to stress that it is valid only until 1970? In fact, the Institute, known for almost 40 years as the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts (IMHM), and not as it appears in the entry, now has photographed over 90% of the extant Hebrew manuscripts in the world. The editors of the entry on the “Jewish National and University Library” updated the statistics concerning the number of printed volumes preserved in the Library in 2005, but recorded that in 1971 the Institute of Microfilms of Hebrew Manuscripts had photocopies of 25,000 manuscripts neglecting to note that by 2005 the figure had surpassed 75,000.

    The entry on Hebrew Manuscripts includes a list of the major collections and their catalogues. No catalogue published after 1970 is included. No attempt was made to update the list. No recent literature at all was included, no books by Malachi Beit-Arié, by Colette Sirat, by yours truly or anyone else. No mention of the publications of the Hebrew Palaeography Project (which is not mentioned at all in the NEJ, if the search engine can be trusted; see below). However, the bibliography does include the following gem: “D.S. Loewinger and E. Kupfer, List… Parma Library (in preparation)”. Not only was that “List” never published but the 2001 catalogue of the “Hebrew Manuscripts in the Biblioteca Palatina in Parma” prepared by the staff of the IMHM was not mentioned, neither in the main entry nor in the entry on Parma copied verbatim from EJ where only the 1803 catalogue by De Rossi is mentioned. On the other hand, we can be relieved that the entry on the “Bodleian Library” does include a reference to the Supplement of Addenda and Corrigenda to vol. I of Neubauer’s catalogue (Oxford, 1994) also compiled mainly by the staff of the IMHM and the Hebrew Palaeography Project.

    Fortunately, the article on the Cairo Genizah has been rewritten by a team of competent experts and supplies up to date information and the article on Illuminated manuscripts includes an updated addendum.


    1. Using the search engine to compile this report has revealed a fatal flaw. As the reader may notice the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts (IMHM) was mentioned in at least two entries. However, a search for the words “Institute” and “Manuscripts” appearing together in the “Basic Search” turns up only one reference to the IMHM in the entire NEJ – by its correct name this time – in the article on Liturgy. A similar search in the “Advanced Search” engine turns up three references in the articles on Liturgy, Genizah and the Institute for the Research of Medieval Hebrew Poetry. Somehow, it missed the two entries we noted (Hebrew manuscripts and Jewish National Library). So, caveat lector let the reader beware when using the search engine.

    2. After reviewing the entries on Hebrew manuscripts it is obvious that in some or many of the entries in NEJ , no attempt was made to update or revise the bibliographies. Some entries in the encyclopedia do include “Add. Bibliography,” but in other entries the bibliographies are valid only until ca. 1970. Since 1970 digital resources have advanced so far that with minimal effort a few moments devoted to searching the Jewish National Library’s Aleph catalogue and/or RAMBI or similar online catalogues in other institutions could reveal most relevant publications that appeared since 1970. In order to determine the scholarly value of the entries in NEJ one must carefully check not only the text of the entries to see if they were not copied verbatim from EJ, but also the bibliographies to see if they include any post-1972 publications.

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  • 08/09/07--12:08: Kest-Leibowitz Seforim
  • The Kest-Leibowitz Seforim are available online at large discounts at Kest-Leibowitz republishes many interesting seforim in small or paperback format. New Seforim are added daily to the site. All questions welcome!

    Please email your questions to

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    While we have previously discussed several instances of plagiarism, I wanted to discuss one more which is interesting in its irony.

    Originally printed in Vienna, in 1820, Hut HaMeshulash b'Sha'arim, was reprinted in 1998. This sefer is actually three-seforim-in-one arranged based on the order of the parshiyot. The three are from a grandfather, father and son. They are, respectively, Sha'ar Asher by R. Asher Lemel HaLevi, chief rabbi of Eisenstadt; Sha'ar HaMayim by his son-in-law, R. Jehiel Mihel, also the chief rabbi of Eisenstadt; and Sha'ar HaKoton by R. Asher's grandson and R. Jehiel's son, R. Moshe, the chief rabbi of Tzeilheim. This book was published by R. Moshe and has haskamot from the Hatam Sofer, R. Tzvi Hirsch Brody, and R. Dovid Deitch, which all offer extensive praise of these works. As I mentioned, this sefer was reprinted in a nice edition in 1998 which includes a newly set type, citations, an index, as well as a short introduction. The introduction notes that this reprint is the third printing of the sefer, with the second reprint in Munkatch, in 1931. While this is technically correct, a portion of the sefer was reprinted, but under a different name a different author.

    In 1910 a similar family type sefer was published in Warsaw. As with the Hut HaMeshulash, it contains multiple commentaries from relatives. In this case, the Amudei Yonason by R. Jonathan Eybeschütz and the Amudei Shmuel by R. Nachman Shmuel Miodoser, a descendant of R. Jonathan Eybeschütz. The Amudei Yonason is claimed to be from a manuscript, however, it is R. Nachman's commentary which we will focus on. Both of these seforim have rather nice haskamot from R. Hayyim Ozer Grodzinski, R. Eliezer Rabinowich, R. Eliyahu Meisels as well as R. Chaim Soloveitchik. It seems that R. Nachman actually had a more difficult time securing R. Chaim Soloveitchik's haskamah due to R. Nachman's first piece in his sefer. In that piece, R. Nachman ties the controversy of the earth or sky being created first, to that of Moshe and Betzalal about the construction of the mishkan and use it to explain a Midrash. R. Chaim said that such a interpretation is inappropriate, as according to R. Nachman's explanation there are opinions which argue with Moshe and no one can argue with Moshe. [It would appear that R. Chaim took the ani ma'amins literally although, as we have recently seen at the Seforim blog, such a formulation has little support and even the Rambam's position is not unopposed.] R. Nacham attempted to assuage R. Chaim Soloveitchik's concern by pointing out the Hafla'ah has a similar explanation with the same end result - someone disagreeing with Moshe. R. Chaim Soloveitchik was unsatisfied with this justification so R. Nachman agreed to remove that explanation. But, when R. Nachman reached Warsaw, that page had already been printed thus, R. Nachman instead of removing the piece, included the above story to let R. Chaim's position be known. [Reproduced below - you can click on any of the images for a larger version.]

    R. Chaim Soloveitchik's Haskama and R. Nachman's Disclaimer
    R. Nachman attempted to justify his position by pointing to earlier authorities who said similar ideas; however, R. Nachman could have pointed to an earlier authority which said the exact same thing. The vast majority of R. Nachman's commentary is taken almost word for word from the Sha'ar HaKoton, including the controversial explanation. It appears this plagiarism went undetected as the book was reprinted three years later in 1913 (and even more approbations appear which due to their late arrival were not included in the first edition) and then again in Bnei Brak in 1946. R. Nachman died in 1948 in Bnei Brak.

    From the Amudei Yonason
    the Original - Sha'ar HaKoton

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  • 08/10/07--05:50: Upcoming Auction and Catalog
  • Asufa is having an auction next week on Monday Aug. 13, the catalog is available online here or in the US at Biegeleisen books in NY.

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    How Did Rashi Make a Living?[1]
    Mayer I. Gruber
    Professor in the Department of Bible Archaeology and the Ancient Near East
    Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beersheva, Israel

    It has long been taken for granted that Rashi engaged in viticulture, which is to say, the cultivation of vineyards and the preparation and sale of wine made from the grapes he cultivated.[2] However, in 1978 the question of how Rashi made a living was reopened by Haym Soloveitchik.[3] Indeed, Soloveitchik asserted: "Indeed the presumption is against anyone being a winegrower in Toryes. Its chalky soil is inhospitable to viticulture. . . ."[4] Soloveitchik went further and declared, "Rashi may nevertheless have been a vintner; but by the same measure he may have been an egg salesman."[5]

    Since, on the face of it, Soloveitchik had declared that being a vintner, i.e., a cultivator of vineyards, and being an egg salesman were equally plausible careers for Rashi, notwithstanding Soloveitchik's unequivocal declaration that the soil of Troyes was "inhospitable to viticulture," it seemed worthwhile to me to explore three questions. These were 1) Rashi's association with eggs; 2) the plausibility and implausibility of viticulture in Rashi's vicinity; and 3) alternative careers for Rashi in view of the alleged inhospitability of Rashi's native city of Troyes to viticulture.


    A perusal of the published responsa of Rashi reveals that, in fact, eggs were a favorite in Rashi's diet. Rashi's famous disciple Shemayah[6] tells us that on more than one occasion he had seen that Rashi was served grilled meat[7] or fried eggs with honey.[8] The latter delicacy was called in Old French ab-bstr.[9] Moreover, Shemayah informs us that Rashi was wont to pronounced the berakah shehakkol 'by whose will all things come into being' and consume these foods prior to beginning the meal with washing of the hands and the berakah over bread.[10] Shemayah explans that Rashi informed him that the reason he did not wash his hands and recite ha-motzi over bread before eating eggs fried with honey is as follows: "This is much more enjoyable to me than bread, and I like bestowing my benedictions to laud my Creator with respect to [the food that I love]."[11]

    What this halakhic text tells us about Rashi and eggs is that fried eggs mixed with honey were among his favorite foods, which he enjoyed so much that he ate them as an appetizer before the meal itself which began with the washing of the hands and ha-motzi. Fried eggs mixed with honey[12] were among the food items for which Rashi had no patience to wait. Notwithstanding Rashi's enjoyment of fried eggs, neither this text nor any other text so far published intimates that Rashi was engaged in either the retail or wholesale trade in eggs. On the contrary, the following responsum demonstrates that Rashi received eggs and other edible products for his personal consumption from others:
    It happened to me, Solomon ha-Yitzhaqi. A Gentile sent me cakes and eggs on the eighth day of Passover. The Gentile entered the courtyard and called to my wife, and my wife sent a messenger to the synagogue. Thereupon, I gave instructions to keep the eggs in a corner until the evening. In the evening [after the end of Passover] I permitted their use allowing the amount of time that it would have taken [to bring them to my house had they set out for my house after the this time [when the holiday had already ended].[13]
    Cows and Sheep

    Several of Rashi's responsa suggest that he and other Jewish residents of Troyes from time to time owned pregnant cows and ewes.[14] None of these texts accounts suggest that either Rashi or the other Jews mentioned in these responsa owned herds of cattle or flocks of sheep. The one cow or sheep was probably the family's source of dairy products. In each of the recorded instances Rashi advised divesting oneself of ownership in favor of a Gentile so as to avoid being subject to the mitzvah of redeeming the firstborn male of a cow or ewe, a mitzvah which cannot be accomplished in the absence of the Temple (see Deut. 12:6, 17: 14:23). In the one instance where one of Rashi's Jewish neighbors made the mistake of acquiring and slaughtering for meat a firstborn lamb born of a ewe of which the Jew was legal owner, Rashi decided that the only recourse was to bury the slaughtered lamb half on Rashi's property and half on the other Jew's property so that the act of burying all that meat would be less conspicuous and the Jews would not be suspected by their neighbors of engaging in some kind of witchcraft.[15]

    According to Rashi's own testimony he acquired and ate eggs. To date, however, there is no evidence that he was an egg salesman. Likewise, on more than one occasion Rashi owned a cow or a sheep. However, owning an occasional cow or sheep did not make Rashi into a rancher or a cowboy. Likewise, numerous testimonies both in his response as well as in his commentary to Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 18a and in his biblical commentary on Jer. 25:30 to Rashi's familiarity with the details of wine production do not prove that Rashi actually cultivated vineyards either for private use or for commercial purposes.[16] As argued by Soloveitchik, all the texts bearing upon Rashi's familiarity with wine production serve only to demonstrate that, in fact, the Jews of Troyes in Rashi's era had to produce their own wine because halakhah prohibited Jews from consuming wine produced by Gentiles.[17]

    Wine barrel with Rashi's seal

    The reference in a responsum by Rashi to a wine barrel that bore Rashi's seal[18] does not necessarily make Rashi a commercial producer of either grapes or wine any more than does his ownership of a pregnant cow make him a cowboy. On the other hand, another responsum by Rashi refers to a Jewish borrower who pledged a vineyard as collateral for a loan.[19] The latter text is one of a number of texts[20] which suggest that Soloveitchik may have gone too far in arguing that one of the reasons that Rashi could not have been a vintner is that the region in which he lived could not support viticulture.[21]

    So how then did Rashi make a living?

    In the conventional presentation of Rashi's biography[22] Rashi is assumed to have been a vintner by profession and the head of an academy of Jewish learning as an avocation. However, when Baron so described Rashi, the corpus of Rashi's Responsa had not yet been published by Elfenbein.[23] The facts, which can be culled from examination of the responsa, hardly portray Rashi as an amateur rabbi/scholar or his yeshivah as a hobby.

    In fact, the conventional presentation of Rashi's biography also fosters the widely accepted notion that religious instruction, the study of sacred texts whether from a historical, halakhic, or a theological perspective, whether in the university, the yeshivah, the modern rabbinical seminary, the Jewish day school, or seminaries for teachers, or wherever, is or should be essentially a leisure activity. Careful reading of Rashi's responsa for what they tell us about daily life among Rashi and his disciples reveals that Rashi himself succeeded by his very professionalism in his very careful and by no means subtle design for making his yeshivah an intellectual and spiritual center for all of world Jewry and indeed, for all persons both friendly and hostile, who wished to understand the Torah.
    Rashi as Gaon

    It is no accident therefore that Rashi's yeshivah was called Yeshivat Geon Yaakov "the Yeshivah of the Glory of Jacob," the official name of the academy that still functioned in Baghdad in Rashi's time, and which claimed to have been founded by Rav in 219 CE in Sura. Likewise, Rashi's title was Rosh Yeshivat Geon Yaakov, "Head of the Yeshivah of the Glory of Jacob.”[24] Also, like the heads of the Babylonian Jewish academies, Rashi referred to himself by the title of the spiritual leaders of Babylonian Jewry, Gaon.[25]

    Apparently, it was from the funding he received from communal assets paid on behalf of his students by the communities from which they came,[26] Rashi was able to dress himself, his wife, and his daughters in the style that befits a spiritual, intellectual, and communal leader of Jewry far beyond the boundaries of Troyes.
    Implications for Today

    Indeed, it may change the way we relate to our schools of Jewish learning and our programs of Jewish learning, both religious and secular, if we can liberate ourselves from the view that for Rashi, Rabban shel Yisrael,[27] our mentor, par excellence, studying Torah, teaching Torah, and adding to the corpus of Torah literature, were all hobbies, rather than aspects of a profession. Once it is grasped that Rashi's Torah activities constituted a profession, we may begin to treat not only the people who raise money for and administer Torah institutions and programs for the academic study of Judaism as persons who deserve to make a living from what they do but also those who study and teach to extend the frontiers of our knowledge and to broaden the base of persons, who are privy to this rich heritage. Likewise, seriously treating day school teaching as a profession might have a positive effect on both the working conditions and pay of day school teachers and the way in which the children of the fortunate treat their teachers.

    [1] This article is based upon material found in the Introduction to Mayer I. Gruber, Rashi's Commentary on Psalms (Brill Reference Library of Judaism, vol. 18; Leiden & Boston, Brill, 2004), and is published at the Seforim blog with permission of Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden. Special thanks are due to Editor Michiel Klein Swormink of Koninklije Brill in Boston.

    [2] Maurice Liber, Rashi, trans. Adele Szold (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1906), 56; Irving Agus, The Heroic Age of Franco-German Jewry (New York: Yeshiva University Press, 1969), 173; Israel S. Elfenbein, "Rashi in His Responsa," in Rashi, His Teachings and Personality, ed. Simon Federbusch (New York: Cultural Divison of the World Jewish Congress, 1958), 67; Salo W. Baron, "Rashi and the Community of Troyes," in Rashi Anniversary Volume, ed. H. L. Ginsberg (New York: American Academy for Jewish Research, 1941), 60.

    [3] Haym Soloveitchik, "Can Halakhic Texts Talk History?" AJS Review 3 (1978): 153-196.

    [4] Ibid., p. 172, n. 54.

    [5] Ibid.

    [6] For the important contributions of Shemayah, who was Rashi's personal secretary, who edited Rashi's personal correspondence, wrote commentaries on the piyyutim of Eliezer ha-Kalir, helped Rashi edit the final versions of Rashi's commentaries on Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Psalms, and composed glosses on Rashi's commentary, which are preserved in Leipzig Stadtbiliothek, Ms. Wagenseil, B.H. fol. I, see the extensive discussion in Avraham Grossman, The Early Sages of France (2d ed.; Jerusalem: Magnes, 1997), 174, 347-426 (in Hebrew).

    [7] For the different possible textual readings and their respective meanings see Israel Elfenbein, Responsa Rashi (New York: Shulsinger, 1943),114 #86, nn. 4-5.

    [8] Elfenbein, Responsa Rashi, 310-11 #270.

    [9] Ibid., 310, n. 1.

    [10] Ibid., 215.

    [11] Ibid.

    [12] The text of the responsum refers, in fact, to eggs fried in honey. In light of the commentary of Nissim Gerondi (commonly known in the yeshivah world as "the RaN, at the top of Babylonian Talmud, Nedarim 52b, it appears that "fried in honey" is a literary convention in Rabbinic Hebrew for "mixed in honey and fried [in oil]." For this information I am indebted to Professor Alan Witztum, Professor of Botany at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beersheva, Israel.

    [13] Elfenbein, Responsa Rashi, 142 #114. Here Rashi takes for granted the principle attributed to Rav Papa in Babylonian Talmud, Betza 24a: If a Gentile brought a Jew a present at night just after the end of a Jewish festival, the Jew may benefit from the gift only after the elapse of enough time for the Gentile to have prepared the gift after the end of the festival.

    [14] Elfenbein, Responsa Rashi, 202-03, #182-184; contrast Emily Taitz, The Jews of Medieval France (Contributions to the Study of World History, no. 45; Westport, Ct.: Greenwood Press, 1994), 85.

    [15] Elfenbein, Responsa Rashi, 202 #182.

    [16] Contrast Moche Catane, La Vie en France aus lle siecle e'apres les ecrits de Rachi (Jerusalem: Editions Gallia, 1994), 130-31; cf. Taitz, 72-77.

    [17] Soloveitchik, 172-73. Of course, the original reason for the prohibition was the presumption that virtually all Gentiles worshipped a multiplicity of gods and that wine from virtually any barrel of wine they sold or gave to Jew had been poured out as a libation in the worship of "other gods." Later the Rabbinic Sages (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 17b) extended this prohibition to any wine that had been touched by any Gentile so as to discourage socializing that might lead to intermarriage and thereby to the total assimilation of the Jewish people.

    [18] Oxford Bodleian Ms. Oppenheim 276, p. 35a, cited by Grossman, The Early Sages of France, 132; 135, n. 45.

    [19] Elfenbein, Responsa Rashi, 66, #61; see also the discussion in Taitz, 84.

    [20] Note, for example, the "ordinance of Rashi" in Louis Finkelstein, Jewish Self Government in the Middle Ages (2d printing; New York: Feldheim, 1964), 147, which specifically exempts from taxation by the self-governing Jewish community of greater Troyes household items, houses, vineyards, and fields; see the discussion in Robert Chazan, Medieval Jewry in Northern France: A Political and Social History (Baltimore & London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973), 16. See also the account of the case that came before R. Joseph b. Samuel Tob-Elem (Bonfils) at the end of the 10th and the beginning of the 11th century CE concerning the attempt of the community of Troyes to ignore, with respect to a certain Leah, the community's traditional exemption of vineyards from taxation. Fortunately for this Leah, the learned R. Joseph agreed with her that the traditional exemption should be upheld. See Chazan, 15-16. Irving Agus, Urban Civilization in Pre-Crusade (2 vols.; New York Yeshiva University Press, 1965), 438-446 anticipates Soloveitchik's attempt to play down the importance of vineyards in the economic life of the Jews of Troyes in the time of Rashi, and he goes so far as to argue from silence that Leah was at that time the only owner of a substantial vineyard. In any case, both the litigation in question and the reference to vineyards along with household goods and houses in the so-called "ordinance of Rashi" should put to rest the contention that the soil of greater Troyes was inhospitable to viticulture. See also the numerous references to wine production in Rashi's commentaries on the Babylonian Talmud where Rashi frequently contrasts the realia referred to in the Talmud with the corresponding realia in 11th-12th century CE Troyes; these sources are listed and analyzed in Catane, La Vie en France aus lle siecle d'apres les ecrits de Rachi, 130-133; see also the references in Rashi's responses to Jews' hiring Christians to carry wine casks; see Elfenbein, Responsa Rashi, #160; #260; see Taitz, 84.

    [21] Soloveitchik, 172, n. 54.

    [22] In addition to Baron and the other authorities cited in n. 2 above, see passim in Taitz; and see also Herman Hailperin, Rashi and the Christian Scholars (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1963), 268, nn. 10-11; Grossman, The Early Sages of France, 121, n. 1; 130, n. 31; and see also Mordechai Breuer, "Toward the Investigation of the Typology of Western yeshivot in the Middle Ages," in Studies in the History of Jewish Society in the Middle Ages and in the Modern Period: Presented to Professor Jacob Katz on his Seventy-Fifth Birthday, ed. E. Etkes and Y. Salmon (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1980), 49, n. 26 (in Hebrew).

    [23] See above; additional responsa are discussed in Grossman, The Early Sages of France, 127-159; see also Soloveitchik, 153-196.

    [24] Elfenbein, Responsa Rashi, 93 #73.

    [25] Ibid., 245-246 # 115.

    [26] Gruber, Rashi's Commentary on Psalms, 20-22; see Norman Golb, The Jews in Medieval Normandy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 154-196.

    [27] For the sources of this explanation of the acronym Rashi see Gruber, Rashi's Commentary on Psalms, 1, n. 1.

    Mayer I. Gruber is Professor in the Department of Bible Archaeology and Ancient Near East at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheva, Israel. He received his Ph.D. in Ancient Semitic Languages & Literatures at Columbia University in the City of New York (1977). Gruber also earned Rabbinic Ordination at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York (1970). Prior to aliyah with his family in 1980, Gruber taught at Spertus College of Judaica in Chicago and was rabbi of Mikdosh El Hagro Hebrew Center in Evanston, Illinois.

    Gruber's Rashi's Commentary on Psalms (Leiden: Brill, 2004), which includes the Hebrew text of Rashi's Commentary, an English translation, a supercommentary on the form of notes, and a comprehensive introduction to Rashi's life and work. Gruber's other publications include a series of articles on the diagrams, which Rashi included in his biblical commentaries, a collection of Gruber's articles entitled, The Motherhood of God and Other Studies (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1992; now available from University Press of America in Lanham, Md.); additional studies on women in the biblical world and early Judaism; Aspects of Nonverbal Communication in the Ancient Near East (2 vols.; Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1980), which deals with gesture language and its impact on the vocabulary of Biblical Hebrew and other ancient Semitic languages; the commentary on Job in the Oxford Jewish Study Bible (2003); and the revision of the entry "Job" in the 2d edition of the Encyclopaedia Judaica (2006).

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    Moritz Steinschneider's Indecent Burial
    Charles H. Manekin
    University of Maryland, College Park / Bar Ilan University

    Over a century has passed since the death of Moritz Steinschneider, the great orientalist, bibliographer, and historian of Jewish literature and culture. When Steinschneider died in 1907 at the age of 91, he was recognized by many as the greatest Jewish scholar of the previous century. His scholarly output numbered over fourteen hundred publications, ranging from short notices to books of over a thousand pages, a number that does not take into account many of his brief book reviews, not to mention his correspondence, which still awaits to be studied.[1] The breadth of Steinschneider’s knowledge was extraordinary. Unlike other nineteenth-century Jewish scholars of Wissenschaft des Judentums, the movement initiated by Immanuel Wolf and made great by men like Leopold Zunz and Abraham Geiger, Steinschneider’s work was not limited to subjects with a direct Jewish connection. He wrote classic works on the European translations from the Arabic and the Arabic translations from the Greek,[2] and was familiar with almost everything that had been written about premodern science, philosophy, and medicine. Yet a glance at his voluminous bibliography shows that he was first and foremost a scholar of medieval Judaica.

    What sort of recognition has posterity accorded to one of the great scholars of Judaism, arguably the greatest of the nineteenth century? Sadly, Steinschneider’s contribution to the history of Jewish literature in all its aspects has gone virtually unnoticed outside a small circle of scholars. If he is remembered at all, it as a cold, antiquarian scholar who reportedly said that “the task of Jewish studies is to provide the remnants of Judaism with a decent burial.” This is the portrait, or better, caricature, of Steinschneider drawn by Gershom Scholem in his well-known diatribe against Wissenschaft published in 1945.[3] Scholem, an ardent zionist, viewed Steinschneider and his mentor Zunz as “gravediggers” and “liquidators” of the Jewish national values that they considered no longer relevant after the advent of emancipation and liberalism. Scholem’s negative evaluation of Steinschneider’s scholarly motivation and outlook in no way implied a disparagement of the nineteenth-century scholar’s achievements. On the contrary, Scholem writes in the Hebrew edition of his memoir From Berlin to Jerusalem “Despite the enormous distance I felt from the men of the [Wissenchaft] group, I revered Steinschneider and pursued his works, major and minor, as well as off-prints of his articles, all of my life.”[4] He also relates that as a university student, his familiarity with Steinschneider endeared him to his teacher, and later doktorvater, the great scholar of scholastic philosophy, Clemens Bäumker.

    I come here not to praise Steinschneider, but rather to bury him more decently than did Scholem. To do so I will sketch a preliminary picture of his contribution to the ideology of Wissenschaft des Judentums that is less biased than the polemical one offered by Scholem. I say “preliminary” because Steinschneider made few theoretical statements on the subject of Wissenschaft. His views on that subject, like on so many others, must be gleaned from his voluminous writings and correspondence. For over a century articles on Steinschneider have begun with a call for a full-fledged intellectual biography of the man. That call has not yet been answered.

    Steinschneider’s principal reflections on Wissenschaft are found in his short essay, Die Zukunft der jüdischen Wissenschaft, published in1869, a half-century after Zunz had issued his programmatic-statement on Etwas über die rabbinische Literatur.[5] The science of Judaism during the last fifty years, writes Steinschneider, was motivated externally by the struggle for emancipation and internally by the desire for religious reform. Scholars thought that examining the Jewish achievements of the past would pave the way for greater acceptance of the Jews in the present, and would provide models and precedents for modernizing the religion. In recent years, a third motivation for Wissenschaft has been proposed, namely, the training of modern rabbis, and a modern rabbinical seminary in Breslau had been opened. But as important as these practical motivations were, they do not address other fundamental questions: “What about Jewish history and literature as a link and source of history and cultural history in general? Is it a part of theology? What will become of it if the universities, according to the Dutch example, leave theology as a practical science to the care of the various religious communities?” “Where and how should this academic study be conducted -- in Jewish communal institutions or in German universities? “Where will it find its support -- in the community or the government?”

    Although Steinschneider’s expressed intent was merely to raise these questions, his personal opinions are not hard to infer from his article. The task of scholars of Judaism is to investigate their subject as objectively as possible, without ideological tendencies, and in its intellectual and historical context, i.e., as connected with other cultures. This sort of study can be conducted best only in universities, not in the faculty of theology, whose focus is narrowly religious, but in the faculty of philosophy, i.e., the humanities. Jewish religious seminaries, even modern ones, are primarily interested in the training of rabbis; they focus almost exclusively on areas of importance to Jewish theology, and their students and faculty are exclusively Jewish. Jewish studies within the framework of even the most enlightened seminary cannot be free and independent.

    Who should support Wissenschaft? Steinschneider implies that this is an obligation for the state and not for the Jewish community, not only because of the general importance of exploring civilization’s past -- after all, the state supports scientific research into the pyramids and the ruins of Pompeii -- but because “the spirit that created the great works of Jewish literature is still alive in the citizens of their state.” This is an interesting argument which refutes, by the way, the view of Steinschneider as a curator of a dead or dying religion. For he seems to be implying that the state has a special obligation to support the research and teaching of subjects that inform the identity, even the group identity, of minorities within the state. In fact, there should be no difference in principle between minority and majority cultures. According to Steinschneider -- again, by implication -- as long as the state supports the education of Christian teachers of religion, it has the obligation to support Jewish teachers of religions, through supporting Jewish seminaries.

    Certainly Steinschneider was aware that the likelihood of the German state supporting the teaching of Jewish history and literature in universities, much less Jewish religion in seminaries, was remote. In fact, not a single chair devoted to Jewish history or literature was established in German universities until well after World War II. He was also aware that private money -- Jewish, of course -- would have to be found to support academic Jewish studies. In a letter written to his friend, the historian Meyer Kayserling in 1876, in which he refused Kayserling’s offer of a position at the Budapest Rabbinical Seminary, he writes,

    It seems to me that the task of our times is to prefer the endowment of untenured instructorships in Jewish history and literature in the philosophy faculties, thereby compelling the authorities to establish professorships and schools in which regular high school students can be prepared for the study of Jewish literature. We certainly do not want boarding schools in which bachurische clumsiness, impoliteness, and beggarliness is preserved and glossed-over.[6]

    The last statement reveals Steinschneider’s prejudices against the Eastern European yeshiva students who made up a good proportion of the students at the rabbinical seminaries. The aims of Wissenschaft required the proper preparation of students in high schools. For this Jewish donors had to be found.

    In the same letter Steinschneider claims that his principled opposition to Jewish Studies outside the university did not conflict with his own association with the Veitel Heine Ephraimschen Leharanstalt (Beth ha-midrasch), the old school of the Berlin Jewish community. Steinschenider was a part-time lecturer for nearly fifty years for that institution, which counted Jews and Christians, including Paul Lagarde, Georg Hoffman, and Hermann Strack, among its students. The school was open to all, its faculty all had university doctorates, and it did not confer doctoral degrees. Steinschneider had declared publicly that he would resign were it to offer a single doctorate.[7]

    Steinschneider did not address a question that has remained with us to this very day, namely, why wealthy Jewish individuals would wish to endow instructorships in Jewish history and literature at German universities, where the return to the Jewish community was neither immediate nor guaranteed. Perhaps he thought that he could get others to share his own passion for the study of what he called the “international literature of the Jews,” e.g., works of philosophy, science, medicine, and belles-lettres. After all, his teaching had been supported, in part, by the Berlin Jewish community for half a century. And, to my knowledge, at this stage of his life he expressed neither pessimism nor apprehension about the future of the academic study of Judaism.

    Nor is there any support, at least to my knowledge, for the strange idea that Steinschneider became progressively detached from Judaism culture or religion, or that he saw its inevitable assimilation into secular culture. Steinschneider remained throughout his adult life a liberal Jew whose ideals were those of the enlightenment and the revolution of 1848, in which he took part as a student. In the remarkable credo that makes up the Foreword to one of his last works, Die Arabische Literatur der Juden, he lashes out against those who use the insufficiency of reason, “this weapon of all kinds of unreason,” to justify “the forcing of myths in new clothes or of monstrosities of fantasy, let alone the clinging to institutions of fake authority or to obsolete customs.”[8] Given that this line follows a reference to the zoologist Ernst Haeckel, it is clear that Steinschneider is taking aim against the myths of racial supremacies, which he felt had replaced the myth of religious supremacies. His reference to the “obsolete customs of religion” reaffirmed his decades-long abandonment of orthodoxy, nothing more.

    But nothing in the Forward suggests a weakened commitment to Judaism per se, not even the claim that it is the task of whoever feels entitled to lead the sum [of society] to stress what is common to the different circles of mankind, to point towards the ‘one Father of us all’ – towards what brings human beings nearer to each other.”[9] Steinschneider expresses these sentiments in a book chronicling the Jewish literature that was dearest to his heart, that of the Jews living in Muslim lands. After characterizing Ashkenazic Jewish life as one of “segregation in government, trade and society; expulsion, inquisition, agitation, and persecution” and Ashkenazic Jews as possessing “a surplus of mental acumen, squandered in casuistic and hermeneutical quibbles, faith and superstition linked to each other like Siamese twins,” he writes in an intensely personal passage,

    The historian likes to direct his attention to places where a human existence was granted to the tolerated subject, an existence in which his spirit was allowed to soar above and beyond the national barriers towards the highest existential questions. Such a person believed to have attained already on earth the ideal of human thought, the conjunction with the active intellect.[10]

    Steinschneider strongly identified with a literature that was not confined by the narrow parochialism of a national culture. He was under no illusion that such a literature was representative of Judaism, much less than it constituted its “essence.” With his unparalleled knowledge of Jewish books, he knew precisely what its place had been. But it was a literature with which he felt a strong personal affinity, and which reinforced the Jewishness of his commitment to liberalism and universalism, at a time when the growth of nationalism and antisemitism had made him pessimistic.

    As for Steinschneider’s alleged comment that it is the task of scholars to provide the remnants of Judaism with a decent burial, it has not been found in his writings, but was attributed to him in a necrology published shortly after his death in the German zionist periodical Jüdische Rundschau by the young orientalist Gotthold Weil, who had recently been one of Steinschneider’s students.[11] Weil had participated in the short-lived zionist “National-jüdische Verein der Hörer an der Lehranstalt für die Wissenschaft des Judentums in Berlin,” which numbered among its members Arthur Biram, Judah Magnes, and Max Schloesinger.[12] An active zionist leader in Germany, he later came to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem after the Nazis dismissed him from his post as professor of oriental literature at the university of Frankfurt.

    The context of Steinschneider’s reported comment is a discussion that Weil conducted with Steinschneider about the latter’s alleged proto-zionistic activity in his youth, when he supported Jewish colonization in Palestine as a possible solution for anti-Jewish discrimination in Germany. One imagines that this was a topic of considerable interest among Steinschneider’s zionist students, considering the elderly scholar’s open antagonism towards zionism. According to Weil, Steinschneider admitted to participating in a scheme in the1830’s to further the colonization of persecuted German Jews in Palestine. But he felt that the events of 1848 obviated the need for a separatist political solution to the Jewish problem. According to Steinschneider, Weil informs us, the history of the Jews had ceased in 1848 and that as a result, “the only task we have left is of giving the remains of Judaism a decent burial.”[13] It is easy to see how political zionists like Weil and Scholem would see an offhand comment as an epitaph for Jewish people as a nation; according to Scholem, “a breath of the funereal did in fact cling to the atmosphere of this discipline for a century; occasionally there is something ghostlike about this literature.”[14] They interpreted Steinschneider as holding that Jewish national existence was rendered obsolete by political emancipation, and that assimilation was inevitable and desirable.

    But there is no indication from Steinschneider’s writings that the scholar felt that the end of Jewish history, or for that matter, the extinction of the Jews as a “nation” had occurred in 1848, or that it was inevitable or even desirable. True, political emancipation had at least in principle removed the necessity for the Jews to segregate themselves in their own land in order to escape persecution. But almost fifty years later Steinschneider would write that the Jews indeed constituted a nation,

    in the original meaning of that word…united, at least thus far, by an ideal fatherland and Scripture reaching back into their remotest antiquity…We affirm, in fact, that the concept “Jewish” cannot be understood merely in terms of dogmas and rituals, but that the entire Jewish cultural evolution must be viewed as a mirror of the underlying religious and moral ideas and national convictions.[15]

    It was not the history of the Jews that ceased in 1848, according to Steinschneider, but the history of the Jews as an entity that required a political solution in its own state. He considered anti-Jewish discrimination not to be a Jewish problem but rather a human problem that should be solved within the confines of the modern liberal state.

    What Steinschneider increasingly detested was the romanticism, sentimentality, and separatism that he found in nationalism in general and zionism in particular. Not a great admirer of nationalism to begin with -- according to Weil, he would occasionally say that “Nationalism is brutality; humanity is freedom and truth” -- he never missed an opportunity to show his despisal of romantic Jewish nationalism, even in the oddest of places. Thus in his great work on the Hebrew translations of the Middle Ages, while mentioning that Judah ha-Levy had been driven to emigrate to Palestine by a somewhat mystical -- another disparaging term for Steinschneider -- national sentiment, he adds in a footnote that the Hungarian scholar David Kauffman, “der Apologet von Daniel Deronda,” called such an attraction “realistic.”[16] This was a disparaging reference to Kaufmann’s enthusiastic review of George Eliot’s proto-zionistic novel that Steinschneider had sharply criticized.[17] The reference, completely out of place in a footnote on translations of Halevy, showed how passionate this supposedly cold, rationalist scholar could be on the subject of Jewish national revival.

    Steinschneider’s ironic remark to his student Weil on the task of scholars of Wissenschaft is best seen within the context of his deeply rooted antipathy towards zionism, as well as his opposition towards tendentious scholarship of all sorts. The task of Jewish scholarship, he wished to say, is not to serve the interests of Jewish political interests, national or otherwise. “My intention,” he wrote in 1902 “is the most objective and historical portrayal possible, neither apologetically nor polemically painted, nor nationally or theologically prepared.”[18] Steinschneider intended to produce an objective scholarship possible that avoids apologetics, polemics with Christians, nationalism, and theology. Given this antipathy, his comment to Weil was perhaps intended to preach the gospel of independent scholarship. Although his students may have thought that the task of Wissenschaft was to help revive the spirit of the nation, Steinschneider did not. Given his negative views of Graetz,[19] it is not difficult to see how he would have viewed the excesses of the Jewish nationalist historians of the twentieth century.

    But this explanation of Steinschneider’s comment seems inadequate. For there are many ways to emphasize the virtues of objective scholarship without using the image of death and burial. Why did he employ this particular phrase? Perhaps his remark should be read as an ironic appropriation of Samuel Raphael Hirsch’s attack on Wissenschaft des Judentums. Hirsch wrote that the scholars of Wissenshaft keep alive the memory of the old Judaism as it is carried to its grave; in another metaphor of death, he called Wissenschaft “the fine dust wafting from the stone coffins of moldering corpses.”[20] Steinschneider was a master of the ironic retort. Perhaps he was saying to his student Weil, “Just as Hirsch and the orthodox have said, we are burial societies -- let’s at least make sure that the burial is an honorable one.”

    On the other hand, Steinschneider may have been genuinely pessimistic about the future of the Jews in Germany, not because of assimilation, but because of the steep rise of antisemitism in the last two decades of the nineteenth-century. In 1893 he writes “The history of the daughter religions is a constant series of attempts to murder their own mother; if one of them ever succeeds, the crime will bring down the criminal.”[21] Nine years later he commented dryly on a historical pamphlet written by a Prussian gymnasium teacher that calls on Germany to emulate the example of Spain and Portugal and expel its Jews. “The self-appointed historian wisely omits that the brutality of the mob was aroused not only by bull fights but by the live burnings of hundreds of Jews and apostates.”[22] Steinschneider feared German nationalism, according to Weil. Perhaps he felt that the remains of Judaism deserved a decent burial because the Jews themselves were in for difficult times from antisemitism.

    But these are mere speculations. It is futile to read too much into the sarcastic quip of an aged scholar, which, if reported accurately, was never intended for publication. Can there be anything more indecent than having this comment serve as the summation of Steinschneider’s attitude towards the academic study of Judaism, or the task of its scholars? It is not surprising that both neo-Orthodox Jews like Hirsch and secular Zionists like Scholem assigned to the practitioners of Wissenschaft the role of gravediggers of Jewish nationalism.[23] If their visions of the Jewish nationalism were not only mutually exclusive but exhaustive, then it is a role that Steinschneider would have accepted willingly. But his vision of the Jewish nation was different from theirs.

    It is ironic that in articulating the differences between the visions of Wissenschaft “now” and “then,” Scholem reaffirmed much of the vision of Steinschneider – not of Steinschneider the “gravedigger,” but of Steinschneider the advocate of an open, unapologetic, and untendentious scholarship that only a university-setting could enable. Steinschneider would indeed have been pleased with the establishment of centers of the academic study of Judaism, such as the Institute of Jewish Studies at Hebrew University, where, in Scholem’s words, “everyone is free to say and to each whatever corresponds to his scholarly opinion without being bound to any religious (or anti-religious) tendency.”[24] After all, Steinschneider was the most consistent advocate of the idea that Jewish studies can only flourish in such an atmosphere. Scholem also reaffirmed Steinschneider’s distaste for nationalist history when he noted with regret that “the heritage of an apologetics in reverse, an apologetics which now, so to speak, has revised everything in terms of zionism, has produced notable examples in our scholarly work.”[25] Steinschneider consistently opposed apologetic scholarship of all kind.

    In sum, what connects the scholarship of Steinschneider and Scholem seems vastly to outweigh the differences, once we have adjusted the scale to allow for changing tastes and fashions in scholarship. The view of the Jewish people as a living and organic phenomenon was no doubt foundational in Scholem’s scholarly approach, but the growth in Jewish studies in the second half of the twentieth century had more to do with the sociology, economic abilities, and changing identities of the Jewish communities than with the growth of Jewish national consciousness. More to the point -- if the “antiquarian” scholarship of the nineteenth century had given way to the “scientific and empirical” scholarship of the twentieth – both of Scholem’s phrases seem a bit quaint today – the reason was not because of Jews had undergone a national revival, but because scholarly tastes and methods had changed. Steinschneider’s scholarly approach was no more “antiquarian” than that of contemporary orientalists like LeClerc, Wenrich, or Wüstenfeld; just as Scholem’s scholarly approach was shaped by his intellectual training and cultural context. One shouldn’t make judgments about the scholarship of a bygone age by using contemporary fashions as a yardstick. The presence of university-trained scholars in the history of medieval Jewish culture and history would have pleased Steinschneider greatly, even more so when he learned that some of the leading scholars are not Jewish. One suspects that here too Scholem would agree.


    This post for the Seforim blog -- dedicated to Dan Rabinowitz's weekly shiur following hashkamah minyan at his local synagogue -- is based on my article, “Steinschneider’s ‘Decent Burial’: A Reassessment,” Study and Knowledge in Jewish Thought Vol. I., ed., Howard Kreisel (Jerusalem: Mossad Bialik, 2006), 239-251.

    [1]Some of the correspondence has recently been published. See Briefwechsel mit seiner Verlobten Auguste Auerbach, 1845-1849: ein Beitrag zur jüdischen Wissenschaft und Emanzipation, eds., Marie Louise Steinschneider and Renate Heuer (Frankfurt/New York, 1995). The longest biographical treatment is still Alexander Marx, “Moritz Steinschneider,” in his Essays in Jewish Biography (Philadelphia, 1947), 112-184. Marx has a very useful bibliography on pp. 294-95. For a list of Steinschneider’s writings, see George Alexander Kohut, “Bibliography of the Writings of Professor Dr. Moritz Steinschneider,” in Festschrift zum Achtzigsten Geburtstage Moritz Steinschneider’s (Leipzig, 1896), v-xxxix. Steinschneider’s secretary, Adeline Goldberg, published additions to the bibliography in Zeitschrift fur hebräische Bibliographie 5 (1901): 189-91; 9 (1905): 90-92; 13 (1909): 94-95.

    [2] Die Arabischen Überzetungen aus dem Griechischen (Leipzig, 1897) and Die Europäischen Übersetzungen aus dem Arabischen (Graz, 1956). See D. Gutas, Greek Thought, Arabic Culture: The Graeco-Arabic Translation Movement in Baghdad and Early ‘Abbâsid Society (2nd-4th/8th-10th centuries) (London/New York, 1998), p. 195: “There is as of yet no modern bibliographical survey of the Arabic translations of all the Greek philosophers; Steinschneider’s Die Arabischen Überzetungen aus dem Griechischen remains the only single treatment.”

    [3] “Mi-tokh hirhurim al hokhmat yisrael” in Devarim be-go (Tel Aviv, 1975), pp. 385-405. This celebrated essay was published first in Luah ha-Arez and republished several times during Scholem’s lifetime. It has recently been translated into English by Jonathan Chipman as “Reflection on Modern Jewish Studies,” in On the Possibility of Jewish Mysticism in our Time and Other Essays, ed. A. Shapira (Philadelphia and Jerusalem, 1997), pp. 51-71. Scholem, who planned to publish a similar critique in Walter Benjamin’s journal in the early 20’s, returned to the same issue several times during his career, notably in “Wissenchaft vom Judentum einst und jetzt”

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    For those who have not seen the obituary notice in the New York Times (Aug 14, 2007; B6), the Seforim blog records the passing of Rabbi Dr. Noah Rosenbloom, a pulpit rabbi for over fifty years and longtime faculty member at Yeshiva University's Stern College for Women.

    He was the author of Luzzatto's Ethico-Psychological Interpretation of Judaism: A Study in the Religious Philosophy of Samuel David Luzzatto (New York: Yeshiva University, 1965); Tradition in an Age of Reform: The Religious Philosophy of Samson Raphael Hirsch (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1976); Malbim: Exegesis, Philosophy, Science and Mysticism in the Writings of Rabbi Meir Lebush Malbim (Hebrew; Jerusalem: Mossad ha-Rav Kook, 1988), among other scholarly articles and books.

    Noah Rosenbloom received his rabbinic ordination from RIETS and his graduate dissertations were entitled: "The God-Ideas of the Leading Hebrew Poets During the Period 1933-1948" (PhD, New York University, 1958) and "The 'Taz' and Its Author: A Study of the Life and Work of Rabbi David Halevi, author of the 'Turei Zahav'" (DHL, Yeshiva University, 1948).

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    From last year (with a small update) at the Seforim blog, Dan Rabinowitz's "The Custom of Reciting l'Dovid HaShem Ori."

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    In response to the recent article by Dr. David Kaufmann in The Forward questioning Bugs Bunny's purported Jewish identity, Bar Ilan University professor and Jewish Studies Quarterly (new series) co-editor Dr. Elliott Horowitz has written a letter to The Forward, available below to readers of the Seforim blog. (It has not yet appeared in The Forward.)

    As noted in the letter below, Prof. Elliott Horowitz has written two articles on the very question that Kaufmann discusses. See his "Odd Couples: The Eagle and the Hare, the Lion and the Unicorn" Jewish Studies Quarterly 11:3 (August 2004): 243-258, and "The People of the Image," The New Republic 223:13 (September 25, 2000): 41-49.

    This is Prof. Horowitz's first contribution to the Seforim blog. We hope that you enjoy.
    Dear Sirs:

    The subtitle of David Kaufmann's entertaining essay ("Carrot and Shtick," Aug, 10, 2007) provocatively asks: "Can we claim Bugs Bunny as Jewish?'' I would like to point out that I have already made that claim more than once; first in a review essay in The New Republic ("The People of the Image," Sept. 25, 2000), and more recently, fortified with footnotes, in the Jewish Studies Quarterly (vol. 11, 2004). In both essays I sought to trace the Bugs vs. Elmer rivalry, reminiscent of that in the Bible between wily Jacob and Esau the hunter, visually back to the hares pursued by hounds in sixteenth-century Ashkenazi illustrated Hagadot, such as those of Prague and Augsburg.

    Kaufmann is correct to stress that "the 'Looney Tunes' shorts in which Bugs appears are always structured around extinction and endurance, the two great poles of Jewish thought and dream," but he might have done a bit more with the Holocaust and post-Holocaust context of Bugs Bunny, who premiered in the 1940 animated film Wild Hare. Five years later Warner Brothers released Herr Meets Hare, in which "Buggsenheimer Rabbit" is pitted against Herr Hermann Goering, and in 1946 they brought out Hare Remover (my personal favorite), in which Elmer Fudd is cast as a chemist seeking (unsuccessfully) to perform scientific experiments on Bugs. Soon afterwards, like other American survivors, Bugs began to speak more candidly about his origins and childhood. In a Hare Grows in Manhattan (1947), he returned to his childhood on the Lower East Side, where constant hounding by the neighborhood dogs sharpened his survival instincts, and in What's Up, Doc (1950), he talked about the piano and music lessons he took as a youngster, and the bit parts he played on Broadway until he was discovered by Warner Brothers.

    As Kaufmann points out, neither Chuck Jones nor Tex Avery or any of the other writers or directors who created the Bugs Bunny cartoons were themselves Jewish, but as their contemporary Claude Levi-Strauss, who himself only narrowly escaped the fate of Buggsenheimer Rabbit, might have said, Jews were "good to think with." Not only was the rabbit's voice assigned to Mel Blanc, who combined, as he later explained, equal parts of Brooklyn and the Bronx, but by making Bugs a New York native who toiled in obscurity until he was discovered by the Warner Brothers, those sly gentiles may have poked fun at their famously self-hating employers, who had earlier rejected George Jessel for the lead role in The Jazz Singer (1927) on the grounds that he was "too Jewish."

    Elliott Horowitz
    New York

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    A Critique of Two New Reprints
    by Carmi Horowitz *

    Two new works have recently appeared on the market: a new edition of Midrash Lekah Tov and a new edition of the Perush on Sefer Yezirah of R. Yehudah b. Barzilai Barceloni. The following is based on an initial perusal of the two works. I have not read through the entire volumes.


    The new edition of Lekah Tov consists of three volumes published by Zikhron Aharon Jerusalem with a forward by Yonatan Blier. The first volume is on Bereshit and Shemot, the second on Vayikra, Bemidbar and Devarim and the third the five Megillot. All three volumes are newly typeset, clearly and beautifully printed with the Biblical verses commented on printed in clear bold type on very good quality paper, and handsomely bound. The volumes are aesthetically attractive and elegant.

    The first volume contains R. Salomon Buber’s edition of Lekah Tov on Bereshit and Shemot, with his introduction and comments. The only addition that has been added beyond the original Buber edition are the scattered comments of R. Yeruham Perlow (author of the encyclopedic commentary on R. Saadia Gaon’s Sefer Hamitzvot). If collected, the comments would make up not more than two or three pages at the most. Buber’s introduction was moved to the end of the third volume. The typesetters of the new volume obviously did not have Greek on their computers. Thus Buber’s Greek references in the introductory essay were simply skipped. The Greek references in the footnotes to the text were literally (physically) cut and pasted from a printed edition. Thus beyond the aesthetics there is almost nothing new in this volume.

    The second volume of Lekah Tov contains Vayikra, Bemidbar and Devarim with the commentary of R. Aharon Moshe Padwe of Karlin, all reset from the original Vilna 5681-4 edition. In addition this volume contains newly printed the commentary by R. Avraham Palaggi, the son of R. Hayyim Pallagi (author of Kaf Hahayyim et al). The commentary itself has very little to do with the Lekah Tov. It is a series of derashot or pilpulim based mainly on the works of the Ketav Sofer and adds very little to the understanding of the work. This volume also has scattered comments of Rabbi Perlow.

    The only volume that is really useful is the third volume which contains the Lekah Tov to all the five Megillot with whatever comments the original editors added. To the best of my knowledge the Lekah Tov to the Megillot has not been collected until now, and thus only in this volume is there some real added value beyond the new typesetting.


    The Perush Sefer Yezirah of R. Yehuda b. Barzilai Barceloni was published once before by Shlomo Zalman Hayyim Halberstam in Berlin in 1885 with a detailed introduction. The present edition was published in 5767 (2007) by Aharon Barzani and Son, Tel Aviv with an introduction by Amnon Gross. The book is clearly printed and well bound; the text is divided into sentences and paragraphs, which was not done in the original edition. The division into sentences and paragraphs is the main contribution of this edition. The original edition did not contain any footnotes or sources. It contained an introduction by Halberstam which was partially reprinted in this volume. The editor Amnon Gross eliminated form the introduction the list of R. Yehuda Barceloni’s sources saying that they are now noted in the new text and hence it is unnecessary to include them in the introduction (!!). Indeed Gross inserted source references in the text, but they are inserted on a haphazard and inconsistent basis.

    The original edition of the commentary on Sefer Yezirah contained important appendixes of Halberstam, David Kaufmann and Jacob Reifman. Those appendixes were not reprinted in this volume although only some of the corrections in these appendixes were incorporated into the text, again on an inconsistent basis.

    I did not check the integrity of the text itself to see whether Gross accurately reproduced Halberstam’s text; in light of all the other inconsistencies in the editing – hashdehu.

    In summary both publications are disappointing. The first has very little that is new, and the second is edited in such a careless fashion as to make one prefer the original printing.

    *Professor Carmi Horowitz received his semikhah at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS), an affiliate of Yeshiva University, where he studied with R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik. He received his doctorate from Harvard University (1979) where he wrotes his dissertation was on “A Literary-Historical Analysis of the Sermons of R. Joshua Ibn Shu’eib,” under the direction of Prof. Isadore Twersky. He has published on that topic as well as on the Rashba, the Mabit and on the Derashah literature. After teaching at Ben Gurion University he headed Touro's Graduate School of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem and is now Rector of Machon Lander in Jerusalem (an independent academic institution). This is his first contribution to the Seforim blog.

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  • 08/28/07--09:26: Midrash Lekah Tov, part Deux
  • In a follow-up to Professor Carmi Horowitz's recent post at the Seforim blog, I wanted to discuss, in a bit more detail, the new reprint of the Midrash Lekah Tov and further bolster Prof. Horowitz's conclusion that this new reprint falls short of expectations as well as the Makhon who did this. In the world of Hebrew books there are many books published almost daily, while there is much quantity should not be mistaken for quality. In truth this is not a new phenomenon, rather R. Jacob Emden in the 18th century decries the mass amount of poor Hebrew literature and that although there is much published not much is that good. R. Yitzchak Satanow, R. Emden's contemporary, also points out the dearth of quality literature and, perhaps more importantly, the masses willingness to accept this literature. He claims that he was thus forced to publish his own works under pseudonyms attributing the works to persons much earlier than was actually the case. With these comments we can turn to what will be the first part of a two part post discussing a particular publishing house as well as their most recent publication, the Midrash Lekah Tov. First, the "new" edition of this Midrash. This Midrash which was authored by R. Tuvia b. Eliezer who lived in the 11th century in the Byzantian Empire. Bibliographically, this Midrash has somewhat of a storied history. It was first published from an incomplete manuscript in 1546 in Venice and titled Pisketa Zutra. Only the portions on Vayikra through Devarim were published.

    It was not until 1880 was the full edition on the Torah published by Dr. Solomon Buber. I have used the Dr. appellation as he had a doctorate but I am unsure if he had semikha, this however, is not a bar to the use of the Rabbi appellation, as in the Vilna Shas in the Achrit Davar at the end of Mesekhet Niddah, he is referred to as R. Solomon Buber. Dr. Solomon Buber dedicated this work to the memory of his father, R. Yeshaiah Avraham Halevi. Additionally, the portions on the five Meggilot were published around that time for the first time as well, Esther 1886, Ruth in 1887, Eicha in 1895 (there was an edition published the next year in Calford, England, which was touted as the first edition, in actuality it was the second edition), Kohelet in 1904, Shir haShirim in 1909. Now, as Prof. Horowitz has noted, Makhon Zikhron Ahron has republished the section on the Torah and five Meggilot with Buber's comments as well as a few notes from R. Yerucham Fishel Perla.

    Although they neglect to mention where they located that R. Perla's notes, appeared 50 years ago in the journal Hadarom which they most probably found in Sa'rei haElef. Aside from the above they reset the type. Importantly, however, the text remains the same as it was in 1880. A simple search of the Jewish National and University Library (JNUL) catalog reveals that there are at least sixty some manuscripts available, most were neither available nor used by Buber in his edition, but nor are they used in this edition.

    Instead, our edition is frozen in the late nineteenth-century. These manuscripts contain much additional information as was already pointed out by Prof. Yisrael Ta-Shema in his article on this work. Now, lest one think that Buber's edition the type was unreadable, rather it was a highly readable edition, further, it was not unavailable, but instead reprinted on many occasions in photomechanical offsets, and in fact, as Prof. Horowitz noted, this new edition the Greek is almost unreadable as they did it by hand or via cut and paste. Why then this work was republished in this "special" edition but remained as it was is rather unclear.

    This is not the only time this Makhon has failed to use important manuscripts when reprinting something. Additionally, this same Makhon reprinted the Perkei D'Reb Eliezer. What is shocking about this is that there are very important manuscripts, manuscripts which this Makhon did not bother using, which one doesn't have to even go to a library, they are online! There is an entire project devoted to the correct text of the Perkei D'Reb Eliezer. Instead, as they did here, they merely reset the type and reprinted the Perkei D'Reb Eliezer. Of course, no one is obligated to use every manuscript, but when as is the case both here and in the case of the Perkei D'Reb Eliezer, the prior editions are available, what is the point in merely resetting the type and reprinting the books? A good example of a reprint where it was valuable was the case, by this same Makhon where they reprinted and reset the type of some important unavailable works on the Shulhan Arukh, including R. Chaim Buchner's Or Chadash, Nachlat Tzvi, and Olat Shabbat (which the Magen Avraham refers to by the abbreviation O.S. on many occasions). This as an excellent reprint as the earlier editions were difficult to come by and difficult to read. Or, again the same Makhon, reprinted the Levush. This edition is beautiful. They reset the type included, in the proper place both the Eliyahu Rabba and Zuta, the commentary of the Hida's grandfather from manuscript, as well as notes and other commentaries. This is excellent and has now been reprinted in a smaller format. The Makhon also printed an edition of Perek Shira which has three commentaries from manuscript one being from R. Dovid Oppenheim, that was also very good. Thus, I want to make clear, that while the books such as Lekah Tov are disappointing, this Makhon has published some excellent works.

    Now, however, it is worthwhile noting that this Makhon is set up as a public service and as such is not out to make money. And, it is highly laudable to reprint seforim, my point here, is to merely point out some areas where the Makhon can improve.

    It may be instructive to discuss how we know what we already do about this work, and I apologize to those readers who already know this. First, as mentioned above, for bibliographical information on this sort of work, R. Menachem M. Kasher's Sa'arei HaElef is irreplaceable. As noted above, he records that R. Y. Perla's comments had been printed. Additionally, he provides the location of reviews on Buber's edition. As this work was updated by Kasher's student, Mandelbaum he also adds to this information as well. Recently, Prof. Simcha Emmanuel has updated Sa'arei HaElef as well but only the poskim portion, hopefully a full update will happen soon.

    Setting aside the more general tutorial, wWe can turn to the work itself. Prof. Ta-Shema wrote an article which he intended to publish in Sidra, however, he died before he was able to submit the final version for publication. Nevertheless, in the posthumously published Keneset Mechkarim vol. 3 (pp. 259-94) we have this article, "Midrash 'Lekah Tov' - Its Historic Place and Purpose." Prof. Ta-Shema reviews the work and points out important details. He discusses the various laws and customs gleaned from this work.

    Particularly timely is the appearance, in this work, of the custom to blow the shofar during the month of Elul.[1] this work contains much in the way of explicating the law, one of the purposes is to demonstrate the close connection between the written and oral Torah and thus much is devoted to showing how the laws are derived from the Torah. This focus was in part to disprove the Karaites. And, as Ta-Shema notes, it was not only strictly legal questions which the Lekah Tov disputes with the Karaites, rather substative theory is addressed as well. This is one of the many times the various available manuscripts come into play. (See Ta-Shema pp. 269-71). There are numerous examples where Lekah Tov takes issue with the Karaites, including lights on Shabbat, Yemi Taharah, an established calendar, and Shavuot.

    Ta-Shema notes that the style of this work is to explicate the verses in a fairly peshat oriented manner similar, although not the same, as Rashi. In fact, they were contemporaries. This fact is particularly important for understanding Rashi. Specifically, there is a question whether Rashi's commentary on the Torah as we have it today is all from Rashi or have there been additions. Obviously, whether we can say all which is attributed to Rashi is in fact from him is rather important. The question with the Lekah Tov is that there appear quotes from the Lekah Tov in Rashi. Well then we must decide when the Lekah Tov was disseminated. As if it was not until after Rashi then it is clear that there must be at least some later additions to Rashi's commentary, if Lekah Tov significantly predates Rashi then this poses no problem. But, this is all complicated by the fact the Lekah Tov seems to have used Rashi and visa versa. One possibility which would explain this is that both these works went through more than one edition, thus in the very first edition of Rashi he did not include the Lekah Tov, but after he got a hold of it and Rashi was revising his commentary he included those comments and the same for the Lekah Tov's use of Rashi. According to this explanation the fidelity of Rashi is not questioned.[2] But, as is apparent this is a very important question, one which could have been explored had an attempt to reconstruct when and how many editions the Lekah Tov was originally written in and when.

    As should be apparent, Prof. Horowitz's criticism of this edition are well-founded. It is especially unfortunate that today when it is so easy due in part to the advances in technology that it seems at times we have not progressed at all.

    [1] For more on this topic see, among others, Pardes Eliezer, Chap. 1, 29-88; Yehiel Goldhaber, Minhagei HaKehilot, pp. 5-8; Oberlander, Minhag Avoteinu, Vol. 1, chap. 1, 3-23; Daniel Sperber, Minhagi Yisrael, vol. 2 pp. 204-14.

    [2] For more and additional sources discussing this question see Yisrael Ta-Shema pp. 266-7 n. 25; on the various edition of Rashi's commentary to the Talmud see Y. S. Speigel, Amudim B'Tolodot Sefer HaIvri Kitva V'Hataka, pp. 113-22. The claim that a work attributed to an author is not fully from him is used by many to explain various perceived inconsistencies. As Prof. Marc B. Shapiro pointed out, in his recent post at the Seforim blog, R. Moshe used this to explain controversial comments of R. Yehuda HaHassid. See Speigel, id. pp. 271-75 and generally id. chapter 6 discussing responsa literature. For an example of this in the case of a Torah commentary see the comments of R. M.M. Kasher Torah Shelmah where he claims that a particularly controversial passage of the Ibn Ezra's commentary where he seems to imply Moshe did not write various portions of the Torah was inserted later.

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  • 08/29/07--07:00: Rabbinic Portraits
  • There is a discussion on the always-wonderful-blog On The Main Line regarding a portrait attributed to Rashi. Someone MENACHEM BUTLER raised the well-known collection of famous Rabbinic personalities which appeared on an edition of the Shulhan Arukh. The edition to which they are referring to is the Shulhan Arukh printed in Mantua in 1721-23. This edition includes the standard commentaries as well as the commentary of R. Gur Areyeh Finzi (d. 1753). On the title page Finzi (or the printer) included Rabbis in the Shulhan Arukh, R. Karo, R. Isserles, and Rabbis whose works form the basis of the Shulhan Arukh (although not all) - Rashi, Rambam, and Maharil, as well as R. Finzi's portrait. As you can see below these are not the most flattering portraits done (that of course doesn't speak to whether they are correct, although it is unlikely that one could produce a portait in some cases hundred of years after the death of a person) it appears some were offended at the way in which they were depicted. Thus, these appear only on the title page for Orah Hayyim but not the other volumes. The same background was used, the gate, just the portraits are absent. Additionally, it is worth pointing out that some focus on the depiction of the Rambam for whether he had peyos as it seems in this portrait he may have (either that or long hair).
    Title page of the Shulhan Arukh with the Commentary of the Gur Areyeh, Mantau, 1721

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    The Targum Yonason is a fairly standard commentary on the Torah (we are only discussing the Torah one). Now, as most are aware, in fact this is not from Yonason but instead is more correctly called Targum Yerushalmi (Jerusalem Targum). In academic circles it is referred to as Pseudo-Jonathon. In all likelihood, the original name was in fact Targum Yerushalmi but was abbreviated as ת"י and thus mistakenly expanded to be תרגום יונתן and not the correct תרגום ירושלמי. Various editions of this commentary have been published and you can find a listing in Kasher's Sa'arei HaElef. (you can see a bibliography of translations here and more stuff here.)

    Be that as it may, there is much discussion about the content of this Targum. For instance, perhaps most famously, this Targum "translates" the prohibition against cross-dressing as prohibiting women from donning Tallit and Teffilin. While there are some complete works on the Targum (see the lists in Kasher, supra, as well as Kasher's discussion on the Targum generally in Torah Shelemah, and Kressel, Ma'ada haMikrah), most of the discussion which touches on this Targum appears in books which are not directly related to this Targum. This makes it difficult to locate but now this has been remedied with a new edition (thus far on Berashis, Shemos, and most recently Devarim) which collects just about everything on this Targum.

    The work is titled Sa'resi Ba'Midinah and is edited by R. Henoch Levine.* As mentioned above, a major difficulty is locating the discussions on this Targum, this edition has uses hundreds of books and collected the relevant material for the reader. Additionally, an especially nice touch and one lacking (if you are sensitive don't read the rest of the sentence) in many seforim today, it includes a bibliography of all the works used. This bibliography is not just a list of titles but even provides which edition was used to make it easy for the reader to check the source themselves. Further, the author as well as the topic (many books have the same name) are included to further insure ease of location of the sources. The breadth of sources is astounding. Further, a index which includes Tanakh, Shas, Midrash, and Shulhan Arukh, is included as well. All of this is printed on nice paper in clear text. The Targum is included as well as the text of the Torah, Onkelos, Rashi, and Toldot Aaron.

    As for the Targum itself, according to the introduction (which appears in the Shemot volume) the editor attempted to correct the text. But, it is unclear how or what he did on that front. There are critical editions of this work (see the sources supra) but I can not tell if he used them.

    The one shortcoming appears in the introduction. There, the editor, using the book Yanchanu which is devoted to defending the notion that this targum is in fact from R. Yonason, attempts to show that this work is truly from R. Yonason b. Uzzeil the Tanna. He spends the bulk of the introduction on this task. As we know this has been shown to be wrong. Additionally, what is particuarly disturbing is one manner in which the editor (recounting as it appears in Yanchanu) "proves" his point. The editor marshalls R. Tzvi Hirsch Chayes (Maharetz Hiyot), the editor alleges, the Maharetz in a footnote also allows the author is in fact the Tanna. The citation is to a footnote in Minhat Kinot, Mahritz's defense of Orthodox Judaism against Reform Judaism. (there is no pagination in the introduction but it appears in the second page of the introduction) The footnote in fact is not really on point. But setting that aside, Maharetz wrote an entire work discussing the various Targumim, and specifically discusses the Targum Yonason. Maharetz says explictly the commentary on the torah is NOT from the Tanna. (See Imrei Binah no. 4). Maharetz is not the only "traditional" scholar to argue this, a bit earlier, R. Shlomo Chelm, author of the Merkevet HaMishna (a fascinating character in his own right) also says this Targum is not from the Tanna. (Merkevet HaMishna, Ma'chelet Assurot, 1:8). Thus, while a quote in isolation may support the notion Yonason was in fact the author, the R. Chayes himself was clearly of the opinion this Targum was not from Yonason.

    In the US, the books are available at Beigeleisen and possibly others and in Israel try Girsa.

    *[To make this clearer, as there seems to be some confusion, I will first discuss the positive points of this work and then discuss some drawbacks. Perhaps this format will enable anyone who doesn't want to know about the drawbacks to stop reading or, if need be, cover over the final paragraph.]

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    Parshanut: English Translations of Medieval and Modern Rabbinic Bible Commentary (Exegetical, Philosophic, Kabbalistic and Hasidic)

    Yisrael Dubitsky*

    Commentaries are arranged in chronological order, and then by book. For space and simplicity sake, works are identified only by their author's and translator's names or publishers; for further bibliographical information, copy and paste the call numbers into the JTS online catalog under "Search: Call Number begins with..." Items not (yet?) found in the JTS Library do not have call numbers associated with them and contain instead only basic bibliographic information. Only significantly lengthy (more than a chapter or two) and systematic translations are included. Unless delimited otherwise, items cover the entire book, number of volumes notwithstanding (e.g. 4 vols on the five books of Torah). Items marked "currently…" imply a work in progress. Paraphrases, anthologies or digests of translations, such as are found in the Hertz, Soncino Press, Judaica Press, ArtScroll, Living Torah and Living Nach or Etz Hayim bible commentaries, are not included. Condensed versions, as are sometimes found in Munk translations, are included. The JPS Commentators Bible (so far on Exodus alone), in addition to its systematic translation of four major commentators, also occasionally includes selections from Bekhor Shor, Radak, Hizkuni, Gersonides, Abarbanel and Sforno. These latter have not been included in the list. Further, academic or modern critical commentaries, even those written by rabbis, are excluded. Finally, no implication regarding quality of the translation should be drawn from inclusion in this list.


    I. Sa`adiah ben Joseph Gaon [882-942]

    A. Torah

    1. Linetsky [Gen 1-28] BS1235.X2 S213 2002

    B. Job

    1. Goodman BS1415.2. S143 1988

    C. Daniel

    1. Alobaidi (Bern; NY: Peter Lang, 2006)

    II. Rabenu Hananel ben Hushiel [d. 1055/6]

    A. Torah

    1. Munk BS1225.X2 M8 2003 6 vols.

    III. Rashi [Solomon ben Isaac, 1041-1105]

    A. Bible

    1. Rosenberg online>

    B. Torah

    1. Lowe [only on Gen] BS1235.X2 S62 L6

    2. Doron [Gen 1-6] BS1235.3. D6 1982

    3. Rosenbaum/Silbermann BS1222 1934 5 vols.

    4. Ben-Isaiah/Sharfman BS1222 1949 5 vols.

    5. Metsudah BS1222 1991 5 vols.

    5a. Online

    6. Milstein BM724. V5 1993 10 vols.

    7. Artscroll (Herczeg) BS1225.X2 S6 1994 5 vols.

    8. Feldman et al ("Ariel Chumash") [currently on Gen] (Jerusalem: United Israel Institute, 1997) 2 vols.

    9. Moore [currently on Gen] BS1225.X2 S6 M66 2002

    10. JPS (Carasik) [currently on Ex] BS1223. C3713 2005

    C. Joshua

    1. Davis (Metsudah) BS1292. D28 1997

    D. Judges

    1. Rabinowitz/Davis (Metsudah) BS1302. D28 2001

    E. Samuel

    1. Pupko/Davis (Metsudah) BS1322. D28 1999 2 vols.

    F. Kings

    1. Pupko/Davis (Metsudah) BS1335.3. D38 2001 2 vols.

    G. Psalms

    1. Gruber BS1429.X2 S26 1998

    H. Five Scrolls

    1. Schwartz [Esther, Canticles, Ruth] BS1309. A2S3

    2. Davis/Pupko (Metsudah) BS1309. A2M4 2001

    I. Ruth

    1. Beattie BS1315.2. B4

    IV. Rashbam [Samuel ben Meir, ca. 1080-1174]

    A. Torah

    1. Lockshin BS1225.X2 S2313 1989 4 vols.

    2. Munk BS1225.X2 M8 2003 6 vols.

    3. JPS (Carasik) [currently on Ex] BS1223. C3713 2005

    B. Ecclesiastes

    1. Japhet/Salters BS1475.X2 S2713 1985

    C. Canticles

    1. Thompson BS1485.X2 S26 T5 1988

    V. Abraham ben Meir Ibn Ezra [1092-1167]

    A. Torah

    1. Oles [Gen] (PhD, HUC, 1960)

    2. Linetsky [Gen 1-6] BS1235. I36513 1998

    3. Shachter [Lev, Deut] BS1225.X2 I3513 1986

    4. Strickman BS1225.X2 I3513 1988 5 vols.

    5. JPS (Carasik) [currently on Ex] BS1223. C3713 2005

    6. Benyowitz (Jerusalem: A.R. Benyowitz, 2006) 3 vols.

    B. Isaiah

    1. Friedlander BS1515. I2 1964 (1873)

    C. Hosea

    1. Lipshitz BS1565.X2 I213 1988

    D. Psalms

    1. Strickman [currently on Pss 1-41] (NY: Yashar, 2007)

    E. Ruth

    1. Beattie BS1315.2. B4

    VI. Moses ben Shesheth [fl. ca. 1190-1200?]

    A. Jeremiah/Ezekiel

    1. Driver BS1525. M65 1871

    1a. online>

    VII. Radak [David ben Joseph Kimhi, ca. 1160-ca. 1235]

    A. Torah

    1. Munk BS1225.X2 M8 2003 6 vols.

    B. Isaiah

    1. Cohen [Isa 40-66] BS1520.X2 K5 1954

    C. Zechariah

    1. M'Caul BS1665.X2 K513 1837

    1a. online

    D. Psalms

    1. Greenup [Pss 1-8] (London Palestine House, Hackney, 1918)

    2. Finch [Pss 1-10, 15-17, 19, 22, 24] BS1429.X2 K55

    3. Baker/Nicholson [Pss 120-150] BS1429.X2 K54 1973

    (E. Ruth?)

    1. Beattie BS1315.2. B4

    F. Chronicles

    1. Berger (PhD, YU, 2003)

    VIII. Ezra ben Solomon of Gerona [d. ca. 1238]

    A. Canticles

    1. Brody BS1485.X2 M632 1999

    IX. Ramban [Moses ben Nahman = Nachmanides, ca. 1195-ca. 1270]

    A. Torah

    1. Chavel BS1225.X2 M6613 5 vols.

    2. Artscroll [currently Gen-Ex] BS1225.X2 M68 B7 2004 4 vols.

    3. JPS (Carasik) [currently on Ex] BS1223. C3713 2005

    B. Ecclesiastes

    1. Chavel BM45. M6313 1978 v. 1

    X. Shem Tov ben Joseph Falaquera [ca. 1225–1295]

    A. (Torah)

    1. Jospe B759.F334 J68 1988

    XI. Zohar [ca. 1280]


    1. Sperling/Simon (Soncino) BM525 .A52 1931 5 vols.
    2. Matt (“Pritzker edition”)
    [currently on Gen] BM525.A52 M37 2004 3 vols.

    XII. Midrash ha-Ne`elam (Zohar) [ca. 1280]

    A. Ruth

    1. Englander/Basser BM525.A6 M513 1993

    XIII. Unknown (Anonymous, probably compilatory) [13th cen]

    A. Job

    1. Hirsch BS1415.C5813 1905

    XIV. Ba`al ha-Turim [= Jacob ben Asher, ca. 1269-ca. 1340]

    A. Torah

    1. Artscroll BS1225.X2 J232 1999 5 vols.

    2. Munk BS1225.X2 J2313 2005 4 vols.

    XV. Gevi`a Kesef [= Joseph ben Abba Mari Ibn Kaspi, 1279–1340]

    A. Genesis

    1. Herring B759. C37K4 Z31

    XVI. Ralbag [Levi ben Gershom = Gersonides, 1288-1344]

    A. Job

    1. Lassen BS1415.X2 L4 L3

    B. Canticles

    1. Kellner BS1485. L39 1998

    XVII. Rabenu Bahya ben Asher ben Hlava [d. 1340]

    A. Torah

    1. Munk BS1225.X31 B2313 1998/2003 7 vols.

    XVIII. Abraham ben Isaac ha-Levi TaMaKH [d. 1393]

    A. Canticles

    1. Feldman BS1485.X2 A24 1970

    XIX. Avvat Nefesh [Unknown, end of 14th cen]

    A. Genesis

    1. Gartig BS1225.X2 I35 G37 1995

    XX. Akedat Yitshak [= Isaac ben Moses Arama, ca. 1420-1494]

    A. Torah

    1. Munk BS1225.X3 A7 2001 2 vols.

    XXI. Obadiah ben Jacob Sforno [ca. 1470-ca. 1550]

    A. Torah

    1. Stahl [Deut] (PhD, HUC, 1975)

    2. Artscroll BS1225.X2 S4413 1987/1997 2/1 vols.

    3. Munk BS1225.X2 M8 2003 6 vols.


    XXII. Moses Alshekh [1507-1593]

    A. Torah

    1. Munk BS1225.X2 A4313 2000 3 vols.

    B. Jonah

    1. Shahar BS1605.3. A413 1992

    C. Psalms

    1. Munk BS1429.X31 A4213 1990 2 vols.

    D. Proverbs

    1. Munk BS1465.X31 A413 1991

    2. Hirshfeld/Braude (Nanuet, NY: Feldheim, 2006) 2 vols.

    E. Job

    1. Shahar (Nanuet, NY: Feldheim, 1996) 2 vols.

    F. Ruth

    1. Shahar/Oschry BS1315.X31 A4213 1991

    G. Esther

    1. Honig BS1375.X31 A413 1993 2 vols.

    H. Lamentations

    1. Hirshfeld BS1535.X31 A5513 1993

    I. Canticles

    1. Shahar BS1485.X31 A4813 1993

    J. Ecclesiastes

    1. Shahar BS1475.3. A413 1992

    K. Daniel

    1. Shahar/Oratz/Hirshfeld (Jerusalem: Feldheim, 1994)

    XXIII. Eliezer ben Elijah Ashkenazi [1512-1585]

    A. Esther

    1. Brown (PhD, BHU, 2006)

    XXIV. Keli Yakar [= Ephraim Solomon ben Aaron, of Luntshits (Lenczycza), 1550-1619]

    A. Torah

    1. Levine [currently on Ex] BS1225.X31 E6913 2002 2 vols.

    2. Kanter [Deut] BS1225.X31 E6913 2003 v. 5

    XXV. Tze'enah u-Re'enah [= Jacob ben Isaac Ashkenazi of Janow, 1550-1628]

    A. Torah

    1. Hershon [Gen] BS1235. J3 1885

    2. Artscroll [Torah & Scrolls] BS1225. J259 1983 3 vols.

    XXVI. Shlah [Shene Luhot Ha-berit = Isaiah Horowitz, ca. 1565-1630]

    A. Torah

    1. Munk BS1225.X33 H613 1999 3 vols.

    XXVII. Me`am Loez [= Jacob Culi, d. 1732]

    A. Bible [excluding Ezek; Job; Ezra-Neh; Dan; Chronicles]

    1. Kaplan et al. BS1158. H4C8 1978 43 vols.

    XXVIII. Or ha-Hayim [= Hayyim ben Moses Attar, 1696-1743]

    A. Torah

    1. Munk BS1225.X2 I28613 1995 5 vols.

    XXIX. Hatam Sofer [= Moses Sofer, 1762-1839]

    A. Torah

    1. Stern [currently Gen-Lev] BS1225.X31 S3513 1996 3 vols.

    XXX. Ha-Ketav veha-Kabalah [= Jacob Zevi Hirsch Meklenberg, 1785-1865]

    A. Torah

    1. Munk BS1225.X31 M3813 2001 7 vols.

    XXXI. Shadal [Samuel David Luzzatto, 1800-1865]

    A. Torah

    1. Klein [currently on Gen] BS1235.3. L89 1998

    XXXII. Samson Raphael Hirsch [1808-1888]

    A. Torah

    1. Levy BS1222 1958 6 vols.

    2. Haberman [currently Gen-Lev] (Jerusalem: Feldheim, 2000-2005) 4 vols.

    B. Psalms

    1. Hirschler BS1430. H5 1978

    C. Proverbs

    1. Paritzky BS1465.3. H5

    XXXIII. Malbim [Meir Loeb ben Jehiel Michael Weiser, 1809-1879]

    A. Torah

    1. Faier [through Ex 12] BS1225. M313 5 vols.

    B. Proverbs

    1. Wengrov/Zornberg BS1555. M34

    C. Job

    1. Pfeffer BS1415. M35 P44 2003

    D. Esther

    1. Taub BS1375.5. T28 1998

    2. Weinbach BS1375.5. W4

    E. Ruth

    1. Kurtz (New York: Feldheim, 1999)

    XXXIV. Netziv [Naphtali Zvi Yehudah Berlin, 1817-1893]

    A. Canticles

    1. Landesman BS1485.X2 B4413 1993

    [1a. (second part) Joseph BM560. B42513 1996 ]

    XXXV. Bet Ha-Levi [= Joseph Baer Soloveichik, 1820-1892]

    A. Torah

    1. Herczeg [currently Gen - Ex] BS1225.X3 S63513 1990 2 vols.

    XXXVI. Joseph Breuer [1882-1980]

    A. Jeremiah

    1. Hirschler BS1522 1988

    B. Ezekiel

    1. Hirschler BS1543. H57 1993

    XXXVII. Nechama Lebowitz [1905-1997]

    A. Torah

    1. Newman BS1193. L521 5 vols.

    XXXVIII. Da`at Sofrim [= Chaim Dov Rabinowitz, 1909-2001]

    A. Bible

    1. Starrett
    [currently on Jos-Jud; Sam; Kgs; Isa; Jer; Ezk; 12; Job; Chr; Dan-Neh] BS1151.2. R33 2001 10 vols.


    XXXIX. Menachem Mendel of Rimanov [1745-1815]

    A. Torah

    1. Levine BS1225. R9513 1996

    XL. Mei ha-Shiloah [= Mordecai Joseph Leiner, 1802-1854]

    A. Torah

    1. Edwards BS1158.H4 X31 L413 2001

    XLI. Sefat Emet [= Judah Aryeh Leib Alter, 1847-1905]

    A. Torah

    1. Green BS1225.X34 A39713 1998

    * Yisrael Dubitsky served as Public Services and Research Librarian at The Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary until March 2007. He recently made aliyah and currently works part-time for the Saul Lieberman Institute as well as the Igud le-Farshanut ha-Talmud. He can be reached at yidubitsky-at-gmail -dot-com.

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    In Search of Memory:
    Towards An Understanding of the Baladhur
    By Rabbi Eliezer Brodt

    In a recent post at the Seforim blog, while reviewing R. Ovadiah Yosef's recent work, Chazon Ovadia, I wrote as follows:
    "R' Ovadiah Yosef is world famous for his unbelievable memory, resulting in a tremendous bekius. I once joked that he must have had someone develop a computer program and attach it to his brain to help him retain so much information and recall it at all times."
    To this, one anonymous commenter wrote as follows:
    "Actually, there is a (unconfirmed) shmu'a that R. Ovadya partook of the Jewish mythological memory-booster known as Balzar. It is mentioned in different sources as being very dangerous, but granted one survives, it leaves the one who ingested it with a superlative memory. (The Sefer Hakanah refers to this when it says: "chazor chazor, v'al titz'tarech l'balzar"). The Chida is said to have accidentaly ingested it as a child, and fortunately came away with only a few paralyzed fingers -- and a great memory. I recently heard a "ma'aseh nora" regarding someone who recently attempted to track this (grass?) down and how min hashamayim he was stopped. Very scary."
    I would like to thank this anonymous commentator for giving me a great excuse to discuss this interesting topic of baladhur, the topic of the post below, which will elaborate on the anonymous above. I would like to explain some possibilities of what this baladhur is, whether or not it's dangerous to use, and list various gedolim who have actually used it. I will be tracing this through early Jewish and Arabic works – some rather rare and unknown – and I will, as well, provide the background to the authors of those works.

    Memory Improvement and Chazal:

    Methods for improving memory has been around for a considerable amount of time. Chazal were very concerned with memory, as orignally Torah Shel Ba'al Peh was not allowed to be written. Thus, to ensure correct transmittal, a good memory was essential. Further, (and perhaps based in part on the above concern,) the Mishna in Avos (3:9) states if one forgets his learning, this “sin” is punishable by death. Indeed, throughout Chazal we find many different techniques to help one remember. For instance, the use of Asmachtos, according to some rishonim, is to aid memory. The use of simanim such as the one which appears in the Haggadah from R. Yehuda of Detsach-Adash-Beachav are also for purposes of memory. Many of these simanim are the subject of a recent sefer printed from manuscript of the Aderet called Miglat Samanim. [Additionally, there is an entire work devoted to explicating the simanim, Simanim HaShalem.] Aside from memory tools, we find many things one should refrain from eating or doing because it will cause one to forget. It is also commonplace, to find many different segulos (as opposed to ashmachtos and the like which have a rational connection to memory) to improve one’s memory. R. Yehudah Aryeh (Leon) Modena devoted an entire sefer to this topic, called Lev HaAreyeh. Recently, R. Chaim Kanievsky has also written a complete work on this topic. Even more recently, R. Lerner has devoted a part of his now bestseller (currently over ten printings) Shmirat Haguf VeHanefesh to this topic. This year R. Avraham Zion printed a very comprehensive work on the topic, Zekher Oseh, some 562 pages gathered from many sources (pgs. 323-324 helped me a bit in my preparation of this post).

    Returning to the memory segulah, some mention ingesting baladhur as one such segulah. Baladhur became so popular that it even became used in a pisgam used to remind one to review ones learning.

    Early Usage of baladhur:

    The use of baladhur has early roots. R. Emmanuel Loew in his Die Flora Der Juden (Vol 2 pg 203) cites a source that attributes this discovery of Baladhur to Shlomo Hamelech. The Zohar Chadash relates a story where baladhur was eaten to help them understand Torah; referred to as balad on pg. 8b Margolis edition.

    Professor Gerrit Bos has written a very comprehensive article tracing this baladhur, regarding how early one can find that it was used at all and in particular to improve ones memory[3]. Bos provides examples showing how Galen was aware of the baladhur, but the earliest specific reference to it can be found in the writings of Alexander of Tralles (mid-sixth century), with subsequent references found amongst the Arabic physicians Ibn Masawayh (d. 857), Sabur ibn Sahl (d. 869) and ibn Yahya al-Razi (d. 932).

    Ibn al-Jazzar, a famous Arab physician (d. 980) and medical author, wrote a treatise entitled Risala Fi Al Nisyan Wa Ilajihi. This work is on “Forgetfulness and its Treatments.” "In 1995 Gerrit Bos printed a critical edition of this Arabic text and all the subsequent Hebrew translations of this work, with an excellent introduction and commentary. The title of this new volume is “Ibn Al-Jazzar on Forgetfulness and Its Treatment.” (This work had been translated into Hebrew many times.) Ibn al-Jazzar writes about baladhur several times – how to use it exactly to help ones memory (pg. 50, 52, 69-70). For more on this work see here.

    We now turn to the Jewish sources advocating for the use of baladhur for improved memory. They include: R. Moshe Narboni,[4] R. Meir Aldabi (grandson of the Rosh), R. Yehudah Aryeh (Leon) Modena, R. Hayyim Vital and R. David de Silva (son of the Prei Chadesh). R. Hayyim Vital, besides for providing a recipe for baladhur[5], writes that there were people who used to give it to their sons every day for petihat lev.[6]

    What is baladhur?


    Now that we have seen that there is a history to baladhur (and later on we will discuss specific examples of baladhur use), we must now turn to the question of what exactly baladhur is. Meir Benayahu cites “old people in Jerusalem” that baladhur is חלתית (chulsis). Chulsis appears frequently throughout Chazal including in the Mishna, Tosefta, Talmud Bavli and Yerushalmi. Many of these places are quoted by R. Moshe Perlman (Midrash Ha'Refuah, 1:80).[9] In Masekhet Shabbat, chulsis (140a) appears in a discussion about the permissibility of soaking it in water as a medical cure. The Yerushalmi (Shabbat 20:3) brings from Shmuel that chulsis is a healthy food.

    The gemara in Chulin (58b) discusses whether swallowing chulsis renders a bird a treifah. Shmuel says it does, as it punctures the bird’s throat. But, the Talmud concludes that it depends whether it is the branch of the chulsis or it was swallowed in its liquid form. Additionally, the Yerushalmi in Shabbat records that R. Yehudah says that if someone eats chulsis on an empty stomach, he will start to burn up and his skin will start peeling. Rav Avuhah says he actually ate chulsis and luckily he was standing in water when he did so as the water cooled him down. From these sources it appears that chulsis is something very sharp physically, as it could harm the throat of a bird, and it also has a sharp effect on the body, i.e. raising one’s temperature.

    The Rambam (hilkhot de’ot 4:8) writes that in the rainy season, one should eat a little bit of chulsis. The Avodat Hamelech in his comments on this Rambam references the two statements above discussing the effects of chulsis on body temperature. He most likely means to explain that the Rambam's source to eat chulsis is based on the gemara in Shabbat that says it’s healthy, however his source to eat only eat a little bit is based on the gemara in Chulin that shows that eating a lot is dangerous.

    R. Tanchum Yerushalmi writes that chulsis was a plant whose seeds are eaten for medical purposes (Ha'madreich Ha'maspek, pg. 151). Meiri writes that chulsis was used for heart problems, and R. Ovadiah Bartenurah writes that chulsis is something hot eaten by people in cold places (probably based on the above Rambam). [See also Arukh Hashalem, 3:421.]

    Rashi in Shabbat (140a), Avodah Zarah (35b) and Chulin (58b) translates chulsis as לזר"א. Lazei Rashi does not know what this word means in old French (#1251), but לזר"א sounds like it’s our baladhur. The Rosh states explicitly that chulsis is in fact baladhur and there is nothing as sharp as baladhur (Avodah Zarah, 3:166). The Beit David accepts that this is the correct definition of chulsis (Yoreh Deah, #36). Rabbeinu Yerucham writes that the chulsis is the baladhur and although eating it does not pose a problem for hilkhot tereifah, it is prohibited for another reason - sakanat nefashot (Sefer Ha'dom Netiv 15:5, pg. 121b). We see from the above sources that the definition of the “old people” quoted by Meir Benayahu has some support.

    The Shulhan Arukh writes that if a bird eats something that punctures its intestines, for example, a branch of chulsis, the bird is rendered a treifah (Yoreh Deah 51:4). The Prei Chadash, after quoting the Rabbeinu Yerucham, says that it can't be that baladhur is deadly, as we know that people eat this baladhur and it helps the memory. According to the Prei Chadash, the method of eating baladhur was actually by means of a bird (I assume he means they ate birds that were feed the baladhur). He writes that although the gemara in Chulin says that it can dangerously raise one’s temperature, this was only when it was eaten on an empty stomach, as it states explicitly. The Tevos Shor disagrees with this and he says there is a printing mistake in the Rabbenu Yerucham. He meant to say that chulsis is, in fact, assur because it renders the bird a treifah. When he says it is dangerous, he is actually referring to a something else mentioned there, unrelated to chulsis. The Shulhan Gavoah writes that the chulsis is baladhur and he heard that baladhur is extremely sharp and dangerous to eat, but nonetheless improves ones memory. The Shulhan Gavoah brings that in his country, Salonkia (Thessaloniki), there was a great talmid hakham who was famous for his memory and he later found out that they said this memory was a result of his eating the baladhur. The Shulhan Gavoah writes he is not sure exactly what the connection is between baladhur and a bird, but it seems that they would feed a bird this baladhur before shehitah and than one eats this bird.

    Chulsis, thus baladhur, is Coffee:

    The Kanfei Yonah cites the work Otzar Ha-Hayyim who says the chulsis is coffee! The Kanfei Yonah writes that although we know that coffee is not so sharp, being that the Otzar Ha-Hayyim was a big hakham in his time, especially in medicine, we therefore must follow his opinion. Additionally, according to the Otzar Ha-Hayyim, baladhur is coffee. The Darkei Teshuvah cites the Maaseh Tuviah that chulsis is the actual coffee bean, but not in its more common ground state. The Malbim in his Alim Le'treufah (Rambam, hilkhot de’ot, #21) writes that it’s very hard to accept that chulsis is coffee, as chulsis is supposed to be extremely sharp and we know that coffee is not. (However, this truly really depends on the specific type of coffee, as there are both sharper and milder strains.) Furthermore, the Malbim notes that today people drink coffee on empty stomachs and nothing happens, whereas the gemara said that your skin starts peeling and one’s temperature rises. Therefore, he concludes it is an error to link coffee with chulsis.

    The Segulat Yisrael dismisses the Malbim’s question from the gemara in Chulin that the statement that chulsis will cause one’s skin to peel and raise one’s temperature is only when chulsis is eaten alone – that is, without water. But as coffee is typically mixed together with water, that is the reason we don’t see this effect on people who drink coffee even on an empty stomach. Thus, the Segulat Yisrael concludes that coffee does help the memory a bit (pg. 33). This is then quoted in Shmirat Haguf VeHanefesh (2:794) to prove that coffee helps ones memory. The Da’at Torah writes that he experimented with coffee and never found it to be so sharp as to qualify for what the gemara is referring to so it can not be that it is chulsis[10].

    Interestingly enough today medical studies show that coffee does help the memory (see here) although some of the sources seem to say it only helps women who drink coffee (see here). It is worth pointing out that that in the popular and excellent historical fiction work by David Liss, The Coffee Trader, one of the main characters, a woman, eats coffee and it has a profound effect on her.

    It is clear that R. David de Silva did not think that baladhur is coffee as he has a special entry for the medical benefits of coffee in his Peri Megadim and he does not write its Baladhur. R. David de Silva knew what baladhur is as clear from the story with his grandfather (quoted soon).

    R. Samuel Joseph Finn in his Ha'otzar explains that chulsis is Asa Foetida (2:93). R. Emmanuel Loew in his Die Flora Der Juden (3:454) translates it to mean Asa Foeitida. Dr. Katzenelson in his notes on the Midrash Refuah (pg. 147 is missing – by mistake – in the new reprint of this sefer) writes that chulsis is Asa goefida, and that Persians use it for spices. Professor Saul Lieberman also writes its Asa Foeitida (Tosefta Kifshutah, Shabbat, pg. 265 and Baba Kama, pg. 57). Yehudah Feilkeis, in his Hazomach Vhachai Bamishna (pg. 65), and Michael Sokoloff, in his Dictionary of Jewish Babylonian Aramic Of The Talmudic And Geonic Periods, translate chulsis to mean Asa Foeitida (pg. 456).

    So it seems that chulsis is not the same as our baladhur.

    So what is the baladhur?

    R. Hayyim Vital writes baladhur is Anacardium. [5] Much later Ben Yehudah writes this same this baladhur is Anacorde (Milon, pg. 545 "Erech Baladhur").

    Gerrit Bos also documents that it is Anacardium which is the marking nut. Bos writes this is used even today in many medicines. Ibn Al Jazzar in his work on "Forgetfulness and its treatments" gives some exact recipes for this cure. R. Hayyim Vital gives an exact recipe for this baladhur. As noted above (at footnote three), Gerrit Bos brings different recipes for this cure.

    People who used baladhur:

    There is an old legend that the Rambam when he was twenty he had not learnt anything and he had been working somewhere. Than his master had to go out of town so he told him not to eat from the baladhur. When the master left Moshe ate the baladhur. and he became smart instantly (see Shivchei Harambam pg 76) [Of course this story is not true at all historically and is an embarrassment to the Rambam as much has been written on another such similar legend to this in regard to the youth of the Rambam in the past few months.]

    R' Avraham Kalifon, who knew the Chida personally [7], writes that the Chida, when he was young, ate baladhur. and as a result, the middle finger of his left hand became paralyzed (Sefer Hachida, pg. 185). Incidently Meir Benayahu writes that the Chida had an incredible memory; he remembered whatever he saw (Hachida, volume 1, pg. 91). Others that have used it include the Prei Chadash and R. Chaim Saton - the author of the Aretz Chaim (Benayahu Sinai ibd).

    Dangers of using baladhur:

    R Avrohum Gibson in his Omer Hashicha writes of a person who he knew who heard of the Baladhur.that it helps ones memory he went and used it incorrectly and died (pg 133). Benayhu brings that R. Chaim Saton mind was effected by his using of the baladhur.
    R Yehudah Aryeh Modena writes that people try different ways to help their memories one of the ways is thru the baladhur. However he does not recommend it as it's very dangerous he knew many people who lost their minds completely from using it (Lev Haryeh pg 13) [8]. R' Yaakov Emden says that one should be careful not to use the baladhur. because it's more likely that the person who takes it will lose their memory rather than gain memory (Migdal Oz, pg. 50).

    Meir Benayhu printed a letter from a manuscript where the Jews from Fez asked R Yakov ibn Zor to write to R Yosef Konki that some of the Talmidi Chachmim who learn the whole day but forget some of what they learn had heard about the Baladhur. On the one hand they heard that it helps ones memory but on the other hand they heard that its dangerous if used incorrectly so they asked me to write to you R Yosef Konki being that they heard you use it successfully to explain how exactly does one use it. We do not have R Yosef Konki response (Sinai, 36, 1937, 67-70).

    In the Prei Megadim of R. Dovid de Silva records an interesting story that happened with himself in regard to this baladhur. He had read somewhere the statement of Chazal that 'Chazor, chazor val titztarech l'Baladhur' [more on this soon] so he went and started to eat a lot of this baladhur. His mother saw this and went to ask her father R Refal Malchi who was a doctor if what her son is eating is healthy. R Refal came and saw what his grandson was eating he gave it to him - telling him how could you eat something you do not know about it its something that could make you lose your mind he told him it is lucky you did not eat it wet. He told him the only way you could eat it with it causing damage is to eat it with a bird [more on this soon] (pg 58-59). [These two great people, R Dovid and R Refal will be the subject of an upcoming post.] Interestingly enough Meir Benayhu brings an old rumor that R Dovid's father the Prei Chadash used the baladhur.

    Professor G. Bos brings many non-Jewish medical sources which also say how dangerous the incorrect use of baladhur could be. Bos even brings those who say that Galen died from using baladhur (pg 236). There was a 9th century Persian historian named Ahmad Ibn Yahya al-Baladhuri who lived at the court of the Chaliphs al-Mutawakkil and Al-Musta'in and was tutor to the son of al-Mutazz. He died in 892 as the result of using a drug called Baladhur, hence his name.

    Recent Usage of baladhur:

    In a recent printing of Lev Ha-Aryeh, R. E. Monzor writes (pg. 31 and on) that he asked his father and many experts in ancient seforim about this baladhur, and he was told that this refuah consists of a few different plants, and the mixture must be exact. He writes about R. Yaakov Katzin, who had a phenomenal memory. He writes that he remembers when he was young, that people heard of the baladhur, and there were three rabbanim who used it. These rabbanim went to consult someone who was an expert in the correct measurements of baladhur. After using it each one suffered from different side effects. One was cold even the summer and R. Yaakov Katzin (who was known for having an incredible memory), who was one of the three, had problems with his intestines. In the Or Torah Journal (Tishrei 5751): 10, there is another source which also claims that he heard that R. Yaakov Katzin used baladhur. In the same journal in a later issue (Tevet 5751): 280, there is a source which brings from R. Ovadiah Yosef that a rebbi of his, R. Eliyahu Lupas, went to purchase this baladhur and the seller told him that it does not really help.

    Sources for the Pisgam, ‘Chazor, Chazor V’al Titztarech l’Baladhur’:

    As I have mentioned earlier this baladhur, was used in a Pisgam (saying) to remind one to review his learnings. In regard to the sources and evolvement of this pisgam of ‘Chazor, Chazor V’al Titztarech l’Baladhur’. One of the first places to consult is as always the Alpah Beta Kadmita D'shemuel Zeirah of R. Shmuel Askenazi. R. Askenazi has a short comment about it (pg. 595) and than he writes more will be in the second volume. In the back of the sefer amongst the list of future topics he plans on writing about he mentions that this pisgam is one of the topics of the next sefer (pg. 842). For whatever reasons, as of now volume two is not happening. So I asked R. Askenazi if he could give me the material he was planning on printing but unfortunately thus far, he was unable to locate the material. So – as the saying goes – Bemokom Shein Ish, I will attempt to trace it a bit, in a similar style to R. Ashkenazi.

    One of the first sources is found in a sefer recently printed from manuscript from R. Yosef Alashkar in his Marchevet Hamishna on the Mishneh in Avot (pg. 139) (see my forthcoming post at the Seforim blog on this topic) where he brings this quote חזור חזור ואל תצטרך לבלדור. R. Yosef Alashkar was a youngster during the Spanish Expulsion. A bit earlier, the Abarbanel in his commentary on Avot, entitled Nachalat Avot (pg. 351) brings this same exact quote. R. Tobias Cohen in his Ma’aseh Tuviah (pg. 133b) brings this quote but adds that it’s mentioned in the gemara. R. David de Silva, a younger contemporary of R. Tobias Cohen also quotes this statement saying it is from Chazal in his Peri Megadim (pg 59). R. Jacob Emden in Migdal Oz (pg. 100) brings the same quote except he says בלאזור. Professor Simha Assaf printed a letter from manuscript that a melamad in Italy who instructed his students רק חזור חזור טוב מבלאזור apparently this is alluding to our pisgam (Toldos Hachinch Byisroel 2:391). R. Yehezkel Feivel, in his Toldot Adam, writes "that there is a famous Mamaor that people say חזור חזור ואל תצריך לבלאזור (vol 1 pg 70)." Levinsohn in his Zerubavel already writes the source for this Toldot Adam is the

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