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

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    In a recent post at the Michtavim blog entitled "Derashot Shel Maran: A Little Studied Aspect of Maran Ovadiah Yosef's Weltanschauung," I discuss a shift within the research and writings of Dr. Kimmy Caplan from the area of sermons of historical American rabbis to the contemporary haredi community and contemporary Orthodox historiography (the latter which will be the subject of an upcoming post at the Michtavim blog). I believe that his varied areas of research have reunited in his recent article, "Studying Haredi Mizrahim in Israel: Trends, Achievements, and Challenges," in Peter Y. Medding, ed., Studies in Contemporary Jewry, vol. 22 (Sephardic Jewry and Mizrahi Jews) (Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 169-192, specifically as he discusses the differences in the Friday night and Motzei Shabbat sermons of Maran Ovadiah Yosef, in the selection quoted at the Michtavim blog.

    See the post here.

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    Sources contemporary to the Baal Shem Tov that attest to his deeds, or that even discuss him at all, are sparse. Although some secular sources, including tax records and other documents, have recently been unearthed by academic researchers, there is a paucity of Jewish texts. Most of the "historical" record regarding the Baal Shem Tov comes from a collection of stories, Shivhei Ha-Besht.[1] That work, however, was collected much later and is less reliable than others when assessing the Baal Shem Tov. [2] One important text regarding the Baal Shem Tov, however, appears in the Teshuvot Mayim Hayyim.

    Mayim Hayyim was published in Zhitomer by Shapira press. The Shapira press is well-known for publishing hassidic works, and the press was originally in Slavita. As a result of dubious circumstances, the press moved to Zhitomer and in 1857 the Mayim Hayyim was published.[2a] While the publication of that book took place long after the Baal Shem Tov's death in 1760, Mayim Hayyim consists of responsa both from the time of the Baal Shem Tov and later. Mayim Hayyim mainly consists of the responsa of R. Hayyim HaKohen Rapoport (1772-1839), was published by R. Hayyim's son, R. Yaakov HaKohen Rapoport. R. Yaakov HaKohen Rapoport included material from other relatives as well (i.e., aside from his father, R. Hayyim). One such responsum is from R. Meir, son of R. Jacob Emden, who we shall return to later.

    This undated responsum begins with a technical question regarding a lesion found in the lungs of an animal after shechitah. The slaughterer could not remove the lesion and took it to the local rabbi in Medzhybizh, a Rabbi Falk, who appeared to be unsure of the status of the animal. Based upon the remainder of the responsum, however, R. Falk eventually permitted the animal. It appears that some disagreed with the decision of R. Falk and thus sent the question to R. Meir to see if the local rabbi got it right. In an effort to ensure that R. Meir would get the whole story, it was recorded and signed by R. Mordechai, the ne'eman (literally, the trustee; but in this context, probably the secretary); the following appears after the question:

    In our presence, the court signed below, our teacher, the aforementioned Mordecai, related all that is written above as testimony and then wrote all of this in his own handwriting and signed it with his very own signature. Therefore we have confirmed it and substantiated it as proper
    Signed Israel BA"Sh [Ba'al Shem] of Tluste [this was the city the Baal Shem Tov lived prior to moving to Medzhybizh]
    Signed Moshe Joseph Maggid Mesharim of Medzhybizh [3]

    Thus, one of the three signatories was R. Israel Baal Shem Tov. The questioners then continue to flesh out their question as to whether or not Rabbi Falk paskened correctly. As Moshe Rosman notes, this question places the Baal Shem Tov as an important figure within Medzhybizh. That is, the Baal Shem Tov involved himself in this controversy, a controversy that may have resulted in the dismissal of their local rabbi. Furthermore, this episode illustrates how the Baal Shem Tov was important enough to be one of the three persons picked to sign on this letter. As Rosman states: "this incident presents a dimension of the Besht not usually emphasized by the interpreters of the hagiographic stories about him in Shivhei Ha-Beshet. It makes it difficult to portray him - as has often been done - as an unalloyed populist figure, alienated from the rabbinic or political establishment" (118).

    Aside from the above value of the letter, there is the additional importance of how R. Meir treated the Baal Shem Tov, thus providing a contemporary account on how others viewed the Baal Shem Tov. Although the letter was from three people, R. Mordechai, R. Moshe Joseph and the Baal Shem Tov, R. Meir in his response only addresses himself to the Baal Shem Tov. Moreover, the honorifics R. Meir uses demonstrates that he surely held the Baal Shem Tov in the highest regard. R. Meir addressed the Baal Shem Tov as:

    Champion in Yehuda and Israel! He who succeeds there at the small and the great. He provides balm and medicament to the persons without strength. He is great in Bavel and famous in Teveriah and has prevailed in all things. The great sage, the eminent rabbi, famous for his good name, our teacher Israel, may God protect and bless him. And all of his colleagues, all of them beloved rabbis, the great and eminent sage, our teacher Gershon, may God protect and bless him; and those who I don't know [by name] I greet; may they all be granted the highest blessing.

    As is apparent from the titles provided, "champion in Yehuda and Israel" and with the use of the terms "the great sage, the eminent rabbi" that R. Meir held the Baal Shem Tov in very high regard. Additionally, from both the Baal Shem Tov's own use of "Baal Shem" to describe himself and R. Meir's mention that the Baal Shem Tov "provides balm and medicament to persons without strength," the term "Baal Shem" as used here refers to a medicine man. That is, aside from whatever else the Baal Shem Tov was known for, he was known for being a healer - thus Baal Shem means healer. This understanding is confirmed by tax records that refer to the Baal Shem Tov as a "Doctor." From all this is should be apparent that the Baal Shem Tov was respected by his peers and was known outside of Medzhybizh while he was there.[4]

    Teshuvot Mayim Hayyim

    There is a question, however, regarding when the foregoing letter was written. Most place it sometime around 1744, but, at the latest, 1747. They do so based on the mention of "our teacher Gershon." They understand that the Gershon referenced here is Avraham Gershon of Kutower, the Baal Shem Tov's brother-in-law. As R. Gershon moved to Israel in 1747, and the letter mentions R. Gershon, it must have been while he was still in Medzhybizh.[5] Personally, I think that that conclusion assumes that R. Meir was intimately familiar with R. Gershon’s whereabouts. While there is no doubt that R. Meir heard of R. Gershon, it does not automatically follow that he was informed regarding when R. Gershon moved to Israel. It could very well be the letter was written after R. Gershon left for Israel and R. Meir then merely assumed that R. Gershon was still living in Medzhybizh - it is not as if there was an announcement in the Międzybórz Times or at that R. Gershon had made Aliyah! Either way, this letter was written while the Baal Shem Tov was alive, and provides a virtually unimpeachable source for his participation in the community-at-large and about how others viewed him. I don't think Rosman is exaggerating when he says that "[t]his responsum, then, would seem to be an excellent starting point for attempting to gauge the Besht's position in his community and his relationship to the political and religious establishment" (119).

    Aside from the above points that can be gleaned from this responsum, R. Shlomo Yosef Zevin, in an article that originally appeared in Sinai and has now been reprinted in the nice, new edition of his le-Ohr Halakhah uses this responsum for a different purpose. R. Zevin wants to disprove the notion that "the Hassidim and their Rebbes don't care about studying the revealed Torah and thus they did not spend much time on studying talmud and poskim." R. Zevin notes, as well, that this attitude towards Hassidim was prevalent right from the start of the Hassidic movement. That is, "even today, those who are not hassidim allege that the founder of the Hassidic movement, the Baal Shem Tov, was not a ben torah, heaven forbid." R. Zevin totally rejects this notion as "false and incorrect." As proof the Baal Shem Tov was indeed learned R. Zevin cites to the above responsum. R. Zevin explains:

    In the Shu"t Mayim Hayyim from R. Hayyim Kohen Rapoport from Austria, printed there is a responsum from Medzhybizh regarding a lesion in the lung, from the Baal Shem Tov to the gaon R. Meir, the son of R. Jacob Emden, who was the chief rabbi in Constantine, and the response from the goan [R. Meir] to him [the Baal Shem Tov]. As is common knowledge, the Baal Shem Tov was not the Rabbi of Medzhybizh, even so the Baal Shem Tov is one of the signatories to the letter, singing it "Yisrael Baal Shem of Tluste" - "and the Maggid Mesharim of Medzhybizh." [6] The response of R. Meir is a long one. R. Meir was not a hassid. It is important to note the honorifics R. Meir uses at the beginning of his response: "Champion in Yehuda and Israel! He who succeeds there at the small and the great. He provides balm and medicament to the persons without strength. He is great in Bavel and famous in Teveriah and has prevailed in all thins. The great sage, the eminent rabbi, famous for his good name, our teacher Israel, may God protect and bless him. And all of his colleagues, all of them beloved rabbis . . ." And would a goan [R. Meir] who is not a hassid uses such language on someone who is not a godal b'torah?

    Therefore, R. Zevin, with this responsum, demonstrates that the notion that the Baal Shem Tov was not learned and not respected is utterly false.

    Until now, we have been focusing on the Baal Shem Tov, but there is another important person in this responsum, the author - R. Meir (1717-1795)[7], the first born son of R. Jacob Emden.[8] R. Meir was the rabbi in Constantine in the Ukraine. R. Meir was highly respected in the area, as is demonstrated by this responsum. This is so, as you will recall, in that the purpose of the responsum was to settle a controversy in the town of Medzhybizh - a controversy between the local rabbi and some of the persons in the town. This was a serious controversy -- indeed the petitioners describe it as "a fire burning in the community" -- and, especially in light of R. Meir's response, where he notes that the rabbi was wrong and if the rabbi refuses to admit that he is wrong, he is to be dealt with as a zakan maamrei as the rabbi, according to R. Meir, is denying a portion of the torah. This was no small matter. As the three persons picked R. Meir to adjudicate the matter, they must have respected him and thought that his answer, what ever it would be, would settle the issue.

    Unfortunately, until now, we only had a tiny amount of written material from R. Meir, the bulk of which appears in Mayim Hayyim. Specifically, of the six extant responsa from R. Meir, four can be found in Mayim Hayyim. Now the reason they are included in Mayim Hayyim is because R. Meir is related to R. Hayyim HaKohen Rapoport.[9] What is shocking is that in his introduction to the Mayim Hayyim, R. Yaakov HaKohen Rapoport, publisher of the Mayim Hayyim, uses his relationship to R. Meir as the sole reason for publishing R. Meir's responsa. That is, although the Mayim Hayyim was published by the Shapira hassidic publishing house in Zhitomer, and done so in the mid-19th century, R. Yaakov HaKohen Rapoport never mentions that he includes a responsum -- the only one of its kind -- from the Baal Shem Tov. Instead, the reason for the inclusion of the responsum is R. Meir.

    As mentioned previously, today, Shmuel Dovid Friedman has attempted to fill the void of R. Meir's works in publishing the first volume of R. Meir's hiddushim. These hiddushim are on Mishnayot Seder Nashim and on the Rambam's Mishneh Torah. The title of the book is taken from the above responsum. As R. Meir was referred to as "HaMeor HaGodol" thus the title of this new work is HaMeor HaGodol. See Meir Konstantine, HaMeor HaGodol, ed. R. Shmuel Dovid Friedman (Brooklyn, NY, 2007), [30], 352. [6]

    While the publication of the Hiddushei Torah of R. Meir is indeed welcome, this particular work is plagued with numerous deficiencies. Firstand foremost is the problem with the manuscript itself. It does not appear that the Meor HaGodol was published from R. Meir's actual manuscript. Instead, R. Meir's manuscripts were copied over time by the Bick family and it is from these copies that the Meor HaGodol is comprised. Thus, there is no independent method of verifying that this material actually came from R. Meir. Aside from the manuscript, the introduction is rather bizarre. The introduction includes various stories about R. Meir, most of which focus on his relationship to hassidim. The bulk of the stories are then shown to be false, but only in the footnotes. So, the body of the text are the stories and then a careful reader will see that most of the stories likely never occurred. For instance, there is a story that R. Meir's daughter -- when R. Meir was sick and unbeknownst to him-- sent a request to the Baal Shem Tov to ask him to heal R. Meir. The editors of Meor HaGodol, in note 49, then say it is hard to reconcile the story with the facts known about R. Meir. Or, another example is that the introduction includes a story that after R. Meir became a hassid -- there is no evidence that he ever did so, but the story assumes so -- his father, R. Jacob Emden, disowned R. Meir. Again, the editors, in note 59, state that "there are many difficulties with this story" and then proceed to enumerate them. Why a story for which there is no support would be included to begin with is left unexplained. Perhaps the reason is that the editors are unduly interested in demonstrating that R. Meir was a full hassid (indeed, the main chapter in the introduction is entitled "[R. Meir's] Connection with the Baal Shem Tov"). It is particularly ironic that they present such shaky evidence in light of the fact the responsum in Mayim Hayyim from R. Meir is the only objective contemporaneous evidence of the Ba'al Shem from a Jewish source.

    Moreover, the introduction seems to have missed and, in fact purposely left out, some material. Specifically, in note 3, the editors of HaMeor HaGodol note that R. Jacob Emden at some point added the name Yisrael. In the introduction they then attempt to understand what precipitated this change. They cite the following from R. Jacob Emden's Hitavkut, (p. 112,a)

    מבטן אמי קראני יעקב, אליו פי קראתי ורומם תחת לשוני, והוא יתברך שלחני בשמי קראני, וכעת הראני לקרוא שמי ישראל וכו', ע"כ

    "from birth I was called Yaakov, this is what I was called and my name elevated, and then God sent [a message] to me that I should be called in God’s name, and thus I will now be called Yisrael."

    Although we can see from that quote that R. Emden added his name, the introduction does not tell us exactly why. What is astounding is that the editors ought to know why R. Emden added his name. The reason is because the above quote from Sefer Hitavkut continues beyond the portion quoted and explains that the name Yisrael was added because it was a testament that R. Jacob Emden was correct in his battle with R. Jonathan Eybeschütz. Instead, the editors cut off the quote right before R. Emden explains precisely that. Therefore, I assume that the omission is because they would rather not bring up that R. Emden had a fight with R. Eybeschütz, or that R. Emden viewed himself as having been correct. It is worth noting that the Sefer Hitavkut is not the only place R. Emden offers his victory as the reason for the name change. Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schacter, on page 754 (n.11) of his dissertation about Rabbi Jacob Emden (Harvard, 1988), refers to a passage in Mitpachat Sefarim (p. 118 in the Lemberg, 1871 ed. and p. 171 in the most recent 1995 ed. - provided below) where R. Emden says "that after he battled with IS"H [R. J. Eybeschütz] a name was added" -- a play on the verse in Genesis 32:24, 28. So it is incorrect to assert, as the editors of HaMeor HaGodol do, that "why and when R. Emden's name was changed is unclear." Rabbi Schacter also notes that Emden's earliest reference "to himself as 'Yaakov Yisrael' is in a responsum SY [She'elat Yaavetz] II:24) dated February 22, 1765. In another responsum dated just six days later (SY II:144), Emden was addressed as 'Yaakov Yisrael.' For other references to this name, see SY II:25, 71, 72, 73, 112, [and] 146" (p. 754, n.11 - special thanks to Rabbi Schacter for his discussions with Menachem Butler about this aspect about Rabbi Jacob Emden).

    Thus, in the editors’ effort to highlight the connection of R. Meir to hassidim, they downplay any opposition R. Meir's father, R. Jacob Emden, had to hassidism (see n.59). They apparently were unaware (?) that an additional important statement from R. Jacob Emden has recently been published. (see here )

    One final note. It is particularly disappointing today to find a sefer that does not contain an index. With technology as it is today, publishers easily should be able to provide a decent index to a book; it is quite surprising, then, that Meor HaGodol, does not contain an index.

    [1] There are other sources as well, including letters. Many of the letters are highly controversial as to their authenticity. See Moshe Rosman, Founder of Hasidism: A Quest for the Historical Ba'al Shem Tov (University of California Press, 1996), 99-113, 119-126; Nahum Karlinsky, Historia SheKeneged (Jerusalem, 1998); and Immanuel Etkes, The Besht: Magician, Mystic and Leader (UPNE/Brandeis University Press, 2005), chapter six, "The Historicity of Shivhei Habesht," 203-248, among many other sources.
    [2] See Rosman, Founder of Hasidism, 143-155 and 162-8 (lending credence to some of the stories in Shivhei Ha-Besht based on governmental records), as well as his earlier article, "The History of a Historical Source: On the Editing of Shivhei Ha-Besht," Zion 58 (1993): 175-214, and in his recently published monograph, Stories That Changed History: The Unique Career of Shivhei Ha-Besht (=The B.G. Rudolph Lectures in Judaic Studies, new series, 5) (Syracuse University Press, 2007), Rosman notes how through this text of some two hundred stories, one can "explore such themes as the Besht's miraculous birth and childhood, his initiation into the mystical secrets, his revelations, his prayers, his dreams, his travels, his encounters with noblemen and priests, his contests with doctors, his attraction of various associates, and, most of all, the miracles, large and small, that he performs" (1). Rosman notes, as well, that over the past sixty years alone, "there have been five new Hebrew editions, some printed more than once; one Yiddish and two Hebrew reworkings; a German translation and critical edition, and an English translation printed four times. All this was in addition to various adaptations in fiction and in educational materials used by all types of Jewish schools, from Israeli secular to American Reform and Brooklyn Ultra-Orthodox" (24), and Rosman notes quite humorously how "Shivhei Ha-Besht has been analyzed as inspirational literature, political tract, holy writ, silly stories, historical source, and theological doctrine. It has entertained, inspired, embarrassed, inspired repentance, and formed the basis for doctoral dissertations. For nearly two hundred years it has been read with passion and diligence by people of many approaches and predilections. In search for the wellsprings of modern Jewish culture, it surely represents a unique source" (20).
    [2a] For a discussion of the Shapira press see Ch. B. Friedberg, History of Hebrew Typography in Poland (Tel Aviv, 1950), 104-09 (discussing the Slavita period) and 135 (discussing the Shapira press in Zhitomer). For what precipitated the move, see Saul Moiseyevich Ginsburg, The Drama of Slavuta, trans. by Ephraim H. Prombaum (Lanham, Maryland, 1991).
    [3] I have essentially used Rosman's translation of this responsum.
    [4] See Rosman, Founder of Hasidism, at 168.
    [5] Dinur, B'Mifaneh HaDorot, vol. 1, pp. 205-6, cited in Rosman, Founder of Hasidism, 119 n.29.
    [6] This is actually incorrect. The Baal Shem Tov does not sign himself as the Maggid of Medzhybizh, rather the final signatory, R. Moshe Yosef signs himself as the Maggid.
    [7] 1795 is the death date given in HaMeor HaGadol, (there are no page numbers provided in the introduction thus I will use the footnote numbers to attempt to give a rough citation) at n.60. The source given is "a letter from R. Mordechai Blechman z"l the chief rabbi of Constantine to R. Hayyim Bick the chief rabbi of Medzhybizh." The editors of HaMeor HaGodol, however, fail to provide where this source is located, i.e. is it in their possession, is it in some library or perhaps somewhere else. Moreover, they do not provide the context of the letter - was R. Meir's death date mentioned in passing or was that the focus of the letter. Nor do they mention how R. Blechman knows this date. Did he pull it off of R. Meir's tombstone or was it simply a legend? This sort of lack of information plagues the entire introduction of the Meor HaGodol.
    This same death date, however, is given by Abraham Bick, Rebi Yaakov Emden (Jerusalem, 1974), 17, 182. Bick doesn't either provide a source for this date. See also id. at 17-8, citing to where R. Jacob Emden and others quote R. Meir. About Bick's 1974 biography, Schacter writes in his dissertation, that this work "is uncritical, incomplete and simply sloppy. it is barely more useful than an earlier historical novel in yiddish about emden by the general author with the same title published in New York, 1946. In general, all of Bick's work is shoddy and irresponsible and cannot be taken seriously." See Jacob J. Schacter, "Rabbi Jacob Emden: Life and Works," (PhD dissertation, Harvard, 1988), 17.
    The editors of HaMeor HaGodol explain that most of the biographical information on R. Meir comes from Kitvei HaGeonim (Pietrokov, 1928), 127-30, n.3. Additionally, R. Meir is mentioned a few times in his father's autobiography, Megilat Sefer, Kahana ed., (Warsaw, 1896), 104 and 110. R. Jacob Emden mentions that he was unable to attend R. Meir's wedding in 1732 even as his wife attended, though as Schacter notes in his dissertation, R. Emden had "travel[ed] to Amsterdam during this period" (152, n. 126).
    [8] R. Meir was related to R. Rapoport through the marriage of R. Meir's daughter to R. Hayyim HaKohen Rapoport's grandson, Dov Bear. See R. Jonathan Eybeschütz, Luchot Edut (Altona, 1755), 62a. Additionally, R. Meir was the brother-in-law of R. Shlomo Chelm, author of the Merkevet HaMishna. One of the responsum in Mayim Hayyim, no. 28, from R. Meir is to R. Shlomo.
    [9] In fact, this is the only reason why the responsum that includes the mention of the Ba'al Shem Tov appears in Mayim Hayyim. As mentioned above, when the Mayim Hayyim was published, it was done so not by R. Hayyim HaKohen Rapoport, the author of the bulk of the teshuvot, but instead by his son R. Yaakov. R. Hayyim had died prior to publishing his own works. Thus, R. Yaakov decided to include not only his father's responsa but those from other relatives, as well. Thus, the Mayim Hayyim contains two title pages. After the first title page, the approbations that R. Hayyim received for his responsa are included (one additional later approbation is included but the main are addressed to R. Hayyim). R. Yaakov then included a second title page after which two additional approbations are included. These approbations were collected by R. Yaakov and mention not only R. Hayyim's responsa but the inclusion of other luminaries including R. Meir. The second title page is used a division between the two types of approbations, those directed at R. Hayyim and those at the book Mayim Hayyim. It is worthwhile noting that in the electronic editions they have removed the second title page. For instance, only includes the first. This is but one example of the need to actually obtain a hard copy of a book and not solely rely on such databases. See Anthony Grafton, "Future Reading, Digitization and its Discontents," The New Yorker (Nov. 5, 2007) and his New Yorker web-supplement, "Adventures in Wonderland," for other limitations of digitization.

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    Ofeq Institute and the New (English) Version of the Messilat Yesharim
    by Eliezer Brodt

    The Messilat Yesharim, by R. Moshe Chaim Luzzato (Ramchal), is one of the foundational works of mussar. [1] The Gra, among others, praise the Messilat Yesharim.[2] As such, any addition to its oeuvre is important in its own right. The Ofeq Institute* has recently published an English translation of an alternative version of the Messilat Yesharim. This version is fundamentally different than the standard edition of Messilat Yesharim. The standard edition is divided into chapters based upon various character traits. The second, this new version, eschews the chapter divisions and instead is arranged in a conversation or dialogue format. Specifically, a dialogue between a "wise man" and a "pious person" is the format of this version. This second version comes from a manuscript in the Baron Ginzburg collection in the St. Petersberg Library. The manuscript is in the Ramchal's own hand and is substantially larger than the other version. Although the Hebrew edition of the dialogue version has been available for a bit (also from Ofeq),[3] this version has now been published in an English edition and this edition will be the focus of this post.

    First a word about the Ofeq Institute. Over the past twenty years Mechon Ofeq has released many editions of the works of the geonim, rishonim and achronim covering all genres of Jewish literature. All these works are critical editions with extensive notes and introductions. Almost all their editions include extensive footnotes. (One of the only complaints some have is that there's simply too much information in the footnotes). Much like the novel version of Ofeq's Messilat Yesharim, many of the works are based on manuscripts from the Ginzburg collection, a collection that was only recently released to the public.

    To highlight but a few of their other titles. A work on Iyov from the bet midrash of Rashi and a commentary on Yecheskel from R. Yosef Heyun. They begun to publish a critical edition of the rishonim on Torat Kohanim as well as a commentary on Tosefta. They have printed works from geonim like R. Natronai Goan. Many works of rishonim on shas, most well-known being the Tosafas HaRosh on Pesachim and Haggigah, and Tosafos Yeshanim on Yevomos. A facsimile edition of Rambam on Madda and Ahava in the Rambam's own hand. They have printed hagadahs from rishonim an excellent critical edition of the Seder Hakabalah of the Meriei. Another work of note is Meah Shaearim a two volume edition on hilchos kibud av v'em.

    Ofeq, run by R. Avraham Shoshana and based in Cleavland Ohio utilizes not only Torah scholars (read products of Yeshiva education) but experts who are academics as well. For their editon of the R. Natronai Goan they used Professor Brody a leading expert of the geonim period. For other works of rishonim they have used Professors Emanuel, Hevlin and Speigel all experts in their respective fields. Or, in the case of the Messilat Yesharim, Professor Septimus was involved. That is, Ofeq ensures that the works they put out are of a high caliber. To some, this is an anathema. They view the inclusion of non-Torah scholars to be unconscionable. Most recently objections of this nature were expressed by R. Yehuda Liba ben Dovid in Bes HaVaad (see post here ). As I pointed out, however, R. ben Dovid's position is in the minority.

    Aside from Ofeq's Hebrew publications they also have published some books in English. The Messilat Yesharim, however, is their most ambitious English translation to-date.

    This English translation includes an introduction discussing the Messilat Yesharim, the two versions, and the English translation employed. The translation does not skimp in the sense that it is annotated with English notes - something that does not appear in all English translation. Instead, many English translations provide the footnotes in Hebrew. While this seems counter-intuitive as if the person wants to read the work in English, they would like to read the whole work including the footnotes. This edition does not suffer from that and instead, almost everything is in English. Additionally, although Ofeq has published the "dialogue" edition, they also include the original version in translation as well. There are, however, two parts that remain in Hebrew. The first are citations to verses, talmudic passages and the like, the second is the final work included which compares the dialogue version with the standard chapter version. This last section, titled Bein HaMesilot, is in Hebrew.

    When it comes to English translations, there are typically two options. The first are academic presses which are typically expensive and not aimed at a popular audience. The second, are the traditional Orthodox presses, while these are typically more readable, they (although not always) don't provide some of the scholarly detail. Ofeq's translation of the Messilat Yesharim
    strikes a nice balance between these two - they have produced a highly readable yet include the scholarly detail as well.

    As mentioned above, what is unique about this copy of the Mesilat Yesharim is that is is written in a completely different style than the current Mesilat Yesharim. This new version is written in a debate form. The Ramchal wrote other works in debate form as well. For example, his work on defending kabbala. For whatever reason, he chose to print the other, standard, version and the debate version remained in manuscript. It's unclear, however, why the Ramchal chose to do so. Many feel that a debate version is much better for 2 reasons: One, it keeps the reader much more interested and two, it brings out the various points much better as is always in a debate form.

    For many years, the sefer Messilat Yesharim was learned as a mussar sefer, becoming one of the classics. Many people used to take it into a dark room and learn it in special tunes saying the words again and again until they penetrated. However, many people have a fear of mussar, having bad memories from yeshiva, forcing themselves to read mussar sefarim during mussar seder that they felt did not talk to them. I would like to suggest a new way to read this sefer. Read it as a regular sefer. Concentrate on the ideas discussed in it, not only focused on the mussar, but rather on the pshatim, aggada and statements throughout the sefer. Just to list a few of these lesser appreciate portions of the Messilat Yesharim:

    והנה ודאי שיעזרהו לזה רוב התמדה והעיון במזמורי דוד המלך והתבונוות בם במאמריהם וענינים כי בהיותם כולם מלאים אהבה ויראה וכל מיני חסידות. הבנה בהתבוננו בם. לא ימנע מהתעורר בו התעוררות גדול לצאת בעקבותיו וללכתב בדרכיו. (פרק כא)

    Or highlighting the value of reading gedolim books or at least the aggadic section of the gemarah

    וכן תועיל הקריאה בסיפור מעשה החסידים באגדות אשר באו שם. כי כל אלה מעוררים את השכל להתיעץ ולעשות כמעשיהם הנחמדים... (פרק כא)

    In this passage, the Ramchal takes a positive view vis-a-vis working at least if learning remains a main focus

    כי הנה העסק מוכרח הוא לאדם לצרוך פרנסתו, אך ריבו העסק אינו מוכרח שיהיה כל כך גדול עד שלא יניח לו מקום אל עבודותו. על כן נצטוינו לקבוע עתים לתורה. (פרק ה וראה פרק כא)

    And, on keeping chumros he has an intresting point

    הוא להחמיר בהם תמיד לחוש אפילו לדברי יחיד במחלקות אם טעמו נראה אפילו שאין הלכה כמותו(פרק יד)

    Elsewhere he expands on this thought a bit more

    באשר כבר יחשבו שהחסידות תלוי בדברי הבל או דברים נגד השכל והדיעה הנכונה. ויאמינו היות כל החסידות תלוי רק באמירת בקשות רבות ווידוים גדולים ובכיות והשתחויות גדולות ובסיגופים הזרים שימית בהם אדם את עצמו כטיבלת הקרא והשלג וכיוצא בדברים אלה... אך מציאות החסידות עצמו הוא דבר עמוק... כי הנה המצות המוטלת על כל ישראל כבר ידועות הן וחובתן ידועה עד היכן היא מגעת. אמנם מי שאוהב את הבוראית"ש אהבה אמתית לא ישתדל ויכון לפטור עצמו במה שכבר מפורסם מן החובה אשר על כל ישראל בכלל... אלא אדרבא... יהיה לי לעינים להרבות בזה הענין ולהרחיב אותו בכל הצדדין שאוכל לדון שרצונו יתברך חפץ בו... נמצא כלל החסידות הרחבת קיום כל המצות בכל הצדדין והתנאים שראוי ושאפשר... (פרק יח)

    In the introduction the Ramchal has a puzzling remark, that many have taken issue with, but, in reality, the Ramchal was following in the path of Chovos haLevovvos

    היתכן שיגע ויעמול שכלנו בחקירות אשר לא נתחייבו בם, בפלפולים אשר לא יצא לנו שום פרי מהם, ודינים אשר אינם שייכם לנו.

    Here R Shoshanah has a nice comment (p. 18) of sources discussing this point.

    When he wrote this work the Ramchal wrote a puzzling remark in the beginning showing his humility he writes

    אמר המחבר החיבור הזה לא חיברתיו ללמוד לבני אדם את אשר לא ידעו אלא להזכירם את הידוע להם כבר ומפורסם אצלם פרסום גדול

    R. Sarna writes in his notes on Messilat Yesharim that this statement is the most puzzling statement in the entire sefer to him.

    One more nice piece from Messilat Yesharim is:

    והפרישות... הוא התבודדות וההבדל מן החברה המדינית לפנות לבו אל העבודה והתבוננות בה כראוי ובתנאי שלא יטה גם בזה אל הקצה האחר שכבר אמר ז"ל לעולם תהא דעתו של אדם מעורב עם הבריות... (פרק יד)

    Turning back to the Ofeq edition in particular, it is important to highlight the footnotes included. While much has been written on the Messilat Yesharim before this edition, especially worthy of mention is the edition of R Sarna. This edition that includes notes by R. Shoshana has included that aside from explaining the text and the concepts therein and providing sources that the Ramchal's comments are based on in Hazel and the rishonim (as R. Shoshana notes that he has spent many years learning this sefer very carefully) also offers historical info such as on page 6 when dealing with learning pilpul or on page 127 about a custom in those days in Italy where there were large plays and comics played before Jewish audiences.

    The end section, Bein HaMessilot, is a great section discussing at length a few topics of the Messilat Yesharim and comparing and contrasting how the two different versions with them. This shows, that at times, the debate version is much lengthier than the current version we have. Another thing that was done in this edition is that they fixed up the original version of Messilat Yesharim from all the mistakes that crept in since its printing. This sefer, which the author was subject to much opposition in his lifetime by many great gedolim, as is documented in the Iggeres Ramchal, was zoche that one of his works became a classic until today.

    The only criticism I can think of on this edition is that they should have included all their appendices and introductions that they printed in the Hebrew edition previously printed by them. But, with this new edition it should be much easier to learn And I am sure one will enjoy this all time classic even today.

    As Ofeq has extensively utilized manuscripts in both this edition of the Messilat Yesharim as well as in the rest of their publications. We should highlight another book, published by Ofeq, that is on the topic of Hebrew manuscripts. Benjamin Richler's book, Hebrew Manuscripts: a Treasured Legacy, (this is available to readers of the Seforim blog for a special price of $24.95 including postage - please contact Ofeq their information is provided below) is a great introduction to the world of manuscripts for anyone. The book contains a lot of information and pictures of all types of handwriting. The book traces and describes briefly many manuscript collections, both private and public including the Ginzburg collection - the collection where the dialogue version of MessilatYesharim as well as other important manuscripts were found. It even lists the numbers that some of these seforim have in the very big collections. Besides for this, the book contains some nice descriptions with pictures of many manuscripts. Of interest is on page 50, a picture of a manuscript of a machzor from 1290 that has pictures of malachim with faces of dogs. The book also includes a bit of a history of the various catalogs of manuscripts that have been written until today. Interestingly enough, Richler writes that the JTS and Hebrew University collections are not completely cataloged. (maybe by now, they are - for an update on the JNUL collection see Richler's post here). He has a chapter discussing the importance of manuscripts besides for ones not printed, which there are many. It also is to check the accuracy of previous editions. This book was written before the Ginzburg collection was released (p. 110). In addition, there's a excellent chapter on the Cairo Geniza from one of the biggest experts on the geonic era, Professor Robert Brody. Here too, Brody discusses many of the basic questions one has about this topic, such as why all this is in the geniza in the first place. He also discusses where all the documents are location today and the progress of the study of these documents.


    [1] In an earlier post discussing the content and censorship of the sefer Menuchah u-Kedushah, and I note that according to the author of Menucah u-Kedushah, the Messilat Yesharim was written with ruach ha-kodesh.

    [2] For a discussion about the Gra and his views towards R. Moshe Hayyim Luzzato and the Messilat Yesharim, see Y. Eliach, HaGra, vol. 1 pp. 240-45, where Eliach devotes a chapter to this issue. There is even a statement attributed to the Gra that there are no extra words in the sefer Messilat Yesharim, until chapter 11. This statement sparked a discussion as to exactly which word in chapter 11 is the extra one that the Gra was referring to. Additionally, it seems that the Gra even had some of the Ramchal's works in manuscript.

    [3] The Hebrew edition includes an extensive introduction enumerating all the differences between the versions by R. Yosef Avivi, an expert on kaballah and especially the Ramchal's writings.

    *As Ofeq's website is a bit dated, those wishing to obtain a catalogue of Ofeq's publications should contact them at: Ofeq Institute, 27801 Euclid Ave., Suite 430, Euclid, OH 44132, fax (216) 731-5567; email

    Their contact information in Israel is 02-653-5920, or e-mail:

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    A Response to Dr. Shaprio: A Defense of the Torah Temimah

    by: Y. Lander (of the Ishim v'Shitot blog)

    I read with interest Dr. Shapiro’s recent post questioning the accuracy of R’ Baruch Epstein’s tale concerning his dialogue with the Netziv’s first wife, Rayna Batya. Dr. Shapiro points to several discrepancies in R. Epstein's account and based on those discrepancies posits that R’ Baruch deliberately contrived the story in order to call attention to the plight of women in his time. I would like, however, to present a more prosaic but equally plausible interpretation of the discrepancies that Dr. Shapiro notes.

    Dr. Shapiro refers to the “the well-attested fact that Epstein was a plagiarizer” [1] and therefore one must be suspicious of anything he writes. That Epstein frequently fails to provide proper attribution when quoting other authors is certainly irrefutable but I am not at all certain that this was due to conscious plagiarism. I found that only two of Epstein’s works show significant signs of plagiarism - Torah Temimah and Tosefes Bracha[2] - whereas the chiddushei Torah cited in Mekor Baruch and Baruch She’Amar (Tefillah and Pirkei Avot) are original.

    If Epstein was indeed a plagiarizer then from where did he get the sudden burst of originality that appears in the latter two works? Why would he plagiarize in Torah Temimah, stop for Mekor Baruch and then continue in Tosefes Bracha?

    Further, Y. Bezek, in the article cited by Shapiro, points out that among the sources that R’ Epstein plagiarizes is Maimonides Sefer Hamitzvos. Is it really logical to assume that Epstein intentionally tried to pass of a Rambam as his own chiddush? Or that he could get away with plagiarizing a Gra in Mitnaggdic Vilna heavily influenced by the Gra and his teachings. [2a]

    It seems far more logical to simply take Epstein’s words in his Introduction to the Torah Temimah at face value. There he writes, (roughly translated) “this work has taken me 15 years to write and has gone through many drafts. During the course of this time much information has gathered in my mind and although I have made an earnest attempt to provide proper attribution the reader is requested to judge me favorably in this.”

    Given the large volume of information Epstein was dealing with and the limited time he had at his disposal [3] it is not surprising that he had not the ability to properly identify the sources for all the hundreds (if not thousands) of interpretations he provides in his commentary. I suspect that Tosefes Bracha is based on those notes that he did not incorporate into his Torah Temimah [4] and would therefore have the same defects as the former.

    Shapiro also uses Mondshine’s study on R' Epstein. But, Mondshine brings very little proof to support his assertion that the story of the Aruch HaShulchan’s meetings with the Tzemach Tzedek was simply fabricated out of “whole cloth.” Rather, Mondshine points out that R’ S. Y. Zevin who received Semicha from the Aruch HaShulchan never mentioned any of these conversations. This omission, according to Mondshine is key, as R' Zevin was an adherent of Chabad it is only natural that the AS should have mentioned these meetings to him.

    It is a pity that Mondshine didn’t read Zevin’s K’sav Horaah (printed in the new Kitvei Aruch Ha-Shulchan). If he had he would have seen that R’ Zevin never met the Aruch HaShulchan. It is written there that “I recognize that this is man is indeed a Talmud Chachamim based on the many letters I exchanged with him.” Those who have read the AS’s correspondence in the Kitvei will see that the AS rarely goes into any extra detail in his letters focusing solely on the question at hand.

    But all this is unnecessary, R’ Y. L. Maimon (Fishman), a Talmud of the AS, wrote a series of books with various “Gedolim” stories entitled Sarei HaMeah. In the last volume (vol. 6 pg. 101) he mentions the conversations that “the Aruch Hashulchan himself told me that at the request of some of the (Chassidic) townspeople he went to visit the Tzemach Tsedek.” Their first conversation involved a discussion of the disagreements between Chassidim and Misnagdim…." [5]

    Dr. Shapiro finds it impossible to believe that the Tzemach Tsedek should have said “Had it not been for the great dispute about Hasidism, and the Gaon’s strident opposition, the new movement might have led its followers out of the ranks of halakhic Judaism.” I beg to differ. The Tzemach Tsedek’s grandfather the Baal HaTanya held the Gra in great esteem [6] thus he might have tried to find a justification for the Gra’s opposition. Second, the Tzemach Tsedek waged an intense battle against the Maskilim in their attempts to “reform” traditional Jewish education [7]. To this end, the disagreements between the Chassidim and Mitnaggdim were ignored in order to more effectively battle this new greater menace [8]. It is not unlikely that in order to cement this new found alliance [8a] that the Tzeamach Tsedek would have made this kind of conciliatory remark to the Aruch Ha-Shulchan (brother-in-law of the Netsiv who was one of the most influential of the Mitnaggdim) in order to downplay the conflict between the Chassidim and Mitnaggdim

    Dr. Shapiro introduces his post admitting that – “When Mekor Barukh was published there were still plenty of people alive who had known her and it would have been impossible to entirely fabricate her personality.” This being the case the report that- “It was her habit to sit by the oven in the kitchen—even in the summertime—next to a table piled high with seforim. These included a Tanach,(Mishnayos) Ein Yaacov, various midrashim, Menoras HaMaor, Kav HaYashar, Tzemach Dovid, Shevet Yehudah, and many other books of this nature.” [9]- must also have been true. This is an important point that is the cornerstone of the whole story.

    Dr. Shapiro wonders how “the rebbetzin, sitting in Volozhin, would just so happen to come across this volume on her husband’s bookshelf.” Here is one possibility. We know that there were several large libraries (for example the Strashun Library in Vilna [10]) in the area and it is certainly possible that a copy of Mayin Ganim might have made its way to the intellectual center in Volozhin.

    A similar example of a very rare Sephardi book circulating is mentioned in Mekor Baruch (pg. 1224). There he mentions a Maggid who recalled seeing an alchemical recipe in a rare book. The name of the book was Nifla’ot Elokim by Abraham Shalom Chai printed in Livorno. As Shapiro writes “There would have only been a few copies of this book in all of Lithuania.” But we see that it did circulate.

    I agree with Shapiro that the TT obviously copied the letter from HaTzefirah. But all this proves is that at the time of the writing of Mekor Baruch he no longer had access to a Mayin Ganim and therefore had to copy from “HaTzefirah”. We do not have any proof that years before, as a student in Volozhin, he had no access to this book.

    I also would like to point out that the TT refers to Mekor Baruch in manuscript [11] (Malki BaKodesh vol. 6 pg. 45) in his letter to Hirschenson. It is clear from the letter that the passage on Rayna Batya had already been written before he wrote this letter so he could not have “uses the language in his letter to Hirschensohn to create the following reply to Rayna Batya” as Shapiro writes.

    As to the addition of the term “Ulai”, a commenter has correctly noted that the TT must have conflated the term “Efsher L’ Chalek” that appears in the letter with the term “Ullai”. Erroneous readings such as these are fairly common in TT as Kasher has shown in the addendum to Torah Shelemah v. 26.

    We have then two possible ways of interpreting the various discrepancies that appear in R’ Epstein’s works. Either as Dr. Shapiro contends he engaged in fraudulent behavior, including intentional plagiarism, and fabricating historical accounts, or as I contend he simply failed to approach his work systematically, meaning he didn’t keep detailed notes, relied overly much on a faulty memory (See Psalms 19:13), and perhaps engaged in some artistic license in order to heighten the effect of his stories.

    I leave it to the reader to decide which of the two is more plausible.

    [1] On this see the sources cited in D. Rabinowitz – “Rayna Batya and other learned woman: A realuation Rabbi Barukh Halevi Epstein’s sources” Tradition – footnote 4.

    [2] Many of the Chiddushei Torah cited in Tosefes Beracha have been previously attributed to the Gr”a. Compare “HaMeor HaGadol” – A collection of the Gra”s Torah from rare source by Yissocher Kreuser to almost any Parsha in Tosefes Bracha.

    [2a] Note that in Tosefes Bracha (Gen. 31,1 Exodus 8,17) he writes that “after I thought of this chiddush a sefer of the Gra’s chiddushim (D’var Eliyahu) came out containing the same idea.” It seems that he genuinely thought that these were entirely his own ideas.

    [3] He had a full time employment as a bookkeeper. See also M. M. Kasher’s description in a note to Torah Shelemah 26 (300-301)

    [4] TB is for the most part a repetition of his Chiddushim in Mekor Baruch and an expansion of some of his writings in Torah Temimah. It gives the impression of a collection of ideas haphazardly “thrown together” rather then following any specific writing plan.

    [5] See also the study of the AS's unique use of Kabbalah here. It is not unlikely that he was influenced in this by the Tsemach Tzedek.

    [6] See Iggeret Kodesh pg 86 ff. In another place he refers to the Gra as a חד בדרא

    [7] See “The Tzemech Tsedek and the Haskalah Movement” – available here.

    [8] Mekor Baruch describes the enthusiasm with which the Tsemach Tsedek was greeted in his visit to Lithuania. Cf. the comments of Eliach in HaGaon Vol. 3 Pulmas HaChassidus. See also “B’Mechitasam Shel Gedolei Torah” – Y. Mark on R’ Chaim Soloveitchik for a further description of the Tsemach Tsedek’s actions at the conference.

    [8a] In Mekor Baruch he writes that the Tsemach Tsedek begged the AS to make every effort to prevent the rise of Reform (pg. 1291).

    [9] Taken from “My Uncle the Netziv” with the addition of one word.

    [10] Although the Strashun Library was only officially opened to the public in 1892, (see here), the very existence of a private collection of so many rare seforim leaves open the possibility that some of these rare books may have circulated among the intellectual “elite” in Volozhin.

    [11] Specifically he refers to a passage demonstrating that Archivolti was in fact a Talmudic scholar. Since this passage is part of the Rayna Batya story it is not unlikely that the whole passage had been completed before he sent the letter.

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    Review of Professor Daniel Sperber's Netivot Pesikah

    by Eliezer Brodt

    Professor Daniel Sperber, Modes of Decision – Methods and Approaches for Proper Halakhic Decision Making, Jerusalem, Reuven Mass, 2008, 207 pages; Hebrew.

    פר' דניאל שפרבר, נתיבות פסיקה 'כלים וגישה לפוסק ההלכה' ירושלים, תשסח, ראובן מס, 207 עמודים

    Last week a new book from Rabbi Prof. Daniel Sperber arrived in stores, Netivot Pesikah. This is his third book which he authored in less than a year (see here and here for reviews on them). Before I begin I must say at the outset this book follows in the path of his most recent book Darkah Shel Halakha in that he discusses very sensitive topics and says things that many will take issue with. In this post I will not even attempt to deal with all that is discussed in this book as that would require its own book which others much better suited than I could do. What follows is a review of some of the points which he makes in this book including some of my own opinions for whatever they are worth. This is just some preliminary remarks as many topics contain much information and, in time, will be subject to their own posts.

    This book is an expansion of essays that he has written in English first printed in the book Modern Scholarship in the Study of Torah, and later, reissued in a separate booklet “Legitimacy and Necessity: Scientific Disciplines and the learning of the Talmud.” This volume is an expansion of those essays including many additions and some new chapters never printed before. The first two parts of the book deal with what a Rav specifically needs to know and use modern day tools to reach proper conclusions in halakha. Sperber includes all kinds of samples to prove his points, including many examples from old texts and historical works. As Sperber writes in the introduction of his English edition:

    This study seeks to demonstrate that there is a need to use scientific discipline when examining rabbinic texts. These texts include textual clarification based on manuscripts and early printed editions, philological studies to ascertain the exact meaning of difficult terms, seeing the text in its historical, sociological and literary settings and the use of material evidence to understand the physical aspects of an object discussed. Without the appreciation of these methodologies we often miss the main point of the text, and in some cases even err to the particular halachic implications.

    He begins this latest volume with the following statement -- which is really picking a fight in a quiet way -- that it is well known that in the yeshiva world they mock the academic world saying they are concerned with what the Tanaim and Amoraim wore, whereas we are concerned with what they actually say. He says although it is certainly very important to know what they say, it is also very important to know what they wore. He shows a few examples that demonstrate this point that by not knowing what they wore, there were mistakes in understanding different areas of halakha such as in hilkhot tefilah and in hilkhot nidah.

    Additionally, another example offered by Sperber, is from the laws of tying on Shabbat, where he ably demonstrates that if one has a full understanding of sailor knots, this knowledge allows one to fully understand the gemarah dealing with these issues. These examples, according to Sperber, show the importance in having this kind of knowledge. He than goes in to a lengthy discussion of what is known today as the scientific method of learning gemarah. Professor Sperber shows that this form scientific method of study is not new, rather, it dates to the times of rishonim. Further, he shows that there were great people such as the Sredei Eish who was involved with such methods and that if done properly this method is very important. In this section it is clear that even Professor Sperber is well aware of the great dangers of it and he does not know exactly how to go about mainstreaming it as opposed to the rest of this volume. A quote that Professor Sperber brings from R. Avraham E. Kaplan is appropriate here:

    הוגי התלמוד שבארצות המערב מרבים להשתמש בסוד התיקון מתוך מציאות גירסאות. יש מהם שלא זזו מלחבבה, עד שבאו להעמיד את כל דרישתנ בתלמוד עליה בלבד. ויש גם בין חריפי המזרח ובקיאיו שסרו כאן קצת מן הדרך הנאות לצד שני שבדבר, הם הזניחו יותר מדאי את ענין הגירסות, לא כך היה דרך הקודש של רבותינו הראשונים ז"ל, הם הכניסו לתוך עמקי עיונם בגופי הלכות גם את הדיוק הגירסאי בלשון ההלכות, והרוצה בפירוש של אמת וצדק לצאת בדרך זו

    From there he moves in to a whole discussion of the usage of manuscripts in general and specifically about the famous opinion of the Hazon Ish. Sperber's discussion is based on on Professor Speigel works Amudim b'Tolodot Sefer HaIvri, but he adds many excellent sources to those of Speigel. Specifically, he shows how many gedolim disagreed with the Hazon Ish as is evident from the haskamot and usage of the work Dikdukei Soferim - an entire work devoted to using manuscript evidence to ascertain the correct text of the Talmud. Sperber quotes the Minsker Godol who praises the sefer Dikdukei Soferim. To this I would add two more quotes from R. Meir Halpern's excellent book on R. Yerucham Leib Perlman, the Minsker Godol [R. Halpern taught the Minsker Godol's son]:

    "כל אות ואות שבדברי חז"ל היתה חשובה ושקולה בעיניו לעשותת אותה יסוד ולהעמיד עליה בנין ולקחת ממנה ראיה לדין והלכה. ולכן היו חביבים בעיניו ספרי דקדוקי סופרים, וכמה וכמה פעמים היה מראה כי על פי שנוי קטן בנוסחא מתיישבים כמה דברי גדולי הראשונים, שהבאים אחריהם נתקשו בהם ולא ירדו לסוף דעתם ודחאום מהלכה". (הגדול ממינסק, עמ' 85)

    Elsewhere he writes:

    "כשעלתה בידו ליישב שיטת איזה מהראשונים על פי נוסחא ישנה שמצא בגירסת התלמוד, היה בעיניו כמוצא שלל רב ואין קץ לשמחתו. ולכן היו ספרי דקדוקי סופרים של הר"ר רפאל נטע רבינוביץ יקרים וחביבים לו". (שם עמ' 159)

    Professor Sperber then continues with another topic, showing the need to know about different printings and printing mistakes. He shows how the knowledge of bibliography helps one come to a proper understanding of the topic of parashat Parah being d'oraitah -- and it is somewhat ironic that on this very page there is a mistake where Sperber writes the name of the Prei Chadash as R. Yechezkial, where it should really say R. Chizkiyahu]. Professor Sperber writes that the teshuvot on the topic of smoking today should take in account that all the earlier literature on this topic is from a time when they did not realize the dangers of smoking.

    In the second section he has thirteen excellent examples (including pictures) demonstrating how using manuscripts helps one come to a proper understanding of the Yerushalmi. He gets in to a discussion of mesorah, nussach hatefilah. This later point leads him in his notes to deal with all the different printings of the siddur of R. Jacob Emden as much was added in over the years which was not written by R. Emden until the new beautiful edition by Eshkol was printed. [Even Eshkol edition, however, is not perfect and does not fully reflect the opinions of R. Emden, but it is much better than previous siddurim that claimed to reflect R. Emden's positions.] Sperber offers an example how censorship from the censors causes a wrong Pesak on topic of halakhot of lo sichanam. He has a small discussion about the Besamim Rosh, and a more lengthy discussion on how the proper dating of when the Rama died plays a role halakhically. He shows how a Kaarite explanation crept into many rishonim and how a mistake in Rabbeinu Yerucham without using manuscripts causes a wrong halakha. Finally, he has a lengthy discussion of the edited teshuvah of the Rama on yayin nessach. These are just some of the many topics one can find in this sefer.

    The last two parts of the sefer are a continuation of his previous work Darkah Shel Halakha, including new information on topics discussed there on the feelings a posek must have to the people asking questions. (Sperber has a separate article on this topic, available here.) To illustrate the point he brings a beautiful story with R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, when after listening to a very complicated question, he told the person that he is sorry but that he can not answer him as he can not put himself in his shoes – it was towards the end of his life so he did not have enough strength.

    The last part of Netivot Pesika are additional sources continuing from his Darkah Shel Halakha about how a posek should not to be overly machmir.

    As always, Professor Sperber does not let us down with his breathtaking wide range of sources in his famous lengthy footnotes -- 283 notes in total -- quoting both from Hebrew and English sources. Of great interest to note is his tremendous Bikiut in all the seforim of R. Yaakov Chaim Sofer. This volume is also full of many nice stories and anecdotes to demonstrate his points. This book is much more organized than some of the other works of Professor Sperber, a complaint that many have voiced by some in the past. There are no tangents in tangents of tangents, as he sticks with each topic at hand.

    One complaint I have with the book although he includes all the tools one needs to have today to render proper halakhic rulings, there is a glaring omission which I feel should be the few pages explaining how it is proper to learn Torah and that all the Torah sources are the first and most important things that one needs to master first. Only afterwards are these tools helpful and necessary, otherwise these tools alone will not help much.

    When I finished reading Netivot Pesika I was stuck with the following feeling: A while ago when reading the excellent article of Dr. Shlomo Sprecher on mezizah b'peh I thought to myself that its lucky I am not a Rav, as this evidence is so hard to deal with. I never went to medical school and I have doctors saying each way and besides that I have the excellent documentation of Dr. Sprecher on this whole topic showing the whole historical development of this halakha convincing one how one can do it b'klei. This book also continues showing me how hard it is for one to become a Rav these days and anyone reading it thinking of pursuing such a career might change their minds.

    My outcome after seeing all this unbelievable evidence would be that every rav has to make sure to carefully check up the sources he is using to reach his pesak and if it is related to issues of science or knowledge outside of learning to consult an expert of that particular field, but going to school would not teach one all of this as Sperber himself admits that how many languages could one learn already (pg 50) and still have time to learn Torah which is always supposed to be the main thing? There are many sources which show that one can learn other sciences, etc., and the great necessity of knowing them of reach proper conclusions in pesak.

    One has to be aware of all these methods and maybe know how to check up manuscripts. But there is no way every topic that one would be able to research from scratch and suspect that everything up until now is a mistake. Besides, who has such libraries, even with the various computer programs, no one has all these manuscripts and early printings so readily available. The Rabannim would never get anywhere with issuing p'sakim. Rather, a rav has to be aware of the issues that Prof. Sperber raises and consult experts of each particular field, whether dealing with bankers or real estate agents to understand what the market is, to consult medical experts with regard to medical and fertility issues, electrical issues, scientists and the like.

    Thus, if someone is dealing with questions of hilkhot Shabbat and electricity aside for having to master the extremely complicated topics of Grama he also has to understand electricity a bit besides for this he would have to understand how this particular product he is dealing with works exactly. Today many rabbanim are well aware of this so they are very careful to check into exactly understanding how products work before issuing a pesak to list one example.

    One of the greatest poskim of the past century, R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, was famous for how he consulted experts and tried to understand the exact facts before issuing a pesak. This is evident in all his writings on all of the modern day issues. One example: In recent years there has been much written on the bottle cap opening of shabbat -- it even has its own huge sefer (as virtually everything else does these days) on the topic! One of the rabbanim who has been involved with this topic for years is R. Moshe Yadler, author of Meor Hashabbat, where he has written on this topic and spent many hours speaking to many gedolim about it. When he was researching the topic he made sure to track down every type of bottle, he visited factories to see how bottles are made so that he would be able to understand exactly how it is made so he would be able to pasken properly. When he gives a shiur about this topic he comes with a bag full of all types of caps to demonstrate to the crowd the exact way it is made, etc. He told me once that he spoke to R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach about this many times at one point and requested R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach to put in writing his pesakim to which the latter did. But R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach's son told R. Yadler that his father sat for three days with a soda bottle in front of him the whole time he was writing the teshuvah and he kept on taking it on and off. Another of the many samples of this are the writings of R. J. David Bleich in his now five-volume Contemporary Halachic Problems, two-volume Jewish Bioethics and other works.

    In conclusion I would like to quote a lengthy passage from one of my favorite books HaGodol m'Minsk that expresses an idea similar to Professor Sperber,on what a Rav should know – [I got to this book after hearing many times from my Rosh haYeshiva R. Zelig Epstein Shlita how great it is] I apologize for not translating it into English

    "אף שם אל לבו להשתלם בידיעת עניני העולם. ובאשר ידע כי התמדתו הנפרזה בתורה היא הגורמת לחסרונו זה, ומפני גודל שקידתו כמעט שלא דבר עם איש מלבד לענות שאלה באיסור והיתר או למי שבא לדבר בדברי תורה, והיו הכל נמנעמים מלבוא אל ביתו בראותם כי למשא הם עליו והוא מדבר רק בעל כרחו כאלו כפאו שד, ובו ברגע שמפנים שכמם ללכת הוא שב ללמודו בקול רם כמשפטו באופן שניכר ומורגש היה להם שבביאתם הם מבטלים את הרב מתורתו. . . לכן עלה על רוחו להשלים חסרונו בכל האפשר, ויאמר להנהיג תורתו מנהג דרך ארץ. ועל פי רמז מאתו וגלוי דעתא דניחא ליה, היו באים אליו לפרקים שניים מחשובי העיר. . . הם היו באים אליו בעידנא דמיפגר מתלמודו, והיו משעשעים אותו בשיחותיהם. זה מספר מעסקים ומסחרים שונים ומבאר פרטיהם ודרכיהם, וזה מדבר על גוי ועל אדם, מספר קורותיו והרפתקאותיו ומבאר דעותיו והשקפותיו. וכיון שנפרץ הגדר מעט, היו באים לפעמים גם אחרים מאנשי העיר בשיחם ושיגם. והרב היה מתענין ושומע ומתכוון לקנות ידיעה בעיני התבל והמציאות. אף היה מתיר לעצמו לפעמים ללכת עם אחד מאלה לטייל בסביבות העיר. ומדי עברו לפני בנין שונה ודבר לא רגיל היה שואל לדעת טיבו ומהותו. כן נמשך הדבר כשלשה ירחים לערך. הרב אמנם עשה חיל בלמודיו אלה ויעבור בהם את רבותיו אלה, שהיה קורא להן בדרך הלצה רבנן דאגדתא, מאיר דעובדי ובמשך הזמן הקצר הזה התעשר בידיעות רבות... והנה נשמט מזכרונו דבור אחד מהראשונים המדברים בזה ולא ידע לפי שעה מקומו והוצרך לחפש אחריו תלה את הדבר בביטול תורה של הפסקות האלה בשיחות וטיולים, ויצר לו מאד ויקט בפניו. וישב לחדר למודו ולקביעותו כבראשונה, והבקורים והטיולים חדלו... בעת זקנו אמר לי פעם אחת כד הוה בדיחא דעתיה רב אמר שמונה עשר חדשים גדלתי אצל רועה בהמה, ורבנו הקודש לא נתן לו רשות להתיר בכורות, ואני לקחתי לקח שלשה חדשים אצל בעלי הבתים והעולם לא נתנו סמיכתם לי על ידיעתי עניני הארץ. בכל זאת אוכל לומר כי הידיעות האלה שקינתי לי אז, הן הן שעמדו לי בכל ימי חיי, מהם אני שואף ויונק בכל עת שבא מעשה לידי". (הגדול ממינסק עמ' 59-63).

    Many of these points were demonstrated a bit in the convention and than journal Beis Havad previously discussed on the blog. Professor Sperber, however, goes ahead and demonstrates it much more clearly via many excellent examples to prove each point.

    The book is available in the U.S. at Beigeleisen and in Israel at Girsa books and directly from the publisher, Rubin Mass. The SOY Seforim Sale at Yeshiva University, has online ordering available (minimum order of $100), and has Darkah Shel Halakha and Netivot Pesika.

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    The Saga of Publishing the Works of Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Glasner:
    The Issue of Inclusion of Zionism and Rav Kook
    by David Glasner
    David Glasner, an economist at the Federal Trade Commission, is a great-grandson of Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Glasner.

    This is his first contribution to the Seforim blog.
    Many readers of the Seforim blog may be interested, perhaps even pleased, to hear about the recent publication of a new volume containing a number of works of Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Glasner (1856-1924), chief rabbi (av beit din) of Klausenburg (1877-1923), one of the founding fathers of Mizrahi, author of Dor Revi’i on Hullin, Shevivei Eish on the Torah and on selected sugyot, as well as two volumes of posthumously published responsa (Shu"t Dor Revi’i is available online at, and a new volume, entitled Ohr Bahir, which contains six previously published shorter works (kuntresim) that were published between about 1900 and 1915. In chronological order the six kuntresim are Haqor Davar published in 5661 (1900/01) which addresses the permissibility of conversion in cases of intermarriage; Ohr Bahir published in 5668 (1907/08) on the laws of mikva’ot and a defense of the kashrut of the Klausenburg mikveh against (likely politically inspired) aspersions on its kashrut; Yeshna li-Shehitah, on the laws of shehitah published in 5671 (1911); Halakhah l’Moshe published in 5672 (1911/12) on the laws of shehitah and bedikat ha-sakin; Matzah Shemurah on the requirement of shemirah for matzah and on the kashrut of machine matzah during Passover published in 5675 (1914/15); Hametz Noqsha on the sugya of hametz noqsha in Pesahim published together with Matzah Shemurah. In addition to these six previously published works, the volume also contains a previously unpublished responsum by the Dor Revi’i dating from about 1921 or 1922 as well as three short articles by my late father, Rabbi Juda Glasner, which were previously published in the rabbinical journal ha-Pardes.[1]

    In a post at the Seforim blog entitled "From Ma’adanei Eretz to Kitvei Ma’adanei Eretz" (link), Rabbi Chaim Rapoport of London discussed the recent publication of a new volume of writings about shemitah by Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach entitled Kitvei Ma’adanei Eretz, which includes substantial portions of Rabbi Auerbach’s classic Ma’adanei Eretz, a book written specifically to address halakhic questions associated with shemitah. Rabbi Rapoport posed the question why Ma’adanei Eretz, a classic work that has been out of print for over 30 years, was not itself republished in its entirety. Rabbi Rapoport posited two reasons for its not having been republished. First, in Ma’adanei Eretz, Rabbi Auerbach discussed at length the heter mechirah, which, while not his preferred option, Rabbi Auerbach did regard as halakhically valid and treated respectfully as a legitimate option. Second, Rabbi Auerbach discussed at length, and with the utmost veneration, the halakhic positions of his mentor, Rabbi A. I. Kook. Rabbi Rapoport speculated that Haredi opinion regards both the heter mechirah and Rabbi Kook as being beyond the pale of acceptability. To allow contemporary readers ready access to Rabbi Auerbach’s opinions could evidently have two dangerous outcomes. Questions might arise in some minds about the justification for casting the heter mechirah and Rabbi Kook into the outer darkness, and, perhaps even more disconcerting, in other minds doubts might arise about Rabbi Auerbach’s position as a (or the) pre-eminent late twentieth century Haredi halakhic authority.

    Rabbi Rapoport noted that this Haredi attitude toward Rabbi Kook had apparently caused the latter to be excluded from the index of authorities on the Rambam in the Frankel edition of the Mishneh Torah. In his Spring 2005 review of the Frankel Rambam in Jewish Action [PDF], Rabbi Rapoport commented on the exclusion of Rabbi Kook (along with such other luminaries as Rabbis Y.Y. Reines, I. Herzog, J. B. Soloveitchik and M. M Schneerson) from that index. He also pointed out with a certain hint of surprise that the filter against religious incorrectness that had apparently screened the above-mentioned authorities had not excluded the name of my illustrious ancestor from the index of notables despite my ancestor’s outspoken Zionism and other (from a Haredi perspective) problematical positions.

    This somewhat rambling introduction is intended to set the stage for the following little drama in which I participated during the runup to the publication of the new volume of my great-grandfather’s writings. The idea for the volume began to take shape three or four years ago when my nephew decided that he would like to sponsor the publication of a volume of works by one of our many distinguished ancestors to mark the bar-mitzvah of his oldest son (which was celebrated b’sha’ah tovah u-mutzlahat a few weeks ago on Shabbat Shirah). I suggested to him the idea of republishing the five kuntresim of the Dor Revi’i, which had been out of print for nearly a century and are now almost unknown and unavailable. I took upon myself the task of re-typing the original into a Hebrew word-processor and to the best of my ability flagging problematic spellings, misprints, typos, etc., and providing as many references to citations as I could find on my own. We eventually retained a cousin in Israel to finish the editorial process (find remaining references for citations and add explanatory footnotes as needed) and to guide the project through its final stages. After the passing of my father, we decided to dedicate the volume to his memory as well as to the celebration of my great-nephew’s bar-mitzvah, and therefore included three short articles that my father had published. It was also agreed that I would write an introduction in which I would say something about the life and work of my great-grandfather and about my father.

    By last August, when the editorial process was nearing completion, I had finished a draft of my introduction. In the introduction, I tried to give a brief account of the Dor Revi’i’s life and an appreciation of his (in my eyes heroic) character. To me it did not seem possible to portray his life or his character adequately without mentioning his dedication to Zionism and his large role in the founding of Mizrahi. I also thought that it was necessary to point out that he was very much alone among his colleagues in the Hungarian rabbinate in supporting Zionism and, as a result, was much abused and vilified. His response, however, was never in kind, only to work even harder to support and defend his positions with ever more powerful and more rigorous arguments. I also made mention of the high regard in which he was held by the gedolim of his time, e.g., by Rabbi Kook, to whom he became very closely attached after leaving Klausenburg in the spring of 1923 for Jerusalem where he spent the last 18 months of his life before his sudden passing during haqafot on the night of Shemini Atzeret in 1924. But I also pointed out that he was similarly esteemed by other gedolei ha-dor who were not known for their ardent Zionistic tendencies such as the Maharsham of Brezan (who wrote haskamot to Ohr Bahir and Matzah Sh’murah which are also included in this volume), R. Meir Simha of Dvinsk, R. Haim Ozer Grodzinski, and the Tchebiner Rav.

    The draft of my introduction was shown to various members of my extended family. The Dor Revi’i had ten children, and the political and religious views of the descendants, as one might expect, cover a pretty wide spectrum of opinions. The feedback from the more Haredi sectors of the family was not positive.

    The first objection that I received was from someone who considered it inappropriate to mention the Dor Revi’i’s close relationship with Rabbi Kook, inasmuch as it is no longer acceptable in Haredi circles to mention Rabbi Kook’s name. I was, to put it mildly, shocked when I heard this objection. I would not have been surprised by an objection to my mention of the Dor Revi’i’s Zionism, but I was not prepared for an objection to the mere mention of Rabbi Kook’s name. In view of the friendship between my great-grandfather and Rabbi Kook and the fact that Rabbi Kook had defended my great-grandfather against scurrilous attacks that had been made upon him,[2] I decided that I could not, on principle, delete Rabbi Kook’s name. But I also told my niece and nephew that if they wished, I would withdraw my introduction and they could substitute a more acceptable introduction by someone else in its place. Their response was that they did not want to publish the volume without my introduction and that I should continue to work on it.

    Then the other shoe dropped. This time the objection came from a source with whom my niece and nephew have a much closer personal relationship than they have with the first complainant who had objected only to my mentioning Rabbi Kook’s name, but had not objected explicitly to my discussion of Zionism. The new complaint was that politics had no place in the introduction to a book (such as this) about halakhah, and that whatever my great-grandfather had meant by Zionism in his day, it was certainly much different then from what it is today. Moreover, it was asked, what purpose could possibly be served by revisiting all these old issues that no one really understands, or even cares about, today? I was taken aback by the criticisms to say the least, because it seemed to me that if my great-grandfather had devoted so much effort and suffered such heartache in working and writing and speaking on behalf of Zionism and had endured so much abuse as a consequence, then surely it would not be right to pretend that his mesirut nefesh for the sake of Zionism was null and void and unworthy of memory or mention. I then suggested a compromise in which I would delete the word “tzionut” and would substitute “shivat tzion” in its place. However, I said that I would not delete mention of his participation in the founding of Mizrahi and the 1904 conference in Pressburg. That proposal was shot down at once. I was told that in Haredi circles the very word “Mizrahi” is considered a form of nivul peh and that the social standing of my relatives in their communities would be at risk if it ever became known that they had an ancestor who had been a founder of such an organization. When I pointed out that it was a well-known fact that the Dor Revi’i was a Zionist, I was told that in their circles it was not well-known and they would do all they could to keep it from becoming well known.[3] At this point, I realized that my introduction would not be printed as it was, and rather than seek to rewrite it (there was not enough time for me to have done a decent job even if I had wanted to), I took out everything that I had written about my great-grandfather, but left intact the short account of my father’s life that I had written. To replace my introduction, my niece and nephew were able to secure at the last minute a contribution from Rabbi Avraham Yafe Schlesinger of Geneva and Jerusalem, who is also a great-grandson of the Dor Revi’i, a prolific author (several volumes of Shu"t Be’er Sarim) with, as far as I can tell, impeccable Haredi credentials, and who recently published a new edition of Shevivei Eish combined in one volume with a previously unpublished collection of drashot by the father of the Dor Revi’i, Rabbi Avraham Glasner (1825/26-1877) which he called Dor Dorshav.[4]

    What is the deeper significance of this sad little tale? First, it solves the minor puzzle about which Rabbi Rapoport wondered in his Jewish Action review, namely, what made the Dor Revi’i an acceptable entry for the Frankel index of authorities when other luminaries of a similar ilk were not acceptable. The answer, I now understand, is that there is nothing that makes the Dor Revi’i more acceptable than the others beyond the (from my perspective) unfortunate fact that there are too few people around who know who the Dor Revi’i was and what his political and hashqafic beliefs were to make the appearance of his name objectionable to most contemporary Haredim.[5] It’s not a matter of the intrinsic acceptability of the authority, just a question of what one can get away with. If enough people recognize the name and associate it with taboo opinions, it has to go. If they don’t recognize it, or don’t know enough about it to mind, then gezunter heit. Second, it shows how extraordinarily powerful are the pressures to conform in Haredi society. Individuals and ideas that do not perfectly fit the accepted norms (and thereby suggest the possibility of different norms) of that society are literally taboo. To mention Rabbi Kook in the context of a halakhic discussion or as something other than an object of scorn is in wide sections of that community to cross a red line. For my Haredi relatives, it is truly a scary thought that their ancestor would be grouped together with one such as Rabbi Kook. I really am on very close and friendly terms with many of my Haredi relatives, including some who are and some who aren’t Dor Revi’i einiklakh, and I have great respect and admiration and very deep affection for them. But this episode has forced me to view their society from a new and, I regret to say, disturbing angle. In the course of my little encounter with Haredi sensibilities, I felt a whole range of emotions, but the one that remains after having (largely) gotten over it is compassion for people who actually have to live in fear lest the events of a life such as the one led by their very own ancestor, the Dor Revi'i, become known within the community in which they live.

    [1] For further information about my great-grandfather, the Dor Revi’i, see my “Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Glasner, the Dor Revi’i,” Tradition 32.1 (Winter 1998): 40-56, which is available, along with other translations of his various works -- including all the divrei torah on the parshiot and hagim from Shevivei Eish and translations of various writings of his son and successor as chief rabbi of Klausenburg, Rabbi Akiva Glasner -- online at If you would like to purchase a copy of Ohr Bahir ($20 a copy plus $3 shipping and handling for single copies), please contact me by email (, please put “Ohr Bahir” in the subject heading). If you are in Israel and would like to purchase a copy, please contact Rabbi Shaya Herzog 04-697-4802 or 052-764-6975 for further information. If you are a book seller and would like to order copies, please contact me directly.

    [2] The attacks were made in a pamphlet (Mishpat Tzedeq) published by the newly formed Sephardic community in Klausenburg, which was the creation of a small group consisting of perhaps one hundred families (out of a total Jewish population in Klausenburg that exceeded 10,000) who decided that they could no longer remain subject to the authority of a Zionist rabbi. The term “Sephardic community” was a sort of legal fiction designed to gain the recognition of the secular authorities that would recognize only one Orthodox community within a given town or district. The only “Sephardic” aspect of the community was that they recited prayers in “nusah s’fard.” Largely made up of Sigheter Hasidim, the group chose as their spiritual leader Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum, the future Satmarer Rebbe, whose older brother, the Atzei Haim, was then the incumbent Rebbe in Sighet, original seat of the family dynasty. R. Joelish never took up residence in Klausenburg, and after heading the Klausenburg Sephardic community for about five years, he vacated the position in favor of his nephew Rabbi Y. Y. Halberstam, who eventually was to become famous as the Klausenburger Rebbe. While the brilliance and charisma of the latter were already evident during his years in Klausenburg, he led a community that was never more than one or two percent the size of the community headed by my grandfather, and who, in his own right, was one of the leading rabbinical figures in Europe in the interwar period. It was only after Holocaust destroyed organized Jewish life in Hungary, and after he had left Klausenburg, that the adjective “Klausenburger” became routinely attached to Rabbi Halberstam. For the three quarters of a century prior to the Holocaust the title “Klausenburger Rav” was held by a Glasner. That, as such things go, is a fairly straightforward historical fact, and is not meant as explicit or implicit derogation of Rabbi Halberstam. Unlike his uncle, whose hostility to the successor of the Dor Revi’i was unrelenting, Rabbi Halberstam did maintain a civil, even friendly, relationship with my grandfather during his nearly twenty years in Klausenburg. After publication of Mishpat Tzedeq, the Orthodox community of Klausenburg published a pamphlet (Yishuv Mishpat, now available online on the website of the Jewish National Library in Jerusalem) opposing the breakaway community and defending my great-grandfather against the attacks leveled against him. Rabbi Kook contributed an open letter (a hyperlink to the letter is available at to the rabbis who allowed their opinions permitting the breakaway of the Sephardic community from the Orthodox community in Klausenburg to be published in a pamphlet containing slanderous accusations against the Klausenburger Rav whom Rabbi Kook described as “gadol ha-dor b’torah b’hokhmah, bi-z’khut avot, u-v’midot terumiot.”

    [3] I was also told by one relative that he had it on good authority that after the Dor Revi’i arrived in Palestine and saw with his own eyes the disasters perpetrated by the Zionists, the Dor Revi’i repented of his Zionism and was subsequently shunned by his former Zionist friends. A rumor to this effect actually seems to have circulated during the lifetime of the Dor Revi’i, and a former resident of Klausenburg, Shlomo Zimroni, who settled in Israel after the Holocaust and wrote a number of works about the religious history of Klausenburg, refers to this rumor in a short article about my great-grandfather in Shana b’Shanah, published by Heichal Shlomo (5640): 434-39. He quoted from a letter that the Dor Revi’i wrote to a former lay antagonist who, having heard the rumor, wrote to invite his return to Klausenburg and to propose reconciliation. The letter quoted by Zimroni (pp. 436-37) makes emphatically clear that the writer had not changed his mind. The suggestion that the Dor Revi’i changed his mind about Zionism and was then shunned by his former friends is further refuted by the following story which, my father told me he had heard from his father, Rabbi Akiva Glasner, when his father sat shiva for his mother (the wife of the Dor Revi’i) in the early 1930s (when my father was probably in his mid-teens). According to my father, my grandfather said that when Rabbi Yosef Hayyim Sonnenfeld, a student of the Ketav Sofer, the Dor Revi’i’s uncle and (briefly) teacher, paid a shiva call at the home of the Dor Revi’i in Jerusalem, he begged forgiveness from the Dor Revi’i’s rebbetzin for not having attended the funeral of her husband. He said that he had not meant any disrespect by not attending and indeed had had every intention to attend the funeral, but had been misled as to the time of the funeral by his aides who did not want him to show public respect to a Zionist. That apology and explanation would obviously not make any sense had the Dor Revi’i renounced his Zionist opinions and had he been shunned by his former Zionist friends. In that case, why would Rabbi Sonnenfeld’s handlers have wanted to prevent a show of public respect by Rabbi Sonnenfeld to the Dor Revi’i? Such inventions of “bsof yamav” have become a characteristic of of Haredi oral traditions (urban legends) and historiography as Rabbi Rapoport noted in footnote 10 of his posting.

    [4] Avraham Glasner was a talmid muvhaq of the Ketav Sofer. He married Raizel Ehrenfeld (daughter of Dovid Tzvi and Hindel Ehrenfeld), a niece of the Ketav Sofer and the oldest granddaughter of the Hatam Sofer. In his twenties, he was appointed chief rabbi of Gyonk, Hungary, and after eleven years in that position he became chief rabbi of Klausenburg. He served in that position for 14 years until his premature death at the age of 52. His only son, Moshe Shmuel, though only 21 years old, was appointed to succeed him on erev Hanukah in 1877. Moshe Shmuel was the oldest great-grandchild of the Hatam Sofer, which along with the implicit Zionistic allusion, was the reason that he chose “Dor Revi’i” as the title of his great work.

    [5] It’s therefore somewhat comforting to know that the memory of the Dor Revi’i is being kept alive, if not exactly well, among the Satmarers. They have long memories and nurse their grievances with care and feeling. Thus in volume six of the official biography of the Rebbe, Reb Joelish, unpretentiously entitled Moshian shel Yisrael, there is a whole chapter that is largely devoted to my great-grandfather. The title of the chapter is “milhemet ha-shem neged amaleq.”

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    Of late, translations of the talmud have become a popular topic. [1] In the history of translations, the translation done by Dr. Efraim Pinner, is an important one for multiple reasons. Among other firsts, the Pinner translation was the first German translation of the talmud. Pinner envisioned a complete translation of the entire talmud but only one volume was produced, a translation meskhta Berachot. This edition contains multiple approbations, there is, however, one approbation does not appear in the book. (A good summary of the history can be found here at OnTheMainline, where S. has also posted a prospectus for the Pinner talmud, available here.)

    The Hatam Sofer gave an approbation to Pinner's translation (no one to date has located the text of the approbation, in his retraction the Hatam Sofer says the text was published in a Hamburg newspaper but all attempts to locate it have proven futile). According to the Hatam Sofer after learning further details of Pinner's translation, he decided he would revoke his approbation and did so in a separate broadsheet. While this is all well known, what seems to have escaped those who have discussed this event is that there are actually two versions of the retraction and even two dates provided for when the Hatam Sofer wrote his retraction. The full text of the retraction appears in three places, N.N. Rabinovich's Ma'amar al Hadfasas haTalmud, in the additions from Habermann, in R. S. M. Adler's Emek haBacha, vol. 2, and in R. Greenwald's Otzar Nechamad (pp. 82-3, this appears at, but like many of the books available at, this is not a perfect copy and part is missing). None of these, however, published the actual retraction and instead, Adler's and Greenwald's are copies of a copy. Adler had an anonymous "ya'rei v'charad" provided copied it for him from the British Library, and Greenwalds came Amsterdam by Zidmand Zelegmann from a copy that Dov Ritter had. Habermann doesn't say where he got it; however, as the JNUL has an original perhaps he actually saw it and was not relying on a copy of a copy. But, as he doesn't say one can't be certain. As I mentioned there are small differences between the versions. Thus, to fill this void, below is a scan of the actual single sheet retraction. [Additionally, at the end of the post, is the prospectus for the Pinner edition.]

    As one can see, the retraction is dated 21 Tevet, 1834. According to Greenwald's version the retraction is dated Tammuz, 1835. Moreover, the text confirms all of Adler's readings and not that of Greenwald. It appears that Greenwald's copyist did a poor job and thus produced a corrupted text.

    Now, aside from the retraction there is another document, although discussed has never been republished - that of Pinner's notice that he was going to publish his translation. This document is also connected to the Hatam Sofer, in that Pinner mentions he received the Hatam Sofer's approbation. Subsequently, as we have seen, the Hatam Sofer retracted that approbation, however, at the time Pinner published his notice he still had the Hatam Sofer's approbation.

    At this juncture it is worth noting that the Hatam Sofer held Pinner in high regard. According to R. Ya'akov Hirsch HaLevi, a student of the Hatam Sofer, Pinner spent time studying with the Hatam Sofer. Specifically, when Pinner came to obtain the approbation of the Hatam Sofer "Pinner spent a few weeks in Pressburg, and went daily to the Hatam Sofer." [See Zikrohnot u-Mesorot al Ha-Hatam Sofer (Bnei Brak: Machon Moreshet Ashkenaz, 1996), 306.] This picture of Pinner is counter to that of some who take a dim view of Pinner. [See Iggeret Soferim (Jerusalem, 2000), 74 n.2.] Some, have gone the other way. That is, they cannot fathom that the Hatam Sofer ever gave an approbation nor that he then retracted it. The Munkatcher Rebbi, makes this claim to note that the entire book Iggeret Soferim is a forgery as it mentions, inter alia, that the Hatam Sofer retracted. But, as is discussed in detail in the Zikhronot u-Mesorot, this claim is incorrect; specifically as it relates to Pinner story. The Maharam Schick, notes that the Hatam Sofer retracted, and in fact, according to the Mahram, this demonstrates the greatness of the Hatam Sofer that he is able to admit when he erred. (See Zikhronot, pp. 15-6).

    Returning to the Pinner talmud. Why was it that no further volumes were published? According to some it was due to the retraction of the Hatam Sofer. That is, since the Hatam Sofer disapproved of the translation thus Pinner was unable to publish any further volumes.[2] This, however, makes little sense in light of the fact the Hatam Sofer had made known his negative views towards Pinner's translation some 7 years prior to Pinner publishing even his first volume. Additionally, it is hard to see how the Hatam Sofer's opinion would effect the target readership of Pinner's translation those who spoke German. While there is no doubt the Hatam Sofer held sway over many Eastern European Jews, those Jews didn't read German and probably were not interested in Pinner's translation to begin with.

    Perhaps a more likely scenario is that Pinner shot himself in the foot. Pinner's edition contains a full page dedication to Czar Nicholas. Czar Nicholas instituted some of the harshest anti-Semitic programs, including mandatory 25 conscription into the Russian army. The point of conscription was to forcibly baptize the Jews. Pinner's translation was aimed at cultured and educated Jews, Jews who would be aware of Nicholas's programs. It is no surprise that there may have been significant reticence to purchase books glorifying such a person.

    In fact, this would not be the first time a dedication didn't work out that well. The first Rabbinic bible published in 1522, was not a success. Instead, it would be the second Rabbinic bible that became the template for the Mikrot Gedolot Chumash. While both were done by the same publisher and soon after one another. The main difference was the first contained a dedication to the Pope, while the second did not. Perhaps, the same happened here, and Pinner was a victim of poor judgment in securing his approbations, both in the one's that appeared and the ones that did not.

    [1] Rabbi Adam Mintz's research on the history of Talmud translations is the most comprehensive work on the subject; see his "Words, Meaning and Spirit: The Talmud in Translation," Torah u-Madda Journal 5 (1994): 115-155, [see here]; later revised and reprinted in the volume, Printing The Talmud: From Bomberg to Schottenstein, published in connection with exhibit on the Talmud at the YU Museum. Additionally, in a recent issue of Ohr Yisrael, no. 50 (Tevet, 5768): 36-78, there was also a discussion regarding translations. It is worth noting that none of the articles mention Mintz's articles. PDFs of these articles -- by Adam Mintz and those from the Ohr Yisrael, no. 50 -- are available in a recent post at the Michtavim blog.
    [2] Greenwald goes so far as to incorrectly assert that Pinner acquised to the Hatam Sofer and never published the translation at all.

    The Original Prospectus for the Pinner ed. of the Talmud

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    In Professor Daniel Sperber's latest book, Netivot Pesikah (Jerusalem, Reuven Mass, 2008), one of the areas he discusses the importance of having an awareness of is bibliography. As Eliezer Brodt noted in his review at the Seforim blog, Sperber provides examples where people have gone wrong due to their lack of bibliographical knowledge. Of course, long before Sperber, the importance of Jewish bibliography was already noted by R. Shabbatai Bass, most well-known for his super-commentary on Rashi, Siftei Hakahmim, but also the author of the earliest Jewish bibliography, Siftei Yeshanim.[1] In the introduction to Siftei Yeshanim, Bass discusses generally why bibliography is important. Then, in Ben-Jacob's bibliography of Hebrew books, Otzar haSeforim, R. Shlomo haKohen of Vilna in his approbation lists numerous examples where people erred due to lack of bibliographical knowledge.

    A particularly illustrative example was the republication of the work on the laws of Shabbat, Madanei Asher. A kollel had a group of people working on to study the book and then republish it. Although they studied the book in depth they failed to look up the bibliographical information on the book. Had they done so, they would have discovered that the book is plagiarised from another book, Shulhan Shitim by R. Shlomo Chelm, the author of the Merkevet HaMishnah. Instead, they invested considerable time and effort in ensuring that the wider public has access to a plagiarized work.[2]

    Another such example of an egregious error due to lack of bibliographical information can be found in the Machon Yerushalayim edition of the Shulhan Arukh. Included in this edition is the commentary of R. Menachem Mendel Auerbach, Ateret Zekeinim. In Orah Hayyim, no. 54, R. Auerbach discusses whether the word "Hai" - het, yud - should be punctuated with a patach or a tzeri.[3].R. Auerbach states "one should have a tzeri under the letter het . . . and this in accord with what R. Shabbatai writes in his siddur, however, the Maharal of Prague says to use a patach." Now, when R. Auerbach references R. Shabbatai and his siddur, the Machon Yerushalayim edition includes an explanatory note "Siddur haArizal in the Barukh She'amar prayer." Thus, according to Machon Yerushalayim, R. Auerbach is quoting the Siddur haArizal compiled by R. Shabbatai Rashkover. That, in and of itself, is a bit odd as this Siddur is more interested - as the title implies - in the Ari and his kabbalistic ideas, rather than on grammar. Therefore, to use it in a discussion of grammar, which the quote in question is dealing with, is a bit odd! Setting that aside, there is a more fundamental mistake here, as the Siddur compiled by R. Rashkover was only published for the first time in Koretz in 1795. R. Auerbach lived from 1620-1689. Thus, he was dead for over 100 years prior to the publication of the Siddur of R. Rashkover. Moreover, the Ateres Zekeinim was first published in 1702 in Amsterdam, also long before the Siddur in question was ever published. The Rashkover's Siddur was only first written in 1755 and not published until 1797.[4] What is particularly striking about this example is that if one actually examines Rashkover's siddur, he doesn't even have a tzeri in the word in question!

    Instead, the siddur in question from "R. Shabbatai" is that of R. Shabbatai Sofer, the well-known grammarian. As this R. Shabbatai is a grammarian, and his siddur was written specifically to correct and highlight the proper grammatical readings, - see the lengthy introduction to this siddur, where R. Shabbatai bemoans the carelessness of people towards proper grammar - it makes perfect sense to quote this siddur from this "R. Shabbatai." This is not the only place R. Auerbach quotes R. Shabbatai, one quote in particular is important as it dispels who the "R. Shabbatai" Auerbach is referring to. In Orah Hayyim, no. 122, Auerbach gives R. Shabbatai's full name in another discussion about proper grammar. Auerbach refers to "I also saw this in the Siddur of R. Shabbatai of Przemysl." R. Shabbati of Przemysl is otherwise known as R. Shabbatai Sofer (1565-1635)[5] and that is who is referred to earlier as well.

    In conclusion, it is worthwhile noting that the text in question - the correct pronunciation of the word het yud - how R. Sofer actually pronounced that is unclear. There are two versions, but for the details of that one should see the edition of R. Sofer's Siddur (Baltimore, 1994), vol. 2, p. 56.

    [1] First printed in Amsterdam in 1680 and in an expanded edition in 1806.

    [2] This was pointed on by Y. Tosher in Moriah 7:83-84 (1978): 79. This claim of plagiarism was examined by Yonah Burstein, "Shulhan 'Arukh by R. Shlomo Chelm (Review)," Ali Sefer 16 (1990):177-179.

    [3] See the work Yashresh Ya'akov where he has a very comprehensive discussion about the this word and its punctuation.

    [4] See Pinchas Giller, "Between Poland and Jerusalem: Kabbalistic Prayer in Early Modernity," in Modern Judaism 24:3 (2004): 230, and see Geller's general discussion regarding the importance of Rashkover's edition for the development of Lurianic kabbalah on the siddur.

    [5] On R. Sofer see Stefan C. Reif, Shabbethai Sofer and His Prayer-Book (Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press, 1979).

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    Some Notes on the Pinner Affair


    Shnayer Leiman

    Kudos to Dan Rabinowitz for his informative account of the Pinner affair and, more importantly, for reproducing the original texts of Pinner’s 1834 Hebrew prospectus and the Hatam Sofer’s 1835 retraction. The comments that follow are intended to add to Dan’s discussion.

    1. “In his retraction the Hatam Sofer says the text [of his approbation to the Pinner translation] was published in a Hamburg newspaper.”

    It appears more likely that the Hatam Sofer’s words should be rendered: “I have already made public my grievous sin and error – that I wrote a letter of approbation on behalf of Dr. Pinner’s German translation of the Talmud – and it [Hebrew: iggerati] was published in Hamburg. In it, I confessed, and was not embarrassed to admit, that due to my sins, my eyes were besmeared and blinded…” What was published in Hamburg, then, was the Hatam Sofer’s first public retraction of the letter of approbation, not the letter of approbation itself. Moreover, no mention is made of a Hamburg newspaper. (In 1835, no German-Jewish or Hebrew newspapers were published in Hamburg.) It was published as a broadside, the text of which the Hatam Sofer sent from Pressburg to Hamburg for publication. In was intercepted by the Chief Rabbi, R. Akiva Wertheimer (d. 1838), who refused to publish the text precisely as the Hatam Sofer had written it. (This was in 1834, when the Hatam Sofer was posek ha-dor and gadol ha-dor, and about 72 years old – and we think we have problems!) The Hatam Sofer had to revise the text of the retraction, after which it was published in Hamburg some time between December 23, 1834 (when Rabbi Wertheimer addressed his objections to the Hatam Sofer) and January 22, 1835 (when the second retraction was published by the Hatam Sofer himself in Pressburg). See R. Shlomo Sofer, איגרות סופרים (Vienna, 1929), part 2, letter 66, pp. 70-71. Indeed, one suspects that the need for a second retraction by the Hatam Sofer was occasioned by this act of censorship on the part of the Hamburg authorities. No copies of the Hamburg broadside seem to have been preserved in any of the public collections of Judaica.

    2. “The full text of the retraction appears in three places.”

    It also appears in a fourth place: Y. Stern, ed., לקוטי תשובות חתם סופר (London, 1965), letter section, p. 90-91. This edition of the text is particularly important because it was obviously copied from the original broadside. Unlike the other editions of the text, the London edition contains two different fonts, Rashi script and enlarged square Hebrew characters – exactly like the original broadside. In a blatant misstatement of fact, the editor of the London edition, in a footnote, indicates that he copied the text from Greenwald’s אוצר נחמד. If so, he could not have known about the two different fonts and where to use them! In any event, Greenwald’s text lacks words that appear in the London edition! Most important, Greenwald’s text gives as the date the broadside was written: Thursday, 22 Tammuz , 5595 (= 1835). (In 1835, however, 22 Tammuz fell on Sunday, July 19.) The London edition gives as the date the broadside was written: Thursday, 21 Tevet, 5595 (= January 22, 1835). This is precisely the date that appears on the original broadside, as posted by Dan! One suspects that the discrepancy between the editor’s claim and the printed page originated in a parting of the ways between the editor and the great bibliophile and scholar, Abraham Ha-Levi Schischa (see the introductory page to the volume). Schischa’s deft hand is evident throughout the volume, and no doubt he had access to the original broadside. Perhaps when the editor and Schischa parted ways, the editor – who no longer had access to the original broadside – claimed that he copied the text from Greenwald, when in fact Schisha had prepared the text based on the original broadside. There remain some very slight discrepancies between the London edition and the original broadside, probably due to the editor of the London edition. The editor’s misstatement of fact misled, among others, R. Eliezer Waldenberg, שו"ת ציץ אליעזר 15:3, p. 8.

    3. “As one can see, the retraction is dated 21 Tevet, 1834.”

    As indicated above, 21 Tevet in the year 5595 fell in 1835. In the light of the documents posted by Dan, we can reconstruct the chronological sequence of events. Sometime in mid- 1834, the Hatam Sofer wrote a letter of approbation on behalf of Pinner’s translation of the Talmud into German. (One should mention for the record that it was much more than a mere translation. Pinner vocalized the Mishnah and punctuated [commas and question marks] the entire text of the Talmud, Rashi, Tosafos, and Rosh to Bavli Berakhoth! He also included occasional חידושים from his רבי מובהק, Rabbi Jacob of Lissa [d. 1832], at whose feet he sat for seven consecutive years.) On August 15, 1834, Pinner published his prospectus in Hebrew, announcing to the world at large that he had received letters of approbation from “all the גדולי ישראל in France, Italy, and German” and from none other than the Hatam Sofer himself! (The English version lists the same date, but makes no mention of the Hatam Sofer.) It was precisely the publication of the prospectus that forced the Hatam Sofer to go public. Now all of the Hatam Sofer’s colleagues knew what he had done, and the criticism that followed was merciless. See the letter of the Dutch communal leader and philanthropist, R. Zvi Hirsch Lehren (d. 1853), to the Hatam Sofer, dated January 11, 1835 (in איגרת סופרים, part 2, letter 69, pp. 73-78). It would no longer suffice to simply send a note to Pinner and ask that he return the letter of approbation. Since it was public knowledge that the Hatam Sofer had lent his name to Pinner’s translation, nothing less than a public retraction would set the record straight. By December 1834, the Hatam Sofer had already prepared an official retraction for publication (by disciples of his in Hamburg who had easy access to the local Jewish publishing houses) in Hamburg. After some delay due to censorship, the retraction was published either in late December 1834 or early January 1835. A second, fuller retraction was published in Pressburg on January 22, 1835. For Pressburg as the place of publication of the second retraction, see N. Ben Menachem, “הדפוס העברי בפרעסבורג,” Kiryat Sefer 33(1958), p. 529.

    4. The letter of retraction refers to Rabbi Nathan Adler. This, of course refers to Rabbi Nathan Marcus Adler (1803-1890) of Hanover, and later Chief Rabbi of Britain, a much younger contemporary of the Hatam Sofer. He is not to be confused with the Hatam Sofer’s teacher, Rabbi Nathan Adler of Frankfurt (1741-1800), who could not have been consulted by Pinner. Cf. Torah U-Madda Journal 5(1994), p. 131; (see now the corrected version "The Talmud in Translation" in Printing The Talmud: From Bomberg to Schottenstein, Yeshiva University Museum, 2006, p. 133).

    5. Although Pinner insisted on going ahead with the project, despite the Hatam Sofer’s protests, credit should be given where credit is due. Pinner omitted mention of the Hatam Sofer’s letter of approbation in the one volume that he published in 1842.

    6. Regarding why no further volumes of Pinner’s translation were published, the simplest answer is: lack of funds and lack of determination to see a project through from beginning to end. Pinner, a moderate Maskil, spent a lifetime dreaming about all sorts of literary projects, none of which came to fruition. These included attempts at listing all Hebrew books and manuscripts, and all tombstone inscriptions of famous rabbis and scholars (including Moses Mendelssohn, Isaac Satanov, Hartwig Wessely, and Israel Jacobson). See his כתבי יד (Berlin, 1861), a partial publication of a book with no real beginning and no real end that captures the very essence of Pinner’s personality. In that volume, pp. 62-64, Pinner published a lengthy fund-raising letter he wrote in 1847 in order to raise funds to publish his diary, a kind of travelogue that would introduce readers to the wonders of the world. It was yet another of his failed projects. In the case of Pinner’s translation of the Talmud, Czar Nicholas withdrew his support and there was no one to pick up the slack. Note too the powerful language at the end of the Hatam’s Sofer’s retraction. Should Pinner insist on publishing the volumes, no Jewish publishing house may agree to publish the volumes, and no Jew may buy or read them. This surely didn’t help either publication or sales. For the powerful impact of the Hatam Sofer’s letters of approbation on the Jewish community at large, see my “Masorah and Halakhah: A Study in Conflict,” in M. Cogan, B. Eichler, and J. Tigay, eds., Tehillah Le-Moshe (Moshe Greenberg Festschrift), Winona Lake, 1997, pp. 305-306.

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    Responses to Comments and Elaborations
    David Glasner

    David Glasner, an economist at the Federal Trade Commission, is a great-grandson of Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Glasner, the topic of his recent post, "The Saga of Publishing the Works of Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Glasner: The Issue of Inclusion of Zionism and Rav Kook," at the Seforim blog.

    This is his second contribution to the Seforim blog.

    I thank all those who have responded to my posting of February 15. I have for the most part not engaged in a back and forth with those who have commented for a variety of reasons but mainly a desire to avoid getting too caught up in discussions that could easily take up an inordinate amount of my time.

    Adderabbi wrote to inquire whether my father was his grandfather’s friend in Baltimore. The answer is yes. My parents were very fond of your grandparents, and it was a great loss to them when your grandfather passed away suddenly a number of years ago and again when your grandmother passed away not too long after that. My older brother is the one from State College, PA. And my question to you is whether Eugene is your father or your uncle.

    About the fate of my unpublished introduction, I hope to revise it and submit it to a suitable Hebrew language journal for publication. I think we’ll just have to wait and see whether it ever gets posted on this blog.

    I thank Yehudah Mirsky for his multiple contributions. After his first mention of Rav Amital, I immediately thought of the achingly beautiful tribute he wrote in memory of his Rebbi, R. Haim Yehudah Levi, a grandson of the Dor Revi’i. Rav Amital delivered a hesped at my father’s burial in Jerusalem just over three years ago and mentioned the closeness that he felt to the family of the Dor Revi’i and how important he believed it is to preserve the legacy of morality and justice and honesty that the Dor Rev’i represented. It is also a pleasure to renew, even if only via cyberspace, my acquaintance with Yehudah, with whom my wife and I enjoyably spent many a Friday evening in the splendid company of my illustrious cousins Menahem and Ruth Schmelzer, their family and friends.

    Anonymous (02.16.08 – 6:47 pm) charged me with complicity in suppressing the truth about my great-grandfather. Well, obviously there were multiple values at stake and the outcome represented some sort of balancing of those not entirely congruent values. Did I clarify that for you? I also thank anonymous (2:17.08 – 12:31 am) for what I understood to be a sympathetic comment about the difficulty of the situation in which I found myself.

    Thanbo asked about the new edition of Dor Revi’i published about five years ago. I had no role in that enterprise. I can’t really comment about its physical dimensions or about future editions.

    Zalman Alpert is clearly more conversant with Haredi demographic trends than I, but I will just add another interesting tidbit, which is that although Hassidus was making inroads in Hungary before WWII, it was only after WWII that the great majority of Haredi Hungarian Jewry attached themselves to one or the other of the Hassidic dynasties. The Klausenburger Rebbe, for example, obviously had many thousands more Hasidim after the war than he ever did before the war. In my own family, my maternal aunt and uncle from fine upstanding Oberlanderish extraction became staunch Belzer Hasidim after the war. Hungarians I think did come to predominate after the war in a number of sects that, like Belz, were not mostly Hungarian before the war. While there may be something in Zalman Alpert’s conjecture that being from a separatist Hungarian background helped preserve the Dor Revi’i’s standing among the Haredim, I am not inclined to think that it mattered very much. His Zionism was of such an outspoken nature that he was reviled in his own time as a turncoat and a traitor to his roots and his upbringing. Indeed, the animosity toward him resulted from an existential feeling that his Zionism was not a mistake but a kind of treachery. By the way, there are at least two places in which he explicitly addresses the question of separation. First in a teshuvah (shut dor revi’i, 2:86, dated seder tetzaveh 5657) defending separation against the criticism of separation made by the rishon l’tzion, Rabbi Yakov Shaul Elisher (interestingly the only (?) other defense of separation against this criticism was by my great-great-grandfather, R. Amram Blum in shut beit she’arim). This teshuvah is largely a rhetorical recitation of the outrages perpetrated by the Neologs in trying to force the Orthodox to yield to their state-sanctioned domination, and a plea to Rabbi Elisher not to be duped by the misrepresentations made by the Neologs. Almost 25 years later, the Dor Revi’i revisited the question of separation in his essay on Zionism (my English translation is posted on In the latter essay, he took a more analytical approach to the question of separation, arguing that separation was defensible only on the grounds that the hidden agenda of the Neologs was to promote assimilation. Since Zionism was aimed at maintaining the Jewish national identity, the precedent of separation was therefore irrelevant to the question whether cooperation by the Orthodox with irreligious Zionists was justified. He further accused the Haredim of his day of competing with the Neologs in unedifying displays of Hungarian patriotism (e.g., describing themselves as Magyars of the Mosaic faith), a withering condemnation that surely did not endear him to his Haredi antagonists. About Professor Moshe Carmilly-Weinberger, I didn’t forget him, but I wasn’t writing a comprehensive religious history of Klausenburg, so, with all due respect to him, I didn’t feel that he was particularly relevant to the story I was telling. But having warmed to the subject, I will note that in one of his writings (or perhaps a talk that someone once told me about) he described his boyhood experience of being taken by his father to see the Dor Revi’i and the lasting impression that the encounter made on his memory. I don’t have any statistics at my fingertips, but I would be really surprised if the Neolog community was much more than a tenth the size of the Orthodox community in Klausenburg.

    Anonymous (2.17.08 – 12:01 pm) asks about the friendship between Rav Glasner and R. Shaul Brach. This relationship was certainly between my grandfather, R. Akiva (about whom more will be said below) and R. Brach. I have no specific information about their relationship except that R. Brach was one of a number of highly regarded Haredi rabbis from whom my grandfather obtained glowing haskamot for his first book, Dor Dorim. The choice of the title (as well as, if one reads carefully, the hashqafic discussion in the introduction) and the choice of rabbis to write haskamot show how delicate a balance my grandfather was trying to maintain between loyalty to his father and achieving a reconciliation with his father’s enemies.

    To Yaakov R., without going into any details, I can assure you that the cast of characters involved in the story I told was international. I also did not mean, and am sorry if anyone thinks that I tried, to “bash” Haredim or to satirize them. If they appear in a less than favorable light, it is not because they are bad people, but because they face social pressures to conform that are very difficult to withstand.

    Anonymous (2.19.08 – 7:13 am) wants to know if there is unpublished material of the Dor Revi’i. Yes, unfortunately there is a lot that has never been published, and, even more unfortunately, no one seems to know what has become of it. At the end of his introduction to Hulin, he mentions that he hoped to arrange and publish his hidushim on “rov sugyot ha-shas” as well as many hundreds of teshuvot and divrei aggada which he had in manuscript. He presumably took most of that with him to Palestine in 1923. I recall reading in some source, whose identity, to my great consternation, I can no longer recall, that his unpublished manuscripts were held by Mosad ha-Rav Kook. When I contacted someone in the mosad about those manuscripts, I was told that they had no knowledge of their existence and that in any case all extant manuscripts in Israel had been photographed and were held in the microfilm collection of the Jewish National Library. The only holdings of microfiche of works of my great-grandfather held by the JNL are of the 200 or so teshuvot that somehow came to light in the mid-1970s that were published in two volumes of shut dor revi’i.

    To Zalman Alpert, since you mention the story about R. Koppel Reich, I will just note that Koppel Reich’s son married a daughter (possibly the oldest) of the Dor Revi’i. They died in the Holocaust and left no survivors. About my grandfather’s speech at the Knessiah Gedolah in 1937 at Marienbad, my father accompanied his father on that occasion (he was then 19). He told me that his father decided to join Agudah at that time, because at that meeting the Agudah dropped its opposition to the creation of Jewish state in Palestine. According to my father, that was the matir for his father to join Agudah, which contributed to his own fence-mending and furthered his (ultimately futile) desire to re-unite the Orthodox community in Klausenburg. As I pointed about above, to achieve that goal, my grandfather always sought to mend fences with his father’s enemies (though certain well known relatives of my dear and learned friend Mechy Frankel were utterly implacable), and he even made every effort to maintain cordial relations with Rabbi Halberstam. I have heard, though I have been unable to confirm, that at the wedding of one of his daughters he was mekhabeid Rabbi Halberstam with a brakhah at the hupa. At any rate, it was the change of position by Agudah that led my grandfather to join Agudah and make the speech from which you quoted. I was once told by my grandmother’s brother that in Mizrahi circles his speech was viewed as a betrayal and resulted in his not being offered a suitable rabbinical post in Israel after 1948 when he might have been receptive to such an offer. In the end, however, the resolution adopted in Marienbad in 1937 (which also precipitated the creation of Neturei Karta in outraged protest) reflecting the position of the majority in attendance at Marienbad was effectively negated by the determined opposition of Rabbis A. Kotler and E. Wasserman with the enthusiastic support of the Hungarian anti-Zionists. I would add as a postscript that b’sof yamav, my grandfather made totally clear his true convictions when in 1956 only a few months before his petirah (29 tishri 5717) he wrote a teshuvah ruling that one is obligated to say Hallel on Yom ha-Atzmaut. My translation of that teshuvah is available on the Dor Revi’i website (

    To Lawrence Kaplan, you are probably right to be surprised. While I knew that Rabbi Kook was not a hero to Haredim and his books were not recommended, I did not imagine that the mere mention of his name in connection with another person would suffice to pahsel the other person as well. I also thought that the fact that Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and Rabbi Elyashiv were his students and always remained devoted to him and his memory provided a certain amount of cover for him. Nor did I imagine that there was anyone who knew about the Dor Revi’i that did not also know that he was a Zionist. Live and learn.

    I’m not sure why the esteemed and learned Dr. Frankel seems to have a problem with my dating of events in Klausenburg near the time of the Dor Revi’i’s departure. Those dates are well established in publicly available sources. He is correct to say that the Klausenburg secessionists were not the first Sephardic community to be formed in Hungary, but the existence of earlier Sephardic communities elsewhere in the vicinity does nothing to establish that the Klausenburg chapter predated 1921. Whatever it was that happened in 1873 (and Dr. Frankel provides no details or documentation to support his assertion about that date), it was evidently short lived. If Dr. Frankel believes otherwise, I would most respectfully invite him to provide any information that he might have about the leadership (rabbinical or otherwise) or the makeup of the community in the nearly five decades between 1873 and 1921. It is well-established that there was a Neolog breakaway in Klausenburg in the 1880s (one oft-cited reason for which was my great-grandfather’s affection for Hassidim and Hassidut). That breakaway, at least, did last until the Holocaust. And I thank my friend for his nostalgic (to me, at any rate) references to bygone times when we were neighbors in geographic as well as hashqafic space.

    Comments by Steve Brizel and Michoel Halberstam suggest that my posting misled them into thinking that something that the Dor Revi’i wrote was suppressed. That is not, repeat not, the case. What I withhold, out of consideration for the feelings of those who would have been embarrassed, offended, or would have felt otherwise aggrieved, by seeing such a reference in the newly published volume of his works was my introduction about the life and character of the Dor Revi’i, which mentioned both his Zionism and his close friendship with Rabbi Kook. I would just like everyone to be clear on those facts.

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    Some Notes Regarding the First & Second Rabbinic Bibles
    by Jordan S. Penkower
    Dr. Jordan S. Penkower is an associate professor in the Bible Department at Bar Ilan University, and has written extensively on the development of the printed Hebrew Bible.

    This is his first contribution to the Seforim blog.

    In response to the post at the Seforim blog regarding the Pinner Talmud, a correction is in order regarding the first two Rabbinic Bibles (both now available online - see below). The post states

    In fact, this would not be the first time a dedication didn't work out that well. The first Rabbinic bible published in 1522, was not a success. Instead, it would be the second Rabbinic bible that became the template for the Mikrot Gedolot Chumash. While both were done by the same publisher and soon after one another. The main difference was the first contained a dedication to the Pope, while the second did not. Perhaps, the same happened here, and Pinner was a victim of poor judgment in securing his approbations, both in the one's that appeared and the ones that did not.
    In fact, the following are the correct details.

    (1)The first Rabbinic Bible was published by Bomberg in Venice and completed in 1517. The editor was the convert Felix Pratensis. This edition appeared in two versions: one with a dedication to the Pope in Latin (on the verso of the title page), and at the end of Chronicles a short decree by the Pope (in Latin) that this edition had exclusive rights for 10 years. The second - aimed at the Jews - without the Latin material.

    (2) The second Rabbinic Bible was published by Bomberg in Venice, and completed in 1525. The editor of this edition was Jacob ben Hayyim Ibn Adoniyahu (who converted to Christianity sometime after 1527).

    These two editions differ in a number of ways (the lack of the Latin material is not really to be considered, because such a Latin-free edition had already appeared in 1517 - see above).

    Here, I will note the following differences between the two editions: (a) more commentaries in the second edition; (b) the printing of the whole apparatus of the Masorah Parva, the Masorah Magna, and the Masorah Finalis - for the first time in the second (1525) edition; (c) the bible text in the second edition was re-edited anew based on manuscripts and Masorah. As a result, one finds variants in text, vocalization and accentuation between these two editions.

    Further details on the differences between these editions can be found in my Jacob ben Hayyim and the Rise of the Rabbinic Bible (Ph.D. dissertation, Hebrew University, 1982; Hebrew); see further my articles in: J.H. Hayes, ed., Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation (Abingdon Press, Nashville 1999), vol. 1: "Bomberg, Daniel," "Jacob Ben Hayyim Ibn Adoniyahu," and vol. 2: "Rabbinic Bible."
    Dedication Page to the Pope from the 1517 ed.

    Decree at the end of Chronicles from 1517 ed.

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    As mentioned at the Michtavim blog, forty-year-old Rav Yitzchak Dadon, shlita, was the first to shoot at the terrorist following the massacre last week at Yeshivat Mercaz Ha-Rav in Jerusalem. Rav Dadon studied for many years at Yeshivat Mercaz Ha-Rav and is the author of over a half-dozen seforim, including the very-celebrated and landmark two-volume set, Atchalta Hee (2005 and 2007), on the relationship between Zionism of religious leaders from the Ashkenaz and Sefaradic communities to Zionism and the establishment of the State of Israel, as well as an excellently detailed-survey (in both volumes) of poskim of earlier generations who have dealt with the related issue of Geulah be-Derekh ha-Teva in their own writings.

    See below for the very-admiring mikhtav berakha from former chief rabbi of the State of Israel and Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Mercaz Ha-Rav, the late Rav Avraham Shapira zt"l, to Rav Dadon's Atchalta Hee, available below. (Copies of Atchalta Hee are available from Biegeleisen in Boro Park 718-436-1165.)
    As I wrote at the Michtavim blog:
    What a Kiddush Hashem it is, and praiseworthy is Rav Yitzchak Dadon and all other talmidei hakhamim in the yeshivot Hesder who are not only tremendous Torah scholars like David HaMelech, but are also similarly able to protect Am Yisrael and destroy our enemies when necessary.

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    In a previous post at the Seforim blog, Dan Rabinowitz offered his review of Elliott Horowitz (of Bar-Ilan University and co-editor of Jewish Quarterly Review), Reckless Rites: Purim and the Legacy of Jewish Violence (Princeton University Press, 2006) -- available here -- and this past shabbat at Kehilat Rayim Ahuvim on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Horowitz delivered a lecture entitled "Was the Massacre at Mercaz Ha-Rav Committed by Amalekites?"

    For those who missed this lecture (myself included), you can read his "Between Hebron and Jerusalem," posted at, and available here.

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  • 03/17/08--07:05: Purim and Parodies
  • Purim and Parodies

    by Eliezer Brodt

    Happiness During the Month of Adar and its Discontents

    The month of Adar begins a time of joy, as the mishna says "mi shenechnas Adar marbim b'simcha." Interestingly, it’s been noted here that this halacha is not codified by either the Rambam or Shulchan Orach. R. Yissachar Tamar in his classic work on Yerushalmi, Ali Tamar, notes that some have suggested that this is the reason why many shuls in Europe hung signs proclaiming Mi Shenechnas Adar with pictures of bottles of wine and Jews happy was to announce this halacha! [1] Furthermore, the Ali Tamar provides additional sources that demonstrate that some were punctilious about in their observation of this halacha and would begin celebrating from rosh hodesh Adar. In light of this concept we could perhaps understand how many halchahos are relaxed during and around Purim-time. For example, after the destruction of the Bes HaMikdash, Chazal enacted a prohibition against "".שחוק This is recorded in the Gemara (Berchos 31a):

    אמר רבי יוחנן משום רבי שמעון בן יוחאי: אסור לאדם שימלא שחוק פיו בעולם הזה, שנאמר: 'אז ימלא שחוק פינו ולשוננו רנה', אימתי - בזמן שיאמרו בגוים הגדיל ה' לעשות עם אלה. אמרו עליו על ריש לקיש, שמימיו לא מלא שחוק פיו בעולם הזה מכי שמעה מרבי יוחנן רביה.

    This is codified in Shulchan Orach (O.C. siman 560, 5) to which the Taz (ibid) comments:

    בשם רבינו יונה דמשמע גם שלא בזמן הגלות דלא כנוסח הטור שכתב בגלות הזה ונלע"ד שיש חילוק בזה דלענין שמחה שאינו של מצוה ודאי אסור אפי' שלא בזמן הגלות למלא פיו שחוק אבל בשמחה של מצוה היה היתר בזמן שב"ה קיים כגון שמחת בית השואב' ושמחת דוד שהיה מכרכר בכל עוז ובזמן הגלות ערב' כל שמחה ואפי' בשמחה של מצוה כגון בחתונה או פורים מ"מ לא ימלא פיו שחוק כנלע"ד נכון:

    Thus, according to the Taz, even during happy events such as a wedding or Purim, there is a a restriction on שחוק. R. Yosef Engle in his Dershos Otzros Yosef (Vienna 1921, pg 36-37) and R. Teichtel author of the Aim Habonim Semechaih, in his Shu"t Mishnat Sachir (# 2) both justify the minhag of Klal Yisroel everywhere to be joyous at weddings and on Purim. [R. Yosef Engle seems to take this concept a bit further than R. Teichtel as he even justifies cross dressing].

    In fact, we find times that chazal themselves allowed שחוק as we find מילתא דבדיחותא in Chazal. Those instances, however, appear to be limited to when the purpose was waking a sleeping or otherwise uninterested audience and involving them in Torah study.

    Setting aside the opinion of the Taz who holds that שחוק is prohibited even on Purim, it appears that many disagreed with this position. This is borne out by various halachos that relate to Purim. For instance, the Rema in Hilchos Purim (696 end) writes some allow cross dressing and wearing shatnes d'rabanan. Additionally, if someone damaged his friends property due to simchas Purim they do not have to pay. And, perhaps most notable, getting drunk which in general is very much frowned upon. While the Rama and others seems to permit these actions many disagreed for example R. Shmuel Aboab in his Sefer Zichronos [2] writes very strongly against these actions.

    Another Italian rabbi, R. Shmuel Me-Sha'ar Areyeh, who was a contemporary of the Rama Me-Fano, writes similarly in his (still in manuscript) commentary on the Bet Yosef [3] :

    אין לסמוך על דברי זאת ההגהה לחטוא, לא לענין מלובשי איש ואשה, ולא בכלאים דרבנן, ולא בגזל אפילו כל שהוא, ושומר נפשו ירחקו מהם ולא יסמוך על המתיר כי אין בידו דבר ברור להיתר, ולא כתבו כן הפוסקים הראשונים ובמקום אחר הוא כתב: "מנהגים הללו בורות הם ויש להמנע מהם".

    And more recent the Orach Ha-shulchan writes:

    ועכשיו בעונותינו הרבים ערבה כל שמחה ואין אנו נוהגים לשמוח כל כך עד שיבא להיזק ולכן עכשיו כשהזיק חייב לשלם ואפילו בזמן הקדמון חייב בנזק הגוף

    A bit later he elaborates:

    ומה שנהגו בימים קדמונים בלבישת פרצופים משעטנז ושל איש לאשה עכשיו לא נהגו כן וכן מי שהזיק חייב לשלם דעתה בעונותינו הרבים ערבה כל שמחה ואין אנו במדריגה זו [ומ"ש הרמ"א בסעיף ח' הוא לקיים מה שנהגו בימיו ולא עכשיו]: [4]

    Parodies for Purim

    In light of the above, we see that while there is some dispute about how far one can go on Purim, joyful acts (depending on their degree) are encouraged. Parodies and plays (this topic will be dealt with in my next post) which were written and some preformed during Purim-time.

    Israel Davidson writes in the introduction to his classic work on this topic, Parody in Jewish Literature, [5] the following:

    "The Range of Jewish parody is as wide as the range of general parody. The Jewish parodist has invaded every department of literature and every walk of life. He has drawn upon the various phases of Jewish life for his subject matter and upon the various forms of Jewish literature for his models. . . . It would indeed be easy to make a collection of representing the bible, Talmud, midrash liturgy zohar codes… It is equally no exaggeration to say almost all the great movements in modern Jewish history are reflected in Jewish parody . . . on the other hand the study of this branch of Jewish literature will also reveal the serious side of Jewish humor. . . . Tears and laughter lie very closely together in Jewish humor, and the Jewish parodist is not always a mere clown, but more often is a preacher disguised in the garb of a jester. Like general parody Jewish parody has a moral aim. It is opposed to every kind of untruth to bombast to hypocrisy.”

    In this post I would like to point out a few such parodies to show some general customs which are mentioned in them, with a specific eye towards Purim.

    One of the earliest such pieces was a piyut printed in the Machzor Vitri (p. 583) to say during Ma'ariv of Purim. It starts out saying:

    ליל שיכורים הוא זה הלילה, לשמוח ביין הטוב ולגילה... בליל הזה ישכרו כל יצורים

    This piece was authored by a Menachem ben Aron. It has been debated from exactly which time period this piece was written but Davidson believes that he was active as early as 1140 and as late as 1244. Rav Zevin and others note that it is quiet strange to allow such a crazy piyut to be said during Ma'ariv. But, Rav Zevin does point out that although the halacha is not to get drunk on Purim at night at least in the times of R Eliezer Fleckles people definitely did get drunk then.[6] A. Haberman reprinted a much lengthier version of a piuyt composed in 1695, by a dayan, for the whole Ma'ariv.[7]

    Although there are no real sources that one has to get drunk on the night of Purim I did find Rav Nissim Goan writes:

    ושנהגו בלילי פורים לעשות מדורות האש וקופצין עליהן אית ליה נמי עיקיר.

    This seems to imply that there is a some notion of שחוק or שמחה on Purim night. This custom of Rav Nissim Goan is brought down by the Sefer Hamanhig, Avudraham and others.[8]

    One of the most famous parodists in Jewish history was Emanuel HaRomi author of the infamous Machberes Emanuel (also called Sefer Hamachberes). Davidson calls him “the father of of exegetic parody and one of its best masters.” This work was written in circa 1321-28. This work includes a good bit of parodies. One of the parodies is a very detailed description of the excessive drinking and drunkenness of people in his time on Purim.[9] [10]

    Just to quote one line from this particular parody as it is extremely graphic:

    יצאתי אם השר בימי הנעורים אחר סעודת פורים, לראות בשחוק השכורים...ויאמר כי היא מצות עשה שהזמן גרמא והשכרות והפריצות ביום הזה ערמה וקצתם יחולו במחולות בחורים וגם בתולות...

    As is very well known this work was banned by the Beis Yosef [11] who writes very strongly against it:

    מליצות ומשלים של שיחת חולין ודברי חשק, כגון ספר עמנואל, וכן ספרי מלחמות, אסור לקרות בהם בשבת; ואף בחול אסור משום מושב לצים ועובר משום אל תפנו אל האלילים לא תפנו אל מדעתכם; ובדברי חשק, איכא תו משום מגרה יצר הרע; ומי שחיברן ומי שהעתיקן, וא"צ לומר המדפיסן, מחטיאים את הרבים.

    Although the Beis Yosef wrote strongly against it R. Shmuel Askenazi pointed out to me a very interesting source. The Chida in his Shem Hagedolim [12] writes as follows:

    שמעתי שאמרו בעל הפרשים שבאיוב יקרא האדם פ' רלב"ג וירוה צמאוני ובמשלי יקרא פ' עמנואל ובתהלים יקרא פ' ר' דוד קמחי ואתנח סימנא שפת אמת תכון לעד. אמת ר"ת איוב משלי תהלים. לעד ר"ת לוי עמנואל דוד והם כסדרן.

    What the Chida is saying is that the best work on Mishlei was written by Emanuel!

    One other point of interest about this work: I found in the list of works for students to learn thought out a new school system written by R. Meshulam Roth the great Galicianer posek at the request of R. Meir Shapiro amongst the many interesting things he wanted talmdim to read was the Sefer Machberes![13]

    Another one of the earliest parodies written was called Mesechtas Purim, written by R. Kallonyms ben Kallonyms (1286-1328) a good friend of Emanuel Haromi.[14] This parody was perhaps the most famous one written on Purim which inspired many others especially of note was two others written a little later by the Ralbag.[15] Masechtas Purim was first written between 1319-1322 and printed in 1513, again in 1552 than again in 1871. This was written in the style of gemarah including drashos and everything found in regular sugyos – mimicking the talmudic style very well. Most of the humor is clean and not pocking fun at anyone. Davidson devotes a large part of his book to discussing the various editions of Masechtas Purim with many important notes. Haberman provides all the printings of this book in a facsimile edition of this sefer which he printed. As many other books this to was banned, by many, most notably R. Shmuel Aboab (siman 193). Others who opposed these works were authors of Chemdas Hayomim, Beris Mateh Moshe and the Chida.[16] At some points certain versions of Mesechtas Purim were even burned![17]

    Haberman, however, points out a very interesting observation on all this and that is that this work of Mesechtas Purim was not banned immediately. Rather, it was only much later that any bans were directed at Mesechtas Purim. According to Haberman, this demonstrates that in the beginning there was no great opposition against it. He writes it is clear from the writings of R. Kalonymus and the Ralbag that it was just for Simchas Purim with no evil intent at all.[18] Besides for this both R. Kalonymus and the Ralbag were known as great people and not latzanim. To support this theory a bit one just has to read the end of the edition of R. Kalonymus where he writes:

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    The Origins of Hamentashen in Jewish Literature: A Historical-Culinary Survey Revisited*
    By Eliezer Brodt

    I. Introduction

    As Jews, most of our holidays have special foods specific to them; and behind each culinary custom, lays enveiled the reasoning behind them. Shavuot brings with it a vast array of customary dairy delicacies – in some parts of the world, cheesecake is practically obligatory – not to mention different customs in regard to how and when to eat them. Rosh Hashanah in renowned for the different fruits and vegetables eaten as physical embodiments symbolizing our tefillot; Chanukah has fried foods (no trans-fats please); whether latkes sizzling in the frying pan, or the elusive Israeli sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts) seen for a month before but not to be found a minute after Chanukah’s departure, and on the fifteenth of Shevat a veritable plethora of fruits are sampled in an almost 'Pesach Seder'-like ceremony. Of course, on Purim we eat hamentashen.

    Hamentashen. Those calorie-inflated, Atkins-defying, doughy tri-cornered confections filled with almost anything bake-able. The Mishpacha reports that this year in Israel alone, an astounding 24.5 million hamentashen will be sold, weighing 1225 tons, and yielding an approximate 33 million NIS in sales.[1] The question that many will be asking themselves is "where did this minhag to eat hamentashen come from?"

    Recently I started researching this topic; thus far (and I hope to find more) my results are as follows.

    II. Origins

    The earliest source I have located so far can be found in the first Jewish comedy called Ztachus Bedechusa Dekidushin. This play was written in Hebrew by Yehudah Sommo (1527- 1592) from Italy. He was a friend of R. Azariah Men Hadomim and is even quoted in the Meor Eynamim (at the end of chapter eighteen). This comedy was written for Purim as he writes in the introduction:

    הוא ספר חדש מדבר צחות אשר בדה מלבו פ' בימי בחרותו לצחק בו בימי הפורים ובשעת חדוה

    In one of the scenes the following conversation take place:

    יאיר: אם בדברים כאלה אכפרה פניו, כבר יש לי קושיא אחת אשר ייעפו כל תוספי התורה להתירה, כי הנה כתוב במגלת פורים "ויתלו את המן" ובפרשת בלק נכתב בפירוש "ויאכלו בני ישראל את המן". ואיך יאכלו היהודים הנשמרים מכל רע את נבלת התלוי ההוא ואל הכלב לא ישליכו אותה?

    יקטן: גם זה ראיתי אני וכבר תרץ הקושיא הזאת רב בלעם בן בבי בשם אביו: כי מה שאמרה התורה "ויאכלו את המן" היא אזהרה וציווי לנו שנאכל בימי הפורים האלה מאזני המן – הן המה הרקייקם הנעשים בסולת בלולה בשמן, וזהו שאמר אחרי כן "וטעמו כצפיחית בדבש".

    יאיר: יפה פירוש בן ביבי זכור לטוב!

    Professor Schirman who printed this play from manuscript notes that רב בלעם בן בבי is the name of one of the characters in the Massekhet Purim of R. Kalonymus ben Kalonymus. [2] In connection with Yehudah Sommo's play, it is possible to understand an engmatic statement in the Tishbi. Specifically, R. Elijah Bocher writes:

    ערך "מנלן"- מנלן להמן מן התורה שנאמר ויאכלך את המן, גם זו מלה מורכבת מן ב' מלות אן ולן

    R. Yeshaya Pick in his notes on the Tishbi asks, the Gemarah in Chulin which asks this same question has a different source for Haman min Hatorah where does the Tishbi get this Chazal from? He suggests that maybe he had different chazal which we do not have. However in the new edition of Tishbi they printed notes of R. Mazauz who suggests that it is highly probable that there was no such Chazal rather the Tishbi was referring to the famous lezunuot about eating hamntashen. This suggestion is all the more probable after seeing the words of Yehudah Sommo in his play written a little after the Tishbi.[3]

    The next source I have located is in the poetry of the brothers Yakov and Emanuel Pranosish (1618- 1703) in one piece [4] they write:

    אמנם נזרק העט ונקצר ענינים,

    כי יום פורים זה בא, נכין לו מעדנים,

    נכין מרקחות ממתקים מכל מינים,

    נגדיל אזני המן מאזני השפנים,

    Ben-Yehudah, in his dictionary also cites to a manuscript excerpt of a Purim comedy penned by R. Yehudah Aryeh de Modena, where he is supposed to mention this food Hamantashen.[5]
    Mention can also be found in some liturgical parodies [6] from the seventeenth-century, where it includes references to eating hamentashen:

    שתו אכלו אזני המן

    Thus, from the above, it seems that the original word was aznei Haman the name Hamantashen only came later.

    In an 1846 cook book called The Jewish Manual by Lady Judith Cohen Montefiore we find a recipe for “Haman fritters.”[7] R. Barukh ha-Levi Epstein, in his Mekor Barukh, relates the following interesting anecdote which highlights the importance his grandfather placed on eating hamentashen:

    One year in the beginning of the month of Adar he [my grandfather] noticed that the bakeries were not selling hamentashen. When he inquired as to why this was so, he discovered that there was a shortage of flour. He promptly went ahead and gave the biggest bakers in the city a large sum of money to enable them to buy flour to bake hamantsashen.[8]

    In a nineteenth-century Lithuanian memoir again the import of hamentashen is apparent. The author recalls that “my sister spent the day preparing the baked delicacies of Purim. Most important were the hamentashen.”[9] R. Michael Braver in his excellent memoir of Galicia written in the mid 1800’s also describes the sending of Hamantashen on Purim. [10] A. S. Sachs in his memories on shtetl life notes that his “grandma would add a Haman-tash for the kiddies” in the meshloach manot.[11] Chaim Hamburger also mentions the baking of Hamantashen on purim in his memoirs. [12]. Professor Simha Assaf, in an article describing Purim, also writes that people made special foods called hamentashen.[13] Shmarya Levin recollects in his autobiography with great detail the hamentashen:

    The much-loved little cakes, stuffed with nuts and poppy seed, which are called ‘Haman’s ears’ – sometimes ‘Haman’s pockets’ – had been prepared for us in vast numbers. Their shape alone was a joy. They were neither round, like rolls, nor long, like the loaf; with their triangular shape they were like nothing else that we ate during the year. The stuffing was made of poppy-seeds fried in honey, but there was not enough of it, so we used to eat the cake cagily, in such wise that with every mouthful we got at least a nibble of honeyed poppy seed.[14]

    Similarly, David Zagier in his memoirs of Botchki writes about his childhood there: We commemorated Purim . . . Lesser Miracles came in the wake of the Purim miracle . . . the invention of Hamentashen, the best cakes one could dream of, all poppy seed and honey (p. 69).[15] We also find hamentashen being eaten in Amsterdam[16] and Jews from Bucharia, as well, make אזני המן, similar to hamentashen. [17] לאה אזני המן מנין is a comedy listed in Avraham Yari's bibliographical listing of comedies.[18]

    III. Other possible early origins for Hamentashen

    As we can see, the custom of eating hamentashen is widespread and common from at least the 16th century. In fact, R. Shmuel Ashkenazi pointed to some sources which may demonstrate that hamentashen were eaten even earlier. Ben Yehuda in his dictionary claims that as early as the time of the Abarbanel (1437-1508), hamentashen were consumed. The Abarbanel, discussing the food which fell from heaven, the mon, describes these cakes as:[19]

    וצפיחית הוא מאכל הקמח מבושל בשמן כצורת צפחת המים הנאכל בדבש והוא כמו הרקיקים העושים מן הבצק כדמות אזנים מבושלות בשמן ויטבלו אותם בדבש ויקראוהו אזנים

    This sounds like our hamentashen although there is no reference to eating them on Purim. But R. Ashkenazi pointed out to me that if this is the source, you might then be able to suggest that hamentashen was already eaten much earlier, as this piece of the Abarbanel is word for word taken from R Yosef ibn Kaspi who lived several hundred years earlier (Kaspi was born in 1298 and died in 1340)!

    Another possible early source for our Hamentashen could perhaps be found thru the words of Emanuel Haromi. In Machbres Emanuel [20] he writes:

    מה אומר המן? לכל זמן

    וזרש? לא תקלל חרש!

    And then again:

    ואם אמר: ארור המן וזרש! ישיבון: אל תקלל, דוד, לחרש!

    Dov Yardan when he was preparing his excellent critical edition of Machbres Emanuel composed a list of statements of Emanuel that Yardan was unable to locate sources for. One of these was this line regarding Haman's deafness. Yaran suggests that this maybe this has to do with why we eat aznei Haman! And maybe that is also tied to the banging and using of gragers when we say Haman name. [21] Interestingly Dov Sadan also writes in his youth he used to hear that Haman was deaf.

    So to conclude it seems from all this that the original word was aznei Haman the name Hamantashen only came later and earliest origins are from Italy. [22]

    IV. Ta'am ha-Hamentashen

    Irrespective when the custom of eating hamentashen began, the question we need to now explore is why hamentashen, what connection do hamentashen have with Purim?

    Hayyim Schauss explains that in actuality the origins of the hamentashen are not Jewish, rather, we originally appropriated them from another culture. He explains that “the hamentashen are also of German origin. Originally they were called mohn-tashen, mohn meaning poppy seed and tashen meaning pockets and also signified dough that is filled with other food stuffs. The people therefore related the cake to the book of Esther and changed the mahn to Haman [due to its similarity]. In time the interpretation arose that the three cornered cakes are eaten because Haman wore a three cornered hat when he became prime minister to Ahasuerus. The three corners were also interpreted as a symbolic sign of the three patriarchs whose merit aided the Jews against Haman.”[23]

    Another reason offered for eating hamentashen also deals with the meaning (more correctly a pun) of the word – hamentashen, because Haman wanted to kill us out and Hashem weakened him, preventing him from doing evil to us. Thus, the treat is called המן תש (Hamen became weakened). Eating these pastries is representative of our faith that the same result will befall all our antagonists.[24]

    The next reason offered by Menucha u-Kedusha has to do with the pastry itself, more specifically, how the filling is hidden. Until the events which occurred on Purim, the Jews were accustomed to open miracles like those in their battle with Sisra, whereas the Purim miracle appeared to be through natural events – only Mordechai knew that this was a miracle. To remember this, we eat pastries that the main part – the filling – is hidden in the dough, similar to the miracle which was hidden in nature. The filling chosen was specifically zeronim (seeds – poppy seed - mahn) to remind us of Daniel having eaten only seeds (and not non-kosher food) while in captivity at Nevuchadnezar's court. Furthermore, according to this source the triangular shape also has meaning. The Talmud (Megillah 19b) records a three way argument from where to start reading the megillah. As the halakhah is to follow all three opinions and start from the beginning, we cut the pastries in triangular shape to symbolize our accordance to all three opinions. Another reason mentioned in Menucha u-Kedusha for the filling is based on the writings of R. Moshe Alsheikh, who states the Jews did not really think they were going to get completely wiped out until Mordechai finally convinced them so. The possibility arises that Mordechai was afraid to keep on sending out letters, so pastries were baked and the letters hidden therein. These pastry-letters saved the Jews; in turn we eat filled pastries. This reason is a bit interesting for itself, but what is even more interesting is that he never calls the pastries hamentashen.[25] A possibility might be kreplach, meat filled pockets boiled in soup, but the theory is unlikely as kreplach are not something special eaten exclusively for Purim – we eat it other times such as Erev Yom Kippur and Hoshana Rabah.

    R. Yaakov Kamenetsky offers yet another reason for eating hamentashen on Purim. As we eat the hamentashen and eating is a form of destroying the item being eaten. Therefore, in eating hamentashen, we are fulfilling the commandment (figuratively) of destroying Amalek we are eating Hamen.[26]

    Yom Tov Lewinsky and Professor Dov New both suggest that the reason for eating the hamentashen is because the custom in the Middle Ages was to cut off the ears of someone who was supposed to be hung,[27] to remember that we eat pastries from which a part had been cut off. Another point mentioned both by these authors is an opinion that the filling in the pastries [this is specific to poppy seeds] is in remembrance to the 10,000 silver coins that Haman offered to contribute to Achashverosh's coffers.[28]

    Aside from the general merrymaking on Purim, there is also a long tradition of written fun. Specifically, since the famous Massekhet Purim of R. Kalonymus ben Kalonymus (1286-1328), there have been many versions of these type of comedies written throughout the ages. One such was R. Avraham Mor, Kol Bo LePurim (Lemberg, 1855), which is a complete sefer all about Purim written to be humorous. Included therein is a question regarding changing the way hamentashen should be made from a triangle to make them square shape! He answered that it would be terrible to make hamentashen square. If the hamentashen are square they would have four corners which in turn would obligate the attachment of tzitzet like any clothes of four corners.[29]

    One last interesting point in regard to hamentashen can be found within Prof. Elliott Horowitz's recent book-length discussion related to Purim[30] where he notes that as recent as 2002, a Saudi 'scholar' Umayna Ahamad al Jalahma claimed that Muslim blood can be used for the three cornered hamentashen.[31] Horowitz also notes that in middle of the Damascus affair in 1840, a work from 1803 was discovered which claimed that Christian blood was used in the ingredients for Purim pastries.[32] Again in 1846, Horowitz writes that “on the holiday of Purim it was claimed the Jews would annually perform a homicide in hateful memory of Haman, and if they managed to kill a Christian the Rabbi would bake the latter’s blood in triangular pastries which he would send as mishloach manot to his Christian friend.”[33] In 1938 the Jews were once again accused of murdering an adult Christian and drying his blood to be mixed into the triangular cakes eaten on Purim.[34]

    Thanks to Rabbis Y. Tessler, A. Loketch and Yosaif M. Dubovick, and the two anonymous readers, for their help in locating some of the sources.

    * This article has been heavily updated from last year’s version with many important additions and corrections.

    [1] Mishpacha (27 Shevat 5767), 30.
    [2] This play was printed for the first time from manuscript by C. Shirman in a critical edition in 1946 and than reissued by him with additions in 1965. This piece with the quote of aznei Haman can be found in the second edition on page 67. This particular passage was also reprinted by Shirman in his Letoldos Hashira vHadrama Haivrit, 2, pg 52-53. Shirman includes a nice introduction and background on Yehudah Sommo printed in both these places.

    This play is the first known play performed for Purim. From this time period and onwards we have a very rich literature of plays and musicals. They were performed especially on Purim but on other occasions such as Simchas Torah and weddings (Shirman, Ibid, pp. 63-67; 80 -85). To be sure these plays were also met with opposition most notable by R. Samuel Abhuv [See, Shu"t Davar Shmuel, siman daled and Shirman, ibid pg 47, 56]. This is the one and the same that was against Meschtas Purim and cross dressing. However, it could be there was not so much out rage against it as the Rabonim felt it was a lost battle or the lesser of two evils to go to ones of Gentiles. Of the many play writers some were very famous gedolim most notable the author of Ikrei Dinim, R. Moshe Zechuto and the Ramchal. This whole topic has been dealt with very much in depth by C. Shirman in his Letoldos Hashira VHadrama Haivrit, 2, pgs 44-94. On the Ramchal see: Shirman, ibid, pg 84-85 and 161-175.

    This era in Italy was followed by a long period of Yiddish plays many of which were collected by C. Shmirk. Until today in many circles especially yeshivas plays are performed on Purim. In Europe some of the plays were performed by the bochrim to raise money for themselves. In many memoirs we have accounts of how much the masses enjoyed these plays. Just to list a few of the very many sources on this topic. See the accounts in Pauline Wengeroff, Rememberings: The World of a Russian-Jewish Woman in the Nineteenth Century pp. 31- 32; A. S. Sachs, Worlds That Passed, pp. 232-234 ; Zechronot Av Ubeno, p. 356.

    On purim plays in general much has been written see: Israel Abrahams, Jewish life in the Middle Ages, pgs 260- 272; H. Pollack, Jewish Folkways in Germanic Lands (1648-1806), pp. 184- 190 and 332-335; Sperber, Minhagei Yisroel,6, p. 201 who writes this was from outside influences; M. Breuer, Ohele Torah, pp. 418-419; E. Horowitz, Reckless Rites, pp. 84-87;
    [3] New edition of Tishbi p. 162.
    [4] Printed in Kol Shirei Yakov Pronsish p. 363. On these brothers see the Introduction printed in this edition. See also: C. Shirman, Letoldos Hashira vHadrama Haivrit, 2, pp. 57, 138.
    [5] Though I was unable to pin-point the comedy, it might be the one called La Reina Esther; see Mark R. Cohen, The Autobiography of a Seventeenth-Century Venetian Rabbi: Leon Modena's Life of Judah (Princeton University Press, 1988), p. 235. This play was written in Italian and is extremely rare. Recently Marina Arbib wrote an excellent article called ‘The Queen Esther Triangle: Leon Modena, Ansaldo Ceba and Sara Copio Sullam’, printed in the book Aryeh Yeshag pp. 103-135. See also C. Schirman, Letoldos Hashira vHadrama Haivrit, 2, p. 55.
    [6] Israel Davidson, Parody in Jewish Literature (New York, 1907), p. 193.
    [7] Lady Judith Cohen Montefiore, The Jewish Manual (London, 1846)
    [8] R. Barukh ha-Levi Epstein, Mekor Barukh (vol 1, p. 974)
    [9] Pauline Wengeroff, Rememberings: The World of a Russian-Jewish Woman in the Nineteenth Century, ed. Bernard Dov Cooperman, trans. Henny Wenkart (University Press of Maryland, 2000), p. 29.
    [10] Zechronot Av Ubeno, p. 24.
    [11] A. S. Sachs, Worlds That Passed (Jewish Publication Society of America, 1928), p. 229.
    [12] Shlosha Olmos, 3, p. 22.
    [13] Simha Assaf, Sefer Hamoadim, p. 29.
    [14] Forward from Exile: The Autobiography of Shmarya Levin, ed. and trans. Maurice Samuel (Jewish Publication Society of America, 1967).
    [15] Botchki, p. 69.
    [16] Minhagei Amsterdam p. 149 # 12
    [17] Yalkut ha-Minhagim, pg. 210
    [18] Hamachazeh Ha-Ivri, p. 76 n.654.
    [19] Parashat Beshalach, end of chap. 16; [This source is also quoted in the Otzar ha-Lashon ha-Ivrit, however the editors simply describe it as a "phrase from the Middle Ages" (vol 1 p. 59).] When I first wrote this suggestion from R. Askenazi, R. M. Honig pointed out to me that it is more likely that they were referring to Sufganyuos as it is evident from the words of Rav Mamion the father of the Rambam where he says:

    אין להקל בשום מנהג ואפילו מנהג קל. ויתחייב כל נכון לו עשית משתה ושמחה ומאכל לפרסם הנס שעשה השם יתברך עמנו באותם הימים. ופשט המנהג לעשות סופגנין, בערבי אלספינג, והם הצפחיות בדבש ובתרגום האיסקריטין הוא מנהג הקדמונים משום שהם קלויים בשמן לזכר ברכתו (כלומר לנס שבפך שמן)

    (See my earlier post on this). This could be further supported with the words of Emanuel Haromi in Machbres Emanuel where he writes (p. 168):

    בכסליו... ואחרת תבשל הרקיקים, וצפחית ומעשה החבתים.

    This could be another early source for Sufganyuos. However in light of these words of Yehudah Sommo where he says:

    לנו שנאכל בימי הפורים האלה מאזני המן – הן המה הרקייקם הנעשים בסולת בלולה בשמן, וזהו שאמר אחרי כן "וטעמו כצפיחית בדבש".

    So it could very well be that the Abarbanel and Kaspi were referring to Hamantashen.
    [20] Machbres Emanuel pp. 109, 169. According to this that the possible source for eating aznei Haman comes from Emanuel Haromi! It is not clear if he had a source from Chazal for this statement that Haman was deaf as much of what he says is based on Chazal. However there is a good chance that this was just a joke of his. This would not be the first time that a joke of his became accepted in our regular literature. R. Askenazi pointed out to me one such example in the Tur Al Hatoroah, Bresheis (pg 7) where he writes as follows:

    ויאמר האדם האשה אשר נתתה עמדי הוא נתנה לי מן העץ ואכל. לפי הפשט שהכתני בעץ עד כי שמעתי לדבריה.

    The source for this is really Emmanuel Haromi (pg 400) where he writes:

    ויגש העשרי ויאמר: אמר נא, פלא יועץ מה רצה הכתוב באמרו היא נתנה לי מן העץ והיה לו לומר מפרי העץ, לפי הנראה ועתה אמר נא, בחסדך מה פרוש בו אתה רואה? ואען ואמר: חייך, ידידות נפשי! פרוש הפסוק הוא: היא נתנה לי מן העץ על ראשי ודכאה לארץ חיתי עד שאכלתי על כרחי, שלא בטובתי.

    R. Askenazi noted that this pirish which was meant as a joke was accepted by many besides for the Tur amongst them the Moshav Zekanim R. Yakov Meveinia.
    [21] Yedah Haam, 3, p. 70.
    [22] See the excellent article of Dov Saden printed in his work Shay Olomos (pp. 25-38) on the development of this word hamantashen, based on an incredible wide range of sources. This piece helped me find some of the rather unknown sources. See also Yehudah Avidah in his work on Yiddish Foods ‘Yideishe macholim’ pp. 46-49. See also Dov New, Machanaim (# 43) and the recent issue of the Kulmos (#60) p. 17.
    [23] Hayyim Schauss, The Jewish Festivals (Random House, 1938; Hebrew, 1933), p. 270. The source for the first reason can be found in Judah David Eisenstein, Otzar Dinim u-Minhagim (New York, 1917), p. 336, and for the last reason in Yitzhak Lifshitz, Sefer Ma’atamim (Warsaw, 1889), p. 86.
    [24] Avraham Eliezer Hershkowitz, Otzar Kol Minhaghei Yeshrun (St. Louis, 1918), p. 131. See also R. Cohen in his book Puirm VChodesh Adar, pp. 116-117 and R. Kamile, Shar Reveun, p. 206.
    [25] R. Yisrael Isserl of Ponevezh Sefer Menucha u-Kedusha (Vilna, 1864), pp. 271-72.
    [26] Yaakov Michoel Jacobs, Bemechitzas Rabbeinu: Hagaon Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky, zt"l (Feldheim, 2005), p. 142.
    [27] Yom Tov Lewinsky, Sefer Hamoadim (pp. 153-154); Dov New, Machanaim # 43. New quotes a piece from Yashar which I have been unable to locate on this topic if any one knows its location please be so kind as to let me know. This source is also quoted by Ben Yehuda in his dictionary under the entry aznei.
    [28] Ibid.
    [29] R. Avraham Mor, Kol Bo LePurim (Lemberg, 1855), pg. 6. See Israel Davidson, ibid. pg 234-235, #191.
    [30] Elliott Horowitz, Reckless Rites: Purim and the Legacy of Jewish Violence (Princeton University Press, 2006)
    [31] Ibid, p. 9.
    [32] Ibid, p. 218.
    [33] Ibid, p. 219.
    [34] Ibid, p. 228.

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  • 03/23/08--08:14: New Auction Catalog
  • Kestenbaum & Co.'s latest auction catalog for its auction on April 3, 2008, is available online. The auction includes a collection of important bibliography catalogs including, Koheleth David, the catalog of R. David Oppenheimer's books that eventually went to the Bodleian Libary; Ohel Avraham, catalog of R. Avraham Merzbacher, this catalog was complied by R. Raphael Nathan Nata Rabinowich the author of Dikdukei Soferim; Likutei Shoshanim, the catalog of R. Mattisyahu Straschun's library (this library in part went to YIVO and part to Hecheil Shlomo, Hecheil Shlomo recently sold this library and YIVO has sold parts of the library as well); Koheles Moshe, the catalog of St. Petersberg library compiled by Shmuel Wiener considered one of the best bibliography catalogs (unfortunately Wiener never completed the catalog).

    Another book of interest is Johann Jakob Schudt's Judisher Merkwurdigkeiten (Jewish Curiosities) (lot 110). This book contains much in the way of providing evidence of what Jewish practice was in the 18th century. R. Goldhaver in his comprehensive article on the origins and spread of custom of kabbalat Shabbat uses Schudt as Schudt is the earliest mention of some Kabbalat Shabbat customs.

    Some of the books here belong to important personages. For example, an edition of the Shabbthai Sofer siddur belonging to Sir David Solomons, the first Jewish Sheriff of London and the Lord Mayor of London, he was also one of the first Jews to serve in the British House of Commons. (lot 218). There is a book on agunah that was Chaim Heller's copy. (lot 245) R. Shlomo Dubno's copy of Meskhtat Derekh Erets. (lot 265) And, then there is R. Nathan Adler of Frankfort's copy of Adugath Mordehai. (lot 4)

    A few noteworthy first editions also appear in the catalog. First, there is a sixteenth century copy of a machzor according to the Karite rite. (lot 210) This is a very rare machzor, with the only complete copy in the Bodleian Library. Second, there are a few first editions of the Gra's works including Tospehta Zeraim, Shenoth Eliyahu, Torat Kohanim, and Tikkunei HaZohar. (lots 96-99) There is also the first edition of R. Emden's She'elot Ya'avetz. (lot 100)

    The auction includes the Munich-Heidelberg Talmud that was printed with the help of the United States Army after the Holocaust. (lot 171) A miniature Tehillim that is extremely rare. (lot 55). And, an important edition of Rashi's commentary on the Torah - it is a Spanish or Sephardic "version" that is distinct from the German/French and Italian versions. (lot 53)
    Two manuscripts of interest. A portion of the Hatam Sofer's commentary to the Torah written in his own hand. (lot 348). Second, is a manuscript of R. Saul Morteira's work on the Truth of the Law of Moses. The manuscript includes information on the Jews of Recife.

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    In response to the recent article by Jay Michaelson in The Forward reviewing two recent works of Mussar - the "New Kabbalah" - Rutgers University professor Nancy Sinkoff has written a letter to The Forward, available below to readers of the Seforim blog. (It has not yet appeared in The Forward.)

    Related to the letter below, is Prof. Nancy Sinkoff, "Benjamin Franklin in Jewish Eastern Europe: Cultural Appropriation in the Age of the Enlightenment," Journal of the History of Ideas 61:1 (January, 2000): 133-152, available in PDF courtesy of her Rutgers University faculty page, see here (PDF).

    This is Prof. Sinkoff’s first contribution to the Seforim blog. We hope that you enjoy.
    Dear Editor:

    I was pleased to see Jay Michaelson's review of two recent books extolling the virtues of Mussar. However, I was taken aback by the reviewer's comment regarding the work by Alan Morinis, Everyday Holiness: The Jewish Spiritual Path of Mussar, in which readers are told that "Morinis is an affable guide, prescribing daily, weekly and yearly practices to translate the generalities of ethics into the particularities of daily life. For instance, he advocates selecting 13 midot and focusing on each for one week at time -- four cycles of the 13 each year -- . . . with a written cheshbon ha'nefesh that evaluates one's progress," etc. etc.

    This method did not originate with Morinis, but with the eighteenth-century enlightenment figure and American founding father, Benjamin Franklin. Detailed explicitly – with a chart! – in Franklin’s French Memoirs, this guide to individual moral self-improvement found its way to Jewish Eastern Europe via an enlightened Polish aristocrat and freemason, Adam Kazimierz Czartoryski, who financially supported a Jewish enlightener (maskil), Mendel Lefin of Satanow, in his efforts to reform traditional Jewish society. Lefin published his Hebrew book that incorporated Franklin's program as Sefer Heshbon ha-Nefesh (Moral Stocktaking) in Lemberg (now L'viv) in 1808.

    Franklin's reputation was so great that his method also found its way to Russia, where Leo Tolstoy was known to keep a Franklin journal. For complex and fascinating historical reasons that I cannot belabor here, Lefin's enlightened work, which was clearly anti-Hasidic, was appropriated by Israel Salanter, the "father" of the nineteenth-century Mussar movement. To this day, Salanter's reprinting of Lefin's book has found a home among traditionalist Jewish circles and, apparently given the review, among popularizing ones. Work on Franklin, Lefin, and Salanter is readily available in English, Yiddish, and Hebrew.

    Perhaps Mr. Morinis credited his eighteenth- and nineteenth-century predecessors in his book, but the review did not make any such attribution clear. I would like to know.

    Nancy Sinkoff

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    Any discussion regarding prostitution in Jewish literature starts with the various mentions in Tanach. Obviously, some are clearer than others, compare the case of Rachav with that of Tamar. But we will leave those comparisons for the readers of the Seforim blog who consider themselves biblical exegetes. Additionally, we will not focus on the Talmudic or overly legalistic discussions regarding prostitution. Instead, starting in Medieval times, we will attempt to document some of the mentions of prostitution and its effect, prevalence and general history amongst Jews.

    Of late, much has been made of high governmental officials and their use of prostitutes. A striking parrall can be found in the writings of R. Yaakov Emden. R. Emden records that one of the parnasim, a representative of the Altona Jewish community, who went to Copenhagen for the inauguration of the king [Frederick III?] on behalf of the Altona Jews. While he was there, he squandered "thousands" from the community funds to engage prostitutes. Similarly, R. Emden relates that in Hamburg in 1764, after Kol Nidrei, a non-Jewish woman made a scene in shul claiming that her three children's father was a Jew, and that he should take the children and support them.

    Prostitution, much like today, appears to be a fascination of the public. It appears this is not a new phenomenon, instead, R. Hayyim Yosef David Azulai, in his travelogue Ma'agel Tov, records his impressions of Paris when he was there in 1777. [The Hida really liked Paris, and although this was not his first visit there, he still provides many interesting details.] He states:
    Paris is a huge city, some 15 miles wide, with wide streets so wide that two carriages can pass each other even with people hanging on the sides, and the Seine river flows through Paris and that is where Parisians get their water. There is a bridge, the Pont Neuf, and this bridge is so busy that day or night there are always people on it . . . In fact the saying goes at any hour one can find on the Pont Neuf a white horse, a priest, and prostitute. The city of Paris is beautiful and one can find everything there, however, it is all expensive, the one exception being prostitutes - and it is known that there are 30,000 prostitutes that are available for anyone. That number does not include the thousands that are specialized for particular persons.
    Throughout the middle ages, in the Iberian peninsula, there was a debate whether having prostitutes available was better on the whole. Two rationales were offered as a justification for prostitution. The first, that if people use prostitutes they won't fall prey to adultery, a much more serious sin. And second, that there was in various times and places laws that punished by death Jewish and non-Jewish intercourse. Without Jewish prostitutes, Jews may violate that prohibition and be subject to death - typically burning. Thus, having Jewish prostitutes was allowed for the very pragmatic reason as a balance of harms, or the greater good, that is, it avoided these two other negative outcomes.

    R. Yitzhak Arama famously decried these justifications. In explaining the sin of the people of Sedom, he put forth the notion that although individuals may sin, any time a community sanctions sins, that creates a much more serious communal crime. And that, he says, was why Sodom was unique in being utterly destroyed although there were numerous other instances of serious sin throughout Tanach that did not suffer the fate of Sodom. R. Armama then continues and applies the explanation for the destruction Sodom to his own times. He explains that for this reason he fought against those communities that sanctioned prostitution. While it may be correct that there is some way to justify prostitution, a community can never sanction illegal behavior. He offered that the ramifications of not having prostitutes was not to be considered, in no way could a community allow for such behavior. [This holding of R. Arama is used by many in many varied instances, see R. Ovadiah Yosef, Yabeah Omer, Orach Hayyim vol. 1, no. 30:15).]

    R. Yitzhak ben Sheshet Perfet (Rivash) speaks of the "Gedoli Ha-Dor" who used the very rationale rejected by R. Arama to justify prostitution:
    "The Gedolei Ha-Dor averted their eyes [from Jewish prostitution] based on the rationale that if we do not allow the sinners to utilize prostitutes they will sin with non-Jews and they will be subject to burning."
    Similarly, R. Yehuda ben Ha-Rosh received a similar query in that he was asked whether the position "of some people who say that they should force the prostitutes out of the Jewish area as they are in violation of the prohibition against kadasha and further they do not go to the mikveh thus causing people to be punished with karet, however, there are those who say that it is better to have the prostitutes remain in the city so that Jews will not resort to going to non-Jews thereby putting their lives in danger." R. Yehuda responded, like R. Arama, that "the law does not follow 'those who say' and they should remove the prostitutes. A Latin document records a troubling incident from 1404 where, "a German speaking Jew visited a non-Jewish prostitute on Shabbat and he refused to pay her, he explained that he could not pay her as it would violate the Shabbat."

    Skipping ahead a few years to 1675, we come to the Takkanot of Frankfurt which states "that one is required to remove the prostitutes within six month from the Jewish area . . . And they cannot remain even as servants, even if they are kept for free. But, if the householder is willing to pay a two Reichthaller a week fine, then they can be kept, however, should they miss even a week's payment then they must leave." In Fuerth, a law was required to be enacted that single mothers could not circumcise their sons in the shul.

    Finally, we turn to R. Yechezkel Landau, author of Shu"t Noda B'Yehuda, and although he is not discussing prostitution in general, but it is worthwhile to mention a specific case of Havah Bernstein, wife of the Chief Rabbi of Brody, R. Areyeh Leib Bernstein. According to the testimony of two people (and perhaps others), Havah was accused of acting as a prostitute. After this testimony came to light there was a celebrated controversy regarding the status of this woman vis-a-vis her husband. It appears, due to the Chief Rabbi's powerful secular connections he was able to shut down any discussion about his wife (although there are several responsa on the topic). And specifically, there was a decree that anyone who called the Chief Rabbi's wife a prostitute would be subject to a fine of 100 adumim for each statement to that effect. So, R. Landau showed up to court and made the following announcement:
    "Everyone should know that the wife of the Chief Rabbi is a prostitute and there is a fine, 100 adumim for each utterace that she is a prostitute, and you should also all know that if I had more money I would call her a prostitute again, however I currently do not have the money I will have to satisfy myself with the fact that I have already called her a prostitute."
    Thus, R. Landau was able to call her a prostitute four times for the price of one. (Mofes Ha-Dor p. 9).

    Sources: For the medieval sources see Grossman, Hassidut U-Morodot Jerusalem, 2003), 229-56 (see also where Grossman cites to those who question the truth of the Latin account and discusses other areas during the medieval period); R. Arama, Akedat Yitzhak, parshat Veyerah, Gate 20; Hida, Maagel Tov, p. 120; for the 16th and 17th sources, including R. Emden, see Azreil Shohet, Im Halufei Tekufot (Jerusalem, 1960), 166-73. For more on the Havah Bernstein incident, see David Katz, "A Case Study in the Formation of a Super-Rabbi: The Early Years of Rabbi Ezekiel Landau, 1713-1754," (PhD dissertation, University of Maryland, 2004), 228-51; and Matthias Lehmann, "Levantinos and Other Jews: Reading H. Y. D. Azulai's Travel Diary," Jewish Social Studies 13:3 (Spring/Summer 2007): 1-34.

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    We have discussed on multiple occasions the use of illustration of nudes to adorn the title pages of Hebrew books. It appears, again as we have seen before, that even though the appearance of such illustrations are really unremarkable, some will go to great lengths to either expunge or, in this case, explain away the appearance of such illustrations. In the April, 2008, Jerusalem Judaica auction catalog (provided below) they have a rather rare work of R. Yitzhak Hiyut (c. 1538- c.1610). [For biographical information on R. Yitzhak see Yaakov Elbaum, Pituchut Ve-HaSegirut, Jerusalem, 1990, p. 23 n.36.] This small book, some 18 pages, is comprised of R. Hiyut's sermon he gave on the first day of Passover in 1589. The editors of the catalog attempt to deal with the two nudes depicting Adam and Eve [the illustration of Eve is very similar to the one of Eve that appears in the Levush and the Prague Haggadah ] that appear on the title page. They explain
    "that this 'Sermon' was [perhaps] printed on the intermediate days of Passover by gentile print workers. They allowed themselves to place immodest engravings on the title page. The print owner did not supervise their work on these intermediate days of the holiday. They chose the images of Adam and Eve with the apple of the evil inclination in their hands."

    Thus, according to the catalog editors, the appearance of these illustration is due is basically an error, or if you wish, a rather interesting conspiracy theory.

    Now, obviously, it is impossible to prove the negative, that is we have no way of saying 100% the above scenario did not happen, but I think at the very least we can show it is unlikely. First, perhaps the most straightforward item is that we have seen such illustration are not an anomaly - I have provided below one such illustration that appears on the title page of the 1577 edition of the Shulchan Orach.

    Second, we are aware of cases of printing that did take place on either Shabbat or Yom Tov. The eminent bibliophile, Abraham Yaari, provides a list of such books. See A. Yaari, Mehkerei Sefer, Jerusalem, 1958, pp. 170-78. The method he employees in deciding which books were published on Shabbat or Yom Tov, is not conjecture. Instead, when a book was published when Jews were unable to oversee the printing, there was a much bigger problem than the title page illustration. When non-Jews printed without the aid of Jews, as one would imagine, the book was then subject to many typographical errors as the non-Jews, for the most part, could not read or understand Hebrew. Thus, typically, there would be a disclaimer somewhere in the book stating that there maybe such errors due to lack of Jewish supervision. In the case of this book of Derashot, there is no such disclaimer.

    Finally, the entire assumption is highly questionable. That is, according to some one is allowed to print books on the intermediate days of a holiday. Famously, R. Yosef Karo's maggid explicitly tells R. Karo that he must write down what the maggid tells him even on the intermediate days. (For other illustration and a discussion of the above, in Hebrew, see here.)

    Shulchan Orach, 1577 edition

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    Pini Dunner B.A (Hons), formerly rabbi of London's Saatchi Synagogue, is an avid collector of polemical and controversial Hebraica, with a very large, diverse private collection of such material. Many items in his collection are unknown and unrecorded, and relate to long forgotten, obscure controversies.

    This is Pini Dunner’s second post at the Seforim blog; his first post, “Mercaz Agudat Ha-Rabbanim Be-Lita, Kovno, 1931,” is available here.
    Photographs of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson z"l, are numerous and ubiquitous. Jews from every area of Jewish life across the globe are familiar with his striking features, his charismatic gaze. Almost all such pictures, however, date from his arrival in the USA in the early 1940s, and particularly from after he became Rebbe in 1951, by which time he was almost 50 years old. Pictures from before he became rebbe, and particularly from his time in Europe, are so scarce that they can be counted on the fingers of one, perhaps two, hands.

    I am an avid collector of photographs of rabbis and rebbes, and have built up a large collection of rare photographs of pre-war rabbinic greats. In the course of my internet searches and purchases I have made the acquaintance of several other collectors, and we derive pleasure from sharing photographic images from our respective collections by emailing each other scans. Last week, a non-Jewish web acquaintance of mine emailed me a number of scans, among which was this one that he titled 'unidentified rabbi'. It was apparently taken in Marienbad in the late 1930s. It is unmistakably a photograph – hitherto unknown, as far as I know – of the late Rebbe in the period when he was simply known as the second son-in-law of the then Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson z"l.

    In relation to this period may I add that when, in 1997, Rabbi Shaul Shimon Deutsch published Rabbi Shaul Shimon Deutsch, Larger Than Life: The Life and Times of the Lubavitcher Rebbe Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (New York: Chasidic Historical Productions, 1997), his unauthorized biography of the late Rebbe, I managed to obtain a copy of both volumes (even then it was hard to obtain; now it is out-of-print and extremely rare). I noticed that a large part of Volume 2 described the Rebbe's early 1930s era in Berlin, including his regular visits to the Berlin Rabbinical Seminary (Orthodox). When I next visited my late grandfather, Rav Yosef Tzvi Dunner z"l (his first yahrzeit is this Erev Pesach), who, at his passing in 2007, was the final surviving musmakh of the Berlin Rabbinical Seminary – see here for an obituary post at the Seforim blog – I asked him if he remembered the Rebbe from his time in Berlin (1932-36). He smiled and said he remembered him well – he was the rather modern-dressed young man with the neatly trimmed beard who stood at the back of the shiur room and who would talk in learning after almost every shiur with Rav Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg z"l. My father was sitting with us when I discussed this with my grandfather and, quite surprised, he demanded to know why his father had never previously shared the fact that he had spent time with the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Berlin.

    Without missing a beat my grandfather replied: 'because no one ever asked me before'!

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