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

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  • 11/23/05--09:22: Magnes Press Sale
  • For a limited time, Magnes Press is having a sale, buy one book get the second at 70% off. They have some great new titles including Censorship, Editing and the text Catholic Censorship and Hebrew Literature in the Sixteenth Century; two books from the Italia series one devoted to Shmuel David Luzzato (Shadal) and other about R. Yehuda Areyah of Modena and many others including some other noteworthy ones that Manuscriptboy has recently blogged about.

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  • 12/01/05--09:45: Racy Title Pages Update II
  • While I do not intend to focus solely on racy title pages, I do have a futher update to my previous posts I, II. It appears that the title page used in the Levush (Prauge, 1590) was actually a recycled page. It was first used in the Prague 1526 Haggada.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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  • 12/25/05--14:49: Chanukah Customs and sources
  • While the only mandated mitzvot for Chanukah consist of lighting candles and saying the full hallel, there are numerous other customs that have come to be associated with Chanukah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  • 01/11/06--12:38: Censored Texts - Website
  • There is an interesting post, in Hebrew, on Hydepark, which has a list of censored texts. Although the list is not complete, (for more examples see my article in the latest issue of Hakirah), it still is rather good.
    There are also numerous other gems on the site for those that take the time.


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  • 01/12/06--05:24: I See Dead People
  • Mary Roach in her excellent book "Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers" discusses some of the facinating facts relating to dead bodies. However, she does not discuss some of the more interesting Jewish incidents of dead bodies.

    The first is the fairly well known story of R. Yehuda Aszod (1794-1866). R. Aszod's grandson wrote a biography of his grandfather. Portions of this biography are included in R. Aszod's commentary on the Torah, Divre Mahri.

    "My grandfather never allowed for a picture or portrait of himself [based upon halachik reasons, for more on these reasons see G. Oberlander's article in the latest Hechal haBeshet]. However, many of his students wanted his picture to remember their teacher. Therefore some of his students decided amongst themselves that after R. Aszod will die they will dress him in his Shabbat clothes, place him on his chair and this is how they obtained his photograph which is found in many people's homes. However, those that participated in this bad befell them. It was not longer before the participants all died." This event even engendered a discussion whether such a practice is permitted. R. Zev Tzvi Klien in his teshuvot Kehana Mesaya Kehana (no. 12) discusses this practice and concludes although not recommended it is not prohibited.

    While this story does appear in R. Aszod's commentary on the torah (p. 32) it is only is the older editions, the most recent the entire story including the relevant footnote was removed.

    Additionally, there is a picture of R. Aryeh Leib ben Asher Gunzberg (Sha'agat Areyeh) which it appears he is dead. However, the legend underneath the picture reads "This is the picture of the Sha'agat Areyeh at the time he is dying." I assume this "disclaimer" was placed there to mitigate any criticism of the kind the picture of R. Aszod is subject to. One can see this picture in the book R. Y.M. Stern, Gedoli HaDorot Jerusalem 1996, vol. 1.

    There is another case, although not with a dead Rabbi, but with a Jewish question regarding the dead. In University College in London the noted philosopher Jermey Bentham had an interesting request in his will. As it appears on Wikipedia,

    A further reason for Jeremy Bentham's fame within UCL is due to the fact that his body is on display to the public. Jeremy Bentham specified in his will that he wanted his body to be preserved as a lasting memorial, and this instruction was duly carried out. This 'Auto-Icon' has become famous. Unfortunately, when it came to preserving his head, the process went disastrously wrong and left the head badly disfigured. A wax head was made to replace it, but for many years the real head sat between his legs. However, this head was frequently stolen and subjected to many student pranks, with students from rival King's College London often the culprits. The head is said to have at one time been found in a luggage locker at Aberdeen station, and to have been used as a football by students in the Quad. These events led to the head being removed from display and placed instead in the College vaults, where it remains to this day.

    Other rumours surrounding the Auto-Icon are that the box containing his remains is wheeled into senior college meetings, and that he is then listed in minutes as 'present but not voting'. He is also said to have a vote on the council, but only when the vote is split, and that he always votes in favour of the motion.

    When the Upper Refectory was refurbished in2003, the room became renamed the Jeremy Bentham Room (sometimes abbreviated JBR) in tribute to the man.


    The London Bet Din for a few years put out phamphelts where they would discuss a in depth topics of interest. One of those titled "B'Inyan Ohel ha-Met" Dayan Grosnas no. 14, 1965, discusses whether a Kohen can go through the lobby, or today the JBR where Bentham's body is. They actually state in the begining, which is not mentioned in the Wikipedia article that the head is kept in a special box, which although not on public display, if one asks it will be shown to you. Obviously, the same question of whether one could photograph it as was raised in the case of R. Aszod would apply as well.


    You can see Bentham's body here.


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  • 01/29/06--06:28: Onkelos Translation
  • There is a new sefer which offers a translation of Onkelos published by Gefen books. Onkelos, which is considered the authoritative translation of the Torah has, unfortunatly, suffered from the difficulty people have in reading it. Instead, most English speakers rely upon other translation, some which do not follow Onkelos. This has now been remidied by this new book "Onkelos on the Torah: Understanding the Bible Text" by Israel Drazin and Stanley Wagner.
    The book is very user friendly. It contains the Hebrew text of the Torah, Onkelos and Rashi (vocalized). Additionally, it contains an English translation of Onkelos. The translation bolds any words that Onkelos changed from the literal meaning. The authors then have a commentary on each of those changes explaining why this was changed. Additionally, the authors provide an even more in-depth commentary in the Appendix, for those who want to go even further. Drazin, has edited a more scholarly treatment of Onkelos published by Ktav (for a lot more money).

    One example from last weeks Parsha. Exodos 8:2 discusses the begining of the frog plauge. The translation is as follows: "Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of the Egyptians, and the frogs ascended and covered the land of Egypt." Thus, both Egyptians and frogs have been chaged by the targum. We will focus on the "frogs" change. The authors explain
    FROGS The biblical reading is "bring up the frog" (in the singular), suggesting that one frog covered the entire land. Indeed, Rashi cites an opinion found in the Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 67b) and the Midrash (Exodus Rabbah 10:4) that a single from came, split into other frogs and swarmed over Egypt. Our targumist prefers to interpret the biblical singular as "frogs," which is closer to the intended meaning. Rashi also states that the singular form represents a swarm of frogs, just as the word kinam in verse 13 and 14, in the singular, refers to many lice. Our tagumist translates kinam in the plural in keeping with his understanding of the intended meaning of the word.
    The authors in a section titled "Onkelos Highlights" offer an additional reason why the targumist picked this explaination.
    Onkelos most often attempts to translate Scripture in accordance with the view of Rabbi Ishmael, rather thatn that of Rabbi Akiva - both spiritual giants of the second centruy CE. Rabbi Akiva, recognizing the sacredness of every word in the Bible, understood Scripture literally. Hence, when the Bible describes the second plauge in verse 8:2, stating that a "frog," in the singular, covered Egypt, he understood it to mean that it was a single frog that miraculously afflicted Egypt. Rabbi Ishmael, on the other hand, insisted that "Scripture speaks in human language," and that it often metaphoric and imprecise, a view embraced by Onkelos. The tragumist, therefore, translates the Hebrew word as "frogs," to reflect the intention of the Bible, which frequently uses the singular in the place of the plural.

    Thus, there is a basic controversy how to understand the Bible, with Onkelos taking one position which is reflected in his targum.

    It is worthwhile to note how other translations have translated this verse (8:2) to compare and understand what they were doing.

    Artscroll actually differs depending upon which book one is looking at. In the Artscroll translation that includes a translation of Rashi, the verse is translated in the singular - "frog." This, as noted above, reflects Rashi's understanding of the verse based upon the Midrash and the Talmud. Artscroll in their introduction claim they follow Rashi in their translation.
    In the Artscroll Stone edition which is just a translation of the Torah with a commentary, the verse is translated as "frog-infestation." The commentary notes that they followed Rashi on this as well (the second explaination offered in Rashi). However, a closer reading of Rashi actually leads to a different translation. Rashi states "The simple understading of this verse is that a singular form of frog can mean frog infestation." Thus, Rashi is saying although only the singular is used it can mean multitudes. Therefore, Rashi would actually translate the verse, according to this understanding, as "frog" which would mean frog infestation, not that the translation is actually frog infestation.

    Additionally, Artscroll does not explain why in one book they translated it one way and in the other a different way.

    JPS follows Onkelos and translates "frogs."

    I do have one criticism of the an otherwise excellent work. I think it would have been even better if they had aside from bolding the English to bold the actual targum words that are changed. However, beside for this, this work allows many, who constrained by the difficult language employeed by the Targum to now study this invaluable work.

    I purchased this from Biegeleisen for $27. As of yet the only volume published is the Exodus volume, however, the authors note that Genisis is almost complete. One can also buy this directly from the publisher and also see page samples here

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    There are those who claim the custom to celebrate Tu-beshevat as a holiday is based upon the book Hemdat Yamim. This book, according to many, was either written by Nathan of Gaza (Shabbati Zvi's "prophet") or one of follower of Shabbati Zvi. (This is contrary to the assertion in the Philogos that Nathan is not author, a contention which has little to no source). In Ha'aretz, an article appeared with this contention, namely the source for the Tu-beshevat custom is Sabbatian or as the headline reads "The New Year for the Trees, Isn't is Shabbati Zvi."

    However, a closer look at the history reveals, that although some of the customs on Tu-beshevat can be traced to Hemdat Yamim the actual celebration dates much earlier. Avraham Ya'ari, the noted bibliographer, in an article traced the history of Tu-beshevat. He explains that much of the early mentions of Tu-beshevat were only in the negative, i.e. one can't fast or say tachanun. Obviously, the first mention is in the Mishna in Rosh Hashana which states, according to Bet Hillel, Tu-beshevat is the new year for trees. The new year does not conotate a New Years like celebration, instead, this only has implications for questions of tithing. One can't tithe fruits from one year using a different years fruits. Thus the 15th of Shevat is the cut off point.

    Ya'ari, however, notes the first mention in connection to a celbration or the like is in the 16th century. Specifically, R. Issachar ibn Susan (c. 1510-1580) in Ibur Shanim, published in 1578 (the book was published earlier, in 1564, this was done without the knowledge or R. Issachar and according to R. Issachar, with numerous errors) he mentions "the Ashkenazim have the custom [on Tu-beshevat] to eat many fruits in honor of the day." Mention of this custom also appeared in a Jedeo-German Minhagim book first published in 1590. "The custom is to eat many fruits as it is the New Year of the trees."

    In the community of Worms there was a rather interesting permentation of the custom. As R. Jousep Schammes in his Minhagim de Kehilah Kedosha Vermaysa, states:
    On Purim and the 15 of Av and Shevat these were vacation days for the Rabbis, especially the 15ht and the 33rd day of the Omer for the students and their teachers. On these days the students did not go to school nor did the teachers go in. The teachers were required to distribute to the students as they left that morning, on the 15th and the 33rd day of the Omer whiskey and sweet cake from the teachers' own pocket, they should not charge the students, this is the custom.

    He repeats this in his comments to the 15th of Shevat. "One doesn't say tehina even during the morning prayer. It is a vacation day for the students and the teachers, especailly the younger students, it is a holiday for the teachers. The custom is for the teachers to distribute whiskey to the students and make merry with them."

    While we have shown there was a custom for those Ashkenazim to celebrate Tu-beshevat, amongst the Sefardim, it is correct the source is Hemdat Yamim. Hemdat Yamim, first published in 1732 anonymously has the entire seder for Tu-beshevat. This includes passages from the Bible as well as specific foods. This in turn was popularized to a greater degree when it was included in the book Pri Etz Hadar first published in 1753 and republished an additional 29 times by 1959. This book included the entire Hemdat Yamim service.

    So at the end of the day, although some of the customs of Tu-beshvat may come from the Hemdat Yamim he clearly is not the only or the first source for celebrating Tu-beshevat.

    For more on the Hemdat Yamim, a controversy that has recently been stirred up again with the republication by R. Moshe Tzuriel of the Hemdat Yamim with an extensive introduction. Additionally, Ya'ari has a book Talmuot Sefer which his conclusion has been disproven by Tishbi in his Nitvi Emunah U'Minut. R. Tzuriel's publication engendered the publication of a small pamphelet Hemdat Yosef as well as a bunch of articles in the journal Hechal HaBeshet. Rabbi Dr. Leiman in his latest article in Ohr haMizrach has a footnote with all the citations. [R. Dr. Leiman's article collects all of R. Y. Eybeschit's and R. Y. Emden's approbations].

    Also, anyone can get a copy of Hemdat Yamim. There are two places on the web where it is available free. The first is at the Jewish National Libraries site for rare books online here. For this one you need to download their viewer. Or at SeforimOnline.org (which for some reason is not online as I write this). Who has it in PDF format?

    Additionally, Ya'ari has an article on the piyutim for Tu-beshevat here.

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    A new sefer came out titled Ohron shel Chachomim. This work purports to collect the various laws and philosophy one should have for the Rabbis. The first section is just the basic law applicable to a talmid chacham, standing, not addressing by first name etc. In this section there is also a brief discussion about the "laws" of emunat chachmim. We are treated however to such laws as "not only is one obligated to follow the chachamim but also their children and their secretaries (mishamsheham) one should not question." Or this one: "When a person goes to a tzadik and discusses his problems but doesn't understand what the tzadik responds [I assume it was unintelligible] or it appears the just ignores his request - don't let this blessing be small in your eyes. Rather believe God will send your salvation." For many of these laws, the citations are to either aggadic passages in the Talmud or to Midrashim.

    The second section discussion yeridat haDorot the lowering of the generations. This begins by telling the reader the concept of yeridat haDorot is not in relation to the tzadik rather it is to the generation. That is, the tzadik is of course as great as in previous generation rather it us that are unable to appreciate this. But then you may ask, it continues, why then do we hear of the great miracles these tzadikim did in previous generations, why not now? Of course, it is due to us - we have created a situation where the tzadikim can't work their miracles today.

    The author then treats us to a discourse on whether the achronim can argue on the rishonim. He explains that this is prohibited. In a footnote he deals with the many achronim that seem to disagree with this. However, he writes these off by noting they are like rishonim. Of course, this then poses another problem (or not) for him as if they are truly like the rishonim then it follows that their peers couldn't argue on them as they are obviously greater. He just says that this doesn't appear to be the case and this is allowed. He extends this prohibition against arguing against earlier ones and says this is applicable to the pronouncements of the Shulhan Arukh and the Rama. He appears to be unaware that R. Hayim Volhzin says the Gra said this is not the case and that ever Rav should just do what they see fit irrelevant of the opinion of the Shulkah Orakh and the Rama. Additionally, he doesn't seem to be aware that R. Moshe Feinstein said the same thing. Or perhaps it is just a case of selective memory.

    The next couple of chapters are devoted to the law of a Talmid Chacham today as well as the role of a Rebbi for Chassidim. The chapters include information on "Just Looking at the Rebbi Allows One To Gain In Torah and Avodah," "The Belief in The Tzadik" as well as lesser topics such as "The Trip to the Rebbi," "The miracles of the Rebbi" etc.

    All in all, this book presents a rather interesting view into what some consider the laws and customs governing the interaction with the Rabbinic class.

    I got the book at Biegeleisen in Brooklyn.

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  • 02/16/06--06:39: Bibliography on Synagogues
  • Professor Yosef Tabori's bibliography on synagogues is available online here. As well as other bibliographical lists here.


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  • 02/16/06--11:11: Ten Commandment Displays
  • Menachem Mendel has a nice post collecting a lot of the material on the Ten commandments. However, there is one point that I think is worth discussing.While 10 Commandment displays are ubiquitous in synagogues, it is far from certain this is the correct approach. Specifically, the Talmud records that public recitations of the Ten Commandments are banned because there were those who understood these readings to mean only the Ten Commandments are important to the exclusion of the rest of the Torah. R. Yom Tov Lipman Heller in his commentary Ma'adani Melekh (or Ma'adaani Yom Tov) says this reasoning should apply to Ten Commandment displays and he questions the practice of putting such displays up in synagogues. This statement is quoted in the Ma'gen Avrhom's commentary on the Shulkhan Orakh. Many others question this practice including R. Ahron Lewin, (Reischer Rav) in his commentary on Berkahot.None of this, however, stopped the Agudah, the OU, and Nathan Lewin (R. Ahron Lewin's grandson) from filing a brief in the Supreme Court advocating for Ten Commandment displays. While there is one person who permits such displays - they do so only in the context of a synagogue. That is, because in a synagogue the Ten Commandments would be part of the rest of the ornaments - Torah etc. it is clear that one is not imbuing them with any additional import. But, it is equally clear that the types of displays the Court would allow for - those totally devoid of any other Jewish context would run afoul of the Talmudic injunction.

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    Gil has a nice post on the latest mythmaking regarding the Hazon Ish. Along those same lines, there is a farily well known story that goes something like this:
    An Orthodox person is sitting in the Jewish National Library and gets hungry. He takes out his lunch and then benches however, he does so in an audible tone. In his recitation he says the words שלא נכשל לעולם ועד. The librarian who is not Orthodox comes over to complain about his eating and he loud blessing. Additionally, she points out the he does not even know how to properly bless in that he used a version that doesn't appear in the blessing, namely, שלא נכשל. He is preturbed by her assertion and claims that is his custom. She then proceeds to pull out all the siddurim to show him that none have it. He goes home and comes across a siddur which does have his version and photocopies it and sends it to her. He circles in red the relevant passage - שלא נכשל.

    A few years later he recieves an invitation to attend a wedding of someone he does not know. However, he decides to go anyways. Upon getting there the woman - who is the librarian - tells him that now she is marrying an Orthodox person. However, this was not always the case. In fact, she was schedualed to marry a non-Jew (in some stories an Arab). His letter with the circled words שלא נכשל reached her right before the wedding and she took it as a sign. She became Orthodox and now is marrying an Orthodox man.
    Anyways this is the basic gist of the story. The story appears in a bunch of different places and in slightly differing versions. At times the "man" is identified and at times not. For instance, Ruchuma Shain in her book Reaching the Stars has this story as does the book "The Kiruv Files," Rabbi Sholom Schwadron also has a version of this story. Here is another take on it. In all these instances this story is passed off as true. However, in truth, this is actually a much earlier story written by Shai Agnon. It was published in 1937 in a slightly different format. You can read the original here.

    Rabbi Yehoshua Mondshein has collected the various stories and noted the original source in a typically excellent article available here. Also there is a thread on Hyde Park about this article here.

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  • 02/28/06--11:49: New CD of Talmud MSS
  • The newest version of the Talmud mss CD (the "Lieberman CD" or the "Sol and Evelyn Henkind Talmud Text Databank"), is now available. The newest version, using the Bar Ilan Responsa interface, includes transcriptions of all known mss of Talmud, including Cairo Genizah fragments at JTS, Cambridge and Oxford as well as scans of various mss (NOT those available via JNUL) of Talmud and Mishnah.

    It normally sells for $750 but if five (5) individuals get together they can each buy it for $500 (please mention Yisrael Dubitsky's name when ordering. He does not get a cut, it's for statistical purposes only). For more information see here.

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    As some have mention in the comments to my previous post, the story of the Mahral and the Golem although many take it as true, it is not. Popularized by Rabbi Yudel Rosenberg, the work is a work of fiction, something even noted in a bibliography published of Rabbi Rosenberg's works. Some of the people who discuss this are Ira Robinson, "Literary Forgery and Hasidic Judaism: the Case of Rabbi Yudel Rosenberg," Judaism 40 (1991), pp. 61-78), Shnayer Z. Leiman, "The Adventure of the Maharal of Prague in London; R. Yudl Rosenberg and the Golem of Prague," Tradition 36:1 (2002): 26-58 and Eliezer Segal.

    However, surprisingly, in the online publication Dei'ah veDibur, there is also an article on this topic (hat tip A Simple Jew). The article "borrows" heavily from the above mentioned articles (without citation). It also references some early sources which cast doubt on the veracity of the story, the article does so without identifying the source. One of the unnamed sources I think is a reference to R. Shlomo Yehuda Rappoport's introduction to Kalmen Leiben's Gal Ed however, the dates don't work out exactly (Gal Ed 1856). It would make sense to leave this unidentified, as though R. Rapoport was the son-in-law of the famed author of the Ketzot HaHoshen and even added the index and some notes to his Aveni Milumim, R. Rapoport is not considered the most traditional Jew (See Barzaily typically terrible biography on Rapoport). Additionally, although the article in Dei'ah veDibur is rather detailed it also leaves out R. Shlomo Schick's criticism (based upon Rapoport) of the story as well. Again this may be due in part to some people's views regarding Schick (see this post where some of Schick's work was censored). [Additionally, the article mentions a small book by R. Eckstein titled Sefer Yetzirah which appears to be available on the Rare Hebrew Books from Harvard's Collection Microfilm].

    But perhaps the most surprising thing in the entire article is its conclusion
    Rabbi Eshkoli emphasizes that we should be raising our children with literature that is historically reliable, for which our extensive traditions about the greatness and holiness and the powerful prayer of the tzakkikimand Torah giants of earlier times amply suffice. Niflo'os Maharal therefore ought no longer to be circulated unless each copy carries a clear disclaimer stating that the story is fiction. Neither, he also points out, should the book be quoted from as though it was reliable information.
    Dei'ah veDibur bills itself as "A Window Into The Charedi World," so perhaps this emphasis on truth will signal a new trend in haradei biographies only time will tell.

    [One interesting side note a Polish TV crew went into the attic of the Altena Shul in Prague and filmed the contents. The pictures they found were published in a Polish book. These pictures show a big mound of dirt but no Golem as far as I can tell.]

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    Although the Megilah only lists mishloch monot, matnot l'evyonim, and reading the Megilah as the customs on Purim, many others have become accepted. Most are of the ilk of boofunery or merrymaking. From making noise to drinking in excess, all have become part of the Purim landscape. With these, however, there are some lesser known customs. What is perhaps of interest is that it seems that there are those authorities that permit much if not all of these types of customs, there are others who seem set on shutting down much of the Purim fun.

    For instance, the Rabbi Judah of Minz permits cross-dressing on Purim. This is so, even though this runs counter to a law in the Torah prohibiting these actions. What is lesser know, is that R. Minz also permits mixed dancing on Purim as well. In the Taknot of Padua it says "we decree that no one is permitted to dance with a married woman, no man with any married woman, with the exception of Purim." (emphasis added).

    Rabbi Yehuda Herzl Henkin in his Beni Banim vol. 1 no. 37 (5), links the two statements of R. Minz. R. Henkin says, just as R. Minz permitted cross-dressing as it was done for the joy of Purim, he permitted the mixed dancing under the same rational. That is, the dancing was just an outgrowth of the joy and not for licetnioius purposes.

    Or, in the Customs of Worms, they not only celebrated Purim on the day, on the Shabbat after Purim they celebrated with similar merrymaking. Including, after the Friday night prayers all the people would first go to the Rabbi for a blessing, and then proceed to the women's section where the Rabbi's wife "would place her hands on their heads and bless them." Additionally, R. Hayim Yosef Azulai in his travelogue, Ma'agel Tov, records that the Jews in Amsterdam would party all night long on the Friday night after Purim.

    Although R. Minz was a proponent of happiness and its outgrowth on Purim, there were others that did not view Purim in the same vein. Rather, they seem bent on outlawing as much as possible even on Purim.

    For instance, R. Samuel Aboab takes issue with at least two such Purim customs. First, he says in his Sefer Zikhronot, an ethical work and published anonymously, that he was befuddled his entire life how R. Minz and in turn R. Moshe Isserles in his Rama could allow for cross dressing on Purim. He spends at least four pages to demonstrating why this is incorrect. He states even if R. Minz is correct he should have kept that to himself. This is not his only negative opinion regarding Purim. In his responsa, Devar Shmuel, he says it is absolutely prohibited to read or even own the parody Mesachat Purim. He says any such copies should be destroyed.

    Another person who looked with askance on the merry making was R. David ben Shmuel haLevi (Taz). He first follows the ruling of his father-in-law, R. Joel Sirkas (Bach), that cross-dressing is prohibited. R. Levi then also states in the law of Tisha B'av, that the prohibition of filling ones mouth with joy, is applicable even at at wedding and even on Purim.

    So it seems that just as in society at large there are those who dislike the merrymaking on Purim, this is reflected in the Halakhic authorities as well. And conversely, there are those that viewed the merrymaking as a positive thing and therefore permitted many other things in connection with that merrymaking.

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    As I noted previously, the Haredi mouthpiece Dei'ah veDibur had a rather insightful piece on the falicy of the Golem of Prauge. However, although the article ended with the hope that after bringing this fabrication to the readers attention people will only tell true stories. Shnayer Z. Leiman, however, notes that the story itself in Dei'ah veDibur contains a rather glaring inaccuracy.
    The March 1, 2006 issue of _Dei'ah Ve-Dibur_ -- a haredi journal -- includes an essay entitled: "The Golem of Prague -- Fact or Fiction?." Adducing evidence from a variety of sources, the essay concludes that "it is unclear whether or not the Maharal ever made a golem."

    Much of the blame for leading people to think that the Maharal had made a golem, the essay suggests, rests with Y.Y. Rosenberg [sic: while all the other rabbis mentioned in the essay are entitled "Rav" or "Rabbi," only Y.Y. Rosenberg, who was a distinguished rabbi with ordination from the greatest rabbis in Poland, is defrocked], whose 1909 volume on the Golem of the Maharal (Sefer Nifla'ot Maharal) is identified as a forgery. The essay concludes with appropriate warnings that one should rely only on literature that is "historically reliable."

    Such a critical reading of Jewish literature -- and concern with Historical truth -- is certainly a welcome breath of fresh air from a circle that has not always covered itself with glory regarding such matters. Alas, the essay fell into the very trap about which it was warning others: beware! One paragraph reads:

    "At one point the author [Y.Y. Rosenberg] of the book actually admitted that he had invented the story. In _Halelu Avdei Hashem_, which contains stories in Yiddish about HaRavMoshe Aryeh Freund zt"l, av beis din of the Eida HaChareidis, Rav Yechezkel Halberstam zt"l of Shineveh, author of _Divrei Yechezkel_, is quoted as having made the following comment. "A shochet ubodek from Antwerp heard from the Rov z"l, who heard from his father the Rov of Honiad (an important Jewish community in Hungary), who heard from the Rov of Shineveh (eldest son of the Divrei Chaim zt"l of Sanz). The Shinever Rov said that whenever he sees the book _Niflo'os Maharal_ it pierces him because the author of the stories personally admitted to him that he fabricated the whole thing."

    Leaving aside significant errors of translation, the Shinever Rov -- Rav Yechezkel Halberstam, author of _Divrei Yechezkel_ and eldest son of the Divrei Chaim -- died on 6 Teveth, 1898. Rabbi Yehudah Yudl Rosenberg published his _Nifla'ot Maharal_ for the first time in Warsaw, 1909. It can easily be proven that the book did not exist until shortly before it was published in 1909. The Shinever Rov never heard of the book, never saw it, and was not "pierced" by its content.

    Indeed, one should rely only on literature that is "historically reliable."

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  • 03/17/06--07:16: Haredi Robbers
  • Although we have alluded to the fact that Haredim "borrow" from others without attribution, I have come across a particularly egregious example. Here, is an article discussing the Romm Press and what became known as the Vilna Shas. Although the byline states that it was written "by Yated Ne'eman Staff" this is a wholesale reproduction of R. Shmuel Feigenshon's article on this topic. Shmuel Feigenshon (Shafan HaSofer) was the editor of the Rom press for many years. He wrote a history of the press which first appeared in part in the journal HaSofer (vol. 1 27-33 and vol. 2-3 46-57, 1954-55). It was then published in its entirety in Yahadut Lita vol. 1. 1959.

    The Yated via Dei'ah veDibur, has in turn copied this word for word, including the title headings. Of course, as some of the discussion may be deemed unpalpable to it Haredi readership they skipped a couple of things and in turn this ended up conflating some of the history. And, importantly, although Safan HaSofer wrote some of the article from a first person perspective as he was intimately involved in some of the facts, the Yated has removed that. In fact, there is absolutely no mention of Shafan HaSofer at all. I assume this is because he was a bit of a Maskil and although it is fine to plagerize from a maskil his name should never escape one's lips.

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  • 03/20/06--05:11: Widow Rom and Shafan haSofer
  • As per Menachem's suggestion I have posted the pictures of the Widow Rom (Devorah) and Shafan HaSofer. These appear in Yahadut Lita, 1960, p. 296.

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    While I don't have the time to go through the entire Dei'ah veDibur article and demonstrate the extant of the copying, I will provide some of the more egreious examples.

    Here is a quote from the Dei'ah veDibur article (in italics) with the orginal Hebrew intersperced and my commnets in bold. One should remember that the original article was written in first person.

    The first manuscript that the Romm family obtained was Rabbenu Chananel's commentary which now appears alongside the gemora on many masechtos. The manuscript was kept in the Vatican archives but it had not been well preserved. The pages were very worn and were marked by rust stains, while the edges of the sheets had been eaten away. Moreover, the commentary was written in Latin characters, which made deciphering and copying it much harder.

    כי הנה בראשית שמנו לבנו להעתיק כתב יד פירוש של רבנו חננאל בר חושיאל ז"ל על מסכת רבות מתלמוד בבלי שנמצו באוצר ספרים שבוואטיקאן ברומו והכתב באותיות רש"י בצורות איטאליאניות [נוסח איטלקי] אשר רוב ישראל בזמננו לא כהלין כתבא דא למקריה.


    Now, the article continues on to explain who they found who was still able to read this script. The article discusses that the person, R. Mordechi Yakov Yosef, was in the midst of copyingfor Solomon Buber for his Midrash Tanchuma and worked with R. Raefal Nata Rabinowitz. As Buber was also a Maskil, this entire discussion is left out as is the name of the copyist.


    Instead, we have the following which sums up this discussion without mentioning the "sorrid" details of who and what they were busy with.


    Permission was also not granted to remove the manuscript from the Vatican, which necessitated bringing copyists in to do the work there. The few copyists in Rome who were sufficiently qualified to do the job, were fully occupied with other work and it seemed that things had reached an impasse. The copyists however, accorded great significance to the printing of the Shas and they agreed to interrupt their other work in order to devote their time to copying Rabbenu Chananel's commentary.

    After several months of work, another problem loomed with the approach of the official holidays in Rome. The Vatican library would be completely closed for their duration; nobody at all had access to it at this time. A four-month stoppage of the work at that stage would prove very harmful to the printing house. Missing the deadline for the appearance of the first volumes might lead subscribers to cancel, wreaking havoc with the whole project.

    ויהי בהגיענו להעתקת פירוש רבנו חננאל למסכת עירובין והנה עצרה חדשה קמה נגדה, כי הגיעו ימי הסגר האוצר בימי המנוחה בקיץ לארבעת חדשי השנה אשר לא יותן לאיש לבוא אל בית האוצר כל הימים ההם, ויצר לנו מאד, כי עצרת ההעתקה את פירוש רבנו חננאל לכמה מסכתות שבאוצר ההואתחבל את כל סדר הדפסת הש"ס וחלוקת חלקיו להחותמים על מקנתם בזמניהם אשר יעדנו להם


    The members of the Romm family tried to reach every contact they had that might possibly be of assistance in this situation. They succeeded in obtaining special permission, contrary to the Vatican's laws, to open up the library during the recess for them alone, so that work could proceed on copying Rabbenu Chananel's commentary. The Romm family would have to pay the cost of a guard for the archives but otherwise, the place would be completely open to them, even during hours that it was usually closed to the public.

    והנה שלח ה' מלאך מושיע לנו את הג"מ רפאל נטע ראבינאוויץ ז"ל אשר לו מודע הגענעראל-קאנסול במינכן לממלכת זאכסען, הוא השוע החכם הר, מאיר ווילמערסדארפער והוא השיג בעדו מכתב-מליצה מהנסיך האהענלאהע לאחיו הנסיך הקארדינאל האהענלאהע ברומו וגם הפרופיסור ג"ר שעג במינכען נתן לנו מכתב מליצה להקארדינאל הערגענרעהטער ושני הקארדינאלים הששתדלו לפתוח לו לבדו או לבא כוחו את שער האוצר לכל ימי הסגרו. והוא הושיב תחתיו את המעתיק הנ"ל לפירוש רבינו חננאל על הש"ס בעדנו ורק הוטל עלינו לשלם שכר שומר האוצר לזמן ההוא ועוד יותר הגדילו לעשות להעתקותינו, להפר בעדה עוד שני חוקים אשר לבית האוצר ההוא מעולם לסגרו אחר הצהריים וגם בימי חגיהם, ולהמעתיק שלנו הרשו לעשות בו גם אחרי צהרים וגם בימי חגיהם הקטנים

    So this time the discusion with the detail regaring R. Rabinowitz and the cardinals has been compressed into "they tried to reach evey contact they had that might possibly be of assistance."


    One of the workers on the project wrote, "Looking in retrospect, the Vatican had always been the source of deadly hatred of the Jewish nation and even more so of our literature, [hatred] that spread to every Christian land, often leading kings to level decrees of forced apostasy, slaughter, killing, destruction and harsh exile . . . Worst of all, they confiscated and burned Jewish books on many occasions, sometimes decreeing that the Jew be burned together with the holy books . . .

    This unamed "worker" is of course Shafan haSofer והנה בהביטנו אחרינו אל הוואטיקאן הזה אשר ממנו ירדה מעולם

    שנאת מות לישראל, וביותר לספרותנו, בכל ממלכות הנוצרים, ובעטיו גזרו מלכיהם על ישראל פעמים אין מספר גזירות שמד, הרג, חרב ואבדן וגלויות קשות עד. . . ! ועל כלם החרימו ושרפו את ספרי ישראל פעמים רבות גם גזרו לפעמים לשרוף באש את היהודי יחד עם הספר העברי


    "Now, wonder of wonders, out of the very furnace into which they always threw Jewish books for burning, kindness and goodwill that are unparalleled even towards Christian rulers lehavdil are being extended towards those very same seforim. The only explanation is that the great merit of Rabbenu Chananel -- everything written by whom is faithful transmission -- is standing him and his commentary in good stead, so that his powerful light be thus revealed from the darkness to illuminate the Talmud, so that the eyes of its scholars be illuminated to see Torah's truth."

    This quote is taken from Shafan haSofer.



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