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

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  • 06/23/06--09:25: The Vilna Gaon's Talmud
  • Mississippi Fred McDowell, has posted re: the Vilna Gaon's Yerushalmi edition. However, I would like to discuss which edition of the Bavli the Vilna Gaon had. This is a rather important especially in light of the numerous emendations to the text the Vilna Gaon made. As when one is amending something it is important to know what exactly they have amended.

    Every morning Birkat HaShahar are recited. Among these blessings are three anomalous ones. These there, as opposed to the rest, are in the negative. Specifically, these blessing are for ones legal status, gender, and religion. It is the last one, religion is the one we will focus on.

    The Talmud has these blessing, however, there is some difficulty with the text of the religion one. Some editions have this blessing in the positive, i.e. "thank you for making me a Jew," and some have it in the negative, "thank for not making me a non-Jew." This confusion prevailed into the medieval period, with some texts containing one iteration of the blessing and some the other. What is unclear, however, is whether this change to the positive was wrought due to censorship or is there some reason this blessing should be in the positive.

    R. Yom Tov Lipmann Heller, in his Ma'adani Melekh, claims any passage which is in the positive ("thank you for making me a Jew") is due solely to censorship. And with this, we get to the crux of our discussion here - the Vilna Gaon's edition of the Talmud.

    The Vilna Gaon, in his commentary on Shulhan Orach says that one should say this blessing in the positive form. He comes to this conclusion because "our editions of the Talmud have the blessing for 'making me a Jew.'" In theory, the Vilna Gaon's conclusion is dependent upon whether "our editions" are corrupted or not. That is, if "our editions" are censored then they prove nothing. This contention, that the Vilna Gaon used a corrupted edition is noted by R. Shmuel Feigenshon in the Otzar HaTefilot. Specifically, R. Feigenshon claims that had the Vilna Gaon seen the Amsterdam 1644 edition he would never made this mistake. [Additionally, based in part upon this, Y.S. Speigel notes the Vilna Gaon did not use manuscripts or earlier printed editions when he amended the text.]

    It is worthwhile noting that R. Raphael Natan Rabinowich, in his Ma'amar 'al HaDpasat haTalmud (which has just been reprinted by Mosad HaRav Kook) claims that the Vilna Gaon used the 1644 edition of the Talmud, the very one if he had used it would have avoid this error!!

    In the end, we don't know exactly which edition the Vilna Gaon used and according to Speigel, it is likely that the Vilna Gaon did not use one edition. Instead, it is likely the edition was dependent on the particular volume of the Talmud he had and for each volume it may have been a different edition.

    Sources on the blessing: T.B. Menachot 43,b; Dikdukei Sofrim ad. loc.; Rosh, Berakot chapt. 9; Ma'dani Melekh id. at note 24; Tur Orakh Hayyimno. 46:4; id. Bach; Shulchan Orakh and Rama id.; see also, first edition of Rama Prague, 1588 for the proper placement of his comments available here; Biur HaGra id.; see also R. Y. Satnow, Va'yetar Yitzhak, no. 44; R. Jacob Emden, Luach Eres Toronto, p. 24 no. 64; Siddur Otzar haTeffilot, on the blessing in question; On the Vilna Gaon's edition of the Talmud: Y.S. Speigel, Amudim b'Toldotha Sefer HaIvri: Haga'ot U'Magim, 404-405, 416 and the sources cited therein.

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    There is a new work in Jewish bibliography focusing on American Jews. This work "Hebrew Printing in America 1735-1926: A History and Annotated Bibliography" by Yosef Goldman. (It can be obtained by contacting Y. Goldman at ygbooks -at- As the subtitle states, is much more than a bibliography. This work, is at the very least the starting point for any research on American Jewery, and can be viewed as a history of American Jewry.

    The book includes a listing of all the books published in American under the covered time relating to Jewish topics. So we have books done by non-Jews, apostates, and, of course, Jews. It includes Rabbinics, Drama, Fiction, Missionary and Humor to name but a few topics. Each entry aside from listing the publication data also includes a short biography on the author, as well as a description of the contents of the book, especially highlighting interesting tidbits. Each book is cross referenced and sources are provided. The sources include references for further reading as well as where the person's portrait can be found.

    The bibliography for this book is in itself a wonderful reference for American Jewish history. The books are divided by topic which enables the reader to see the growth or trends in a particular area.

    I wanted to highlight some of the more interesting entries to enable people to see the comprehensiveness of this work; as well as to discuss American Jewish history.

    As Goldman notes, America provided a unique home for the translation. Although, in other places in the world, whenever either the Talmud or the Torah was translated this was generally accompanied by controversy. In America that was never the case. Books were almost immediately published in English without anyone raising an eyebrow. This is evident throughout the subjects. Whether it be in Torah or Prayer or law. It is almost as if America was made for Artscroll and the like. There is but one exception is the book (no. 612) Ohel Sara 1902 which discusses laws for women. The author, Abraham Ever Hischowitz states in the preface "in 1902 when I considered the publication of this first edition of this work, I found great difficulty in obtaining a written statement admitting the advisability of putting this book on the market. The objection being of course, the Law concerning Niddah." It seems that including in English the laws relating to menstruation were possibly problematic, although the author was able to overcome it and publish this work. However, as is noted, "there was apparently still some opposition as late as 1912, since some copies of the second edition were printed without the section on menstruation."

    The first section is the Liturgy section. No. 41, the First Reform Siddur in America, 1855, by Dr. Leo Merzbacher. Apparently, aside from this siddur, he also received ordination (semikah) from R. Moses Schreiber of Pressburg (Hatam Sofer) the leading adversary to the Reform movement. In 1860, in light of the differences in the highest governmental position, between the US and other countries, a siddur is published which alters the traditional prayer for the government from הנותן תשועה to רבון כל העולמים this was done so "whereas הנותן תשועה refers to a monarch, רבון כל עולמים refers to the president, vice president, governor, lieutenant-governor, mayor, city council, and the residents of New York City." Additionally, a copy of the page with the new prayer is provided. (no. 46). On the issue of the prayer for the government, in 1912, one Siddur the prayer for the government included a prayer for the Supreme Court as well. (No. 114).

    We have Marcus Jastrow's Siddur which "creatively modified the classical contours of the Siddur . . . and added many new prayers." (no. 58). As well as his edition of the Haggadah which changed ha lahma anya from the traditional words to "whoever is now a slave, next year he should be free."

    The Siddur l'Bet Sefer u'Lam which was designed for "school children and the general public." The author, R. Joseph Magil, sarcastically states "Don't purchase this prayer book if the extra five cents that this one costs is worth more to you than the tens and hundreds of dollars you spend on tuition for your children." (No. 97)

    N'gintoh Baruch Schorr, which contains songs by the noted hazzan Baruch Schorr from Lemberg. In the biographical portion of the entry we learn that Schorr "was a pious Jew." And that he immigrated to the US after "his Yiddish opera Samson was performed . . . he appeared on stage with the main actress following a performance, he was censured by his congregation and suspended from his position for four weeks. Insulted, he immigrated to America." Five years later his congregation was able to convince him to return. (No. 98).

    There is what appears to be an error in this section. In one entry (no. 70) the note states "the text is identical to the regular evening liturgy, the only change being the insertion of the two sentances into the Kaddish prayer (יהי שם ...and עזרי מעם) there is no precedent for adding these two sentances." This is incorrect. Many siddurim, including many of the German Rite, include these sentences in the kaddish.

    For the Bible Studies entry, we have a very timely one. R. Hayyim Hirschensohn published a book on Jewish chronology to "to prove that historians erred in their chronologies." This book in turn, engendered "a libelous criticism" "to which R. Hirschensohn answered" in another book Anah Kesil (Answer the Fool). However, as is almost always the case "the author testified that the criticism was good for sales." (No. 208).

    Beginning in 1912 R. Moses Alberts began an English dictionary on Old French terms used in the commentary of Rashi. Unfortunately only volumes on Genesis and Exodus appeared. Nos. 212, 218).

    In 1908, Judah D. Eisenstein published a broadside (one of the few single page broadsides included in the bibliography. The majority of broadsides are multi paged ones, thus making it more apparent how they qualified as a books rather than ephemera) for advertising his encyclopedia Otzar Yisrael. This included a portrait of the Vilna Gaon, which was included in the Otzar Yisrael. However, although this is "identified . . . 'as a copy form a picture in the house of Samuel Wilner of New York' a direct descendant of the Vilna Gaon. This picture does not appear in the collection of Vilna Gaon portraits in Vinograd." (No. 231).

    Ephraim Deinard, who was the first to catalog American prints and was a real character, when he produced a catalog of Judge Mayer Sulzberger included some nasty comments about Solomon Schechter. Specifically, he accused Schechter of" being ignorant in matters of Hebrew paleography . . . and was 'irrelevant, since he does not know how to distinguish between old mss. [manuscripts].'" Sulzberger did not want this printed and told Dienard to remove that leaf. So Dienard did so . . . for the copies he gave Sulzberger. (No. 255).

    On Hebrew Grammer no. 283 is of Abraham Kohn's "Hebrew Reader and Grammar." Kohn was "a radical maskil. . . . He and his youngest son died from poisoning in 1848. Two Orthodox Jews were arrested and charged with murder, but they were released after one year due to lack of evidence." [For more on this see Hirschowitz's book on the Mahritz Hiyot p. 103-05 and the sources cited therein as well as Zinberg (English translation) vol. 8 103-09.]

    In 1915 Reuben Grossman's book "MePri Ollel" (From the mouths of the Youth) which as its title implies was written by a young boy. Grossman was 10 years old at the time! He was the youngest Hebrew author in America. He published (with the help of his father) other books as well. (No. 352). There is also a picture of the ten year old with white shoes and a bow tie.

    One book listed and explained the acronyms of 129 from 1080-1880. (No. 517). Another did a play on the Talmud (Kiddushin 49b) and stated "ten measures of telegraph and electrical lines descended to the world - nine for America and one for the rest of the world. . . ten measures of rest and enjoyment the Sabbath and holidays descended to the world- one for America and nine for the rest of the world." (no. 518)

    "In 1909, [R. Ezekiel Preisser] attempted to establish a daf yomi program whereby the study of the Talmud could be completed every seven years." This was 15 years before such a program was established under R. Shapiro. (no. 734).

    To be continued...

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  • 06/28/06--07:44: New Book Lists
  • There are two new list of out-of-print seforim available. The first, is via email, you can request the list from The second is mainly a list of German imprints (it includes a couple of books Solomon Schechter owned) and can be viewed here. Additionally, Kestenbaum recently had their latest auction, unfortunately their catalog is no longer available online, but if you previously downloaded the catalog you can see the price results here.

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    The post below is a continuation from this prior post.

    America posed some unique questions regarding marriage and divorce laws. In the early period of American Jewish history, many people were not erudite. In an apparent effort to help with this deficiency, in 1901, R. Dov Baer Abramowitz published his Sefer Ketubah. This book contains tear out, pro forma ketubot. Thus, the Rabbi could just rip one out whenever he needed to. (No. 588). Another work which dealt with marriage issues is a small pamphlet published in 1909. This dealt with the question of a man who was induced to marry a woman who was "mentally unbalanced." The husband was allowed to marry a second wife via a heter me'ah rabbanim (the consent of one hundred rabbis). Typically, these 100 must come from different countries, however, here, for the first time, R. Rosenfeld, the author, "explained that it could be issued by American rabbis alone because 'at one time [the United States] were separate countries. And even today each state is, to a certain extent, [a] separate [entity].'" (No. 1144).

    While on the one hand there were many in America that were in the Jewish sense, illiterate, there were also those on the opposite end of the spectrum as it was, who published scholarly works. Dr. Louis Ginzberg, published in 1909 Seriedi HaYerushalmi min HaGeizah asher b'Mitzrayim. This book contained, as the title indicates, fragments from the Cairo Genizah which enabled Ginzberg to offer correction to the standard edition of the Jerusalem Talmud. It seems that this was deemed so important even outside the U.S. As "Ginzburg's research was included - without attribution - in the Vilna 1922 edition of the Yerushalmi" (No. 606).

    This copyright infringement was actually a two way street. In 1919, The Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada published, for the first time in America the complete Talmud. While this signaled a new era in the Jewish learning in the US, it seems that the publishers did not secure all necessary rights before embarking on this printing. Specifically, this edition is a photo-reproduction of the Romm, Vilna edition of the Talmud. This did not go unnoticed. "Moses Rosenberg wrote to R. Hayyim Ozer Grodzinski of Vilna on behalf of the Romm publishing house. He accused Agudath Harabbonim of reproducing the Romm edition without permission and requested that Agudath Harabbonim be summoned to a rabbinical court." (No. 635). This letter is reproduced at the end of volume II of the work. (p. 1181). The end of the second volume contains many historical letters from Yosef Goldman's collection. Additionally, there are photographs and autographs of some famous American Rabbis as well in this last section.

    On the theme of lack of religious observance, there is no lack of books dealing with this. Moses Weinberger's book, which Sarna translated into English, "People Walk on their Heads" is but one example. R. Elijah Kochin, Sefer Aderet Eliyahu (Pittsburgh, 1917) where he complains "the city of Pittsburgh is still hefker [anarchic] and it lacks everything necessary for the highest level of observance." He decried the "accepted evil custom in this land which says that he who lies the most by bluffing, as it is called, is to be praised." (No. 784).

    Already in 1872, Nahum Streisand who I have no idea if any relation to the now woman singer Barbara, which would be rather ironic in light of the fact this book "contains an analysis of the rabbinic debate over the prohibition for a man to hear a woman singing. Streisand had originally sent its contents to Henry Vidaver after the latter issued a ruling permitting women to sing in the choir of his congregation, Bnai Jeshurun." (No. 1091).

    Other issues which came up include metzizha b'peh and whether one can use a sponge. See nos. 1117. In 1915 a book on circumcision was published which, in part dealt with metzizah b'peh by the milah board. This board was "recognized by the New York City Commissioner of Health . . . [who said] the educational value of such work as the Milah Board has done in this matter is of the greatest help to the City, and particularly to our department." (No. 1158).

    Another issue was the use of wine during Prohibition. Dr. Louis Ginzburg published a responsa which argued that grape juice was sufficient for ritual that would otherwise require wine. He did this as "during the era of Prohibition, the government granted special licenses allowing the sale for sacramental purposes. Some Jews abused these licenses." Ginzburg, wanted to void the use of wine, thus obviating the need for such licenses. This responsa "elicited enough interest in the secular world to merit a press conference and coverage in a major newspaper [i.e. the New York Times]." (no. 1177).

    This was not the only work influenced by Prohibition. Isidore Koplowitz published "Midrashic Exegetics on Wine and Strong Drink." He endeavored to prove "that the Hebrew prophets and a host of Talmudic Rabbins, were outspoken in the great cause of prohibition." No. 1179.

    To be continued. . .

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    The JNUL has just put up the first Hebrew bibliography, Siftei Yeshenim. This work is written by R. Shabbtai Bass. R. Shabbtai is perhaps most well known for his commentary on Rashi 'al haTorah titled Siftei Hakhamim.

    R. Shabbtai was born in 1641 in Kalisz, Poland. When he was 14, both his parents were killed in a pogrom by the Cossacks. R. Shabbtai went to Prague. It was in Prague where he would gain his last name and begin his career as a printer. In Prague he began taking music lessons and became a bassist for the Altneushul. He, in all likelihood participated in that shul's choir which would weekly welcome in the Shabbat with musical accompaniment. [Later on, this music would become central to the debate of allowing for an organ in the Shul as well as playing music in any religious services]. R. Shabbtai took his musical calling seriously and the printers mark he used had musical elements to them. [The two relevant ones are reproduced on the side]. Additionally, he became known as alternatively, R. Shabbtai the Bassist Singer or just R. Shabbtai the Bassist. Aside from gaining an interest in music as well as his general Torah education, he also studied Latin while in Prague.

    From Prague, R. Shabbtai, went west, eventually ending up in Amsterdam. It was during these travels he visited numerous libraries and began compiling his bibliography. [Although he did begin the project in Prague, it seems to have really taken off after he left.] In 1680, he published the bibliography in Amsterdam and titled it Siftei Yeshenim the lips of the sleeping ones. This title is appropriate for many reasons. First, it comes from Shir haShirim which has the highest density of book titles, and thus, I think is appropriate for a book listing books. Second, as R. Shabbtai points out in his introduction where he offers ten reasons for bibliography, just reciting the names of books the ignorant can earn a similar reward to those who actually study them. R. Shabbtai based this upon R. Isaiah Horowitz (Shelah).

    This work lists about 2,200 titles. Of these, 825 were manuscripts. R. Shabbtai provides an index by category at the beginning of the book. Although the bulk of the lists are books by Jewish authors, he also included about 150 Judaica works by non-Jewish writers.

    The work was "updated" in 1806 by Uri Zvi Rubenstein, however, he "demonstrated weak bibliographical abilities and his effort is to be considered a step backwards in the history of Jewish Bibliography." (Brisman at 13).

    After spending about 5 years in Amsterdam, R. Shabbtai he moved to Dyhernfurth and opened his own press. He began to print works of Polish Rabbis and printed some of the seminal works on Halakha. He printed R. Shmuel b. Uri Shraga's commentary on Even Ezer, the Bet Shmuel as well as R. Avrohom Abeli's commentary, Mogen Avrohom.
    While he was in Dyhernfurth, he hoped to reprint his Siftei Hakhamim which had been printed in Amsterdam in 1680. He had made extensive corrections and additions which he hoped to include. During the interim, he found out that the publisher in Amsterdam was also readying a reprint and had secured the normal copyright harems. Thus, R. Shabbtai was forced to buy out the Amsterdam printer so he could reprint he own book! This is of particular interest in one's understanding of copyright under Jewish law. It would seem from this case that the author does not automatically hold a copyright to his own works. Instead, copyright is dependent upon who has a money interest. Unfortunately, none of the many articles or books on Jewish law and copyright cite or discuss this case.

    R. Shabbtai's commentary on Rashi has been reprinted many, many times, and now is standard fare even with Humashim which contain no other commentaries other than Rashi and Onkelos. However, this commentary is typically an abriged version - Ikar Siftei Hakhamim. This abrigment was done by the famed Romm Press in Vilna in the 1872 edition of their Torah Elokim. Although we don't know for certain who did the abrigment as the title page just allows "two talmdei hakamim" were the ones who did this. It is assumed these would have been editors at the Romm Press. At that time R. Mordechi Plungin was the editor at the press. He was involved with the printing of many "classics" such as the Eiyn Yakkov and the Shulkhan Orakh. In this last book, although he always remain anonymous and never takes any credit for anything he does, he included in Yoreh Deah a few comments under the title Miluim. Now, some don't like R. Plungin (he was a maskil) most notably the father of the Hazon Ish. Thus, in the Tal-man edition of the Shulkahn Orakh his comments were excised.

    So, if one follows that opinion, one should view as important and sensitive task as abriging a commentary with some skepticism. Perhaps, as the editors remained anonymous this hasn't been noticed - yet. Or, the two talmdei hakamim were not R. Plugin. Be it as it may, R. Shabbtai, the bassist, printer, bibliographer, has left an indelible mark across numerous disciplines.

    Sources. For biographical sources, you can look at any one of these as they all just regurgitate what the others prior to them do without adding much, if anything. EJ vol. 4 col. 313. Friedberg, B. History of Jewish Typography of Amsterdam et. al., Antwerp, 1937, 53-64; Y. Rafel, Sinai vol. 8 and 9 reprinted in his Rishonim v'Achronim; and the JE here. See also on R. Shabbtai and Jewish bibliograpy in general S. Brisman, "A History and Guide to Judaic Bibliography." It is worth reading Zinberg's nice biography of R. Bass in The History of Jewish Literature, vol. 6, pp. 150-52.

    For his printers marks, see Ya'ari, Printers marks. On his Siftei Hakhamim see the new bibliography on Rashi commentary, P. Krieger, Parshan-Data, p. 41-46.

    Finally, there is a discussion regarding the first edition of Siftei Yeshanim and why in some edition a Siddur is apended to it. For this, see H. Liberman, Ohel Rochel vol. 1 p. 370-71.

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  • 07/09/06--20:29: Seforim For Sale
  • R. Landy of the Lower East Side has purchased a significant library and is now selling them. Unfortunately, I have yet to see these in person, however, from what has been related to me via telephone, he has some terrific books. If one wants to go, they should first call him at 917 676 0762. He is located at 264 east broadway C104.

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  • 07/12/06--06:39: Listing of New Seforim
  • What follows is a list of new seforim I have recently purchased; for prior lists see the "New Books Lists" on the sidebar.

    1. Indices To The Emden-Eybeschuetz Controversy Literature by Gershom G. Scholem. As the title implies, this is an index, divided by person, book, and geographic place. Additional, many of the abbreviations used (R. Emden constantly uses abbreviations, many obscure) are explained. This index was culled from Scholem's index cards where he kept these records. The editors have done nothing to update them nor have they attempted to ensure consistency. So, in essence they had these cards typeset and published.

    But, as part of this publication Hebrew University has scanned all of the books and manuscripts covered by this index and put them on a CD. This is especially important, as many of these are very rare and hard to come by. This CD is supposed to be available directly from Magnes Press, however, I could find no other information on this on their website.

    2. On the topic of Scholem there is a fairly recent book, Pithe 'Olam which is a critical edition of R. Solomon ben Samuel's work by that name. This is a work of kabbalah. However, perhaps the most interesting piece of this book in not the manuscript but what the editor, Rafeal Kohen, has appended to it. R. Kohen has included his own polemic against modern kabbalah scholars. He accuses them, among other things, to have stymied the publication of numerous manuscripts to benefit their own careers, racism against those not in academia, as well as plain sloppy scholarship. He backs some of these claims up with concrete examples. In particular he savages Paul Fenton's edition of R. Yosef b. Avrohom's Sheroshi HaKabbalah with numerous examples of errors and mistakes. R. Kohen, also goes University by University and points out who he has issues with. R. Kohen is particular of appending each of the names of the people he discusses with the ignominious abbreviation meaning שם רשעים ירקב ימח שמו וזכרון תימקן ותשחקן עצמות אוסר לעסוק בקבורתו or שר"י יש"ו תו"ע אל"ב at every single mention of their names. He covers Hebrew University, Bar Ilan, Sorbonne, and the Schechter Institute. It makes for some entertaining, if over the top, reading.

    3. Journal Mayni HaYeshua from Biala Hassidim contains a 23 page article against Eliach's Sefer HaGaon.

    4. Ziv haSemot or What's in a Name. This book on everything having to do with names and naming is perhaps the 4th book on this extremely important, life or death topic which has come out in the past few years. This one is in both Hebrew and English. Curiously, although there is a chapter on using a name that a wicked person had such as Yismael. The author does not cite to or quote the Shu't Besamim Rosh on the topic. Whose pronouncement has broad implications for naming. He says even if a evil person happen to have the name, if it is a nice name then you can use it.

    I purchased these at Biegeleisen in Boropark.

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    The Mishna in Tannit records that 5 bad events occured on the 17th of Tamuz, one being the cessation of the daily sacrifice, the tamid. However, the Bavli does not as it does for the other four events, tell the story of what happened. Only in the Yerushalmi does the complete story appear.

    There, in the Yerushalmi, the Talmud records that the Jews were obtaining the necessary animals for their offerings by paying the Romans. Everyday they would lower down a basket full of coins, and in its stead, the Romans would return the animal. As Jerusalem was under siege, this whole process took place from a distance. One day, the 17th of Tamuz, however, after the Jews gave the requisite money, instead of the correct animals the Romans replaced them with pigs. Thus, the Jews were unable to bring the tamid and the sacrifice stopped from that time on.

    As mentioned, this story only appears in the Yerushalmi and not the Bavli. Further, Josephus does not record it either. Although these works do not record it, Edgar Allan Poe does. Specifically, he has a story titled "A Tale of Jerusalem" which, more or less, is this story repackaged. You can read the whole story here. But, basically, it describes the two priest whose job it was to lower the baskets of gold. Poe ends with the pigs being raised instead.

    Not only does Poe use this somewhat obscure story, he even injects some detail that one would need to be versed in the orignal story to fully appreciate. The priest in question are who belonged to the sect called "The Dashers (that little knot of saints whose manner of dashing and lacerating the feet against the pavement was long a thorn and a reproach to less zealous devotees–a stumbling-block to less gifted perambulators)." This is a play on the talmudic description of the priests - that they are quick - kohanim zerizim hem.

    Poe assumes familiarity with the Hebrew alphabet to a degree that one would know the letter yud is the smallest. As he says "thou canst not point me out a Philistine–no, not one–from Aleph to Tau–from the wilderness to the battlements–who seemeth any bigger than the letter Jod!"

    The question is where in the world did Poe get this. Now, it seems Poe got this from another novel from "1828, Zillah, a Tale of Jerusalem, by Horace Smith (1777-1849). Poe incorporated whole phrases and sentences from Smith's story: "Poe's story is more than a parody; it is literally a collage of snatches of the Smith novel, cut out and pasted together in a new order." That being said, it seems that Poe was still more familar with this story than Zillah and we are left to wonder did Poe study Talmud? He wouldn't be the first famous American author to do so. Thomas Jefferson had a copy of a volume or two of the Bavli. Although, here, it would appear Poe one upped Jefferson by being a baki in Yerushalmi as well.

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    The Babylonian Talmud ("BT") clearly held the Earth was flat. R. Azariah de Rossi, in his Me'or Enayim devotes more or less a chapter to understanding the view of the BT on this issue.

    De Rossi explains that there a various passages in the BT which assume a flat earth. For instance, De Rossi quotes the BT Baba Basra "the world is like an exadera [three sides are closed] and the north side is open. When the sun reaches the nothwestern side, it bends back and goes above the sky." De Rossi explains that "anybody who understands this passage correctly realizes that . . . the sun's circuit is not from above to below . . . and they agree that the nightly darkness is not caused by the sun being at that time below the horizon . . . this is all calcluated on the basis that the earth is flat and that the heavens only cover it like a roof of the exadera."

    De Rossi after noting that this opinion is pervasive in the BT, it is based upon the understanding of some at the time the BT was complied. He explains, however, that if "the sages of blessed memory who believed that the world was flat . . . been informed of what has become known in our times, namely, how the Spaniards . . . discovered the New World in the Northern Hemisphere where the inhabitants have their rest opposite the place where we put our feet. And the same is true of the place under the equator and also beyond it to the south above and below. With one voice [the sages] would have acknowledged that the earth was spherical."

    This last line, of course, was in part why De' Rossi was controversial. By claiming Hazal based some of their statements upon the science of the day and that had they been exposed to what we now know would have changed their minds was, and continues to be a touchy subject.

    But to return to our topic at hand - the flat earth - De Rossi points out that although the BT held the earth was flat not everyone at the time agreed. Specifically, he notes that the Jerusalem Talmud as well as Berashis Rabba seem to imply the earth is round. Additionally, the Zohar states the earth is round. It is this last source, however, which is somewhat problematic. Assuming the BT held the earth was flat and that appears to have been the prevailing attitude, why then would the Zohar disagree. R. Jacob Emden used this passage in the Zohar as one of the many which points to a later dating of when the Zohar was written. R. Emden states succinctly "this opinion is not one shared by Hazal and instead comes from later science." Thus, according to R. Emden, the fact the Zohar assumes the earth is round lends itself to the notion it could not have been written (at least this part) by R. Shimon bar Yochi.

    R. Emden's challenge of the Zohar was not left unrebutted. R. Moshe Kunits in his Ben Yochi which is devoted to rebutting R. Emden, attacks this statement of R. Emden. Although he attempts to refute R. Emden, one who is aware of the above discussion, realizes how hollow R. Kunits' argument is. R. Kunits agrees that the BT assumes a flat earth, but then he cites the two sources which do go with the round earth -Jerusalem Talmud and Berashis Rabba. In essence, Kunits is merely regurgitating De Rossi's sources. In fact, he cites De Rossi as being one who demonstrates that Hazal held the earth was in fact round. Of course, De Rossi's only sources were the Zohar and the others cited by Kunits. Thus, in the end, Kunits' arguments are circular. This fallacy is noted by R. Shlomo Yehudah Rappoport in his book to rebut Kunits - Nahlat Yehuda.

    Finally, it appears that the idea of a flat earth persisted until at least the 18th century (and if the recently published book, Afeki Mayim, is an indication even until the 21st century). The person in the 18th century to follow this view is a rather surprising one in light of how knowledgable he supposedly was in secular wisdom (at least according to some). The Vilna Gaon is recorded as stating the earth must be flat in order to properly understand the verse in Job (38:13) "that it might take hold of the ends of the earth."

    Sources: De' Rossi, Meor Einayim (ed. Weinberg) Imrei Binah, Section 1 chap. 11. Zohar, Vaikra, 10a; R. Jacob Emden, Mitpahat Sefarim; R. Shlomo Yehudah Rappoport, Nahlat Yehuda (Lemberg, 1873); R. Kunits, Ben Yochi. On the Vilna Gaon, see R. Y. Engel, Gilyoni HaShas, Shabbat, 74a and R. Reuven Margulies, Nitzozi Ohr on the Zohar cited above.

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  • 08/01/06--06:15: Bedatz Bans HaGaon
  • As discussed previously, there are some, mainly Hassidim, who had strong objections to R. Eliach's biography HaGaon. Now it appears that Bedatz of Jerusalem has also issued a ban on the work (thanks to all those who sent this to me). The ban is reproduced on the side. The ban itself contains some interesting language. Specifically, the ban claims that the sources relied upon by Eliach were "maskilik." You will recall that all Eliach did was reproduce many of the herems and the like from the non-Hassidim at the time. Now, it is correct that most of those polemics were collected by Wilensky in his Hassidim u'Mitnagdim, but the actual texts are those of some of the greatest Rabbis (not maskilim) of that time period.

    Additionally, far from advancing haskalah (enlightenment) R. Eliach repudiates it. Many academics claim that the Gra was the precursor to modernity as the Gra advocates for studying secular subjects (among other things). Eliach, however, devotes an entire chapter demonstrating the Gra was against the haskalah. Eliach also includes additional material on this topic in other places as well. In doing so, he demonstrates that far from accepting maskilik or hasklah literature he actually accepts as true many anti-maskilik assertions. One example is particuarly telling. R. Eliach accepts that the Noda B'Yehuda banned R. Naftali Hertz Wessely. The source for this is an article which appeared in the Journal Kovetz Bet Ahron v'Yisrael by R. Y.A. Heschel. R. Heschel's article is full of errors and wild assumptions. Most notably, R. Heschel assumes that the ban in question is from the Noda B'Yehuda solely because it was found in a stack of papers also from the Noda B'Yehuda. There is no other cooberating evidence. Instead, this is an unsigned letter that contains no other internal or external indica of reliablity. R. Eliach, however, in his attempt to prove the vehemence as well as the universiality of condemnation of the haskalah accepts this as true. Thus, it is somewhat difficult to understand how R. Eliach could be accused of accepting and advancing maskilik ideas and positions.

    Finally, it is rather unclear why in August of 2006 the Bedatz is banning a book published in 2002. It was not as if this book was "under the radar." Instead, immediatly with its publication there were other bans, articles and condemnations of the book. Further, R. Eliach secured the approbation of R. Chaim Kanievsky and was featured in Dei'ah veDibur the Haredi newspaper. While this wouldn't be the first controversy between Beni Brak and Jerusalem, (famously the controversy over using the Ben Asher Nach was essentially between the two communities) it is a bit strange in its timing.

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    It seems that among many, it is assumed the temple vessels (klei haMikdash) are housed in the Vatican.

    In 2004, Rabbis Amar and Metzger asked the Pope to return the temple vessels. Earlier, Shimon Shetreet, the minster of religion, also asked the Pope to return these, and, according to Shetreet's account, told the Pope he was unwelcome in Israel until he did so. But, it seems that although these people were willing to issue demands about these vessels, they did not do any research prior to establish whether in all likelyhood the vessels are actually in the vatican.

    Josephus records that various vessels, clothing and materials were taken by Titus and brought back to Rome. These were eventually housed in the Temple of Peace. In all likeyhood, this is were various Tanaim saw some of the vessels. Most notably, the headplate (tzit) as well as the curtain (perochet) was seen in Rome in about the second century CE. Additionally, famously, the Menorah and the Table from the Temple is recorded (a point to which we will return in a bit) on the Arch of Titus.

    So, up to around the second century we have some evidence of the location of the vessels, but what happened after that? To simplfy Roman history, Roman was sacked and its treasures were taken. It seems that the Vandals or Gizrac took the various treasures, including the "treasures that Titus took." According to one account these were sent back to Jerusalem to a Church (not longer extant and its location unclear) or they were plundered by someone else. Yet, it would appear this has ignored and instead been assumed that if the vessels were in Rome at some point they would remain there for close to 2,000 years. Additionally, if one assumes that these vessels remained in Rome, why is that they were never displayed? One cannot claim out of fear that Jews would claim them as there own. Jews, for much of the period under discussion were in no position to make such a claim.

    Now to return to the Arch of Titus. In truth, it is far from clear that the Menorah depicted on the Arch is actually that which was in the Temple. The most basic problem is the base. The base as depicted is hexagonal, while according to Rambam and Rashi, the base rested upon three legs. Additionally, the base contains depictions of a sea dragon which would more or less run afoul of the commandment not to have idols. Although for this last issue, the Tosefta in Avodah Zara does allow for smooth (no scales?) sea dragons, it still seems a bit strange to have this in the Temple, in the Holy section.

    To answer the first problem R. Herzog, the former Chief Rabbi of Israel, offered that the legs broke during transport and the Romans replaced it with this base. (This is somewhat questionable as this type of base does not seem to be common even among Roman vessels of the time). Or, some claim this was a Hellenstic change done to the Menorah or the legs are really there and the "base" merely surrounds the legs. Be it as it may, what results is that this is less than conclusive and perhaps not even a Jewish invention.

    This leads us to another issue, the State of Israel. The State of Israel adopted as its emblem the Menorah as it appears on the Arch of Titus. This very Menorah with the sea dragons and the "wrong" base. Rabbi Herzog aside from his comments above, questioned the use by the State for this very reason. He said, that they should use a three legged Menorah instead. What is curious is that the State actually slightly altered the original version. Originally, it was as it more or less appeared on the Arch. Subsequently, the dragons or animals on the base were changed from facing each other to their current position which makes them look more like jumping gazelles than sea dragons. Perhaps, this was to accommodate the religous sensiblities of those like R. Herzog.

    Sources: Hans Lewy, Olmot Nifgashim, 255-58; A. Berliner, Divrei Yemi HaYehudim B'Rome, vol. 1 107-110; Josephus, Wars of the Jews 6,8,3 (357); id. 7,5 (148-152); id. (158-161); the best work on the Arch is Yarden, "Spoils of Jerusalem on the Arch of Titus." Yarden attempts to reconstruct the Arch to its original state and discusses all the various issues with it, including the change in the State of Israel emblem. What is surprising is that Prof. Daniel Sperber's article on this topic fails to use Yarden, leading to a few errors in Sperber's article. Sperber's article can be found in Minhagei Yisrael vol. 5 171-212. See also, the fairly recent work on the history of the entire temple destruction Elef Dor by Y. Horowitz vol. 1 380-397 where he discusses some more stories of others who assumed the vatican still houses the temple vessels. See Sefer haYovel l'Kovod Shmuel Mirsky 220-21 for R. Herzog's position.

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    In the Jewish liturgy there is a fundamental question dealing with the composition of the Hebrew found therein. There are two major types of Hebrew - Rabbinic and Biblical. The question becomes which should one be using when praying. This at first blush may appear to be of minor significance, however, most controversies regarding various words throughout the prayer book can be traced to this one point. This issue of which Hebrew to follow was brought to head in the 18th century. During this period there were a few books published dealing with the proper nusach (composition of the prayers). Some of these works advocated for various changes in the prayer book based upon the authors understanding of which Hebrew to follow when praying. This in turned provoked a fairly large controversy which can be felt today by anyone sensitive to the nusach of the prayers.

    Today, although most may be unaware, many changes effected during the above referenced time period are still to be found in almost all the standard prayer books. This is so, as Wolf Heidenheim in his prayer book, which became the standard for most which followed him, relied and incorporated numerous changes based upon these 18th century works. Heidenheim’s book became, in part, the standard after he was able to secure an approbation from one of the most traditional Orthodox rabbis of the day – R. Moshe Sofer (Hatam Sofer). R. Sofer, whose well known statement “anything new is prohibited” was either unaware of the “newness” of Heidenheim’s work or perhaps agreed with his alterations, ensured Heidenheim’s work would become the exemplar for all subsequent prayer books.

    One of the more interesting books to come out of this period has recently been reprinted. This book, Yashresh Ya’akov, was originally published around 1768 and, according to the title page, was authored by R. Ya’akov Babini. The work is supposedly based upon a question which R. Babini was asked. Specifically, someone wrote that he entertained an Italian guest. This guest when it came time to say birkat hamazon (grace after meals) said the prayer with numerous changes from the standard format. The host wrote to R. Babini to ask whether these changes were in fact correct. All of these changes are more or less based upon the notion that one should follow the Biblical Hebrew as opposed to the Rabbinic Hebrew. R. Babini defends the guest’s alteration and demonstrates that in each instance the changes were correct.

    That is the basic background on the book. Yet, there are numerous other important facts that are not necessarily apparent from just a casual read of the book. First, as I mentioned, taking a position that Biblical Hebrew is the correct Hebrew and thus one should alter the standard was highly controversial. In an effort to avoid controversy the true author of the book – not R. Babini – hid his name. The true author is really R. Ya’akov Bassan.[1] R. Bassan gave an approbation to this work although he did not use his own name as the author. Instead, R. Bassan picked someone who had less than a stellar reputation – R. Babini. R. Babini in 1759 published a book under his own name titled Zikhron Yerushalayim which listed various holy places in Israel as well as where certain Rabbis are buried in Israel. R. Babini, neglected to mention in this publication that this work had already been published in 1643 under the very similar title Zikhron B'Yerushalayim, which contains, with minor changes, the very same text R. Babini offered as his own. Thus, looking for a patsy, R. Bassan picked someone who already did not have such a great reputation. R. Bassan although unwilling to offer his name to his own publication decided to instead offer his approbation to his own work.

    Aside from hiding the authorship, the place of publication was also altered. The title page reads Nürnberg as the place of publication. This is incorrect, in actually this was published in Altona. The date on the title page reads 1768, however, the date on the approbation reads 1769 thus making the date offered an impossibility. All of these “hints” should lead an observant reader to realize something funny is going on here – namely nothing is what it appears. These types of hints to the ultimate author were actually somewhat commonplace during this period. Most famously, R. Y. Satnow would publish books not under his own name, instead either in the approbation or the title page he would offer hints that only an astute reader would notice demonstrating that R. Satnow was in fact the true author.[2]

    As R. Bassan correctly surmised, his work was in fact controversial. R. Binyamin Espinoza wrote a work directed at disproving the underlying premise of R. Bassan’s that one should stick with the standard liturgy and not change it to conform with Biblical Hebrew. R. Espinoza, originally from Tunisia was unsuccessful in publishing his rebuttal and it remained in manuscript, although its existence was known to many. R. Espinoza pulls no punches and takes R. Bassan to task in very sharp terms for his advocating these changes. As mentioned above this was to no avail as either surreptitiously or knowingly many of the changes and other similar ones have in fact become standard today.

    Recently both the Yashresh Ya’akov and R. Espinoza’s work Yesod HaKium have been republished together. This edition which includes an extensive introduction which contains all the history above and more is excellent. Obviously, for understanding the development of the liturgy of the prayer book this is extremely important. Also those interested in bibliographical quirks will also enjoy these books. The book is available from Beigeleisen books (718-436-1165) who has informed me he has recently received a new shipment of these as the prior one had been sold out. This new edition was edited by Rabbis Moshe Didi and David Satbon from Kiryat Sefer, Israel (ת.ד 525 and 154 respectively).

    For more on these books see here.

    [1] This understanding that R. Ya’akov Basson is the actual author runs counter to many earlier assertions that the author was R. Avrohom Basson. In the new edition of this work, however, they demonstrate the problems with associating R. Avrohom and instead argue that in fact it is R. Ya’akov.

    [2] Satnow was not the only one; according to some, R. Saul Berlin, in the Besamim Rosh, offered similar hints to his authorship of this controversial work.

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  • 08/28/06--10:49: Jews, Beards and Portraits
  • "If men be judged wise by their beards and their girth, Then goats would be the wisest creatures on Earth."
    With the High Holidays approaching one of the more interesting attributes which takes a more prominent position is that of shaving or facial hair. Of course, prior to any Shabbat or Yom Tov, one is supposed to shave and take a haircut. Yet, for the High Holidays, there is a special emphasis on facial hair. One of the attributes that the Hazan should have is a beard. Although a beard is not the only qualification for the Hazan, nor is it the dispositive one, it is still mentioned. The importance of the beard is mentioned in the Hazan’s prayer prior to the Mussaf prayers. In that prayer, he lists some of his possible faults including his lack of a full beard (זקן מגודל). [As an aside, this prayer is public and a general one listing in a general manner the various shortcomings everyone really has, Artscroll has that one should say silently some of the faults which seems to belie the fact that every hazzan says this thus removing any individual stigma. Yet, were I pray most years, the Hazzan goes one step further and says half if not more silently. I don’t know if this is due to his immense piety or in fact all those things are applicable to him or perhaps he doesn’t think any of those are applicable and is really just skipping them.]

    While the Torah prohibits shaving one’s face with a razor, according to most, one can still remove facial hair. There is a long and tortuous debate about what exactly one can use to remove facial hair, however, putting that aside, it is assumed that there are permissible methods of removal. Now, aside from the straight halakhic (Jewish Law) debate there is another issue that is implicated in removing one’s beard – kabbalah. Some hold that although one is not prohibited from shaving according to a strict reading of the law, one must still be cogent of the kabbalah, which they argue, prohibits any trimming or shaving of the beard.

    While some claim kabbalah prohibits shaving, there are others who question this. This debate while ostensibly centered around the interpretation of kabbalah texts, instead revolves around the practice of a single person, R. Menachem Azariah of Fano (Rama m’Fano).

    The Rama m’Fano was considered one of the greatest kabbalisits of his generation. He authored many important works on kabbalah and was considered, among many, the heir for Lurianic kabbalah. Thus, his practices regarding shaving can shed light on whether kabbalah really advocates for a beard or if one can still conform with kabbalah and be clean shaven.

    R. Shabbtai Baer (d. 1674) in his Be’er Esek was asked whether kabbalah mandates that one keep a beard. He replied by first discussing all the relevant texts and in the end makes the argument that perhaps in the Diaspora kabbalah doesn’t mandate growing a beard. He then gets to the crux of what would become the debate for the next 300 years – the practice of the Rama m’Fano. R. Baer states that he attempted to find out exactly what the practice of the Rama m’Fano was in this area. He learnt that every Friday, the Rama m’Fano would trim his beard or shave his beard “as is the custom in Italy.” And in fact, his students, including R. Baer’s father in law, followed in the practice of their teacher and also shaved. As R. Baer correctly points out, someone of the stature of the Rama m’Fano, obviously is extremely telling for whether kabbalah mandates keeping a beard. From his evidence, R. Baer concludes that kabbalah can not mandate keeping a beard.

    Yet, R. Baer’s testimony regarding the Rama m’Fano did not go unchallenged. R. Yosef Ergas, in his Divrei Yosef claims R. Baer got it wrong. Specifically, R. Ergas investigated the practice of the Rama m’Fano as well. R. Ergas came to contrary conclusion than that of R. Baer – the Rama m’Fano had a full beard and he never shaved. R. Ergas’s evidence is based upon a portrait of the Rama m’Fano. In this portrait the Rama m’Fano has a full beard.

    This debate continued on to the 19th century with R. Moshe Sofer (Hatam Sofer) and R. Eliezer Shapiro (Munkatcher Rebbe). R. Sofer was asked the very same question as R. Baer was, whether one shouldn’t shave based upon kabbalah. After first professing that “we do not follow kabbalah” and that “he does not occupy himself with that which is hidden” he then goes on to discuss the Rama m’Fano. He uses, as did R. Baer, the Rama m’Fano to demonstrate that kabbalah does not mandate a full beard. Instead, R. Sofer points out that based upon testimony the Rama m’Fano did not keep a beard.

    R. Shapiro in his Minhat Eliazer takes strong issue with R. Sofer. He notes that R. Sofer’s evidence must be based upon the Be’er Esek and R. Shapiro argues that R. Ergas’s portrait of the Rama m’Fano has settled this issue and R. Shapiro alleges that had R. Sofer been aware of R. Ergas’s evidence R. Sofer would never have said what he did.

    So, in the end, it seems in part this hinges on the portrait of the Rama m'Fano. Well in 1904 in a biography on the Rama m'Fano, the author included a portrait of the Rama m'Fano. In this portrait it is clear as day the Rama m'Fano has a full beard. In fact the author of the biography, devotes a chapter to the beard of the Rama m'Fano. He claims, however, with his publication of the portrait this issue is truly settled. What the author neglects to mention is how in the world do we actually know this in fact is the portrait of the Rama m'Fano. Although the author does provide how he obtained the portrait, no where on the portriat does it actually state this is the picture of the Rama m'Fano. Now, if you will recall, even R. Joseph Ergas testimony regarding the portrait was rather late - close to 125 years after the Rama m'Fano died. R. Baer, in fact, was actually much closer, at least in time, to the Rama m'Fano, and had his father in law who studied under the Rama m'Fano personally to talk to. Thus, it would appear that although the author with the publication of this portrait deemed this issue settled, in fact it is far from settled.

    This was not the only (possibly) erroneous portrait to be brought into the debate about beards. The famous portrait of Maimonides was also discussed in the beard context. There are those who claim based upon their reading of Maimonides that using scissors on the beard is prohibited. The question then becomes, the portrait of Maimonides clearly shows a trim beard. The issue with this line of inquiry is that the portrait doesn't necessarily depict Maimonides at all. This portrait was first published in 1744 and was allegedly based upon a medallion - a medallion which was never produced or seen by anyone other than the one who published it. You can see this portrait as well as the page from the book it originally from here (scroll down half way).

    Finally, it is worth noting that Jews, even important Rabbis were far from universal in their facial hair. R. David Nieto is a good example. In this portrait, he has a wig and is sporting a stilleto beard which one assumes was the style of the times. R. Joseph Baer Solovetchik during the 1950s had a goatee.

    Sources: Shu't Be'er Esek no. 70; Shu't Divrei Yosef, no. 28, Shu't Hatam Sofer, Orah Hayyim no. 159; Shu't Minhat Eliezer, vol. 2 no. 48; see also, Elliot Horowitz, "The Early Eighteenth Century Confronts the Beard: Kabbalah and Jewish Self-Fashioning," Jewish History 8 (1994):95-115; and by Horowitz as well, "On the Significance of the Beard in Jewish Communities in the East and in Europe in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Times," Pe'amim (1994):124-148 [in Hebrew].

    There is much more on this topic, however, I can't right now provide a complete bibliography.

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  • 08/29/06--14:31: Auction Catalog & New Book
  • Kestenbaum has put up their latest catalog for their auction of September 12 2006. It has some rather nice pieces.

    Just to highlight one. They have the Siddur by R. Jacob Emden. While this siddur in and of itself is somewhat rare due to the fact R. Emden self-published this, the copy Kestenbaum has is even more unique. This copy contains pages which do not appear in most of the copies. R. Emden disagrees with Maimonides regarding the purpose of circumcision. R. Emden argues, contrary to Maimonides, that circumcision does not reduce sexual excitement in fact it enhances it. In the majority of copies all that appears is "In truth, [Maimonides'] remarks are most astonishing" but nothing about R. Emden's contrary view. The lot with this book as well as a fuller discussion is number 53.

    Second, recently David Assaf published a collection of his articles. While his articles did engender that much notice - his book on the other hand has. Tzemach Atlas of Mentalblog has been following this and has collected various newspaper reviews as well as his own. The book in question deals with various hassidic stories, some of which have been suppressed due the perceived slight on their participants. These include an apostasy of a Rebbe's son as well as other interesting facts.

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    A fairly universal custom is to recite the passage from Psalms l'Dovid Hashem Ori twice a day during the month of Elul. A question which has received renewed scrutiny recently is where this custom came from. The most obvious answer is the work Hemdat Yamim. This work, however, is rather controversial. Many claim this book (which has many other well-accepted customs) was written by Nathan of Gaza, the prophet of the infamous false-Messiah Shabbetai Zevi. Thus, if the Hemdat Yamim is in fact the source, that would not be a good thing.

    So, some have claimed that in fact there is another source for the recitation of l'Dovid HaShem during Elul. They point to the book Shem Tov Kotton. In this book, which is a collection of additionally kabbalistic prayers, there is a mention to say l'Dovid HaShem during Elul. The problem, however, is that a) Shem Tov Kotton only says to do so on Monday and Thursday and the 10 days of repentance but not everyday in Elul; (b) he also says that not only one should say l'Dovid but also additionally prayers some of his own compilation and others such as the 13 middot haRachmim and the Psalm Rananu Tzadikim; (c) finally, he says to say l'dovid HaShem immediately after Shmonei Esreh. So it would seem that in all likelyhood the Shem Tov Katton is not the source of our custom to say l'Dovid daily, at the end of prayers, without any additional prayers.[1]

    So we are back to square one. Lest one despair some have come to fill this gap. They say anyways the Shem Tov Koton would not have been the best source as they would rather this custom ultimately come from the Ari'zal (which the Shem Tov Koton would not). Now, some just claim the Hemdat Yamim is really a student of the Ari and is perfectly kosher. This solves everything, but that is not the general consensus. Instead, they have located that R. Hayyim haKohen who was known as student of the R. Hayyim Vital and himself an important conduit for the Ari'zal's writtings, says to say l'Dovid HaShem during Elul. Now, as it was we have a Ari'zal source so the custom has been saved.

    Not so fast. First, a rather interesting work was recently redone and republished on the Shir Shel Yom. This book, Shirei haLevim, is everything and anything having to do with the Shir Shel Yom. The book, discusses all the Ari"zal's customs as connected to the Shir Shel Yom, the book was originally published in 1677. However, no where in this book is there any discussion of l'Dovid, which tends to show that although the author was well versed in all the other Ari'zal's Shir Shel Yom customs, it seems not this one. Thus, it seems doubtful this custom actually emerged from the Ari'zal.

    But, even more questionable is that in the manuscript from which R. Hayyim Kohen's comments were published that manuscript contains nothing about l'Dovid haShem instead, it appears the publisher inserted into the R. Hayyim's work. And as already has noted by some (see Yudolov's comments for the entry of Sha'arei Rachmim [No. 0182652] on the Bibliography of the Hebrew Book 1470-1960) many insertations to the work in question, the Sha'arei Rotzon, are found in the Hemdat Yamim.

    2007 Update: Also, it is worth pointing out the lengths persons will go to obscure the Hemdat Yamim source. For instance, in the Siddur Alyiyat Eliyahu and the Machzor by the same editor, Mikrai Kodesh, in both these siddurim the editor offers the following as the source for l'Dovid: "Sha'arei Tefilah which attributes this custom to R. Hayyim Kohen, a student of the AriZa"L, Shem Tov Koton." So, the earliest source is this work Sha'arei Tefilah which attributes it tho R. Hayyim Kohen - this apparently is a new source, which, although we have seen other sources which attribute it to R. Hayyim we saw that source was questionable at best. While the editor did not explain which of the many Sha'arei Tefilah he is referring to[2], in fact he is referring to R. Ya'akov Raccah's work published in 1870. Now, as this work is published in 1870 and supposedly is the source for what R. Hayyim Kohen who died in 1655 and authored many of his own works which discuss similar topics should immediately be a red flag . When one actually looks at the Sha'arei Teffilah the quote (p. 48) one sees that he is not the source, instead, all the Sha'arei Teffilah does is quote the Sha'arei Rotzon, which, as noted above, we now know is not actually a quote from R. Hayyim, and instead merely the later insertation of the editors of that work. Now, why would the editor go so far out of his way to reference a rather obscure work from the late 19th century as the first source for this custom but never make any mention of the earlier source Hemdat Yamim at all? It would seem that he wanted to avoid as much as possible any connection to this source.

    [1] R. Katz, in Divrei Yosef (p. 175) uses the differences between the custom advocated for the Hemdat Yamim - l'dovid should be recited prior to selichot, as a "proof" that our custom can not be based upon Hemdat Yamim. Katz, however, is silent about the numerous differences between our custom and what the Shem Tov Koton advocates for.

    [2] It is especially ironic that the editor did not explain which Sha'arei Tefilah he is referencing as the editor spends a considerable portion of his introduction castigating R. Shlomo Zalman Hanau's Sha'arei Tefilah (the most well-known work with the title Sha'arei Teffilah) for numerous precieved sins. Such a bland citation my lead an innocent reader to make the grave error that the editor is now citing to this "horrible" work.

    Sources: Shirei HaLevim was reprinted and retypeset in the book Shirat Shmuel; on l'Dovid see Ohr Yisrael no. 1 by R. Katz (reprinted in his Divrei Yosef); Shem Tov Koton, Chernowitz, 1855 12a-13a (available online at; R. Goldhaber, Minhagei Kehillot vol. 2 p. 8 (he is the source for the manuscript evidence) Goldhaber's work is generally excellent; on Hemdat Yamim (the recent controversy) see R. M. Tzuriel's recent reprint and his introduction; R. N. Greenwald "The Attitudes of the Leaders of Hassidim towards the book 'Hemdat Yamim'," Hechal HaBesht no. 6; 34-64; R. Mondshien's response in the next issue of Hechal HaBesht and Greenwald's response to R. Mondshein in that issue; for even more on Hemdat Yamim as well as where you can get your own copy for free see my prior post here ; for more on R. Hayyim Kohen, see here about half way down the page.

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    For the full recovery of HaRav R. J. Wasserstein

    I heard a very interesting speech this weekend [which S. had previously discussed here as well], and I have decided to expand some on it.

    In this weeks Torah reading we were treated to a rather strange occurrence. Although, throughout the Torah, there are words read different than they are written, at least in the Torah (Nakh provides plentiful examples of significantly altered words), these are minor corrections. Most of these corrections are merely the maleh or hasar (plene and defective) spellings. Yet, in last week’s reading two words appeared which instead of reading the actual words we substitute two totally different words (chapter 28, 27 & 30). The substituted words are not different in the sense of their meaning – their meanings are very similar just they express the same in a different manner – just in their pronunciation. These alterations are based upon the TB, Meggilah 25b. The Talmud explains these words were altered as the way they written was considered too crass and thus required substitution.[1]

    Rashi, in his commentary on the Torah, states that these words are the product of the Tikkun Soferim, corrections of the Scribes.[2] What are the Tikkun Soferim? There are two basic ways to understand what these soferim did. If one looks at Rashi’s first mention of the Tikkun Soferim, both of these are represented. That is, in the first mention, there are three different versions of Rashi. Depending upon which version one has, will in turn inform the debate about what the Tikkun Soferim did.

    Rashi’s first mention of the this concept is found in Genesis, when God visited Abraham. God came to visit after Abraham circumcised himself. However, this visit was interrupted by the appearance of the three angels (who appeared like men to Abraham). After they left God came back as it was, however, it was viewed inappropriate to say that God came and stood or waited before Abraham. Therefore, the verse was altered to say that Abraham still stood before God. Rashi explains this change is one of the Tikkun Soferim. The simple way to understand this concept is just the Rabbis came and explained that although there should have been a different reading, this one was chosen so not appear offensive to God. But, importantly, the Rabbis did not actually make the change, rather they came to explain it.

    In some editions[3] of Rashi, there are a few additional words which offer a very different insight into the Tikkun Soferim process. These are “שהפכוהו רבותינו לכתוב זה” or “The Rabbis altered it to state thus.”[4] This means that after the Torah was written, some later Rabbis came and altered to the text.

    This understanding presents a problem in light of the creed offered by Maimonides, among others, that the Torah never changed.[5] But, before we get to that we need to first locate Rashi’s source for this understanding.

    It seems, the source for the additional words is based upon a Midrash Tanhuma (Beshalach 16). In this Midrash it states that the men of the Great Assembly (אנשי כנסת הגדולה) were the ones who did the Tikkun Soferim. Thus, this Midrash is stating that these changes were actually done – done by the men of the Great Assembly. This Midrash is in conflict with other statements, most notably by the Bereishit Rabbah (36,7). There, there is no mention of the men of the Great Assembly and thus no human alterations.

    Now, some have claimed based in part upon this conflict and the problem mentioned above that the Tanchuma has been corrupted. This position was espoused by R. Azariah de Rossi, in his Me’or Einayim. He says that the words regarding the men of the Great Assembly were later emendation based upon an error. Specifically, de Rossi states “that some impetuous person, as I think, wanting to honor the Men of the Great Synagogue, wrote those words in the margin of his copy of the Yelammedenu [Tanhuma]. His colleage, the printer, than instead his words into the body of the text for the sake of clarity.”[6] De Rossi, then argues that not only was that Tanhuma altered in this fashion, but the previously cited Rashi was as well. He says that the additional words are “unquestionably an error.” (For other examples of this phenomenon see R. Zilber, Ohr Yisrael 41, p. 201-223.) De Rossi’s position was quoted favorably by some traditional commentaries[7] attempting to deal with the problematic Rashi as well as the Tanhuma. This is of course ironic in that de Rossi’s work was banned for taking liberties with various statements of the Rabbis.

    Yet, for all these justifications, as Lieberman has shown, even if one discounts the Tanhuma, there are still other examples of similar statements regarding Tikkun Soferim. Thus, we are forced to conclude that there are in fact two traditions regarding how to understand Tikkun Soferim. One holds the Rabbis did not alter the text while the other is inapposite. In truth, the latter position is not nearly as problematic as it is at first glance. Already R. Hai Goan[8] deals with a similar issue regarding the accuracy of Torah’s text. Specifically, the TB, Kiddushin is in conflict with the way we have our Torahs. R. Hai explains, that we for our purposes, we only have our Torahs and that we need not worry about perceived conflicts. According to R. Hai, so long as we follow the halakhic process we need not worry about historic inaccuracies. One could argue, the Tanhuma and perhaps Rashi took a similar position, so long as the Tikkun Soferim was based upon established Talmudic principles, there was room to even amend the Torah.

    Sources and further reading: see Emanuel Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible, 64-67 (and the sources cited therein); Saul Lieberman, Hellenism in Jewish Palestine, 28-37; Kasher, Torah Shelemah, vol. 19, 374; C.D. Ginsburg, Introduction to the Massoretico-Critical Edition of the Hebrew Bible, 347-363; Marc B. Shapiro, Limits of Orthodox Theology, p. 98-100.

    [1] The written words are coarser versions of the ones which are actually read.

    [2] Rashi’s assertion that this change is from the Tikkun Soferim is problematic. None of the various Massorah lists include this example in their lists. See, e.g., Okhlah we-Okhlah, list 168 (p. 113 of the Frensdorff ed.); C.D. Ginsburg, The Massorah, vol. 2 (vol. 4 at p. 710 list 206. Instead, as Liberman has noted, generally the Tikkun Soferim were inappropriate references to God and not generally problematic words, as is the case here.

    [3] This includes the first edition, Reggio, [1475]. Other early editions, however, do not include these words, for a discussion of these see Rashi HaShalem, vol. 1 202-203 n. 75, 357.

    [4] The third version contains these words in parenthesis.

    [5] On this topic see generally B. Barry Levy, Fixing God’s Torah, and Marc B. Shapiro, The Limits of Orthodox Theology, p. 91-121.

    [6] Translation from Weinberg ed. of Me’or Einayim, p. 327.

    [7] See Etz Yosef commentary to the Tanhuma; R. Menachem Kasher, Torah Shelemah, vol. 19, 374.

    [8] Harkavey, Teshuvot HaGeonim, no. 3.

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  • 09/12/06--06:30: The Hatam Sofer's Humor
  • For Nachi and Matt and their love of noses.

    I heard the following from Dr. Leiman. In the Hatam Sofer's yeshiva in Pressburg, it was the custom for all to wear hats while learning. This included fairly young boys. One day a ba'al ha'bus (a community member not part of the Yeshiva) came in and saw a young boy learning. As he was a youngster, his hat was a bit oversized. The ba'al ha'bus went over to him and said "Shalom aleichem Hat, where is the bucher [boy]." The boy turned around and was rather disturbed by this insult, noticed the man's rather prominent nose. The boy replied, "Shalom aleichem Nose where is the ba'al ha'bus." This reply incensed the ba'al ha'bus and he immediately went to the Hatam Sofer to complain.

    The Hatam Sofer called the boy over to hear his side of the story. The boy explained he was minding his own business when this person made a comment about his hats size to which he just replied in kind. Upon hearing this, the Hatam Sofer responded, using a verse from this week's Torah portion (Det. 29:23), if this is so, "מה חרי האף הגדול הזה." (A play on words to mean "what anger [spite] this great nose displays.")

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    This Saturday night many begin to say the Selichot prayers. There is one prayer in particular that has raised question throughout the centuries, Machnesi Rachmim. This prayer, which asks the angels to take our prayers is controversial. The reason for the controversy is that we generally avoid praying to angels, instead, we pray to God. Now, in truth there are many, many prayers that are either directly or indirectly addressed at angels, but Machnesi Rachmim is perhaps the most overt although one should keep this point in mind should one decide to drop Machnesi Rachmim.

    Already from the times of the Geonim, they have dealt with angels in prayers (they said it was ok). As the generation progressed there were those who questioned this and claimed these prayers ran afoul of the prohibition of praying to someone other than God. This debate was brought to head in the 18th century in Italy, where both camps were represented by long letters for and against. In the end, it was decided that it was ok for people to continue saying these prayers. Of course, this decision did not appease those who thought it was blasphemous to do so, and the debate continued on (as almost all Jewish debates).

    In the case of the 18th century debate, the various positions were recorded in one of the earliest Jewish encyclopedias, Pachad Yitzhak. Those who said it was ok based this upon two authorities (although there are others, some of which they were aware of and some of which they were not). These two were the Etz Shetul commentary on R. Joseph Albo’s Sefer HaIkkrim (first printed Venice, 1618) and the commentary on the Machzor, Hadrat Kodesh (this commentary was first printed in 1567 in Lubin, however, this commentary was then "updated" in the Prague by the editor R. Moshe Shedel. This Prague edition was reprinted numerous time, however, in all these early editions there was no specific title to the commentary and instead was called "haMifaresh." The title Hadrat Kodesh was first used in the 1600 Venice edition and then in subsequent reprints.) [What is of passing interest, and one wonders whether it precipitated this controversy, is that this commentary was just republished right before the debate broke out in Venice 1711 - this editions title page is reproduced below. As one can see it is very elaborate with rather interesting illustrations. Additionally, the Hadrat Kodesh commentary relating to the above discussion from this edition is also reproduced below.] On the other hand, the opponents discounted the justifications offered by these two (at times in rather irreverent terms) and claimed based upon a simple reading these types of prayers were prohibited. Two leading Rabbis were called to adjudicate the matter, and as I mentioned above, they ruled the practice could continue. One, R. Shmuel Abaob, actually had to respond again as the opponents refused to accept his initial decision.

    One of the other more common places this comes up is in the prayers Shalom Alechim said on Friday nights. Again, this is more or less the same debate regarding the stanza asking the angels for a blessing. R. Jacob Emden in his Siddur as well as his commentary on the Tur/Shulchan Orakh actually offers the same justification as that of the Hadrat Kodesh and then realizes that it is the same and they would be equally applicable. R. Emden ultimately decided to remove all the passages from Shalom Alechim with the exception of the first stanza (although in most purported editions of R. Emden’s Siddur including the most recent one, the entire Shalom Alechim appears.)

    All of the above and more was collected in an article which appeared in the journal Yeshurun. This article was so good and so comprehensive it was then plagiarized in the book Mo’adim l’Simcha. In fact, R. Fruend the “author” of Mo’adim l’Simcha even took the errors which appear in the Yeshurun article. For instance, they cite to the work Sheboli haLeket no. 252 when the correct citation is to 282; and Fruend repeats this. Fruend, seems to have a very different view of plagiarizing than is currently accepted. He does cite to the Yeshurun article a few times, but this does not absolve his copying verbatim of the article. This is not the only time Fruend does this. Instead, he does this over and over again with many of the articles which appear in his books. Sometimes he gives passing credit to the original authors and sometimes he doesn’t. While it is somewhat troubling that Fruend does this, it is worthwhile pointing out that Fruend's books, Mo'adim l'Simcha are very good (in part because he uses excellent sources) and at the very least compiling and condensing the many articles on the many topics he covers is worthwhile. Finally, not everything in his books is plagiarized, instead, there are whole articles which are Fruend's and they are also very good.

    Sources: R. Dr. Shlomo Sprecher, “The Controversy About Machnesi Rachmim” in Yeshurun no. 3 p. 706-729; R. Fruend, Mo’adim l’Simcha, vol. Elul – Tishrei p. 37-62; also for more on Machnesi Rachmim including manuscript evidence see S. Emmanuel's article available here. Of course, the above does not discuss the more general question of whether one should say any piyuttim which is for another post.

    Title page from the Venice 1711 Machzor Sha'ar Bat Rabim which includes the Hadras Kodesh commentary
    Commentary of the Hadrat Kodesh discussing the Machnesi Rachamim prayer

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    There is an excellent book in which a women describes growing up in Lithuana in the early and mid 1800's. This book, Rememberings, originally written in German, has recently been translated into English. The author, Pauline Wengeroff, grew up in a traditional Orthodox home. She records a terrific amout of customs and how life was then. Eventually, due in part to the influence of the haskalah she, her husband and her family did not remain Orthodox. The book was fully translated and the complete unedited version is available online for free here (although there seems to be issues with the first part) or you can purchase a more readable version here.

    There is a terrific story relating to Yom Kippur and how, perhaps, some customs get started.

    In Europe, it was somewhat common to have what was known as a zoger (a man) or zogerkes (a woman). This, literaly translated, means a sayer or repeater. This person served to allow women who otherwise could not read to be able to recite the proper prayers. The zoger would say the prayer and this was then repeated. When it was a man doing this, he had to crawl into a barrel which was put in the women's section.

    With this background we can now move to the story as recorded by Pauline Wengeroff.
    "On Yom Kippur the zogerke was supposed to recite the paryer in a tearful voice." The butcher's wife was hard of hearing so "she begged the zogerke to pray a little louder: she'd give her an extra large liver from the shop if she [the zogerke] would do it for her. The zogerke answered in her weepeing prayer voice, weaving her reply into the recitiation: 'The same with the liver, the same without the liver.' A moment later the men were startled to hear the entire women's gallery sob aloud in a full voice: 'The same with the liver, the same without the liver.'"
    The story continues when one of the women were leaving Shul and another was entering. The one coming in asked what they were up to, to which she got the reply
    "Nu, the prayer about the liver." "Liver? Last year we didn't say anything like that!" "Today, efsher (maybe), because it's a leap year . . ."

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    Menachem Mendel has a very good post discussing the issues and the history regarding the propriety of blowing the shofar on Rosh HaShana when it falls on Shabbat. A central figure in this discussion is R. Akiva Yosef Schlesinger. R. Schlesinger is perhaps best known for his book Lev haIvri a commentary on the last will and testament of the Hatam Sofer. In this book, which perhaps can be used to trace much of Haredi ideology today, the bulk is devoted to putting down the "reformers." He discusses Mendelssohn's Biur, speaking in the vernacular and a host of other issues. There is no doubt he held what many would consider extremists views. R. Schlesinger has a less well known side - his love of Israel and dislike or almost vehement hatred of inertia.

    R. Schlesinger who was born and raised in Hungry emigrated to Israel. When he got to Israel, at the time, most people were supported by the various kollelim. These kollelim would be set up by country, Hungarian Kollel etc. (the American Kollel was controversial). These kollelim in turn wielded tremendous power - they had the money. R. Schlesinger took a very dim view of these kollelim. First, he felt the money was not given out based upon need and merit, rather it was given based upon status and connections. Additionally, this system only ensured that people would never actually try and make money themselves. To be clear, these kollelim did not only support people learning full time, rather, almost everyone was supported by them.

    R. Schlesinger came out strongly against the kollelim and decided to set up his own system. This system he outlined his book Kollel HaIvirim. First, he explains his system would be democratic. He explains that the Torah requires one to follow the majority. This is so, even when a Godol or the like holds different views. He proves this by pointing to the system of the Sanhedrin. There, they did not just go with greatest Rabbi on the Sanhedrin, rather, they started polling the views of the lowest one. (p. 7).

    According to R. Schlesinger's system the Kollel or Board would be in charge of almost everything. They would oversee the education of the children. He advocated for marriage at 18 and then a 3 year period to devote to study. However, R. Schlesinger notes, not too many people are successful at just studying Torah full time, therefore, the Kollel should see who is not or who does not have an interest and they should learn a proper profession. This study should not be half hazard. Instead, they should study from a expert and devote a significant amount of time to this endeavor. He includes agriculture among these professions. (p. 9-10)

    R. Schlesinger did not shy away from accountability. Even today many religious organizations do not have open books. R. Schlesinger, however, advocated for a yearly accounting which would be sent to all where they could view all the expenses and the accounting of the Kollel. (p.11).

    He also seems to have taken what today would be considered a religious Zionist view of the then current status of Israel. Although at the time, Israel was under the rule of the Turkish government, due to the fact, they were fairly benevolent he understood that it was already then - long before the founding of the State of Israel - the messianic era. Specifically, he points to the Talmudic passage which explains the only change during the messianic era will be the removal of government oppression (אין בין עולם הזה לימות המשיח אלא שעבוד מלכיות בלבד). (p. 19) Additionally, he chides his former countrymen on their aversion to move to Israel. He says R. Isaiah Horowitz in the 16th century moved to Israel although it took a year to do. Today, he says, it is easy. The government gives anyone who wants a pass and it on the fast ships and rail it takes a mere 10 days. (p. 16).

    Although it was fairly safe, R. Schlesinger was aware there still should be a security force. Thus, he advocated for a month long rotation for everyone. These watchers would serve for a month and then others would take their place. He says they should do so even on Shabbat. (p. 26b).

    He wanted everyone to have a flag. There would be a general Kollel haIvrim flag with white, green, purple and turquoise. Then each shevet would have their own as well. (p. 27).

    All of these plans met with serious resentment from the established Kollelim. They viewed him as undermining their system and way of life. So, as anyone who wants to get someone in trouble does - they searched his books to find something they could ban. Sure enough, they were successful. In his book Bet Yosef Hadash, which is on the Bet Yosef, he discusses a terrible problem and attempts to find a satisfactory answer. In Russia at the time there was forced conscription for a 25 year period. This was a Jewish death sentence - some people, were taken as young as 8. So, some would flee Russia and move to Israel to avoid this. At times, their wives refused to come. R. Schlesinger, therefore, discusses the possibility of getting around the Herem of Rabbenu Gershon on two wives. R. Schlesinger's enemies, however, accused him of doing away with and not respecting the Herem.

    They consigned his books to the fire and put a ban on them.

    In the end, however, his students (and he had many) were successful in setting up the city of Petach Tikvah (see here for more). They wanted R. Schlesinger to join them, and he did. He purchased land, but to honor his father in law, purchased it in his father in laws name.

    Unfortunately, this had terrible ramifications. When R. Schlesinger returned to Hungary to gain support for his movement, his enemies went to his father in law. His father in law was old and could not take this. His father in law signed over the land he owned in Petach Tikvah, the land which was the culmination of R. Schlesinger's dream to his enemies, the Hungarian Kollel. R. Schlesinger then attempted to get it back. He did win some court victories. His opponents, however, used his own means against him. They ignored the pronouncements of the Bet Din, knowing that R. Schlesinger would never go to a non-Jewish court.

    It seems that not only was R. Schlesinger a tragic figure, but other things he touched as well. Shmuel Weingarten was an avid Zionist. He published, among other things, a book demonstrating the collection of anti-Zionist letters in Dovev Siftei Yeshanim were forgeries. At the end of his life he obtained letters sent to R. Schlesinger's group (although they don't mention it, Weingarten shows they in fact were)and published them in a volume titled B'Shevach Yishuv Ha'aretz. These letters were from many Rabbis, some who were not that well known. Weingarten, as he notes, had to spend considerable effort tracking down and providing biographical information about these persons. He also transcribed the letters. He, unfortunately, did not live to see this book published.

    In 1999/2000 some in Beni Brak B. Margolius (most likely a woman due to the lack of first name), published a book, Ragli Mevasar. This book is divided into three parts. The first two are biographies of R. Schlesinger and his father in law. The last part are the very same letters originally published by Weingarten. Additionally, they include the very same biographies that Weingarten did. There is absolutely no attribution at all! I have included a page from each were the reader can see how they are the same. The top page is from Weingarten and the bottom from Ragli Mevasar. None of the library catalogs I have seen note that this is plagiarized.

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