Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Mossad HaRav Kook 2015 sale

 Mossad HaRav Kook 2015 sale

By Eliezer Brodt

For over thirty years, starting on Isru Chag of Pesach, Mossad HaRav Kook publishing house makes a big sale on all of their publications, dropping prices considerably (some books are marked 65 percent off). In recent years their practice has been to publish several new titles in the few weeks prior to the sale; during the rest of the year not too many titles are printed. They also reprint some of their older titles that have gone out of print. Some years important works are printed, some years not so much. In recent years one important title printed for the first time was R' Dovid Tzvi Hoffman's commentary on Chumash Shemos, translated from the original German.

What follows is a list and brief description of some of their newest titles.

א. תורת חיים- משלי, ב' חלקים תתקעז עמודים, כולל פירושים על כ"י עם מקורות והערות, של רס"ג, רש"י, ראב"ע, ר' יוסף קמחי, ר' יונה, רי"ד, רלב"ג, מאירי, ר' נחמיאש.

This work is a continuation of their excellent Toras Chaim series which is very useful. To date they have done Chumash, Avot (2 volumes), 5 Megilot (3 volumes) and Hagadah Shel Pesach.

ב. הגדה של פסח- תורת הראשונים, ר' אביגור אריאלי, פירושי הראשונים שבדפוס ושבכתבי- יד שלא נכתבו על סדר הגדה, רכד עמודים.

 This work is a large collection of citations from Rishonim, related to the Hagadah but not specifically written as a Pirush on the Hagadah, such as citations from, for example, in their works on Chumash or the like. The focus of this collection is the material dealing with Peshat of the Hagadah not the Halacha aspect. I hope that eventually they will print such a collection of all such Halacha material.

ג. הכתב והקבלה, ר' יעקב צבי מקלנבורג, ב' חלקים, ביאור על חמשה חומשי תורה, ערוך ומתוקן על פי דפוס ראשון עם מבוא השלמות ומפתחות בעריכת ר' משה צוריאל, תתתרנו + 80 עמודים.

 There are numerous highlights to this new edition of this classic work. Among them are the notes and many indexes all done by Rabbi M. Tzuriel. Perhaps most important is the restoration of seventy(!) pages of text found only in the first edition of this work.

ד-ה. דרשות נחלת דוד, ר' דוד טעביל ממינסק, ערוך על פי דפוס ראשון עם מקורות  והערות ובתוספות כותרות משנה מאת הרב דוד רובינשטיין, שיח עמודים.  דרשות בית דוד, ערוך על פי דפוס ראשון עם מקורות  והערות ובתוספות כותרות משנה מאת הרב דוד רובינשטיין, תמא עמודים.

In addition to bringing back into print these two classic Derush seforim from R' Dovid Tevel, Talmid Muvhak of R' Chaim Volozhiner, This edition also abounds with useful notes, mostly pointing to comparative sources from his Rebbe and the Gra. One minor complaint is the lack of an index.

ה. תשובות הרשב"א, חלק שלישי, מסכת שבת עירובין: הרב חיים דימיטרובסקי.
This is the second volume from this series. This is part of the much anticipated work on the Rashba from Professor C.Z. Dimitrovsky z"l. However we will have to wait for a careful review from the experts on the Rashba to weigh in if this is as important as was expected.

ו-ז פירוש רלב"ג, על נביאים ראשונים ב'- כתובים, הרב יעקב לוי על פי כ"י ודפוס ראשון עם מקורו והערות. פירוש רלב"ג על איוב- משלי [איוב ע"י ר' משה צוריאל, משלי ע"י ר' יעקב לוי].
These two volumes continue the series of critical editions of the Ralbag's works. The volume on Iyuv has a partial index of the Ralbag from R' M. Tzuriel. Worth mentioning is his small newish work on the Ralbag called Otzros HaRalbag (179 pp.), not printed by Mossad HaRav Kook.

ח. תוספות רי"ד על מסכת קידושין, מהדיר: ר' דוד מצגר.
This work is based on the first edition (as no known manuscripts have survived on this Mesechtah) and includes many notes.
ט. אעברה נא, רבקה מנוביץ-מעיני, סיפורו העלום של הרב דב מעיני מצורף דיסק עם מאמרים דברי תורה וניגונים.  תחקיר היסטורי שלמה טיקוצינסקי, 287 עמודים.

This biography looks very promising. It deals with R' Maayuni's tragically short life. Included are parts about life in Slabodkah, his relationship with his Rebbe Muvhack, R' Avrhom Eliyhuah Kaplan, his time in Beis Medrash Harabonim in Berlin, Yeshivas Chevron in Eretz Yisroel and more. This book was written by his daughter and Dr. Shlomo Tikochinski (expert on Slabodkah and Chevron Yeshivah). It also includes excerpts of many of his letters. In the digital world of today this volume comes with a flash drive which contains a bunch of songs composed by R' Maayuni and a volume of his correspondence (243 pp.). The digital volume includes many pieces of great interest such as a 17 page article about R' Avrhom Eliyhuah Kaplan, a letter of his to a friend written right after R' Kook famous speech at the opening of Hebrew university (anti) and a beautiful descriptive letter of R' Moshe Mordechai Epstein arrival to Yerushalayim and to Chevron [including references to the fights between the camps of R' Kook and R' Sonenfeld].  I guess the reason why this volume was not printed together with the biography was a financial issue but I would have liked for them to have printed it in hard copy (I am old fashioned).

י. תורה שבעל פה, סמכותה ודרכיה, ר' יהושע ענבל, 779 עמודים.
 A table of contents of this work is available upon request. It deals with many of the "hot" and "sensitive" topics of the day. Including Chazal's knowledge of science, how to understand Chazal attitude to Aggadah and much more. I really hope to see some through reviews about this work in the future. It appears that a form of some of the material in this book originally appeared here.

 יא.  צהר לבראשית, ר' צבי אינפלד, ב' כרכים, ניתוח מעמיק לפרשת בריאת העולם עם ביאור נפלא לפסוקי תורה בענין זה, 987 עמודים.

Also worth mentioning in this brief survey is the English translation of The Mishlei Daat Mikrah volume and the two volume English translation of Esther Farbstein's work on Hungarian Jewry during the Holocaust.

One last title worth mentioning is their reprint of Rav Maimon's memoirs which appear to be of interest.

A complete catalog is available upon request eliezerbrodt@gmail.com

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

The Gematriya Haggadah

The Gematriya Haggadah
By Eli Genauer

I try to buy a new Haggadah every year to make sure I have something new to say. It is especially important at my stage in life when grandchildren will remind you if you use last year's Dvar Torah.

This year's Haggadah was definitely in the category of "מה נשתנה ההגדה הזאת מכל ההגדות". It's name is ״כוס ישועות״  and it was printed on the Isle of Djerba, Tunisia in 1947. It's author was Rabbi David Cohen (also known as רבי דוד כהן אלמג׳רבי) who served as the Rav in the southern Tunisian city of Tataouine (תיטאוין). The text of the Haggadah is translated into Judeo-Arabic and the Halachos and instructions are in that language. Thankfully, the Peirush of Rav Cohen is in Hebrew which allowed me access to his approach to the Haggadah.

We find out a bit about Rav Cohen from the Haskamah given at the beginning of the book by six prominent Rabbis of Djerba. It states as follows:

הרב זצ״ל היה כמעט הראשון בהתישבות אחינו בית ישראל שם מראשיתו בתור שוחט ובודק ומרביץ תורה ושליח צבור,ואחר כך נתמנה לרב ומורה צדק שם.

We learn that he was a pioneer in establishing the Jewish community in Tataouine and served in many capacities there before become the Rav of the town. He authored numerous books, some printed while he was alive, and some, like this Hagaddah, printed after his Petirah in 1934.

The Haggadah was printed by a committee (המשתדלים) in Tataouine who raised money for this purpose. There are over 800 names of families or individuals who contributed to its publication. Included in this are over 100 contributors from Tataouine which gives one some idea of the size of the community.

Most of the contributors included with their names the memory of a deceased relative or a blessing for a hoped for milestone for their children. Some of the blessings were familiar to me and others were a bit different.

For a married child: ויפקדהו בבנים זכרים של קיימא אמן abbreviated as ויפקדהו בבזשק״א

This seemed to reflect a cultural preference for boys and perhaps a high rate of infant mortality.

There were no blessings for someone just to have children.

For boys there were two blessings depending on age:

ויזכה לתורה ולתפילין ולחופה and ויזכה לתפילין ולחופה

For unmarried men the hope was ויזכה לחופה 

For those a bit older (?), it was ויזכה לחופה בקרוב

In his Hakdamah, the author explains why he chose to name his Peirush כוס ישועות. He writes that the Gematriya of כוס ישועות is the same as אני הקטן דוד בן המנוח אבאתו כהן. Sort of.  The total of the latter is nine short but if you add to it the nine words כוס ישועות andאני הקטן דוד בן המנוח אבאתו כהן it comes out the same ( 878 ). One senses that the author is very attuned to Gematriyos and his commentary proves this to be true.

A good example of Rav Cohen’s use of Gematriyos is how he plays with the phrase הא לחמא עניא
He first notes that הא לחמא  has the same numerical value as the word מילה (85) indicating that בזכות המילה יצאו ממצרים.

He then writes that the word עניא has the numerical value of ענוה indicating that דבזכות הענוה יצאו
Getting back to הא לחמא which equals 85, he relates it to the word פה which has the same numerical value. Matzah is לחם עוני which requires us to do the following: שׁצריך פה האדם לענות בליל פסח בהלל והודאה לשמו יתברך שעשׂה עמנו ניסים ונפלאו

Finally, if you take the total of the first letters of הא לחמא עניא די אכלו you get 110 which is the number of years that Yosef lived. This hints at the fact that it was because of the sale of Yosef, the Jews suffered in Egypt.

The city of Tataouine is famous in popular culture because it served as the inspiration for the name of the fictional planet of Tatooine in the Star Wars movie series. Many of the scenes of Luke Skywalker’s home planet in the original movie were shot near Tataouine. I was very glad to meet a real inhabitant of Tataouine, one who has enhanced my Seder experience.

Monday, March 30, 2015

אור חדש במעשה ברבי אלעזר בהגש"פ

אור חדש במעשה ברבי אלעזר בהגש"פ

מאת דוד פרקש*

מעשה ברבי אלעזר ורבי יהושע וראב"ע ורבי עקיבא ורבי טרפון שהיו מסובין בבני ברק, והיו מספרים
ביציאת מצרים כל אותו הלילה, עד שבאו תלמידיהם ואמרו להם, "רבותינו, הגיע זמן קריאת שמע של שחרית."

 רבים תמהו על זה, איך אפשר שראשי הרים כאלה, גדולי הדור כולם, ישכחו זמן קר"ש? והאיך שייך שלא אחד מהם זכר הזמן, עד שהוצרכו לתלמידיהם להזכירם? הן אפילו מי שאסרו לעסוק בתורה קודם זמן קר"ש כמו שאר מלאכות שאסורים קודם זמן קר"ש, היינו דוקא כשלומד יחידי, אבל לא כשלומד בבית הכנסת בצבור. (ע' הרא"ש ורבינו יונה לברכות ה:, אליבא דרש"י שם, וע" שו"ע או"ח ס' פט ס"ו)  ולכאורה פשוט הטעם מפני שבצבור ליכא למיחש שמא יטרד בגירסא ויעבור הזמן, כי א"א שאין אף אחד מהצבור יזכור ויאמר לחבירו. ולכן שוב פעם קשה, אי אפילו להדיוטות לא חיישינן, האיך אפשר שכל חכמים אלו שכחו?

והנה הצעד הראשון הנחוץ לתת פתרון לבעיית כלשהי בדבר הכתוב, הוא להבין בדיוק מה באמת כתוב.  כאן, נוהגים העולם לקרוא המאמר דלעיל כאילו באו התלמידים, והם הם אשר אמרו לרביהם  "רבותינו, הגיע זמן קר"ש של שחרית." אבל נחזי אנן. מצינו כמה מקומות בספרי חז"ל, בבלי ומדרדים, אשר בהם בעל המאמר עצמו – כלומר, הסתמא -  קא קרי להרבנן בהמאמר בשם המונח, "רבותינו." ראה כמה דוגמאות:

·        שבת (לג:) ת"ש כשנכנסו רבותינו לכרם ביבנה היה שם רבי יהודה ור' אלעזר בר' יוסי ור"ש נשאלה שאלה זו בפניהם וכו'.
·        שם (קלח:) ת"ר כשנכנסו רבותינו לכרם ביבנה אמרו עתידה תורה שתשתכח מישראל שנאמר וכו'.
·        יבמות (סב:) אמרו שנים עשר אלף זוגים תלמידים היו לו לרבי עקיבא מגבת עד אנטיפרס וכולן מתו בפרק אחד מפני שלא נהגו כבוד זה לזה והיה העולם שמם עד שבא ר"ע אצל רבותינו שבדרום ושנאה להם ר"מ ור' יהודה ור' יוסי ורבי שמעון ורבי אלעזר בן שמוע והם הם העמידו תורה אותה שעה.
·        ויקרא רבה (ה:ד) מעשה בר' אליעזר ור' יהושע ורבי עקיבא שהלכו לחולות אנטוכיא לעסק מגבת צדקה לחכמים והוה תמן חד בר נש והוה שמיה אבא יודן והוה יהיב פרנסה בעין טובה פעם אחד ירד מנכסיו וראה רבותינו שם ונתכרכמו פניו, הלך לו אצל אשתו וכו'
·        דברים רבה (ואתחנן כד) מעשה שהיו רבותינו ברומי ר"א הוא אליעזר בן הורקנוס ורבי יהושע הוא יהושע בן חנניה ורבן גמליאל.
·        שם (ראה ח) מעשה בר"א ור' יהושע שיצאו לגבות לעסק מצות רבותינו הלכו לחילתה של אנטוכיא והיה שם אדם אחד והיה נקרא אבא יודן והיה למוד ליתן לרבותינו ביד רחבה וכו'.
·        שיר השירים רבה (ב:ג) (מדרש חזית) בשלפי השמד נתכנסו רבותינו לאושא ואלו הן ר' יהודה ורבי נחמיה ר"מ ור' יוסי ורשב"י ור' אליעזר בנו של רבי יוסי הגלילי ור' אליעזר בן יעקב.

אין מן הצורך לכנם לסבך השאלה של זמן עריכת הש"ם והמדרשים (או חלקיהם.) הרי ידוע כי אפילו אותם מסכתות או מדרשים שהגיעו לצורתם הסופית בזמן מאוחר, עדיין נכללים בהם מאמרים עתיקים מזמן קדום. הרי עובדה היא כי מונח זה -  "רבותינו" -  מרגלא בפומייהו של עורכי התלמוד והמדרשים. וידוע כי גם ההגדה של פסח כבר היה חטיבה בפני עצמה בזמן הגמרא, והיא נזכרת בגמרא ככך. (ע' בבא מציעא קטז. רבא אפיק זוגא דסרבלא וספרא דאגדתא מיתמי בדברים העשויין להשאיל ולהשכיר. ושמא תאמר זהו רק ספרי אגדה בעלמא, ע' פסחים קטז: והאמר מרימר שאלתינהו לרבנן דבי רב יוסף מאן דאמר אגדתא בי רב יוסף.)

ושים לב בפרט מי נכללים בהחכמים הנזכרים בתור "רבותינו" ברוב הדוגמאות דלעיל –רבי אליעזר, רבי יהושע, רבי עקיבא, רבי אלעזר, חכמי יבנה -  היינו בדיוק החכמים שנזכרו במעשה ברבי אלעזר בבני ברק.[1]

והנה ידוע היא איך שפסיק אחד שלא במקומו עלול לגרום טעות שלמה בהבנת דברים שבכתב. (לדוגמאה אחת ע' מחקרים בדרכי התלמוד להגר"מ מרגליות ערך "רב הונא ורב חסדא", והוא כותב שם "מכאן אזהרה לאותם "הפוסקים" תלמודא דידן בסימני פסוק, כמה מומחיות וזהירות צריכה לכך.") ללא ידיעת מקום הנכון ששייך הפסיק, המשפט יכול לשנות לגמרי.

ועתה, כבר כתבתי שנוהגים להבין המעשה כאילו התלמידים באו ואמרו "רבותינו, הגיע זמן." ברם, אחרי כל האמור לעיל, נ"ל שהמובן בדיוק הפוך: "רבותינו" כאן הוא דברי הסתמא, לא התלמידים. רבי אלעזר וחבריו היו מסובין בבני ברק, והיו מספרים ביציאת מצרים כל אותו הלילה עד שבאו תלמידיהם ואמרו להם רבותינו, "הגיע זמן קריאת שמע של שחרית." כלומר, הרבנן בעצמם עסקו בספור יציאת מצרים, ובאו תלמידיהם – לשמוע ולהקשיב – וכשהגיע זמן קר"ש, הפסיקו הדיון ואמרו רבותינו  בעצמם לתלמידים (או רב אחד אמר לשני) שעכשיו נפסיק, כי הגיע זמן קר"ש.

ואולי יש להביא קצת ראיה לכך מהמקביל היחיד הידוע לי, התוספתא האחרונה לפסחים (י:ח) (הובא בטור ס' תפא) שם כתוב כך:

 "חייב אדם [לעסוק בהלכות הפסח] כל הלילה אפילו בינו לבין בנו אפילו בינו לבין עצמו אפילו בינו לבין תלמידו מעשה ברבן גמליאל וזקנים שהיו מסובין בבית ביתוס בן זונין בלוד והיו [עסוקין בהלכות הפסח] כל הלילה עד קרות הגבר הגביהו מלפניהם ונועדו והלכו [להן] לבית המדרש איזו היא ברכת הפסח ברוך אשר קדשנו במצותיו וצונו לאכול הפסח איזו ברכת הזבח ברוך אשר קדשנו במצותיו וצונו לאכול הזבח."[2]

אמנם אין מקור זה דומה בדיוק להגש"פ. מיהו, קרוב הוא, וכאמור זהו המקביל היחיד להמעשה אשר מובא בהגדה. וכאן הרי אין זכר כלל לענין תלמידים. הם לא נזכרים בכלל, ואין להם שום קשר להמעשה. אדרבה, לפי התוספתא היו עסוקים עד קרות הגבר. משמע לכאורה כי לא היו התלמידים חלק מרכזי להספור. ולפי הקריאה המסורתי המקובלת, קצת קשה, כי מי הזכיר הרבנן שהגיע זמן? ברם, לפי הדרך שהצגתי כאן עולה יפה, כי באמת ביאת התלמידים רק היה גרמא בעלמא -  כמו קרות הגבר – ששרת כסימן להחכמים שהגיע זמן לפסוק. אבל אפילו בלעדיהם  היו מפסיקים רבותינו  לקרות קר"ש.

יודע אני שקשה לסבול הבנה אחרת לחלוטין מהמובן המסורתי. אבל זה באמת נראה לענ"ד אמתת הדבר. בהבנה זו מסולקת כל הקושי אשר בו התחלתי. ותכלית הדרשה, כלומר נקודת הלקח של המאמר, לא זזה ממקומה כלל וכלל. בעל ההגדה מדגיש לנו חשיבות ספור יציאת מצרים, שהחכמים עסקו בו כל הלילה. לא הוצרכו לתלמידיהם להזכירם, אלא אדרבה, הם הזכירו אותם. ועתה מנוחתם כבוד.

* Mr. Farkas, an attorney practicing as in-house labor counsel for FirstEnergy Corporation, received his rabbinic ordination from Ner Israel Rabbinical College in 1999. He lives with his family in Cleveland, Ohio.  This is his second appearance in the Seforim Blog, see his article “Rashbam the Talmudist, Reconsidered.” (November, 2012).

[1] אין זאת אומרת כי לא נמצא מקומות אחרות שהמונח "רבותינו" קאי על דור מאוחר. אדרבה, מצינו בגיטין (עו:) תנא רבותינו התירוה לינשא מאן רבותינו אמר רב יהודה אמר שמואל בי דינא דשרו מישחא, פרש"י ר' יהודה נשיאה שהיה בימי האמוראים בן בנו של רבינו הקדוש. אבל כבר כתב ר"י הלוי בדורות ראשונים (חלק ה , פרק ט) ש-"יש בזה דבר חדש אשר לא הושם אליו לב כלל ודבר גדול מאד... שדברי שמואל בגיטין מאן רבותינו, בי דינא דשרו משחא (והיינו ר' יהודה נשיאה ובית דנו) אינו על פרט הזה לבד, כי אם שהוא כלל על כל הש"ס, על כל ההכרעות בשם "רבותינו" אחר דין המשנה." וע'ש בהמשך דבריו שזהו דור אחרון של תנאים. אנן הב"ע בדור או דורות שלפני זה.                                     
כמו"כ מצינו "רבותינו שבבבל" שקאי ארב ושמואל, ו"רבותינו שבארץ ישראל" שקאי על רב אבא. (שבועות מז.) אבל זהו דוקא בשם לוואי, כמבואר בגמרא שם, לא בשם "רבותינו" בלבד.                      
[2]    אין שינויים מהותיים בגירסאות המובאות במהדורות חזון יחזקאל או תוספתא כפשוטה

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

On the Maxwell House Haggadah

For contemporary American Jews, it is not an exaggeration to claim the Maxwell House Haggadah, as one of the most commonly used and widely known haggadahs. Even President Obama was aware of this history when he quipped regarding another recent haggadah “does this mean we can no longer use the Maxwell House Haggadah anymore?"


The first Maxwell House sponsored haggadah was published in 1932. See Yudolov, Otzar ha-Haggadot no. 3428. Although the title page does not provide a date, the Haggadah includes a five-year Hebrew calendar.  Thus, to date the Haggadah, the first year indicated in the calendar is used as a proxy for the date of publication.  The first edition includes a calendar beginning in 1932, the next edition begins with 1933, and so on.  See Yudolov, nos. 3428, 3455, 3489, 3594, 3620, 3656, 3689, 3721.  According to Yudolov, the Haggadah wasn’t published from 1941-1948, but otherwise has been consistently published yearly, if in a changed format.  In the early years,   other than the updated calendar the same title page and wrapping was used.  The sameness perhaps explains why the New York Times in two different articles accompanied by the identical photograph of the Maxwell House Haggdah, captions one 1932 and the other 1934.  

The 1932 date is confirmed by the Maxwell House advertising campaign that included the Haggadah.       

Maxwell House was not the first corporate sponsored haggadah, there were many before it.  For example, the West Side National Bank in Chicago sponsored one in 1919, which was printed in both Yiddish and English versions. Sometime in the 1920s, the American National Bank in Newark (whose name appeared in English and Yiddish) sponsored a haggadah, this one included both Hatikvah and the Star Spangled Banner (a common occurrence in many haggadahs published in America). Numerous other banks sponsored haggadas throughout the 1920s.  Postum, a coffee “substitute” put out its own haggdah in 1935, by then Postum was also part of the General Foods’ portfolio.

In 1929, Yeshiva Chaim Berlin sponsored one, as “a token of gratitude to its donors” - although in the introduction the editors write that the haggadah was distributed “in the fervent hope that this token will serve as a reminder of [the recipient’s] holy obligation to help the Yeshiva and assist in the undertaking to erect the new building.”  It includes illustrations of the Zionist and American flags, every teacher/rabbi pictured is beardless, and there are numerous pictures of the classrooms, many of which have a portrait of Lincoln hanging. Finally, it contains “a brief survey of the Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin, founded in 1912.” [By 1970, Yeshiva Chaim Berlin sponsored/published five haggadahs. See Yudolov, Otzar ha-Haggadaot, index, sub. Yeshiva Chaim Berlin.]

Some corporate sponsorships tied in more directly to the food and drink of Peasach, wine and meat. For example, Hebrew National meat products sponsored a haggadah.  Mogen David wines sponsored a haggadah in the 1920’s.(It is lacking a date, however, Yudolov, Otzar ha-Haggadot, no. 2807, dates it to “192-”. If Yudolov is correct, then Pinney’s dating of the use of brand Mogen David to 1947, needs to be corrected.  Thomas Pinney, A History of Wine in America, Univ. of Calif. Press, 2005, 174.)   Similarly, Another wine company, Schapiro’s House of Kosher Wines, California Wine Company, sponsored one in 1941.  And the Manischewitz Company, got into the haggadah sponsorship game in 1943.  While Striets[‘] Matza sponsored one in 1945. 

Nor was this practice limited to sponsorship of Hebrew publications.  In 1900, Chase & Sanborn, then one of the largest US coffee concerns, issued a booklet, by one of its owners, to promote its Seal brand coffee, After Dinner Tricks and Puzzles with Your Seal Brand Coffee.  Among the brainteasers was “how many hard boiled eggs can a hungry man eat on an empty stomach?”  Answer:  One only, for after eating one, his stomach would no longer be empty.”  [The booklet also included illustrations and language that through a contemporary lens would be viewed as racist and misogynistic.]

The first edition of the Maxwell House Haggadah was issued in 1932, see supra. (The origin of the company’s name is that a roaster began selling his beans to a prestigious Nashville hotel, Maxwell House, creating a name that is similar to sponsorship.) It contains illustrations that are “reproductions of mediaeval woodcuts and of paintings of old masters.”  The illustrations are neither reproductions of woodcuts or mediaeval, instead, the illustrations can be dated to the 18th and 19th centuries and they were printed with modern techniques. 

The sponsorship is indicated on a plain paper cover, “prepared by General Foods Corporation packers of Vita-Fresh Maxwell House Coffee Kosher for Passover” (General Foods appears in smaller type than Maxwell House).  This later changed to a more colorful cover.  The anonymous introduction is written from the perspective of General Foods.  The introduction explains the rational for sponsoring this haggadah that “General Foods Corporation, packers of Maxwell House Coffee, whose relations with the Jewish people have always been most friendly, take pleasure in presenting this new, up-to-date edition of The Haggadah.”  Aside from General Foods touting its relationship with “the Jewish people” there were other reasons General Foods likely sponsored the haggadah.  After the stock market crash in 1929, Maxwell House lost considerable market share.  And, in 1932, General Foods switched its advertising agency to Benton & Bowles, in the hope of turning around Maxwell House sales.  To further this revamped advertising strategy, General Foods “allotted a whopping $3.1 million . . . to advertise Maxwell House.”  And with this advertising dollars, came sponsorships.  The most notable sponsorship was that of a radio show, the Maxwell House Show Boat, that turned into an enormous success greatly increasing it market share, and, the haggada, while perhaps then a lesser known sponsorship, ironically, today it is more well known. 

Turning to the advertising aspect of the haggadah, aside from the sponsorship, the final page is a full page ad for Maxwell House and, like the title page, touts the “vita-fresh process” which “assures of full flavor and deliciousness.  Not a trace of air remains in the can to cause loss of flavor or deterioration.” General Foods’ vacuum technique, vita-fresh, was introduced in 1931 to counter Chase & Sanborn’s earlier adoption of vacuum for its coffee and its accompanying advertisements proclaiming that without vacuum the coffee produces “rancid oil” which was “the cause of indigestion, headaches, sleeplessness,” an implicit criticism of Maxwell House.  [Chase & Sunborn were not even the first to adopt this technology.  Instead, the Hill Brothers pioneered the use of vacuum to preserve coffee freshness in 1900, Chase wouldn’t adopt it until the late 1920s and Maxwell House in the 1930s.] Ultimately, as mentioned above, vita-fresh didn’t save Maxwell House, it was the radio show.  Thus, in the second edition of the Maxwell House, it no longer mentions vita-fresh. 

There were many companies that sponsored haggadahs in the early twentieth century, today only Maxwell House survives. To account for that longevity it is helpful to keep in mind the unique conditions that led to Maxwell House’s sponsorship — the increase focus on advertising.  The other corporate sponsorships, all predate the stock market crash and subsequent Depression.  While there is no direct evidence, it is likely that those companies reduced their advertising budgets and with that went their haggadah sponsorship.  Maxwell House, however, began its sponsorship after the stock market crash and its sponsorship remained undisturbed by external economic forces, remaining the last survivor of the early Twentieth Century corporate sponsors of the Haggadah.

Haggadah: Yudolov, Otzar ha-Haggadot, Magnus Press, Jerusalem [n.d]; Goldman, Hebrew Printing in America, Brooklyn, NY:2006, no. 170; Yaari, Bibliography of the Passover Haggadah, Bamberer & Wahrman, Jerusalem, 1960. 
Coffee: Pendergrast, Uncommon Grounds, Basic Book, USA, 1999, 125, 191-96.
For an survey of coffee, see Modernist Cuisine, The Cooking Lab, Washington:2011, vol. IV, 357-403.

The most comprehensive book discussing how to brew (excellent) coffee using a variety of methods, see Scott Rao, Everything but Espresso, Professional Coffee Brewing Techniques, Canada, 2010.  

Monday, March 23, 2015

Plagiarism, Citation, and Redemption

Plagiarism, Citation, and Redemption
 By Jeremy Brown
Jeremy Brown is the author of New Heavens and a New Earth; the Jewish Reception of Copernican Thought. He writes on science, medicine and the Talmud at Talmudology.com
Plagiarism, it seems, has never been so widespread. Remember How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life, the 2006 debut novel from Harvard undergraduate Kaavya Viswanathan? The author had plagiarized several passages from others (including Salman Rushdie) and the publisher Little Brown recalled and destroyed all its unsold copies. It's not just authors; politicians plagiarize too. In 2013 the German minister for education resigned amid allegations she had plagiarized her PhD. thesis, and last year Senator Jon Walsh of Montana had his Master's Degree revoked by the US Army War College, which determined that it had been plagiarized. (Walsh dropped out of the Senate race as a result of the scandal.)  

Plagiarism is not just for politicians; academics do it to. Retraction Watch has reported at least 268 academic papers that were plagiarized. In fact plagiarism has become so pervasive in academia (and the need to report it has become so important) that a recent paper paper in Ethics & Behavior gives advice for academics considering becoming plagiarism whisleblowers. 

This seems to be a very good time in which to remind ourselves that the full and proper attribution of the work of others is a core Jewish value.  When authors of ideas are properly acknowledged, the Talmud (Yevamot 97a) states that “their lips move in the grave.” Life is briefly restored to the author when his teachings are recalled.

Sadly, Jewish literature has a many examples of plagiarism, improper attribution, and other infractions of publication etiquette. So widespread is the plagiarism of Jewish texts that it might even be considered a separate genre of Hebrew literature. Some examples have already been examined in the virtual pages of this Seforim Blog, but we will focus on three. They are each different, and their ethical breaches are not to be equated, but they are reminders of the responsibility of those who publish to check, double check, and attribute. 


Inaccurate citation is a relatively lightweight problem, but it's a problem nevertheless. The English language Schottenstein Talmud, published by ArtScroll, chose a censored text of the Talmud as the basis for its translation project. (Full disclosure: I enjoy the Schottenstein Talmud, and study from it each day, God bless it).  As I've pointed out before on this blog, this was a sad choice, and a missed opportunity to return the text to its more pristine (and more challenging) state. 

One example of ArtScroll's decision is found very early on in Berachot (3a). There, the original uncensored text records a statement said in the name of Rav:

 אוי לי שהחרבתי את ביתי ושרפתי את היכלי והגליתים לבין אומות העולם

Woe is me [God], for I destroyed my home [the Temple], burned my Sanctuary,  and sent [the Jewish People] into exile among the nations of the world. 

However, the editors of the English ArtScroll Talmud chose to use a censored text in which an additional phrase was slipped in by the censor:

Woe to my children who sinned, [and hence made me, God] destroy my home [the Temple], burn my Sanctuary, and send them into exile among the nations of the world. 

Here is a version of the uncensored text- the one that ArtScroll could have used.  As you can see, the censor's additional text is not there:

Then, to compound the error, the ArtScroll Talmud adds a footnote explaining the metaphorical meaning of this erroneous text!

To be clear: ArtScroll did not plagiarize anything, but they should have done a better job of quoting the text accurately. After all, isn't that what Rabbi Yochanan taught us to do? Had they done so, the lips of the great sage Rav, whose teachings were improperly amended by the censor, would again "move in his grave".

Now on to more egregious issues – hard-core plagiarism.


Copying a chunk of text or some choice word phrases without proper attribution is also plagiarism. One example of this is found in the 500 year-long debate over whether Jews could believe in the Copernican model of the solar system in which the sun was stationary.  In the late nineteenth century Reuven Landau (c. 1800-1883) took a conservative position against this model. He found it to be existentially threatening, and argued that because humanity was the center of the spiritual universe, it must live in the very center of the physical one. But rather than outline his claims in his own words, he stole from the very -widely read Sefer Haberit, an encyclopedic work that had been published some one hundred years earlier. Here is an excerpt from Landau's text, in which he raises what he believes to be scientific objections to the Copernican model. The bold text shows where the text is identical to Sefer Haberit, first published in 1798. 

Quite simply put, Landau stole from Sefer Haberit. A simple attribution was all that was needed. And it was not there. (You can read more about this plagarism here, and more about Sefer Haberit in my book, and in this recently published work from David Ruderman.)

Finally, let’s look at an example of full, unadulterated plagiarism: the stealing, word for word, of paragraphs – and then an entire book.


In 1788 in Berlin, Barukh Linda (not to be confused with the plagiarist Reuven Landau) published a small encyclopedia for children called Reshit Limmudim. In it, Linda carefully explained the heliocentric model of Copernicus and how the planets moved around the sun. This book became, in the words of the historian Shmuel Feiner the “most famous, up-to-date book on the Hebrew bookshelf at the end of the eighteenth century,” And then, a year after it was published a Rabbi Shimon Oppenheimer, living in Prague, stole from it.

Oppenheimer (1753-1851) objected to the claim that the earth revolved around the sun, and in 1789 in Prague he published Amud Hashachar in which he detailed his opposition. But rather than use his own words, he stole, word for word, the descriptions of the solar system from the pro-Copernican Reshit Limmudim, carefully leaving out the bits that supported Copernicus. In a move that pushes hutzpah to a new level, Oppenheimer even published a moving dedicatory poem as if it had been written to him, though he changed a few awkward phrases here and there, since the original poem mentioned Linda by name. However, the poem plagiarized from one written as a dedication to the real author Linda - from the great man of letters Naphtali Herz Wessely. 

When it came to plagiarism, this Rabbi Oppenheimer was a repeat offender.  Because in 1831 he published Nezer Hakodesh, a book on religious ethics (I'll say that again in case you missed it - it's a book on religious ethics)...which he plagiarized from the 1556 work Ma’alot Hamidot!  Here's an example so you can see the scale of the plagiarism.

There is a fascinating end to the story. The famous Rabbi Yechezkel Landau (that’s the third Landua/Linda in this little post –sorry), head of the Bet Din in Prague, banned Oppenheimer from printing further copies of Amud Hashachar, but not because it was plagarized.  Rather, Chief Rabbi Landau objected to the book’s frontispiece, in which Oppenheimer described himself as “The great Gaon, sharp and famous, the outstanding investigator Shimon”. Read it for yourself:

First edition of השחר עמוד, Prague 1789. From the Jewish National and University Library, Jerusalem

Remarkably, in his rebuke, the head of the Bet Din made no mention of the fact that sections of the book were plagiarized, even though this information was widely known. Oppenheimer proceeded undeterred, and published a second edition of his plagiarized and anti-Copernican work – although he was “honest” enough to remove the stolen poem praising his book - the poem that had originally been written by Naphtali Herz Wessely in praise of Lindau’s Reshit Limmudim.

In his recently published autobiography, the British comedian John Cleese (of Monty Python and Fawlty Towers fame) recalls how he reacted the very first time that he was recognized after a stage performance. As he walked home, a family who had been in the audience pointed at him and waived. It was by all accounts a small gesture, but Cleese recalled its effects in detail even fifty years later:

I can still remember the sudden feeling of warmth around my heart that swelled and swelled and lifted my spirits. It is as though I had been accepted into a new family, and acknowledged as having brought them something special that they really appreciated. It was only a moment but  it was wonderful, and they didn't even know my name...in today's celebrity culture it must be hard to imagine that a tiny moment of recognition like that could feel so uncomplicated and positive...

The need for recognition is not a vice or a character flaw, but a profound human need. To ignore it is not just an oversight but an act of neglect.  The rabbis of the Mishnah and the Talmud understood the corollary: that to attribute is to nourish. To acknowledge the creative act of another person is a kind of blessing, like those required before eating, or on seeing a beautiful vista.  Blessings and citations acknowledge the creative impulse in others, and so make the world a little bit better. They are redemptive. As we approach Pesach, the festival of our redemption, we should remember one final text about the power of correct citation. It was, after all, a citation that saved the Jewish people:

“Whoever cites something in the name of the person who originally said it, brings redemption to the world. As the prooftext states - “And Esther told the King in the name of Mordechai...”  (Pirkei Avot 6:6)

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