Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Anonymous Sefarim

Although, taken for granted today, there is a rather interesting discussion regarding putting ones name on one’s sefer. The early Jewish books we have- Tanak, Mishna and Talmud, the authors or compliers did use their names. It appears that this practice started in the times of the patanim. R. Yehuda haHasid says
In the early days, the patanyim - the ones that appear in Tanakh - did not use acrostics. Further, early blessings that were fashioned by the Great Assembly do not either have such attributions. However, when wicked people began creating songs of nothing . . .and people could not discern what the righteous people had written and what these wicked people wrote, the righteous people began putting their names in the acrostic . . . and with this the wicked could no longer take credit for poems that were not theirs.
Sefer Hasidim (ed. Wistinetzki), Frankfort 1924, no. 470, p. 133.

Thus, the practice of taking credit for one’s written came in order to allow the reader to know the provenance of the work. Others claim the use of the acrostic was just borrowed from non-Jewish sources. Be it as it may, these claims only date the usage of the writing the authors name to the time after the Talmud.

Some, however, go to some length to show that even in the books of Tanakh and the Mishna the authors or compliers did, at the very least, hint to their name. The Midrash Tanchuma explains why the letter Hey in the verse in Hazenu (Devarim 32:6) H-l’shem tigmilu zot (ה-לה')is separate from the name of God. The Midrash explains that this unusual separation is to “tell the reader to take the first letters of the verses up until this verse. The Hey (ה) from האזינו, the Yud (י) from יערף, the Kuf (כ) from כי שם, the Hey (ה) from הצור, the Shin (ש) from שחת לו, and finally the Hey (ה) from ה-לה'. Those letters numerical value equal the name of Moshe as this is Moshe signing his name just as a person who finishes his book signs his name to it.” (Tanchum Hazenu 5). Though some note that this quote may have actually been inserted later, it does demonstrate that at a fairly early time people felt it was important to claim authorship to their own work.

At times, however, there were some even long after the Talmud who wrote works in an anonymous fashion. One book provoked a discussion that sheds some light on the above discussion. R. Shmuel Aboab (1610-1694), wrote the ethical work Sefer HaZikronot, first published in 1631 in Prague, recently reprinted in 2001. However, the book was published anonymously. R. Hayyim Yosef David Azulai (Hida) in his bibliographical work, Shem HaGedolim, has an extensive discussion on the entry for the Sefer HaZikronot whether one should or should not note that one is acatully the author of a book. Hida quotes another passage in the Sefer Hasdim that offers an explanation why some do not note they are the author. “The early ones did not write their names on their works for example who wrote Torat Kohanim, Mehilta etc. so that they would not derive benefit from this world and lose any reward they will have in the world to come.” Sefer Hasidim, ed. R. R. Margolis no. 367. However, Hida notes that although for the “early ones” such as the those before the time of the Geonim, they did not reveal their authorship, from the times of the Geonim this has become common practice and thus in today there is no longer a reason to hide who the author is. Hida explains that the nature of R. Aboab’s book was the reason he did not reveal his authorship. The Sefer HaZikronot is a book of exhortations, a mussar book, as R. Aboab did not want to appear as more righteous in giving ethical direction he decided to remain anonymous.

Interestingly, the Hida nor anyone else, ever mention any prohibition in revealing the name of an anonymous work.

Sources: Yakov Shmuel Speigel, Amudim b’Toldot HaSefer HaIvri - Kitiva V’Hatakato, Ramat-Gan 2005, pp. 307-317; R. Hayyim Yosef David Azuali, Shem HaGedolim, Jerusalem 1997, vol. 2 Sefarim, 46-49.

ADDITIONAL NOTE: for further on the pronunciation of the word ה-לה' see David Yishaki, in R. Jacob Emden, Luah Eres, 2000, appendix.

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