Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Plagiarism I

As some of you have brought up in the comments regarding other works that had been plagiarized I thought it would be appropriate to discuss some of the more famous and those less so of instances of plagiarism.

The first example, is perhaps the most well-known one, that of the work Mekore Minhagim. This work which in question and answer form, discusses the sources and reasons for various customs was first printed in 1846 in Berlin by R. Avrohom Lewysohn (1805-1861). This work contained 100 of these questions and answers and consequently ended with a , ויזרע אברהם מאה שערים ויברכו ה and Avrohom planted 100 gates. This, of course referenced the authors name and the fact he wrote 100 questions. This is lifted from the verse in Genesis 26:12 ויזרע יצחק . . .מאה שערים ויברכו ה.

However, if today one tries to purchase this book (any one still can it has been reprinted many times) instead of a photocopy of the 1846 edition by Lewysohn, one gets a book with the same title but the author's name is actually Yosef Finkelstein (originally published in Vienna in 1851). Also, instead of 100 questions there are only 41. Those differences aside, the remaining 41 questions and answers are word for word the same as Lewysohn's.

This plagiarism was noted almost immediately in MGWJ vol. 1, 1852 p. 34(available here.) However, this did not stop Finkelstein, and his edition was published possibly twice in 1851 alone and from then on numerous times to this day.

While Finkelstein's is word for word, he was forced to change a few minor things. One in particular was the play on the verse at the end, his reads, ויזרע ויסף מא' שערים. Although he attempted to retain the play on the verse, this fails as there was only 41 gates in his edition.

Finkelstein did not stop there. When his treachery was revealed in the paper HaMagid, he actually went on to argue that it was Lewysohn who copied from him and not the other way around. Finkelstein claimed when he was passing through Berlin, Lewysohn asked to borrow his manuscript and surreptitiously copied it. Finkelstein, however, does not explain how Lewysohn was able to add the additional 59 question and answers. Additionally, we will see in the next installment on this book, how Finkelstein gives himself away.

For more on plagiarism especially the halakhic discussion see here.

(Continued here)

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