Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Hebrew Printing in America 1735-1926 - Review I

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- yahoo.com). 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...

1 comment:

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