Thursday, June 29, 2006

Hebrew Printing in America 1735-1926 - Review II

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. . .

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

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 sba-at-sba2.com. 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.

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...

Friday, June 23, 2006

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.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

R. Yechiel Heller and the Status of Non-Jews

Some have recently posted regarding the status of non-Jews vis-à-vis Jews. Although, they are more focused upon the medieval time period, I though it would be instructive to discuss a more contemporary view. This view, is striking in its breath as well in its authorship.

R. Yechiel Heller, author of the teshuvot Amudi Ohr, is well-known in Yeshiva circles. While respona literature is generally not studied as one of the commentary on Talmud, there are at least two of R. Heller's responsa which are standard fare in Yeshivot when studying Talmud. (One is a discussion regarding toch k'edi dibur k'dibur and the second deals with misasek). However, R. Heller has a lesser known responsum, which does not appear in his Amudi Ohr but in a different and rare work. This work, Sheni Perakim'al Davar haHov l'Ohev haKazar (Two Chapters on the Obligation to Love the Czar) printed in St. Petersburg in 1852. One of these chapters is authored by R. Heller. In this chapter he makes a very novel and very important arguement regarding the status of non-Jews.

R. Heller argues that non-Jews today, have the status of Geri Toshav. This is so even without any formal acceptance of that status. R. Heller explains that such formal acceptance is necessary only for individuals, but when an entire nation (he focuses on Christians) falls into the category there is no need for any formal acceptance. Today, he argues, the nations of the world more or less follow the seven Noahide laws (he explains idolatry for this catogry allows for shituf) and therefore automatically considered geri toshav.

This position has tremendous ramifications which R. Heller himself notes. Specifically, all the laws in the Talmud regarding non-Jews are not applicable to geri toshav. Thus, R. Heller explains, that yayin nesach is not applicable with a ger toshav. Nor is the special prohibition against selling weapons, returning a lost object, or yihud (seclusion). Additionally, one can lend with usery to a ger toshav. All of this, R. Heller explains, is applicable to the non-Jewish people we find our self living with.

This stunning opinion did not go unchallenged. There are those who question whether, without a formal acceptance one can be considered a ger toshav. In fact, there is an entire work written to refute R. Heller's position, however, this work is still in manuscript form and has never been printed. (If someone is willing, I would like to get a copy of this from the JNUL- you can email me).

However, it is important to note, that irrespective of whether this position is the correct one, at the very least it is an important historic position, one that bears further dissemination and study.

Sources: For more on R. Heller see R. E. Katzman's biography, "Mofet haDor, HaGoan R. Yechiel Heller ZT"L - Ba'al Amudi Ohr" in Yeshurun 4 (1998) 648-681; 682-695 (reprint of the eulogy of R. David Luria for R. Heller); R. A. Mandelstamm, Sheni Perakim, St. Petersburg, 1852; Peli [R. Pinchas M. Heilprin] Iggeret Cheil Bet HaElyi, The Jewish National and University Library Ms. Heb. 8°5224, [1855].

Monday, June 19, 2006

Inverted Nuns

While Mississippi Fred recently discussed the missing nun (that is the Hebrew letter and not the people), last week we were treated to those Oh, Inverted World Nuns. Although, today this odd textual device is standard at least in its use, although there are some variations as to exactly how one does it (Sefardim do it more like a z and Ashkenazim have the upside down backwards nuns -more about this later). You can see some examples here, including one where the text was changed.

In fact, it is far from clear whether one should do this at all. Most notably, R. Shlomo Luria (Maharshal) argued that the Talmudic passage this custom is based upon only mandates the typical break for a parsha and not any upside down or otherwise letters. The passage only states that a sign should be made for this parsha and nothing more. He argues that such letters in the Torah render the Torah passul (unfit for use). R. Luria also notes the lack of uniformity in presenting such nuns, there are 19 different ways he came across to make the nuns. Some even flip the nuns of the text of the Torah and do not place the strange letters prior to and after the parsha in question. Thus, according to R. Luria, all of our Torahs which contain such nuns are passul.

R. Yechezkial Landau (Noda B'Yehuda), however, among others, defends the custom. He claims that the use of such a non-letter i.e. an upside down or z shaped non-letter is the key to allowing such a practice. As since this is not a letter at all therefore it is just a sploch of ink which doesn't render the torah unfit for use.

Although the nuns in last weeks reading are almost universal, there is another inverted nun in the Torah that is attested to by R. Shlomo Yitzhaki (Rashi) which, it seems, is not accepted at all. Rashi at the end of Parshat Noach says that the name of Abraham's father, Haran has an inverted nun. But this doesn't appear at all. (Another missing nun as it was.)

For more on this topic see here and here. Read She'alot u'Teshuvot Maharshal, no. 73; She'alot u'Teshuvot Mahram m'Lublin, no 75; She'alot u'Teshuvot Noda B'Yehuda, vol. 1 yoreh Deah no. 73; R. Menachem Mendel Kasher, Torah Shelmah, vol. 29 p. 124-130 (where he provided pictures of the various methods of writing the nuns); C.D. Ginsburg, Introduction to the Massoretico Critical Edition of the Hebrew Bible p. 341; Shnayer Z. Leiman, "The Inverted Nuns at Numbers 10:35-36 and the Book of Eldad and Medad" in Journal of Biblical Literature 93:3 (Sept. 1974): 348-55; Saul Lieberman, Hellenism in Jewish Palestine, 38-43; Emanuel Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible p. 54-55.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Names of Seforim I

The names utilized for Seforim are rather unique. As opposed to most cultures who title their books based upon their content (think Da Vinci Code about a code Da Vinci did), Jewish book titles, for the most part, have no relationship to their content. Additionally, for many, the title of the books supersedes that of the actual author to such an extent that many authors are only known by their book titles. So while many are aware of the Shach and the Taz (shortened forms of the titles Siftei Kohen and Turei Zahav commentaries on the Shulhan Orakh most are not aware who actually wrote these works. Instead, one would say "(the) Shach says" etc. Now if we were to return the above titles, Siftei Kohen - the Lips of the Priest and the Turei Zahav the Pillars of Gold, from first glance one would assume the former is about Priests while the latter is about either metallurgy or perhaps some Indiana Jones like pillars.

Some have been critical of the use of such obscure titles for Jewish books. Isaac D'Israeli the father of Statesman Benjamin (Isaac was the one to remove himself and his family Benjamin included and convert them to Christianity after Isaac was angered over his synagogues dues) was highly critical of such titles, in his Curiosities of Literature he writes:

The Jewish and many oriental authors were fond of allegorical titles, which always indicate the most puerile age of taste. The titles were usually adapted to their obscure works. It might exercise an able enigmatist to explain their allusions; for we must understand by The Heart of Aaron,” that it is a commentary on several of the prophets. “The Bones of Joseph is an introduction to the Talmud. The Garden of Nuts, and The Golden Apples,” are theological questions, and The Pomegranate with its Flower,” is a treatise of ceremonies, not any more practised. Jortin gives a title, which he says of all the fantastical titles he can recollect, is one of the prettiest. A rabbin published a catalogue of rabbinical writers, and called it Labia Dormientium, from Cantic. vii. 9. Like the best wine of my beloved that goeth down sweetly, causing the lips of those that are asleep to speak. It hath a double meaning, of which he was not aware, for most of his rabbinical brethren talk very much like men in their sleep.

Almost all their works bear such titles as bread,— gold, —silver, —roses, —eyes,— &c., in a word, anything that signifies nothing.

Isaac Reggio (perhaps it is the Isaacs) was equally critical, in his introduction to Delmigido's Behinat HaDa'at. "Amongst the incorrect customs which has been exacerbated over time . . . when authors title their books with titles that do not speak to content, or at best they use titles which only hint to the books content which can only be decoded after reading the introduction . . . there are those who use titles which contain the authors name." Reggio then proceeds to list some of thcategories those catagories. "There are those who use titles from the vessels in the Temple ארון עדות,מזבח הזהב, מנורת המאור, שלחן ארבע, זר זהב, קערת כסף or some use the clothing of the priest for titles שרשות גבלות, המצנפת, מעשה אפוד, משן אהרן, כליל תכלת," and the list goes on.

Reggio mentions two catagories of interest, one the author placing his name (or hinting to it) and the other hinting to the content via an obscure title. As to the second there was such a book reviewed by the Jewish Chronicle (London)

Very wittily is the pun-title, City of Sihon (Heb: Ir Sichon), for a mathematical book by R. Joseph Zorphathi, alluding to Numb. xxi 27, "For Hesbon (reckonin [caculating]) is the City of Sihon."

Jewish Chronicle (London), June 21, 1889, page 15

There are also similarly titled or pun titled books which are hinting at the name of the author. For instance authors whose name was Avrhom utilize puns on various verses relating to Avrohom. So we have the books Pesach haOhel (1691) which is referencing that Gen. 18:1; Yukach Na (1881); Sa'du Lebchem (1881) both referencing Gen. 18:4-5.

Then we have books which are not as creative and just use the persons name in the title. Perhaps the person to go wild with this theme was R. Hayyim Palaggi. Who wrote over 25 seforim and almost all carry the name Hayyim in the title. So we have Otzrot haHayyim, Genzi Hayyim, Darki Hayyim, U'Baharta B'Hayyim, Zechirah L'Hayyim, Huke' Hayyim, Hayyim b'Yad, Hayyim V'Shalom etc. (you get the picture).

Asided from these we have other books which make reference to something that happened in the authors life, generally unrelated to content of the book. So we have Homat Aish (1799) a commentary on the Ibn Ezra's song Tzama Nafshe which was written soon after the author lost his house and all to a fire. He decided to write this in the hope it would prevent a future fire. Or we have the various books written by blind people, Eynai Avrohom and the like which generally reference eyes or sight.

Aside from these curiosities, there is still the final one of substituting the authors name for that of his book. Menachem has a rather interesting story related to this practice here.

Perhaps the reason for this practice can be gleaned from the following story was told. There was a city which was filled with less than learned or interested people who were in need of a rabbi. However, when each candidate would come through they would be turned off by the populace. The town decided to do something about this and had commisioned tombstones with famous personages such as the Shach, Taz, Rama etc. and placed them in the graveyard. With the next candidate they made sure to tour the cemetary. Needless to say, although the rabbi had some misgivings he decided to take the job figuring if the Shach etc. were here it couldn't be all that bad. After he accepted one of the townspeople took him aside and told him the truth immediately the Rabbi complained saying he was tricked. However, the town board explained he was not. As in the various cities where the Shach, Taz etc are actually buried they study their works and the Talmud says that when one studies the works their lips move - they are still alive. In this town, however, no one studies any of their wotrulyd they are truely dead here.

Perhaps the idea that the Torah of the person is the most important thing and the authors derive life from that caused some to substitute their works.

Sources: Zlotkin, Shemot haSeforim and entire work devoted to the names of books; Y. S. Spiegel, Amudim b'Toldot HaSefer Haiviri, Ketiva v'Hataka, 384-428 discussing the use of the authors name in the title (Spiegel's two volumes of Amudim are excellent and are a must read for anyone interested in the history of Seforim); for a list of books about various events, famine, jailing, blind people etc. see A. Yaari, Mekeri Sefer. [Thanks Menachem for the Jewish Chronicle (London) citation.]

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

One more Book on Stam Yayin

I neglected to mention one other book that was just published. The book Dimyon Areyeh was originally printed in 1616 in Prague, this was the only edition until now. This book is addressed to those of Nikolsburg who were leinient in regards to Stam Yayin. This practice had been justified by R. Moshe Isserless (Rema) in his teshuvot which were subsequently removed in many editions. However, many questioned this practice this book, Dimyon Areyeh, is one of them. There is a nice introduction about the author, R. Yehudah Leib Pisak, and collects what little we know about him. It also discusses some of events and history about the stam yayin controversy. The type has been reset and includes new footnotes throughout. Additionally, it includes the Kuntras Pesak B'Inyan Taknot HaKehilot from R. Shmuel ben David Moshe haLevi author of Nahlat Shivah (which according to this publisher lends support to the Dimyon Areyeh). It is interesting that this was its original title but was removed (for no reason) in later editions of the Nahlat Shivah. Also in at least one edition of the Nahlat Shivah there are no real haskomat (m'ta'am ha'kamut) in a effort to shield those giving the approbation from criticisim which was leveled against the book. It is the Berlin 1763 edition.

If one wants to read more about the Rema leiniency see Asher Ziv's edition of the Teshuvot HaRema no. 124. For more on the removal of that teshuva see Ziv, pages 66-67 and now Y.S. Spiegel Amudim b'Tolodot HaSefer haIvri - Kitiva v'Hataka p. 273 (also see his footnotes for more on the controversy generally); Daniel Sperber Minhagi Yisrael vol. 2 56 note 26. And, of course, on this topic generally see Haym Soloveitchik, Yenam.

Finally, I should mention in light of R. Dr. Shlomo Sprecher's excellent article in Hakirah, a book he relies upon heavily - R. Tertis's Dam Brit - is available from Biegeleisen in copy format, albeit smaller than the original folio size but does include pictures of the "Tertis Apparatus."

New Feature - Listing of New Seforim

As a service for those who either don't have access or the time to browes the seforim stores to see what new has been printed I will now on a periodic basis list the seforim I have recently purchased/seen. The vast majority of these I will have seen/purchased will be from Biegeleisen books in Boropark (718) 436-1165.

At times I will have lenghter comments and some books I will just list and leave to the reader to investigate further.

1) The second volume of the Siddur Kol Ya'akov. This a newly set type of the classic Hassidic Siddur.
2) Pirush Mesacktat Avot l'Rebi Mattishayu HaYishari edited with an introduction by R. Ya'akov Shmuel Spiegel as well as an introduction by Dov Schwartz on R. Mattityahu's philosophy based upon this commentary.
3) HaNehmadim miPaz a 862 page work on everything and everything having to do with mitzvah of writing a sefer Torah as well as Haknatat sefer Torah.
4) Hazar Rebi Yehudah HaHassid this discusses the Hurva Shul and includes some interesting historical pictures and documents relating to it. Which I think is being fully rebuilt now.
5) Rigshe Lev Tefilatam shel Nashim a book all about women's prayer although not prayer groups. The implict point of the book, however, is to say that women should be ok without prayer groups or the like. The book inlcudes various "laws" applicable as well as all the myriad of scenarios one needs to come up with when writing a book of this type - can a woman pray where there is no mehitzha, what do if she slept through the proper time of prayer, etc.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Shavout Night and Coffee

There are many customs associated with Shavout, you can read about some here and here. One, is staying up all night and learning Torah (or at least part). This custom, which began in the 16th century in Safet spread rather quickly throughout the Jewish world. R. Yosef Karo, the author of the Shulkan Orakh lent a spiritual side. R. Karo stayed up all night and was studying with his student R. Shlomo Alkabtz (author of Lecha Dodi) and the following occurred:

Rav Yosef Karo and I agreed to stay up all night on Shavuot... we did not sleep for one minute... and when we began to study the Mishna.. we heard the voice of the Divine Presence, [with a feeble voice] speaking through Yosef Karo: 'May you be blessed; return to your studies, do not stop for one minute, and go to Eretz Yisrael... Do not have pity on your vessels [material goods], because you will be sustained by "the upper realms"... so hurry to Eretz Yisrael, because I will be your sustainer, and I will provide for you and the peace of your house.' And we all raised up a great cry of joy, when we heard the Divine Presence, her voice pleading with us...

Thus, feel the Divine and give Him honor.. and God will cause your hearts to merit becoming one with the Holy Land, to work it together, Amen.


Elliott Horowitz, who we had mentioned previously, has a rather interesting explanation to the quick spread of the custom. Horowitz notes that the rise in popularity of remaining up all night was due to the new drink - coffee. Coffee with its stimulant powers allowed more people to participate in this ritual. Thus, Horowitz notes in a period of thirty years no less than five editions of Tikkun lel Shavout are published in Venice. The same is true in other areas of Europe. This coincided with the rise of coffeehouses. Venice, the same city with all the printings of the Tikkun lel Shavout, in the 18th century, had some 200 coffeehouses (even prior to the rise of Starbucks). In Worms, the community was tasked with supplying coffee specifically for Shavout night. These facts precipitated greater parcipitation in a ritual with its demand upon wakefullness through the night.

While the above is rather interesting explaination for the spread of this custom, it is worth noting that Horowitz's article appears incomplete. Specifically, he doesn't touch on two other rituals which would benefit from coffee. The first would be Pesach night. As one is obligated to stay up (and this is min HaTorah) coffee it would seem would be perfect. (In fact, Briskers only stay up on Pesach night and do not stay up on Shavout to highlight this.)

But, perhaps coffee was not used on Pesach because a) it was a private - in the home and b) some considered hametz or kitnyot or at least susceptible to admixture with them.

The second area is the custom to say Shilchot at midnight. Many say it in the morning or some even say it early evening, but many hold midnight is the best time, why did this not benefit from coffee? In other words, why do we not see a rise in people reciting Selichot at midnight after coffee is introduced.

Finally, Horowitz does not discuss how almost all of the kabalistic customs from Safed where quickly adopted by the rest of Europe even when they had nothing to do with coffee. So the remaining awake all night can be seen as just an outgrowth of the acceptance of the others, think kabbalat shabbat etc.

Although Horowitz doesn't touch upon these, his thesis is one to bear in mind when one is indulging in coffee (today RedBull) and cheesecake at 2 am.

Sources: Elliott Horowitz, "Coffee, Coffeehouses and the Nocturnal Rituals of Early Modern Jewry," AJS Review 14:1 (Spring, 1989) 17-46; For a fascinating view of the spread of coffee to Amsterdam Jews and the rest of the world, one should read David Liss's historical fiction work "The Coffee Trader."

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