An Important But Often Ignored Work on German Jewish Customs
By Eliezer Brodt
An Important But Often Ignored Work on German Jewish Customs
By Eliezer Brodt
While doing research for a forthcoming article on the topic of saying דרשות at wedding celebrations, I kept noticing secondary sources citing to the work שמחת הנפש. Yet, after obtaining many editions of the שמחת הנפש I was still unable to locate the quotes regarding wedding speeches! After a while, I came across a citation to a specific edition of the שמחת הנפש and came to the realization that there was a second volume to this title, one that is very rare, and has only reprinted once. While the first volume was reprinted numerous times, it was this second volume of שמחת הנפש that contained the information I needed. It was in 1926 that Professor Yaakov Shatsky published an edition of שמחת הנפש which includes this second section and thus I was finally found the elusive source!
The question remained, though, as to why this source was not in all the other editions that I had looked at; in order to understand why, a discussion of שמחת הנפש is warranted.
The author of the שמחת הנפש was ר' אלחנן קירכהן – son-in-law of the famous author of קב הישר, R. Tzvi Hirsch Kaidanov – was born in 1666 in קירכהן (hence his surname) which is not far from Hamburg. ר' אלחנן קירכהן was a quite a Talmid Hakham and is evident from his sefer and correspondences with many גדולים of his time such as ר' יהונתן אייבשיץ. (See בינה לעתים הלכות יום טוב פרק א הלכה כג ; שמחת הנפש, ירושלים, תשנ"ט Introduction, pp. 31-32 ; כל בו על אבילות .עמוד 200-201)
ר' אלחנן קירכהן wrote seforim on many topics, but only one of his other seforim, חידושים מספר (see שמחת הנפש, Shatsky ed., 1926, pp. 29-30.), was published and the others still remain in manuscript. It seems from his writings that he was a professional darshan. It is also clear that he traveled all over Europe, as throughout the sefer, he gives accounts of his travels. In 1707, he printed anonymously the first two parts of what would ultimately become his famous work, שמחת הנפש. The first two parts were printed many times in many places, while the third part, the one printed in 1727, was printed only once. (See Shatsky’s introduction, especially pp. 23-28, where there is an extensive bibliography of the exact printings. See אוצר הספרים לבן יעקב ; עמוד 594 אות 864.)
It is this mysterious third part, which is very rare; indeed, few copies exist in libraries worldwide. In 1926, however, it was reprinted by Professor Yaakov Shatsky in a facsimile edition.
Many important personages praised שמחת הנפש. For example, ר' יהונתן אייבשיץ (in his יערות דבש, א, דרוש יב, באמצע), strongly praise the שמחת הנפש ;ר' יוסף מאיר אב"ד האנובר in his הסכמה writes that one could פסקן from this sefer, a point we will return to later! (הסכמה למהודרא פירדא תפז); the חתם סופר also spoke very highly of the sefer, (הסכמה של ר' שמעון סופר למהדורת פאקש תרנט, Intro to the ירושלים edition pg 36-37.)
ר' שמען סופר writes that his father, the כתב סופר, used to learn theשמחת הנפש on שבת with his sister. He also writes that within the copy of the שמחת הנפש of his grandfather, ר' עקיבא איגר, he had seen comments in the sefer. Interestingly enough, we find that ר' עקיבא איגר quotes from the sefer in his notes שלחן ערוך גליון רע"א סי' תרצו סעיף ד. The sefer was among the list of seforim in the library of ר' פנחס קאטצענאליבויגען. (See יש מנחלין עמוד נ אות קכב; and Dan's post Ghosts, Demons, Golems and their Halachik Status about ר' פנחס קאטצענאליבויגען.) In 1898, in Faux, Hungary, at the suggestion of ר' שמעון סופר, a copy of שמחת הנפש was reprinted with a פירוש by ר' יהודה קרויס. For other examples of those praising the שמחת הנפש, see the introduction to the most recent edition by ר' שמואל לוריא.
שמחת הנפש was extremely popular amongst the general populace as is evident from the fact that it was reprinted throughout Europe at least twenty-eight times. Even the most recent edition (a Hebrew translation) was reprinted just a year later. What is so exceptional about the sefer? I believe that the answer lies in the way it was written. With its very captivating and down-to-earth language, the sefer speaks to the reader in a clear manner and keeps one interested using many stories and parables (seeתולדות ספרות ישראל עמוד 103-108.) In addition, שמחת הנפש was an excellent halakhic guide for the masses for regular day-to-day situations.
Unfortunately as with many of our seforim, at one point this book was banned, and even, according to some, burnt. Zinberg explains that the reason it was burnt was because at the end of the first volume, there is a second part containing halakhot, about which the printer wrote in the shar blatt “שלחן ערוך, אורח חיים ויורה דעה ומנהגים של כל השנה." People felt it was dangerous to give a sefer which allowed the masses to easily find the law (תולדות ספרות ישראל,ד, עמוד 107 ; ספר וסייף, עמוד174-176). This was despite the fact, as mentioned previously, thatר' יוסף מאיר אב"ד האנובר says in his הסכמה to the sefer, that one couldפסקן from the sefer, and despite the fact that ר' עקיבא איגר actually did פסקן from it. However, after this one incident, there is no indication of any other strong opposition as is self evident from the amount of subsequent printings.
As mentioned previously, שמחת הנפש is composed of three volumes. The author lists the contents of his sefer on the title page. Amongst them are: (1) מוסר and תוכחה with many משלים ומעשיות; (2) Proofs of why one should not get upset about anything, as everything that happens is from G-d and for ones benefit; (3) Proof of the existence of the נשמה; (4) The הלכות of the whole year including הלכות for woman on חלה ונדה (this was the second part of the first volume). In his introduction he adds that he wrote the part of הלכות because there are many places where people do not haveרבנים to ask there questions to. So he included the הלכות so everyone could now what to do. He even writes that one could rely on it not like other seforim that have many mistakes. (This is in contrast to many Halakha seforim where the author writes “do not rely on me.”) This last part stating that one could rely upon the sefer, however, was not reprinted in all the editions of the sefer. In the introduction he writes even more clearly the goal of the sefer:
“I prove that one does not have to worry I give many solutions to deal with pain… I show that the נשמה is created to serve g-d. With this I have included all the דינים, so one should know how to serve him. All that you do should be with שמחה therefore I called the sefer שמחת הנפש.”In 1727 he wrote a third part which (called part two). This part consists of הלכות ומוסר in the form of songs for שבת, יום נוראים, סוכות, פסח, חנוכה, פורים, חתונה, מילה, וכל השנה. He even included the musical notes for the songs. The inclusion of musical notes was an innovative method of giving mussar. The author’s goal was to reach the masses, even the people who lived in the villages he had visited and had seen that they were negligent in many of the areas discussed in the sefer.
שמחת הנפש, is a practical, down to earth book. We can see this through many points mentioned in the sefer such as: when doing תשובה , one should do it slowly and not be too hard on oneself with excessive fasting (ירושלים ed., p. 154); don’t hit a child before age four (Idem at p. 175); a recurring theme throughout the book is the author comforting people who lost children (Idem at pp. 27,28,30,55,62), which was a common occurrence in those days. The author mentions that he himself also lost a child (Idem at p. 47). שמחת הנפש contains many interesting topics, such asנשמות, ניסים , andשדים . The sefer is full of interesting stories about these topics, some of which the author was eyewitness to or was actually involved in. For example, in the chapter on demons, the author writes that he personally saw a boy of three speaking about concepts of Torah and Kabbalah that he didn’t understand (Idem at p. 52). He also mentions that when he was in Poland, there was a woman whose children were killed by a demon (Idem at p. 53). Also mentioned in שמחת הנפש is the famous legend that when the רמב"ם died, his ארון traveled to ארץ ישראלby itself (Idem at p.106). [For more on this legend see ספר יוחסין עמ' 220;שלשלת הקבלה עמ' ק ;במאבק על ערכה של תורה עמ' 246;אגרת ארץ ישראל (יערי) עמ' 302;ארשת חלק ו עמ' 63]
The book quotes from a wide range of sources: חז"ל, ראשונים, ספרי קבלה, and many interesting seforim such as: צרי היגן, שבט מיהודה, נשמת חיים, מקוה ישראל, מסעות ר' בנימן and many others. It is evident that the author must have had access to an unusually extensive library for his time.
שמחת הנפש is a pretty much untapped wellspring of מנהגים of Germany. The reader can also get a clear picture of life in those times, especially in the small villages. As the author traveled, he wrote מוסר based on what he felt the people he met on his travels were lax in.
One of the first people who tapped into this source was Zinberg (תולדות ספרות ישראל חלק ד עמ' ,144-146,102-110). After that, Professor Simcha Assaf quotes the שמחת הנפש once in his masterpiece, (מקורות לתולדות החינוך בישראל, א, עמוד 164-165). Professor Yaakov Shatsky printed his edition after that. After Professor Shatsky,אברהם יערי used it a few times in his classic work תולדות חג שמחת תורה (pp. 320, 328, 378, 465, 476, 505). Then Professor Jacob Rader Marcus introduced it to Herman Pollack who quotes from it extensively in his book, “Jewish Folkways in Germanic Lands,” as a quick look in the Pollack’s book and its footnotes will show. Despite this, today the שמחת הנפש is a pretty much unknown book in the field, with the exception of Rabbi Shlomo Hamburger, who uses it as a source in his books on minhagim. To the extent that Professor Zev Gris in his book ספרות ההנהגות which is devoted to the topic of the seforim of מוסר והנהגות and their impact, does not even mention it. But later on, it seems that the book was brought to his attention. He discusses the שמחת הנפש in a later book of his, called הספר כסוכן תרבות (pp. 58, 69, 96). In his analysis of Jewish Attitudes toward Gambling, Leo Landman refers to שמחת הנפש as he writes:
"A seventeenth century German moralist complained bitterly about some professional gamblers who would pawn their Talit and Tefillen or their Arba Kanfot in order to raise money for gaming."See his "Jewish Attitudes toward Gambling the Professional and Compulsive Gambler," Jewish Quarterly Review 57:4 (April, 1967): 311.
Some interesting samples of מנהגים and daily life that are mentioned in the sefer are: saying יגדל every day ירושלים) ed., p. 89), dinnim of זכר לחורבןsuch as leaving a spot in the house unpainted (Idem at pp. 75,123), חתן and כלה fasting on the day of their chupah (Idem at p. 174). The reader is able to see from the book which areas people were negligent in. For example: they were not careful about shaving with a razor (Idem at p. 94), and people used to play cards all night (Idem at p. 121). The author describes how the people dealt harshly with each other in business matters (Idem at p. 149). He speaks againstחזנים that do not understand what they’re davening and says that this is a cause for the long galus (Idem at pp. 153-154). Interestingly, he writes that parents sent their kids to dance school (Idem at p. 122).
All of the above is in the first part of volume one. The following are examples from the second part of the volume which is, in a sense, a complete handbook on אורח חיים andיורה דעה . When the author talks about ראש השנה, he says, “we do not sleep onראש השנה, rather we learn the whole day but it’s worse not to sleep and talk".דברים בטלים (See הלכות ראש השנה עמוד נח סוף העמוד.)
He also includes an extensive chapter on תחומין as it seems many villages were lax in this area (See “Jewish Folkways in Germanic Lands,” p. 323 note 104; ירושלים ed., pp. 30-31). In the third part, (called volume two) which is written in song, as previously mentioned, the author speaks against women that drank excessive amounts of alcohol at wedding and בריתי מילה (vol. two, p. 18). People in the villages children dealt with the farm animal’s onשבת (see תולדות ספרות ישראל עמוד 145), and people wrote מגלת אסתר on paper (Idem).
One topic which is dealt with throughout the sefer is tznius. The author goes so far as to say that the reason why many Jews died in ת"ח ות"ט and other גזירות was because of lack of tznius (ירושלים ed., pp. 64, 124). Examples of tznius the people of his times were lax in include: men and women who weren’t married to each other danced together in public, some women were very involved in dressing in order to be attractive to men. In contrast to all this, the author was told that in Turkey, the people were so careful with tznius that men hardly ever saw women. Women didn’t go to shul, and when guests stayed in someone’s house, the man of the house didn’t allow his wife and daughters to see the guests (Idem at p. 64).
Another issue the author takes a strong stance was the education system. In the first part of the sefer, he recommends that when starting to teach children to learn, you ought to begin with תנ"ך and דקדוק. Only after that should one continue on to משנה and גמרא. That’s the only way people will have success in learning. He states that many people leave the field of learning at a young age, and because they don’t know the basics of תנ"ך and דקדוק, they can’t understand the tefillos they say daily. To quote the sefer, “I’m writing this in German so that everyone can understand, especially women who are busy with child raising. The women should not think that their sons have to learn גמרא at an early age. The מהר"ל and others already said that one should first learn תנ"ך, then דקדוק, and only then move on to משנה and גמרא.” He repeats this in the third part of the sefer, in short, where he mentions that people only teach their children גמרא and not תנ"ך. (See מהדורת תפז עמוד יח. Professor Simcha Assaf in מקורות לתולדות חינוך בישראל only quotes the last source on education.)
In conclusion, the שמחת הנפש is a truly unique sefer. The first part of שמחת הנפש was translated but it could use much more extensive notes. It would be very worthwhile for someone to undertake to translate all three parts of the sefer with extensive footnotes, as was recently done to Gluckel von Hameln.
Many editions of the שמחת הנפש is available online here, including the first - the 1707 edition as well as the rare 1727 edition. Aside from שמחת הנפש the site, from the Frankfurt University Library, contains over 700 Yiddish prints, all free.