Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Eighth and Final Volume of Daniel Sperber's Minhagei Yisrael Has Appeared

Mossad HaRav Kook has just published the eighth and final volume of Rabbi Prof. Daniel Sperber's Minhagei Yisrael. This final volume includes a complete and comprehensive index of all eight volumes volumes of Minhagei Yisrael. For this reason alone this volume is worthwhile, as anyone who has used the prior volumes knows, at times topics are spread over multiple volumes, sometimes in footnotes, which makes it difficult to locate particular topics. The first index is comprised of multiple indices; Mishna, Talmud, and Midrashim/Zohar. Additionally, there is an index using the Tur/Shulhan Arukh. The second index is done topically. Aside from the index, this volume includes a rather nice introduction where Professor Sperber discusses most of the recent literature on minhagim. Although not intended to be a full bibliography, it does include almost all the important books published on this topic in the last 15+ years, a topic that we will return to in forthcoming posts at the Seforim blog.

As with all the other volumes of Minhagei Yisrael there are also additional articles discussing minhagim. This volume starts off with a long quote from Rabbi Chaim Williamowsky. This quote, typifies the vast majority of Professor Sperber's articles in this volume. R. Williamowsky notes that it is important to trace the history of minhagim as some are non-Jewish in origin and instead were borrowed and adopted from foreign cultures. Sperber then spends the next 100+ pages discussing minhagim which fall into that latter category. Sperber discusses the following customs -- I have provided citations only if the custom is not the main focus of an article -- the groom stepping on the foot of the bride (p. 14 n. 4 [and should make this person happy that in fact it has non-Jewish roots]); upsherin; round-matzot which are not linked to a non-Jewish custom, only that there is no reason to prefer round over square (p. 29-30 n. 26); which day of the week to get married, including a discussion of Friday marriages (p. 33 n. 13); marriage during a waxing of the moon (p. 37-40); bride and groom fasting on their wedding day; the huppah canopy; not having knots at the wedding (p. 71 n. 11); throwing a shoe at a wedding; burning clothing at the graves site of R. Shimon bar Yochai; feeding mourners eggs after the burial (p. 72); the additional "holy" names in mezzuzot, tzizit as protection (p. 112 n. 61 - this one may have gone from Jews to non-Jews as well as the notion of a door post protect, see idem); the use of פי פי פי to concentrate during prayers (p. 113); dipping bread in salt to protect from evil spirits.

Sperber is able to trace back almost all of these topics and offer why and when the Jews accepted what was common amongst from within the particular culture they were living. Sperber's sources are especially helpful as, at times, others have made arguments that customs are originally non-Jewish in nature but provide no sources. For instance, both R. Gavriel Zinner and then R. Benyomin Hamburger both note the possibility that upsherin comes from non-Jewish sources. But neither provides any detail on this point. Sperber fills a significant lacuna.

Although the above makes up the bulk of this volume there are few other items of interest. Sperber offers a possibility why the custom arose to say the verse ויהי בנסע ארון at the removal of the Torah and then also discusses the recitation of the Ten Commandments at קריאה שמע על המטה. The rest of the articles are additions to this one. That is a discussion about the placement of the Ten Commandments generally by Professor Meir Schwartz. Additionally, as the source for the recitation is R. Yitzhak Klover, grandfather of the R. Shelomoh Luria (Maharshal), Dr. Meir Rapfeld provides biographical and bibliographical information about this important figure. Dr. Rapfeld also has a discussion about a custom in the synagogue of the Maharshal. There is an article from R. Meir Kodesh discussing the custom amongst mourners to wear black.

Finally, as in all of the previous volumes, Prof. Sperber has included additions and corrections covering all of the volumes.

In all, this is an excellent end to a terrific series on minhagim. The book is available in Israel directly from Mosad HaRav Kook who currently is running a sale and in the US at Biegeleisen books (and in due course) at your local seforim store.

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