Friday, May 04, 2007

Kuntres ‘al Inyan Shabbat HaChatuna - A "Found" Book

Many times the rarity of a book is due to a controversy; either because it was limited in scope, i.e. was a polemic, and thus was no need to print thousands of copies or because of bans and the like. One such book is Kuntres ‘al Inyan Shabbat HaChatuna by R. Eliezer Supino (d. 1746). Until recently, it was thought this book no longer existed. But, a single copy (Unicum) was located and it has now been reprinted.

The book, as the title implies, discusses the Shabbat following ones wedding know as Shabbat HaChanutah or Shabbat haHatan. It was customary in many communities, mainly Sefardic but there is also evidence for some Ashkenazi as well, on this Shabbat, aside from the regular reading from the Torah, the parsha of V’Avrahom Zakan Bo B’Yamim was read for the groom. One may be asking so what could have possibly have been the controversy? In one community, Pisa, Italy, where R. Eliezer Supino was the Rabbi, rather then read the special parsha as the maftir, they read it for the 7th aliyah. That is, they finished the torah portion in 6 alyiot and for the seventh read the special parsha.

The question is whether as part of the seven obligatory aliyot can you read a parsha that is merely a custom? To this, R. Supino said yes. Well, somewhere between 1735-36 on one such Shabbat, there was a vistor from another city, Livorno, who witnessed this. [There is some question who this person was.] What basically happened was he went back to Livorno and told R. Dovid Meldola (1714-1810), a hazan, judge, and teacher in the Yeshiva in Livorno. R. Meldola thought strongly that R. Supino was 100% incorrect in allowing for such a custom, and now we have the start of the controversy. In the end, R. Meldola, in his Divrei Dovid (Amsterdam, 1753) devotes a considerable number of pages (18 simanim) to this topic – all attempting to show that R. Supino is wrong. R. Meldola didn’t stop there, he first elicited the help of a host of other important Rabbis who would say he was correct. This include, inter alia, R. Aryeh Lowenstamm the chief Rabbi of Amsterdam, R. Ya’akov Yehoshu Rabbi in Frankfort and the author of the Peni Yehosha, R. Yehzkeil Katzenelllenbogen the chief Rabbi of the tripe community AH”W, and some additional, lesser known (today) Rabbis.

R. Meldola didn’t stop at printing his own book on the topic, he wanted to make sure his book would be the only record of events. First, I must point out that R. Meldola published his book after R. Supanu (and other important figures) died so there was no one to dispute his events. Second, R. Supino, did not wait until anyone died, rather he published his version and the defense of his position in Kuntres ‘al Inyan Shabbat HaChatuna. Sometime around 1743, R. Supanu sent this to Amsterdam to be printed (Livorno, at the time didn’t have a printing press). But, after it was printed, R. Meldola got wind of the publication, and when it arrived by ship to Livorno, all the copies were seized. After reading it, word was sent to Amsterdam that all remaining copies should be destroyed. The printer gave everything up and all were destroyed. Thus, until now, it was thought this book was totally lost.

Shmuel Glick, the editor of the new Kuntres haTeshuvot, was looking through all the libraries to find all the responsa literature, and in Schocken Library he found the only remaining copy in the world of this book. The copy he found also contains some annotations which Glick thinks are that of R. Supanu himself. In this republication, Glick has done a beautiful job (as well as Mossad HaRav Kook). First, he includes an extensive introduction where all the above is from. Second, as mentioned above, until now we had a one sided story of the events, now we have both sides. Glick discusses and highlights the various differences between R. Meldola’s and R. Supino’s versions of the events. Third, he has completely reset the type of the book and included notes as well. Fourth, he then includes a photo reproduction of the actual work. And, finally, he includes to letters from R. Supino which were in manuscript.

In part, the reason this work is important aside from the actual question is its broader implications for the force of custom. R. Supino’s basic argument is the additional reading for the groom is a custom – but as a custom has the same status as the rest of the regular parsha. R. Meldola disputes this understanding of custom.

While this edition is excellent, I want to point out two small things, one is typographical error and the other not an error but an elaboration. The main footnote (which is terrific in scope) which discusses the custom of the special reading for the groom is in the Introduction, footnote 6. But, the references to it in the actual Kuntres (e.g. footnote 2, 62, 158) it refers to it as footnote 2. The second minor point is in a footnote (p. 28 n. 146), Glick discusses the usage of the saying מנהג ישראל תורה, but left off perhaps the most comprehensive discussion of this usage in R. Shmuel Ashkenazi’s Alfa beta kadmita, pp. 210-18.

In all, Shmuel Glick should be commended for an excellent work of a fascinating book. The book is printed by Mossad HaRav Kook and should be available wherever finer seforim are sold.

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