Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Review of a new edition of the Sefer Chasidim

Review of a new edition of the Sefer Chasidim

by R. Eliezer Brodt

As recently mentioned on this blog this generation is privileged to have many seforim especially rishonim being reprinted in critical editions based on manuscripts etc. One of the publishing houses which has been involved in publishing such works is Mechon Otzar haPoskim. A few years ago they released a few volumes of a critical edition of the Mahzhor Vitri which to date its still not complete. And now, a few weeks ago they published two volumes (of eventually four volumes) of the Sefer Hassidim. In this post I would like give some background on Mechon Otzar haPoskim, the Sefer Chassidim in general and this recent version in particular.

Mechon Otzar haPoskim was founded in the 1950’s by two great gedolim R. Isser Zalman Meltzer and R. Yitzchak Isaac Herzog. R. Herzog explained (introduction to Otzar haPoskim compendium on Even haEzer) the reason for founding of the organization was due to the almost limitless nature of Halacha and thus at times poskim find themselves having to deal with very difficult topics and do not have access to most of the seforim of the many great Gedolim of the past that would help them deal with these difficult topics. Attempts to deal with the vast amount of halacha literature had been previously attempted by the Peschei Teshuva and Darkei Teshuvah. But, today, both of these works are limited as the body of literature has expanded significantly since these earlier works came out. R. Herzog thus had the idea to create a modern compendium using what he had available. He then heard that R. Isser Zalman had the same thoughts so they decided to work together and gather a group of Gedolim to systematically go thru the teshuvot literature, abridge it, and place it in the parallel place in the order of the Shulchan Orach. R. Isser Zalman had an additional reason why he wanted to start this organization. He felt that many talmdei chachamim needed parnasah so this was a great way to help them by employing them to go thru all the seforim (Derech Etz Chaim vol. 2 p. 327).

With the help of Dr. L. Magnes, R. Herzog was able to raise funds to start this organization. Card catalogs were made and the seforim were cataloged according to topics forming the now-famous Otzar haPoskim catalogs. These catalogs are the notes culled from thousands of seforim. A look in the index of earlier volumes of the Otzar haPoskim will show that they in the fifties were going thru more volumes of seforim than the Frankel edition of the Rambam did in their recent, final volume! Interestingly, R. Isser Zalman inherited an excellent library from R. Chaim Berlin which contained thousands of rare seforim which were unknown to most people. R. Isser Zalman made sure these seforim were used and quoted in the Otzar haPoskim (Derech Etz Chaim vol. 2 p. 328). R. Isser Zalman also the one who made the decision which works would make it into Otzar haPoskim and which would not. To date this catalog has helped many seforim such as the many volumes of Mo’adim l’Simcha.

Otzar haPoskim’s main work has been the Otzar haPoskim on Even haEzer. Anyone needing sources on topics relating to Even haEzer; this has a tremendous amount of sources. One interesting point about this work is that one finds all kinds of Rabbonim getting along – quoted side by side. A few years ago they mentioned that the volumes of Otzar haPoskim on Orach Chaim are in preparation one only hopes that they will come thru to create such an important necessary work on Orach chaim [This is actually available on the Morgenstern, Otzrot haTorah, hard drive as well as on the Otzar haPoskim on Hoshen Mishpat.]

Recently they have expanded their repertoire to include the publication of Rishonim such as the Machzor Vitri and, now, the Sefer Chasidim.

The Sefer Chasidim has been reprinted many times ever since it was first printed in Bologna in 1538. R. Saadia Helvona in his introduction to his commentary on the Sefer Chasidim, Mishnat Chasidim, notes that the Sefer Chasidim is encyclopedic in nature as it includes both halacha and aggadah. The Sefer Chasidim is extremely popular and it is quoted by many rishonim and achronim for all kinds of things. Aside from quotations, there seems to be a certain awe about it which is hard to explain especially when it comes to the tzavah (the ethical will) which was printed in many of the editions (first printed in Yesod haTeshuva, Cracow, 1585).

The tzavah itself is the subject of many teshuvot and even some entire seforim. Without going into the whole history of this topic (which R Gutman promises us will be one of the forthcoming volumes) its worth mentioning aside from the well-known teshuva in the Nodah beYehudah (Even haEzer Tinyanah no. 79), where he writes that there are many things in the tzavah which conflict with Chazal and those statements do not need to be followed. There is an additional, lesser known statement from the Noda BeYehudah about the tzavah. R Eleazer Fleckels (most well know for his Teshuvah m’Ahahva), in his Olat haChodesh (vol. 1 p.15) records that the Nodah beYehudah would respond when asked if there is a problem marrying someone if that will cause the future father-in- law and future son-in-law will share the same name (which the tzavah states is a problem) “before you ask me about following the tzavah of R. Yehudah haChasid ask me about the tzavah (or statement) of Chazal which decries marrying the daughter of a am ha’aretz! [This sentiment, however, is disputed in the Teshuvos Matzav haYashar (volume 2 pg 44) where he writes “in his old age that whenever he saw people going against various statements in the tzavah nothing good ever came from it!]

The true authorship of the Sefer Chasidim is unclear. Some attribute it to R. Yehudah haChasid (Chida and others) but R Avrohm ben haGra records that his father, the Gra, held R. Eleazer Rokeach wrote it (Yeshurun, vol. 4 p. 250). R Frumkin also records this statement from the Gra– R. Frumkin’s source is a manuscript of R. Yisrael of Shklov’s Pas haShulchan (Toldos Chachmei Yerushalim, vol. 2 p. 102 the end of note 1; see also Chaim Michal, Or haChaim p. 456). Abraham Epstein writes that the Sefer Chasidim doesn’t have a single author but instead it is from three different people – R Shmuel haChassid, his son R Yehudah haChasid, and R. Eleazer Rokeach (Kitvei R. Avrohom Epstein, vol. 1 pp. 258-261). R. Gutman in the introduction to his new edition of the Sefer Chasidim brings many other different sources in regard to the authorship of this sefer. Recently Professor Haym Soloveitchik shows in a beautiful article based on Yakov Reifman that not only are is the work of different authors but there are completely different styles and what one writes completely contradicts what the other does. (JQR XCII no. 3-4 pp. 455-493).

Many manuscripts exist of the Sefer Chasidim , however, from the 1538 until 1891 there was basically one version printed based on only one of the manuscripts. In 1891, Yehudah Wistinetzki printed a new edited from another manuscript - the Parma manuscript - published by Chevra Mekitsei Nerdamim.

This Parma manuscript contains a almost double the material of the original edition. Aside from just adding material, the Parma edition is also important for the different versions of the previously published pieces. This edition was recently reprinted by Moznaim publishing house but without the important introduction of Y. Frieman. However, the Kest Leibowitz publishers also recently reprinted this edition and they reprinted the whole sefer including the introduction. Interestingly although the footnotes which appear in this edition are not that extensive as some of the prior editions, there are important notes on this edition albeit they don’t appear in the actual work. Instead, Wistinetzki, prior to printing this edition sent about fifty questions to R. Yosef Zechariah Stern in an attempt to locate sources for different statements of the Sefer Chasidim and the answers are included in R. Stern’s Zecher Yehosef (vol. 1 no. 78).

In 1955, Rabbi Avrahom Price from Toronto with the permission of Mekitsei Nerdamim reprinted the Parma edition in three massive volumes with extensive footnotes. But, one thing which R. Price stays clear from – which he admits in his introduction – is the kabalah aspects of the Sefer Chasidim as he was not familiar with this part of torah. These three volumes are available for free download at seforim online at

In 1924, R. Reuven Margolis first published in Lemberg, what would become the most popular version of the Sefer Chasidim, in a critical edition . Subsequently, this was corrected and updated and eventually published by Mossad HaRav Kook. This edition to date is the best job done on the Sefer Chasidim. He has excellent notes, as many are familiar with from his many seforim - he writes straight to the point referencing all kinds of sources from everywhere – showing the sources which form the basis of the Sefer Chasidim. He also shows, with his unbelievable bikyus, whether the various authorities - rishonim and achronim - agree with the statements of the Sefer Chasidim. Besides for all this he has many excellent and original comments on the Sefer Chasidim which he is famous for in all of his works. He also includes notes from nine different people on the Sefer Chasidim. Until now, there was one other worthwhile addition to the Sefer Chasidim. In 1984, R. Moshe Herschler printed in his Kovetz Genuzot (vol. one) some thirty more pieces of the Sefer Chasidim which he found in a different manuscript.

We now come to this most recent version published by Otzar HaPoskim and edited by R. Gutman. As mentioned above, thus far, two volumes have been issued of what is supposed to be four volumes of the Sefer Chasidim. The first impression one has when one picks it up is this is a beautiful job as the print is very clear and the layout it very organized. This is keeping with the famous statement of R Akiva Eiger where he writes to his sons in the introduction of his teshuvot that “one should print his sefer on nice paper and ink because one learns much better from such a sefer”. Although this statement is attributed to R. Eiger, in fact, this idea is found much earlier in the famous introduction to the Maeseh Efod (p. 13) of where he writes this concept at great length it’s quoted by R Yakov Emden in his work Migdal Oz (p.50 ) in short.

Prior editions of the Sefer Chasidim included the perush of the Chida, Bris Olam, but it seems that many pieces were missing. R Gutman corrects these omissions. In addition to those corrections to that commentary, another common commentary Pirish Kadmon by R. Dovid Greinheit also suffered from lack of completeness and R. Gutman has correct that as well. Besides for all this R. Gutman includes a collection of comments of R Eliezer Papua from his Yalkut Chasidim that relate to the Sefer Chasidim and the Perush Mishnat Chasidim from R Sadiah Chalonah (it is only on the first seven simanim in the sefer).

Rabbi Guttman includes many notes (totaling twenty-nine) from different gedolim on the Sefer Chasidim many of them which he obtained from unpublished manuscripts amongst them from the Adres and R. Y. Palagai. In the back of volume two he includes a sixty page kuntres of notes from R. Chaim Sofer who is famous for his incredible bikyus. In addition to all this he has many lengthy comments on the whole sefer from a wide rang of sources to explain the Sefer Chasidim. He also has a section on each page where he brings down various readings from the different manuscripts on the particular pieces.

All the above are the positive things about this reprint, unfortunately, there are notable points of criticism. It is true its is always easier to criticize than to the actual work oneself but here are some points I feel worthy of mentioning.

To begin with the entire history and literature of the Chasidei Ashkenaz in general have been the subject of many articles and books. However, even today after all that has been published there is much left unclear. Just to list a few of the people who were and are involved in the study of the Chasidei Ashkenaz, Moritz Gudemann (haTorah v’Hahayim, vol. 1, pp. 119-156), A. Epstein (vol. 1 pp. 245-269), Y Y Frieman (introduction to Sefer Chasidim Meketzei Nerdamim ed.), Gershom Scholem, Y Baer, Ivan Marcus (all in Da’as v’Chevrah b’Mishnat Chasidei Ashkenaz), E. E. Aurbach (Balei haTosfos, vol. 1, pp. 345- 447 and volume four of his edition of Arugot haBosem), Yisroel Ta Shema (Keneses Mechkarim, vol. 1 pp. 181-317), E. Kanarfogel (Peering thru the Lattices), Yosef Dan (in his recent book on R. Yehudah haChasid published by Zalman Shazar), Eric Zimmer, Simcha Emanuel (in his introduction to the recently published Drasha of Rokeach) and Haym Soloveitchik (AJS Review vol. 1 (1976) pp. 311- 357).

Some of what has been found in these manuscripts has been the subject of great controversy causing great people to claim these manuscripts must be forgeries (see Kovetz Minchas haKayitz vol. 6 pp. 251-252). But besides for this there has been a great many manuscripts found in the past twenty-five years and printed such as the Rokeach al haTorah and Megilos or the Rokeach’s work on siddur and many other of his works, R. Efraim al haTorah. Other works by the Chasidei Ashkenaz have been put out in critical editions such as the Sefer Gematriyos of R. Yehudah haChasid and the Amaoros Tehoros (which I hope to return to in later posts) all containing many important explanations about all sorts of topics from the Chasidei Ashkenaz.

To date there is no way to many unknowns (for me at least) to even paint a brief picture of this group of rishonim but one hopes with the help of the recent seforim printed and what will be printed in the future we will be able to get a clearer understanding of these great rishonim. Being aware of the explosion in this genre of literature, any version of the Sefer Chasidim should keep this companion literature in mind and should take it in account as much of the printed torah of the Chasidei Ashkenaz as it relates to this most famous work, Sefer Chasidim, of this school.

Now R. Gutman seemed to be aware of this and he does use some of these new seforim. For example, he quotes the Sefer Gematriyos many times however the rest of this no mention to the many other recent seforim of Chasidei Ashkenaz. [For a comparison see the recent edition of the Sefer Gematriyos where the footnotes are full of such cross-references (although he might of done to much).] The purpose of referencing the other literature of the Chasidei Ashkenaz is many times they can help understand certain comments if one can see all the ways similar ideas are brought down by the different talmdim. In learning Gemara with rishonim this is very important to help one understand the particular shitos and so to here.

For example, the Sefer Chasidim (siman 548) writes if one wants to see if he will live the year light a candle during assert yemih teshuvah if it remains lit you will live the year if not, not. On this R. Gutman references nothing. Where as without going much into this topic I will just give a reference to the Sefer Hashem of the Rokeach (recently printed from manuscript for the first time) where he talks about this (p.140) which complements the statement found in the Sefer Chasidim.

I feel this is a very important part to anyone writing on the Sefer Chasidim and R. Gutman should have put in more work in regard to this part. If he could not do it himself because he is not trained in this sort of work he should of gotten people who are familiar with such this field. R. Reuven Margolis who did know how to do this in general unfortunately could not do this as most of these seforim of Chasidei Ashkenaz were not available in his lifetime.

Another point that I would like to highlight is the many times R. Gutman cites to the Sefer Gematriyos he almost never references the exact page (see, e.g, pp. 23, 35, 39) in the Sefer Gematriyos making it very hard to find the piece he is quoting as it’s a massive two volume work. The same failing is apparent when R. Gutman quotes from the Sefer Amoros Tehoros (p. 23) or when R. Gutman cites the Sefer Hashem of the Rokeach (p. 429).

A more glaring omission is when Sefer Chasidim (p. 424) discusses the weird creature called שטריאה R. Gutman references the Sefer Gematriyos again not quoting the page and then R. Gutman writes ובסוף המאמר נשים הליליות ברושאם הנ"ל כתב which is an unintelligible citation. What R. Gutman means to say is that R. Stal in the back of his edition to the Sefer Gematriyos has a whole chapter devoted to this topic, however, this is totally unclear to the reader. Aside from the cryptic citation R. Gutman should have mentioned this is a comprehensive article on the topic.

Another point I would like to criticize is the use or lack thereof of R. Reuven Margolis edition. As I have mentioned earlier the Margolis edition is the best work to date on the Sefer Chasidim. It’s quite interesting that there is not a single mention of R. Margolis’s name in the introduction mentioning that R. Gutman used this work. However, it is obvious from hundreds of places throughout this Gutman’s edition that in fact he did use this edition.

What is perhaps even stranger is the many times that R. Gutman says nothing on a very important point and R. Margolis has already discussed it in depth. Some examples are on page 180 -181 where the Sefer Chasidim (siman 158) writes against tefilah בקול רם and the Margolis edition references the famous collection on this topic called Yanenu B’kol there is no reason why R. Gutman could not mention this. Another example is on page 172 where the Sefer Chasidim (siman 155) has a long discussion about stealing torah from someone so R Gutman has a lengthy note of sources about this but once he is on the topic one should quote the Sefer Shem Olem of R. Margolis where he discusses this topic at great length. This omission is even more bizarre as later on R. Gutman does cite this work (p. 744).

One more example is on page 274 the Sefer Chasidim (siman 258) ויום כיפור קרוי כמו כן ראשית דכתיב ביחזקאל בעשרים וחמש שנה לגלותינו בראש השנה בעשור לחדש אלמא בעשור קרוי ראש השנה on this R Margolis references a comment of his from other places (see his Toldos haMahrsha p. 51 and the notes therein and his Nitzozei Or p. 158) proving that sometimes it says Rosh Hashanah and it refers to Yom Kippur affirming the statement in the Sefer Chasidim –again no mention at all on this by R. Gutman. Another such example is where the Sefer Chasidim (siman 822) talks about wiping ones feet off before entering a shul in the R. Margolis edition there are many sources on this topic. But, again R. Gutman mentions nothing about this custom.

Another example is where the Sefer Chasidim (Siman 858) talks about saving seforim from a fire on Shabbos again R. Gutman does not quote the excellent reference of R. Margolis citing in turn the Adres who says that if one has manuscripts of his own that he worked hard on he may save them from the fire first because it’s like pikuach nefesh! Throughout R. Gutman’s edition there are many such examples. Perhaps R. Gutman assumed what whomever purchases his edition already has R. Reuven Margolis edition and R. Gutman was merely adding to that. Even so, he should mention it in the introduction.

Another deficiency in this edition is R. Gutman, in the section he includes comments collecting sources etc., his style is difficult as much of what he has could have been done shorter and more to the point. Unfortunately, this is a common weakness that many authors have today as I have previously mentioned on this blog. Besides for that I feel there are many more sources that he could have added to this part making it a true encyclopedic work that it should be.

Just to list a few examples of sources that he missed and on this there for sure is an element of lo alechu hamlacha ligmor. One where R. Gutman talks about the cherem to live in Spain (p. 394) he misses much on the topic amongst the omissions is the famous discussion of the Teruos Melech in Rosh Hashanah (siman 13 sec. 2) (for more on this see the great article of Marc B. Shapiro in Sefarad 49:2(1989) pp. 381-394).

Another such example is both times where the Sefer Chasidim talks about stealing torah from someone (pp. 172 and 774) he could have added the piece of R. Efraim Zalman Margolis in his introduction to the edition of the Maseh Rokeach which he printed. Another such example is where the Sefer Chasidim (siman 822) talks about wiping ones feet off before entering a shul so besides for not mentioning R. Margolis’s comments at all he could of referenced to the excellent discussion in the Minhaghei haKehelos of R. Golhaber (vol 1 pp. 3-8).

Another example is where the Sefer Chasidim (siman 158) writes against tefilah בקול רם he missed the very original discussion of the Matzevh Hayashar (volume 2 pg 28 and onwards). One last example is where the Sefer Chasidim (siman 461) discusses the topic of if something bad happens three times it is a bad sign he could of added the teshuvah of the Avnei Chefetz from R. A. Levine (siman 64). Many more examples could be given but this is not the place.

Some minor bibliography points one on page R. Gutman records a statement from the Shach al haTorah which he attributes the Shach (p. 173). But, it is obvious he did not check into this source because the Shach did not write this sefer rather a talmid of talmid of the Ari”zal did which R. Gutman himself quotes correctly later on page 774.

Another point is in the introduction R. Gutman speculates that based on the pieces he has included it seems that the Adres wrote an entire work on the Sefer Chasidim called Mishnat Chasidim. There is no need for speculation – this is correct – as the Adres in his autobiography (pg 33) writes “I bought a Sefer Chasidim with wide columns and I learnt it twice and I wrote a biur on it with sources … and I called it the Mishnat Chasidim.” Unfortunately, later in his autobiography the Adres writes (pg 56) that it was burned in a fire that destroyed most of his writings!

Another minor point on page 181-182 where he talks about a story brought down from various sources including the Kav haYashar he should of included the comments of R. Shmuel Askenazi appended to the Kav haYashar (end of volume 2 pg 8). Another example is where the Sefer Chasidim speaks (Siman 768) against singing tunes of non-Jewish origin, R. Gutman (pg 645) includes a number of nice sources on this topic at the end he mentions R. Yisroel Najara that he was a nizutz of Dovid haMelech. He should have at least referenced the Sefer Chizyonos of R. Chaim Vital against R. Najara (and this was actually the person the Shtei Yodos was writing against who R. Gutman quoted earlier in that same piece!) – which was discussed at greater length in an earlier post.

In conclusion I feel that although there are some areas which this edition is weak in but there are a great many pluses to owning it the including the many sources that R. Gutman does add and especially the notes of 29 different gedolim. However there is definitely a need for an expert on the Chasidei Ashkenaz to put out a critical edition quoting all the relevant sources from Chasidei Ashkenaz.

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