No more Bentchers: A Review of a Sefer Given as a Wedding GiftA wedding carries with it many customs, one of which is an attempt to use this ceremony to disseminate Torah. There was an old custom in many communities for people to write poems in honor of the simchas chasan and kallah. Others even wrote plays in honor of the bride and groom. One example is the Ramchal who wrote the play Ma’ashe Shimshon (as well as other poems for various weddings). In other communities there was a custom for someone to say a derasha at the chasunah for the same reason (in certain circles this still exists). Recently a newer custom evolved to print a sefer and give it out at the wedding.
by Eliezer Brodt
by Eliezer Brodt
It used to be a plain old bentcher was given out at a wedding, some, wanting something more substantial than a bentcher began giving out siddurim or chumashim. Today, in many circles, a sefer of some sort is given out to the wedding guests. Some times it’s an old work of some old famous relative of the family that has never been printed before, other times is a reprint from a relative of one of the wedding parties work which had been out-of-print. Some times its it’s torah from the groom or from some family member that’s making the wedding. What’s even more interesting about these seforim is many times they never reach the stores even the famous Biegeleisen who generally gets close to everything printed (to some known as Gan Eden). The market for these seforim many times is very small so the family never bothers bringing it to any stores. [Although, recently, various works of R. Reuven Margoliyot were reprinted for a wedding. It seems these were more widely disseminated as the republication forced Mossad HaRav Kook to reprint the works and to note that, according to them, the wedding reprint was a violation of their copyright.] The only way one gets the sefer is by being at the wedding or knowing someone who has been there. Other times it’s just pure luck - somehow one gets lucky and stumbles upon it. It’s a shame that a complete bibliography of such works can not really be written because there is no way to know all the works that have been published for these occasions.
A few months ago I was at the wedding of a good friend. As is now commonplace, the guests received a sefer – more correctly a collection of seforim – at this wedding. What follows is a review of that wedding gift.
First, I can only refer to this work as Mazkeret Nisuin Yehudah Vyael Hershowitz (a keepsake from the wedding of Yehudah and Yael Hershkowitz) as no other title is provided. The sefer is a paperback and is one hundred and thirty six pages long. It includes a few parts some of which have never printed before. The book was edited by the groom - R Yehudah Hershkowitz. R. Hershkowitz has authored many articles some of which appeared in Or Yisroel and Yeshurun dealing with many areas of learning and history.
The sefer contains four sections: section one is the sefer Ashes Chayil from R. Avrohom Yagel, section two are Shelios Uteshuvot from R. Avigdor Kara, section three is the Mamar al targum from R.Yakov Ben Chaim (ibn Adonijah), and section four is a Kuntres from R. Noach Berlin. I assume the reason why he printed it in this order is because Ashes Chayil is the most relevant to the wedding and then the other placement is based on chronological order. Prior to each section R. Herskowitz includes an excellent historical introduction to the work which follows.
The first part is the sefer Ashes Chayil from R. Avrohom Yagel. This work has been printed a few times even at a chasunah in 1994 of Zvi and Sarah Friedman in this edition R Herskowitz reset the type, which had not been done in the prior reprint, and added some notes.
The author R. Avrohom Yagel has been discussed at great length by Professor David Ruderman in his book Kabblah, Magic and Science. R. Avrohum Yagel was born in 1553. He corresponded with many gedolim of the time, amongst them the Ramah Mepano and R. Mordechai Dato. He was highly respected by the Ramah Mepano. He wrote many works on all areas especially science, many of which are still in manuscript and await publishing. One of his seforim is called Gaie Chezyon this work has been recently reprinted in English and Hebrew by Professor David Ruderman. It is a highly original work written in the form of dreams dealing with many topics. Many aspects of R. Yagel’s personal life can be gleaned from this work.
Ashes Chayil was first printed in Venice in 1606 and is a commentary on the thirty-first chapter of Mishlei which contains the verse of Ashes Chayil . R. Yagel wrote this work in honor of a friend’s wedding. The main idea of the work is to discuss what the role of a wife in marriage, to fear and love god, fear and love her husband and not to sit idle. R. Yagel notes that these same attributes apply not only for marriage but also when serving God. In the work there are many interesting explanations to different aggados of Chazal. Besides for this he writes many practical pieces of advice relating to marriage. For example, he writes, how the wife should get up early to prepare the household needs (pg 36). He writes that her voice should not be heard outside (Pg 40). Another point he makes is she should be careful to dress in a ts’neius manner and not to dress up like many woman to impress everyone (pg 49-50).
The next section are the Shelios u’Teshuvot of R Avigdor Kara. These teshuvot are printed here for the first time from manuscript. Here too R. Hershkowitz includes an excellent historical background about R. Avigdor Kara and his times. Although not much is known about R Avigdor Kara, R. Hershkowitz includes a brief history as well as a listing of the writings of two of his contemporaries which help with R. Kara's biography: R. Yom Tov Melehuzan and R. Menachem Shalem. They were all active on the beis din in Prague during the same time periods (approx. 1390-1439). Besides for this R. Yom Tov Melehuzan was involved in kabblah as many of his works show whereas R. Menachem Shalem was more involved in philosophy. R Avigdor Kara was somewhere in between them as he was involved with both areas. In one of the teshuvot printed in this collection we see how R Avigdor Kara struggled trying to reconcile contradictions between Kabblah and philosophy. In the end R. Kara writes that he was successful and felt that he was able to show that there were no contradictions between the two. Both R. Yom Tov Melehuzan and R. Menachem Shalem were close with R Avigdor Kara quoting him in their respective works. R Avigdor Kara wrote many works on all areas. Some were printed many others remain in manuscript. One work, the Sefer Hapliah (more on this in a future post) was attributed to him but as has been recently proven is certainly not from him. The Sefer Hapliah although many write it is from R Nechunyah Ben Hakonah (see the many sources R Hershkowitz cites) but Professor Ta Shema (see his Kneset macharim Volume 3) and others have demonstrated that it’s a much later work.
R Herskowitz was perhaps unaware of some more sources on R Avigdor Kara. R. Yididiah Tiyah Weil brings that R Avigdor made a golem (Levushim Levadim pg 37). There is a nice chapter on R. Avigdor Kara in the controversial book Hachasidus from R. Ahron Marcus (chapter 28). Another point R. Hershkowitz missed is that the Zemir Achud Yuchud is attributed to him . This song is sung in many circles when the chasun gets an aliyah and has been subject to an excellent article by one of the experts on minhagim, R. Hamburger in his Shorshei Minhag Ashkenaz (volume 3 Pg 373- 397). While these contemporary sources are not mentioned, R. Herskowitz does provide many other sources.
The teshuvos which are included in this volume are on some very interesting topics. He discusses davening to angels and in general what function they serve exactly in tefilah. This is another great source for the well-known discussion of Machnesei Rachamim which has been treated thoroughly in the classic article of R. S. Sprecher (Yeshurun, vol. 3, pp. 706-29). It is also an important source for the debate, recently restarted again on this blog, regarding Professor Marc B Shapiro book. Another teshuvah deals with a work of R. Avigdor Kara’s which we do not have called Even Sappir. R. Avigdor explains what this work was, it appears to be rectifying contradictions between Kabblah and philosophy. For both these teshuvot R. Hershowitz provides some excellent background behind these topics. One other (of the many) interesting points found in this section is a early source that one should remove ones shoes before entering shul. This subject has been treated by many, most recently by R. Yecheil Goldhever in his now classic Minhaghei Hakehilos (volume one pg 3-7).
The next section is the Mamar Al targum from R.Yakov Ben Hayyim. This Mamar was very rare and exists in less than five chumushim in the world. R. Yakov Ben Hayyim was the famous editor for the Bomborg publishers in Venice. Much has been written about Bomberg, but suffice it to say it played a very important role in the history of the printing of seforim. Many of the seforim printed in this printing house have remained the same layout to this day such as the Mikros Gedolos Chumash, Shas Bavli and Yerushalmi and Rambam. R. Hershkowitz has a nice discussion on how exactly did R.Yakov Ben Hayyim edit the seforim. One of the famous points of interest with R.Yakov Ben Hayyim is that he became a Christian, not much is known as to when and why. R. Hershkowitz wants to suggest an interesting possibility that R.Yakov Ben Adoneiah did not do so willingly but rather was forced. [The inclusion of R. Yakov and R. Yagel has another connection, in that R. Yagel was erroneously accused of converting to Christianity.]
The Mamar Al targum discuses many interesting things amongst them when was Targum Onkelos given and written. He also has a big chidish L’ehalacha that sh'naim mikra ve'achad targum needs to be done during K'reias hatorah.
The last section is a Kuntres from R. Noach Berlin. This kuntres was never printed before. In this section R Hershkowitz does not provide that much of a biography about R. Noach Berlin as he and a friend are currently working on another work of R. Berlin the Meyin Hachacmah (which we eagerly await). R. Noach Berlin authored many famous works amongst them the Atzei Arazim (on Shulchan Orach Even Ezer) and Aztei Almughim (on eruv chaserios and netlayas yadaim). R. Chaim Volozhiner writes that after the Gra died the only person he had to consult with was R. Noach Berlin. This kuntres is on the topic of woman doing semicha. While discussing this topic he goes thru many others (as was the style of learning in those days) and deals with woman and mitzvos aseh sheha'zman grama especially Tefilin.