Thursday, February 21, 2008

Bibliography, Why It's Important

In Professor Daniel Sperber's latest book, Netivot Pesikah (Jerusalem, Reuven Mass, 2008), one of the areas he discusses the importance of having an awareness of is bibliography. As Eliezer Brodt noted in his review at the Seforim blog, Sperber provides examples where people have gone wrong due to their lack of bibliographical knowledge. Of course, long before Sperber, the importance of Jewish bibliography was already noted by R. Shabbatai Bass, most well-known for his super-commentary on Rashi, Siftei Hakahmim, but also the author of the earliest Jewish bibliography, Siftei Yeshanim.[1] In the introduction to Siftei Yeshanim, Bass discusses generally why bibliography is important. Then, in Ben-Jacob's bibliography of Hebrew books, Otzar haSeforim, R. Shlomo haKohen of Vilna in his approbation lists numerous examples where people erred due to lack of bibliographical knowledge.

A particularly illustrative example was the republication of the work on the laws of Shabbat, Madanei Asher. A kollel had a group of people working on to study the book and then republish it. Although they studied the book in depth they failed to look up the bibliographical information on the book. Had they done so, they would have discovered that the book is plagiarised from another book, Shulhan Shitim by R. Shlomo Chelm, the author of the Merkevet HaMishnah. Instead, they invested considerable time and effort in ensuring that the wider public has access to a plagiarized work.[2]

Another such example of an egregious error due to lack of bibliographical information can be found in the Machon Yerushalayim edition of the Shulhan Arukh. Included in this edition is the commentary of R. Menachem Mendel Auerbach, Ateret Zekeinim. In Orah Hayyim, no. 54, R. Auerbach discusses whether the word "Hai" - het, yud - should be punctuated with a patach or a tzeri.[3].R. Auerbach states "one should have a tzeri under the letter het . . . and this in accord with what R. Shabbatai writes in his siddur, however, the Maharal of Prague says to use a patach." Now, when R. Auerbach references R. Shabbatai and his siddur, the Machon Yerushalayim edition includes an explanatory note "Siddur haArizal in the Barukh She'amar prayer." Thus, according to Machon Yerushalayim, R. Auerbach is quoting the Siddur haArizal compiled by R. Shabbatai Rashkover. That, in and of itself, is a bit odd as this Siddur is more interested - as the title implies - in the Ari and his kabbalistic ideas, rather than on grammar. Therefore, to use it in a discussion of grammar, which the quote in question is dealing with, is a bit odd! Setting that aside, there is a more fundamental mistake here, as the Siddur compiled by R. Rashkover was only published for the first time in Koretz in 1795. R. Auerbach lived from 1620-1689. Thus, he was dead for over 100 years prior to the publication of the Siddur of R. Rashkover. Moreover, the Ateres Zekeinim was first published in 1702 in Amsterdam, also long before the Siddur in question was ever published. The Rashkover's Siddur was only first written in 1755 and not published until 1797.[4] What is particularly striking about this example is that if one actually examines Rashkover's siddur, he doesn't even have a tzeri in the word in question!

Instead, the siddur in question from "R. Shabbatai" is that of R. Shabbatai Sofer, the well-known grammarian. As this R. Shabbatai is a grammarian, and his siddur was written specifically to correct and highlight the proper grammatical readings, - see the lengthy introduction to this siddur, where R. Shabbatai bemoans the carelessness of people towards proper grammar - it makes perfect sense to quote this siddur from this "R. Shabbatai." This is not the only place R. Auerbach quotes R. Shabbatai, one quote in particular is important as it dispels who the "R. Shabbatai" Auerbach is referring to. In Orah Hayyim, no. 122, Auerbach gives R. Shabbatai's full name in another discussion about proper grammar. Auerbach refers to "I also saw this in the Siddur of R. Shabbatai of Przemysl." R. Shabbati of Przemysl is otherwise known as R. Shabbatai Sofer (1565-1635)[5] and that is who is referred to earlier as well.

In conclusion, it is worthwhile noting that the text in question - the correct pronunciation of the word het yud - how R. Sofer actually pronounced that is unclear. There are two versions, but for the details of that one should see the edition of R. Sofer's Siddur (Baltimore, 1994), vol. 2, p. 56.

[1] First printed in Amsterdam in 1680 and in an expanded edition in 1806.

[2] This was pointed on by Y. Tosher in Moriah 7:83-84 (1978): 79. This claim of plagiarism was examined by Yonah Burstein, "Shulhan 'Arukh by R. Shlomo Chelm (Review)," Ali Sefer 16 (1990):177-179.

[3] See the work Yashresh Ya'akov where he has a very comprehensive discussion about the this word and its punctuation.

[4] See Pinchas Giller, "Between Poland and Jerusalem: Kabbalistic Prayer in Early Modernity," in Modern Judaism 24:3 (2004): 230, and see Geller's general discussion regarding the importance of Rashkover's edition for the development of Lurianic kabbalah on the siddur.

[5] On R. Sofer see Stefan C. Reif, Shabbethai Sofer and His Prayer-Book (Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press, 1979).

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