During this period, between the 17th of Tamuz and the 9th of Av, there is an increased focus upon various historical calamities that befell the Jewish people. Jewish history is unfortunately replete with such examples. Some instances have spawned specific days of commemoration while others have produced whole bodies of literature. And, while the literature surrounding these events is diverse, covering liturgy, poetry, history, we focus on one type: the chronicle. Additionally, our focus is the Chmielnicki Massacres, or Gezerot Tach ve-Tat. The Hebrew refers to the dates – 1648-49 – when the majority of Jew-killing took place. While these events took place hundreds of years ago, its effects including the total number of Jews killed is still being debated by scholars. (See Jits van Straten, "Did Shmu'el Ben Nathan and Nathan Hanover Exaggerate: Estimates of Jewish Casualties in the Ukraine During the Cossack Revolt in 1648," Zutot 6:1 (2009), 75-82, calling into question the lower estimates of Shaul Stampfer, "What Actually Happened to the Jews of Ukraine in 1648?" Jewish History 17:2 (May 2003), 207-27.)
The most well-known chronicle describing the events is that of R. Nathan of Hanover, Yaven Metzulah. There is an English translation of Hanover’s work, Abyss of Despair, translated by R. Abraham J. Mesch. The translation includes a “traditional drawing of Maharsha.”
While it is not noted, this illustration, that has Maharsha with long flowing hair first appears in the Vienna, 1814 edition of the Maharsha’s commentary (vol. I, vol. II). While Mesch indicates this is the “traditional drawing” we know of no earlier instance than the Vienna edition. This was not the only Vienna edition that includes a questionable portrait. The 1804 Vienna edition of R. Yitzhak Alfasi’s Halakhot also includes a portrait that is claimed to be R. Alfasi. Again, we know of no earlier evidence that would confirm such a rendering.
A collection of these chronicles was published most recently Gezerat Tach ve-Tat, Jerusalem, 2004. Additionally, Joel Raba, Between Remembrance and Denial, Columbia Univ. Press, 1995, discusses these chronicles as does the collection of articles that appears in the journal, Jewish History 17:2 (May, 2003).
We turn our attention, however, to a lesser known work from this period, Tzok ha-Itim. Tzok was actually the first chronicle regarding the 1648-49 events published. It was first published in Krakow, 1650 (link). Indeed, some have argued that Hanover relied heavily on Tzok in compiling Yaven Metzulah (first published in 1653).
Tzok was republished in Constantinople in 1652. This edition is exceedingly rare. According to Ya’ari, there is but one complete copy extant. (See Ya’ari, Kiryat Sefer, (16) 1939-40). This edition was published by R. Shmuel ben R. Shimson who on his way to Israel after fleeing the massacres. At the end of the book he includes a dirge (kinnah) about the events. He also penned his own introduction which describes his own suffering. He says that “I am the only remaining survivor in my family as the rest were killed sanctifying god’s name . . . although I was spared . . . my wife and children I buried, I lost all of my possessions . . . .” He explains that “all I wanted was to dwell in the bet midrash and therefore I decided to travel to Jerusalem” and that while he was on his journey he came across Tzok and decided to reprint it in Constantinople “so that what has occurred shall not be forgotten.” (Ya’ari, Mechkerei Sefer, Jerusalem, 1958 p. 16 reprints the entire introduction, he also provides other accounts of people, who, on their way to Israel, issued works related to 1648-49 massacres.)
Tzok was then reissued in Venice in 1656.
The first two editions list R. Meir ben Shmuel of Szczebrzeszyn as the author. The 1656 edition, however, lists a completely different author, R. Joshua ben David of Lemberg. It is not only on the title page that a different author is listed. The work itself is not composed as traditional narrative. Instead, it is written in verse. The first verses in all the editions spell out the author’s name in an acrostic. Thus, the 1650 and 1652 editions have an acrostic that spells out R. Meir of Szczebrzeszyn’s name while the 1656 edition acrostic spells out R. Joshua’s name. In some instances words are added to create the “new” acrostic, while in other instances, the highlighted letters are changed.
Here is the introduction to the Constantinople edition:
And here is the introduction to the Venice edition:
As an aside it is worth noting that this is not the only time a plagiarizer has been forced to change the acrostic to hide his stolen goods. (See Kitvei Pinchas Turburg, ed. A. R. Malachi, 24-36 for additional examples of acrostic changes, and see this earlier post discussing similar changes to hide the identity of the true author, and see this post where the plagiarizer was caught in the act and forced to admit his guilt and apologize). Additionally, at least in one instance the acrostic was able to demonstrate authorship. In the Siddur Bet Ya’akov (although attributed to R. Y. Emden, this siddur contains numerous additions as compared to R. Emden’s actual siddur called Ammudei Shamayim - Sha'arei Shamayim; this is one of them) the Belzer Rebbe asserts that the author of the zemer Yom Shabbat Kodesh Hu had his song stolen. He came across the plagiarizer and challenged him to prove authorship. Specifically, the real author showed that his name, Yonatan, could be seen in the acrostic, and with this he vanquished the thief. R. Emden uses this story to explain the meaning behind the final verse which loosely translated as “all the talk [about authorship] should [now] end now that I have enlarged the song [and demonstrated my authorship] . . . and that no one should ever steal from me as this song is my property.”
An example where the acrostic actually has the opposite effect, obscuring the original author is also a zemer, Yom Zeh le-Yisrael. At times, this song can be confusing depending upon which bencher one is using. This so, because some version have a shorter version while others have a longer ( see here for example). Some argue that the two versions are indicative of two authors, one, the original author which only spelled out Yitzhak (and then lamed vav) to which all the other verses were added, now spelling Yitzhak Luria Hazak. (Regarding this zemer see Naftali ben Menachem, Zemirot shel Shabbat, Israel, 1949, 144-45; I. Davidson, Thesaurus of Mediaeval Hebrew Poetry, Ktav, 1970, vol. II, 348.)
Returning to Tzok, because the acrostic lends support for either author, some didn’t know who the “real” author was. In the 1890s, a number of these chronicles regarding bad events in Jewish history were collected and published under the title Le-Korot ha-Gezerot ‘al Yisrael by C. Gorlin. Included is Tzok. But, instead of a traditional introduction, he prefaces Tzok with a section “Who is the real author?” Gorlin argues that the real author is indeed R. Meir and not R. Joshua. This is not the first time that there is some confusion regarding who is the real author and who is the thief, for another example see here and for another example of modern day plagiarism see here.
With regard to the Constantinople edition, Ya’ari demonstrates that this edition is better than the first, in that many of the typos and the like have been corrected. Unfortunately, perhaps due to its rarity, the 2004 edition of Tzok relies upon the 1650 edition and not the better 1652. Additionally, the 1652 edition is one of the works published by a convert. Of course, this is probably what first got Ya’ari interested as he provides a bibliography of works published by converts.
It should be noted that Tzok was rather popular even if it is no longer. When R. David ha-Levi Segal, author of the commentary on Shulhan Orakh, Turei Zehav, sent a delegation to the false messiah, Shabbatai Tzvi, when the delegation entered, they record that Shabbatai Tzvi had a copy of Tzok on the table. (See G. Scholem, Sabbati Sevi, Princeton Univ. Press, 1976, p. 623 quoting Leib Ozer, Sippurei Ma’ashi Sabbati Tzvi, p. 81 and Sefer Tziz Nobel Tzvi, ed. I. Tishby, pp. 77-79.)
Finally, we note that the most recent edition, the 2004 op. cit., uses the Krakow first edition, even though Ya'ari has already shown that the rare Constantinople edition corrected numerous errors that appear in the Krakow edition.