The Ze’enah –Re’enah and its Author
Morris M. Faierstein, Ph.D.
It has traditionally assumed that Rabbi Jacob ben Isaac of Yanova was the author of the Ze’enah U-Re’enah. Every edition of the Ze’enah U-Re’enah lists him as the author on the title page. Recently, this assumption has been questioned and the suggestion made that there may have been another author of this seminal work in addition to Rabbi Jacob ben Isaac. This article will consider two aspects of the Ze’enah U-Re’enah and its author. First, the two-author theory and its evidence. Second, who was the author of a section of the Ze’enah U-Re’enah entitled “Hurban ha Bayit [Destruction of the Temple]”, which is found immediately following the commentary on Lamentations?
1. The two-author theory.
The second volume of the earliest extant edition of the Ze’enah U-Re’enah (Basel/Hanau, 1622) begins with the following statement:
“The five Megillot and the Haftarot. In addition, Hurban ha-Bayit [Destruction of the Temple] in Yiddish which was weighed and researched by the noble and pious Rabbi Jacob, the son of Rabbi Isaac, of blessed memory, from the family of Rabbino, who erected his tent and dwells in the holy community of Janova. He is the man who has already authored the five books of the Torah in Yiddish with nice midrashim and innovative interpretations.”
The same or similar statement can be found in all subsequent editions of the Ze’enah U-Re’enah. Rabbi Jacob ben Isaac was also the author of several other books, published both during his lifetime and posthumously by family members. A statement of his authorship of the Ze’enah U-Re’enah is also found in these books. The first one to question the authorship of the whole Ze’enah U-Re’enah by Rabbi Jacob ben Isaac, was Simon Neuberg in his book, Pragmatische Aspekte der jiddischen Sprachgeschichte am Beispiel der Zenerene. More recently, Jacob Elbaum and Chava Turniansky have reiterated Neuberg’s argument and supported it. The Elbaum/Turniansky article provides a clear summary of Neuberg’s argument. It would be helpful to begin with this summary:
In a meticulously systematic analysis of the language of the Tsene-rene Simon Neuberg has demonstrated that the vocabulary of each of the three sections (Torah, Megillot, haftarot) differs clearly from that of the other two, a phenomenon that becomes particularly prominent in the section khurbn in loshn ashkenaz, which, together with Ruth, differs in its linguistic features most conspicuously from that of the other four Megillot in the Tsene-rene. The conclusions of the linguistic analysis seem to indicate clearly that Rabbi Jacob, the author of the first volume of the Tsene-rene (on the Torah), was not the author of the various components of the second volume of this book (Megillot and Haftarot). The discussion of the questions about the integration of the two volumes into one opus is beyond the framework of this article. It is, however, relevant that an earlier printed Yiddish booklet on the destruction of the Temple has been inserted directly after the Yiddish translation and explanation of Lamentations. The difference between the Tsene-rene’s treatment of Lamentations and that of the other four Megillot leads to the conclusion that whoever included the booklet in the second volume of the Tsene-rene wished to differentiate Lamentations from the other Megillot. Since the khurbn booklet consisted of midrashim, the preceding rendition of Lamentations required no more than a Yiddish translation and explanation of the text, as has been done in the section of the Haftarot. Indeed, there is a great similarity between the manner of rendition of the haftarot and the methods used in the rendition of Lamentations.
Neuberg bases his conclusions on the basis of his study of the vocabulary of the various sections of the Ze’enah U-Re’enah and the variations that he has found. This mode of philological analysis is ancient, going back to Alexandrian studies of Homer and revived in the study of the Biblical text in the Early Modern and Modern periods. The starting point of this mode of analysis is the concept that a certain text is considered to be a unitary product of one author, whether Homer or Moses, and the scholar endeavors to show that in fact there is more than one hand discernable in the production of the final product. The most famous example of this type of analysis is the “Documentary Hypothesis” relating to the Five Books of Moses. The fatal flaw in Neuberg’s analysis is that he assumes this unitary authorship, that Rabbi Jacob ben Isaac was the author in the way one thinks of someone being the author of a novel or a monograph, the intellectual product of one mind and one style. In fact, the Ze’enah U-Re’enah is a very different sort of work, one composed of passages from a wide variety of texts of different periods and styles that were collected, reworked, paraphrased and abbreviated by Rabbi Jacob to form a bricolage, an anthological commentary based on a diversity of sources.
As an integral part of my English translation of the Ze’enah U-Re’enah I have endeavored to document the sources that Rabbi Jacob utilized and show how he built his commentary. My conclusion is that Rabbi Jacob built his text from the whole panoply of Talmudic, Midrashic, and medieval and early modern Biblical commentaries. He even cites the Torah commentary Keli Yakar (Lublin, 1602) of Rabbi Ephraim Lunshits of Prague, which was most likely published while he was at work on the Ze’enah U-Re’enah.
Rabbi Jacob had no specific model that he followed, but rather was guided by the commentaries that were available for a particular text. To take the most obvious example, the number and type of commentaries available for the Humash is dramatically greater than what is available for the Megillot, which is greater than what is available for the Haftarot. As a result, the Humash commentary is richer, has greater depth and is more extensive than the other sections. Even within the Humash commentaries, it is a well-known phenomenon that the quantity of comments on Genesis and Exodus is much greater than those on Leviticus, Numbers and Exodus. This pattern follows through from Midrash and through all post Talmudic commentaries, from the earliest medieval commentaries to those being written in the present. This is also reflected in the allocation of space in the Ze’enah U-Re’enah. For example, the number of pages devoted to Genesis is double the number of pages devoted to Deuteronomy. It is a reflection of the available resources and not a deliberate decision by Rabbi Jacob to privilege one part of the Torah over another.
The differing level of resources is much greater when one goes from the Torah to the Prophets and Writings. In the Jewish tradition in contrast to the Christian tradition, the Torah (Humash) has been the center of study and interest, while the rest of the Bible plays a secondary role. This is particularly true in the Ashkenazi tradition and is evidenced by the paucity of commentaries on the Prophets and Writings. The great exception is Rashi, whose commentary encompasses the whole Bible and much of the Talmud. Thus, we find that Rabbi Jacob has more than a dozen commentaries that he regularly quotes and cites, not to mention the whole of Midrashic literature that is largely focused on the Humash and in the case of Midrash Rabbah, also includes the Megillot. The Talmud is also a rich source of comments and stories that are interspersed in the Torah commentary. In contrast, when one comes to the Haftarot, the only commentaries that he relies on regularly are Rashi and Rabbi David Kimchi. Rabbi Jacob tries to leaven the commentary on the Haftarot by adding to the end of most of the Haftarot, a group of three stories taken from the medieval anthology, Yalkut Shimoni. It is noteworthy that this group of stories is quoted in the same sequence that they are found in the Yalkut Shimoni.
Rabbi Jacob does not have a fixed form or pattern in his commentary. Each verse or part of a verse is approached on its own merits. He appears to have examined the universe of comments on that passage and then he chooses those things that appeal to him. The range can be anything from one sentence to several paragraphs, from one commentator to a medley of several comments that expand on each other or they might offer conflicting perspectives. Sometimes he ends a commentary with the phrase, “from here we can learn”, which is a sign that he is adding his own insights. In addition to the commentaries, or occasionally in place of a commentary, he might cite a Talmudic or midrashic passage. Not only do his sources vary widely, but his mode of citation also varies. Sometimes he translates the Hebrew original, more or less precisely. Other times, he might paraphrase a text or summarize an argument from a source. It is also worth noting that he does not comment on every verse. This too follows the pattern of the commentaries that he relies upon, in that they also do not feel the need to comment on every verse. The same applies to the Megillot and Haftarot, with the proviso that the universe of sources is smaller and therefore the variations in form and style will not be as dramatic.
In summary, any literary analysis of the Ze’enah U-Re’enah must take into account the nature of the sources that underlie the text, how the author utilizes the sources and the methods of composition. Without a thorough knowledge of rabbinic literature in the broadest sense and the ability to deal with these texts, both in the Hebrew/Aramaic original languages and a solid ability to understand the Yiddish text of the Ze’enah U-Re’enah, it would be impossible to make any judgments about this work that have merit and should be taken seriously.
Another argument raised by Neuberg is the fact that the Basel/Hanau, 1622 edition of the Ze’enah U-Re’enah was published in two volumes, with the Torah in one volume and Megillot and Haftarot in the second volume. He ascribes great significance to this fact but does not provide any evidence to support his argument that there is significance to this fact beyond the things that have already been discussed. Since this was the first extant edition, we cannot learn anything from the three preceding editions that have not survived. We can only look at subsequent editions and see if this pattern is repeated. The next edition of the Ze’enah U-Re’enah was published in Amsterdam, 1648. Rabbi Jacob’s son wrote in the Introduction of his edition of his father’s small book Sefer Shoresh Yaakov that he was publishing this book to raise funds to enable the publication of a new edition of his father’s Ze’enah U-Re’enah. The Amsterdam edition retained the same format as the 1622 edition. That is, the Torah came first, followed by the Megillot, and ending with the Haftarot. The one important change was that the work was published in one volume and in a folio format. The first edition to break this pattern was the Amsterdam, 1711 edition, which placed the Haftarot for the Torah portions immediately behind the respective Torah portion, in the same way that one would find it in a printed Hebrew Humash. This was probably the reason for the change and nothing more significant. All subsequent editions followed the model of the 1711 edition. In addition, all editions of the Ze’enah U-Re’enah beginning with the Amsterdam, 1648 were published in one volume. The Basel/Hanau, 1622 edition is the only one that was published in two volumes. It is most likely that the two volumes had simple internal reasons related to practical aspects of the printing process. Without additional evidence it would be inappropriate to make assumptions about this fact.
2. The authorship of Hurban ha-Bayit.
Immediately after the commentary on Lamentations in the Ze’enah U-Re’enah there is a separate section entitled, “Hurban ha-Bayit [Destruction of the Temple].” An examination of this section shows that it is a Yiddish translation/paraphrase of a famous passage from the Talmud about the causes of the destruction of the Second Temple, found in tractate B. Gittin 55b-58a. After the passage from Gittin until the end of this text there is a combination of passages taken from Yalkut Shimoni, Lamentations, Remez 995 and 996, and selections from Lamentations Rabbah, Petihtah 24.
In 1979, Sara Zfatman published an article about a pamphlet by an anonymous author that was published in Cracow, before 1595. The text of this pamphlet is identical to the “Hurban ha-Bayit [Destruction of the Temple]” material in the Ze’enah U-Re’enah. Two pamphlets containing this material were reprinted in the nineteenth and twentieth century and it was even translated into German. It is likely that they were extracts from the Ze’enah U-Re’enah, and not from the Cracow pamphlet.
The question that concerns us is the authorship of this pamphlet and the section in the Ze’enah U-Re’enah. The similarity of both versions of the text is strong evidence that one person is the author of both. The title page of the second volume of the Basel/Hanau, 1622 begins with the following statement. “The five Megillot and the Haftarot. In addition, the destruction of Jerusalem in Yiddish which was weighed and researched by the noble and pious Rabbi Jacob, the son of Rabbi Isaac, of blessed memory.” Having argued that there is one author of the whole Ze’enah U-Re’enah, Rabbi Jacob ben Isaac, it naturally follows Rabbi Jacob ben Isaac is also the author of this pamphlet and the text in the Ze’enah U-Re’enah.
It is not hard to understand why Rabbi Jacob might have felt the need to create a supplement for Lamentations, where there is no similar need or the other Megillot. Tisha B’Av when Lamentations is read in the synagogue became the date to commemorate and mourn a variety of destruction and catastrophes in Jewish history. The text of Lamentations is so specific to the situation of the First Temple that over the centuries a whole literature developed to supplement the Book of Lamentations and better express the emotions engendered by later events being commemorated and mourned. I would suggest that Rabbi Jacob first wrote this pamphlet as an additional text for Tisha B’Av observances and later incorporated it into the Ze’enah U-Re’enah. The sparse nature of his commentary on Lamentations points to this. There is virtually no effort to add commentary. Aside from a few references to Rashi, the commentary on Lamentations is no more than translations or paraphrases of the Biblical text.
 Melitz Yosher (Lublin, 1622; Amsterdam, 1688); Sefer ha-Magid (Lublin, 1623-1627); Sefer Shoresh Ya’akov (Cracow, 1640). The relationship of Rabbi Jacob ben Isaac to Sefer ha-Magid is complicated. See, R. Hayyim Lieberman, “Concerning the Sefer ha-Magid and its Author [Yiddish].” In idem. Ohel RH”L. 3 vols. (n.p.: Brooklyn, 1984), 2: 231-248. A Hebrew version of the article is found in idem. 3: 365-382. The article was originally published in Yidishe Shprakh, vol. 26 (1966): 33-38.
 Neuberg, Simon. Pragmatische Aspekte der jiddischen Sprachgeschichte am Beispiel der Zenerene. Buske: Hamburg, 1999, 109-115.
 Elbaum, Jacob. and Turniansky, Chava. “The Destruction of the Temple: A Yiddish Booklet for the Ninth of Av.” In Midrash Unbound, Transformations and Innovations. Ed. Michael Fishbane and Joanna Weinberg. Oxford: Littman Library, 2013, 424-427.
 See Neuberg, Pragmatische Aspekte, 109-115.
 At this point there is a lengthy footnote about the significance of the title pages of the two volumes and the fact that there are two volumes. I will address the issues raised here in my response.
 Elbaum and Turniansky, “The Destruction of the Temple,” 425.
 Faierstein, Morris M. Ed. Ze’enah U-Re’enah: A Critical Translation into English. 2 Vols. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2017 (Studia Judaica, 96).
 The Index of Sources in my translation is a vivid example of the wide variety of sources found in the Ze’enah U-Re’enah.
 Rabbi David Kimchi was a member of the medieval Spanish school of Biblical commentary that emphasized grammar and logic rather than the more midrashic and mystical approach of many of the Ashkenazi commentaries. It is noteworthy that neither Kimchi nor the other great Spanish commentator Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra are mentioned in the Torah commentary. It is only in the Prophets where Kimchi is consulted, because the number of commentaries is limited.
 Sefer Shoresh Yaakov, Cracow, 1640, Introduction.
 A complete bibliography of Ze’enah U-Re’enah editions can be found in Morris M. Faierstein, “The Ze’enah U-Re’enah: A Preliminary Bibliography”, Revue des etudes juives, 172, 3-4 (2013), 397-427.
 On this pamphlet and its history see, Sara Zfatman, “The Destruction of the Temple, Cracow, before 1595 – An Additional Yiddish Text from the Sixteenth Century [Hebrew],” Kiryat Sefer 54 (1979): 201-202.
 Zfatman, “The Destruction of the Temple,” 201 n. 5.
 The nineteenth century edition was published in Johnnisburg (Prussia), 1862. See, Faierstein, “The Ze’enah U-Re’enah: A Preliminary Bibliography,” 411 no. 121. The twentieth century edition was Brooklyn, 2007. See, idem. 422, no. 240.
 The German translation is, Die Zerstörung Jerusalems: aus dem Buche Zeena u’reena. Deutsch von Alexander Eliasberg (Berlin: F. Gurlitt, 1921). See, Faierstein, “The Ze’enah U-Re’enah: A Preliminary Bibliography,” 424 no. 264.