Wednesday, August 31, 2005

New Book Censored

R. Elijah haBahur's Sefer haTishbi has just been republished. The Sefer haTishbi is a dictionary devoted to words that do not appear in R. Nathan of Rome's Orukh. This particular reprint contains many important additions. It contains Solomon Buber's biography on R. Elijah as well as an extensive introduction on the various editions and the importance of the Sefer haTishbi. Furthermore, it contains several commentaries, some published for the first time. It contains the commentary of R. Menhem Shmuel Hirschtik, Ragle Mevaser originally published in 1910. However, it also contains the commentary of R. Jacob Emden and that of R. Yeshya Pick, the author of the Mesorat haShas. While R. Emden's commentary had been published in part in two journals, for the first time both those are collected together. R. Pick's commentary had never been published, although there had been some who alluded to it.

This book also contains an index as well as the Iggeret Pri Megadim from R. Yosef Teomim. This letter is typically published at the beginning of his commentary to Orakh Hayyim, however, due to the fact that he a) advocates for the study of R. Elijah's books; and b) has numerous comments on the Sefer haTishbi, this was included here. There is also an index of just these letters.

Now, on to the controversial portion of the book. This book also contains the critique of R. Shlomo Schick on the Sefer haTishbi. R. Schick, in his commentary on the Torah, Torah Shelmah (1909, Satmar) takes issue with many of R. Elijah's statements, not just his Sefer haTishbi. However, the editors of this edition of the Sefer haTishbi have collected R. Schick's comments that relate to the Sefer haTishbi. The editors have also included a rebuttal of R. Schick titled Tzidkat haTzadik.

While this may seem rather innocuous, R. Schick is considered in some circles to be unacceptable. This is especially true amongst the Hungarian Haredim. R. Schick, who was a Rabbi of what was known as a Status Quo community in Hungary, was himself a Haredi. However, he felt that instead of alienating his community and many others in Hungary he would take a more reconciliatory stance. This put him in conflict with the majority of the Haredim in Hungary. They wanted to cut off all the non-Haredim. In fact, they issued an edict that all shecita by members that considered themselves Status Quo, was to be considered non-kosher. Importantly, many in the Status Quo community kept Torah and mitzvot a fact R. Schick pointed out in many of his teshuvot. This placed Schick outside the camp of the "frum" and thus among some his writings are unacceptable.

Therefore, there are two editions of this newly reprinted Sefer haTishbi. One that contains an actual photocopy of the haskama of the Betaz of Jerusalem and a second version that does not. In the edition that contains the haskama both the comments of R. Schick as well as the rebuttal does not appear. In the edition that does not contain the haskama you get what I described above, the comments of R. Schick and the editor's rebuttal.

The editors even note this in the edition that contains R. Schick's comments. They explain that the Betaz gave them a haskama (they even quote it but do not reproduce the actual letter, so they get to say they got the haskama without offending the Betaz) but that the Betaz told them they found R. Schick to be unacceptable and thus would not want to give a haskama to such a work.

Therefore, one now has a choice between the Betaz haskama or the comments and rebuttal of R. Schick.

I obtained both editions from Beigeleisen in Brooklyn.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Racy Title Pages

Printing was started by non-Jews, however, Jews quickly entered the printing business. However, at times, Jews "borrowed" from non-Jews sources with some interesting repercussions.

Early on many of the Jewish books borrowed title pages from non-Jewish works. This was so, as early title pages utilized woodcuts, which were rather expensive to make. In an effort to cut costs, printers would reuse these woodcuts from other books. Soncino in his early Talmuds as well as in other books used the title page that was used for Aesop's Fables. (See Marvin J. Heller, The Printing of the Talmud, p. 68-70)

In 1697 the Teshuvot haBakh were published for the first time. This first edition actually has two variant editions. The first one was published with a rather elaborate title page that included unclothed women. It appears this edition was immediately pulled and a second title page was substituted. This second page was much simpler with just two cherubs above the text of the title no more nudes. (For more on this topic of altering title pages, see Isaac Rivkind, Sefer Ashir B'Sha'arim, in Studies in Bibliography and Booklore, vol. 1 1953 p. 96-100; A. Freimann, "Ueber Schicksale hebraischer Bucher," in Zeitschrift fur Hebrasche Bibliographie, X (1906) esp. p. 175)
More recently, R. Mordechai Yaffo's Levush was republished. This reprint, aside from resetting the type, adding the Eliyaha Rabba and Zuta, and adding additional notes also includes an extensive introduction. This introduction traces the history of the various editions of the Levush as well as explaining its overall value. When it traces the printing history, it includes reproduces the title page of the first edition (Lublin 1589). However, this title pages has strategic white outs. In the first edition on the title page it includes female nudes, these are now whited out.

The inclusion of nudes was not that uncommon. I have seen other seforim that include such depictions either on the title page or at times even in the text. One notable example is a Mahzor published in Venice in 1710. This edition includes a depiction of semi-nude women right before the start of Barukh She'amar. From an artistic perspective this arguably adds to the book, however, from a religious perspective one must assume that it may offend some. However, there is no explanation for this picture so we are left to wonder what was the motive of the publishers.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

How Many Seforim, and why too much is not a good thing

On the Main Line asks how many seforim are actually out there. Although, it is probably impossible to give an exact count there are ways to give a fairly good estimate. In Y. Vinograd's Thesaurus of the Hebrew Book, he lists by year the amount of seforim that were published. Vinograd's work, however, only covers from the beginning of printing until 1863. According to that count I came up with approxiamatly 32,503 seforim published. The CD Rom, The Bibliography of the Hebrew Book which spans until 1960, estimates that they have approximately 85,000 titles. Now both of these lists include printed books and not individual books, thus, if a book was published multiple times it is counted as such. Consequently, we can't tell how many seforim were actually written only that the number must be significantly less than those totals as many are probably reprints, siddurim, humashim and other works of no one single author.

Furthermore, this counting issue is compounded in that it is unclear what exactly would be considered a "sefer." Should we include all books printed only in Hebrew or do other languages count? In both the above counts, they include books published in other languages. Also do the seforim have to be about "Jewish" topics or is it sufficent that they were written or published by a Jew. Some seforim are about what can be considered secular topics, natural sciences, math, history etc. Again the above lists include all of these. However, what the above lists don't reflect is when multiple works are included in a single work. Should each of these works be considered a seperate work or not? Therefore, there really is no one single method to arrive at a number and all the figures have what to quibble with.

What is perhaps relevant to this discussion is R. Jacob Emden's comments on the proliferation of seforim in his time. He says "How great is the hole in this orphaned generation. Any idiot or fool who's spirit takes him can write a book, this is so even if he doesn't know mikra, mishna u'derek eretz. He doesn't have to know Hebrew nor is he congent of suta d'rabonon. He takes his stuff and displays it in the marketplace . . . and he wastes Jewish money." R. Jacob Emden, Amudi Shamyim [Siddur], Ma'amodot l'yom rishon [p. 563 Eshkol ed.].

R. Emden continued and advocated for some board or committee to oversee what should and should not be considered worthy of printing.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Tisha B'av and History of the Temples

There is a new book out, Elefh Dor, by Yeruchum Horowitz (2 vol.). This book gathers from hazal and various secular history works to give a complete picture from the Second Temple until the closing of the Mishna. The author does an especially good job of collating and arranging the various sources in a coherent manner.

As it is tisha b'av I will focus on the parts of the book dealing with the destruction of the Temple. As anyone that has read Josephus is aware many of his histories are spread out in various volumes of his books. For example, the destruction of the Temple appears in both the Wars of the Jews as well as Josephus. Horowitz, however, is able to mesh all these sources together. What is also refreshing is that he notes where there are problems with Josephus's recounting of the story. Further, the book contains separate articles that go into greater depth regarding the general veracity of Josephus as well as Josephus the person.

He also has an article on where the Temple vessels currently are. However, on this point he has some inaccuracies. For example, he accepts the well known story about the Hafetz Hayyim that appears in "All for the Boss." This story claims that a farmer in Israel located the temple vessels while digging in his field. He then traveled to America and met with R. Shain who sent a letter to the Hafetz Hayyim. The Hafetz Hayyim "confirmed the man's find by looking in various books." This story is unfortunately, preposterous. Why would the man travel to America from Israel when he could have gone to Rabbis in Israel or Europe. America at the turn of the century was not exactly known for its wealthy of Rabbinic scholars. Second, which books did the Hafetz Hayyim look into to confirm the story. The only books that are really relevant are secular history books dealing with the rise and fall of Rome and where the spoils of Rome went to after that. He also doesn't cite to the most relevant articles on this issue, namely, Hans Lewy, Olomot Nifgashim, 255-58; Abraham Berliner, Divrei yemi hayehudim b'roma, vol. 1 107-110.

Besides for the above issue, this book provides a basic understanding of the periods it covers, and in particular a rather good overview of the history surrounding the destruction of the second Temple.

The book is available at your local bookstore, I purchased it for $28.50 from Beigeleisen Books.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Pashkevilin (Broadsides)

Pashekevilin, or broadsides, are commonplace all over Israel, but perhaps they are most associated with Meah She'arim area of Jerusalem. There is a permenant exhibit on some of these at JTS.

There is now a book devoted to these. The book, Pashkevilin: Modo't Kir u'kruzot Pulmus b'rehovot haharedi ("Broadsides: Wall Announcements and Polemical Proclomations in the Ha'redi Street") contains three articles and 150+ pages with pictures of these broadsides.

The first article is by Menachem Friedman (a recent topic on AJHistory) on the history of these broadsides. (This article is available online here.) The second article focuses on death notices and the third article focuses on the language of the broadsides. The rest of the book is devoted to pictures of these broadsides. This section is divided into seven sections by topic: the controversy about the Yishuv haYashan; HaHinuk haTohar (Jewish education); Zionism; Hillul Shabbat; divisions between various camps of Orthodoxy; Tzniut; and various fights.

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