Thursday, September 29, 2005

Rabbinic Pictures

Menachem Butler notes that the custom of having portraits done of Rabbinic figures dates back to the 16th century and has now been applied to YU. He also raises the issue of the permissibility of such portraits in like of the injunction against making graven images.

There is a fairly substantial literature on the topic of Rabbinic pictures. In my previous post, I note that Mark included a picture of himself in his book. This was fairly common to include on the frontispiece of ones book a portrait. Menashe ben Israel, Yosef Delemdigo, Yehudah Modena as well as numerous others did so. In Cohen's book, mentioned by Menachem, he discusses this. R. Reuven Margulies in his Toldot Adam, Lemberg, 1921, 8-9 and Aviad Cohen, De'uknot Hakhamim bein halakha u'masse in Machanayim 2 (1995).

However, the most complete discussion as to the halakhic implications of this custom as well as a fairly extensive list of seforim containing rabbinic frontispices, can be found at the end of book having very little to do with this topic. R. Areyeh Yehuda Leib Lifshitz's first published in Warsaw in 1927 and reprinted in Israel, 1965. The book is devoted to the somewhat mythical R. Saul Wahl. In the first edition, however, R. Lifshitz included a picture of himself. This picture was placed loose in the book. At the end, R. Lifshitz includes a lengthy teshuva devoted to demonstrating that portraits pose no halakhic problem. [There is also a well know from R. Jacob Emden discussing both a portrait of his father, the Hakam Tzvi as well as a medal struck in honor of the chief rabbi.]

Another, more contemporary article discussing this issue can be found in the book Mo'adim l'Simhah b y R. Tuvia Fraind vol. 1 where he has an article on this.

Perhaps one of the strangest pictures is that of R. Yehuda Aszod. R. Aszod held that it did violate Jewish law to take pictures. His students, however, really wanted a picture of their teacher. They decided on a plan to obtain his picture, that after he was dead to prop him up and take his picture. Sure enough, that is exactly what they did. They also decided that proceeds from the sale of his picture would go to his widow and his children. At his funeral, there was a rather big to do about this especially in light of the fact that it is generally not allowed to profit from the dead. However, some permitted this and his picture was sold. [You can see this picture in the book Gedoli Dorot the three vol. picture/biography book.]

This story is recounted in biography done by his grandson that appears at the beginning of his commentary on the Torah Divrei Maharia. This was first published in 1931 and republished in 1970, in both these editions this story appears, however, in the most recent reprint in 1986 this story has been removed.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Biography of Gedolim

Long before Making of a Godol there was another book that contained terrific stories of Gedolim. These stories are especially refreshing in that they give a "human" look at gedolim. This book was originally published in Yiddish and subsequently portions were translated into Hebrew. The book written by Ya'akov Mark, (1857-1929) is titled Gedolim fun Unzer Tziet (or the great ones of our time). This book was first published in New York in 1927 and included a picture of the author. Mark was from Palanga, Lithuania (or Latvia depending upon how the wind is blowing). Palanga is a resort town on the Baltic Sea where many gedolim came for vacation. Mark, thus was afforded first hand contact with many of the greatest Rabbis at the end of the 19th and the turn of the 20th century. Eventually, in 1920 Mark moved to America and his book was published there.

The book is divided by type of person, namely, Rabbonim, Manhigim, 'Askonim, and Maskilim. It includes biographies and stories about, among others, R. Y. Salanter, R. Yitzhak Elkhonon, R. Hildesheimer, Shmuel Yosef Fuenn, R. Ma'atishyau Staushun.

Mark's work was utilized by many. R. Dov Katz in his Tenuat haMussar uses it extensively. In another work on the early ba'ali mussar, haMeorot haGedolim by R. Ha'ayyim Zaichyk, (New York, 1953) also uses Mark, especially in the section devoted to R. Y. Salanter. The use of Mark is documented in the footnotes. In the most recent reprints of haMeorot haGedolim, all footnotes that reference Mark have been removed. Of course, the publishers that reprinted haMeorot haGedolim don't mention this, let alone offer a reason for this omission. Perhaps it was one of the following "sins" that "warranted" the exclusion of Mark from this edition. The first, he was an accountant and not a Rav. The second was that he offers a more human portrait of the persons mentioned in his book. The third is that includes "questionable" people in his book such as Saul Pinhas Rabinowitz (Shepher) or Dr. Harkavy. Again, I don't know that these were the reasons, however, I think they are plausible although inexcusable.

In 1958, Mark's work was partially reprinted and translated into Hebrew. The Hebrew title is b'Mihitzham shel Gedolei haDor. This edition only included the portion of the original Ra'abanim and Manhigim those in the second half of the original under 'askanim and maskilim were not included. The publishers stated that they planned on publishing a second volume which would include those, however, it seems that never happened. The one exception was R. Ma'atishyu Staushun, who although was in the later category was included in this edition.

Either edition is worthwhile reading full of fascinating anecdotes and stories. The Yiddish is more difficult to obtain, but not impossible.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Differences btwn the "Improved" Making of a Godol and the Original

Differences between the "Improved" Making of a Godol and the Original
by Dan Rabinowitz

As previously mentioned at the Seforim blog, Rabbi Nathan Kamenetsky's Making of a Godol has been reprinted in an "improved" edition. In the new edition there are a few significant changes, which appear to have been done to appease those that originally banned the original.

It is fairly easy to find these changes with the help of the index in the "improved" edition.

Here are some of the highlights of these changes:

First Edition ("FE") - Also like my father, R' Aaron Kotler dabbled in secular studies at this time. He was more interested in literature than in the sciences which attracted my father's interest. (305)
Improved Edition ("IE")- Like our protagonist, young Aaron Pinnes picked up some secular knowledge as an early teenager in Minsk. (305)

FE- . . . during a visit with a young, intellectual protege of the Hazon-Ish who headed a yeshiva in Ramalah, R' Aaron blurted out, "This was expounded by Aleksander Pushkin" (305)
IE- not there

FE- nothing
IE- A story how he utilized this youthful experience to benefit the Torah community in Israel, came to light in an interview with R' Dov-Tzvi Rothstein.

FE- nothing
IE- In the Talmudic Yeshiva of Philedelphia mail is censored till this day: the students are "appeased" by being told "Without censorship, R' Aaron Kotler would have been lost."

FE- It maybe postulated that R' Aaron had too much self-confidence, as per what . . .
IE- In my fater's opinion, R' Aaron had very definate self-confidence, as per what . . . (386)

FE- "What is the difference? Before you go to his [R' Aaron Kotler's(D.R.)] yeshiva, you don't know how to learn anyway; and after you have been there a bit, you will already be considered [by him] that you do know how to learn. . . " Then our protagonist mitigated the seemingly sarcastic remark by explaining
IE- What is the difference. . . [same as above D.R.] Then our protagonist went on to explain his words by adding.

FE- the Lithuanian government issued an edict saying that the students of any yeshiva without secular studies would no longer be eligable for draft deferments. At a rabbinical assembly called to discuss the issue, it became evident that the Telz Yeshiva was ready to bow to the order, while the Slabodka Yeshiva, . . was uncompromisingly opposed. (510)
IE- the Lithuanian . . . eligable for draft deferments. Only the Telz Yeshiva , which despite opposition had started a mekhinah (preparatory school) with secular studies recieved recognition.

FE/IE There are a couple minor changes on 510-13 not worth getting into here

While there are numerous other changes, the above represent the "most controversial" passages from the first edition, and how they appear in the current edition.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Second Rabbinic Bible/Chapter Divisions

University of California at Berkeley has purchased a copy of what is known as the Second Rabbinic Bible (seen on PaleoJudaica here). This Bible was published by Daniel Bomberg and edited by Jacob ben Hayyim ibn Adonyahu. Without denigrating the importance of owning the original, I think the article describing the value added to Berkeley is a bit misplaced or at the very least overblown.

First, this book is now available online via the Hebrew Univesity's program of digitilizing parts of their collection (the First Rabbinic Bible is also available there as well). Second, a photomechanical reproduction of this book was done in 1972 with an additional introduction by the Bible scholar, Moshe Goshen-Gottstein. Additionally, one of the most important portions of this Bible, namely Jacob ben Hayyim's introduction was published with an English translation and extensive notes by C.D. Ginsburg in 1867 and republished by Ktav in 1968. Basically, if one wants to examine this book, without paying a huge amount of money to purchase it, there is no lack of places to do so.

The article also neglected to mention a feature of this edition that is particularly important, the inclusion of chapter breaks. Although, Jacob b. Hayyim attempted to obtain the Jewish chapter breaks, the ones created by the ba'alei mesorah, Jacob only got these at the end of the printing a instead utilized the non-Jewish chapter breaks (which we use until today). He did, however, include a list of the Jewish breaks after his introduction but the actual divisions used in this edition are the non-Jewish ones. As the article correctly points out, this bible became the template for almost all future bibles and thus, we are consigned to use those divisions eventhough, at times, they run counter to Jewish law and tradition.

[For an excellent exposition on the chapter divisions, see Shmuel haKohen Weingarten, Halukat haTora l'Perakim, in Sinai vol. 42 (1958) pp. 281-293; R. Pesach Finfer, Mesoret ha-Toah veha-Nevi'im, Vilna 1906 (republished in 2005).]

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

New Auction Catalog Online

The Baranovitch auction catalog for their Nov. 9th auction is now available online. It has some nice seforim, including one of my favorite, R. Y. Shapotshink's Shas haGodol s'begolim, the largest Shas ever published. Shapotshink, who was a real character, utilized R. Pinner's shas and then added notes on the side of the page, creating the largest in size shas ever published. As many of his books, he only published a single volume. In this case, only Berachot was published.

The auction also includes some books with pictures in them. One of the more interesting ones is the Vienna, 1813 edition of the Marsha (R. Shmuel Edels) that contains his "portrait." R. Edels lived 1555-1631 and there is no known portrait executed during his lifetime. The portrait that appears in the Vienna edition is a product of the artist imagination and probably bears no relationship to what R. Edels actually looked like. In the portrait the Mahrsha appears with long, shoulder length hair, wearing some type of slippers, surrounded by hundreds of books.

At the same time, the Vienna publishers also published an edition of the Rif (R. Yitzhak Alfasi) also with a portrait, which is also a product of the artists imagination.

"Improved" Making of a Godol

R. Nathan Kamenetsky has republished the first volume of his book, "Making of a Godol." This new edition is labeled "Improved Edition." The reasons for the improvements are well-known. The original edition was placed under a ban due to perceived slights in the honor of certain Gedolim.

In this new edition, there is a helpful index which shows what exactly has been improved upon. According to the index only one story has been removed in it's entirety. That story, in which R. A. Kotler responded to an interruption during his shiur from a "red-bearded scholar." R. Kotler responded by saying "Red Heifer, be still!" This was removed due to the source of the story. Apparently, the source for this particular story did not support R. Kamenetsky when R. Kamenetsky questioned the validity of the ban, and thus R. Kamenetsky did not want to include this persons comments.

According to the index there are no more omissions in this new edition. Instead, there are numerous elaborations, corrections, and a significant amount of new information. R. Kamenetsky states in one of the first "elaborations" that "the unexpected ban issued on the original, unimproved, version" helped the current edition be of value for all time.

unfortunately, this improved edition still suffers from a serious lack of editorial oversight. Although, the book has been altered to conform and appease those that issued a ban, it was not altered to make it more reader friendly. The improved edition still utilizes the same format of text followed by excursuses with numerous footnotes and tangents. It still requires, as R. Kamenetsky points out, a pencil and paper to be able to be able to flip back and forth through the book and keep track of what page one is on.

There is one important addition to the book, while not solving all the difficulties, at least alleviates some of them. R. Kamenetsky included a timeline line which tracks both significant events in world history with a parallel timeline that tracks significant Jewish events. When the Jewish events appear in the book, R. Kamenetsky included a footnote to alert the reader which page they can be found on. This allows, if one so desires, to read the book in a chronological order.

Although, the original book was only $40 (when it was published, subsequent to the ban the book was selling and continues to sell for outrageous prices) this improved version is $125. I assume that the steep raise in price was to allow for R. Kamenetsky to recoup some of his losses he suffered from the first edition. There were only 1,000 copies of the first edition published, however, R. Kamenetsky stopped selling and ordered his distributor to stop distributing them once the ban was pronounced. While it is impossible to know with certainty, this probably left him with numerous unsold copies thus causing significant loss. R. Kamenetsky implemented this policy even though he stood to profit immensely from the ban, he has said he felt bound by the ban even if he felt it was unjust.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Hebrew Dictionaries

The post below focuses on R. Elijah haBahor's dictionary- Sefer haTishbi. There are, however, numerous other Hebrew Dictionaries. R. Elijah haBahor himself wrote another focusing on Aramic words from the Targuimim, titled Sefer haMiturgumin. The most complete exposition on Hebrew Dictionaries is Shimeon Brisman's "A History and Guide to Judaic Dictionaries and Concordances." While the title indicates it also discusses Concordances, in truth, there is a second volume, not yet published, that focuses on those. This volume, however, is devoted to the history of the Hebrew Dictionary. While Brisman does a very good job of giving a very good overview, at times, I found the book somewhat lacking. He focuses much of his attention on the bibliographical details which causes the content to suffer.

Perhaps the most well-known dictionary to students' of the Talmud is Marcus Jastrow's dictionary. While recently there have been a few dictionaries that claim to be comprehensive dictionaries of the Talmud for the English reader, Jastrow's is still king. The University of Pennsylvania has now posted online a permanent exhibit on Jastrow as well as on Hebrew Dictionaries. The exhibit has reproduced many of the title pages and given brief histories on many of the most important Hebrew Dictionaries.

Perhaps one of the more interesting dictionary was done by a Jew who converted to Christianity. Philippe d'Aquin (originally Mordechi) wrote a commentary on the famed dictionary of R. Nathan of Rome - the Arukh. His commentary, Marikh haMarkhot was published just once (you can see the title page here) . His commentary was not that novel, most of it was "borrowed" from earlier commentaries on the Arukh. R. Yosef Toemim, author of the Peri Megadim, states that the commentary that one should use when studying the Arukh is Marikh haMarkhot -the commentary d'Aquin. [There is no other commentary by that name, nor is the fact that the author was a non-Jew hidden. On the title page it states that the author is a professor of Hebrew at the University of Paris.]

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