Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Eliezer Brodt - The Origins of Hamentashen in Jewish Literature

The Origins of Hamentashen in Jewish Literature:
A Historical-Culinary Survey

By Eliezer Brodt

I. Introduction

As Jews, most of our holidays have special foods specific to them; and behind each culinary custom, lays enveiled the reasoning behind them. Shavuot brings with it a vast array of customary dairy delicacies – in some parts of the world, cheesecake is practically obligatory – not to mention different customs in regard to how and when to eat them. Rosh Hashanah in renowned for the different fruits and vegetables eaten as physical embodiments symbolizing our tefillot; Chanukah has fried foods (no trans-fats please); whether latkes sizzling in the frying pan, or the elusive Israeli sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts) seen for a month before but not to be found a minute after Chanukah’s departure, and on the fifteenth of Shevat a veritable plethora of fruits are sampled in an almost 'Pesach Seder'-like ceremony. Of course, on Purim we eat hamentashen.

Hamentashen. Those calorie-inflated, Atkins-defying, doughy tri-cornered confections filled with almost anything bake-able. The Mishpacha reports that this year in Israel alone, an astounding 24.5 million hamentashen will be sold, weighing 1225 tons, and yielding an approximate 33 million NIS in sales.[1] The question that many will be asking themselves is "where did this minhag to eat hamentashen come from?"

Recently I started researching this topic; thus far (and I hope to find more) my results are as follows.

II. Origins

The earliest source I have located so far is in a liturgical parody from the seventeenth century, where it includes a reference to eating hamentashen.[2] In an 1846 cook book called The Jewish Manual by Lady Judith Cohen Montefiore we find a recipe for “Haman fritters.”[3]

R. Barukh ha-Levi Epstein, in his Mekor Barukh, relates the following interesting anecdote which highlights the importance his grandfather placed on eating hamentashen:
One year in the beginning of the month of Adar he [my grandfather] noticed that the bakeries were not selling hamentashen. When he inquired as to why this was so, he discovered that there was a shortage of flour. He promptly went ahead and gave the biggest bakers in the city a large sum of money to enable them to buy flour to bake hamantsashen.[4]
In a Nineteenth Century Lithuanian memoir again the import of hamentashen is apparent. The author recalls that “my sister spent the day preparing the baked delicacies of Purim. Most important were the hamentashen.”[5] A. S. Sachs in his memories on shtetl life notes that his “grandma would add a Haman-tash for the kiddies” in the meshloach manot.[6] Professor Simha Assaf, in an article describing Purim, also writes that people made special foods called hamentashen.[7] Shmarya Levin recollects in his autobiography with great detail the hamentashen:
The much-loved little cakes, stuffed with nuts and poppy seed, which are called ‘Haman’s ears’ – sometimes ‘Haman’s pockets’ – had been prepared for us in vast numbers. Their shape alone was a joy. They were neither round, like rolls, nor long, like the loaf; with their triangular shape they were like nothing else that we ate during the year. The stuffing was made of poppy-seeds fried in honey, but there was not enough of it, so we used to eat the cake cagily, in such wise that with every mouthful we got at least a nibble of honeyed poppy seed.[8]
We also find hamentashen being eaten in Amsterdam[9] and Jews from Bucharia, as well, make אזני המן, similar to hamentashen. [10] לאה אזני המן מנין is a comedy listed in Avraham Yari's bibliographical listing of comedies.[11]

As we can see, the custom of eating hamentashen is widespread and common from at least the 17th century. In fact, R. Shmuel Ashkenazi pointed to some sources which may demonstrate that hamentashen were eaten even earlier. Ben Yehuda in his dictionary claims that as early as the time of the Abarbanel (1437-1508), hamentashen were consumed. The Abarbanel, discussing the food which fell from heaven, the Mon, describes these cakes as:[12]
וצפיחית הוא מאכל הקמח מבושל בשמן כצורת צפחת המים הנאכל בדבש והוא כמו הרקיקים העושים מן הבצק כדמות אזנים מבושלות בשמן ויטבלו אותם בדבש ויקראוהו אזנים
This sounds like our hamentashen although there is no reference to eating them on Purim. But R Ashkenazi pointed out to me that if this is the source, you might then be able to suggest that hamentashen was already eaten much earlier, as this piece of the Abarbanel is word for word taken from R Yosef ibn Kaspi who lived several hundred years earlier (Kaspi was born in 1298 and died in 1340)! Ben-Yehudah, in his dictionary also cites to a manuscript excerpt of a Purim comedy penned by R Yehudah Aryeh de Modena, where he writes יום שבו שלחן ערוך ומזומן בני ישראל הכו את המן יום שבו עשרת בניו תלו ואת תנוך אזניו אכלו and in the comments to this manuscript, it connects these foods to hamentashen.[13]

III. Ta'am ha-Hamentashen

Irrespective when the custom of eating hamentashen began, the question we need to now explore is why hamentashen, what connection do hamentashen have with Purim? Hayyim Schauss explains that in actuality the origins of the hamentashen are not Jewish, rather, we originally appropriated them from another culture. He explains that:
“the hamentashen are also of German origin. Originally they were called mohn-tashen, mohn meaning poppy seed and tashen meaning pockets and also signified dough that is filled with other food stuffs. The people therefore related the cake to the book of Esther and changed the mahn to Haman [due to its similarity]. In time the interpretation arose that the three cornered cakes are eaten because Haman wore a three cornered hat when he became prime minister to Ahasuerus. The three corners were also interpreted as a symbolic sign of the three patriarchs whose merit aided the Jews against Haman.”[14]
Another reason offered for eating hamentashen also deals with the meaning (more correctly a pun) of the word – hamentashen, because Haman wanted to kill us out and Hashem weakened him, preventing him from doing evil to us. Thus, the treat is called המן תש (Hamen became weakened). Eating these pastries is representative of our faith that the same result will befall all our antagonists.[15]

The next reason offered by Menucha u-Kedusha has to do with the pastry itself, more specifically, how the filling is hidden. Until the events which occurred on Purim, the Jews were accustomed to open miracles like those in their battle with Sisra, whereas the Purim miracle appeared to be through natural events – only Mordechai knew that this was a miracle. To remember this, we eat pastries that the main part – the filling – is hidden in the dough, similar to the miracle which was hidden in nature. The filling chosen was specifically zeronim (seeds – poppy seed - mahn) to remind us of Daniel having eaten only seeds (and not non-kosher food) while in captivity at Nevuchadnezar's court. Furthermore, according to this source the triangular shape also has meaning. The Talmud (Megillah 19b) records a three way argument from where to start reading the megillah. As the halakhah is to follow all three opinions and start from the beginning, we cut the pastries in triangular shape to symbolize our accordance to all three opinions. Another reason mentioned in Menucha u-Kedusha for the filling is based on the writings of R. Moshe Alsheikh, who states the Jews did not really think they were going to get completely wiped out until Mordechai finally convinced them so. The possibility arises that Mordechai was afraid to keep on sending out letters, so pastries were baked and the letters hidden therein. These pastry-letters saved the Jews; in turn we eat filled pastries. This reason is a bit interesting for itself, but what is even more interesting is that he never calls the pastries hamentashen.[16] A possibility might be kreplach, meat filled pockets boiled in soup, but the theory is unlikely as kreplach are not something special eaten exclusively for Purim – we eat it other times such as Erev Yom Kippur and Hoshana Rabah.

R. Yaakov Kamenetsky offers yet another reason for eating hamentashen on Purim. As we eat the hamentashen and eating is a form of destroying the item being eaten. Therefore, in eating hamentashen, we are fulfilling the commandment (figuratively) of destroying Amalek we are eating Hamen.[17]

Yom Tov Lewinsky and Professor Dov New both suggest that the reason for eating the hamentashen is because the custom in the Middle Ages was to cut off the ears of someone who was supposed to be hung,[18] to remember that we eat pastries from which a part had been cut off. Another point mentioned both by these authors is an opinion that the filling in the pastries [this is specific to poppy seeds] is in remembrance to the 10,000 silver coins that Haman offered to contribute to Achashverosh's coffers.[19]

Aside from the general merrymaking on Purim, there is also a long tradition of written fun. Specifically, since the famous Massekhet Purim of R. Kalonymus ben Kalonymus (1286-1328), there have been many versions of these type of comedies written throughout the ages. One such was R. Avraham Mor, Kol Bo LePurim (Lemberg, 1855), which is a complete sefer all about Purim written to be humorous. Included therein is a question regarding changing the way hamentashen should be made from a triangle to make them square shape! He answered that it would be terrible to make hamentashen square. If the hamentashen are square they would have four corners which in turn would obligate the attachment of tzitzet like any clothes of four corners.[20]

One last interesting point in regard to hamentashen can be found within Prof. Elliott Horowitz's recent book-length discussion related to Purim[21] where he notes that as recent as 2002, a Saudi 'scholar' Umayna Ahamad al Jalahma claimed that Muslim blood can be used for the three cornered hamentashen.[22] Horowitz also notes that in middle of the Damascus affair in 1840, a work from 1803 was discovered which claimed that Christian blood was used in the ingredients for Purim pastries.[23] Again in 1846, Horowitz writes that “on the holiday of Purim it was claimed the Jews would annually perform a homicide in hateful memory of Haman, and if they managed to kill a Christian the Rabbi would bake the latter’s blood in triangular pastries which he would send as mishloach manot to his Christian friend.”[24] In 1938 the Jews were once again accused of murdering an adult Christian and drying his blood to be mixed into the triangular cakes eaten on Purim.[25]

Thanks to Rabbis Y. Tessler, A. Loketch and Yosaif M. Dubovick, and the two anonymous readers, for their help in locating some of the sources.

[1] Mishpacha (27 Shevat 5767), 30.
[2] שתו אכלו אזני המן - Israel Davidson, Parody in Jewish Literature (New York, 1907), pg. 193; Davidson also suggests eating twenty-seven dishes on Purim (see p. 22).
[3] Lady Judith Cohen Montefiore, The Jewish Manual (London, 1846)
[4] R. Barukh ha-Levi Epstein, Mekor Barukh (vol 1, pg. 974)
[5] Pauline Wengeroff, Rememberings: The World of a Russian-Jewish Woman in the Nineteenth Century, ed. Bernard Dov Cooperman, trans. Henny Wenkart (University Press of Maryland, 2000), pg. 29.
[6] A. S. Sachs, Worlds That Passed (Jewish Publication Society of America, 1928), pg 229.
[7] Simha Assaf, Sefer Hamoadim, p. 29.
[8] Forward from Exile: The Autobiography of Shmarya Levin, ed. and trans. Maurice Samuel (Jewish Publication Society of America, 1967)
[9] Minhagei Amsterdam pg 149 # 12
[10] Yalkut ha-Minhagim, pg. 210
[11] Hamachazeh Ha-Ivri, p. 76 n.654.
[12] This source is also quoted in the Otzar ha-Lashon ha-Ivrit, however the editors simply describe it as a phrase from the Middle Ages (vol 1 pg 59).
[13] Parashat Beshalach, end of chap. 16; Though I was unable to pin-point the comedy, it might be the one called La Reina Esther; see Mark R. Cohen, The Autobiography of a Seventeenth-Century Venetian Rabbi: Leon Modena's Life of Judah (Princeton University Press, 1988), p. 235.
[14] Hayyim Schauss, The Jewish Festivals (Random House, 1938; Hebrew, 1933), pg. 270. The source for the first reason can be found in Judah David Eisenstein, Otzar Dinim u-Minhagim (New York, 1917), p. 336, and for the last reason in Yitzhak Lifshitz, Sefer Ma’atamim (Warsaw, 1889), p. 86.
[15] Avraham Eliezer Hershkowitz, Otzar Kol Minhaghei Yeshrun (St. Louis, 1918), p. 131.
[16] R. Yisrael Isserl of Ponevezh writes in his Sefer Menucha u-Kedusha (Vilna, 1864), pg 271-272.
[17] Yaakov Michoel Jacobs, Bemechitzas Rabbeinu: Hagaon Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky, zt"l (Feldheim, 2005), p. 142.
[18] Yom Tov Lewinsky, Sefer Hamoadim (153-154); Dov New, Machanaim # 43; See also the forthcoming post at the Seforim blog about Hanging Haman.
[19] Ibid.
[20] R. Avraham Mor, Kol Bo LePurim (Lemberg, 1855), pg. 6.
[21] Elliott Horowitz, Reckless Rites: Purim and the Legacy of Jewish Violence (Princeton University Press, 2006)
[22] Ibid, pg. 9.
[23] Ibid, pg. 218.
[24] Ibid, pg. 219.
[25] Ibid, pg. 228.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Adam Mintz -- The Manhattan Eruv

In a previous contribution to the Seforim blog, Rabbi Adam Mintz discussed the significant roles of Rabbi Yosef Eliyahu Henkin and Rabbi Moshe Feinstein in the development of a unique halakhic response to the issue of the mehitzah in the American synagogue, based on a previous lecture delivered as part of his "History of American Poskim" series at Kehilat Rayim Ahuvim on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The following historical and halakhic overview of the issues surrounding the Manhattan eruv is based on Rabbi Mintz's doctoral dissertation, "The Evolution of the American Orthodox Community: The History of the Communal Eruv" (New York University, forthcoming).

The Manhattan Eruv
By Adam Mintz

The first Manhattan eruv was created in 1905 by Rabbi Yehoshua Seigel who was one of the most notable rabbinic scholars of the time. He was born in Poland and served as a rabbi in Sherps before immigrating to the Unites States. He maintained the title Sherpser Rav in America and quickly became the leader of the Polish community in New York. He described the eruv and his impetus for creating it in his volume Eruv ve-Hotza'ah (New York, 1907).[1] Rabbi Seigel's eruv only encompassed the Lower East Side, utilizing the natural riverbanks of Manhattan on three sides and on the fourth side, the Third Avenue El. There was rabbinic opposition to Rabbi Seigel's eruv. This view is elaborated upon by Rabbi Yehudah David Bernstein in Hilkhata Rabta le-Shabbata (Brooklyn, 1910). Rabbi Bernstein, who studied at Slabodka, was one of the founders and early teachers at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Yeshiva in New York.[2] This eruv was utilized by many within the Polish and Galician communities throughout the first half of the twentieth century.

Rabbi Henkin's first encounter with the rulings on the eruv related to Rabbi Seigel's eruv. In his volume Edut Le-Yisrael published in 1949, he wrote, "There are many observant Jews and especially those Hasidim from Poland who carry here on the street on Shabbat relying on the permission of Rabbi Yehoshua Seigel of Sherps."[3] He went on to explain that this eruv is no longer valid due to changes that have been in the waterfront and in the Third Ave El. In addition, Rabbi Henkin explained that one of the requirements of the eruv is that the city be rented from the local authorities and that Rabbi Seigel had rented the city for only ten years which had long since expired.

The rejection of Rabbi Seigel's eruv by the Lithuanian community and the gradual relocation of the Orthodox community to the Upper East and West Sides led to an attempt to create an eruv around the entire borough. In 1949, the Amshinover Rebbe, Rabbi Shimon Shalom Kalish, asked Rabbi Tzvi Eisenstadt to explore the possibility of creating a Manhattan eruv. Rabbi Eisenstadt, who had studied at Slabodka and was recognized as a rabbinic scholar in both the Lithuanian and Hasidic communities, investigating the Manhattan waterfront and concluded that it was enclosed by man-made walls and that an eruv could be established. The eruv came into existence in the Spring of 1962 under the leadership of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Kasher, a well-known rabbinic scholar and author who lived on the Upper West Side.[4] The long duration between the introduction of the concept and its realization was due in part to the fact that several adjustments had to be made to these man-made boundaries. However, it was largely caused by the opposition and uncertainty within the New York rabbinic community to the creation of a community eruv. While there had been eruvin in the large cities in Europe before World War II, there were very few, if any, functioning community eruvin at the time in North America.[5] The rabbinic community was confronting an issue that would shape Shabbat observance to this day.

The first extensive treatment of this issue is found in Rabbi Moshe Feinstein's Iggerot Moshe, Orah Hayyim vol. 1, nos. 138-140. In these teshuvot, written in 1952 and addressed to Rabbi Eisenstadt, Rabbi Feinstein outlined his belief that an eruv cannot be built around Manhattan. His arguments in these teshuvot were legal and elaborated upon in great detail and it is clear from them that he had a high regard for Rabbi Eisenstadt.

Rabbi Yosef David Moskowitz, the Shatzer Rav, was one of the strongest proponents of the Manhattan eruv. In 1954, he had taken over the leadership of the project following the passing of the Amshinover Rebbe. Five years later, in 1959, Rabbi Moskowitz published a volume entitled Tikkun Eruvim (New York, 1959) in which explained the halakhic reasons for the viability of an eruv around Manhattan. Both Rabbi Henkin and Rabbi Feinstein wrote haskamot for this volume. Rabbi Henkin began by praising Rabbi Moskowitz's scholarship and commenting on the pleasure he received knowing that there are great rabbinic scholars in America. He continued as follows: "I do not feel that we can criticize the lenient ones merely as a precaution."[6] However, he does state that he remained uncertain as to whether the bridges and tunnels create a breach in the eruv. Rabbi Feinstein also complimented Rabbi Moskowitz on his work and wrote:[7]

"Even though there are areas in which I believe there are other opinions, this is the way of Torah where God watches two scholars disagreeing for the sake of heaven and unquestionably Rabbi Moskowitz has written for the sake of heaven."

Rabbis Feinstein and Henkin continued their communications regarding the Manhattan eruv in the years preceding the completion of the project. Rabbi Feinstein wrote two letters in which he stated that while he would not join with those who permitted the Manhattan eruv, he believed that there was significant basis on which those who permit it could rely. In a letter published in Hapardes 33:9 (June, 1959) Rabbi Feinstein elaborated on this theme and explained that in America where there is indoor plumbing and the shuls are well stocked with books, there is no need for a community eruv. However, he concluded, "If there are those who still believe that there is need for an eruv for the sake of the children and for those who violate Shabbat unintentionally, I do not object, but I do not participate."[8] In a letter to Rabbi Leo Jung, rabbi of the Jewish Center on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, dated December 16, 1960, Rabbi Feinstein reiterated his refusal to condemn those who supported the eruv even though he would not participate in the project. In this letter he explained his reasons for not participating. "Even though there would be an advantage for those who are carrying on Shabbat... there would be a disadvantage for those who want to conduct themselves according to the halakhah and not carry in Manhattan who might now be inclined to carry."[9] The eruv was completed in May 1962. In June 1962, the Agudath HaRabbanim distributed a letter which reported on a meeting that took place on June 20, 1962. The letter read:[10]

In the meeting of the Agudath HaRabbanim that took place on Wednesday, Parashat Beha'alotcha, the 18th of Sivan, 5762, it was decided to publicly announce the decision already made by the Agudath HaRabbanim that it is absolutely forbidden to establish an eruv in Manhattan and that it is forbidden to carry in Manhattan even after the repairs that have been made or that will be made by some rabbis. Whoever relies on the Manhattan eruv is considered a Shabbat violator.

Aharon Kotler

Yaakov Kamenetsky

Gedalia Halevi Schorr

Chaim Bick

Moshe Feinstein

This letter was reprinted in Hapardes 40:7 (April, 1966) announcing that a meeting of the Agudath HaRabbanim had taken place on the first day of Chol Hamoed Pesach of that year (April 7, 1966) under the leadership of Rabbi Feinstein at which time the decision was made to confirm the decision of 1962 and to call upon the rabbis to urge their communities not to rely on the Manhattan eruv.[11]

Rabbi Feinstein mentioned his participation in this communication of the Agudath HaRabbanim in two places in his Iggerot Moshe. In an addendum to his responsum to Rabbi Jung, Rabbi Feinstein reviewed his earlier letter comparing the situation in Manhattan with the eruv in Brooklyn and Kew Gardens Hills. He concluded this addendum as follows:[12]

However, shortly after my letter to Rabbi Jung, on the 18th of Sivan 5762 the rabbis of the Agudath Harabonim under the leadership of Rabbi Aharon Kotler and other heads of yeshivot met and decided to announce publicly that it is absolutely forbidden to establish an eruv in Manhattan and that it is forbidden to carry in Manhattan even after the repairs that have been made or that will be made by some rabbis.

Rabbi Feinstein also referenced this decision of the Agudath HaRabbanim in his responsum to Rabbi Peretz Steinberg regarding the eruv in Kew Gardens Hills. In this letter dated April 1, 1974, Rabbi Feinstein supported the establishment of an eruv in Kew Gardens Hills and distinguished this area from Manhattan where he stated, "This is not to be compared to New York which was done against our will and the will of Rabbi Aharon Kotler and other Torah giants from the Agudath HaRabbanim."[13] In both these references, Rabbi Feinstein placed Rabbi Kotler as the chief spokesman of the Agudath HaRabbanim on this matter. It is uncertain whether Rabbi Kotler's influence convinced Rabbi Feinstein to change his mind vis-a-vis the Manhattan eruv.[14]

Rabbi Henkin also remained involved with the eruv project. Rabbi Kasher described that on March 25, 1959, the rabbis who were involved with the creation of the eruv met in Rabbi Henkin's home. At that meeting Rabbi Eisenstadt reviewed his findings and discussed the bridges and tunnels explaining how each one could be incorporated into the eruv. Rabbi Henkin's position at this meeting is not discussed by Rabbi Kasher but the fact that he hosted the meeting suggests, at the very least, a strong interest in creating a halakhically permissible eruv.[15]

On March 15, 1960, Rabbi Henkin signed as a member of the "Committee for the Sake of the Manhattan Eruv" on a letter written to the rabbis of Manhattan. In this letter, the committee reviewed the history of the eruv project and explained that the committee was ready to complete the project. They called on any rabbi or lay person with a comment either in favor or opposed to the eruv to respond within a month's time. In this communication, it is clear that Rabbi Henkin supported the creation and completion of the eruv.[16]

Rabbi Kasher included two letters that Rabbi Henkin wrote to him. In the first letter, dated November 1, 1960, Rabbi Henkin expressed his support for the eruv while expressing some reservations especially about the bridges and the potential break they created in the eruv. At the conclusion of the letter, Rabbi Henkin wrote that he did not feel that he was the ultimate authority concerning this eruv as there were many worthy rabbis who were working on the project.[17] In the next letter to Rabbi Kasher which is undated and which appears in the original at the conclusion of the eruv section of Divrei Menachem, Rabbi Henkin wrote that "I hang on the coattails of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein who does not criticize those who support the eruv even though he will not participate in this project."[18] In this letter Rabbi Henkin seemed to retreat slightly from his previous view.

However, Rabbi Henkin wrote a final letter to the "Committee for the Sake of the Manhattan Eruv" which clarified his opinion. In a letter dated July 12, 1961, Rabbi Henkin outlined his position. He wrote that it is crucial to complete the eruv in Manhattan and that Manhattan is not worse than other cities where an eruv has been established. He explained that the committee was waiting for approbations from other rabbis and then would convene a conference of rabbis to finalize the eruv project. Rabbi Henkin disapproved of waiting for a rabbinic conference as he wrote, "For I know from experience that it takes much time to gather the rabbis. Rather, make the necessary repairs and then announce that the repairs have been made and that the rabbis are supervising the eruv." He noted that until the committee received the approbation of the majority of the rabbis, the eruv remained one that can only be relied upon in times "of great need." He then listed the situations he considered to be "of great need."

1. For the sake of women and children who want to go outside, especially in the summer months.

2. For the sake of doctors who need to carry on behalf of patients who are not in life threatening situations.

3. For the sake of those who need to carry on the Shabbat of Succot to the succah.

He explained that New York is an exceptional city as there are many rabbis so that the eruv cannot be considered acceptable in all cases until the majority of the rabbis agree to its creation. Finally, he wrote that there is a need to publicize the fact that the eruv extends only to Manhattan and not the other boroughs.[19]

Rabbi Henkin never clarified whether he believed that this eruv had received the approbation of the majority of rabbis that he had felt was necessary. Due to lack of evidence, one can only conclude that he continued to believe that the eruv could only be relied upon in the situations he described in the July 12, 1961 letter. There was at least one Orthodox rabbi in Manhattan who advised his congregants that they could rely on the eruv as per the limitations in Rabbi Henkin's letter. However, these limitations allow us to understand Rabbi Henkin's view concerning the eruv. If the creation of an eruv was unacceptable, then carrying would not be permitted even in a situation of great need. The fact that he allowed carrying on Shabbat in a situation of great need showed that he was satisfied with the acceptability of the eruv. His problem revolved around rabbinic acceptance of the eruv and not its fundamental status. Given this consideration, it is understandable why Rabbi Henkin did not sign the letter of the Agudath HaRabbanim in 1962.[20]

In conclusion, both Rabbis Feinstein and Henkin took active roles in the history of the establishment of the Manhattan eruv. While during the process they each expressed their approval of the project with certain hesitations, in the final analysis, Rabbi Feinstein opposed the eruv while Rabbi Henkin approved it with reservations. Neither of these great Torah sages explained what led them to follow the paths that they did. Why did Rabbi Feinstein follow Rabbi Kotler and the decision of the Agudath HaRabbanim and what was Rabbi Feinstein's role in that deliberation? Why did Rabbi Henkin ultimately sign with the members of the "Committee for the Sake of the Manhattan Eruv" and why did he not write a final conclusion concerning whether this eruv has received the necessary approbation?

The history of halakhah does not provide all the answers but it gives us a window into a fascinating and important process.

[To be continued...]

[1] The entire volume can be accessed here. His biography can be found in Moshe D. Sherman, Orthodox Judaism in America: A Biographical Dictionary and Sourcebook (Westport, CT., 1996), pp. 193-94.

[2] Sherman, pp. 30-31

[3] Yosef Eliyahu Henkin, Edut Le-Yisrael (NY, 1949), p. 151

[4] Rabbi Kasher described the entire eruv project in great detail in the second half of the second volume of his Divrei Menachem (Jerusalem, 1980). All subsequent references will refer to this section of his work. In 1986, a short thirty page pamphlet appeared in English edited by Shalom Carmy, entitled The Manhattan Eruv: From the Writings of Rav Menachem M. Kasher (Ktav Pub. House, 1986).

[5] For an extensive discussion of the history of city eruvin, see here (courtesy of EruvOnline).

[6] Divrei Menachem vol. 2, pp. 7-9.

[7] Divrei Menachem, vol. 2, p. 9

[8] Hapardes 33:9 (June, 1959) reprinted in Divrei Menachem, vol. 2, p. 31.

[9] Iggerot Moshe, Orah Hayyim vol. 4, no. 89.

[10] This letter can be found here (courtesy of EruvOnline).

[11] Hapardes 40:8 (May, 1966)

[12] Iggerot Moshe, final volume, p. 428. It is interesting that in this responsum, Rabbi Feinstein omitted the final line of the Agudath HaRabbanim declaration calling all who rely on the eruv Shabbat violators.

[13] Iggerot Moshe, Orah Hayyim, vol. 4, no. 86.

[14] For a discussion of Rabbi Kotler’s view on city eruvin, see here courtesy of EruvOnline).

[15] Divrei Menachem, vol. 2, p. 38.

[16] Divrei Menachem, vol. 2, pp.10-11

[17] Divrei Menachem, vol. 2, p. 14

[18] Divrei Menachem, vol. 2, p. 135

[19] This letter was printed originally in Hapardes 36:4 (January, 1962), and reprinted in Divrei Menachem, vol. 2, pp. 14-15; and Kitvei Hagriah Henkin, pp. 32-33.

[20] For a discussion of the erroneous claim that Rabbi Henkin signed on the 1962 letter of the Agudath Harabonim, see here (courtesy of EruvOnline).

To Adolf, from Cecil

During a Sunday afternoon trip to Biegeleisen in Boro Park, I came across 650-page collection of rare letters from the personal collection of R. David Solomon Sassoon (of Jerusalem, Israel) that has just been published in Israel,[1] I hope to discuss this new publication in some detail in the following weeks, however, I did want to first make mention of the 1941 biography of the Sassoon family, written by British scholar and Oxford-trained historian Prof. Cecil Roth.

In the short official obituary for Dr. Cecil Roth in the London Jewish Chronicle following his passing in Jerusalem in June 1970, there is a short and peculiar reference to Roth's study of the famed Sassoon merchant family. The brief mention within the obituary refers not to the contents of his "comprehensive history" of the renown Bombay-born and London-based Jewish family, [2] where he dispels the notion that the Sassoon family were simply to be considered "the Rothschilds of the East,"[3] but rather to his unfathomable inscription of the work to Adolf Hitler.[4]

The following is Cecil Roth’s inscription to The Sassoon Family:[5]

To Adolf Hitler
Fuehrer of the German Reich

For two reasons I desire to inscribe your name at the beginning of this book. The first is, that I consider its topic to be a useful object-lesson to the unfortunate people whom you have misled into thinking themselves a pure and superior "race" (whatever that may mean). The most rudimentary political commonsense should make it obvious that the absorption of gifted foreign families cannot be other than an advantage for a civilized state. England and English life have in particular been enriched for centuries past by receiving fresh elements from other sources, and there can surely be no reason to regret a liberality that has endowed her with soldiers, philanthropists and poets such as the Sassoon family and many life it have produced. Germany under you guidance has deliberately set herself on the path not merely of self-destruction (which while her present temper lasts would be a peculiar book to humanity at large) but of self-dementation.

In the second place, I am happy to have this opportunity to express once again, as publicly as I may, my profound execration and abhorrence, not merely as a Jew and an Englishman but as a human being, of you, your ideals, your ideas, your methods and all that you stand for. Should God punish the sins of the world by allowing you a momentary victory, I trust that this declaration will bring upon me the honour of the most drastic attention of your nauseous tools, for life in such circumstances would not be worth the having.

Cecil Roth
[1] Nahalat Avot: Teshuvot, Michtavim, Tefillot, Minhagim (Yad Samuel Franco, 2007); published on the occasion of Chanah Sassoon's recent wedding to R. Yehuda Michel Nissel.
[2] In 1968, a later work on the Sassoon family [Stanley Jackson, The Sassoons (London, 1968)] appeared and "superseded" the earlier work by Roth, as the author of this later work "had a clear advantage" as he had access to the personal papers of many Sassoon family members. See London Jewish Chronicle (May 3, 1968), 25. Notwithstanding this criticism, it was already noted in a 1941 review of Roth’s book that he had "not been granted access to 'family' records... [and] gathered a vast amount of authentic information, including many delightful stories, that has enabled him to present a comprehensive history of the Sassoon clan with his customary literary skill and thoroughness." See London Jewish Chronicle(May 30, 1941), 22.
[3] For early uses of this phrase, see, for example, London Jewish Chronicle (April 19, 1907), 21; ibid, (March 22, 1912), 16.
[4] "Obituary: Dr. Cecil Roth," London Jewish Chronicle (June 26, 1970), 38.
[5] The dedication appears in Cecil Roth, The Sassoon Family (London, 1941) and I thank Joshua Lovinger for kindly directing me towards this fascinating and little-known source.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

New Book on R. Saul Wahl, King of Poland for a Day

Dr. Neil Rosenstein, who has already published some rather important works on Jewish genealogy generally, as well as on R. Elijah Gaon of Vilna, has published a new book, devoted to R. Saul (Wahl) Katzenellenbogen. His earlier two-volume landmark work, The Unbroken Chain: Biographical Sketches and Genealogy of Illustrious Jewish Families from the 15th-20th Century, lists in great detail, the descendants of R. Saul (Wahl) Katzenellenbogen. R. Saul is best known for the legend that he became king for a day over Poland. The story goes that that after the Polish king died, the nobles were unable to come to an agreement who would replace him. The law, however, mandated that there not be a day go by without a king in place. The nobles decided to temporarily grant R. Saul Wahl the kingship until they could come to a consensus. In the end, R. Saul Wahl remained king for one day and during that time enacted various law for the benefit of the Jews.

Dr. Rosenstein, has now collected in English for the first time, just about everything there is about this legend and more generally about Saul Wahl (including Saul Wahl's library). He uncovered a document which has bearing on the dating of Saul Wahl's death date as well as much other primary material. Additionally, he includes an extensive discussion about how this legend developed, as well as an article (by Professor S. A. Bershadsky) about Saul Wahl, as recorded in Polish and Russian literature. As Dr. Rosenstein is an expert in Jewish Genealogy and on the Katzenellenbogen family, he includes an extensive genealogy of Saul Wahl and his family. The book also includes about the history of the some of the figures involved in the Saul Wahl king story as well as more general history of the time. Most everything in the book includes photocopies of either the relevant documents or materials.

While the book contains much fascinating material on Saul Wahl, I think that it is worthwhile to make note of a few things that Dr. Rosenstein was apparently unaware of their existence. Dr. Rosenstein notes the first mention of Saul Wahl being king, there were prior mentions of Saul Wahl and his standing, but not the king legend – and Rosenstein includes these earlier mentions as well – appears in the work Yesh M'Nechalin (previously touched upon at the Seforim blog here) authored by R. Pinchas Katzenellenbogen (no. 53-55), a descendant of Saul Wahl. But, Rosenstein appears to be unaware that this book is actually published; he notes that it remains in manuscript form, but never notes that in fact it has been printed in 1986! While obviously there is nothing wrong with going to the source – here, the manuscript - it helps the reader to know that they can also view the details somewhere for themselves.

Another omission is Dr. Rosenstein includes a discussion of the medical school in Padua but appears to be unaware that this school and its Jewish connection and graduates was discussed extensively by Prof. David Ruderman (Jewish Thought and Scientific Discovery in Early Modern Europe [Yale University, 1995], esp. pp. 100-118) and Dr. Ruderman's discussion would enhance Dr. Rosenstein's considerably.

The book is available at Beigeleisen, as well as here.

Barukh Dayan Ha-Emet. Rabbi Prof. Mordechai (ben Shamshon) Breuer (1921-2007)

Barukh Dayan Ha-Emet. Rabbi Prof. Mordechai (ben Shamshon) Breuer (also here), scion of the prominent German rabbinical family and world expert on Tanakh and on the Aleppo Codex, has passed away in Yerushalayim. (He was a cousin to the noted Jewish Historian, who shares his same name.)

An appreciation to Rabbi Breuer and his work appeared in the Orthodox Forum volume, Modern Scholarship in the Study of Torah: Contributions and Limitations (Jason Aronson, 1996), a project of Yeshiva University. He received the Israel Prize for Torah Studies in 1999.

Hamakom yenacheim etchem betoch shaar avelei tziyon v'yerushalayim.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Adam Mintz -- Rabbi Yosef Eliyahu Henkin: A Forgotten American Posek

Rabbi Adam Mintz is a visiting professor of Jewish History at Queens College and the immediate past president of the New York Board of Rabbis. He lectures widely on a variety of topics in Jewish History and his weekly streaming video entitled "This Week in Jewish History" is featured on the internet at Rabbi Mintz served in the pulpit rabbinate for over twenty years and is one of the founders of Kehilat Rayim Ahuvim on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. He has recently published a book entitled Jewish Spirituality and Divine Law (Ktav, 2005) and is completing his dissertation “The Evolution of the American Orthodox Community: The History of the Communal Eruv” (New York University, forthcoming). Rabbi Mintz serves on the advisory committee of Sh'ma and is a member of the Board of Directors of The Orthodox Caucus, Kehilat Rayim Ahuvim and Plaza Memorial Chapel.

The post below on Rabbi Yosef Eliyahu Henkin was previously delivered as part of his lecture series "History of American Poskim." We hope that Rabbi Mintz will contribute several posts, based on this fantastic series, to the Seforim blog.

--Dan Rabinowitz
Rabbi Yosef Eliyahu Henkin:
A Forgotten American Posek
by Adam Mintz

Rabbi Yosef Eliyahu Henkin died in his apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan on Shabbat Nachamu, August 12, 1973. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein and Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetzky delivered eulogies at his funeral and Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik attended the funeral but did not speak. Rabbi Henkin was born in White Russia in 1881. He studied, primarily, in the yeshiva in Slutzk and spent ten years as a rabbi and rosh yeshiva in Georgia on the Black Sea. Rabbi Henkin emigrated to America in 1923 and was appointed the rabbi of Congregation Anshei Shtutsen on the Lower East Side. In 1925, he became secretary and then director of Ezras Torah, a rabbinic organization founded in 1915 to assist Torah scholars imperiled by the turmoil of World War I. The organization was later expanded to assist rabbis and their students who attempted to flee Europe during the dark years surrounding World War II. Rabbi Henkin remained at the helm of Ezras Torah for the next forty-eight years. He served as a posek for rabbis and laymen throughout America and wrote numerous articles for a variety of Torah journals. Many of his essays and teshuvot are reprinted in a two-volume work entitled Kitvei ha-Gaon Rabbi Yosef Eliyahu Henkin (New York, 1980).

In spite of Rabbi Henkin’s illustrious rabbinic career, we live today amidst a Torah and scholarly community "who knew not Yosef." When poskim from the Lower East Side are considered, it is Rabbi Feinstein whose name and works are still authoritative twenty years after his passing. Yet, the first volume of Iggerot Moshe was published in 1959, when Rabbi Henkin was almost 80 years old and had spent a lifetime answering rabbinic questions and recording them for others.

The reasons for the popularity of a posek depend on the culture of the contemporary Orthodox community as much as on the quality of the p’sak. Rabbi Feinstein lived for thirteen years after Rabbi Henkin’s passing. Those years, from 1973-1986, were critical years in the growth of the Torah community of America. Many of Rabbi Feinstein’s teshuvot date from that period and many more teshuvot became known during the last years of his life. Most of Rabbi Henkin’s teshuvot date to an era when interest in the intricate questions of halakhah in America was limited to the scholarly rabbis of the time. Yet, these teshuvot remain relevant for all students of halakhah and of the history of American Orthodoxy. The richness and originality of those teshuvot give us insight into the challenges of that generation of American Orthodoxy and into the pivotal role played by Rabbi Henkin during this period.

I would like to address three issues in which Rabbi Henkin and Rabbi Feinstein reached different halakhic conclusions concerning areas of grave importance to American Orthodoxy.

1. The Mehitzah

While Orthodox leaders have always defined mixed seating in synagogue as the great divide between the Orthodox and the non-Orthodox, the 1950’s and 1960’s saw a growing number of Orthodox synagogues which introduced mixed seating. One source claims that in 1961 there existed "perhaps 250 Orthodox synagogues where family seating is practiced." While it is difficult to verify the accuracy of this report, it is certain that rabbis serving in mixed-seating synagogues continued to belong to the Rabbinical Council of America without fear of expulsion.[1] The tide began to turn in the late 1950’s as many Orthodox leaders declared their opposition to congregations with mixed-seating. A major step in this direction was introduced by Baruch Litvin, a businessman who belonged to Beth Tefilas Moshe, an Orthodox congregation in Mt. Clemens, Michigan which voted to introduce mixed-seating in 1955. Litvin took up the battle against this ruling based on an established American legal principle that a religious congregation cannot introduce a practice opposed to the doctrine of the congregation against the wishes of even a minority of the congregation. His attorneys, supported by the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (OU), introduced a significant amount of evidence to support the claim that mixed-seating was "clearly violative of the established Orthodox Jewish law and practice." The lower courts sided with the congregation and refused to become involved. However, the Michigan Supreme Court unanimously reversed the decision and accepted the minority’s claim.[2]

Litvin gathered the evidence that he had collected and published it, in 1962, in a volume entitled The Sanctity of the Synagogue. Included in this book are letters from rabbis and roshei yeshiva on the necessity of a mehitzah in an Orthodox synagogue. Litvin incorporated an article by Rabbi Feinstein on the background and requirements of a Mehitzah. Rabbi Feinstein’s opinion is summarized by a personal communication to Litvin dated June 17, 1957 and printed at the conclusion of the article.[3] The correspondence states:
Dear Mr. Litvin,

In reference to what is written in my name, that "the prohibition of mixed pews is Biblical law," it would be better to change the words to read: "the prohibition against praying in a synagogue without a mechitzah of at least eighteen tefachim (handbreadths) or sixty-five inches high is a Biblical law." Stronger emphasis should be put on the point that it is prohibited to pray in a synagogue without a proper mechitzah, even though there is separate seating.

Sincerely yours,
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein
This view of the necessity for a mehitzah is shared by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik and Rabbi Aharon Kotler whose letters are also included in Litvin’s volume.

Rabbi Henkin’s view is not recorded in Litvin’s volume. Rabbi Henkin does, however, take a stand on the issue of mehitzah in a responsum dated 1961 which is included in the second volume of his collected writings.[4] The teshuvah addresses the question whether a Shabbat violator can receive an aliyah. He responds that in our generation in which the Reform movement has "cast its net upon the Jewish people to ensnarl them in their ways" it is incumbent upon the Orthodox community to welcome all Jews without reservation into our synagogues and our communities. In this way many have returned to Orthodoxy and hopefully many will continue to return.

He continues in the following way:
Every individual should live in a place of observant Jews if possible. However, if this is not possible, we should not be strict concerning these matters because it will lead to a potential catastrophe.

However, if the place itself is corrupt in that it has mixed-seating, it has already been established that it is preferable to pray by yourself at home. But, if this is the only synagogue in the area and you will always have to pray at home, you must examine the situation and evaluate the corruption versus the hope that through the involvement of the observant in this congregation, the community will become Orthodox. Yet, in all situations you must reprimand them if you pray in their midst.
While the details of the question addressed to Rabbbi Henkin differ from the issue directed by Mr. Litvin to Rabbi Feinstein, these two great poskim take two very different approaches to the mehitzah issue. Rabbi Feinstein defends the principle of mehitzah and argues that it is a Biblical requirement with no room for compromise or flexibility. Rabbi Henkin, on the other hand, while arguing in favor of the importance of mehitzah and the risks inherent in the movement toward mixed-seating in the synagogue, clearly understands the complexity of the social situation and the possibility that prohibiting someone from praying in a non-mehitzah synagogue may ultimately force that person out of the organized Jewish community and prevent him or her from influencing the community toward observance. Rabbi Henkin argued that the principle of mehitzah must be balanced with an appreciation of the social complexities of the situation and the potential for religious outreach while Rabbi Feinstein contended that the principle is so critical that it cannot be influenced even by the difficult practical problems that may arise.

[to be continued]


[1] Jonathan D. Sarna, "The Debate over Mixed Seating in the American Synagogue," in The American Synagogue: A Sanctuary Transformed, ed. Jack Wertheimer (Cambridge, 1987), 380-81; For a recent overview of the mehitzah within historical context, see Gil Student, "The Mehitzah Controversy: Fifty Years Later," Bekhol Derakhekha Daehu/BaDaD 17 (September 2006): 7-43.
[2] Jonathan D. Sarna, "The Debate over Mixed Seating in the American Synagogue," 384.
[3] Baruch Litvin, The Sanctity of the Synagogue (New York, 1962), 125.
[4] Yosef Eliyahu Henkin, Kitvei Hagri’a Henkin (New York, 1989), II: 11.

Photocopying JNUL Manuscripts

ManuscriptBoy has an interesting post on photocopying manuscripts from the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts at the Jewish National and University Library, Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Givat Ram campus).

Read all about it here.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Eliezer Brodt: A Censored Work by a Student of R. Hayyim of Volozhin: The Case of Menuchah u-Kedushah

A Censored Work by a Student of R. Hayyim of Volozhin:
The Case of Menuchah u-Kedushah
By Eliezer Brodt

A few years ago (c2000) a fascinating sefer was reprinted called Menuchah u-Kedushah. The sefer was written by R. Yisrael Isserl from Ponevezh. Not much is known about the author except that he was a talmid of R. Hayyim of Volozhin. It’s clear from the sefer that he was a very special person and a big talmid hakham. The haskamot that he received from the R. Naftali Zevi Yehudah Berlin (Neziv), R. Bezalel HaKohen and R. Avraham Eisenstadt, author of the Pitchei Teshuva, show that he was a very prominent, well-known person (for some reason these haskamot were omitted in the reprinted edition). R. Shlomo Elyashiv, the author of the Leshem, also writes that he was an Ish Kadosh, a Holy Man. It appears that he was a melamed [teacher], and (as we will see) it seems that he must have been an excellent one. In the recent reprint, R. Shmuel Auerbach writes that the sefer was famous in particular as a guide in raising children and many followed it and became true Ovdei Hashem. Interestingly, the sefer was originally published anonymously (Vilna, 1864).

In this post I would like to discuss this sefer a bit. The author in his introduction (which, oddly enough, was omitted in the newest reprinted version of the sefer) outlines very clearly what he had wanted to accomplish with this work. Divided into three parts, the first is called Sha’ar HaTefillah, an explaining as to what one should do in order for his tefillot to be accepted. Included are many explanations on different parts of Tefillah. The second part is called Sha’ar HaTorah, which is the way the author feels one should teach children. The third part is called Sha’ar Yichud HaMa’aseh which includes advice how to battle the Yetzer Hara in all different situations.

The sefer reviews many interesting things especially vignettes from R. Elijah Gaon of Vilna (the Gra) and R. Hayyim of Volozhin. Also, included are many beautiful explanations on different areas of Tanakh and Aggadah. Aside from the explanations, this the sefer also includes many halakhot and minhagim. The sefer begins with a nice collection of halakhot of kavod seforim including that the prohibition to use one sefer under another one to bring it closer to you, or leaning completely on seforim like a shtender. To list a few examples of Ta’amei Minhagim brought throughout the sefer: the reason behind the mitzvah to eat on Erev Yom Kippur (pg 51) and giving tzedakah (pg 204). He is very against talking at all during davening; even talking in learning between aliyot (pg 75). The author also wrote a lengthy discussion regarding the proper time to light the Chanukah menorah; opining to light after ma’ariv. The author states that the only reason why R. Elijah Gaon of Vilna lit earlier was because of concern that if he would have waited until after ma’ariv he would have this on his mind the throughout davening, similar to a groom who is exempt from kriat shema (pg 160) due to his preoccupation. When he discusses sitting shiva on ones parents he exclaims 'do not just sit there making the same mistake most do'; namely, they claim that since it is prohibited for a mourner to learn Torah, they leave a Sefer Iyyov on the stool nearby just to glance at from time to time and fall asleep. Rather, one is supposed to learn the topics that a mourner is allowed to so that one could give one's parent many merits; there is enough material to learn for three weeks (pp. 88-89)! He writes to his son any shiur that he goes to after he dies he should always say the kaddish de’rabbanan for him; not only the first year (pg 95-96).

Many interesting discussions on various topics, such as the Neshama Yetairah that one gets on shabbat (pp. 49-50) are found throughout the sefer. He also has a lengthy discussion on the now-famous topic (in light of all the biographies on the gedolim) that no great person achieved anything great in life without working very hard for it. The talmudic use of the term "Noch Nafshei" a term of resting, was not hapenstance. Instead, it was used to demonstrate that, in many instance, those persons did not have easy lives, and thus only after death is it approriate to use a term of rest - hence Noch Nafshei. This is in reference to Tana’aim and Amoraim; how much more so in regard to regular people (pp. 79-82). Elsewhere in the sefer he has a long discussion on chumrot, writing very strongly: “one should be concerned that the yetzer hara is bribing him and allowing him to do them so he will be too occupied to observe the ikkar.” As an example for this he gives, he points out that in Minhagei Ha-Gra that he had eaten Matzah Shemurah the whole Pessach. Whereas the author realizes that if because of this chumrah he will have to eat separately from the rest of his family and not have proper simchat yom tov which is a de’oraita, he should not be makpid on eating matzah shemurah which is just a pious action (pp. 155-156).

Another point of interest that he writes is that the Messilat Yesharim was written with ruach hakodesh so listen to what he says (pg 158). When he talks about the sefer Nefesh Ha-Hayyim from his teacher R. Hayyim of Volozhin, he writes “listen to his holy mouth as the sefer is exactly like its name 'life for the soul' and one should know that ruach hakodesh is in all the words in the sefer so that it should be accepted by its readers” (pg 69).

After reading all this it would seem to appear that this is a very good work and there should be no problems with anything written in it. However this is not the case. The people who printed it write that in the section called “Sha’ar HaTorah” we were advised by gedolim not to print some parts. This is very strange because as mentioned earlier he had very prominent haskamot from some big gedolim and as the Leshem writes he was a Holy Man, and he was also a known student of R. Hayyim of Volozhin. One is left wondering what in the world could have been wrong with what he had written prompting censor?

In the 1967 reprint of the original edition by Meir Kleiman, the missing pages are included, about five all together. In short, what the deleted material is as follows, he saw many people who had no business becoming teachers taking the job only for the money. He writes that he was a teacher and he would spend a few weeks trying to understand each student what was the best way to deal with him. Another thing he writes is the importantance that boys have a proper understanding of the Hebrew language; not that he has to be a baki in dikduk just to know the basics than it’s easier to learn chumash. Once the boy knows chumash only than should you go on to learn Gemara. When he begins this limud, be careful to go slowly so as not to over burden him. The main point is not to learn enmass, rather emphasis on making sure the student fully understands everything before going further. Instead what happens is the boy only knows how to parrot what the teacher says and on shabbos he shows this off to the father; however nothing of value ever comes out of this. Another thing he writes is in regard to the failure to teach the boys tanakh; not only Gemara as the study of Tanakh is extremely important. Professor Simha Assaf brings much of this edited part in his Mekorot le-Toledot ha-Hinnukh be-Yisrael (vol. 1 Pg 607-613). R. Yitzchak Abadie discusses this whole section in his Teshuvot Ohr Yitzchak (pp. 444-450), available for download at

Reading all of the above, one can only wonder as to what was wrong with printing these parts; the author can not be accused of having haskalic leanings for a few reasons: One, if he did have haskalic leanings, then why allow the rest of the sefer be reprinted. In all honesty, the very thought is quite ridiculous; the Leshem writes he was a Holy Man and a reading of the sefer will show how true that is. Also he was very against learning philosophy saying that only the Rishonim were they on the level to learn it (pg 47).

What’s interesting about all this is many schools in the United States would do well to follow this advice in their educational methods; I am sure it would help many. Not that it’s the solution to all the problems with the children of today but it's certainly a good start. Interestingly enough R. Yakov Horowitz in a recent article in his column 'Chinuch Matters' in the English Mishpacha 143 (Pg 10) called 'It Doesn't Start in Tenth Grade' writes the same point. R. Yakov Horowitz continues with this theme in the next issue in an article called 'Training Wheels'. Of course these columns have been met with opposition. One reader writes (English Mishpacha 145, pg 6) "Torah is acquired thru yegia through no other method can Torah become yours. Making torah easy at the beginning only makes it harder later on. The author mentioned that he is backed by various Achranoim who have suggested alternative methods for teaching torah. It should definitely be mentioned that these methods were unaccepted in Klal Yisroel. Mesorah means tradition passed on Midor Ldor not looking in seforim for unaccepted methods.”

One only wonders what this reader is talking about as shown here a Holy Man and talmid of R. Hayyim of Volozhin wrote these same suggestions as R. Yakov Horowitz and received good haskamot from important known gedolim. Further more as I have mentioned R. Shmuel Auerbach writes that the sefer was famous, in particular, as a guide in raising children and many followed it and became true Ovdei Hashem.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

"Research Refutes Thesis of Unified Diaspora in Ancient Jewry"

Hagahot notes the appearance of a new study by two Tel Aviv University scholars, Arye Edrei and Doron Mendels, "A Split Jewish Diaspora: Its Dramatic Consequences," Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 16:2 (2007): 91-137, wherein the authors demonstrate
that the Jewish diaspora in Europe basically disappeared after the destruction of the Second Temple. Probably, they felt cut off from the spiritual center in Jerusalem, and eventually melded into their host culture.

This is very significant for medieval Jewish history, especially those interested in the roots of Ashkenazic halakhah. The Jewish settlement along the Rhine identified itself as being rooted in Northern Italy, and when it first surfaces in literary form, the Ashkenazic halakhah is already a hoary tradition. On the other hand, while we have extensive epigraphical remains from the Jews of Roman Italy, they don't reflect what we know about rabbinic Judaism. So this theory suggests that there was a break between Roman Italy and early medieval Italy, with the later Jewish population coming from a totally different, more rabbinic culture.
For those interested, the abstract of this article reads:
This article proposes that a language divide and two systems of communication have brought to a serious gap between the western Jewish Diaspora and the eastern one. Thus the western Greek-speaking Jews lost touch with the Halakhah and the Rabbis, a condition that had far-reaching consequences on Jewish history thereafter. The Rabbis paid a high price for keeping their Halakhah in oral form, losing in consequence half of their constituency. An oral law did not develop in the western diaspora, whereas the existing eastern one was not translated into Greek. Hence it is not surprising that western Jews contributed nothing to the development of the oral law in the east. The Jewish communities that were isolated from the Rabbinic network served as a receptive basis for the development of an alternative Christian network by Paul and the apostles, which enabled it to spread throughout the Mediterranean basin. The Jews that remained ‘biblical’ surfaced in Europe in the Middle Ages.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Shnayer Z. Leiman: Did a Disciple of the Maharal Create a Golem?

What follows is a short essay by Prof. Shnayer Z. Leiman, whose article on this topic, "The Adventure of the Maharal of Prague in London: R. Yudl Rosenberg and the Golem of Prague," appeared in Tradition 36:1 (2002): 26-58 [PDF].
Did a Disciple of the Maharal Create a Golem?
Shnayer Z. Leiman

I. In March 2006, Dei’ah VeDibur, a Charedi internet newsletter, published an essay on the Maharal and the Golem. Its conclusion was that “it is unclear whether or not the Maharal ever made a golem.”[1]

At the time, I responded on the internet with a congratulatory note praising Dei’ah VeDibur for its sober assessment of the evidence, and for its readiness to admit that it may be that the Maharal did not create a Golem.[2]

Shortly thereafter I received what appeared to be an angry email note from a distinguished academician at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. It read
“You still haven’t responded to the evidence that a talmid of the Maharal is known to have created a Golem and that this factoid is documented.”

Since I had never claimed that a disciple of the Maharal either did or did not create a Golem, it was unclear to me why I had to respond to such a claim. Nonetheless, I knew precisely what my academic colleague had in mind. The author of the Dei’ah VeDibur essay mentioned in passing that the story connecting the Maharal to the making of a Golem was ”invented at some stage or, alternatively , it was mistakenly attributed to the Maharal while in fact it was his talmid HaRav Eliyahu Baal Shem of Chelm who made a golem (though the Maharal might have played a part).”[3]

Alas, we know precious little about R. Eliyahu (b. R. Aharon Yehudah) Ba’al Shem of Chelm (16th century).[4] In 1564, he joined a coalition of distinguished rabbis including R. Solomon Luria (the Maharshal, d. 1574) -- that permitted an agunah to remarry.[5] Most importantly, he was an ancestor of R. Yaakov Emden (d.1776), who preserved the following tradition about him:[6]
As an aside, I’ll mention here what I heard from my father’s holy mouth regarding the Golem created by his ancestor, the Gaon R. Eliyahu Ba’al Shem of blessed memory. When the Gaon saw that the Golem was growing larger and larger, he feared that the Golem would destroy the universe. He then removed the Holy Name that was embedded on his forehead, thus causing him to disintegrate and return to dust. Nonetheless, while he was engaged in extracting the Holy Name from him, the Golem injured him, scarring him on the face.

Thus, there clearly existed a 16th century rabbi by the name of R. Eliyahu Ba’al Shem of Chelm (contemporary sources prove this), and the creation of a Golem was ascribed to him (so according to 17th and 18th century sources).[7] Not a word is mentioned about his being a disciple of the Maharal.

So I sent off a note to my academic colleague in Jerusalem. It read in part:
“There is no evidence that any talmid of the Maharal created a Golem. You write: “this factoid is documented.” Let me assure you that no such “factoid” is documented. The claim has been made – I am well aware of that, but the claim is based on a misreading of texts that I plan to expose in a footnote or essay in a future publication.”

The remainder of this essay is devoted to fulfilling the promise I made to my academic colleague in Jerusalem.

II. The claim that a disciple of the Maharal created a Golem appears most prominently in an essay published by a close friend -- and scholarly colleague – of mine, Dr. Shlomo Sprecher, in the Torah periodical Yeshurun. [8] I am certain he will forgive me for correcting him, if I am right. And if I am wrong, I urge him to correct my error publicly, thereby advancing discussion, and pray that he forgives my indiscretion.

The ישורון essay reads in part:[9]
“Regarding R. Eliyahu of Chelm, we know that he studied Torah under the Maharal and that he was a colleague of the Rabbi, author of the Tosafot Yom Tov.... The “true” Golem -- according to a reconstruction based upon trustworthy sources -- was the creation of R. Eliyahu Ba’al Shem, Chief Rabbi of Chelm, who was a disciple of the Maharal (as mentioned earlier). For whatever reason, the Master and the disciple were confused, with the resulting confusion [as to who created the Golem.]”
In fact, R. Eliyahu of Chelm was neither a student of the Maharal nor a colleague of the Tosafot Yom Tov. Sprecher can hardly be faulted; he was misled by the source he quotes, namely R. Menahem Mendel Krengil (d. 1930) in his commentary to R. Hayyim Yosef David Azulai’s Shem Ha-Gedolim.[10] In turn, Krengil was misled by the source he quotes, R. Yitzhok Shlomo of Ozorkov’s introduction to Mikhlol Yofi (Warsaw, 1883).[11] In turn, R. Yitzhok Shlomo was misled by the source he quotes, R. Yehiel Heilprin’s (d. 1746), Seder Ha-Dorot.[12] In common, all these sources – and others not mentioned here – confused two different rabbis with the same name and cognomen, Eliyahu Ba’al Shem, and compressed them into one person. Despite the best efforts of nineteenth and twentieth century Jewish historians to expose this error,[13] shabashta keyvan d’al ‘al.

The above-mentioned R. Eliyahu Ba’al Shem of Chelm, the ancestor of R. Jacob Emden, may have created a Golem. But he was not a disciple of the Maharal, and he was not a colleague of the Tosafot Yom Tov, and -- so far as anyone knows – he never set foot in Prague. Yet another R. Eliyahu Ba’al Shem was R. Eliyahu (b. R. Moshe) Loanz (1564-1636) of Worms.[14] Distinguished kabbalist and author, he was a disciple of the Maharal[15] and a colleague of the Tosafot Yom Tov, but no one ever suggested that he created a Golem! This is not even a case of the proverbial “two Yosef b. Shimons.” For R. Eliyahu Ba’al Shem of Chelm’s father’s name was R. Aharon Yehudah, whereas R. Eliyahu Ba’al Shem of Worms’ father’s name was R. Moshe.[16] Moreover, each was buried in the city where he served as Rabbi. Pilgrimages to the grave of R. Eliyahu Ba’al Shem of Chelm -- in Chelm --were commonplace until World War II.[17] The tombstone inscription on the grave of R. Eliyahu Ba’al Shem of Worms – in Worms – was published in the nineteenth century.[18]

Other famous disciples of the Maharal include his son, R. Bezalel; his son-in-law, R. Yitzhok b. R. Shimshon; R. Yom Tov Lipmann Heller, author of Tosafot Yom Tov; and R. David Ganz, author of Tzemah David.[19] No source prior to the twentieth century ever imagined that these -- or any other – disciples of the Maharal were involved in creating a Golem. In sum, until new evidence is forthcoming, the answer to the question raised in the title of this note appears to be: “No.”


[1] B.Y. Rabinowitz, “The Golem of Prague – Fact or Fiction?” Dei’ah VeDibur, March 1, 2006.

[2] Posting on Mail-Jewish, March 6, 2006.

[3] See note 1.

[4] In general, see J. Günzig, Die Wundermänner in jüdischen Volk, Antwerpen, 1921, pp. 24-26; A. Brik, "רבי אליהו בעל שם זצ"ל מחעלם," Moriah 7 (1977), n. 6-7, 79-85; and M.D. Tzitzik, "מהר"ר אליהו בעל שם מחעלם," Yeshurun 17 (2006), 644-667.

שו"ת ב"ח החדשות, ס' ע"ז [5]


שו"ת שאילת יעב"ץ, ח"ב, ס' פ"ב. Cf. his בירת מגדל עוז, Altona, 1748, p. 259a; מטפחת ספרים, Altona, 1768, p. 45a; and מגילת ספר, ed. Kahana, Warsaw, 1896, p. 4. See also שו"ת חכם צבי, ס' צ"ג, and the references cited in שו"ת חכם צבי עם ליקוטי הערות, Jerusalem, 1998, vol. 1, p. 421 and in the periodical כפר חב"ד, number 351 (1988), p. 51.

[7] See the sources cited by M. Idel, גולם, Tel Aviv, 1996, pp. 181-184 (English edition: Golem, Albany, 1990, pp. 207-212).

[8] S. Sprecher, בסתר בצל':קווים לדמותו הסמויה של הג"ר בצלאל בנו יחידו של המהר"למפראג זצ"ל in Yeshurun 2 (1997), 623-634.

[9] See the text on p. 629; and the end of note 24 on p. 632.

[10] R. Menahem Mendel Krengil, ed., שם הגדולים השלם, Podgorze, 1905, vol. 1, p. 11b, n. 85. Cf. Krengil’s remarks at p. 12a, n. 90, and at p.117a, n. 12.

[11] R. Eliyahu Loanz, מכלול יופי, Warsaw, 1883, introduction. R. Yitzhok Shlomo of Ozorkov (near Lodz), who wrote the introduction, arranged for this reissue of R. Eliyahu Loanz’ commentary on Koheleth. The introduction is particularly confused and misleading.

[12] סדר הדורות , Karlsruhe, 1769, p. 64a. Cf. סדר הדורות השלם, Jerusalem, 1985, part 1, p.248. The passage reads:
הג"מ אליהו בעל שם אב"ד דק"ק חעלם בווירמז חבר ספר אדרת אליהו פירוש על הזוהר כ"י (הוא היה מקובל גדול ובעל שם וברא ע"י שמות אדם.)
[13] See, e.g., H.N. Dembitzer, כלילת יופי , Cracow, 1888, part 1, pp. 78b-79a; H. Michael, אור החיים , Frankfurt, 1891, pp. 170-171; and E.L. Gartenhaus, אשל הגדולים, Brooklyn, 1958, pp. 92-94.

[14] See J. Günzig, op. cit. (above, note 4), pp. 37-39; N.Y. Ha-Kohen, אוצר הגדולים, Haifa, 1966, vol. 2, p. 184; and the entry in Encyclopaedia Judaica, Jerusalem, 1971, vol. 11, column 420.

[15] See R. Barukh b. R. David of Gniezno, גדולת מרדכי, Hanau, 1615, letters of approbation (reissued: Jerusalem, 1991, p. 3). R. Eliyahu Loanz, in his letter of approbation to this volume, writes:
“ והנה ידוע שמ"ו ה"ה הגאון מהר"ר ליווא מפראג היתה תורתו אומנותו מיום הכיר את בוראו.”
For legendary accounts of R. Eliyahu Loanz and his meetings with the Maharal of Prague and the author of the Tosafot Yom Tov, see R. Moshe Hillel, בעלי שם, Jerusalem, 1993, pp. 10-87.

[16] Already noted by A. Brik (above, note 4), p. 81.

[17] A. Brik (above, note 4), p. 85. Cf. J. Günzig, op. cit., p. 26.

[18] L. Lewysohn, נפשות צדיקים, Frankfurt, 1855, p. 59-60. Cf. E.M. Pinner, כתבי יד, Berlin, 1861, p. 166 and notes.

[19] See A. Gottesdiener, המהר"ל מפראג, Jerusalem, 1976, pp. 88-97.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Hillel Noach Magid Steinschneider's Ir Vilna

Hillel Noach Magid Steinschneider's Ir Vilna
by Dan Rabinowitz

Vilna being one of the most important cities in Jewish history has a fair amount written about it. One of the classic works discussing the history and persons of Vilna is that of Hillel Noach Magid Steinschneider's Ir Vilna. This book was originally published in 1900 by the Romm press. This was only the first volume and Steinschneider envisioned publishing a second volume in short time, however, due to financial constraints he was unable to do so. Steinschneider did was not a historian by profession and instead was employed as a stone etcher for burial monuments - hence his surname Steinschneider which means "stone cutter." [1] Although he was not a professional historian, his work on Vilna was universally recognized. He not only write this book on Vilna but was also intimately involved with Shmuel Yosef Fuenn's work on Vilna - Kiryah Ne'emana. Steinschneider gave Fuenn material and eventually, in the second edition, wrote extensive notes. [2]

As for Steinschneider's own work, it was not until 2003 Magnes published the second volume of this work (and included a nice introduction both about Steinschnider and his work). In part, the reason Steinschneider was unable to publish the second volume, was because people were hesitant to purchase just one volume of a multi-volume work. I have heard people make the same comment about the second volume, namely, they don't only want the second of two volumes. But, now this has been remedied as someone has republished the first so both are now in print. (Both are available at Biegeleisen of Boro Park 718-436-1165.)

Aside from the importance of this work for the history of Vilna, there is also something curious in this addition - the publishers introduction. Steinschneider included information about all the important (and lesser important) people in Vilna. In doing so, he includes information [3] which from an Orthodox perspective some would find objectionable. Rather than censor this material out or not reprint this at all, the editors deal with this up front. In the introduction they note that Steinschnider was a maskil and that his writing was influenced by the haskalah. They also note that he included people who others found objectionable. For instance they state that Steinschneider discusses the poet "Abraham Dov Lebensohn (Adam HaKohen)" of whom the Hafetz Hayyim would add ימ"ש (may his name be erased).

But, at the end, the publishers explain they decided that even though there was "פסולת" (lit. chaff) the good content outweighed the bad and therefore they have decided to republish this book.

Of course, this is stark contrast to numerous contemporary instances of either removal of the פסולת or not reprinting books that contain any פסולת at all.

Hillel Noach Magid Steinschneider

[1] See Ir Vilna vol. 2 p. 1.
[2] Id. at 4-7 for how extensive Steinschneider's involvement was.
[3] Although it is the second volume which is more or less dedicated to biographies and history of maskilim the first volume also contains some of that information as well.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Library of Siddur (Prayer) For Sale

A library of approximately 1,700 books all either prayer books themselves or books about prayer are for sale. These include סדורים ,קינות ,תיקון ליל שבעות as well as some manuscripts. The date range of the books range from ש's (1540) until recent. Additionally, there are Slavita and Zhitomer prints as well. As this entire collection is devoted to a single subject - prayer, it is somewhat unusual and important. For more information (there is a complete catalog of all the books) you can email or call 845-729-0817.

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