Sunday, June 24, 2007

Will The Real First American Jews Please Stand Up?: A Review of Machon Yerushalayim's New Book About the Jews of Recife

In the history of Jews on the American continent, many are unaware that the first Jewish settlement in the Americas was not in North America, but instead South America. Specifically, the Brazilian city of Recife was the first formal Jewish community in the Americas. Recife, for a brief period of time, came under the control of the Dutch government. In 1630 they took Recife from the Portuguese, this event was key in establishing a Jewish community, as the Portuguese enforced the inquisition. The Dutch, however, did not, Amsterdam being a city where Marrano could return to Judaism.

When the Dutch took Recife, a Jewish community was established soon after, and eventual for the next 14 years, a the community flourished. There were two synagogues as well as all the trappings of a budding Jewish community - Rabbis, schools etc. The Rabbi of Recife was R. Isaac Aboab da Fonseca (his original surname is Aboab, but later in life he took his mother's name Da Fonseca as well) - and Machon Yerushalayim has published some of his writings as well as historic documents relating to the Recife community - Kitvei Rabbenu Yitzhak Aboab (De Fonseca) - Hakhmei Recife v'Amsterdam (Machon Yerushalayim, 2007).

The earliest responsum relating to the Americas concerns the community of Recife. As Recife is in the southern hemisphere and their season are the opposite of those in the northern hemisphere, they asked if they should still say ve'ten tal u'mattar at the time it is normally said as it is not the correct season for them.

R. Aboab, a student of R. Isaac Uzziel, was then appointed to the position of hakham and became the assistant of R. Saul Morteira and eventually took his position as Chief Judge of the Amsterdam court. R. Aboab was successed by R. Yakkov Sassportas.

In 1641 R. Aboab was sent to Recife to become the rabbi and head of the Dutch community there. Although the community was doing well, other forces spelled the demise of the community. In 1646, the Portuguese attacked Recife and although initially they were held off, they eventually were successful in reconquering the city and the rest of Brazil. The Jews were given three months to evacuate or come under the inquisition. R. Aboab, and many others returned to Amsterdam. Other refugees went and established communities in the Caribbean while one group, went to then New Amsterdam (eventually New York) and became the first Jews in New York.

In this new book, there is an extensive introduction, by R. Yosef Veitman, the Chabad shaliach in São Paulo, which gives all the above history and more. R. Veitman has done extensive research and this shows throughout the work. The history is very detailed and the sources consulted -- both traditional and academic -- are quite extensive. The one minor criticism is his use of statements of the prior Lubavitch Rebbi to prove a point of history (see, e.g., p. 39 n. 19 - also see p. 73 n. 123 which, as R. Veitman recognizes is highly suspect), otherwise the research is very good.

Aside from providing a history of R. Aboab and Recife, this work contains Torah from R. Aboab. The most important is the Machberet Nishmat Hayyim. This work was originally in Porteguse, and has now been translated into Hebrew. It has previously been translated into English by Alexander Altmann, "Eternality of Punishment: A Theological Controversy Within the Amsterdam Rabbinate in the Thirties of the Seventeenth Century,' in Publications of the American Academy of Jewish Research 40 (1972): 1-88, which R. Veitman used with permission. [1] This work dealt with what was a "hot" topic in Amsterdam at the time - whether there is such a thing as eternal damnation. This was very important as many Jews in Amsterdam had relatives in countries under the control of the inquisition and were "practicing" Christians. What would be their status - could their souls ever be redeemed?

R. Saul Morteira essentially said that there is such a thing as eternal damnation. R. Aboab disagreed and penned this work to explain his disagreement. This work has much broader implications for just the inquisition, but to any Jew who for whatever reason did not practice.

Both Nishmat Hayyim as well as R. Morteira's comments are found in this new volume as well as extensive notes. (Also, R. Meneshe Klein, in his approbation has his own take on this issue.)

Aside from this work, the communal laws of Recife are included, as well as a poem R. Aboab wrote on the Portuguese siege of Recife. It is worth mentioning that R. Aboab did not abandon the Recife community when faced with the Portuguese attack, rather he stayed and ministered to the community during this time of need. There are other smaller Torah pieces (including on the Amsterdam eruv) as well as the teshuva discussing ve'ten tal mentioned above.

The work contains excellent footnotes throughout and all in all this is an excellent work, especially for one interested in either the philosophy of reward/punishment or American Jewish history.

I purchased the book from Biegeleisen in Boro Park (718-436-1165), and I assume in Israel, Machon Yerushalayim should have copies.

[1] Although Altmann published this already in 1974 the "new" Encyclopeadia doesn't update the Cecil Roth entry on R. Aboab and still has that R. Aboab's "work on reward and punishment entitled Nishmat Hayyim [has] not been published." vol. 1 p. 269.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Daniel Sperber's New Book - "The Path of Halakha"

As was noted in a prior post, Prof. Daniel Sperber has published another book - Darkah shel Halakha Kiryat Nashim b'Torah. As the title implies the main focus of the book is to discuss the permissablity of women being called to the Torah. Much has already been written on the topic, however, Prof. Sperber's focus is distinct. He focuses on two aspects (aside from other halachic considerations) kavod ha'briyot and more generally, how halakha has adapted over time. In his inimitable fashion he marshals terrific sources - the footnotes contain a treasure trove of material. It is especially interesting to see, for instance, R. Yissocher Frand and Prof. Michael Silber cited in the same footnote.

The book, however, is not limited to the narrower issue of women and Torah reading but instead, there is an extensive discussion throughout regarding changes which happened throughout history in the halakhic practice. To clarify any ambiguity Prof. Sperber includes an appendix listing many laws from the Shulhan Arukh which are no longer practiced in the same manner as advocated by the Shulhan Arukh. He also has chapters or appendixes devoted to specific instances [interestingly, he doesn't mention the tosafot, Moed Katan, 21a, s.v. elu which appears to support his thesis] where there have been changes in practice, including inter alia menstruating women attending the synagogue, the Bat Mitzvah ceremony, and even the inclusion of an ezras nashim (women's section) in the synagogue. In this last one, we are provided with a terrific history of architecture of synagogues from the Temple period onward.

There are, however, a few places where, Prof. Sperber is not as comprehensive as he is in some of his previous works. While these are a mere handful of footnotes, nevertheless it is worth noting. For instance, in a note he discusses the issue of blowing shofar when Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbat. While his sources are rather impressive, he misses (on purpose perhaps?) the Mo'adim l'Simcha's discussion [although he does mention an entire work on the topic which I was unaware - Shofar b'Rosh haShana sh'Chal L'hiyot b'Shabbat, by R. Menachem Bornstein]. Or where he discusses the historic evidence of whether it is permitted to read the newspaper on Shabbat he mentions the controversy about the translation of R. Barukh ha-Levi Epstein's Mekor Barukh which states the Netziv read the paper on Shabbat. Prof. Sperber doesn't mention that there is now a entire book devoted to the topic, R. Y. S. Bifus, Mikrayei Kodesh HaKiryah haMutteres ve'haAssurah b'Shabbat, Jerusalem, 2003 (122 pages) as well as Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schacter's article "Facing the Truths of History," Torah u-Madda Journal 8 (2000): 200-273 [PDF]. These are minor points and should not take away from the whole of the book.

Of course, the ultimate subject matter is the propriety of women and reading the Torah. In this area, Prof. Sperber is very convincing. Again, the sources used are wide ranging. Irrespective of one's views on the topic, there is much to gain by this book. In fact, whether one is even interested in the particular topic of women and Torah reading is really no matter, this book is worthwhile reading.

The book can be purchased at Biegeleisen books in the US, or it is published by, and can be obtained from, Rubin Mass in Israel.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Two News Items

First, the sale on the Seforim Hard Drives has been extended until June 22 for the Otzar haChomah and the 25th for the Morgenstern hard drive.
Second, a new issue of Ohr Yisrael has just come out and includes more articles on wheat for matzot from Arizona, an article on definition of Darkei Emorei and the related laws, the second installment on the custom of candle lighting. Additionally, there is another article by R. B. Oberlander, related to the Yerushalmi on Kodshim, this one discussing the Friedlander family. Finally, R. Yitzhaki has an article on publishing of a Tanach.

Review - New Volume of Peskei Teshuvos on Mishna Berurah

Over the centuries, throughout our rich history, every time there has been a codification of halacha of any sorts there has been some opposition; the examples abound - the Rif who was opposed by the Bal Hamaor; the Rambam who was opposed by the Raavad. Even after that the Shach and Taz were also not accepted right away. One of the (many) reasons for this opposition was a fear of giving the law “to the simple people” who would then stop asking Rabbanim their questions as they could find the answers themselves in these works.

Another type of secondary source for halacha can be catagorized as likutim (collections). For example this catagory would include commentaries on the Shulchan Orach such as the Keness HaGedolah, Be’er Hetiv, and Sharei Teshvah. With these sorts of books there was an additional fear that the halachos might be not always be quoted correctly and people will fail to check the sources themselves. That fear appears prescient as in recent times many contemporary works err in the way they quote sources – making it almost impossible to even check the original sources. Some Gedolim even write in there haskamos on these works the author is a good person "but as this is a halachic work I can not back everything he says."

An awareness of the above concerns is illustrated by the story surrounding the Shmiras Shabbas K’hilchasa. This sefer quotes literally thousands of pesakim of R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach. After seeing the unexpected success to this sefer, R. Shlomo Zalman sat in a room a few hours a day for a few years and reviewed everything making sure anything quoted from him was one hundred percent accurate. This resulted in the third volume of Shmiras Shabbos K'hilchasa. Unfortunately, many works the authors themselves do not double check there own work let alone have a great person review it.

Today, there is no lack of books whose purpose is to be a repository of knowledge on a single topic. For instance, we have books devoted solely to the laws of washing one’s hands, how to bow properly (690 + pages), laws of lechem mishna (348 pages), the yarmulke (112 pages), and the list goes on. As it takes an almost heroic effort to write an entire book of hundreds of pages on but a single, minor topic, in most of the aforementioned cases, the authors indeed put forth a valiant effort to obtain anything and everything that, in the slightest way, remotely impacts on their selected topic.

Relatedly, there is another category of book, in which the author collects everything which discusses yet another book. The book that epitomizes this category of works is called Piskei Teshuvos al’pi Seder HaMishna Berurah (hereinafter “PT”). PT collects and addresses anything and everything which discusses the Mishna Berura. Just as the authors of the first category of books mentioned above go to great lengths, so too did the author of PT glean material from the most obscure sources on some of the most arcane topics.

At the turn of the century two excellent works were written almost the same time one on the whole Shulhan Arukh and one on just the volume of Orach Chaim. One is the Arukh Hashulhan and the other the Mishna Berurah. Each have their benefits (as will perhaps be discussed a different time) however, both were of great necessity as halacha is an endlessly complicated topic which, at that time, was especially evident. Before WWII the Arukh Hashulhan was much more widely accepted than the Mishna Berurah but after the war the Mishna Berurah became the more accepted one. What precipitated this change is unclear, some want to attribute it to the influence of the Chazon Ish who writes that the Mishnah Berurah is like the lishkas hagaziz etc. This is a rather ironic reason in that the Chazon Ish takes issue with the Mishna Berurah hundreds of times. Be that as it may today the more widely used work is the Mishna Berurah. There is even a Mishna Berurah cycle completing the whole Mishna Berurah every few years. However, as the years go by halakha has become larger especially with modern technology applications and the like, making it very hard for one person to master it all. The truth is throughout history there were various Gedolim that were experts in specific areas but not in everything - today such specialization is happening more and more.

As a result, R. Rabinowich came up with a great idea. He decided to put together all the newer sources according to the order of the Mishna Berurah. This idea of collecting the modern sources was actually one of the original goals of the Mishana Berurah as he writes in his introduction – to include all the recent literature from the seforim printed after the Sharei Teshuvah. R. Rabinowich’s work is the PT.

The first volume he released was on the laws of Shabbos. This first volume suffered a bit being the first born child. The sources were not that comprehensive and it did not cover many of the recent issues. The next volume, on the six volume of the Mishna Berurah, did get a bit better in the sources area. After that, the volume on fifth volume of Mishna Berurah came out here the sources got even better (as it much easier to put out a work on this volume thanks in part to the seforim Vayagid Moshe and Seder Arukh). After this he came out with a volume on the second volume of Mishna Berurah which he really out did himself on the sources. And recently the volume on first chelek on the Mishna Berurah came out.

The problem with this work is not that it does not have a wealth of information but rather one has to be careful to double check the sources to see if he quotes the pesak right and if he understood it.

So, thus far, five volumes of the PT have been published – the most recent, fifth volume covers volume one of the Mishna Berura. It is a very popular book. This latest volume was sold out in Israel within a week of publication and a distributor in the US ordered some 5,000 copies. R. Ovadia Yosef in a recent photograph in the Mispachah newspaper has a copy of the book on his table! This new volume of the PT weights in at a mere 995 pages. Readers may wonder how someone could write close to 1,000 pages on the first volume of the Mishna Berura alone? We now have our answer – it can’t be done.

The PT has a numerous flaws. First, the introduction. We are told that it is imperative to closely examine the words of the Mishna Berura because not doing so, “God forbid, could cause a person to err in the minutia of the laws and correctly interpreting them.” (p. 36). This statement is astounding. In the remainder of this volume’s introduction, there is no similar imperative to examine closely, or even cursorily look up, the many books the PT quotes. For that, we are expected to rely upon R. Rabinowich (the author of the PT) for his interpretations of the many, many books quoted – of course, he assumes that there is no need to double-check his work. However, if one were to go directly to Rabinowich’s collection without first reading the Mishna Berura, then one virtually is guaranteed to err. As we shall see, then, if one wants to avoid erring in a matter of law and its minutia, one should look up every single citation in the PT, as many are demonstrably wrong as will be explained below.

The PT instructs that when reading about unheard of laws, “one should make sure to test it logically.” (p. 37). So one would assume that the PT applied the same caveat when he was writing his book – unfortunately he does not. For instance, the PT informs us “that righteous and holy people have the custom [to wear a yarmulke] even when they are in the bath [mikvah] and only when they actually immerse do they remove it.” (p. 26). Or that it is a law that “one must close the door when using the restroom.” But, thankfully, the PT also informs us that “in cases that it is very dark or no one is around one can be lenient and not close the door.” (p. 29). Or, this gem, for example: one needs to wash his hands before invoking God’s name after “touching a Nochri, Yehudi Mumar . . .” but also, thankfully, that is “not an absolute obligation, [but that] one should be careful and strict whenever possible.” (p. 58). And this advice is vital, to be sure: one should not reveal more then necessary when using the bathroom – “however, that which is necessary not to soil oneself or the bathroom floor, or toilet” is permissible. (p. 28).

The PT also suffers from a lack of completeness. For example, the PT has a few columns on the custom of shuckelin (swaying) – but misses many of the sources. (p. 418) (See E. Zimmer, Olam k’Minhago Noheg pp. 72-113 for the sources). Or the entry related to the placement of the Ten Commandments in a synagogue (p. 17-18) -- while the PT has a few sources, the bulk are missing. (See R. Goldhaver, Minhagi Kehilot (pp. 45-47) for a much more complete and balanced set of sources).

Next, we have the PT’s comments on the obligation to wear a yarmulke. The PT first quotes the passages in the MB, which in turn quotes the well-known opinion of the Turei Zahav, that not wearing a head covering is a halachic violation. The PT explains the violation is of the command be’chukosheihem lo sei’leichu. Unfortunately, the PT fails to cite anyone who disagrees with that opinion, including, most notably, the Vilna Gaon in his Biur haGra (Orach Hayyim, siman 8 – which is quoted in the famous first teshuva in the Iggeres Moshe). The PT does manage, however, to cite the same Gra to obligate a “complete covering of the head”?! (p. 24 n. 55). In addition, the PT does not cite, or even mention, R. David Tzvi Hoffmann’s view that follows the Gra. It is not only in this section that the PT appears to be blissfully unaware of the Gra's view. Later in the book, where the PT discusses what someone should do if he prays by accident without a head covering, the PT makes no mention of the Gra’s view. (p. 719) Obviously, the Gra’s opinion on that topic is relevant, even if one were to hold that the Gra’s view is not optimal in the firs instance (i.e., in a post facto scenario, perhaps one can rely upon it).

Not only is the section on yarmulkes lacking in very important sources, it also completely distorts history. The PT makes the amazing statement that one must wear a yarmulke which is “noticeable” and, furthermore, that “this is what all Jews have done forever, in every generation.” (p. 24-25). This is absolutely not the case. There is a long history of even well known rabbis not wearing yarmulkes (or head coverings) at all, let alone ones that are capable of being seen from all sides. One example is a well known portrait of R. Hirsch. In that portrait, R. Hirsch appears bare headed. Of course, there are two possibilities – that he is actually bareheaded or that he is wearing a wig which gives the impression that he is bareheaded (and thus not complying with the PT’s requirement that a yarmulke be a “noticeable covering”). In either case, then, the PT’s absolutist claim is wrong. Not only is the PT’s ruling contrary to historical sources, it is erroneous with respect to halachic sources as well. There are numerous other examples where people either did not wear noticeable head coverings or they went completely bareheaded. Although the PT doesn’t have know about R. Hirsch, he should know that in fact R. Moshe Feinstein explicitly allows for someone to wear a non-obvious head covering. R. Feinstein allows for the wearing of a toupee which (if one has a decent one) will not be obvious.

In support of the position that one must wear a “noticeable covering,” the PT explains (p. 24 n. 57) that this understanding is premised on the prohibition of women wearing wigs. His “logic” is that because both women and men have obligations of head coverings, what is mandatory for one gender, must be for another. Although the PT cites to some sources holding that a wig is insufficient for women, as everyone knows there are many other opinions – as evidence by common custom today – which permit women to wear wigs. No such sources are cited or mentioned in the PT.

There are other similarly misleading statements throughout the PT. For example, the PT discusses the custom which some have to recite L’Shem Yichud prior to performing mitzvoth. He says that “as there are deep secrets in this recitation, there are some who disapproved of this custom . . . [H]owever, this custom has been justified and if Jews are not prophets, they are sons of prophets.” (pp. 63-64). This gives the erroneous impression that the concerns of those who disapproved of such recitations are no longer an issue. The source for this idea, inter alia, is the Siduro shel Shabbos. (p. 63 n. 21). It is correct that that sefer does justify this custom; however, many authorities, both before and after the Sidduro shel Shabbos, have strongly held it is inappropriate to recite this formulation. In no way did that sefer settle the issue.

The PT claims there is a tremendous obligation to wash one’s hands right after getting out of bed even before putting his feet on the ground – he notes a failure to comply is punishable by death. (pp. 5-8) First, he says that this stringency is based on the Zohar(which we do not actually have) , however, he failes to mention that it doesn't appear in the Gemara or early poskim. Furthermore, buried in a footnote in passing he cites to the Gra who said that after the death of the Ger Tzedek the particular ruach ra which produces the stringency of the washing is no longer present. Nor does he even quote the Sheti Yados (already highlighted by the Hatam Sofer in his notes on Shulchan Orach) that one should not take the death penalty idea literally.

The PT also discusses the issue of reciting partial verses of the Torah and rules that this is not a problem “as it is already known that we are not concerned to split sections and even verses we find many times.” (p. 243) To whom is the PT referring (by use of the word “we”)? Indeed, there are some people who maintain the custom to not split verses. Most famous, perhaps, is the statement of R. Hayyim Volozhin regarding the veZos HaTorah passage when showing the Torah to the congregation.

Aside from misleading statements, there are some statements in the PT, out of which I can make no sense. For example, the PT discusses whether to use a patach or tzerei for the first two words of kaddish. (p. 506). He records that in R. Emden’s siddur and in the Siddur haRav, there is a patach, but “in all the other siddurim it is with a tzerei.” (Id.). First, what does the PT mean by all? Did he check every single siddur, both in published and in manuscript form? Or does he mean the siddurim at his shul or that he had on his bookshelf? Readers are left to guess because the PT does not elaborate further. Similar ambiguities (e.g., statements like “most siddurim”) abound. In any event, the PT is 100% wrong. In historical terms (i.e., how the siddurim vowalized the words in question), the custom up until the 18th century was to have a patach. (For a listing of the siddurim and the history see my article in the latest Ohr Yisrael).

Another example of this type of misstatement is in the PT’s discussion about praying where a married woman’s uncovered hair is visible. First, the PT states “we find that many achronim are lenient in this matter.” But, he then continues: “however, the majority of achronim” disagree. (p. 600). Who is the majority? Is the PT referring to contemporary persons or historic achronim (the period generally is considered to extend from approx. late 15th early 16th century until today)? Additionally, those in the “minority” include R. Moshe Feinstein, the Ben Ish Chai, the Oruch haShulchan, the Seridei Eish – and those are just the ones listed in the PT. Perhaps there are cases where usage of the term “majority” is appropriate but what about when there are such distinguished authorities in the “minority?”

Another example of the necessity to check the PT’s sources is the entry relating to the use of musical tunes whose origins were not Jewish. There, the PT misquotes the Kerach shel Romi. The PT says that even the Kerach shel Romi holds when a tune is specific to idolatry, then it cannot be used. (p. 470 n. 209) But, if one looks up the source, that sefer actually says the opposite.

The above represent some of the issues in the latest volume. I have not gone over the entire 995 pages with a fine tooth comb, but I have no doubt that there are numerous other examples of the kind discussed above. The biggest problem with the PT is, in fact, as Dayan Weiss states in his approbation: that the PT “has lovingly been accepted among klal yisrael.” [He also states that he greatly enjoys the PT.] While it is admirable that people are interested in expanding their knowledge, such efforts should not be at the expense of quality. This appears to be a clear case of trying to make available as much as possible irrespective of the content. Moreover, what is particularly troubling about the above discussed examples is that the PT consistently highlighting either chumrahs or outlandish and dubious “laws.” Relatedly, it seems that the PT’s the errors of omission always manage to omit out sources which would temper or obviate some of the more stringent statements found in the PT. This displays an ideological bias in favor of stringencies over leniencies (or in many cases over actual historical practice).

* I want to thank R. Eliezer Brodt for writing the introduction to this post.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Shavuah HaSefer: A Recommended Reading List

Shavuah HaSefer: A Recommended Reading List

by Eliezer Brodt

Every year in Israel, around Shavous time, there is a period of around ten days called Shavuah Hasefer-book week. Shavuah HaSefer is a sale which takes place all across the country in stores, malls and special places rented out for the sale. There are places where strictly “frum” seforim are sold other places have most of the secular publishing houses. Every year we witness the publishing of hundreds of new seforim and books by the various publishing houses. Many publishing houses release new titles specifically at this time. In this post I would just like to mention to some of the very recent titles from the various publishing houses which are available at this years Shavuah HaSefer.

Magnes Press did not put out anything special in the past few months and their prices are quite high in comparison to other years. The one exception is the very reasonable price for the set of Machzorim of Professor Daniel Goldschmidt on the Yom Tovim. Of course, one must get the Shivrei Luchos from Professor Simcha Emanuel released earlier this year. However, an older title worthy of mention is the Sefer Toseftas Targum Le’nevim it is basically a collection of lost pieces on targum on niviem (some pieces were printed over a hundred years ago). The Rishonim such as the Radak quote from it numerous times. To just to list one example of a more famous point quoted by the Radak from this Tosefta: In the discussion of the miracle of Chanukah a statement is attributed to R’ Chaim Solevetchick and others (see Making of a Godal pp. 727-729) that the oil in the original miracle was not technically shemn zeis rather it was shemn ness (miracle oil). As part of this statement a Radak is quoted by various achronim such as the Klei Chemda that the oil from the miracle of Elisha was patur from masser. This statement the Radak comes from a tosefta until recently we did not know the source of this tosefta it was assumed to be a lost tosefta now we know that its from a completely different work as it appears in the Tosefta Targum Le’nevim.

The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities has advertised, in their catalog, that the long awaited Yerushalmi on Seder Nizkin is available. However, it seems that it will take another month or two for it actually to be released. Another older title by offered by them for a very reasonable price is the two volume set of the Hebrew Illuminated Manuscripts in The British Isles by Bezalel Narkiss.

Merkaz Zalman Shazar has released some new titles among them a Sefer Chasidim. This work is an anonymous work written in 1819 which is virulently against Chasidim. This is the first time this work has been printed. Another new title is a work on R’ Yehudha Hanasiah. This is another book which is part of their recent series on the great leaders throughout the generations (previously they have done on Rashi and R. Yehuda HaChasid among others). Another point of possible interest which is worth mentioning is they reprinted a few titles of Professor Jacob Katz that had not been available for some time.

Reuvan Mass recently began a new series called Reshoot. They began the series with R Moshe Feinstein Teshuvot on the hot topic of Chaluv Akum. It includes an overview of the topic and a brief history of R’ Moshe life. They plan on releasing a few more in the near future such as from R’ Herzog. Another new release is from Professor Daniel Sperber called Darka Shel Halacha it deals with the sensitive topic of woman getting aliyos. One of the main points of the sefer is to discuss the halacha process more generally. Amongst the other topics in Professor Sperber’s work are Kovod Habriyos, Darkei Naom, and mitseios (reality) changing. As always there is a wealth of sources on a wide ranging amount of topics in the notes.

The Bialik Institute has a very impressive new book, the second part of the Livyat Chain. This sefer was written in the era of the Rashba. The Rashba did not allow it to be released as it uses allegorical interpretations for some of the Aggdah. It remained in manuscripts for centuries. At the turn of the century small parts were printed. But, a few years ago Professor Howard Kreisel printed one part of this work - on the creation -which is sold by Magnes Press. Recently he released another part of this work. This new volume is a massive volume of over 1000 pages on many topics. Also worth mentioning is the Sefer Hasagah from R’ Yonah Ibn Ganach it’s a critical edition translated from the Arabic for the first time. An older title that had not been around for some time is Professor Robert Brodie’s Book on the Shiltos.

Meketzei Nerdamim has released a new title - a collection of poetry from the father of the Aruch- R’ Yechiel it contains an extensive introduction about the author.

Bar Ilan University did not put out all that much this year although there catalog shows some interesting titles in press such as another volume on the Gra. But they did put out one thing special, a pirish from the fourteenth century on the Sefer Kuzari from a R’ Shlomo Mluniel it’s a nice size work around 500 pages. Besides for this there is yet another study on the works of R’ Ovadiah Yosef.

Mechon Ben Zvi has released some new titles such as a book on marriage in Italy called Nissuin Nusach Italia. Besides for that they have not released much new. But its worth mentioning the Index of the Cario Geneziah From N. Allony looks excellent for more on this book see Manuscript Boy's post here. Also the price on the recently released Pirish of R’ Matisyhu Hayesari on Avos (from Professor Y Spiegel) has dropped a bit.

Mechon Yerushalim promises a new volume to their critical edition of the Teshuvos of the Rishonim the Shut Harif but its not out yet. They also advertise a new volume of the Kovetz Zecor Leavrohm on the topic of Marriage.

Beis El released another volume from R’ Eliyahu ben Amzug called Mussar Yehudi Lumos Mussar Notsri. This is a critical edition of the work edited by Professor Eliyhu Zeini. It has been retranslated from the French as a while back it had been printed by Mossad Rav Kook. This is the second in the series of R’ Eliyahu ben Amzug works, the editor promises the rest of the works in the future.

Another interesting new title, by Shalem Press, is called Hashevah Le'yerushalaim from Professor Aryeh Morgenstern. This book seems to have generated some interest in the political circles in Israel session will be devoted to it in Ben Zvi Institute. I have gotten a look at this book - it is massive some 596 pages which discuss Jewish resettlement of the land 1800-1860.

The Hamodiah book sale is nice as well, they even have separate hours for men and women. There one sees many people just staring at the Otzar Hachoma and Otzar Hatorah programs watching their search engines. Of course none of these people intend to buy it. Feldheim and Oz Vhadar are there in full force. Worthy of mentioning is the great price of Feldheim on the set of Rodleheim Machzorim. However the main highlight of this sale at least for me are the displays of the Shem Olam Mechon. This publishing house prints many interesting seforim every year but for some reason most of it is never sold in stores. For example, they recently printed a two volume collection of letters of the S'dei Chemed which was virtually not sold anywhere. Another highlight is the booth of Otsros Hatorah where they sell old reprints of rare seforim for great prices. One is bound to find something good there.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Marc B. Shapiro: Obituary for Prof. Mordechai Breuer zt"l

Obituary: Professor Mordechai Breuer zt”l
By Marc B. Shapiro

Professsor Mordechai Breuer passed away on the twelfth of Sivan, 5767. It is a great loss for the world of Jewish scholarship as well as that of Orthodox Jewry. Breuer, born in Frankfurt in 1918, was the great-grandson of R. Samson Raphael Hirsch, the grandson of R. Shlomo Zalman Breuer, who succeeded Hirsch as Rav of the Frankfurt separatist community, and the son of Dr. Isaac Breuer, the leading theoretician of the Agudah (although the latter’s philosophy would later diverge from what came to be known as the Agudah Daas Torah).

Breuer came to the world of academic Jewish studies rather late, earning his PhD in 1967 for a study of the Ashkenazic yeshiva in the late Middle Ages. (He had previously earned an MA at the Hebrew University, writing on David Gans.) At that time, he was principal of the Horeb school in Jerusalem. He later became professor of Jewish history at Bar Ilan. It is more than a little ironic that a great-grandson of Hirsch would devote himself academic Jewish studies.[1]

Returning to Prof. Breuer, it is hard to do justice to such a productive scholar in a short post. One can be sure that the next issue of Ha-Maayan, with which Breuer was associated since its founding, will have an important obituary.

As one who has worked a great deal in the field of German Orthodoxy, I can state that my work would be much the poorer if not for Breuer’s many writings. His classic Modernity Within Tradition is a marvelous study of the German Orthodox community and a model for how to write the history of American Orthodoxy. For those who read German, I recommend the original version, published by the Leo Baeck Institute. While containing the same text as the English, the German version has additional information in the footnotes.

For those interested in the full range of his scholarship (up until eight years ago) the volume Asif (Jerusalem, 1999) contains a number of his best articles, including his classic study of Hirsch’s Torah im Derekh Eretz principle. (This article was translated into English and published as a booklet, but has been out of print for many years.) The volume also contains a bibliography of his many writings.[2]

Of particular interest to readers of this blog is his final work, Oholei Torah, on the history of the yeshivot.[3] The only criticism I can give of this work is that it tries to do too much, and throws too much information at the reader. Yet it is an enormously helpful volume. I leave aside for now his contributions in a number of other areas of Jewish studies, as well as in general German Jewish history.

As I was in touch with him for many years, allow me to offer some personal comments, and excerpts from letters and e-mails I received, as I think they will be of interest to the readers.

My first contact with Breuer was actually not the most pleasant for me. I was a graduate student and had just published an article in Ha-Maayan (Tishrei, 5754), in which I included a strong attack on R. Esriel Hildesheimer’s Eisenstadt yeshiva by an anonymous nineteenth-century critic.[4] Breuer wrote to me expressing his unhappiness that I had chosen to publicize what, in his mind, were the ignorant ravings of a benighted yeshiva bachur. I thought then, and still think, that — to paraphrase someone else — while ignorant ravings remain ignorant ravings, the history they illuminate is scholarship. The editor, the late, lamented Yonah Emanuel, took my side in this dispute, and I was happy to have his support when confronted by the man who had become one of my idols in scholarship. (Emanuel actually censored my article, taking out a reference to an attack on the Ketav Sofer, an attack that was already in print and which I found helpful in illuminating the dispute taking place in Hungary. The Ketav Sofer was actually a great friend of Hildesheimer, and even invited him to come to Pressburg to serve with him in the rabbinate.)

Following this, our relationship improved, and I often turned to him with my questions. This became much easier when he too acquired e-mail access. Two months ago, in what was one of my last e-mails to him, I wrote:

I take this opportunity to encourage you to think about writing your autobiography. Your great father did so, and all of kelal Yisrael benefited from it. The same would apply to you.

Unfortunately, this was not to be. Already I feel a great loss at not having someone to turn to with all my questions. He was a veritable Urim ve-Tumim when it came to anything dealing with the lost, wonderful world of German Orthodoxy.

A couple of months ago, someone contacted me and wanted information about Hirsch’s visits to the opera. I looked around the internet a bit, and apparently it is “common knowledge” that Hirsch attended the opera. There have even been online discussions about what the halakhic justification of this was. Despite my extensive reading in German Orthodox literature, I had never heard that Hirsch went to the opera. Therefore, I was very skeptical of this piece of "common knowledge." I was also aware that very often "common knowledge" turns out to be incorrect. But rather than offer my opinion, I did what I always did at times like this. I turned to Professor Breuer, the man who had read everything written by and about Hirsch, and who had painstakingly gone through every page of the German Orthodox newspapers and magazines of the nineteenth century. I also asked him about the general German Orthodox practice of going to the opera.

He replied:

Here and there you can find hints in German printed sermons disapproving going to the opera. When I went to the opera as a boy of 13-14 years my father did not express his dissatisfaction. I don't know if Hirsch was an opera lover, but I know that he went to concerts when he was at a holiday resort.

All I can say is that if Breuer had never heard that Hirsch went to the opera, how is it that others seem to know this as a fact, and if asked for a source, will reply that it is “common knowledge”?

In another e-mail he wrote similarly:

I know of no Orthodox rabbi in Germany who regularly visited the opera. This applies also to Rav S.R. Hirsch. Very musical as he was, he sometimes visited a concert, especially while on holidays, but never, to the best of my knowledge, the opera.

I also asked Breuer, who attended the Hirschian school in Frankfurt, what the situation was with regard to boys covering their heads (we all know the teshuvah of R. David Zvi Hoffmann testifying as to how they did not do so in the nineteenth century). He replied:

None of the pupils covered their heads all day. I know there were nominally orthodox homes where heads were covered only for prayers and the like. One such case is documented not in Frankfurt, but in Munich. See Adolph Fraenkel’s biography of his father Sigmund Fraenkel, one of the leading members of Bavarian Orthodoxy.

He also pointed out to me that when Hirsch was Chief Rabbi of Moravia, he protested against a rule that Jewish children were forbidden to cover their heads during class. In other words, only in Germany, where that was the common practice, did children sit with uncovered heads. It was not a “shitah” of Hirsch that they do so.

I told Breuer that some people understand Hoffmann’s teshuvah as referring to him taking off his hat when he went into Hirsch’s office, but still having a kippah underneath. He replied that Hoffmann

is obviously dealing with cases which, when the hat was removed, left the head without any cover. Carrying a kippah underneath the hat was very unusual in Germany. If that had been the case, Hoffmann would certainly have mentioned it. By the way, I remember that the principal of the school had his head always covered with a kippah, as did other teachers who carried the title of rabbi.

In another e-mail he wrote:

I left the Hirsch school in Frankfurt in 1934. The rule of uncovered heads while studying “secular” subjects (a concept which should not have actually been used at a school adhering to the principle of Torah im Derech Eretz) was enforced without exception (it was not enforced upon teachers who served as rabbis in one of the local synagogues). However, during the last years of the school’s functioning, when the impact of the Nazi regime became increasingly palpable, pupils and teachers reacted by covering their heads in “secular” subjects as well.

I wrote to Breuer:

In Binyamin Shlomo Hamburger’s new biography of Rabbi Merzbach, pp. 17-18,[5] he says that German rabbis were obligated by law to receive a university degree. As a blanket statement this is false. Yet I believe that there were some times and places when the government did require this. Do you know any particulars about this, i.e., where and when this was required? Also, was Hirsch’s school co-educational (i.e., boys and girls). If so, were the classes mixed or only the school?

He replied:

There was certainly no German law requiring rabbis to have a university degree. In mattters of religion the many German states (“Laender”) were autonomous. At the beginning of emancipation there were states which passed administrative rules concerning the qualifications of rabbis. There were no such regulations anywhere in the Weimar period.

There were no mixed classes in S.R. Hirsch’s school except in the very first years when enrol which is present [!] and also in the very last years when students and teachers were continually disappearing. However, throughout its existence the girls’ school (“Lyceum”) and the boys’ school were in separate wings under one roof and one principal and adminstration. Co-education was very rare in Germany before WWI.

I asked him about congregational singing in Germany. He replied:

There was some congregational singing in Orthodox synagogues, but usually the choir sang those portions, with the congregation singing or humming with the choir.

I asked him if his great father was a rabbi (since he is usually referred to as Dr.). He replied:

My father z.l. had two semichot morenu. In Germany no one was titled “Rabbi” unless he was an officiating rabbi, which my father was not. Here in Israel the title of rabbi, gaon, etc. has undergone a process of inflation and my father is regularly referred to as rabbi, which in his case is more justified than in many others.

On another occasion he wrote a bit more about the Hirschian school in Frankfurt and the relationship between his grandfather and Rabbi Marcus Horovitz:

I cannot vouch that my grandfather never accidentally found himself in the presence of Rabbi Horovitz. He certainly tried hard to avoid this. The social rift in Frankfurt between the two orthodox congregations was proverbial. It existed even between different branches of the same family. There were quite a few members of the IRG, even such that were not also members of the other community, who transgressed the tabu [against entering the Gemeinde synagogue] and their number probably increased after World War I. There was no Austritt indoctrination in the IRG school, probably out of consideration for the students whose parents were non-members. There were also members of the faculty who were less than enthusiastic Austritt fanatics.

After reading my dissertation he wrote to me:

Leaving aside your study a certain affinity occurred to me between Rav Weinberg and R. Jacob Emden.

To what you write about R. Weinberg’s responsum about co-education in the Yeshurun organization, I might add that in the late fifties I wrote to R. Weinberg asking him whether his p’sak was applicable to the Esra movement in Israel in which I was active. He never replied, but sent word by a messenger encouraging me to continue my educational activity without swerving to the right After his death I discovered that he had asked two of his students in Montreux to draft a response to my letter. The drafts are in my possession. They contradict each other. One of the two authors now teaches at a yeshiva in Bene Berak.

In his German volume on the history of German Orthodoxy, Breuer mentions that in R. Seligman Baer Bamberger’s synagogue there was no Frauengitter. I assumed that this meant that there was no mehitzah in the famed Wuerzberger Rav’s shul, and I wrote to him to inquire. He replied:

The “Frauengitter” mentioned in my note on p. 375 is the common German translation of mechitzah. It signifies some sort of lattice which was put on top of the parapet which surrounded the women’s gallery (or balcony). The parapet was low enough to allow the women to watch what was going on in the men’s hall downstairs. The lattice (“Gitter”) did not quite conceal the women from the men’s eyes; its significance was mainly symbolical. The lack of this lattice was one of the compromises made here and there with the Reform synagogues where women sat on the balcony, yet in full view of the men since there was no lattice.

This was very helpful to me since in the next issue of Milin Havivin I am publishing something relating to the great controversy in Frankfurt over who would succeed Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Breuer as rabbi of the Hirschian kehillah. Prof. Breuer’s uncle, Rabbi Raphael Breuer, was the rabbi of Aschaffenburg, and the family obviously wanted him to step into his father’s position. However, the members of the community refused to give him their support. One of the issues brought up against Rabbi Raphael was that his synagogue did not a proper mehitzah. I was unable to find any description of exactly what the problem was. Prof. Breuer could not recall either, although as a child he had been to the synagogue on a couple of occasions. He did, however, remind me that his uncle’s predecessor was R. Simcha Bamberger, a son of the Wuerzburger Rav. I therefore assume that the “problem” with the Aschaffenburg mehitzah was the lack of latticework on top of the partition.

After gaining so much from Professor Breuer, I was happy that I was able to give him a present — a copy of a manuscript letter from Hirsch. I didn’t even know what it said, as I found it impossible to read the old handwriting. He wrote to me as follows:

The letter is quite important. R. Hirsch was asked about the relative significance of the Sabbath in Jewish law. I guess the question arose through some discussion with German authorities. They compared the Sabbath to the Christian Sunday. R. Hirsch showed by citing biblical and rabbinical sources that in Jewish law and practice the Sabbath ranked much higher than any other day of rest or festival.

I had hoped that Breuer would be able to publish the letter himself, complete with an introduction. But alas, it was not meant to be. Beli neder, I shall do so.

Despite his age, Prof. Breuer was always prompt in answering all of my questions, and I will be forever grateful. I am also in his debt for another reason. No doubt realizing that he would not be able to write about everything in his files, he offered to give me unpublished material relating to the controversy over the talmudic commentaries of R. Joseph Zvi Duenner, chief rabbi of Amsterdam. Needless to say, I was thrilled, and I thank my friend, Aharon Wexler, who went to his house, picked up the material, and mailed it to me. I hope to be able to publish it before too long.

For those who don’t know, Duenner’s approach anticipated that of Halivni in some respects, primarily in the assumption that the answers given by the amoraim, while binding for halakhic purposes, are not necessarily the best explanation of the Mishnah. Duenner also pointed to a couple of passages in the Talmud — both of which are in the current daf yomi tractate — which he believed are interpolations from the heretics, intended to mock the rabbis. He claimed that the rabbis would never have discussed the case of one who falls off a roof and while landing on a woman has sex with her (a highly improbable scenario, to put it mildly), or that a holy sage would come into a new town and announce that he was looking for a wife for the night (Yevamot 37b, 54a). According to Duenner, these texts are the product of those intending to mock the rabbis, and were unfortunately taken by later scholars as authentic.

Breuer’s grandfather, Rabbi S. Z. Breuer, was one of the leading opponents of Duenner, going so far as to threaten to place him into herem if he didn’t stop publishing his hiddushim, and put the ones already in print into genizah. Duenner refused, and the threat of a herem was never carried out. His hiddushim were later reprinted by Mossad ha-Rav Kook, and some unpublished material was also included in this new edition.

Dr. Marc B. Shapiro holds the Weinberg Chair in Judaic Studies, Department of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Scranton. He is the author of Between the Yeshiva World and Modern Orthodoxy: The Life and Works of Rabbi Jehiel Jacob Weinberg, 1884-1966 (London: Littman Library, 1999) previous posts at the Seforim blog include “Uncensored Books” and an obituary for Rabbi Yosef Buxbaum zt"l, founder and publisher of Machon Yerushalayim.

[1] It is even more ironic that the bête noire of Hirsch and S. Z. Breuer, R. Mordechai Horovitz (the Matteh Levi), has a descendant, R. Baruch Horovitz, who runs the fairly haredi Dvar Yerushalayim Yeshiva. In fact, when Rabbi Horovitz reprinted the Matteh Levi in 1979, he received a haskamah from R. Yitzhak Yaakov Weiss, Av Beit Din of the Edah Haredit and a man far removed from the cultured and tolerant Orthodoxy of the Matteh Levi. (Of course, what some would call “tolerant Orthodoxy,” Hirsch and S.Z. Breuer regarded as fraudelent Orthodoxy.)
[2] See Mordechai Breuer, The "Torah-im-derekh-eretz" of Samson Raphael Hirsch (Jerusalem, New York, Feldheim, 1970)
[3] See Mordechai Breuer, Oholei Torah: The Yeshiva, Its Structure and History (Merkaz Zalman Shazar 2003)
[4] See my “A Letter of Criticism Directed Against the Yeshivah of Eisenstadt,” Ha-Maayan 34 (Tishrei, 5754 [1993]), 15-25 (in Hebrew).
[5] Ha-Rav Yonah Merzbach: Pirkei Hayyim, Darko U-Fe'alav (Bnei Brak, 2004)

The Story of the Publisher of the Forged Yerushalmi Kodshim

Most are aware of the famous forgery perpetrated by Shlomo Yehuda Friedlaender at the beginning of the 20th century - the Yerushalmi on Seder Kodshim. (For background see here). Recently, R. Baruch Oberlander has written a series of articles, which appeared in Or Yisrael, further illuminating this episode.

Now, the great-grandson of the publisher (Ya'akov Weider who was killed in the Holocaust) of this Yerushalmi offers the story behind his great-grandfather decision to publish this book. (link) He also defends the decision of his ancestor to publish this work, noting that prior to publication he received approval from various Rabbinic authorities. Unfortunately, due to the large expense involved and that it quickly became apparent that it was a forgery, the great-grandfather lost a significant amount of money on this endeavor.

The article also notes that two announcements were published heralding the publication, one to Rabbis and the like and the other, a slightly different version to academics. It is worthwhile noting that not only were their two announcements, there were actually two editions of the Yerushalmi. One aimed at Yeshiva students and the like and again, the other, academics. The former was printed on poor paper and only contains a Hebrew title page. The latter was printed on good paper and includes a German title page (where Friedlaender becomes Dr. Friedlaender).

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Shnayer Leiman - The New Encyclopaedia Judaica: Some Preliminary Observations

The New Encyclopaedia Judaica: Some Preliminary Observations


Shnayer Leiman

1. In 1972, the first edition of the Encyclopaedia Judaica appeared in print. With 25,000 entries, it moved well beyond its distinguished predecessors, such as the Jewish Encyclopedia (New York, 1906), the Universal Jewish Encyclopedia (New York, 1939-43), and the short-lived German language Encyclopaedia Judaica (Berlin, 1928-34). Its special focus on the Holocaust and its aftermath, on the State of Israel, and on the centrality of the Jewish community in the United States, rendered it the most current and useful of all the Jewish encyclopedias. But 35 years have passed since its publication, and there was a felt need for a new version that would update many of the entries in the light of scholarly advance. Also, new entries had to be provided for all that was new in Jewish life during the past 35 years. Early in 2007, the 22-volume second edition of the Encyclopaedia Judaica appeared in print – in hard copy and electronic versions – and it was heralded as yet another milestone in the history of Jewish encyclopedias.

2. A striking difference between the first edition of the Encyclopaedia Judaica (henceforth: EJ) and the second edition of the Encyclopaedia Judaica (henceforth: NEJ [= new Encyclopaedia Judaica]) is the almost complete lack of visual images in NEJ. Whereas EJ contained some 8000 photographs and portraits (judiciously selected from a larger pool of 25,000), NEJ has only 8 pages of photographs in the center of each volume. Thus, for example, the entry on Solomon Dubno (d. 1813) in EJ is accompanied by a striking portrait of him [reproduced below]. The portrait is lacking in NEJ. Similarly, the entry on Vilna in EJ is accompanied by some 9 photographs that make the city come to life; none appear in the NEJ entry on Vilna. The almost complete lack of visual images in NEJ is a fatal flaw that renders it the least attractive (and arguably, the least informative, for often pictures inform even more than words) of all the Jewish encyclopedias listed above in paragraph 1.

3. One of the key selling points of NEJ is that it updates – and allegedly supersedes – the 1972 edition of EJ. In the general introduction to NEJ, we are informed that more than 2,650 new entries were incorporated into NEJ, and that over half of the original entries (in EJ) were revised and updated for NEJ. Indeed, it is a delight to see entries in NEJ for Dina Abramowicz, Zvi Ankori, Gerson Cohen, Lucy Dawidovich, Marvin Fox, Ismar Schorsch, Yosef Yerushalmi and the like – none of whom were accorded entries in EJ. But upon inspection, it turns out that many key entries that needed to be revised and updated were neither revised nor updated. And regarding the new entries, there are serious errors of commission and omission.

Samples of entries that should have been updated, but were not, include:

a) Abraham b. Elijah of Vilna (d. 1808). NEJ reprints EJ, apparently unaware that some 130 printed pages of Abraham b. Elijah of Vilna’s writings on Bible, Talmud, Midrash, and Jewish bibliography were published for the first time, from manuscripts, in 1998 (see Yeshurun 4[1998], pp. 123-254). EJ and NEJ list Abraham b. Elijah of Vilna’s date of birth as 1750. Recent historical studies indicate otherwise and suggest he was born in 1766 (see, e.g., Yeshurun 14 [2004], pp. 982-996). These and other post-1972 studies on Abraham b. Elijah of Vilna surely merited mention in a revised and updated entry. In this instance, NEJ does not reflect the present state of modern scholarship.

b) Adam Ba’al Shem. NEJ reprints the EJ entry by Gershom Scholem, who – in one of the most controversial passages he ever wrote – identified the writings of the Sabbatean prophet Heshel Zoref (d. 1700) with the writings ascribed by Hasidic lore to the legendary Adam Ba’al Shem. The latter’s writings, according to Hasidic legend, formed the basis for the uniquely Hasidic teachings of R. Israel Ba’al Shem Tov. Scholars were quick to challenge Scholem’s identification during his lifetime and after his death. None are cited in the NEJ entry. An entire literature has grown around this particular issue. Much (but not all) of the relevant bibliography appeared in Y. Liebes, ed., גרשם שלום: מחקרי שבתאות, Tel Aviv, 1991, pp. 597-599. None of this appears in the NEJ entry. Once again, NEJ does not reflect the present state of modern scholarship.

c) Chajes, Zevi Hirsch (d. 1855). NEJ reprints the EJ entry. In the intervening years, numerous studies and two major books were published on Chajes, none of which is mentioned in NEJ. Here it will suffice to mention the titles of the two books:

Bruria Hutner David, The Dual Role of Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Chajes: Traditionalist and Maskil, Columbia University Ph.D., University Microfilms, 1971.

Mayer Herskovicz, רבי צבי הירש חיות, Jerusalem, 1972 (reissued: Jerusalem, 2007).

Here too, NEJ does not reflect the present state of modern scholarship.

d) Kalmanovitch, Zelig (d. 1944). NEJ reprints the entry in EJ. The diary (mostly in Yiddish and partly in Hebrew) of this Yiddish scholar -- and victim of the Holocaust – is one of the most poignant of the Holocaust diaries. In 1977, Kalmanovitch’s son, Shalom Luria, publish an annotated Hebrew translation of the diary, together with a 50 page introduction that reveals much about Kalmanovitch that was not previously known. See Z. Kalmanovitch, יומן בגיטו וילנה, Tel Aviv, 1977, pp. 9-59. A sizeable and significant fragment of the diary, entirely in Hebrew, was discovered in the Lithuanian Central Archive in Vilna, and published in 1997. See Yivo Bleter 3(1997), pp. 43-113. None of this information appears in the NEJ entry. Regarding the Kalmanovitch entry, then, NEJ does not reflect the present state of modern scholarship.

e) Luria, David b. Judah (d. 1855). NEJ reprints the entry in EJ. No mention is made in either EJ or NEJ that a portrait of Luria is extant (in Vilna) and has been frequently published. See, e.g., Yahadut Lita,Tel Aviv, 1967, vol. 3, p. 62. More importantly, some 230 printed pages of Luria’s hiddushim on Bible, Mishnah, the Jerusalem Talmud, and Midrash Mishle, as well as responsa, were published for the first time, from manuscripts, in 1998-9. See Yeshurun 4(1998), pp. 489-647 and 6(1999), pp. 285-359. NEJ does not reflect the present state of modern scholarship regarding this entry as well.

4. Sins of commission are inevitable in any encyclopedia. The name of the game is to keep them at a minimum, and it is largely the responsibility of the editors to check and recheck possible misspellings, mistaken dates and facts, discrepancies, imaginary references, exaggerated claims, and the like. NEJ is not lacking in sins of commission in all of the above categories. One amusing instance will have to suffice for our purposes.

NEJ contains two entries of interest that appear several pages apart in volume 3. The first entry is entitled: Bloch, Chaim Isaac. The second entry is entitled: Bloch, Hayyim Isaac ben Hanokh Zundel Ha-Kohen. Innocent readers will assume, as they have every right to assume, that these represent two different persons. Alas, they are one and the same person. The first entry is a new one, designed especially for NEJ. The second entry is the old one, reprinted from EJ (minus the handsome photograph [reproduced below] that accompanied the original EJ entry). There are some interesting differences between the two entries. In the first entry, the reader is informed that Rabbi Bloch was born in 1867. Several pages later, however, Rabbi Bloch aged some 3 years, as we are informed that he was born in 1864. In the first entry, we are told mostly about essays he contributed to a variety of Torah journals – though mention is made of the fact that he published books as well. None of their titles are listed. In the second entry, not a word is said about his contribution to Torah journals. Instead, the titles of all his published works are listed. In the bibliographies appended to the two entries, each lists an item not in the other. The primary blame here hardly rests with the authors of the entries; presumably, they performed their assigned tasks as best they knew how. It is the sloppiness of the editors that allowed for the publication of two (sometimes contradictory) entries for one and the same person. Given the premium placed on space in any encyclopedia, this is a sin of no small import.

5. Sins of omission are inevitable in any encyclopedia. As the editors indicate in the general introduction to NEJ: “An obvious problem in the compilation of any encyclopedia is the decision as to which entries are to be included and which excluded …there is always a body of “borderline” entries which potentially could fall in either category. This problem becomes particularly sensitive when dealing with biographies of contemporaries. Which scholars receive entries and which do not? Where is the line to be drawn for rabbis or businessmen or lawyers or scientists? In some subjects, it was possible to fix objective criteria. For example when it came to U.S. Jewish communities, it was decided to include only those numbering more than 4,500.”

One can only sympathize with the impossible task before the editors. It was a no-win situation for them; whatever their decision, they would surely be open to criticism. If nonetheless I join the chorus of critics, it is not because of “borderline” entries. My own sense is that serious sins of omission occurred throughout NEJ, and in a broad range of categories. I shall attempt to illustrate this by selecting at random 5 categories of Jewish life that were of sufficient interest to me that I was even willing to leaf through the pages of NEJ in order to see how they were treated. I am well aware that others may consider unimportant what I consider important. What follows is no more than the personal opinion of one observer. The names listed below have no independent entry in NEJ and, at best, are mentioned in passing in other, often thematic entries.

a) Women. In the publicity relating to NEJ, it was stated openly that in earlier encyclopedias, including EJ, Jewish women were marginalized. They accounted for no more than 1.25% of the entries in EJ. This was a matter that would be rectified in NEJ. I do not know whether, in fact, this has been rectified in NEJ. But here are some omissions that seem striking to me.

1. Adele Berlin. A noted Bible scholar in the Department of Hebrew and East Asian Languages at the University of Maryland, her published books include:

Biblical Poetry Through Medieval Jewish Eyes; Dynamics of Biblical Parallelism; Poetics and Interpretation of Biblical Narrative; JPS Bible Commentary: Esther; Lamentations: A Commentary; Zephaniah: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary; and more.

2. Esther Rubinstein (1883-1924). An early advocate of religious Zionism, she was a leading Hebraist, Zionist, educator, and social activist in Vilna. Her learned essays on women’s suffrage paved the way for a change in rabbinic attitudes toward this issue. She founded the first religious day school for Jewish women in Lithuania. See the entry in אנציקלופדיה של הציונות הדתית, Jerusalem, 1983, vol. 5, columns 582-585.

3. Rivka Schatz-Uffenheimer (d. 1992) served as Edmonton Professor of Jewish Mysticism at the Hebrew University. Her many books on Kabbalah and Hasidut (e.g., Hasidism as Mysticism; The Thought of R. Moshe Hayyim Luzzatto [Hebrew]; The Messianic Idea from the Spanish Exile On [Hebrew]; R. Dov Baer of Mezhirech’s Maggid Devarav Le-Yaakov: An Annotated Edition [Hebrew] ) are landmarks in the history of Jewish mysticism.

4. Sara Schenierer (1883-1935), educator and author, founded the first Beth Jacob school in Cracow in 1917. In 1923, she founded the first Beth Jacob teacher’s seminary, also in Cracow. By 1927, there were 87 Beth Jacob schools, with over 10,900 students, in Poland alone. The movement spread throughout Europe, and ultimately to the United States and Israel, where it continues to thrive – with well over 50,000 students – to this very day. She also spearheaded a Jewish youth movement for young girls in Poland, wrote children’s literature and plays. Her collected writings were published in 4 volumes in Hebrew in Tel Aviv, 1955-60.

b) Rabbis.

1. R. Shneur Kotler (1918-1982) succeeded his father, R. Aharon Kotler, as Rosh Yeshiva of the Lakewood Yeshiva. He served in that capacity from 1962 until his death. Under his watch, the Lakewood Yeshiva grew from a student body of 200 students to a student body of over 1000 students. He established a system of Kollels throughout the larger Jewish communities in the United States. He was active in Agudat Israel, Chinuch Atzma’i, Torah U-Mesorah and other educational organizations. It was largely due to his leadership that the Lakewood yeshiva and its affiliate institutions number today well over 4000 students.

2. R. Eleazar Menachem Shach (1898-2001) was Rosh Yeshiva of the Ponevezh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak. From 1970 until his death, he was generally recognized by the Yeshiva world and by much of the Haredi world as the Gadol Ha-Dor. He was an occasional supporter of the Shas party, and was the founder of the Degel ha-Torah party. As such, he wielded enormous power in Israeli politics and the world over. He was the author of a monumental commentary on Maimonides’ Code, entitled Avi Ezri.

3. R. Yosef Shalom Elyashiv (b. 1910) succeeded Rabbi Shach as Gadol Ha-Dor. He is, arguably, the single, most powerful figure in the Yeshiva world and in much of the Haredi world. An expert in Jewish law, he has published some 26 volumes of hiddushim on the Talmud and Shulhan Arukh, as well as collections of responsa.

c) Academic Scholars. Two of the women listed above, Adele Berlin and Rivka Schatz-Uffenheimer, could just as easily have been listed under this rubric, with absolutely no bending of the rules. They were listed above only because of the claim that a special effort was made to include as many women as possible in the new entries for NEJ. Despite the claim, they were not accorded entries in NEJ.

1. Gerald Blidstein holds the Miriam Martha Hubert Chair in Jewish Law at Ben-Gurion University. His publications are simply too numerous to be listed here. Suffice to say that he was awarded the Israel Prize in Jewish Thought in 2006.

2. Menachem Cohen, Professor of Bible at Bar-Ilan University, is the head of the Mikra’ot Gedolot Ha-Keter Project – a project that is preparing for publication the Aleppo Codex and its Masorah, the Aramaic Targums, and critical editions of medieval Jewish commentaries on the Bible. Some 10 volumes have already appeared in print under his aegis. They represent the finest edition of Mikra’ot Gedolot ever produced.

3. Yehuda Liebes holds the Gershom Scholem Chair in Kabbalah at the Hebrew University. His many publications include: Studies in the Zohar; Studies in Jewish Myth and Jewish Messianism; and Elisha’s Sin (Hebrew). His annotated versions of Scholem’s studies are indispensable for scholarly research.

4. Haym Soloveitchik, University Professor at Yeshiva University, taught for many years at the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Yeshiva University. His published books include: Halakhah, Economics, and Communal Self Image (Hebrew); Pawnbroking in the Middle Ages (Hebrew); Wine of Non-Jews (Hebrew); Responsa as Historical Sources (Hebrew). Some of his shorter essays (e.g.“Three Themes in Sefer Hasidim”; “Rupture and Reconstruction”) have stimulated more discussion than books by others on the same topics. He was a recipient of the prestigious National Foundation for Jewish Culture Jewish Cultural Achievement Award in Jewish scholarship.

5. Yaakov Sussman is a world class Talmudic scholar who was awarded the Israel Prize for Talmudic Research in 1997. His many publications on the manuscripts, editions, and the history of the publication of the Mishnah, the Jerusalem Talmud, and the Babylonian Talmud; his edition of the “Miqsat Ma’aseh Torah” fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls; and his edition of the Rechov inscription are the point of departure for all scholarly discussion of those topics.

d) Jewish Communities. As noted above, NEJ allows for an entry on any Jewish community in the United States with 4,500 Jewish residents or more. Thus, e.g., there is an entry on Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania which, perhaps, once had that many Jewish residents. According to the entry in NEJ, there were only 3000 Jewish residents in Wilkes-Barre in 2005. It is therefore somewhat surprising that there are no separate entries in NEJ on:

1. Monsey, N.Y.

2. Teaneck, N.J.

3. Far Rockaway, N.Y.

4. Lawrence, N.Y.

5. Cedarhurst, N.Y.

6. Woodmere, N.Y.

7. Kew Gardens Hills, N.Y.

I do not know the exact Jewish population of any of the towns listed above, but I suspect that each has at least 3000, and in all likelihood more than 4500, Jewish residents. In all fairness, NEJ presents a somewhat detailed discussion of Monsey and Teaneck under other rubrics (Rockland County and Bergen County). But I could not locate any discussion of Far Rockaway, the Five Towns, or Kew Gardens Hills. Each of these communities has a rich history, with many
synagogues, schools, and often institutions of national and international repute. They surely merit entries in NEJ.

6. The previous paragraph presents a rather long list of sins of omission relating to women, rabbis, academic scholars, and Jewish communities. One could easily add more names to each of the categories; and certainly so if yet other categories are examined. Doubtless, some will argue that there is simply no room in a 22-volume encyclopedia for so many “borderline” entries. In order to counter such an argument, I will list here four entries – exactly as they appear on the printed page – that found their way into NEJ.

1. Calwer, Richard (1868-1927). German socialist, economist, and politician. He belonged to the reformist wing inspired by Ferdinand Lasalle within the German Social Democratic Party (SPD). Calwer harbored a strong anti-Jewish bias. In a brochure published in 1894, he attacked the SPD’s radical wing as having been “incited by a few Jews who make slander their business,” and deplored that such “specific” Jewish characteristics as “zealousness, contentiousness, and commercial craftiness” had found their way into the party press and literature. He also criticized the SPD for combating anti-Semitism to the extent of creating the impression that Social Democracy had been “Judaized” (verjudet). Calwer left the SPD in 1909. He was a pioneer in Western socialist non-Marxian economics, which he taught until his suicide in Berlin.

2. Cohen, Philip Melvin (1808-1879), pharmacist and civic leader in Charleston, South Carolina. Cohen, born in Charleston, was the son of Philip Cohen, lieutenant in the War of 1812. During the Second Seminole War Cohen served as surgeon to a detachment of troops in Charleston Harbor (1836). In 1838 he became city apothecary. He was a member of the city board of health (1843-49). Cohen was a director of the Bank of the State of South Carolina (1849-55). He was one of the citizens who served as honorary guard at the funeral of John C. Calhoun in 1850.

3. Nagin, Harry S. (1890- ), U.S. civil engineer. Born in Romny, Russia, Nagin went to the U.S. in 1906. From 1924 he was executive vice president of a large steel products company in Pennsylvania. He took out over a hundred patents on steel structures, bridge floors, gratings, concrete, and plastics.

4. Abrams, “Cal” (Calvin Ross; 1924-1997), U.S. baseball player, lifetime .269 hitter over eight seasons, with 433 hits, 32 home runs, 257 runs, and 138 RBIS. Born in Philadelphia to Russian immigrant parents, he moved with his family to Brooklyn when he was a child. Having grown up in Brooklyn in the shadow of Ebbets field, Abrams fulfilled a life-long dream when he signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers after graduating from James Madison High School. But after two weeks in the minor leagues he was drafted into the army., where he served four years. Abrams spent three years in the minor leagues, winning the Southern Association championship with Mobile in 1947 while hitting .336. Abrams, who batted and threw left-handed, played for the Brooklyn Dodgers (1949-52), Cincinnati Reds (1952), Pittsburgh Pirates (1953-4), Baltimore Orioles (1954-55), and Chicago White Sox (1956), and had a perfect fielding percentage in three different seasons, 1950, 1952, and 1956. Abrams is best remembered for one of the most famous plays in Dodger franchise history. In the final game of the 1950 season, with the Dodgers one game behind the Philadelphia Phillies in the pennant race, Abrams tried to score from second with two out in the bottom of the ninth of a 1-1 game on a hit by Duke Snider, but Abrams, who had been waved home by third base coach Milt Stock, was thrown out by the Phillies’ Richie Ashburn. Had Cal scored, the Dodgers would have won the game and forced a playoff with the Phillies for the pennant. Dick Sisler hit a three-run home run in the top of the tenth to win the game – and the pennant – for Philadelphia. It was the closest Abrams ever got to the post-season. Dodgers fans vilified Abrams for years but he was defended by both Ashburn and Phillies pitcher Robin Roberts for the play, who agreed with many others who said that Abrams should not have been sent home by Stock.


Far be it from me to deny Richard Calwer (a non-Jew), Philip Melvin Cohen, Harry S. Nagin , and Cal Abrams – not exactly household names – their rightful place in Jewish history. But at the expense of Professor Haym Soloveitchik? NEJ inherited the Calwer and Cohen entries from EJ. But the Nagin and Abrams entries are original with NEJ. In the case of Abrams, whose baseball career ended in 1956, this is somewhat surprising, for he obviously didn’t make the cut with EJ in 1972 (in contrast to Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax). Now I am well aware that Rav Shach could not hit major league pitching to save his life, and that his lifetime batting average would have paled in significance to Cal Abrams .269 lifetime batting average. But, really, does Cal Abrams take precedence over Rav Shach in a Jewish encyclopedia?

7. In sum, the returns are hardly in. Not for nothing did we label these comments “preliminary observations.” Much more needs to be investigated before one can judge how well NEJ has captured the totality of past Jewish life, and the pulse of present Jewish life, as reflected in the 2007 edition. But until all the returns are in, hold on to your 1972 edition of EJ for dear life! It is not at all clear that NEJ has superseded, or that it will ever supersede, EJ. All public libraries and private collectors will do well to retain their 1972 editions of EJ and keep them precisely on the same shelves they have now occupied for some 35 years.

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