Friday, July 04, 2014

The end of חושן משפט in Germany


Mussar from Reform over חוקת הגוים

Excerpt from the American Israelite, from 1857:

In the polemics over Reform, the representatives of Reform took endless delight in pointing out innovations accepted by the Orthodox in one place, but not in others. 

Bonus points because "Rhinehessia" is a pretty cool name.

Rav Gifter's youthful 'ambition' and more

Hirshel Tzig posts this fantastic find, Rabbi Mordechai Gifter's yearbook photo in the 1933 edition of the Elchanite.

The rather interesting inside joke says that his ambition is to the "Chief Rabbi of the Hitler regime."

In the class Who's Who, he's listed as the "Class socialist," which apparently sheds light on his 1933 politics.

Here's a very interesting account by R. Gifter's son about his father's transition to MTA from a Baltimore public high school, and success once there, link:
“My father told me that he knew only one blatt of Gemorah when he went to New York to be tested for admission,” Reb Binyamin Gifter related. “However, he progressed so quickly that he was soon attending the shiurim of HaRav Moshe HaLevi Soloveitchik.” 
The YU yearbooks on are fascinating. For example, here we see that Rabbi Robert Gordis' nickname in high school was "Bob the Gob" (Elchanite 1923):

The same volume used the frontispiece for the Vilna Shas printed by the Romm company for its title page:

These volumes can be pored over for many, many interesting historical and sociological finds, and are well worth perusing. Here's one last item, an excerpt from the 1925 Elchanite, Dr. Pinchas Churgin, Principal of the Teacher's Institute of the Yeshivah (later president of Bar Ilan) gives a Hebraist angle to the value of yeshivas in the modern revival of the Hebrew language:

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

World War I humor for German troops at the front

This is one of the craziest things I've ever seen, and that's saying a lot. This is from a German magazine provided to troops for relaxation and entertainment during WWI. Dated June 19, 1915, this is from the Humor column, of Die Wacht im Osten

And the little anecdote is, a very pious Jewish guy goes to the Wonder-rabbi of Sadagora and asks him who is going to win the war. The rabbi replies, God - Gott. "Gott," asks the man. "Explain it to me?" The rabbi replies, yes, Gott - it stands for G/ermanen O/sterreicher and T/uerkishchen T/rupen.

Before Jenny McCarthy

This was printed on December 19, 1896 in the Daily Mail.

For more info about the reception of vaccines among Jews, see Ruderman, David B. "Some Jewish Responses to Smallpox Prevention in the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries: A New Perspective on the Modernization of European Jewry." Aleph (2002): 111-144.

Cholent nostalgia, 1929

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Vintage Agudath Israel

Regardless of your politics or religious affiliation, I think you'll agree, that this is the funniest subheadline, maybe, ever. 

Because it's from 1914.

Feb. 13, 1914, the Jewish Advocate.

An affair that made a great noise in Amsterdam

This is 1762, and what happened was, a bunch of Jews beat up a Calvinist apostate Jew in Amsterdam. As it happens, he was a sailor, and his fellow sailors went ashore to beat up the Jews who beat up the sailor. However, they were outnumbered, and were beaten up by even more Jews.  

From The London Chronicle, Or, Universal Evening Post.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Better in the company of Shadal...

Here's a rather interesting little postscript to an 1860* letter from Jonas Bondi to Isaac Leeser:

It says, "In Jeschurun I am in the company of Luzzatto, better than Szold, Wise and Illoway."

This refers to the Jeschurun published by Joseph Kobak, not Samson Raphael Hirsch (of whom Bondi was a critic). And he is talking smack about some famous names among the American rabbis of his day - one of whom - Wise - would become his son-in-law! Apparently he liked the company in Jeschurun, but not the American Jewish publications of the day.

* Not 1865, as in the transcription here.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

An English letter from Rabbi Esriel Hildesheimer from 1865

This is an interesting piece that I found on the Isaac Leeser digital archive (link), a handwritten letter from Rabbi Esriel Hildesheimer to the Occident, dated 26 Adar 5625. The letter asks Leeser to print an English version of an account on behalf of the "Central Committee for Building Dwellings for the Poor and Pilgrims in Jerusalem," of which Rabbi Hildesheimer was a member, along with Rabbis Jacob Ettlinger of Altona and Joseph Hirsch of Halberstadt.

Here are two excerpts from the piece, as printed in the Occident, at Rabbi Hildesheimer's request:

Below is the transcription from the site, with some corrections of my own. (If you can make corrections to make the poor English-or should I say, Englisch-in the final line intelligible, here is the link, to the letter.) 

I don't know for sure if this is Rabbi Hildesheimer's own English, but I'd say - chances are.

To the rev. editor of the Occident

Eisenstadt 26 Adar 5625. 
Since the great interest which you have always shown for the 
wellfare (sic) of our brethren in all countries and particularly the unfor- 
tunate Jews of the Holy Land is known to me I have the liberty to 
send you the enclosed statutes etc of the dwellings which we are arecting (sic) on the holy ground and pray you to give insertion to it in your esteemed 
journal in at possible great parties. 
I have the honour to sign 
your humble
Dr. Hildesheimer

Monday, May 05, 2014

The only english Jew that ever wore his Beard

Here is a postscript from an 1853 letter from Samuel Hyman Cohen to Isaac Leeser. Writing from California, Cohen tells Leeser which family he is from, that he is the nephew of "Moses Eliezer Solomons 'ר משה עליעזר זלמן" [sic] "of London and the only english Jew that ever wore his Beard."

"Moses Eliezer Solomons" appears to be the father of Henry Naphthali Solomon (1796-1881), a pioneer in Jewish education in England - and the first cousin of this Samuel Hyman Cohen. The rest of the letter is fascinating, as he had spent several years in China, and tells Leeser about his contact with a Chinese Jew. At first the Jew did not believe he was Jewish, because he did not know שחיטה! But:
"I was verry (sic) ancious (sic) to obtain from him Information respecting the Jews and after showing him my מחזורים מזוזת ערבה כנפוס תפלין and explaining them to him, he said that he was satisfied that I was a Jew, he give me a Invitation to come out to see him..." 
Read the entire letter here.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

An ardent admirer of Jewish physiognomy

This guy *really* likes how Chasidim/ traditional east European Jewish men looked.

Adam Neale, writing in 1818, in his Travels through some parts of Germany, Poland, Moldavia, and Turkey.

Monday, April 28, 2014

A Messianic prophecy for 1840-1, Pt. II

Here's an update to this post, about a 17th century Messianic prophecy for the year 1840-1, apparently predicting the French Revolution, some kind of Russian revolution, Jewish independence, and then the Messiah. This is a copy of the document discussed in that post, copied for some reason, by Isaac Leeser's. See here. Leeser must have had hopes for the year 5601.

This is interesting; an entry for Brian Walton's 1653 - 56 London Polyglot Bible in Kohelet Shlomo - Collectio Davidis, the catalog of Rabbi David Oppenheim's famous library. Interesting, because it includes the New Testament, and the catalog says it was the complete six volumes.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Passover products circa 1842

Here's a nice ad for Passover products from 1842, under the rabbinic supervision of Rabbi Solomon Hirschell (1862-1842). From the Voice of Jacob.

British wine!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

"Adam and Abraham, not "Odam and Afroom" - on an 18th century attempt to prove the correct Hebrew pronunciation tradition

This is really cool. This is a leaf from a manuscript called Sukkat David. It's a notebook of David Franco Mendes, 18th century Hebrew writer and poet of Amsterdam. He is best known (to me, anyway) for being a close friend and disciple of Rabbi Moshe Haim Luzzatto when the latter lived in Amsterdam, and also for being one of the original Meassefim, a contributor to the first periodical of the Berlin Haskalah, where he contributed poems and biographical articles about gedolei yisrael.

This excerpt is from an essay where he is trying to prove that the correct pronunciation of the קמץ is that of the Sephardim (A) and not the Ashkenazim. He offers several proofs, one of which is the way names like Adam and Abraham are transliterated in Greek letters in Josephus, which he points out, is from the last days of the Temple. Being this old, this is a proof that the A pronunciation is correct, while the pronunciation of the Ashkenazim as - wait for it - Odam and Afroom is not.

Check out the other proofs. It's on page 29.

I learned of this page in Berger, Shlomo. "Remus, Romulus and Sephardic Jews in Amsterdam." Studia Rosenthaliana (1992): 38-45, but finally the manuscript has actually been digitized by the amazing Ets Haim Library. Much valuable material can be gleaned from this manuscript and the wealth of others on this site.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

On Solomon Dubno's library

The Freimann-Sammlung digital library at the University of Frankfurt recently added some fantastic bibliographies, including this important one - the catalog that was prepared for the 1814 auction of Solomon Dubno's library (link).

For those who want to make inferences about contents of libraries, his includes Hameasseph, in case anyone is wondering (p. 46, 57.)

Here is the title page.

Can you help me? (No $!)

Reader request: 

If you go to Columbia University, or Harvard or Yale and you are a fan of this blog (sounds so swell-headed, but what can I say?) it is possible you could give me a hand in supporting scholarship. So if this is you, please email me ( db min9@aol .com ) and I will tell you how you can help, ask for it, and you can decide if you'd like to do so. No pressure before, during, or after. Responses themselves are highly appreciated.

Many thanks!


The stone in question

Many thanks to Michael Brocke for his cogent remarks on my post on a gravestone from Regensburg (link). Michael followed it up by sending me a photograph of the stone, with some additional remarks on the name and date.

He informs me that after the expulsion of the Jews from Regensburg in 1519 this stone, as many others, were appropriated as trophies. I don't think you can see it so well in the picture, but he says that below the inscription is the coat-of-arms of the new 'owner.'

Thursday, January 16, 2014

On an interesting gravestone from 1463

I was looking through a book called Das jetzt Anno 1723 lebende Regensburg... which is, as you surmise, about the history of Regensburg. I noticed at the end it has a number of transcriptions of gravestones in the Jewish cemetery. All are worth looking at, but here is one that caught my interest, because it calls the young woman "הבחורה." At first I thought that could have been a transcription error - there are others - and it may have actually said "הבתולה." I think this usage is interesting. Perhaps it was common, but I've not come across it before. In any case, another stone in the book, for a married woman, uses it; Justina bat Rabbi Schelomia, which one imagines, was the 15th century diminutive of Shelomo, eshet Rabbi Menachem.

Here is my translation:
Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night (Jer. 8:23)
On the passing of the modest lass ("בחורה"), Miss Gutrut,
Daughter of Rabbi Jacob Halin, [her] slumber was requested from Heaven*, on Friday,
The 24th of Kislev (Dec. 15), in the year
224 (1463)
*If I got that right.

It is worth noting that the verse in Jeremiah ends with the phrase "for the slain of the daughter of my people," so one wonders if it was left off because Miss Gertrude died of natural causes or if, to the contrary, this verse was chosen because she was, indeed, slain.

One final note. Another grave, from 1540, is from a woman named Blume (that's how the German translator understood it) and here is how it is written in Hebrew letters: פלומא.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

On decrees concerning rabbinic ordination from 1603

In 1603 rabbis in Germany[1] held a synod in Frankfurt, where they enacted takkanot. The takkanot were translated into German (three separates ones, according to Rabbi Marcus Horovitz[1]) since, in the prior century, various rabbinic synods were treated highly suspiciously by the non-Jews. 

Many of these takkanot are of interest (such as #6, which comes down harshly against coin counterfeiting and the forging of debt documents, stating that much harm has come to the Jews because of this, and decreeing both herem and turning counterfeiters over to the king). But I want to highlight #5, because I came across a summary of it in English in a book from only a few years later, which is interesting to see.

Here is the text of the takkana, as printed by Horovitz. It concerns the manner in which rabbis can be ordained in Germany (and, incidentally, we see that the term bahur was used even for a young married man).

And here is how it is summarized in Purchas his Pilgrimage, v.5, (London 1626).[3] As you can see, he refers to this very takkana, enacted by the "Chief RR [=rabbis] of Frankford":

Since Purchas, in his attempt to explain the Jewish forms of ordination then in vogue, the titles Morenu, Chaver, and Bachur, relates them to the Christian university degrees of Doctor, Licentiate and Bachelour, I thought it worth highlighting an interesting couple of sentences from Abarbanel's commentary to Mishna Avot that I was recently looking at (link). He writes that in Spain and the places of its exiles, they did not ordain rabbis, following the old practice not to ordain outside of the and of Israel. He continues as follows:

"But after arriving in Italy I found there a widespread custom to ordain one another. I saw that the Ashkenazim had all been ordained, and ordained others, as rabbis, and I do not know who gave them permission to do so. [I thought] perhaps they had followed the gentiles in making themselves Doctors."

And since we mention Italy, here is how Rabbi Leon Modena described ordination in his Riti (1650 English translation:

[1] Obviously not in the modern sense. For example, Takkana 12 concerns printing, and refers to Basel, then a major center of Hebrew printing, and juxtaposes it with "or another city in Ashkenaz." Basel, in Switzerland, was in "Germany."
[2] Die Frankfurter rabbinerversammlung vom jahre 1603, p. 5. See also Louis Finkelstein Jewish Self-Government in the Middle Ages, Chapter 8, on the 1603 Frankfurt synod and the takkanas.
[3] The full title of this book, by Samuel Purchas, is: Purchas his Pilgrimage. Or Relations of the World and the Religions Observed in all Ages and Places Discovered, from the Creation unto this Present. And since this continues for a paragraph, here is the title page:

Thursday, January 09, 2014

A 21st century responsum - the Shabbos Blettel asks if it is permitted to lie on a school's internet questionnaire

One of the more interesting, creative works I've seen in the past couple of years is the Shabbos Blettel, which is an incredible (mostly) Yiddish periodical published online.

After a hiatus, there is a new issue (#11) and it contains the following responsum concerning the question of whether or not it is permitted to lie on a Chareidi school's questionnaire about technology use. These invasive questionnaires are increasingly standard, requiring parents to respond. But with only one kind of answer acceptable, parents who own devices such as smartphones generally feel compelled to answer untruthfully, or invite scrutiny that they do not need. Currently, these questionnaires mostly rely on some form of the honor system (with caveats). So, is it permissible to lie?

Here is the responsum:

Here is a link to a pdf of this responsum: link

And to the entire issue: link

Monday, January 06, 2014

A beautiful translation of a Gordon poem; a guest post

I would like to post this wonderful free translation of the first part of Yehuda Leib Gordon's 1875 poem Kotzo Shel Yud. This was originally posted by my talented friend הערשי at Kave Shtiebel, and he gave me permission to post it here:

Jewish wife, who shall know your life?
It comes in the dark, and leaves no mark
Your joys and your anguishes, your hopes and your wishes
In your heart born, and in your heart worn

The world and all the pleasure
For others to treasure
The life of the Jewess a perpetual grind
Forever in her house confined
Bear, deliver, rear, and litter
Bake, and make, and wither

So what if you’re blessed, beauty you possessed
A heart refined, a keen mind
Study is bane, beauty vain
Talent a defect, knowledge abject

Your voice is crude, your hair lewd
You are naught, a goatskin filled with blood and rot
The Serpent’s pest, in you rests

Like the infected, by your own kin rejected
From scholarship, and from the house of worship
In the houses of merriment, you but lament

Good you don't master, the tongue of you ancestor
Thus you are barred, from the Lord’s yard
And you don't hear, the blessing the jeer
“Lord we bless, for not creating us a lass”

Like the heathen and the slave you are rated
Like a hen to breed fated
A heifer threshes, milk gives the cow
What use is it with knowledge to endow?
Why waste time you to rear
Those who follow your counsel in hell will sear

Not only has God closed your womb
Took your husband in your bloom
The cream of your days you while through
But you await your husband’s brother to pull his shoe

On your fathers bed you most grieved
From his inheritance nothing received
They deprive you not only the material
But keep from you the ministerial
For themselves commandments two forty eight
Only three for poor you, said the cheapskate

You are miserable so, Jewess!
You crave to know, to live, but alas
God’s sprout, wilting in drought
Not by sun rays dry, but away from the eye
Fertile soil, bearing luscious fruit with toil
For want of plow, grows weed now

Ere you matured into a conscious soul
You were thrust into a motherly role
Before they taught her, to be a daughter
She married, and her own children carried

Wed him, have you even met him?
Love him, aye; have you cast an eye?
You’re loved, what? Wretched, you know not
Love is apart, from the Jewish heart?

Forty days before, her mother bore
Her match-maker, destined her taker
What good will it do, to take a view
What will it add, to see the lad?

What’s love? Our mothers knew not
We shall not put off, our sister a slut
Head furled, face shrouded in veil
Hair curled, to the razor avail

Why have you eyed, who stands by your side
Whether crippled or bald, whether young or old
It’s all to the same use, you don’t get to choose
Your father will accord, he is your lord
Like chattel sold, from hold to hold

Are they like Aramites to inquire, after the girl’s desire?
As a maiden, your father is your warden
Your husband you please, under his auspices.

Your husband knows no art, he is not skilled
Never planted a vineyard, nor a house built
When the dowry is drawn
The family spawn
He sets looking for a trade
Dejected and dismayed
With options few, he has no clue
He runs away in the night, and leaves you chained in plight.

This is the story, of the Jewess’ glory.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

"This is the story of the uncovering of the hair of Jewish women..."

This is a fascinating anecdote I came across in R. Chizkiya Feivel Plaut's biography of the Chasam Sofer included in his Likutei Chever Ben Chayim (link).

The story, as told to the author by Rabbi Daniel Prosstitz (a close friend of the Chasam Sofer) takes place in 1785, when the 23 year old Moses Sofer accompanied his rebbe Rabbi Nathan Adler on his journey to Baskowitz, where he was to become rabbi. When in Vienna, they stayed in the home of a wealthy man, Reb Nathan Arnstein - who was none other than the banking giant Adam Isaac von Arnstein (1715-1785).[1] Rabbi Nathan Adler has sent young Moshe out on some errand, and when he returned, he stumbled into a room where the host's daughter-in-law was sitting, bareheaded, having her hair done in a "frisiere" - her hair was being styled. Fuming, the boy berated the hostess, "Is this how a married Jewish woman goes?" Not surprisingly, she told her husband's father that if the guests are not thrown out immediately then she was going - to Berlin, to her father's home. (Her father was Daniel Itzig (Jaffe) in Berlin, an interesting personality in his own right, how maintained a Beit Midrash in his home, which luminaries such as the Peri Megadim frequented.)

So - and one imagines this part of the story is either imagined in the retelling, on behalf of the kind man who hosted great rabbis, or was meant to soften the blow to the guests - Nathan Adam von Arnstein approached them, thanked the young man for chastising his son's wife, and asked them if they would remove themselves to another apartment of his, a better one, so that his wife would not travel on the holiday, as it was Pesach.

Concludes the teller, Rabbi Plaut, go check if Reb Nathan Arnstein has any Jewish descendants! And this is the story of the uncovering of the hair of Jewish women...

The woman? Fanny von Arnstein, whose Wikipedia page says "In 1814, Fanny von Arnstein introduced a new custom from Berlin, hitherto unknown in Vienna: the Christmas tree."

This, presumably, is what the young Chasam Sofer found, when he wound up in the wrong room:

[1] Actually, Fanny's husband was Nathan Adam von Arnstein - I assume that in the story the son and father's names were confused.

On fundraising for fake, or at least unknown, yeshivas and institutions in 1924

This fascinating article by Rabbi S. Felix Mendelsohn discusses a fundraising letter for a "Yeshivah Rabbi Akiba Eiger" of which it wasn't entirely clear if it actually existed. But even if it did, the point was that the provenance of the institution which was "unauthorized and superfluous" was simply unknown and suspect. Mendelsohn is particularly perturbed that 29 names of officers and directors are listed on the stationary, 6 being rabbis, and not one of them was known. And he also cannot forgive the name - Yeshivah, rather than Yeshivath.

From the Sentinel May 15, 1924.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The rise of Kashrut observance noted in 1935

This interesting note is from the Telling It In Gath column by Rabbi Louis I. Newman in the Sentinel, a Jewish newspaper based in Chicago (4.11.1935 issue).

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The ban on the pietistic activities of Rabbi Nosson Adler of Frankfurt

A friend wanted to see the actual writ of excommunication against Rabbi Nathan Adler of Frankfurt. Here it is.

And here's a very high res image (click for full size):

See Rachel Elior's article on R. Nosson Adler (here), which describes the circumstances and includes a transcription of the text, with notes.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Lithuania in New York - a rabbinic visit to Syracuse in 1929

Here's a notice about Rabbi Baruch Ber Leibowitz's visit to Syracuse in July 1929, with his son-in-law R. Reuven Grozovski.

Their portrait appeared in the Syracuse Herald in July 1926 as well:

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

An imaginary portrait of the Ramchal as a young man

I mocked up this whimsical portrait of Rabbi Moses Hayyim Luzzatto to hang up in your Sukkah. Sadly, no true portrait of this personality exists - I took some (some??) poetic license in imagining him. This actually is a Northern Italian youth, albeit one born 200 years before Ramhal. Something about his face made him seem appropriate, even if the clothes aren't. The other elements are... at least from the 18th century.

Gut yontif, Chag sameach!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Beards and beardlessness in Italian Jewish history, Pt. II

See Part I.*

Here's a beautiful depiction of prayer for the sick, captioned by Psalm 34:23, and one imagines, of contemporary Italian Jews. This is from Imre Lev (Asti 1852, a compendium of prayers translated into Italian by Rabbi Marco Tedeschi (1817 - 1869), future Chief Rabbi of Trieste.

Note the facial hair on many of the men, even though Italian Jews had long been known for being clean-shaven (and obviously some did grow beards). I think in the mid-19th century beards had been making a fashionable comeback, and that is the likely explanation. c.f. the facial hair on Ohev Ger Luzzatto, a young man born in 1830, as compared to his father born in 1800. Ohev Ger (below) died in 1854, around this time. 

And here is Tedeschi himself, incidentally, also a student of Shadal. By the look of the man, this is presumably in the 1860s (and see here, for another portrait of him in canonicals):

See here for an earlier post about how the German fashion of growing facial hair was perceived in England in 1848.

* Hope it holds up!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Contemporary Hasidic audodidactism

This is an incredibly interesting and poignant audio piece by Frimet Goldberger about the thirst for education among Chasidim, and how they overcame - and are still overcoming - hurdles to get it. 

Great interview material, and all I can say is that I wish I could hear the uncut interviews with each subject. It's less than 20 minutes, and really left me wanting much more. A must listen. Really.

It is an audio piece, so be sure to listen and not just read the summary.

PS I was inspired by this - this was absolutely worth coming out of hibernation for. I will be back to regular posting. Really.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A baal shem and his bochurim

I'll be back. But I'm taking a break from my break to post this incredible photo (I'd never seen it) of R. Elia Guttmacher. Terminus post quem - 1874.

This photo appears in Rev. Samuel Marcus Gollancz's Biographical Sketches and Selected Verses (London 1930).

Thursday, July 04, 2013

The synagogue on the skyline of lower Manhattan, 1770

This is a map of the houses of worship and some other principle buildings in New York. #12 is "Jew's Synagogue." It refers to Shearith Israel, then in its Mill Lane location, which it occupied from 1730 to 1834.


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