Thursday, December 30, 2010

A description of, and conversation with the great R' Yisroel Moshe Chazan

Following is a passage from "Nach Jerusalem" by Ludwig Frankl (pg. 4 of translation):

I reached, after walking a considerable distance, the stately house of Mr. Chazan, the Head Rabbi of the Ionian Islands. The guide, when I told him to conduct me to him, did not at first understand, till recollecting himself, he said: —

" Ah! you mean to the Archbishop of the Hebrews."

I found the worthy gentleman in a spacious library on the second floor of the house, a lofty figure in a long black girded robe, walking up and down reading a book. A black overcoat, with many folds and a violet border, and a white stiff-pointed collar round the neck, added to his imposing appearance. A broad-flapped hat, reclin ing gently on the head, cast an artistic shade over a pale noble countenance.

Having already learned through the newspapers the object of my journey, he welcomed me with delight, and promised me at once the strongest letters of recommendation to his friends in Jerusalem, the city of his birth. Profoundly versed in Talmudistic lore, and known as a theological writer, he received a call to be Head Eabbi of the community in Rome, where he lived five years, and mastered the Italian language so thoroughly that he was soon accounted one of the most distinguished preachers in Italy. Having been called to Corfu five years ago, he enjoys here also a high reputation. Subsequently, we had the pleasure of calling him our guest at Vienna [1]; soon after, he accepted a call to be Head Rabbi at Alexandria.

Mr. Chazan speaks with great liveliness and force, to which his intellectual and animated countenance in no small measure contributes. A long pale face, with a long black beard, sparkling black eyes beneath stronglymarked, deeply-arched eyebrows, a lofty forehead, and a bold aquiline nose impart to his countenance that style of beauty which we call Oriental, and which caricature reproduces as the characteristic of the whole of our race. He reminded me of Kapistran, who, a century ago, preached at Vienna in the Latin tongue, unintelligible to the masses, but who, by dint of his outward appearance, the powerful tone of his voice, and the energy of his gesticulations, transported every one with enthusiasm.

Mr. Chazan spoke of the very sad condition of the Jews in the Ionian Free States. There are four thousand of them in Corfu, and two thousand in the Island of Zante. Most of them are engaged in trade; only a few support themselves as mechanics. Scarcely any of them are in comfortable circumstances, and notwithstanding the proud title, Ionian Free States, and the Protectorate of England, they neither enjoy liberty nor are they free from oppression.

Jewish children are mocked at in the schools, girls altogether excluded. The Jews of Zante had just drawn up a representation to the Government, begging that their deplorable social condition might be ameliorated.

I requested Mr. Chazan to give me an exact statement of the circumstances of the case, which he promised to send after me to Jerusalem. On my return from the East, I visited him again; he excused himself for not having kept his word, on the ground that the representatives of the community had not deemed it advisable tc make communications, which might become public and give offence to Government.

But when is a Parliament resentful of publicity, especially one opened and led by a Lord High Commissioner of England ? It is everywhere the lot of the oppressed that they do not venture to express that even which the law allows them, and which is becoming the dignity of a manly character.

Mr. Chazan took me to visit the School of the Community, where the managers, having already been informed by him of my intended visit, received me in a friendly manner. About eighty boys, who nearly all exhibited the expression and form of body distinctive of the South, were assembled in a large room. Only a few gave signs of their Jewish descent, a phenomenon which has frequently struck us in the German schools, where the fair hair and blue eyes reminded us as th( most likely explanation of the conduct of the patriarch Jacob, grounded on physiological principles, when hf wished to produce speckled sheep. Winckelmann deduces, among other reasons, the beautiful shape of the Italian head and body, from the sight of the noble forms of sculpture and painting presented to the view in Italy in many different ways.

I was even here introduced to the children, with true Oriental hyperbole, as " the first doctor of Europe," by whose "gracious and happy visit" they ought to feel themselves flattered and elevated, and incited to diligence and good behaviour.

At a given signal with a bell all stood up, and, marching forth from their desks, walked in regular procession round the room, and then arranging themselves at their desks, every child took his own place again. Mr. Chazan explained to me that in the hot climate this exercise was necessary, in order to keep the children awake and ready to receive instruction. They were then examined by the teachers, first in Hebrew, then in Greek and Italian. I observed that the children remained bareheaded [!] while the Hebrew prayer was pronounced ; the answers of the children were lively, and proved that they were well taught.

" Greek," observed one of the managers, " as being the language of the. country, is taught with special care, and with a pure accent, unmarked by any peculiarity. We wish to avoid being derided on account of any defects in our mode of speech," added he, in a low tone, audible only to me.

The only Jew was the teacher of Hebrew and of the Bible; the other teachers were Greeks. When I asked whether there were not Jews in Corfu capable of giving instruction on secular subjects, Mr. Chazan observed :—

" We regret very much that as yet no Jew here possesses that capacity, but we trust in God to be able to train such men among ourselves."

" And have the Jews of acknowledged piety in this island no repugnance to allowing their children to be instructed by Christians "

" Better a learned heathen than a high priest who is an idiot," quoted Mr. Chazan, from the Talmud [2].

1 was equally surprised and delighted with the utterance of such sentiments by a strictly orthodox Rabbi. I took the liberty of putting some questions to the managers on general subjects, which were answered with great caution, and with significant glances at the Christian teachers.

[1] On this same occasion he probably visited Shir who was also much impressed by R' Chazan - see here.
[2] Sanhedrin 59a

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

From Mordechai Kaplans Diary 1973 1/9/73:

I recall very distinctly the first talk Solomon Schechter gave to the students of the new seminary during September 1902 but the only statement that impressed me so that I remember it was "Be sure to read the New Testament."

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Great Judges think alike (or not)

A very famous opinion of Aruch HaShulchan holds:

In the last century or so, the many women who did not cover their hair presented a halachic problem. The previously mentioned halachah that a woman's uncovered hair is considered an ervah regarding Kerias Shema and all blessings, made it practically impossible for men to recite tefillos and blessings or to learn Torah in their own homes. A situation developed which was impossible to live with.

Because of the prevalence of the problem, the Aruch ha-Shulchan(7) ruled that in a locale where the majority of married women do not cover their hair, we can no longer consider hair an ervah. In his opinion, only in a locale where most women keep their hair covered can uncovered hair be considered an ervah. This controversial ruling was accepted by some poskim(8) and strongly rejected by others(9). Harav M. Feinstein(10) ruled that one can rely on this leniency only under extenuating circumstances.

7 75:7.

8 Ben Ish Chai, Parashas Bo 12; Seridei Eish 2:14; Yabia Omer 6:13.

9 Mishnah Berurah 75:10; Chazon Ish O.C. 16:8 and most other poskim.

10 Igros Moshe O.C. 1:39,42,43; O.C. 3:23,24; E.H. 1:114.

A very logical extension of this idea would be the following from Judge Richard Posner in

Miller v. Civil City of South Bend, 904 F.2d 1081, 1091 (7th Cir. Ind. 1990):

Nudity as titillation or outrage is relative rather than absolute. In a society in which women customarily go about in public bare-breasted, there is no shock value in a bare breast, while in Victorian England, where decent women were expected to wear dresses that reached from the top of the neck to the floor -- where even the legs of furniture were sometimes clad for the sake of decency -- a bare ankle was a sensation. Since then female dress has become progressively less modest, and today many decent women appear in public in states of undress (mini-skirts, hot pants, slit skirts, body stockings, see-through blouses, decolletage becoming outright topless evening wear) that would have been considered nakedness, or the garb of prostitutes, thirty years ago. A striptease that ended in a degree of nudity no longer suggestive of preparations for sex -- a striptease that left the stripper garbed as she might be for an expedition to the supermarket -- might lack erotic punch today.

Obviously the Poskim above would not hold this way. (If I am not mistaken, they distinguish between hair which is only a sort of Ervah and actual flesh which is intrinsic ervah.)

However, it does raise some interesting questions concerning the outer boundaries of the halachos of Tznius, how much of the halachos of Tznius were written by Poskim based on the societal mores of their times (eg the Rambam insisting that woman should wear veils (Tzeif) perhaps using Rivkah as his source but almost definitely influenced by the Muslim culture that he was surrounded with), and how should Halacha change based on the societal mores of our own time?

An interesting bit of backlash against Jewish fashion law almost lead to the severance of the great community of Altona Hamburg Wandsbeck. A Jew by the name of Getting passionately declared his unwillingness to give up on his wig [1] in the following letter/blog predecessor:


I cannot deny, that as a true Jew, the behavior of the
community, which can hardly be defended in the face of the
considered judgement of our nation, makes my heart sick.
Therefore, I wish to have no further formal religious
association with them until it pleases them to alter the
intention [of the law in question regarding the hair bag]. I
know that I have acted virtuously and cannot prevent such
entirely unexpected consequences. As long as there exists no
formal association between us, it is natural that by no means
will I touch the [financial] burdens of the Community with
even the tip of my finger. When I want to be charitable
towards my brethren, it should happen according to my
conscience and not according to the regulations of a contract
between us, which has been annulled. Therefore, I formally
protest, until such time as I wish to reunite [with the
Community], against all matters and undertakings, fines and
the like, which the Community is authorized to inflict for the
sole reason that, and only for as long as someone is
recognized as, a member of their Community.
That is because it was in my civil life that I wore a hair bag
Furthermore, I want whoever was responsible for the errors in
this matter to admit it and show remorse. This I ask in virtue
of the high esteem and affection with which I am

your servant,
Moses Joseph Getting
29 April, 1767

Note especially the resentment against the Rabbis for involving themselves in his "civil life" - a very modern sentiment.
The entire rather strange episode is documented in
Horowitz, D.. Fractures and fissures in Jewish communal autonomy in Hamburg, 1710--1782

[1] Apparently this - Getting had been fined for wearing a then highly fashionable silk wig adornment, known as a Haarbeutel or "hair bag." The Brockenhaus Lexikon describes it as "usually a little black silk or taffeta ribbon which sits flat on the upper back, containing the locks of hair down the neck, bound with decorative silk cords."312 The Haarbeutel came into fashion, from France, in the early eighteenth century, and by the time Getting wore his it had "gradually won favor in the most elegant salons"313

Monday, December 27, 2010

From here

(see also)

Two golden pillars - the Strashuns

Biographical sketch of Rashash and his son RMSH - written by a grandson of Rashash.

Of note:

Rasash spoke a fluent Polish. A story of a Kanoi threatening (predicting?) that Rashash's house would burn down for possessing heretical books. RMASH exchanged letters with Zunz and various other stuff.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

(not) quotable quote:

On this note, I would like to address some very disturbing issues. Those Apikorsim in our generation that say that Zohar is not legitimate, and that Kabbalah does not exist, this is exactly what the Rambam is referring to.

R Abadi

(read on for "Kefirah in Artscroll")

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A new edition of the Jewish review of books is out. I especially like their discussion on Chabad as well as the description of the Seforim blog discussion:

The question of Schneerson's rabbinic learning, his beard, and the couple's years in Berlin and Paris have been the subject of a furious dispute between Samuel Heilman and Chaim Rapoport on a popular Orthodox blog site, Seforim. Although somewhat self-righteous and bombastic, Rapoport has gotten the better of the exchange. Even on Heilman and Friedman's account, for instance, it emerges that during the period when Schneerson is supposed to have avoided Hasidic shtiblekh, he was piously fasting every day until the afternoon. Heilman and Friedman hypothesize that this was because he and Moussia were childless, but as Rapoport points out, he began the practice immediately after marriage. The fact that the Schneersons never had children is of extraordinary biographical and historical importance (if they had, the possibility of an eighth Lubavitcher Rebbe might have seemed more thinkable), but Schneerson would have had to be a prophet to begin worrying about this in 1929.
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