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.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Well they're in the Bronx

If this be so, then the contentions of the defendant as to the inappropriateness of Yeshiva University and Planned Parenthood occupying space in the same commercial office building are of little moment. Indeed, the argument that there is a fundamental conflict in [***14] the outlook of these two groups with respect to the need and practice of birth control is a matter of theological disputation in which courts should not be immersed. "Be fruitful, and multiply" commands the Bible, (Genesis, I, 28.) But the Talmud recognizes the propriety of birth control by females to preserve life and health. (See Guttmacher, "Traditional Judaism and Birth Control", 16 Judaism, No. 2, pp. 159-165 [1967].)

Defendant's own witness, Dr. Alvin I. Schiff conceded that less than 10% of the Jewish population would find the activities of Planned Parenthood anathema to them, but felt the potential controversy that might be engendered even with this small but intensely devout group was ample justification for refusing consent to the sublease. If indeed the potentiality for controversy were a serviceable standard for measuring the acceptability of a subtenancy, many of our most socially useful institutions would be homeless vagrants on the streets, and [*37] our buildings would be [**163] tenanted by bland, unexceptionable models of propriety and dullness. Even proponents of unpopular ideas are entitled to a roof over their heads. Landlords are not censors -- [***15] their dominion is over realty, not ideas. Their ownership of property does not confer upon them the right to reject subtenants merely because their ideas differ from their own.

The contradictions in the defendant's position are highlighted by the undisputed testimony that the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, one of the most prestigious components of Yeshiva University gives a course on birth control, that it sponsors four birth control clinics, and that its head of the department of gynecology and obstetrics also serves as chairman of the medical committee of Planned Parenthood. When asked if this was a source of embarrassment to the university administration, the answer forthcoming was, "Well, they're in the Bronx". In other words, since Planned Parenthood would be listed on the building directory, defendant is more fearful of being tarred with the brush of association by proximity than with association by actual affiliation! I find its fears that somehow the occupancy of space in its building by the executive offices of Planned Parenthood (not for a clinic or for public meetings, mind you) would inhibit the university's fund-raising activities are entirely without foundation.

American Book Co. v. Yeshiva University Development Foundation

297 N.Y.S.2d 156

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A remarkable letter from R Moshe Feinstein

Published in the beginning of Chaim Bloch's pamphlet on artificial insemination - יהיו מחניך קודש

Marc Shapiro published a very interesting exchange of letters between R' Moshe and the Seridei Eish in Hamayan 34:2 pg (for some reason that volume is not yet on The letters concern attempts to persuade a man in Switzerland to give a get to his wife and they show the great efforts taken by these Gedolim to help this woman. I hope letters of this kind will be included in the new collection of R' Moshe's writings as they show his greatness not just as a posek but as a great leader who was genuinely concerned about those who came to him for help .

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Monday, September 13, 2010

Odd piece of post war Israeli history - Bloch Archive

Here. As I understand it, the Mayor of Bnei Brak (Aharonowitz) desired to go to the Gerrer Rebbe (at that time the Beis Yisroel?) for Yomim Noraim, however the Rebbe refused to have anything to do with the "group of betrayers" (Poalei Agudas Yisrael whom Aharonowitz apparently supported). He sent the Ponevizher Rav an R' (Moshe?) Landau to speak to the Rebbe on his behalf bu to no avail.

Bloch collection - R' Moshe Feinstein

Here is the only letter of R' Moshe Feinstein in the LBI Bloch Archive. RMF is sending Bloch 5 dollars for his book מי נתן and thanking him for reminding his wife because RMF is busy and had forgotten.

Bloch claims to have had more extensive correspondence with R' Moshe in his pamphlet והיה מחניך קדוש against R' Moshe's p'sak on artificial insemination (See also Igros Moshe EH 2:11). Bloch asked R' Moshe if he permitted him to publish this pamphlet against him. R' Moshe's response is a classic and well worth reading. I hope to scan and place online next time I have access to the pamphlet..

Monday, September 6, 2010

Bloch archive - R' Aharon Kotler and the early years of BMG

On pg. 453 of Reel 5 of the Bloch archive we have the following two letters from the founder of Beth Midrash Govoha, R' Aharon Kotler. I placed the letters at Scribd here (Thanks to S. and Parshablog for explaining to me how to do this):

I think the 2nd letter is particularly meaningful. You hear a great deal about R' Aharon Kotler's mesiras nefesh in "bringing Torah to America" however it is nice to see this in his own word. You can see his great pride in the achievements of "his bachurim" and the great difficulty he had in raising funds to keep the Yeshiva going .

The first letter most likely involves one of R Bloch's many pamphlet against HaRav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin and like most gedolim of that generation (as I will show in future posts), R'Aharon Kotler would take none of Bloch's nonsense. This despite the fact that Bloch seems to have been a donor to the Yeshiva (as per the 2nd letter).

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Some fascinating letters - Chaim Bloch collection - 1 - Lubavitcher Rebber

Leo Baeck has made available the archival collection of the controversial writer, forger Chaim Bloch.

Some pages worth looking at:

pg. 99 ff - Letters to the Lubavitcher Rebbe Zt"l. Some of these letters have been published in Igros Kodesh but most have never been published.

On pg. 111 we have two drafts of a response to the Rebbe regarding his accusation that he forged the letter of the Rogatchover against Zionism (See Prof. Marc Shapiro's post at Seforim for more details) . Here is my partial transcription ( and corrections would be greatly appreciated):

בשם אלקים חיים, י' שבט הלולא דמרן אדמו"ר הרה"ז ליובאוויטש זצ"ל, תש"כ

ה' לישרים תושיה ותשועה, הוד כבוד הרב הגאון שר התורה והיראה, גבר חכם כבוד מוה"ר מנחם מענדל האדמו"ר מלובאוויטש שליט"א

אחדש"ה, נצטערתי צער רב על מכתביו של כ"ג נ"י. ואבה נא להבין מעמד הדבר שלא אוכל לחבול בעצמי לפסול את ספרי ולקבור אותו בעוצם ידי. שקלתי כל הדבר היטב ואודיע בזה לכ"ג שהכונותי כבר ? והקדמה ארוכה כבר ערכתי בעה"י וכדי להוציא את דעת? כ"ג כהוגן מוכן אני בל"נ לשום מכתב כ"ג בתוך ההקדמה ואתו אדבר דברים אחדים מצדי בכבוד הראוי לכ”ג אדמו”ר נ”י.בא א[ני] איפוא בבקשה גדולה לכ"ג להרשות לי להדפיס את המכתב האחרון ואפשר גם את הראשון

בשם אלקים חיים מוצש"ק יתרו תש"כ

באפוקי שבתא ברכתא לאת חדתא להוד כהוד הרב הגאון שר התורה בוצינא קדישא חסידא ופרושא מוה"ר מנחם מענדל שניאורסאהן שליט"א ובו ? ושב כל טוהר שמי חלדו?,

אחד"ש בהערצה, הנה על מכתבי מיום י' שבט (למעלה) לא נתכבדתי בתשובה. גמרתי את ההקדמה ארוכה ? עוד יובן לא אזכור מערעורו על המכתבים להגאון מדווינסק זצ"ל. אכניס בל"נ שני מכתבים מהגאון הזה נגד הציונית שאינם מובנים רק לתלמידי חכמים מובהקים ואתן הערה שהמכתבים האלה לא היו ? דרשו ממני שכתוב באר היטב. גם זאת אעיר שגם על הספר בשמים ראש עם כבא דהרסנא

? בכל זאת הרבה גדולים סורים ומוזכר (בהשיב משה) להגאון מאוהל ?? ובעל פתחי שובה

בשם אלקים חיים, י' שבט הלולא דמרן אדמו"ר הרה"ז kיובאוויטש זצ"ל, תש"כ

ה' לישרים תושיה ותשועה, הוד כבוד הרב הגאון שר התורה והיראה, גבר חכם כבוד מוה"ר מנחם מענדל האדמו"ר מלובאוויטש שליט"א

אחדש"ה, נצטערתי צער רב על מכתביו של כ"ג נ"י. ואבה נא להבין מעמד הדבר שלא אוכל לחבול בעצמי לפסול את ספרי ולקבור אותו בעוצם ידי. שקלתי כל הדבר היטב ואודיע בזה לכ"ג שהכונותי כבר ? והקדמה ארוכה כבר ערכתי בעה"י וכדי להוציא את דעת? כ"ג כהוגן מוכן אני בל"נ לשום מכתב כ"ג בתוך ההקדמה ואתו אדבר דברים אחדים מצדי בכבוד הראוי לכ”ג אדמו”ר נ”י.בא א[ני] איפוא בבקשה גדולה לכ"ג להרשות לי להדפיס את המכתב האחרון ואפשר גם את הראשון

בשם אלקים חיים מוצש"ק יתרו תש"כ

באפוקי שבתא ברכתא לאת חדתא להוד כהוד הרב הגאון שר התורה בוצינא קדישא חסידא ופרושא מוה"ר מנחם מענדל שניאורסאהן שליט"א ובו ? ושב כל טוהר שמי חלדו?,

אחד"ש בהערצה, הנה על מכתבי מיום י' שבט (למעלה) לא נתכבדתי בתשובה. גמרתי את ההקדמה ארוכה ? עוד יובן לא אזכור מערעורו על המכתבים להגאון מדווינסק זצ"ל. אכניס בל"נ שני מכתבים מהגאון הזה נגד הציונית שאינם מובנים רק לתלמידי חכמים מובהקים ואתן הערה שהמכתבים האלה לא היו ? דרשו ממני שכתוב באר היטב. גם זאת אעיר שגם על הספר בשמים ראש עם כבא דהרסנא

? בכל זאת הרבה גדולים סורים ומוזכר (בהשיב משה) להגאון מאוהל ?? ובעל פתחי שובה

See pg. 115 for an additional "defense" letter by Bloch which I have not yet transcribed.

Bloch also met with the Rebbe regarding this issue as well - see pg. 129


Monday, August 9, 2010

A "Rabbi" walks into a missonary lecture..

The letters of Rebbeca Gratz are online here. Here are some interesting excerpts:

..we have a new made Christian Saint here, going the rounds of all the churches, who has recently been ordained a Minister of the Gospel & who, if I am not mistaken will disappoint his flock the Rev'd Joseph Wolfe, the famous converted Jew-I read a book he published some years ago, his journal in Palestine which is as little to the purpose of religion as are the discourses I have heard he preaches- but the novelty of a Jew preaching the Gospel is irresistible and the churches are crowded- Leeser went to hear him, and was simple enough to write him a note in hebrew, pointing out some misquotations he made from a learned German author- which he turned to good account, by reading from his pulpit as from a Rabbi, wishing him to retract- ....

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

And these are scholars...

I've been following the amusing exchange between R Chaim Rapoport and Prof's Heilman and Friedman over at Seforim blog. A commenter to a post about sockpuppets on the comment thread there notes that:

What you didn't realize Josh, is that Heilman & Friedman also wrote 41 sock puppet comments!

Needless to say that this is completely unprofessional and should deservedly land them in a heap of trouble.

Click on the "guest" of the second comment who wrote: "I think the Blog was the one who decided to limit posting on this", and you'll see that it's the same account which originally wrote the comment "Since this blog has not been either able or willing to post our final response to Chaim Rapoport's latest posting..." signed "Samuel Heilman & Menachem Friedman"!!!

However H & F hide their identity in the other comments by referring to themselves in third person such as:

Aren't there also a series of comments that begin with the assumption that F & H are out to smear the Rebbe?

Did you read the book? They mention the phone directory on p. 304!!


A rather odd story about the magical powers of Perek Shirah

S. sent me the very interesting collection of letters of Shadal's cousin Shmuel Chaim Lolli. Some of the letters discuss Shadal's Vikuach Al Kabbalah. In the discussion of the prophetic power of dreams on pg. 82 (recently referenced by Eliezer Brodt in his magnificent post here), Lolli records the following anecdote:

I think its fascinating that A - this "miracle" is very similar to the many wondrous stories that circulate today. B - The phenomenon of women reciting Perek Shira is not a product of our own era.

I thought it odd that this "prophecy" was delivered to the gentile maid and not to Bas Sheva directly. If a rational explanation of this story is needed, it is not impossible that the gentile maid would have heard Bas Sheva lecturing on the benefits of Perek Shira at one time or another which later surfaced in this dream.

Friday, July 16, 2010


I saw a really nice discussion regarding the minhag to wish L'chaim over wine in Alei Tamar to Brachos 6:8. He discusses the three Tannaitic sources that refer to the minhag and the many intricate details on the correct way to wish L'chaim.

There are several creative explanations on the reason for the custom.

The Avudraham and Daas Z'keinim to Emor explain that this is based on the opinion that the forbidden fruit that brought death into the world was a grape. Therefore, when drinking wine one says L'chaim to counteract this effect. Also, because one who was sentenced to death was first given wine in order to confuse him. Therefore, wine is symbolic of death.

Another possible explanation (I don't have any source for this) is on the custom I have seen of having wine to separate between fish and meat courses as having the two together is considered dangerous. The L'chaim can refer to the fact that the wine counteracts this danger.

Most likely this is just another example of cultural borrowing. Wikipedia notes that:

According to various apocryphal stories, the custom of touching glasses evolved from concerns about poisoning. By one account, clinking glasses together would cause each drink to spill over into the others (though there is no real evidence for such an origin)[2] According to other stories, the word 'toast' became associated with the custom in the 17th century, based on a custom of flavoring drinks with spiced toast. The word originally referred to the lady in whose honor the drink was proposed, her name being seen as figuratively flavoring the drink.[3][4] The International Handbook on Alcohol and Culture says toasting "is probably a secular vestige of ancient sacrificial libations in which a sacred liquid was offered to the gods: blood or wine in exchange for a wish, a prayer summarized in the words ‘long life!’ or ‘to your health!’”[5]

In regards to the last reason offered. In a recent trip to the Met, I saw the following vessel which contains the

Although, it might seem strange that a Hellenistic pagan custom should have entered the Jewish canon. we do know of cases where this has happened. See S. Lieberman Hellenism in Jewish Palestine for examples.

Re: the question of cultural borrowing, I recently noticed the parallel between the Japanese tale of Urashima Taro, and the Talmudic story of Choni HaMaagel (See here) although it is highly unlikely that either culture had any contact with each other.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Sunday, July 4, 2010

On some Italian Rabbis and their beards

(Some comments on this post by Yitzhak)

1 - A letter of R' Kook expressing a similar sentiment on the question of beard-wearing can be found in letter 466 of Igros HaReiyah in which he quotes a story about R' Chaim of Volozhin dismissing the kabbalistic importance of beards while at the same time "one must admit that 'the Jewish sense of beauty' is agreeable to waring a beard and it should be viewed as a nice custom in a place where the custom is to be stringent, and it can be called a Mitzvah Kallah like the wearing of black shoelaces."

2 -Much ink has been spilled on the difficult question of Rema M' Fano's beard. See Likutei He'aros on the Responsa of Chasam Sofer there for many sources on the question. It does appear that Chasam Sofer is incorrect and the passage in Eilim is referring to Yashar himself. See here for a "drawing" of Rema M'Fano and here for a drawing of Yashar both supporting beards (or in the case of Yashar at least a goatee). I have not been able to trace the background of the drawings and do not know if they are authentic (I see now that I missed the lengthy post on the subject here.)

3 - That many Italian Rabbis did forgo the beard is well-known. A great example is the photo of R' Moshe Chafetz in Dan's article here.

4 - Re: the question of Ramchal's beard, one of the complaints cited by his adversaries was that he shaved his beard, The apologetic on this point are most amusing. Either the Ramchal knew how to shave without upsetting any of the 13 middos etc., etc. or, "everyone knows that Italians grow their beards later then the rest of humankind (!?)".

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Early Reform Responsa - Rabbi Dr Simon (Shimon Aryeh) Schwabacher has uploaded a fascinating sefer - תקנות עגונות. The Sefer (only volume two is available online -Update: Both volumes are available here [2]) revolves around the difficult issue of a woman who is required to do Yibum with an apostate[1]. R' Yitzchok Elchonon Spektor was initially one of the mattirim but was forced to retract for reasons that are not entirely clear.

What I find particularly interesting is that the editor of this pamphlet and the correspondent in many of the letters is R' Shimon Aryeh Schwabacher, the successor of R' Avraham Kohn of the infamous Temple of Lemberg.

His picture (from his biography Pnei Aryeh - available here)

As you can read in his biography, he was much more moderate then his predecessor. Even so, it is really nice to see that the great Rabbis of the time such as Netziv and R' Yosef Zechariah Stern saw no problem in corresponding with him and even providing all the customary honorifics.

A third volume was promised but to the best of my knowledge was never published.

[1] A similar case came before R' Samson Raphael Hirsch. You can see his great efforts on behalf of the agunah in a series of letters in Shemesh Marpeh (one can also see the letters sent to R' Hirsch on this case in a separate pamphlet published by Bar Ilan. This was also the subject of the acrimonious correspondence between the Rogatchover and the Seridei Eish. There the Rogatchover castigates the SE for his insistence that we must follow the Rema and Chasam Sofer, (the Rogatchiver refers to them as נמושות ). I see that the Netziv (pg. 63) argues similarly to the SE that:

אפילו אם יש בזה עיגון ודעתי לסמוך על גאוני קרמאי שאין המומרים זוקקים בכ׳ז אחר שהוא ננד פיסקי השו"ע מה אני כשאני לעצמי לצאת בהוראה כזה ומראש כתבתי בתשובתי שהעתקתי כי אפ' בהצטרף דעת גאוני הדור יצ׳ו אהיה נם אני כיהודה ועוד להני תנאי ור׳ שלום ישכון שלום וברכה בישראל
but I am not certain if the cases are identical.

[2] The "Maskil who was close to the Rabbonim" referred to in the Introduction in the section against the Maskilim was Chaim Zelig Slonimski. Yaakov Reifman also wrote a response to this article which was published posthumously in Ohr Hamizrach by Meir Hershkowitz.

Some Links

1 - Eitam Henkin has a great post on censorship in the new work of R' Kook L'Nevuchei HaDor.

2 - Kevin has an interesting comment on the Bible and its commentaries.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

This is scholarship...

"Mr. Heilman maintained that Lubavitcher accounts can’t be trusted because they are hagiographies and said that he and Mr. Friedman did not examine the rebbe’s extensive writings on scripture because they were interested in his personal history, not his scholarship."

(Review - here)

An idiotic statement to put it mildly. Personal biography can hardly be divorced from scholarly writings. Many biographies are largely based on scholarly writings. It is largely in such writings that we can see the thought process of the subject and track their interests, ideals and beliefs.

PS - An interesting thread concerning one of the topics under debate (the Rebbe's Semicha from the Rogatchover) can be found here.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Chafetz Chaim on the correct attitude to "Off the Derech" children

ודע דעצה זו האמור בקרא כולל מור לכמה סוגי אגשים שהם אינם סריסים בעצם ואעפ״כ לא עדיפי מהם ואדרבה גדועים מהם כגון שיש לו בנים שסרו מדרך התורה [לפי מה שמצוי בעונ״ה שהולכים למדינות רתוקות ונעשה בעיניהם הפקר התורה ומצותיה וכל כי האי גוונא] דשם אף בלתי עצה זו שנתן לנו הש״י לא יוכל הסריס לחשוב בעצמו רק שהוא עץ יבש ולא יעשה פרי לנצח אבל מ״מ אין להקב״ה צער ממנו משא״כ בזה שיש לו בנים שמורדם בה׳ ומפירים תורתו בודאי אין להש״י נחת מצאצאיו כלל וכלל וגם כבודו בעצמו מתחלל בזה מאד כמו דכתיב באשה זוגה את אביה היא מחללת ואחז״ל [סנהדרין י״ב] שאומרים ארור שזה ילד ארור שזה גדל ונם יהיה לו ממנו בזיון גדול אח״כ בעולם העליון שיצא ממנו בן ממרה ומכעיס להש״י, וכמו שכתב הגר"א ז״ל באגרתו הקדושה שאף אם ידריך תמיד בניו במוסר ולא יקבלום אוי לאותה בושה והצער והבזיון בעוה״ב.

וע״כ העצה היעוצה לאיש כזה שישכח את תולדותיו הראשונים לגמרי אחרי שלא יועילוהו ולא יצילוהו ליום הדין העתיר ואדרבה יגדילו התבערה עליו יקיים מה שאמר שהמע״ה כל אשר תמצא ידך לעשות בכחך עשה בכחך דייקא דהיינו שעכ׳יפ יתאמץ בעצמו בכל כחו להחזיק ישיבות ות״ת ושאר דברים האמורים בקרא הזה ויזכה שיהיו נקראים אלו הבנים על שמו וכמ״ש למעלה ועי״ז יהיה לו יד ושם למעלה בבית ה׳ טוב מבנים ומבנות וכמ״ש בקרא ובזה יניח רוגזו של הש״י מעליו אמרי שהוא עשה כל מה שבכתו,

שם עולם פרק טז

In sum, if your children go off the derech - you will burn in hell for their sins, and your honor is violated. The solution is to disown them entirely and support the Yeshivos instead!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Recent Publications, Tradition, TUMJ and the Rebbe

1 - Tradition - has become more disappointing with each issue. It seems a pity that a publication which has published many fascinating articles and editorials in the past, can give us nothing better then a stale argument against the Documentary hypothesis , and some obscure halachic analysis. Its sole saving grace is Prof. Leiman's column which unfortunately does not appear in this latest issue.

2 - The Rebbe, etc. - Although I cannot form a full opinion until I get a copy of the book, this seems to suffer from the same problem of most writing on both the Rebbe and Lubavitch community to date. That is, an excessive focusing on Messianism losing site of the many other important aspects. The Rebbe was a great leader, and a really impressive scholar for whom all "rooms of Torah were open before him". A majority of his many letters, speeches and writings have no connection to his Messianism.

He wrote many chiddushim on Rambam, Rashi on Torah, Kabbalah, etc and often had a highly original and interesting approach. I remember a particular chiddush that views the disagreement about the method of Biur Chametz based on the ancient idea of 4 elements and the original hylic element which I thought highly original. The Rebbe was also a great leader and was able to connect to each person on a personal level and provide advice and guidance as can be seen in his letters.

The excessive harping on Messianism obscures this and it would be nice to see a real intellectual profile. It is likely that the authors' profession as sociologists makes them unfit for the task of biographer. See here for a criticism of some of the research on the Rebbe's Paris-Berlin years.

3- TUMJ - is finally up after a 4 year (?) hiatus. Marc Shapiro translates R' Hirsch's speech in honor of Schiller. Schiller was also very much beloved in Poland as can be seen here and in numerous other sources, and in Lithuania, see Paula Wengeroff's Memoirs:

Regarding the girls singing in Hirsch's school (fn. 10), A similar report* is in HaLevanon of October 16, 1872 -

There are many other interesting articles such as on Chasam Sofer and copyright, and others which I will perhaps discuss in a later update.

[*] I mistakenly translated שירים as songs. The report is actually referring to poetry recital. My thanks to Prof. Shapiro for bringing this error to my attention.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Chafetz Chaim and Chassidus

Seforim has a nice post on Chafetz Chaim's attitude toward Chassidus. I am not certain why R' Brodt left out the following excerpts from Dugma M'Darkei Avi which show the Chafetz Chaim to have been something of a Misnagid (although his opinion softened somewhat when he saw the Chassidim were a great ally in the struggle against Haskalah).

1 - "Who told you to got to the Shtiblach, I do not deal with them" (the Chassidim). After his son describes some incidents in which Chassidim had disparaged Lithuanian Gedolim.

2 - Against those who daven late with the excuse that it is necessary for proper Kavanos (classic Misnagdic complaint)

3 - Chassdim on the right, Haskalah on the left. Neither is a positive trend. Also, he was shown a Sefer of of the Admorim and said "What is missing in the Torah of the Tannoim and Amoraim" (i.e. who needs this new stuff?)

Although, it must be noted that his son was not a fan of Chassidim (as per story in 1) and is not an impartial observer.

I'd also note that the expressions "Gaon Echad", "Gadol HaDor Echad" and the like appear frequently in the Chafetz Chaim's Shem Olam. It woudl be interesting if someone can identify who this refers to and why the Chafetz Chaim chose to withhold his name.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

R' Kook on natural law and on the importance of open-mindedness

Following is my inexact translation of the first part Chapter 22 of the recently leaked ms. of R' Kook לנבוכי הדור. See here for the background of this book and here for a great analysis of its contents.

The most alarming matter of all, that which causes the great confusion of ideas in this world, and dominates with great commotion - even today the time of the explosion of ideas, is the tendency to limit ones outlook on life within the confines of ones own group.

The delusion of the observer is that in regard to a certain subject, be it in the sphere knowledge, ethics or actions; political or personal, only the particular idea that is beloved by him and is accepted by his group is important, and one need not pay any attention to any of its other aspects. If these other ideas that are not accepted by his group will seek by their nature, to expand, in more detail and to flourish, then there will arise from every side great opposition, as if [this new thing] is coming to swallow and overtake the aspect that is beloved by him.

As is understood this very commotion causes other groups to act in extreme ways as well in order to defend their own party and to view everything coming out of the [other party] as a destructive item that will damage the world, or at the very least, as unimportant or craziness. This trait exists among man in general, and among us the Jewish People in particular.

When will these men open their eyes and see that there is no need for this destruction. We need to add to the structure not lessen. It is enough that we are forced into natural conflict, which becomes necessary when two subjects, each worthy in its own right, come into conflict, and time and strength do not allow both of them to receive their due. Then the question arises which is pushed away before the other. However even this battle must be carefully calculated, so as not to lower unto dust the value of the issue that must be pushed away because the other issue is more important right now. It is the opposite, we must make known that the reason we are pushing away this other subject, which has value to us as well, is not because of there is no merit in acquiring that information, action, or ethics, but because of a lack of ability on our side to accept all the desirable things, so that we must choose one over the other. This is the path of careful thought that is built on foundations of truth which will also bring the blessing of peace on the part of those choosing.

This desire to destroy and to eradicate something where it is not completely necessary, is rooted in the evil inclination of a man, and an exaggerated self-love that causes him to hate everything else. The prohibition “do not destroy” stand up sharply against this character trait. Already, in the earlier days of the expansion of ideas, through the influence of the Haskalah in our nation, there was an explosion of this kind; instances and branches which continue on in each generation.

That which is understood on its own, the personal and pure ethics, and the laws, that is the laws of the Torah, when looked into can easily be seen to be two distinct subjects. But the idea that there must be conflict between them comes only from partisan blindness.

Those with inner understanding that looked into internal ethics and desired [only] the completion of a man through good ethics based on righteous and natural reasoning, when they should realized that the laws [of Torah] provide great assistance in the development of the ethical sense of pure humanity, and so there are many great benefits that the law gives us. Therefore if we are to turn to another group, that in our terms is wider then the simple desire to keep the law alone, it is worthy to constantly seek the path of peace, to keep both benefits at once – the benefits of natural ethics, and of the upkeep of the law. If we were to look into it, we would see that the ethics of keeping the law not only do not encroach on natural ethics but is actually at its base and expands upon it.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Politics in Satu-Mare: The early career of Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum

I found an interesting pamphlet on Hebrewbooks - S'fas Emes relating to the controversy surrounding Rabbi Teitelbaum's appointment as Satmar Rav. I'm a little confused as to some of the details (no doubt the official biography of the Rav, Moshian Shel Yisrael provides a more thorough account). But there seems to have been some irregularity in the election. In the usual Hungarian fashion, some suggested that the community be divided in two so both R' Teitelbaum and his opponent (Rabbi Halberstam) could serve as Rabbis.

I assume it is the Munkatcher Rav's involvement here that lead to the kind of tension that caused his Minchas Elazer to be placed on a Satmar גניזה list.

Also interesting is the claim that the R' Teitelbaum's letter was censored - his statement concerning the halachic argumentation of the Rabbi of Bistritz(?) was removed.

Update: Bar Uryan sends us to an interesting Yiddish newspaper that contains "a laundry list of victims of Satmar campaign violence".

Friday, May 14, 2010

R' Chaim Brisker and the Rogatchover on Chinuch

A very moving letter from R Chaim Brisker on Jewish education. I have not seen this letter reproduced anywhere else. This seems to be written in response against the Maskilim who proposed a "method" (i.e. curriculum) which would involve minimal Talmud study.

Also very interesting is the Rogatchover's letter written in his unique style. A greater Talmud Chacham then I can perhaps let us know what he is trying to tell us. (Presumably the textbooks of the "Methodists" paraphrased the Torah and this is what he refers to as "לכנות פסוק" but I am not sure.)

The note of the "Bucher Zetzer" mentions some parody of these letters in HaMelitz and HaZefirah but I did not have time to try track them down.

This issue is bound together with a short biography of Ridvaz.

[Update: I see now that they must be referring to the same Chumash banned by the Chafetz Chaim posted by S. here]

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Great men and their correspondence

The more things change...

The following exchange is from the Robert Weltsch archives at LBI. I've always admired Lord Jakobovits, in part because of his ability to respect someone despite "differences in outlook and upbringing".

Monday, April 26, 2010

Another attempt at solving the authorship of Responsa Besamim Rosh

[Seforim Blog has a very thorough post on Besamim Rosh which links to some earlier posts of mine on the subject. Following is a rewrite of those posts]

Another attempt at solving the question of the authorship of ShuT Besamim Rosh

Besamim Rosh was first attacked as a forgery by R' Mordechai Banet [1]on the grounds that the book contains many halachic leniencies and heretic ideas that could not have been written by the Rosh. Even if this is sufficient proof to show that the Rosh cannot have written it, we still do not know if Saul Berlin forged it or if he was taken in by some earlier forgery.

I think I can show that R Saul Berlin who forged the letter. R' Berlin wrote a satirical work K'tav Yosher in which he attacks the Rabbis who placed Naftali Hertz Wessely's Divrei Shalmo V' Emet under ban. In the midst of this work, he refers sarcastically to several stringencies such as Chalav Akum:

pg. 8a - לו יאבה מלך לתת לי עד חצי המלכות ואשתה מחלב שחלבו גוי לא אעשנו

for which in Besamim Rosh No. 36 he has the Rosh ruling leniently in regards to Chalav Akum

pg. 4a – in response to a suggestion to Wessely's suggestion that Jews should become acculturated with the nation in which they are living, he writes:

- ולא עוד אלא שדרש ברבים להתקרב אל הגוים, ואנו אין לנו אלא שנתרחק מהם ב־תכלית הריחוק , ולא נבקש שלומם וטובתם כל הימים , ואם בשנאתם אותנו רבים צרינו הקמים עלינו לכלותינו, אדרבא זה הוא לטוב לנו כי עי׳׳ז נזכה לקדש שם שמים לעיני הגוים ומיום שחרב המקדש ובטלו הקרבנות , אין נחת רוח להשי"ת גדול מזה בהיותינו נהרגים ונשחטים כקרבן ועולה על קדושת שמו הגדול

and in Besamim Rosh no. 301 he writes that there is no obligation to die for the sake of heaven even during a time of שמד, but he repeats a similar point to that in K'tav Yosher that Mesiras Nefesh is a means to avoid assimilation:

אבל ישראל קדושים. מעצמם מותרים נפש. שלא להטמעות בין הגוים שזה הוא כאלו

מת ועבר ובטל

From the above, we see that the issues discussed in Besamim Rosh line up with the concerns of Saul Berlin in his K'tav Yosher. The discerning reader can probably find many more parallels.

[1] R Banet's letter to R Tzvi Hirsch Berlin was first published by Salomon Rosenthal in the literary supplement of “Der Orient” No. 6 53-55 No. 9 140-141 , and then later republished in Parashat Mordechai (1889) No.5. Another similar letter was published in והמה בכתובים, העתקות כתבי־יד מנחלת האחים לבית יעללעש pg. 20.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Chayei Yehuda and maskilic cognitive dissonance

Yitzhak has a brilliant post on two reactions to R' Yehuda Aryeh Modena's autobiography Chayei Yehuda which portrays him as being "all too human." I find the comment of R' Goldschmidt extremely puzzling as he refers to Chida's view of R' Yehuda -

וגם החיד”א בשם הגדולים לא כתב בגנותו, הגם שלא הללו

But neglects to mention that in that very entry Chida refers to Chayei Yehuda quoting a comment from the Sefer in regard to Gilgul (Chida also refers to Modena in Maagel Tov). At best, he could insist that the maskilim interpolated their own thoughts into the work. As in regard to Megillas Sefer, parallels abound and the accusation would be really foolish as well.

An interesting counter example of cognitive dissonance this time from the maskilic side can be found in Igros Yashar pg. 82 ff. In this case, because Yashar could not accept that his hero would believe something so irrational. He therefore argues with great vehemence that Chayei Yehuda could not have existed (for the really ridiculous reason that "why would he wait to write his memoirs until the end of his life) and - making use of an argument that has become very popular today to dismiss any view of any great Rabbi that doesn't conform to contemporary standards of religiosity - he insists that it must be some mistaken student who believed in Kabbalah who copied it over in the name of his teacher.

(Adelman in his dissertation refers to Yashar's arguments as a "multiplicity of mutually exclusive and self-defeating responses to the problem of Modena's supposed recantation of his views against transmigration. Today it would be argued that Reggio's scholarly accomplishments were in the service of his ideas and beliefs. It was, in fact, Reggio's desire to undermine the Kabbalah which prompted his research into the life and writings of Modena in the first place. When he found information which was contrary to his requirements, such as Azulai's report aobut Modena's recantation, he probed even deeper to explain it away. )

Similarly, A. Geiger conveniently omits the Gilgul story in his biography of Modena. So much for the great "objective critical scholarship" of the 19th century.

Here is Howard Adelman's analysis of Chida's excerpt of Chayei Yehuda in his exhaustive dissertation on Modena pg. 28 ff.:

Azulai wrote that Modena had recorded all that had happened to him during his life, including personal matters. According to Azulai, Modena had also written that at first he did not believe in transmigration of souls, already a well known fact by 1774. Then, according to Azulai's report a neighbor of Modena's gave birth to a son who within a month became very sick. When after six months the infant began to expire, his mother called in Modena to recite biblical verses. While Modena was there, the infant sang hymns, said the "Shema" (Deuteronomy 6: 4), and then died.
From that day on, according to Azulai, Modena believed in transmigration of souls because he had seen that the young child had the soul of an old sage in him. 30

This account was very important for future studies of Modena. It seemingly contradicted all of Modena's anti-kabbalistic writings. The appearance of this story in Azulai's catalogue motivated many subsequent researchers to seek more information about Modena's views on Kabbalah as
well as to find a copy of Hayye Yehudah. Many tendentious views of Modena would be based on Azulai' s account. Most writers, especially those who opposed Kabbalah, considered
it to have been a forgery.31

The story related by Azulai is not in any known manuscript of Hayye Yehuda~, including the autograph copy. However, it still needs explanation. 32 It appears unlikely both that Azulai actually had a copy of Hayye Yehudah in his possession and that he invented the story in its entirely.

Had he desired to discredit Modena on the basis of his autobiography, there was enough incriminating material in it itself, so that there would have been no need to forge material. It is also noteworthy that Azulai did not make use of the great wealth of bibliographic information contained in Hayye Yehudah. Significantly, Azulai wrote that he had "seen" Hayye Yehudah. It is possible that on his short visit to Venice in 1754, when he saw copies of Ari nohem, he also got a brief look at Hayye Yehudah and made quick hostile references to that work in his journal, too. 33

Twenty- f.ive years later, after having read many books and manuscripts with descriptions of similar incidents, including one in Sefer elim by Joseph Solomon Delmedigo,34
who was mentioned regularly by Modena in Ari nohem, and another in Ari nohem itself concerning a man's soul which entered a young girl because he had denied that Simon bar Yohai was the author of the Zohar, 35 Azulai confused some of the details of these stories with Modena. Two additional facts may have contributed to such confusion. At the time that Modena was becoming known as the leading anti-kabbalistic figure, the church had just exposed him as
a newly discovered convert to Catholicism.

Further, Modena himself may have planted the seed for Azulai's claim at the end of Ari nohem: there he wrote to Joseph Hamitz, his former student and a leading kabbalist, to whom the book had been addressed, that he hoped Hamitz would respond to the charges raised against the Kabbalah in Ari nohem, but cautioned Hamitz not to try to refute them in hopes that Modena, as the kabba1ists claimed about Maimonides, too would recant his views against Kabbalah. 36

As opposed to the attitude of Goldschmidt, Shir was able (at least at first) to accept that a great man can have faults and still be considered great (Igrot Shir pg. 71):

מספר חיי יהודה, אשר האיש המסופר ממנו גדול בעיני מאז עד מאד, ועוד גם עתה אחרי כל החסרונות הנודעים לנו ממנו.

However on learning of Modena's heterodox views as expressed in his sharp criticism of Rabbinic Judaism in Kol Sachal, Shir quickly changed his tune (Igrot Shir pg. 208):

לא נבהלתי משמיע קול סכל ושאנת אריה, זה האריה אשר נגלו עתה שניו הטורפות ונראה למחנק נפשות, כי היה מאז חשוד בעינינו, אחרי ידענוהו למבלה זמנו במשך רוב שנותיו לשחק בקוביא, ועם כל ידיעותיו וחמדת לשונו ונועם תוכחתו לרבים בפה ובכתב, לא היה יכול לשחרר את נפשו מתאוה בזויה כזאת. ועתה ננלה לעיני כל כי מרמה היתה כל תוכחתו. צוף על לשונו ולענה בקרב לבו. ותחת אשר קרא לעצמו בונה[1], סותר יקרא, כי סותר באמת כל התורה . ועד מהרה נתתי לו שם ויד בין איזה חנפים וצבועים אשר לבשתנו נמצאים גם בעמנו

[1] A reference to Modena's commentary on Ein Yaakov - HaBoneh
[I see Artscroll's Early Achronim has an entry on Modena which I look forward to reading, I suspect their treatment of him was similar to that of R Azariah De Rossi.]

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

An excerpt from R Yaakov Emden's Igeres Purim

The following scan contains excerpts of R Yaakov Emden's Iggeres Purim published by Dr. Jacob J. Schacter in Studies of Medieval Jewish History Vol. 2. The style of this work is very similar to that of Megillas Sefer and confirms (not that this is necessary) some of the accounts in Megilas Sefer that the author of MP finds so impossible such as his attack on Knesses Yecheskel (which can be found in Sheilas Yaavetz as well). Dr. Schacter mentions that another excerpt of IP was published by A. Bick "in hopelessly garbled fashion" in Kiryat Sefer V. 50. The KS excerpt also parallel MS as it talk about RYE's illness and "most intimate sexual feelings". I have not yet seen the KS myself and would greatly appreciate if someone can send me a pdf.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Three Cheers for the Leo Baeck Institute

LBI has been placing parts of their holdings online at since 2006. I've seen fascinating stuff such as unpublished correspondence of Gershom Scholem and Cecil Roth. I just recently noticed that they have placed the entire Joseph Perles collection online.

There are many, many fascinating letters from such well known figures as R' N N Rabinowitz, the Dikdukei Soferim, Shadal, S. Buber, as well as from many lesser known but equally important personalities. Knowledge of German and Italian (which I don't have) is necessary for most of the letters but there is also a nice percentage of letters in Hebrew.

I hope to make use of some of this material on this blog over the next few weeks. If anyone finds anything interesting there that they would like to share, I'd appreciate if they can leave a comment or send me an email.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

I just noticed this rather comical attempt to disprove" R' Yaakov Emden's authorship of Megillas Sefer . Its an interesting cultural artifact, if nothing else. I wonder if Dr. Schacter will refer to it in his upcoming long awaited critical edition of Megillas Sefer.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Jews of England - a combination of perfervid patriotism, strabismic loyalty and flabby tergiversation

From a rather interesting address of Rabbi David De Sola Pool here:

There are Jewish super-citizens, such as Sir Francis Montefiore, a citizen & outrance, whose perfervid English patriotism restrains him from aiding destitute or starving Jews of German or Austrian birth lest his English patriotism become suspect.


He lives at peace in multiple loyalty to his wife, his family, his shool, his city, his country, his king and his God, blissfully free from the strabismic loyalty of a Sir Francis Montefiore which jumbles these loyalties of varying references and various planes into conflict.


Unlike his brethren in other countries, when he fought for his political rights, he did so without the flabby tergiversation of claiming them solely as a citizen. He claimed them frankly and outspokenly as a Jew.
My spell check doesn't even recognize these words as English anymore, yet R Pool could use them in a public lecture. How different then today in which one cannot use words of more then two syllables if you want to have any chance of being understood.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Chazon Yechezkel on the secret to a successful marriage

From Jewish Chronicle August 9 '46:

"When a woman marries for a fur coat and luxury and has no sense of the idealism of a human partnership, for good times and bad times as well, one cannot expect a marriage to endure. When one marries to carry out the moral and ethical side of life, that marriage continues until death."

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Political theory of R Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld and hesped for him

From an editorial in the Jewish Chronicle June 9, '22


Various pictures of HaGaon R' Yitzchak Isaac HaLevi Herzog and part of a speech

and here is part of a speech from R' Herzog which gives you an idea of his style:

and another:
New issue of HaMayaan.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Of the Brisker Rav I do not have the ability to write

From "Fun Brisk biz Semyatitsh" by M. Weisman (It doesn't appear to be online yet)

Of the Brisker Rav I do not have the ability to write.

Every Brisker Jew carries the name R Chaim Solovetchik close to his heart and has his own memories of him. My words can certainly make him no greater then he was. All that I could wish to say of him, I will say in these words "May his like increase in Israel."

A most eloquent non-description which however tells us so much.

For a more wordy description, see S.'s great post and the Brisk Sefer Zikaron, Yaakov Mark B'Mechitzasum Shel Gedolei Torah pgs. 36-54, and R' Zevin's classic study of R' Chaim's methodology in Ishim V' Shittos. It is noteworthy that no comprehensive biography of R' Chaim exists to date.

Paula Wengeroff's Rememberings

I just finished reading Paula Wengeroff's fascinating Memoirs (see Eliezer's post here for an excerpt. A more complete edition seems to be scheduled for publication as well.)

Wengeroff describes the "Kosher Dance", aka the mitzvah tantz being performed at her sisters wedding, this despite the fact that her family were definite misnagdim (cousins of the Aruch HaShulchan). She also mentioned that their custom was for the women to shave their heads. Both of these customs have come to be associated exclusively with Chassdim today.

She mentions that her family would not eat Matzah after Pesach. There is no other record of such a minhag that I could find. Perhaps, they just didn't eat it because there is no obligation to and it doesn't taste that great and Mrs. Wengeroff mistook it for a halachic practice. She also mentions a custom to make Challah in the shape of a bird on Hoshana Rabbah, I have never of this either.

In addition to the wealth of information on minhagim, the book is a fascinating depiction of the period and well worth reading.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

For the sense of touch is an embarassment to us..

but sight isn't. I haven't seen this online but no worries, it can be yours for a mere 12,500$

(From A Carlebach- Men and Ideas)

The philosophical approach to detective movies

Here and some Pesach stories here (and see Marc's post here)

Monday, March 22, 2010

Volozhin before its closing

Report on "Volozhin before its closing" from HaHed 7,4

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Maskil reviews ShuT Chasam Sofer, and some Rabbinic autographs

Kerem Chemed 9 has a review of ShuT Chasam Sofer from the Hungarian reformer Leopold Low (Yavam is identified as Low in Shaul Chajes's useful Otzar Bduyei Sheimos in which he highlights the "critical" side of Chasam Sofer's work.

In HaAsif we also find a biographical sketch of Chasam Sofer that highlights the aspects of Chasam Sofer's thought that the Maskilim found attractive.

Followin is a great quote from L. Ginzberg, Students Saints and Scholars describing a necrology of Chasam Sofer written by I. H. Weiss ממזרח וממערב (unfortunately, only Vol. 4 is currently available online):

"Take, for instance, the last-mentioned scholar. R. Moses Sofer combined all the great virtues of the old Jewish scholar with fighting courage and determination, and therefore he was not only the head of a Yeshibah, but also the leader of a strong party, especially strong in Hungary, which opposed the new tendency in Judaism with success. It was not lack of comprehension of the new tendency that made Sofer its violent opponent; his keen vision gave him insight sooner than anyone else into the radicalism into which it would degenerate. And it was Weiss who, in his sketch of Sofer in the Hebrew monthly Mi-Misrah umi-Ma'arab (Vienna, 1896) meted out full justice to this great personality, although Weiss did not adopt Sofer's conception of Judaism as his own.

Moreover, Weiss did not descend to the manner of the so-called historians who are incapable of appreciating a great personality or a spiritual movement in its totality, but lose themselves in details and designate as characteristic the most insignificant points if they are bizarre, and the most unessential minutiae if they are curious. They judge accordingly, and as a result we hear opinions of the Jewish past and of certain tendencies in Judaism which, if the same logic were applied to the interpretation of general history, would give something like the following: Aristotle was a fool; he believed that the heavenly spheres were animated. Kepler understood nothing at all of physics, because he did not know so much as the law of gravitation, which is now known to every school-boy. And the fathers of the Dutch Republic were mischievous reactionaries, for in their political program they did not adopt universal suffrage"

I think this praise is overstated as Weiss throws in an attack on Chasam Sofer for being too pilpulistic in his Memoirs.

For those with an interest in Rabbinic graphology, I found an interesting collection of Rabbinic autographs from a periodical called Menorah (February 1927).

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