Monday, October 12, 2015

METZITZAH B'PEH and the response of Moroccan Rabbis תקנות מועצת הרבנים במרוקו בענין מציצה בפה

In 1952 (סיון תשי"ב), the annual conference of Moroccan Rabbis took place in Rabat, with nearly all the leading Rabbis of the day attending. Attendees included Rabbi Shaul Ibn Danan, R. Refael Baruch Toledano, R. Machlouf Abuhetzera, R. David Ovadia, R. Yehoshua Maman, R. Yedidya Monsenego, R. Ahron Hasin and many other familiar names. Many issues of the day were discussed and many new enactments were agreed upon and imposed. Buried between the decisions reached I came across a replica of the scenario which has been unfolding in recent years on the issue of metzitzah b'peh or MBP as it has come to be referred to, with strikingly different responses.


List of decisions by the Rabbinical Assembly

List of participating Rabbis from all major cities and geographical areas of Morocco

Here is the text of the Takanot regarding MBP that were unanimously agreed upon by all participating Rabbis:
רבותי!  תורתנו הקדושה הזהירה באזהרה חזקה ונשמרתם מאד לנפשותיכם. בא הכתוב לחייב את האדם בשמירת הגויה לבל לאונה כל רע מגרם הנזקין המצויים בתולדות הטבע. וגם במצוותיה אמרה תורה אשר יעשה אותם האדם וחי בהם
בכן חובתינו להתעסק בענינים כאלה ומה גם בזמננו זה
המצוה הגדולה מיסודי הדת היא המילה שצריכה להיות טהורה מאף שמץ לא טוב. ז"א ככל חוקות משפטה ובכל אופן טהרה של שמירת הבריאות
על כן צריך שהמוהל יהיה בקי בדיני המילה וטהור בכל משמרת עבודתו
גם עבודה זו הקדושה והטהורה צריכה להיות תחת השגחה עליונה המפקחת על המוהלים בכל הענין ולא יהיה ילדי ישראל כדגי הים נתונים ביד כל אוחז איזמיל
ואין אני צריך להזכיר לפני רו"מ המאורעות הרעים אשר קרו על ידי המוהלים אשר לא מומחים וגם על ידי אי נקיות כי אין בזה שום תועלת רק העיקר הוא להשגיח ולתקן בהעתיד. ועל העבר אנו מתודים ואומרים כפר לעמך ישראל אשר פדית ה והקב"ה הבטיחנו ונכפר להם הדם
על כן אני דורש מכת"ר הסכמה על הפרטים שנזכיר הלאה אם נראו בעיני רבותי:

א. כל מוהל אף הנוכחים צריך לקבל תעודת רופא המאשרת שאין בו כל חולי המתדבק ומידי שנה בשנה תהיה בדיקה זו
ב. גם חובתו לקבל שיעורים באופני הנקיות לכל צרכי המילה בין בנקיון ידיו בין בכיליו בין בידיעת שמירת כל הנזקים הנמשכים גם אחר המילה
ג. למוד ידיעתו זאת והרגלו יהיה לו בחברת אוזי או בבית חולים צבורי
ד. חובתו להשתמש בידיעותיו אלה כאשר ישיתו עליו הרופאים הנזכרים
ה. גם צריך לקבל ידיעה בדיני המילה בתעודה מאת ביה"ד המחוזי
ו. המוהל צריך שיבקר את הילד קודם המולו וגם אחרי כן
ז. המוהל צריך לקבל תעודה מאת מוהל מומחה מפורסם
ח. המוהלים שבעיר יערכו אסיפה באולם ביה"ד או הדומ"ץ וימנו את המומחה שיהיה בהסכמת בראב"ד או הדומ"צ
ט. כל מוהל שהפסיק מעבודתו שתי שנים רצופות צריך תעודה חדשה
י. חולה חלוש הראיה או מרתת לא יכול למול
יא. המציצה תהיה בכלי ולא בפה
יב. כל מוהל שלא עשה המציצה מעבירים אותו
יג. המוהלים המוסמכים אל ימנעו עצמם מללמד אחרים כדי שיאמר עליהם זכר צדיק לברכה
יד. המתחנך יכול למול לפני המוסמך בהשגחתו עליו
טו. ההשגחה העליונה על המוהלים בדבר התעודות ובדבר הנקיות ובשמירת כל החוקים חובתה על ביה"ד או הדיין חבר העיר
טז. המוהלים המוסמכים שקבלו תעודותיהם לכל עניני המילה ככל האמור יהיו רשומים בב"ד ובבתי כנסיות להודיע לכל העם
  יז. המכשירים לכל צרכי המילה וכל ההוצאות הצריכות יהיו מקופת הקהלה

הכל נתקבל בהסכמה

loosely translates as:
My Rabbis ! Our holy Torah has strongly warned us, thou shall be very careful with your souls, obligating us to protect our bodies that no harm shall befall it from any harmful possibilities by nature, and even in regards to our Mitzvoth, the Torah says, you shall do them and live through their doing.
It is thus our obligation to involve ourselves with such matters, even in these days.
The commandment to circumcise our children is of the fundamentals of our faith, and needs to be done purely, with no flaws, which includes no imperfections in the matters of health.
It is thus incumbent on all Mohalim to familiarize themselves with all the laws of circumcision and hygiene in all his work.
This work also has to be supervised by a body that will supervise all the Mohalim in all matters, and we shall not leave the children of the Jews to be like fish and leave their fate in the hands of any man who possesses a chisel.
There is no need for me to mention the unfortunate disasters that occurred due to Mohalim who were not experts or not done under sanitary conditions, as it is of no use, the main thing is to perfect and correct for the future. On the past we confess and request that God forgives us..
I thus request from you esteemed Rabbis, to agree on the following conditions and that they find favor in your eyes:
1. Any Mohel, including present ones, need to receive a certification from a doctor that confirms that he has no infectious illness, this certification shall be renewed yearly.
2. The Mohel is required to take lessons on the methods of hygiene, both in his hands and in his vessels, as well as any medical issues that may arise after a circumcision
3. The Mohel shall receive his training in any public hospital
4. It is the obligation of the Mohel to use the knowledge obtained during these lessons
5. The Mohel needs to be trained in the Halachot relating to Milah as well, from the local Rabbinical Court
6. The Mohel is obligated to visit the infant before as well as after the circumcision
7. Every Mohel needs to receive certification from an accepted and well-known Mohel
8. The Mohalim in every city shall gather and appoint one of the Mohalim to head and inspect the Mohalim in his district
9. If a Mohel does not work for 2 years, he needs to be retrained
10. One who is ill, with poor eyesight or with trembling hands, can not perform a Milah
11. Metzitah shall be with a vessel and not done with the mouth
12. Any Mohel who does not perform metzitzah shall be removed from his position
13. Trained Mohalim are encouraged to train new Mohalim
14. Students learning Milah can perform with a certified Mohel present
15. The ultimate authority regarding certification etc is in the hands of the local Rabbinical Court.
16, All registered and certified Mohalim shall be listed at the Bet Din and the list made common knowledge
17. All utensils used in the Milah shall come from the community funds.

All the above was unanimously agreed upon by all.


discussion and Takanot regarding MBP

discussion and Takanot regarding MBP
Magen Avot of Rabbi Levhar regarding the position of Moroccan Rabbis to Metzitzah B'peh

Magen Avot of Rabbi Levhar regarding the position of Moroccan Rabbis to Metzitzah B'peh


This same year many other important enactments were enacted, including equating both sexes in all laws of inheritance, including married women. This issue evoked a sharp differing response from the Israeli Rabbinate. The Beginning of the publication also describes the dire situation regarding the lack of available books in Morocco, and the many organizations that have attempted to assist them in this matter. You can read this section in full below:


On the inability to find Hebrew books in Morocco

On the inability to find Hebrew books in Morocco

R. SY Zevin, R. Nissan Waxman, Sefarim Criticism & More


by Jacob D.

One of the unique roles that R. Shlomo Yosef Zevin filled with his prolific pen was that of a sefarim critic par excellence. A new Torah publication hits bookstore shelves and there's a good chance that it will be thoroughly reviewed, analyzed, criticized or praised, by a Torah giant with a mind of encyclopedic breadth, in an upcoming Friday morning Hatzofe. R. Zevin took his "מן הספרות התלמודית" column seriously, and week after week Hatzofe readers can expect a new thorough and exciting Zevin review. Most of these reviews  were eventually collected and published in his three volume סופרים וספרים (Tel Aviv, 1959). Even in the most positive of reviews on works that he seems impressed with, we can expect the occasional -

...ויש להעיר שכבר קדמו בזה...

With that small introduction I would like to share something I just came across, which to me was a little bit of a surprise. During a recent stop at a used Hebrew  bookstore, a small attractive copy of R. Moshe Cordovero's תומר דבורה caught my eye​ -




It's a critical edition published in NY,1960 (5720) by R. Nissan Waxman.
(see here)


On the title page we see that aside for the actual work by Ramak, and what's directly related to it (notes, a biographical sketch of the author, etc.), there's an additional section appended at the end, titled קונטרס האהבה והחסד. In one part of that last section R. Waxman relates an explanation of a Midrash about  עקידת יצחק in the name of R. Hayim Soloveitchik of Brisk -






At the end of the piece we read that R. Waxman heard this from R. Menahem Krakowski, a Rabbi from Vilna and student of R. Hayim. R. Krakowski published this piece of his teacher's Torah in his ארזי לבנון -


See starting from the second to last paragraph of this page-




R. Waxman notes that this explanation from R. Hayim is also related by R. Zevin in his אישים ושיטות, and in his "העקידה" essay in his לאור ההלכה.

In לאור ההלכה -



W. adds that although Z. includes some additional halakhic material at the beginning of this piece that R. Krakowski didn't relate, he leaves out this last point -


which in R. Waxman's words is quote "לב הדבר ויפיו"! -


I'm not used to R. Zevin being on the receiving end of this kind of criticism. (I also found it kind of ironic that this "לב הדבר ויפיו" that W. felt Z. should've included sounds very much like a ​R. ​Levi Yitzch​a​k of Berditchev classic. Z. the Hasid (also the author of  סיפורי חסידים) doesn't include it, but does include some additional halakhic material. And W. the Litvak is complaining!)

In R. Zevin's defense I will say that his אישים ושיטות wasn't  written to simply  share the Torah of the ten great אישים that are discussed therein. It was written to dissect and define their very specific and distinct  Torah  methodology. Hence, this omission, which if included wouldn't anyhow help to define R. Hayim's method of study is perfectly sound (of course I do entertain the possibility that this part wasn't known altogether to R. Zevin). ​And this aggadic twist wouldn't exactly belong in his  לאור ההלכה​ either​. In לאור ההלכה R. Zevin begins this R. Hayim Torah with ​-​

גוון הלכתי מיוחד להעקדה נתן רב חיים סולוביצ'יק ז"ל יחד עם מדה עקרונית בדרכי הלימוד

An addition of this sort​, as beautiful as it may be,​ would hardly belong there. It does fit nicely in R. Waxman's addendum to a mussar work, and l​ikewise, it's totally befitting for this aggadic "לב הדבר ויפיו" to be included in R. Krakowski's קובץ דרשות.


Marginalia on the side of Hebrew Books in Arabic הגהות על ספר קדש בערבית



I recently came across what for me was a first, a Hebrew book, being the poems of Yehuda Alharizi, printed in Vienna in 1854, with marginalia in Arabic.

There is a title page in Hebrew and one in German as well. There are several stamps in the book of Rabbi Yaakov Attieh, who served as Chief Rabbi in Beirut, as well as the signature of Eliyahu Hai Sasson, the founder of the first Hebrew printing press in Syria, founded in 1865. Along with numerous marginalia in Hebrew, appear a few lengthy ones in Arabic.









Recent Acquisition: the Library of Rabbi Michael L. Abraham


partial view of  Rabbi Michael L. Abraham's library

Mizrahi Bookstore has recently acquired the collection of Rabbi Michael L. Abraham. Rabbi Abraham, after graduating from HUC served congregations in Blue Pell, PA, Norwalk Conn, Sommerville, NJ as well as "Chief Rabbi of New Zealand", where he served as Senior Rabbi of Temple Sinai in Wellington for six years. He passed away on Dec 14, 2013 aged 75.

Rabbi Abraham was that rare combination of a scholar and an active and successful pulpit Rabbi. His comprehensive library traveled with him throughout his life, with his library at the time being the largest Judaic Library in New Zealand. Nearly all important books on Bible Studies and Archaeology were present in his library, and nearly all with relevant book reviews inserted and with his marginalia and remarks alongside in his neat pencil writing. Every one of his books was fully cataloged and shelved systematically, many a public library would envy his perfect order in his books. תהי נשמתה צרורה בצרור החיים

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Drastic Changes now in effect at The Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary and its effect on future scholarship

As of Aug. 1st the library of JTS, home to the largest and most comprehensive Jewish and Hebraic collection outside of Israel is closed. The library, which housed 425,000 volumes, has been moved off-site to accommodate the building of high-rise buildings by developers.

JTS, which has been faced with financial troubles in the past years, has attempted various different ways in the last years to solve their financial woes. In 2009, a major change in the leadership positions occurred, and several months ago, several of the JTS Library's rare items not related to Judaism have been sold at auction in an attempt to raise funds.

The current plan for the next few years (at least through the end of 2018) leaves just 10,000 volumes in the library until construction is completed. Once the new library building is in use, the plan is to keep about 25 percent of the titles onsite in the new Library. The remaining 75 percent will be stored offsite, available only for next business day retrieval. The temporary home, will open November 1 and will be located on the 7th floor (both Kripke and Schiff buildings, formerly the student computer and language labs) for the duration of the project. Those people who do not currently have borrowing privileges, which include the numerous researchers who visit and use the library, will be charged a fee equivalent to their cost (between $3.25 and $8.75 per item) for retrieving materials from their remote storage. The Library reserves the right to limit quantities of all materials retrieved from remote storage based upon consultations with the researcher.
courtyard of JTS Library soon to be demolished
To summarize, the library, which for over a century was the base from which some of the very best scholarship and printed works emanated, will for posterity be at best a very inconvenient and costly place to do research. The numerous publishers and editors of books, that for decades have relied on the fabulous collection of the library will now have to work with their hands tied and their pockets emptied. A scholar with a table full of books being referenced, can be charged for their use the price of a 5 course meal in a Manhattan restaurant. Seeing references in a footnote, a scholar can no longer request the book and check relevant sources, he would need to place a request and return an additional day to be able to view it in person. Rather than encourage students and scholars to explore the world of our history and literature, people will have to contemplate the cost of obtaining the book for reading and come back the following business day to obtain it. Books requested on Thursday afternoons, will not arrive in the library until Tuesday.

To be fair, JTS may have been left with little choice as to this decision, and for their rabbinical students, such a system at the library might suffice. I assume this was the very last resort that the administration was left with, but the thought of the largest collection of Hebrew Incunabula sitting in a warehouse in NJ, is disheartening at the very best. It is rather depressing to think, that as a people who excelled at coming together and succeeding in fundraising for our vital institutions, that the nation's most prestigious Jewish library should be forced to come to this. Throughout the World of Jewish Books, the future of the library has been received with much sadness and anger. In the words of Prof. Shnayer Leiman, "Very sad news about JTS! Let people know that there is nothing safer than having the books in their own house". Prof. Leiman recalled his days of youth when his ability to roam stacks of endless books allowed him to develop his interests. With the setup as is projected, students will never be introduced to the vast depths of Jewish Literature and the books will more than likely be stored into oblivion. In a conversation I had with one of the librarians at JTS, she tells me how it doesn't matter much, as "who today uses books anyways!".

It is very unfortunate that JTS no longer will be able to view its library as a home for all Jews of all backgrounds and denominations. The best we can do is hope that a change can still be made and the freedom of the printed word will be reimposed.


Yosef Goldman - Jewish Book Dealer 1942 - 2015

Yosef Goldman, a veteran Jewish/Hebrew bookseller, passed away on Aug. 4, 2015. Born in Neipest, in 1942, where his father, Rabbi Chananya Yom Tov Lipa Goldman (1907 – 1980) was Rabbi, and where the family survived most of WWII disguised as non-Jews. In 1950, the family immigrated to the United States, his father having a synagogue in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn and where he operated a publishing house. Yosef attended Beth Medrash Elyon, in Monsey, NY.

Y. Goldman was the authoritative dealer on American Jewish Printings, and the 2 volume Hebrew Printing in America, 1735-1926, A History and Annotated Bibliography, which he co-authored and which was based on his collection is the standard reference in the field. Many prominent American Judaica collections were built through his guidance and expertise.

Yosef is remembered as an erudite scholar, kindhearted and giving when it came to charity, well versed and a passionate lover of Eretz Yisrael, where he chose to be buried. He passed away on Aug. 4 after a brief illness.


Reminiscences of Rabbi Joseph Samuel Bloch penned by Charles Duschinsky in a copy of his Reminiscences

In the free-end of Charles Duschinsky's ( Jewish Historian 1878–1944) copy of My Reminiscences by Dr Joseph Samuel Bloch, appears a lengthy interesting handwritten entry as follows:



Nov 1929
[Received], from Dr. Grunwald, Rabbi in Vienna, and son-in-law of the late Dr. J.S. Bloch. The latter was a great friend of my Uncle Oberrabbiner Wilhelm Reich ז"ל of Baden bei Wien, who died on 17th of Tammuz 5689-1929. When my uncle visited me a few years ago, just after the death of Dr. Bloch, he told me that B. was running about from library to library with books under his arm working on his last two books, The story of his life “My Reminiscences” and Israel u. die Volker (also translated “Israel and the Nations”). “That,” he said, “probably killed him”. He (my uncle), being then just over 70, said, that at that time in life things must be taken leisurely. He would like to write more books, “but it’s no use killing yourself”. Nevertheless he died “killing himself”. The heat last July in Vienna was very terrible, and on the 16th of Tammuz he attended a funeral where he delivered a “Hesped” (funeral oration). As he bent down afterwards to throw the first earth upon the coffin, he collapsed either from a sun-stroke or heart failure and never recovered consciousness. He died the same night at the age of 76. – I can for myself, truly say: deeply mourned. זכר צדיק לברכה
C. D.

24/11/29
Dr. Bloch was a great friend of mine. – He encouraged me when I was a very young man, and printed articles & notes from me, while I was still at Pressburgh in the Yeshivah, and I was a constant contributor to his “Oesterreichisthe Wochenschrift” even while in London right till the outbreak of the war in 1914. – A clever and learned man, very jovial and friendly. He was, at one time, a great power in the Vienna Jewish community. As a journalist he was not liked by everybody, but he had a great following. It was through his influence that his son-in-law Dr. Grunwald was elected Rabbi in Vienna. There are a good many bon-mots still in circulation from & about him.
C. D.

hat-tip: Yitzchak Stroh

A History of the printing of Hebrew books in Aleppo


Aram Soba, as the city of Aleppo was known to it's Jews, traces it's Jewish History back to the days of King David, over 3,000 years ago. King David is mentioned as being in Aleppo already in Tanakh, in Tehillim chapter 60 and in the book of Shemuel (שמואל א יד, מז). The community for the most part prospered throughout the centuries, under Christian Rule until 636 CE, and under Muslim rule, as Dhimmi until the mass emigration in the 20th century.

The printing press arrived to the Jewish Community in Aleppo surprisingly late, not before the year 1865. This may be due in part to their neighbors' religious beliefs, Islam's view of the printing press, "It would be an act of impiety if the word of God should be squeezed and pressed together; but the true cause was, that great numbers of themselves earned a considerable income by transcribing those books" (Quarterly Review XLI 1829 Page 475). Before the arrival of the printing press in Aleppo, the Jewish Community would send their books mostly to Europe to be printed, in the 16th and 17th century for the most part to Venice, later on to Amsterdam and Constantinople and from the 18th century on, mainly to Livorno, Italy. The first known book to be sent from Aleppo to be printed was the Mahzor Aram Soba, printed in Venice in 1527.

It happened more than once that manuscripts sent to be printed in Europe were lost en-route, so many authors would keep copies of their manuscripts for themselves, before sending them on the long journey to be printed in Europe. A tragic reminder of such a case, was the fate of the works of R. Hayim Hakohen of Aram Soba, who writes how en-route to have his books printed, his ship was boarded by pirates, and to escape he jumped off the boat and swam to shore. He survived, but his manuscripts, of which he had no additional copy, were lost forever (Mekor Hayyim, Istanbul, 1750 in his introduction).

The risks and financial burden that it took to get a book sent and printed outside of Aleppo can be seen from the introduction of Hazon Ovadia by R. Ovadia Halevi of Aleppo, printed in Livorno in 1787. He writes how he sold his entire library and put up his home as collateral in order to raise the funds to have his book printed!
introduction of Hazon Ovadia by R. Ovadia Halevi of Aleppo


In Aleppo itself, there were people whose business it was to arrange for the printing of manuscripts and making copies of the works before they were sent. One such person was Avraham ben Yeshua Sasson, who later on would be the founder of the First Hebrew printing press in Aleppo. Avraham Sasson printed in Livorno several works of Aleppo Rabbis, including Ohel Yesharim of R. Avraham Antebi in 1943. His son, Eliyahu Hai Sasson (b.1830) was then sent to the printing press of R. Elijah Benamozegh to learn the art of printing.

For the most part, Aleppo's Press, produced works written either by local Rabbis or from manuscripts found in Aleppo. The printing in Aleppo can be categorized in to 3 separate periods, 1866-1873, 1887-1909 and 1910 and on.

Shalom La'am of R. Shalom Hedaya printed in Aleppo in 1896

Eliyahu Sasson was sent by his father in 1864 to Livorno where he thoroughly learned the art of printing, returned in 1865 and immediately got to work once he received exclusive rights to Hebrew printing and a printing ban for anyone else, from the Rabbis of Aleppo. Ever since 1518 when such a ban was given, it was the practice of Hebrew printers to request bans in order to protect the massive financial investment needed to open and operate a printing press. The first book to come out of Sasson's press was Sha'are Kedusha of R. Haim Vital. The books produced by Sasson were of the highest quality, on fine paper and with attractive font. In all, in the period of 1866-1873 13 books were printed by Sasson in Aleppo. The work at the press, was very much a family affair, with the father assisting in choosing the material to be printed and his brother, Moshe assisting with the actual printing. Under financial pressure, the printing press moved in 1873 to Jerusalem, where he printed first Kenesiya Leshem Shamayim of R. Menashe Sutton, followed by 11 other works, all but one by Sephardic authos. Even after Sasson departed to Jerusalem, the original 20 year ban against competitors was still in effect, and no additional books were printed in Aleppo until 1887.

In 1887, R. Yeshaya Dayan founded a Hebrew printing Press in Aleppo, originally founded as a way to publish his own books. He brought in for this purpose, the printer Haim Pinchas Hakohen from Jerusalem and during the first 3 years of operation produced 6 works. As his press was without a license from the Turkish Government and not censored as required by the law of the land, it was published without mention of the printer or even the place of printing. For fear of informers, the press was closed until 1896 when he was able to obtain the necessary license from the Ottoman Rulers of Syria.

In 1910, Ezra Haim Joejati of Damascus founded a new press in Aleppo, followed by another press run by Ezra Bijo from 1924 and on.

Likutim MiPardes by Rabbi Yitzchak Schrem printed in Aleppo in 1873

Sources and for Additional info: Avraham Yaari: Toldot Hadefus Be'artzot Hamizrach, LiKedoshim Asher Ba'aretz by David Zion Laniado and Encyclopedia LeHalutze Hayishuv VeBonav by David Tidhar (Otzar Yisrael by Eisenstein in the entry on Aram Soba lists in error the year 1898 as the founding of the Hebrew press in Aleppo, Encyclopedia of the Jewish Diaspora, Vol II, page 787 list the date as 1806, in error as well)

The First American to be mentioned in a Prenumeranten - 1787 Berlin

What appears to be the earliest American mentioned in a prenumeranten (Prenumeranten is a Yiddish term meaning “prior numbers.” It refers to people who pre-subscribed or ordered copies of a book before its publication), shows up in Hashorashim, by Isaac Satanow (1733-1805). On page 4 of the first volume, appears a lengthy list of prenumeranten for Hashorashim and Sefer Hamichlol which he published and among the many names, appears ר יהודא בר"א ובנו באמעריקא.
There is also one prior mention of a Jew from Jamaica in a book printed in London in 1780, but this appears to be the first from a Jew in the newly declared United States.

Title page of the Sefer Hashorashim, 1787 Berlin.

ר יהודא בר"א ובנו באמעריקא appear right in the middle of the third column
Hat-tip" Dr. S. Sprecher

Loss Prevention of personal library during the Holocaust - Pressburg

In a copy of Anshe Shem of Buber, I came across a stamp stating : ספרי' של יוסף אייכלר פרעסבורג
הספר הזה אם אינו ברשות בעליו מצוה להחזירו כי נגזל או נאבד ע"י הגזירות בשנת התש"ב לפ"ק "
"From the library of Yosef Eichler, Pressburg
This book, if not in the procession of it's owner, it shall be a mitzvah to return it, as it was stolen or lost during the calamities of the year 5742 (1941-42)"

Y. Eichler seeing the approaching devastation seems to have went ahead and stamped his books with this such in hopes of being able to reclaim them in better days.

"Following the creation of an independent Slovak State in March 1939, the Jews of Bratislava were subjected to discriminatory practices and persecution. By the 1st of March 1942, nearly half of the city’s Jews had been evicted, and dispersed in smaller towns across the country. During 1942 many of the Jews of Bratislava were deported to the death camps in Poland.
During the war the city was home to the Bratislava Working Group, which was devoted to rescuing Jews. The group’s efforts, however, came to naught and most Slovakian Jews were murdered in the Holocaust."

Hat-tip: YItzchak Stroh

The Fast of 17th of Tammuz and America's Birthday

by Dr. Shlomo Sprecher
The original adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 could not receive its proper celebration by the American Jewish community, as it coincided with the fast day of 17 Tammuz (see R. Dovid Heber's column on page 58 of this weeks Yated). As originally discussed in Commentary here, twelve summers later, when New York State's delegates were locked in a bitter debate whether to place New York among the other states ratifying the proposed Constitution, 17 Tammuz once again presented an obstacle. To increase pressure for an affirmative vote, the proponents for ratification scheduled a Grand Federal Procession in NYC, to demonstrate to the nay-voting Up-Staters that Down-Staters were overwhelmingly in favor, to the extent that NYC might even secede from the state in the event of a nay-vote. This massive Procession (which ultimately included a quarter of the entire population of NYC accompanied by a scaled-down frigate, artillery and trumpeters on horseback) was abruptly postponed from July 22 to July 23. The reason? At the last moment it was discovered that the original date coincided with 17 Tammuz and consequently the tiny Jewish community would be unable to participate! Michael Schwartz, whose research provided the basis for this post, surmises that the great respect for the heroism of Gershom Mendes Seixas, the hazzan of the Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue, during the British occupation of NYC, was the impetus behind the decision to postpone the momentous Procession. Schwartz also suggests that it was the Sephardic minhag of only beginning avelut during the week of Tisha b'Av that enabled the Procession to proceed on the 23rd. Had the Ashkenazim been in charge an impossible 3 week postponement would have been required!


Gershom Mendes Seixas

Gershom Mendes Seixas

An Inscription in a Psychology work on the Holiday of Purim

In a copy of Einleitung in die Psychologie als Wissenschaftby Heinrich Spitta, published in 1886, I found an interesting inscription, in Hebrew:


"לכבוד חג הפורים יום גאולת הנפש היהודית מן הכבליים הפסיכיים אשר הומטו עליה בסבת הגלות
אני נותן לך את ספר זה"

חתום מנדל פריד, קלם
"In honor of the holiday of Purim, the day of the freeing of the Jewish Soul from the psychological constraints imposed upon them by the exile, I give you this book, Mendel Fried of Kelm"




Ira Eisenstein, Baruch Litvin, and the Mechitzah

Ira Eisenstein, a founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, along with Mordechai Kaplan ( his future father-in-law), was known for his strong stance against the use of mechitzahs, and Reconstructionist synagogues from their very founding, did not employ a mechitza.

From American Jewish Archives, Spring Summer 1996: In the opinion of his biographer, Mel Scult, "Some of Kaplan's most significant departures from traditional norms concerned the role of women. Kaplan had supported women's suffrage from the pulpit of the Jewish Center, preached several sermons dealing with women in the Bible and  in Jewish history, insisted that women and men have equal voting rights in that institution and continued to encourage women's participation at the SAJ. He advocated mixed seating in both synagogues, but was forced to compromise on this issue (i.e., separate seating but with no mechitza curtain or partition at the Jewish Center). It is well known that he introduced the first Bat Mitzvah ceremony at the SAJ for his daughter, Judith, in 1922, only a few months after its founding. Of course, it was some time before women gained full equality in the congregation;  according to Jack Wertheimer, they were not counted in the minyan or called to the Torah until 1951. The opposition of some members of the congregation slowed the process of women's acceptance, as is evident in the 1945 debate regarding the granting of aliyot (blessings before and after the Torah readings) girls post Bat Mitzvah or confirmation. Kaplan was in favor of the proposal, and opinion was divided among the SAJ membership. A decision-to be made by the members was postponed pending further discussion. Nevertheless, women achieved significant equality at  the SAJ long before the issue was even raised in other American synagogues, and gender equality has remained a central principle of the Reconstructionist movement.

It was thus amusing to see a copy of Baruch Litvin's landmark pro-mechitza book, The Sanctity of the synagogue, warmly inscribed by the author to Ira Eisenstein, "that he may personally review it and "Hew to the line, and let the chips fall where they may". Trying to win him over perhaps?

The Sanctity of the Synagogue, inscribed by the author to Eisenstein



Great expectations - from an inscription in a book - Brașov, Romania 1941 תש"א

Such inscriptions found in books, inscribed during WWII on the eve of the destruction, are a living reminder of how life went on nearly as usual until it was too late. Here is an inscription in a copy of אפרסקתא דעניא by Rabbi David Sperber printed in Batu-Mare in 1940. The owner, inscribing the books,  writes that he purchased it from the Author, who was Av Bet Din in Brașov, Romania. Rabbi Sperber was born in Zablatov, to a family of Vizhnitz Chasidim. A Disciple of Rabbi Meir Arik, from 1908, he served in the rabbinate and in 1928, he became rabbi of BraSov.
"הספר הזה קניתי ממעות מעשר אצל הרב הגאון אב"ד בראשאוו יצ"ועל (ישמרה צורינו ויגן עליה) ביום א לס' קדשים תש"א לפ"ק ובזכות זה יעזור לנו ה' הטוב שנזכה לקנות עוד ספרים כדי שיתרומם קרן התורה ושנזכה לתמוך ביד לומדי התורה עד ביאת גואל אמן"


Hat-tip: Dr S. Sprecher

Sunday, June 21, 2015

An Inscription in a Hebrew Book Feb 18 1944, from Nyírmeggyes, Hungary - Days before total deportation

Found in a copy of Igra DePirka, by R. Zevi Elimelech Shapiro of Dynow printed in 1942 in Munkatch, was a brief inscription:
לדהו"מ קניתי את הספר הקדוש הזה לכבוד צורי וקוני ממעות מעשר שלי בעד 3.90 אשר התניתי מתחלה גם על זה
ב תצוה תש"ד נירמעציעיש יע"א
"To G-d is the world and all it encompasses, I purchased this holy book for the honor of my lord and master, with money set aside for tithes, for the price of 3.90, as per the condition I originally made,
Monday, Parashat Tezaveh (Feb 18, 1944) 5744, Nyírmeggyes, May G-d protect us"

Nyírmeggyes, had a Jewish Population of approximately 250 in 1910. Selective murder and deportation of Hungarian Jews was already taking place since 1941, but shortly after this inscription was written, on March 19, 1944, the total deportation of all Hungarian Jews was decided upon and swiftly carried out.






The Hapsburgs vs. the Romanovs Or: Why the Sprecher Shas Beats the Romm Shas

                                             by Dr. Shlomo Sprecher (whose wife purchased a pristine Lemberg Sprecher Shas for her husband’s birthday)

The Lemberg Sprecher Shas (printed in the 1860s) came into immediate use in last week’s Daf HaYomi cycle. The Tosefot on Ketubot 98B cites a query that Rabbeinu Yaakov-Yisrael directed to the Rabbeinu Tam regarding a significant inadvertent over-payment made by an unsuspecting Gentile debtor in paying off his debt to a Jewish moneylender. The moneylender’s agent wished to share in the unexpected windfall, whereas, of course, the moneylender wanted the over-payment for himself in its entirety. What is notable about the query are five Hebrew words “the Gentile could no longer be found,” and so the only issue to be resolved was into whose pocket was the excess to be deposited. What triggered an investigation into this Tosafot was the Rishon with two personal names, Rabbeinu Yaakov-Yisrael, seemingly a feature he shared with no other Rishonim. Turning to Urbach’s classic Ba’alei Tosefot  revealed Urbach citing Haberman citing Urbach that there is internal censorship in that passage. Sure enough, comparing the Lemberg Shas version of Tosefot with the Romm version, quickly proved that the five-word passage was created out of whole cloth by the editors of the Romm Shas not to offend the Russian authorities. Rav Dovid Cohen, in his comprehensive sefer on censored alterations in the Shas missed this one.

A classic Vilna Edition of the Talmud

Sprecher Lemberg Shas

The Sprecher Printing of the Talmud

The Sprecher Printing of the Talmud

R. Dovid Cohen's work on censored Talmudic Portions