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