Sunday, September 8, 2019

Entries from The Diary of a Jewish Bookseller Sep 2019

A clear sign the spring season has arrived, is when customers start asking me to set aside books until their wives are in the bungalows, when they can then sneak them in to their homes

An Elderly Hasidic couple visiting the store: While he spent hours browsing, his wife found a corner and spent the time knitting him a sweater

A Fiercely Anti-Zionist Hasidic visitor remarked to me that my name is composed of two evil entities, the state Israel and the Mizrahi movement, but you are OK he informed me

Conversing with a local Syrian Jew in the store on what Syrian Jewish Life was like,  felt like going back in time: His grandfather was born in 1830! Both him and his father having been born to their parents late in their life

A loyal customer noted to me about a book I had listed: Gerem Hamaalot—"the descendants of the author, R Meshulam Igra ended up in Australia and then Sacramento...and I dated one of them one summer in high school ๐Ÿ˜ฌWas somewhat tempted to buy it but I think I’m over her—i mean over it"

Just got off the phone with a young boy, approx. 10 years old who called the store and started rattling off all the books in his collection, wanting to know about them and their worth and fascinated that he found someone who he can converse about his books with

After acquiring a library from the children of a deceased collector and unpacking the boxes in the store, I received an unpleasant visit from someone who claimed to be a relative of the deceased owner, demanding the books back. A call to the family members I dealt with had them tell me, "we don't want to deal with him, figure it out on your own". After him saying "I've got friends" and "I am a man of the street", I voted to give up the books in favor of my personal safety.

A Postal worker making a delivery conveyed his amazement at the sight of all the books, and didn't leave until he purchased a Jewish Bible and some other essentials

On the phone with a customer who recently discovered his Jewishness, I was asked if there was a "Baal Teshuvah" discount. Clearly, the man still has a way to go to integrate into Haredi Society

A visiting customer took the trouble to inform me that I am wasting my life, as I could have easily become the next Rav Ovadia Yosef

I suspect I won't be hearing from a particular decade-long regular customer: Now awaiting sentencing after torching an old Rabbis home and threatening to kill him

An Israeli Judaica dealer picked up a 20th century Vizhnitz book in the shop and remarked how he loved the 16th century Venice Printing. Even after letting him know that Vizhnitz was not Venice, he insisted that in Hebrew it is one and the same

A Tale of Two Worlds in 1: Unpacking a Chabad Chassid's library I acquired, I discovered the former owner had a strange interest in the Satmar Rebbe's writings, with well-used copies of R. Menachem Mendel Schneersohn's writings adjacent to those of R. Yoel Teitelbaum

An order came through for a very specific 19th century Ketubah from a Lawyer in Panama, working on behalf of an interior designer in Europe who was designing a Russian Oligarch's new home who insisted on having one hanging in his new home along with a translation of the text

While placing an order on the phone, the customer requested I confirm that the edition of the Ohr Hachaim on the Torah she was ordering was the version that protected your home and brought blessing to your life

I received the following after a book was received by the customer: "Didn't trouble you with expressing my thanks for the Hebrew Language book over the Sabbath & Sunday, as the Lords day respectively, is his and not my property to bear tidings of any sort.Very grateful nonetheless, since my lessons in Hebrew earlier in life were cut short by a ex-wife who saw little use in what she considered a dead tongue. Fool that she remains."

A local real-estate broker asked for some basic books on Judaism, as he was dating a Jewish Girl and he was a devout Catholic. He left the store with a handful of Aryeh Kaplan books and a lengthy explanation from me of the dangers of marrying a JAP.

A young schoolboy expressed interest in Kabbalah and purchased a work by Gerschom Scholem, only to return it after his father reprimanded him for reading inappropriate material

After purchasing a Mezuzah, the customer informed me that she wasn't Jewish but believed that the Mezuzah would protect her from the evil spirits that were plaguing her

Acquiring from the library of a Jews for Jesus center that folded, I was surprised to find there a traditional Rabbinic library that would not embarrass any world-class Yeshiva.

A customer called to arrange the sale of his library following his imminent death, informing me that he had terminal cancer and he was wanted to ensure that his books find a good home after his passing

A non-Jewish Truck-driver unloading a Snapple delivery across the street, noticing me bringing in boxes of books, requested and bought some Kabbalistic works, informing me that the subject was a long-time interest of his

Making a house-call one night to pick up some books, I was rather befuddled after encountering the woman of the home doing her house chores wearing an attractive pair of Tefillin

A call comes through from a parent requesting that I keep an eye out for his son, a local 12 year old regular who is enroute to the store. The father suspected he was stealing cash to fuel his rare book collecting addiction and wanted me to see how much cash he pulls out of his wallet

Rabbi Ruvein Fein at the Gottesman Library of Yeshiva University - Guest Post by Zalman Alpert

Guest Post by Zalman Alpert, Judaica Reference Librarian at the Gottesman Library of Yeshiva University from 1982–2014

As I wrote in an earlier contribution, Gottesman Library was used by many Rebbes and scholars of the Chasidic community, but few important rabbis of the Yeshiva community used the library.

An important exception I recall was Rav Ruvein Fein, the late Rosh Yeshiva of Torah VaDaas in Brooklyn. Although he did not personally come to the library, he did send one of his talmidim as his shliach.

R. Reuven Fein

Rav Fein was a grandson of Rav Yehuda Leib Fein Hyd, the last Rav of the city of Slonim, a city noted for it's famed rabbis.

My rebbe, Rabbi Shimon Romm of RIETS, told me that he picked up his oratorical skills from listening to the drashoth of Rav Fain, while R Romm was a student in the Slonimer Yeshiva of Rav Yagel. R. Romm considered Rabbi Fain as the best rabbinic speaker in the Litvishe sector of Poland (Eastern Poland).
In 1992 I was able to assist Rav Fein's talmid in locating some shtiklech Torah that his grandfather wrote for the rabbinic journal, Shaarei Torah in Warsaw among whose editors was Rav Mendel Kasher. Using Gottesman Librarys holding of pre-War Torah periodicals, this was a challenge but hardly impossible. I didn't think much of this until a while latter when I received a hand written thank you note from Rav Ruvain, expressing his gratitude and explaining what this meant for him.

The Thank you note from Rabbi Fein

Receiving a thank you from a leading gaon was meaningful for me as well, and is something I never forgot.
Rav Feins yorhzeit is the 25th day of Sivan
Zekher Zaddik Livrocha

Announcement: Special shiur by Rabbi Yechiel Goldhaber on this Monday, Sep. 9th and Wednesday, Sep.11th, 8:45 PM

The readership of the Blog is cordially invited to a shiur/lecture by the noted author, Rav Yechiel Goldhaber, whose respected research and scholarship is well-known. 
The lecture will take place Monday, September 9th, 7:30 PM at 1454 54th Street, Brooklyn, NY. Rabbi Goldhaber’s speech will be delivered in Yiddish. The subject of this lecture is “The Mesorah of the Etrogim”. Rabbi Goldhaber will present the subject matter in a comprehensive, detailed yet clear manner, aided by drawings, pictures and photographs.
This lecture is dedicated ืœื–ื›ืจ ื ืฉืžืช  the late Dr. Shlomo Sprecher ื–״ืœ  who coordinated and hosted many of Rabbi Goldhaber’s shiurim.


A second lecture by the noted author, Rav Yechiel Goldhaber, will take place Wednesday, September 11th, 8:45 PM at 39 Eastbourne Dr Chestnut Ridge, NY. Rabbi Goldhaber’s speech will be delivered in English. The subject of this lecture is “The Mesorah of the Esrogim”. Rabbi Goldhaber will present the subject matter in a comprehensive, detailed yet clear manner, aided by drawings, pictures and photographs.

Cataloging Unrecorded Jewish Pre-war Printings - How Many Titles were Lost Forever?

Ever wonder how many Jewish books were published before the Holocaust that are totally lost to time, with no copies existing or known of today? My suspicion is that approx. 10% of all pre-war printings are not present in any library today and are lost to time.

In surprising frequency I find myself holding a book in my hands that has no record in any library catalog or bibliography that I referenced. One such title I just cataloged is titled
ืื”ื‘ืช ื”ื’ืจื™ื : ืื™ื™ื ืข ื•ื•ืื•ื“ืจื‘ืืจืข ื’ืฉื™ื›ื˜ืข ื“ืขืฉ ื ื™ืงืืœื™ื™ืขืจ ื’ืจ ืฆื“ืง ืจ' ื™ื•ืกืฃ
printed in 1907 in Krashnov. I found no record of this printing and I found no record of the printer of this title printing any other works "ื‘ื“ืคื•ืก ื”ืžืฉื•ื‘ื— ืฉืœ ื™. ืง. ื“ื™ื™ื˜ืฉืขืจ ื "ื™ ืžืงืจืืฉื ื•ื‘".

The book records the story of a certain Yosef who converted to Judaism in the 18th century, passed away in 1807 and was buried in the town of Nikolay. An 1816 publication published in Breslau first recorded the account of this convert, but I was able to find very little information on him outside of these publications.

While the Nazi's plans for the murder of Jews is common knowledge, their systematic attempt to destroy and plunder Jewish Libraries throughout Europe is well documented though less known. Every title as such that I can save and find a library to acquire gives me a minor pleasure at my little revenge at the Nazis.

Approx. 10% of the titles that I am cataloging from this era I find only 1 or no known copies in libraries. I estimated that for every book that just one copy remains, an equal amount have no remaining copies. Naturally, some books have thousands of existing copies and most titles are someone in between. This is not a perfect calculation but as best as I can come up with.

 The ones that I found over the years that were unrecorded run the gamut, but several factors raise the possibility that a title would be lost: private, limited runs, often printed via Mimeograph or other "crude" printing methods. Fiction seems to be much less likely to survive, particularly serialized publications that came out in pamphlets. Much of the popular Yiddish pulp fiction of the late 19th century is very rare and scarcely seen. Ladino literature printed in the Balkans and Greece, communities which were permanently decimated by the Nazis, I have found a surprising amount of Ladino that has not been recorded, despite much effort to save such things in recent years. Newspapers is another field, many small towns had brief stints of Yiddish or Hebrew papers, by nature these publications were disposable, and I suspect that many disappeared without a trace

A free-end Inscription of a Voyage to America from Merzig, Germany, 1866

The year was 1866, a brother and sister were embarking on a long and treacherous journey from their hometown, the small town of Merzig, in Germany. Their destination was the New World, to start a new life in the United States, as part of the increasing migration of German Jews over the Atlantic.

A record of their trip, I found in a miniature Hebrew-German Siddur which they brought with them on their voyage. On the free-ends of the small volume, I found a unique personal prayer for their safety on their journey written by the Chazan of their town of Merzig, Chaim Gershon Schnerb.

The Jewish Community of Merzig was a small but old German Jewish Community. The travelers, Mayer and his sister Miriam were from the Hanau family, a prominent family of the town, whose family members we find in the town for centuries. In his prayer, the Chazan C. G. Schnerb beseeches God, in the merit of the Sacrifice of Isaac, the prophecy of Samuel, Eliyahu and Elisha and the holiness of the tzadikim of all generations. The prayer requests that God protect them from the dangerous creatures of the sea, asks that the sea remain calm and that the sailors and captain of the ship do their work diligently and without laziness.

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"JEWISH COPY" of PROTOCOLS OF THE ELDERS OF ZION 1923 Die Protokolle - Rosenberg

 A library can often be a prism to view its owner's life, interests and convictions, and acquiring libraries daily can often lead to some interesting surprises. Did German Jews in the Nazi Era read Nazi Propaganda? Was it taboo for a Jew to own Anti-Semitic conspiracy publications? A library of a German Jew I recently acquired gave insights in to one man's approach to such things.

Aside from his owning several classic as well as obscure Anti-Semitic publications, I found in the collection, a copy of the notorious Anti-Semitic Propaganda: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This edition was in the German translation of Alfred Rosenberg, the head of the Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories and war criminal during the Nazi era.

Printed in 1923, while Hitler was still a relatively minor figure in Germany, Die Protokolle der Weisen von Zion und die jรผdische Weltpolitik became an instant success and was reprinted numerous times through the Nazi Era.

Facing the title page of this copy, on the wrappers, we find an advertisement for an early Pro-Hitler book, Adolf Hitlers Ziele und Persönlichkeit (Adolf Hitler's goals and personality) by Johannes Stark.
This copy though found itself in rather unusual company, with a Jewish Ownership and bound by the former owner with 4 Rabbinical German Jewish publications. The books that were bound in include a book of Rabbinic Jewish Parables, a Defense of Shechitah, a Guide to Hebrew and a German translation of a Medrash, Lekach Tov.

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A Case of a Woman and Two Husbands - 1943 postcard - Canarsie, Brooklyn

You know how rabbis like to remark in their sermons "If only you knew of the things I have to deal with"? Sometimes it is really true.
Inserted in to a book with ownership markings of Rabbi Dov Yehuda Daina, I found this postcard addressed to him sent in 1943
The postcard reads:
Dear Rabbi Diner,
Since you are the Rabbi in charge of the four synagogues in Canarsie, and you heard that Adele Rosenblum has a husband and children in Europe. She is now married to another man on 81st st, his name is Dr. Foyer. In my name please do not permit it.
yours truly,
Harry Rosenblum

Presumably, this Harry Rosenblum is a relative of her "first" husband.

Rabbi Daina was born in Slutsk, where his grandfather Reb Zundl Salant was chief judge over religious matters [for the local Jewish community]. Zundl Salant was a cousin of Reb Yosif Zundl Salant of Jerusalem, who was in turn the teacher of [the famous] Reb Yisroyl Salanter When his grandfather passed away, Dov Yehuda Daina replaced him as judge and religious authority. He was raised in Slutsk during the first eleven years of his life and in fact began studying at the Slutsk yeshiva [unusual for a boy so young].
In 1917 this judge and religious authority of Slutsk left for Harbin, Manchuria, where he remained until 1925.

From his arrival in America until his death in 1945 he lived in Canarsie [Brooklyn, N.Y.]. Rabbi Daina also brought his young son Mordkhe to Harbin, where the latter learned the Russian language fluently, at a gimnazye [government high school]. In 1925 he and his father came to America, where the son entered Yeshivat Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan [rabbinical seminary now part of Yeshiva University].
The young Rabbi Daina, upon ordination, became a rabbi in Syracuse, later in Brooklyn, until becoming a military chaplain in 1944.
Due to his knowledge of the Russian language, he was sent to Shanghai [a city of refuge for escapees from the Nazi invasion of Russia and of Eastern Europe in general]. There he was among the first American Jews to meet survivors from the European yeshivas.

Original Letter By The Haktav Vehakabbalah - Fascinating Insight in to the Motives for it's publication

A first edition of the Sefer Haktav Vehakabbalah, published in 1839 which I sold this week, came appended with an interesting letter written by the author, R. Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg to a recipient of the sefer, Rav Chaim, the Av Bet Din in Gutentag (Dobrodzien of today). In the letter, Rav Mecklenburg writes of his intent in publishing such a book and the intended audience and his hopes that it effects their attitudes and beliefs.
He writes how he is responding to so-called wise men of the day, who venture to speak badly about the authors of the Talmud, accusing the Amoraim of a lack of knowledge of proper Hebrew. His work was thus intended to counteract the reform movements authors, whose writings of Bible Criticism and attacks on Rabbinic Judaism were prevalent at the time. It is therefore not surprising, that alongside the Vilna Gaon and Shadal, we find the author referencing non-Rabbinic sources, such as that of Julius Fรผrst, Mendelsson and Naphtali Hirz Wessely. R. Mecklenburg requests the assistance of the recipient of his letter to spread the published work and help defend the faith.
He concludes the letter by mentioning that he is in the process of completing a second work on the Torah, which will supplement the Haktav Vehakabbalah and work in the same method. Unfortunately, this second work was never published.

Minyan LeBanot ืžื ื™ืŸ ืœื‘ื ื•ืช a ca. 1960s Agudah Prayer-group for Women

Minyan LeBanot ืžื ื™ืŸ ืœื‘ื ื•ืช
Is Agudah for or against women organizing their own Minyan?
Alongside some books I just acquired, was found this mimeographed poster from many decades ago, announcing a special Shachrit Minyan for young girls and high school girls on every Shabbat Mevarchim at the Crown Heights, Brooklyn, branch of Bnos.

ืžื ื™ืŸ ืœื‘ื ื•ืช 
EVERY ืฉื‘ืช ืžื‘ืจื›ื™ื AT 9:30 AT THE
THIS ืฉื‘ืช

hat-tip: Y. Strohe

Early 20th Century American Synagogue Constitutions - A Window Into Synagogue Life and Regulations of the Period.

In the era of minyan-factories and a flourishing of small synagogues at the expense of many of the large and established ones, a collection of Synagogue Constitutions I recently acquired provided a fascinating insight in to how synagogues were run in the early 20th century in the United States.

The collection comprises 60 different constitutions, each with it's own laws, customs and often very strict rules, mostly from the early 1900s in the New World. Membership in the synagogues were generally a strictly guarded privilege and not a right, and deviating members can expect to be fined or expelled for any wrong-doings. Many of the synagogues imposed fines for members who talked during davening, removed their Tallith before the completion of prayers or were habitually late. Many of the laws attempted to curtail assimilation and deter members from moving towards the Reformers, in a time when an individual's affiliations between the different Jewish movements was luid and often changing. A look at a sample of the by-laws found in these Constitutions sheds light on to the challenges and threats to Judaism in this period.

From the Constitution and by-laws of the Congregation Shearith Israel in the city of New York: " That all umbrellas and canes, excepting canes carried by lame persons, shall be left at the door and that all garments taken off shall be deposited in the free seats near the door, unless the owners thereof put them in their own seats". " That any person or persons leaving the synagogue shall retire in a quiet and orderly manner, and avoid going out together, or in bodies, and more particularly during the reading of the Torah and Hapthtorah, and that if any person or persons shall act contrary to this law, they and each of them shall be considered as having committed an offense and punished accordingly".

From the Constitution of the Congregation Beth Hamedrosh Hagodol of Washington Heights: "A member may be expelled for creating a disturbance in the synagogue or if convicted of a criminal offense." "No alterations that are conflicting with the laws as laid down in the Shulchan Orach shall be made in the daily prayers, ceremonies or customs as long as one member of this congregation shall oppose it".

From the Constitution and by-laws of Congregation Agudas Israel of Ridgewood, Brooklyn: "The Congregation is forever to be an Orthodox Congregation". "All books and business shall be conducted in the English Language although a member has the privilege of employing the Yiddish language when addressing members of the congregation". "In the case of the death of a member, the Congregation will provide a plot in our cemetery, a hearse with two carriages..".

From the Constitution of the New Kosintiner Young and Old Mens Benevolent and Aid Society : "A brother who does not attend a funeral and does not show just cause shall be fined $2.00" " A brother who falsely claims sick shall be subject to expulsion at the discretion of the members".

From the Constitution of Washington Heights Congregation adopted in 1914: ""None but Hebrews will be permitted to participate at services in the Choir of the Congregation". "Any member conducting himself at a meeting or during services in the synagogue in a disorderly manner, or who shall depart from the strict Orthodox Faith, may be expelled or suspended".

From the Constitution of the First Zablotower Cong. Beth Israel, the Oath for Newly Installed Officers reads: " I (first and family name), in the presence of all sisters and brethren of the First Zablotower Cong. Beth Israel fathered in this place, herewith promise to fulfill my duties as officer honestly and faithfully, whereupon I pledge my word of honor. Amen."

From the Constitution and By-Laws of the Congregation Mishkan Tefila, Boston, in 1913 : "Marriage contrary to the laws of the Jewish religion, renunciation of Judaism, or conduct injurious to the cause and welfare of our ancient faith and race shall be deemed ample grounds for expulsion from membership".

From the Constitution and By-Laws of the Sephardic Brotherhood of America organized 1915 "The President, the Vice President and the Secretary of the Brotherhood shall read, write and speak English and Spanish-Jewish". "English shall be the official language of the Central Council, but discussions in Spanish-Jewish shall be permitted to delegates. Official minutes shall be kept in English and Spanish Jewish".