Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Rabbi Yitzchak Ashkenazi, son of R. Asher Anshel: An Unusual case of father-son plagiarism

In 1903 a volume titled שמן ראש Shemen Rosh was published in Munkatch, containing Responsa and Sermons by R. Asher Anshel Ashkenazi. At the end of book, appears a section titled בשמים ראש containing the author's sermons, followed by the will and testament of R. Moses David Ashkenazi, R. Asher Anshel’s grandfather.

R. Asher Anshel ben Mordecai Ashkenazi (1833-1901) was a grandson of the renowned R. Moses David Ashkenazi (c. 1780–1856) who was born in Galicia where his father Asher served as rabbi. From 1803 to 1843 R. Moses David Ashkenazi was the rabbi of Tolcsva, Hungary, thereafter he settled in Ereẓ Israel where he became a rabbi of the Ashkenazi community in Safed, a position he held until his death in 1901. R. Asher Anshel was also the ancestor of R. Yoel Teitalbaum, the Satmar Rebbe, and his cousin and well known gabbai for many years, R. Yosef Ashkenazi.
Title page of Shemen Rosh, 1903 Munkatch

Besamim Rosh section at end of Shemen Rosh, 1903

Final page of 1903 Edition


During WWI, Rabbi Yitzchak Ashkenazi, the son of R. Asher Anshel, was displaced and found himself in Frankfurt. During his stay, he published just the portion containing the sermons, a total of 30 pages, titled Besamim Rosh, stating on the title page:
"הלא הוא זה הקונטרס האחד הניצל מלהט החרב המתהפכת בעירנו והחלק הנדפס מעיד על הכל הנתפס!"
translating as: "Behold this is the one portion of the work saved from the flaming thrashing sword of war that engulfed our hometown, this printed portion, shall serve as a testimony to the balance of the work"

and on the bottom of the title page it states
" כעת בשעת חירום וחרבן האדרעססע של הרב המחבר המו"ל היא: ... Rabb. Isaac Aschkenasy, Frankfurt a.M. "
translating as "Currently, during this period of emergency, the address of the author and publisher is.."

As can be seen in the photos of the title page below, the sermons are now clearly attributed to the author's son and not to his father!

A possibly theory can be, that the son R. Yitzchak Ashkenazi found himself in dire needs during the turmoil and displacement of the great war, that this was an attempt to attain enough recognition, to be able to find the financial and physical support needed to survive the horrors of the war.
Title page of Besamim Rosh, published ca1915 in Frankfurt


"הלא הוא זה הקונטרס האחד הניצל מלהט החרב המתהפכת בעירנו והחלק הנדפס מעיד על הכל הנתפס!"
" כעת בשעת חירום וחרבן האדרעססע של הרב המחבר המו"ל היא: .. Rabb. Isaac Aschkenasy, Frankfurt a.M. "

Second page of Besamim Rosh

Final page of Besamim Rosh

Haim Nahman Bialik and Rabbi Yisrael Hager walk in to a bookstore...

I have seen many Bialik books in my life and many books owned by the Hager Rabbinic family, but never before a combination of the two. The provenance on a copy of Bialik's sefer Ha'Aggadah which I acquired was rather surprising to me.
This book was signed and stamped several times by Rabbi Yisrael Hager, the Radawitzer Rebbe and his son, Rabbi Yosef Shmuel. The Radawitzer Rebbe, Grand Rabbi Israel Hager, was the first Hasidic rabbi to settle permanently in the United States, in 1913


On the dangers of appraisals: An "autograph" copy of the Noda Beyehuda's דגול מרבבה

Of the many reasons I get called for appraisals of book collections, the most straight-forward ones are generally the ones where the family is looking to split the collection between inheritors. In this particular case, the family was not interested in selling any part of the collection, but wanted to know the values so they can ensure a fair division between the siblings.

The prize of the collection were several autograph manuscripts by prominent Rabbis, including the Chatam Sofer, the Maharam Schik and the Noda Beyehuda, Rabbi Yechezkel Landau, that were in the family for generations. I was told that these were already appraised and authenticated a decade earlier by a noted expert and a cursory look confirmed the former two, but the work of the Noda Beyehuda, what was said to be in the handwriting of Rabbi Yechezkel Landau didn't seem right. I took a few photos with the intention of confirming the handwriting once I got back to the store and can verify the identity.

Opening a first printed edition copy of the Dagul Merevavah quickly confirmed my suspicions, published by the author's son, R. Israel Landau, he explicitly writes on the title page that he copied the text from the margins of the Shulhan Aruch of his father. Additional comparisons confirmed that the handwriting was indeed of his son.

Reporting back to the family, suffice it to say, that they were very displeased with my findings, which effectively deducted 95% of the value that was originally estimated, in the 6 figure range.


Original Manuscript of דגול מרבבה

Title page of first edition of דגול מרבבה

A record of a Dybbuk 1843 exorcised by Rav Dov Ber of Sadigura

At the end of a small volume, titled Darke Yosher by R. Moshe Yaakov Sharf, published in 1902, appears a record of a Dybbuk exorcism, which the author was present at. The Dybbuk appeared in the year 1843, at R. Dov Ber (Sadigura?). He writes how the dybbuk, being the soul of a Shochet, which fed the population non-kosher meat, entered the body of an 11 year old girl.
The following is from his description of the event:
שמעו ותחי נפשיכם..יכתת ואף להלוך על כפיו למקום המקודש הלזה ולחזות בנועם זיו קדושת אדמו"ר קדוש עליון שיתחדש כנשר נעוריו אשרי לי ואשרי חלקי שזכיתי לראות בעין ולשמוע באזני נוראות נפלאות הפלא..על אותם האנשים הנאהבים גם לי שידעתי שהמה כרוכים בחכמות כאלו המכחישים ענינים כאלו. חי ה כי רצוני לפדותם מני שחת
Translating as: "Listen, so that you may live.. each and every Jew should travel and even walk to this holy place and be able to see our great leader and master (R. Dovber), the holy one may he be blessed with the wellness of youth. Blessed am I and blessed is my lot, that I merited to see with my own eyes and hear with my ears, the great wonders... of this Dybbuk... I was bothered by those people, some of which I know, that are involved in beliefs that deny beliefs in such matters, I swear on G-d's name that I want to save them from eternal damnation."



Methods of 21st century Rabbinical book banning: The case of Deal Declassified

Deal Declassified, is a modest unassuming magazine, that for ten years now, has been catering to the hordes of Syrian Jews who leave Brooklyn to spend their summers in Deal, NJ. Containing all the information a resident of Deal may need, the magazine contains lists of synagogues, restaurants and other businesses that cater to the community, as well as advertisement of local establishments and articles of local interest.

The magazine, which is published anonymously, added a feature in this years issue titled "Venters to the editor", one of which rubbed several Rabbis in the community the wrong way. The letter takes issue with the practice of certain untrained community men, who achieve fame as great motivational speakers, and then suddenly assume full responsibilities of the Rabbinate. "Not every speaker, is a Rabbi. Not every Rabbis is a Talmud Chacham" states the letter. The letter describes how some of these people suddenly become experts in Halachah, Hashkafah, Marriage Counseling etc, resulting in numerous blunders.

The response from a few individual community Rabbis, who felt they were personally targeted was swift. Due to the anonymity of the magazine, the method used was to track down the advertisers, and intimidate them to revealing the publisher, who was then located and forced to immediately cease the distribution of the publication. The publisher has since made a hasty sale of the publication and time will tell if it will have ceased to exist.


Letter in response to Torah Scholars 2014 article

continuation of letter in response to Torah Scholars 2014 article on left column

Mizrahi Bookstore's new all inclusive non-discriminatory restroom policy

In an attempt to modernize the social ethics of the store, and to reflect the wide range of Jews that end up in the establishment, I affixed a new sign this week to the restroom in the store



Once a Jew always a Jew: A New Testament with Cantillation

There are many legends of Jewish Converts to Christianity who could not give up their Sabbath Cholent or Fish, but here is an interesting volume published by Ezekiel Margoliouth, who converted to Christianity but apparently loved leining the Torah. He published a Hebrew New Testament which he added vowels and cantillation to. To this day, Margoliouth's Christian Bible, is the only one to include cantillation. Unfortunately, there are no musical notations in the volume, so it remains unknown to me if his intention was for the reader to use the cantillation generally used for the Torah, or the one for the prophets or perhaps other books of the Old Testament.

Ezekiel Margoliouth (1815‒1894) hailed from the Polish part of Russia and was the son of the Chief Rabbi of Suwalki, Rabbi Avraham Margaliouth. He went to the rabbinical seminary at Warsaw, were he first met missionaries of the London Jews Society. At the age of 27 he converted to Christianity. In 1852 he was appointed a missionary of the LJS in London, and worked in Bethnal Green as a missionary to the Jews almost to the end of his life.





An unusual date for a Hebrew inscription - Persian Medical Manuscript

In a beautifully written Persian manuscript of Folk Medicinal Remedies that I recently acquired, I found several ownership inscriptions in Hebrew. A previous owner, writes and dates his name in several languages, the Hebrew inscription reads מרדכי .. ב תשרי תרכ"ב Mordechai, the second day of Tishre, 1861.

The second day of Tishre is the second day of the holiday of Rosh Hashanah. I found it highly unusual that there would be a Jew in Iran in this period that would be writing on Rosh Hashanah, a day when Jews traditionally refrained from Work and writing would have been forbidden. There is though the possibility, that though he knew the Hebrew Calendar and could write Hebrew, he erred on the date.

sample page of the manuscript

Inscription is on upper left side

inscriptions are on margins on top and left

sample page of the manuscript

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Entries from The Diary of a Jewish Bookseller and recent acquisitions, June 2018

A non-local visitor, though Jewish, appeared unfamiliar and slightly intimidated by the intensity of the Jewishness encountered in Brooklyn. Before entering the store she timidly asked if it was required of her to wear a Yarmulka before entering the store.

A 26 year old visitor from New Square, NY, visiting the store, was attempting to use our online catalog. After some guidance, he was able to master the mouse and the keyboard, this being his very first time using a computer.

An occasional customer from Dubai, requested a copy of Ehud Olmert's newly released בגוף ראשון. He stated that he needed it badly and arranged for us to express it to NY from Israel, had it picked up by a nyc taxi-cab and placed on a plane to him in the UAE, as his country does not have any post between the two countries.

A Satmar Chassid visiting the store on Yom Ha'atsmaut, had a specific request. He was in search for, and ultimately bought, pictorial books depicting Religious Israeli Soldiers.

A chance encounter of a customer from Belgium and another from Toronto visiting the shop turned in to a spontaneous reunion. They learned together in Yeshiva in Gateshead over 3 decades ago and this was the first they have seen each other since. After some catching up on life, and a few hours of browsing, the two exited the store while exchanging contact info, promising to keep in touch.

A customer buying some books on Israel, remarked to me that his Catholic side of his family is more Zionist than his Jewish side.

An unrepentant customer, requested to arrange his picking up the books late at night, after his mother was asleep and he can thus sneak it in to the house without her knowing.

For the umpteenth time, I receive a call from someone who has a "friend" in Jordan, who found the seal of King David (or some variation of this theme), and is willing to sell it to me for a bargain of only 4 million dollars.

A visual artist had a peculiar request. He needed books with blue cloth bindings on Jewish themes, which he will use to create sculptures

While conversing with a visiting avid book collector from Israel, he mentioned that he had a manuscript of unpublished responsa of a noted Syrian Rabbi. Recalling that I had another customer who was working on the same Rabbi's writing, an impromptu meeting was arranged and immediate plans were made for it's publication.

I remarked to a famed Jewish tour-guide that I had noticed a remarkable rise in libraries being offered to me, of Jews who were leaving Brooklyn for life in NJ or the Five Towns. He responded that he was indeed already envisioning himself giving tours of Boro Park and Flatbush to tourists who had vague recollections of the Jewish Life that once existed in these neighborhoods.

A female book collector ordered a fine Haggadah Facsimile before Passover, while remarking that while other women are shopping for clothing for the holiday, she was content with adding a fine volume to her collection.

In negotiating a price for a rare volume I was selling, I mentioned to a German customer that I wouldn't be happy with a price under a certain amount. He answered in bewilderment, "but I am not here to make your happy, I am here to buy books".

Some prominent recent acquisitions include the libraries of:

Yosef Goldman
A veteran Jewish/Hebrew bookseller, Yosef Goldman was 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. 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. Acquired were several thousand books from his collection, as well as his reference library, meticulously built over his decades long career.


Prof. Benny Kraut
Born in 1947 in Munich, where his parents were consigned to a displaced persons’ camp, then raised in Canada, Kraut was serving as professor of history at Queens College of the City University of New York and was also a member of the faculty of CUNY’s Graduate Center. From 1986 until 1991, he edited the book review section of this journal.  Kraut graduated summa cum laude in philosophy from Yeshiva University in 1968, then earned his M. A. in 1970 and five years later his Ph. D. from Brandeis University’s Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies. Ben Halpern supervised Kraut’s doctoral dissertation. Beginning in 1976, and for over two decades, Kraut directed Judaic Studies and taught Jewish history at the University of Cincinnati. He came to Queens College in 1998 to teach in the Department of History. At both Cincinnati and Queens, Kraut taught a prodigious variety of courses, including the history of Jewish civilization (from the Biblical through the rabbinic periods, from the middle ages down through the modern era); American Jewish history; the Book of Job and the problem of evil; the history of antisemitism and other Jewish-Christian encounters; and the history of Zionism. Both at Cincinnati and at Queens he was beloved by his students.

Rabbi Gershon (Gersion) Appel
Rabbi Appel graduated from RIETS in 1940; he was the last student to be ordained by Rabbi Dov Revel, and he wrote the eulogy for Rabbi Revel in the Yeshiva College student newspaper. He was also ordained by Rabbi Moshe Soloveichik, father of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. Rabbi Appel served as Rabbi of leading orthodox congregations in Worcester, MA, New York City, Seattle, WA, and Kew Gardens, NY. Rabbi Appel’s former academic positions included: Yeshiva University Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and Jewish Studies, Professor of Jewish Philosophy and Chairman of the Department of Philosophy at Stern College of Yeshiva University, and Adjunct Professor of Graduate Hebrew Studies at New York University.

Salo ( Shalom Moshe) Schlanger
Born in Lizhensk in 1919, was brought up in Düsseldorf, Germany, until he was expelled in 1938 with all other Polish Jews. After surviving the war in various labor camps (Plaszow, Skarzysko and others), he was liberated by the Russians on the Buchenwald death march. Settling in the Upper West Side in 1946, an electrician by trade, he spent his nights with his books, completing the daf yomi cycle 4 times and reading and building his book collection on the numerous subjects that interested him.




Trolling Hitler - A copy of The Nazi's plan-book for dealing with the Jews of United States and Canada

One of the workplace dangers of being a bookseller, is losing your sensitivity and excitement when handling rare, important and valuable books. Once in a while though, something crosses your hands that makes the world around you stand still and you can grasp in the air the historical weight of a book that finds itself in your hands.

One such book, was The 137-page report, “Statistik, Presse und Organisationen des Judentums in den Vereinigten Staaten und Kanada” (Statistics, Media, and Organizations of Jewry in the United States and Canada), compiled in 1944 by Heinz Kloss, a German linguist who specialized in minorities and visited the United States in the early 1930s. The cover, bears a diagonal warning “For Official Use Only”. On the verso is a bookplate with a stylized eagle perched on an oak branch clutching a laurel-wreathed swastika in its talons. It is framed, in bold-face type, “Ex Libris Adolf Hitler.”

The book was part of a large collection of rare Judaica owned by a recently deceased Holocaust Survivor which we acquired. The thought of a Holocaust Survivor holding Hitler's own copy of his plan for the Jews of the United States, encapsulates for me much of Jewish History, with the diminutive Jewish Nation standing and observing from a distance the ruins of the great empires of it's enemies.




The provenance for this volume is from a Judaica Auction which took place in 2011. At the time, the New York Times wrote an article on this volume, the following is from their description of this copy: The Hitler book was among the thousands taken by American G.I.’s from the Nazi leader’s alpine retreat outside Berchtesgaden in the spring of 1945. Most have ended up in attics, basements and bookshelves across America. One of the more notable examples I have seen is Hitler’s personal copy of Shakespeare’s collected works, 10 volumes bound in fine Moroccan leather with a swastika and the letters AH embossed on the spine. On occasion, these war trophies find their way onto the antiquarian book market.

The book underscores with stark statistical data how assiduous the Nazis were, even as late as 1944, in pursuing their goal of world domination as well as their designs for extending the geographic compass of the “final solution.” That such a volume found its way into Hitler’s personal library is as understandable as it is chilling.




“When a person gives they have to take,” Hitler once said. “And I take what I need from books.” Hitler was an obsessive reader from childhood, and his understanding of America was shaped in great part by his readings, in his youth, of the cowboy-and-Indian stories of the adventure novelist Karl May, and later in life of the anti-Semitic writings of Henry Ford. Hitler kept copies of Ford’s “The International Jew: The World’s Foremost Problem” on a table outside his office and included it in a list of books “every National Socialist should know.”

After reading “America in the Battle of the Continents,” a screed about Franklin D. Roosevelt’s alleged war mongering written by the Germanophilic Norwegian explorer Sven Hedin, Hitler sent the author a three-page letter thanking him for setting the record straight.

Hitler’s most valued book on America was “The Passing of the Great Race,” by a Columbia-educated eugenicist, Madison Grant, who claimed that American greatness, built on the Nordic stock of its founding fathers, was being eroded by the allegedly inferior blood of immigrant races. Hitler quoted liberally from Grant in his speeches and is said to have sent him a letter describing “The Passing of the Great Race” as “my bible.”

The Kloss report is a fitting addition to Hitler’s American reading list, but this particular book comes with a double-barbed moral hitch. What kind of price tag belongs on a book that would have, but for the defeat of the Nazis, provided a blueprint for the horrific consequences of similar data-collecting efforts across Europe? More problematic still, who would want to own such a book that was almost certainly perused and quite likely studied by Hitler during one of the ritual nocturnal reading sessions, usually with a cup of tea, in his upstairs study at the Berghof?

It would be best if the Kloss report were acquired by an individual or institution willing to donate it to a public collection, ideally, the Rare Books and Manuscripts Division at the Library of Congress. There it could join 1,200 other surviving volumes from Hitler’s private library and not only be readily accessible to scholars and historians but also occupy appropriate shelf space with an equally sinister companion book from Hitler’s private book collection, a 1925 German translation of Madison Grant’s “The Passing of the Great Race,” bearing a personal inscription to Hitler.