Sunday, January 6, 2019

Entries from The Diary of a Jewish Bookseller and recent acquisitions Jan 2019

An apparently healthy customer ended a general email with book requests with the following curt and morbid request: I have many boxes of Judaica ... Can my children just ship them to you when I die?

A loyal local book addict refused to wait until I cleared shelf space to unload a new collection, he brought from his home a large mobile bookcase and proceeded to neatly unpack the boxes for easy viewing

A fellow who got irritated at hearing a noted speaker wrongly date R. Eliyahu Hacohen (1640-1729) as a 19th century author, had me ship a 17th century copy of his book Shevet Mussar to the speaker's home, in order to prove a point

A six foot tall visiting customer, had me promise that there were no mice in the store basement before he headed in to the shop, explaining that he had an intense fear of mice

Completing an order of books that she was gifting to her husband, the woman remarked, "that should get him off my back for a few weeks"

After viewing a fine library of a Rabbi and scholar, the son of the deceased Rabbi remarked to me, "my father was a nice fellow, but unfortunately a Kofer (heretic)"

An elderly customer was too weak to make his weekly visit to the store, so he hailed a cab and had me bring out ten books at a time to the car. He made his selections, which I mailed to his home

A caller got very irate and anxious when I informed him that a book he requested was not in stock. The book title was Religious Compulsions and Fears by Avigdor Bonchek

After a customer completed a large purchase, I received a plea from a friend of his that I should not sell him any more books, as his family was nearly starving for food, and the book addict can't control his impulses

A grieving woman called in search of a particular poem of Yehuda Halevi, which she informed me was going to be burned and buried with her mother's ashes

Looking for a listening ear, an old customer called to tell him that his wife has kicked him out of his house and is holding his collection of 10,000 books hostage

Placing an order for a set of Zohar, the customer requested it be sent asap, as he was holding off moving in to his new home, until the Zohar was present to protect it

Some prominent recent acquisitions include the libraries of:

Rabbi Moshe Sherer z"l

Rabbi Moshe Sherer (June 18, 1921 – May 17, 1998) was co-Chairman of the Agudath Israel World Organization from 1980, and the Chairman of Agudath Israel of America from 1963, until his death in 1998. Rabbi Sherer was an askan par excellence, credited with building American Jewish Orthodoxy from it's infancy in the post-war period, in to the a politically and religiously influential force it is today. His library reflected his work on many of the current issues of the day, as well as a wide selection of sermon and oratory material, classic works on American Judaism, and a plethora of books inscribed to him by leaders and laymen from all walks of life in the Jewish World.

Rabbi Gilbert Klaperman z"l

Rabbi Gilbert Klaperman z”l, 96, chaplain, Rabbi, author and lawyer. Born in Harlem, ordained by Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary in 1941, he received a master’s from the University of Iowa and a law degree from Hofstra Law School. Rabbi Klaperman served as Rabbi in Charleston, West New York, New Jersey, Kingston, Ontario. and most famously, as founder and Rabbi of Congregation Beth Sholom in Lawrence, the first Orthodox Jewish Synagogue in Nassau County. After his retirement in 1988, Rabbi Klaperman practiced law, and served for a time as Assistant District Attorney in Kings County and general counsel of the Department of Business Services of the City of New York. He was a member of the Law Department of the New York City Housing Authority. His library reflected his long career and many interests, with a strong collection from his chaplain period in WWII, a large selection on Soviet Jewry, for which he was a vocal voice, as well as a large selection of material on Yeshiva University, which was used for the now classic book he authored, "The Story of Yeshiva University".

R. Mordecai "Motty" Blumenthal z"l
The Blumenthal Judaica store, ca 1950

Born in to a Rabbinic family, Mordechai Blumenthal's father, Rabbi Zelig Blumenthal, a seventh generation Yerushalmi, came to New York City from Jerusalem, Israel with his family in 1950. In New York, he saw that there was a growing demand to supply synagogues with beautiful Torah scrolls. Remembering the workmanship from the old generations, he decided to supply the traditional quality from the old city. Rabbi Blumenthal’s reputation, as a sofer (scribe) of the highest quality, spread rapidly. In a neighborhood of scribes, located in the Lower East Side of New York, he became known as a “scribe’s scribe”, one who followed the laws and customs of one’s heritage. He passed his knowledge on to his son Mordechai Blumenthal, who supplied numerous communities throughout the US with Sifre Torah, Tefillin and Mezuzot. The Blumenthal Judaica store on the Lower East Side was a fixture on the Lower East side for many decades, outliving the score of Judaica Stores that the Lower East Side housed by many decades.

Rabbi Asher Turin z"l

Rabbi Asher Turin, served as Rabbi of the Baycrest Terrace Minyan in Toronto, a chaplain and Rabbi at Yeshiva Ner Yisroel in Toronto as well as a co-director of the Machon Tzvi Institute in Jerusalem. A graduate of Yeshiva University and Yeshivat Ner Yisrael, Rabbi Turin was known for his extensive knowledge of  numerous areas of Jewish interest. Never far from his books, Rabbi Turin was known for his warmth, patience and love of books, always sharing his latest reads with his friends, acquaintances and members of his synagogue. His library reflected his wide interests, from Ancient to Modern Jewish History, classic and modern Halakhic works, Jewish-Christian Relations, Israel, the Holocaust and everything in between. Notable was his habit of buying duplicates of books he was reading, so he can always share a copy with a friend.

Shomrim Cards: A Modern Battle Over the Minds of Jewish Youth

Alongside some books I acquired, a fine collection of Shomrim Cards came in to my possession. In many Hasidic circles of late, Shomrim Cards are very popular among the young, traded, collected and promoted by all ages. The cards, brainstormed by a certain Rabbi Shaul Yitzchak Rabinowitz, who recently died a tragic young death after a long illness, have one motive and message: to win over the school-aged children in the fight against the smartphones.

examples of some Shomrim Cards שומרים קארטלעך

The people behind these cards and their supporters, are of the belief that owning a smartphone is of the greatest dangers to Jewish life today and the cards offer a way to show what they believe to be the horrors of the smartphone to the children in an illustrative and fun way, in the form of trading cards. The cards show the smartphone users looking like animals and devils, they describe them as being on the way to hell or to jail as a result of their iPhones, and other cards show them as ending up abandoning their religion as a result of their smartphone addictions. A recent fundraising blitz to promote the cards, collected over $50,000. A recent advertising campaign sought volunteers to give out the cards to children.
Advertising the success of a fundraiser for Shomrim Cards, achieving $50,000

On the other side of the fence, are the growing number of people in the Hasidic Community fighting and protesting against the Shomrim Cards. Many people believe that the cards are instructing the children to be disrespectful of adults, lose all sense of proportion regarding good and evil and are a horrible way of educating children, even if they are in agreement on the danger of the smartphone. Recently, a fight broke out in Boro Park, outside a synagogue which had a Shomrim booth set up outside, promoting the cards, with their table being turned over by someone claiming that the cards were corrupting the youth. Rabbi Menachem Mendel Teitebaum, the son of the Satmar Rebbe (Williamsburg), though acknowledging the dangers of smartphones, is said to have come out against the cards in his Shabbat Hagadol sermon, saying that they lacked Rabbinic guidance. Several schools have now banned the cards, and many parents have voiced their concern against the cards, both online and within the community. Others voice the concern of bringing children in to a discussion that should be made between adults and that young school students shouldn't be exposed to such things.

examples of some Shomrim Cards שומרים קארטלעך

examples of some Shomrim Cards שומרים קארטלעך

examples of some Shomrim Cards שומרים קארטלעך

Interestingly, some schools, such as the Karlin-Stolin schools in Boro Park, have banned the trading of the cards for unrelated reasons, as some of the "rare" cards were being sold by children for upwards of $25. The cards have been banned in the Sanz Yeshiva in Union City as well. On the other hand, there are still many schools that reward good behavior with packs of Shomrim Cards. Certain stores have decided against selling the cards for fear of getting involved in the controversy, Eichler's in Boro Park being one example of a store that now refuses to sell them. In other stores in the neighborhood, the cards are sold, but are held out of sight, and are stored behind the counter.  It would be interesting to see how the success of such campaigns will be judged by history and what future sociologists and educators will make of such phenomenons.

Hasidim Battling over Shomrim Cards in Boro Park

Poster about Shomrim Cards

Rabbinic Proclamation by R. Yosef Binyamin Wosner of Satmar, London promoting the Shomrim Cards

Rabbinic Proclamation by R. Yosef Binyamin Wosner of Satmar, London promoting the Shomrim Cards

Promotion for Shomrim Cards

Promotion for Shomrim Cards

Promotion for Shomrim Cards

Promotion for Shomrim Cards

Promotion for Shomrim Cards

1 / 6,000,000: record of a horrific Holocaust tragedy

Though the atrocities of the Nazis is well known and thoroughly documented, the monstrosity of the tragedy often leaves us unable to comprehend the immense pain and suffering and endless ramifications of the war on the survivors. At times, encountering a specific incident, can leave us with a more relatable emotion that enables us to perhaps encapsulate the turmoil of emotions and guilt that was the share of the survivors.

Inserted between the pages of a book I cataloged this week, I discovered this telex document, apparently sent from Israel to the states in 1971, likely for distribution to news outlets. I was able to find no other record of this person or incident, this story being just one of endless horrific scenarios that the persecuted Jews encountered during the Holocaust.

The text reads: "A survivor of the Nazis donated a Torah Scroll to a synagogue Tuesday in memory of the 16 month old son he smothered 29 years ago, to save other fugitives from capture by the Germans.
Josef Kramer tearfully told a handful of relates and friends, that he and his son were huddled together with other members of the Jewish Community in Dublinow, Latvia, in an underground bunker, as German Soldiers searched for Jews.
As the German troops drew closer to the hideout, Kramer said, the baby broke out into uncontrollable sobbing. Fearful that the sobbing would give away the entire group, Kramer smothered his son with his hands to quiet him.
All members of the group subsequently joined Anti-German Partisan groups in East Europe. A large number reached Palestine to settle and attended the Torah Dedication ceremony."

An archive regarding the Encyclopedia Hebraica, shedding light on state of Israel during War of Independence

I recently acquired a fascinating archive of correspondence relating to the publication of the Encyclopaedia Hebraica האנציקלופדיה העברית. These letters are a great window reflecting on the state of Israeli society during the tumultuous period of the founding of the Jewish State.

These approximately eighty five Hebrew letters were written during a period of two years, from the summer of 1947 to the summer of 1949, crucial years in the history of the Israel. These letters portray an intimate look into the reality of Israeli society of that era.

These letters – relating to the publication of the Encyclopedia Hebraica – were written by Mr. Meir Peli to his American agent, Mr. Sheinbaum, and they faithfully convey the excitement felt in Israel regarding the publication of the Encyclopedia.A few of the letters are by Alexander Peli and others.

There is also a list of American Jewish scholars suggested to partake in the encyclopedia etc., newspaper clippings, and a few telegrams etc. The letters contain much interesting information about the war of Israeli independence, and the mood in Jerusalem at the time.

"During the period of publication, a tremendous significance was associated with the encyclopedia. This was demonstrated by the fact there were people that felt a driving need to be included in the encyclopedia as a sort of stamp of approval of their importance and position. Bracha Peli, publisher of the encyclopedia, later told of an author who approached her one day and threatened to commit suicide if he was not included: "Even though his standing in the Hebrew literature was not of great importance, I did not take any chances and included him as an entry." At times, arguments arose over who would write a given article, arguments that stemmed from academic differences of opinion or from political or emotional factors. Such was the case with the articles on David Ben-Gurion and on Adolf Hitler."

There are many fascinating particulars in the letters; following are just a small number of excerpts from the letters in English translation.

"Here in the land the first volume made a powerful impression, without exaggeration like an “atomic explosion”. I am amazed at the tremendous reverence shown, here in the Yishuv, for this phenomenal project. (July 28, 1949)"

W"e here did not, G-d forbid, lose our hope. Not only are we continuing this project, but we are going forward with renewed energy and concentrated strength. We are keeping our souls as calm as possible, calming our nerves too, as best as we can.  The amazing thing is that between the gunshots during those short intervals, people enter the shop; they purchase some Hebrew book, as a gift or perhaps for personal use, as if the situation were normal and the area calm. (Jan. 8, 1947)"

"The editing is quite difficult, as the sending of packages from here to Jerusalem and back can take 5 to 6 days. (Jan. 8, 1947)"

It is already 75 days that we are under constant gunfire. Yet, In addition to our contributions towards the struggle, we do not for even one moment neglect our civic duties. … Alongside the funerals, weddings are held. The faith in victory is so deeply embedded … you bite your lips till blood flows and then return to the tasks at hand. This is the mood, this is our life, and this is the way it will be until the establishment of the State. (Feb. 15, 1948)"

"One small link in this great [National struggle], Encyclopedia Hebraica by name, is also continuing its pulsating life. The first volume can already be seen on the horizon. (Feb. 15, 1948)"

"Please visit the British Museum and purchase a full set of their periodical releases they number in the hundreds. In general your correspondence should be with Tel Aviv, since there is no security in correspondence to Jerusalem. Our “cousins” in the postal service there are “helpful” in having our letters misplaced. (March 24, 1948)"

Following are some excerpts in the original Hebrew:

1.8.47 "כל צרה וצרה מחשלת אותנו כפלדה ומקרבת אותנו למטרה"  "לא אבדנו חלילה את עשתונותינו פה ולא רק שאנו ממשיכים לעבוד כ"א ממשיכים במשנה מרץ, בכח מרוכז, בשקט נפשי עד כמה שאפשר, ובעצבים שקטים ג"כ עד כמה שאפשר. והפלא הוא שבין יריות ליריות, בהפסקה הקצרה, נכנסים אנשים לחנות, קונים ספר עברי מי למתנה מי לצרכיו הוא, כאילו הכל בסדר ושקט בסביבה."

 "ענין ההגהות מקשה במקצת- משלוח חבילה לירושלים וחזרה נמשך לפעמים 5-6 ימים"

2.15.48 "כפי הנראה שהפלדה מחשלת. למרות היותנו נמצאים זה 75 יום תחת אש צולבת בלתי פוסקת אין אנו שוכחים אף לרגע קט את תפקידנו החילוניים נוסף להשתתפנו במאבק... לצדן של הלווייות נערכות חתונות ... והאמונה בנצחון היא כל כך מושרשת ... נושכים את השפתים עד זוב דם וחוזרים לסדר היום. זהו מצב הרוח , אלה חיינו, וכאלה יהיו עד קום המדינה."

"החוליה הקטנה בשרשרת הארוכה ששמה אנצקלפידיה, גם היא ממשיכה בחייה האימפולסיבבים ביותר ובאופק נראה כבר הכרך הראשון."

3.24.48 "היכנס למוזיאן הבריטי וקנה סט שלם כמה מאות גליונות שהם הוציאו בכלל הקשר אתנו יסתדר דרך תל אביב כי אין כל בטחון בקשר בירושלים בני דודנו העובדים  בדואר "עוזרים" לפעמים שהמכתבים ילכו לאיבוד".

יולי 28. 1949
"הכרך עשה רושם בארץ כמו "פצצה אטומית", בלא גוזמא , קבלו אותו באהדה שכזו בהערכת עוצם המפעל שאני בעצמי נדהמתי מההד שקבל הספר בישוב שלנו"

hat-tip: Yitzchok Stroh

Rabbi David Miller and Mikvaot in America pre-1950

The landscape of American Jewish Orthodoxy has changed so drastically in the last century, that some pioneers in the fight for halakhah in the United States inevitably are left behind and nearly forgotten. A brief work, titled Mikveh Yisrael which I came across this week, was written by one such figure, Rabbi David Miller. Born in Lithuania in approx 1869, and having studied in several Yeshivot including Slabodka, he received Semicha from R. Yitzchok Elchanan and others and headed to America. After serving as a pulpit Rabbi in the Northeast in several communities, he abandoned the rabbinate, writing that he did not wish to profit from the Rabbinate and headed west, settling in Oakland, CA. By the time this brief work of his was published, he was well settled in Oakland and ran a successful real-estate and construction business. 

Published with several prominent approbations, Mikveh Yisrael contains detailed instruction on building a proper kosher Mikveh in the privacy of your home, something that would have encouraged the use of Mikvehs in a time where Mikvehs in the USA were few and far between. A second book he published, The Secret of the Jew, being a marriage guide and on family purity, was distributed for free by the author and make a great mark on American Jewry at the time, encouraging numerous families to keep the halakhot of family purity. He was not perceived kindly by many in his city of Oakland, with some local community leaders fearing him as being too religious for their taste. Throughout America though, his books were very well received and widely disseminated. 

Rabbi Miller's blueprints for Mikvaot used municipal water, based on the halakhic decisions brought forth by many prominent poskim, including the Aruch Hashulchan. Though it may seem odd to suggest it today, through the 1950s, most of the Mikvaot in America used municipal water, these Mikvaot being slowly phased out with the arrival in America of Rabbi C. Y. L. Deutsch, known as the Helmetzer Rebbe. The Helmetzer Rebbe fought a long and often bitter fight to heighten the standards of Mikvaot throughout the world, and by his death in 1990, was credited with upgrading over 200 Mikvaot. One is left to wonder how different the statistics of Jewish Family Purity observance would be if Rabbi Miller's system would have had a more lasting impact, with a Mikveh in every Jewish home.