Thursday, December 27, 2012

Advertisement from 1858, for a book "Fit to Eat"!

Here is an advertisement I found that was published in Hamagid, March 18, 1858
The ad is for the book Hamashbir by Yosef Sheinhak. After the extended praise for the work, the newspaper informs us, that it is such a great book that it is fit to be eaten!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

a Case of Jewish Murder in Germany in the 15th Century

Murder of a Jew by a Jew was an extremely rare occurrence during the Middle Ages, here is a mention of one I found, with the case brought before Rabbi Israel Bruna (1400–1480). See his Responsa Siman 265 below.

Superstitions in 17th Century Poland: Tobias Hakohen's remark

Tobias ben Moses Cohn (1652–1729) in his "medical" book Ma'aseh Tuviah, makes this interesting remark in reference to the country of Poland. " There is no country in the world, where people occupy themselves with demons, amulets, incantations, conjurations, and dreams more than in this country" He notes, that even if there were no such things as demons, they should have been created for the sake of this country.

Maaseh Tuvia, Yesnitz 1721, page 86c

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Can you steal Manuscripts so you can copy them? a responsa of the Ri"f

Here is an interesting Responsa of the Ri"f : Question: one of the students stole books of commentaries from his friend and when asked to return them, he swore that he will not return them until he is allowed to copy them, and there was a Rabbi who permitted stealing them for this cause, what is the Halacha?
Teshuva: The thief and the one who permitted it were both wrong. The Ri"f goes on to say that the thief transgressed 3 commandments of the Torah.

Immanuel di Romi and his stealing of books

Here is an account of the ways Immanuel di Romi in the 13th century got his books to read and his response when getting caught. Quoted from the Jewish Quarterly Review vol 4, page 76

Monday, December 17, 2012

Please look out for this book stolen from our store

This book was stolen from our store recently, please keep an eye out for it, if history holds itself, it is bound to show up somewhere soon. The book is Mayan Ganim by Rabbi Reuven Mizrahi printed in Kushta, 1721. Beautiful copy.



Saturday, December 15, 2012

A burnt book as the source of an Ashkenazi Minhag for Chanukah

The Havot Yair of Yair Chayim Bacharach brings down a fascinating source for a certain custom of the community of Worms came about (Havot Yair siman 238): Once when speaking with a scholar in Worms, he expressed his wonder at the minhag in vogue there of commencing the recital of the Meorah on the Sabbath of Hannukah with the middle of the Piyut, and was informed that this custom was based on the following event. During one of the persecuations, all the existing handwritten prayer-books were destroyed, and when after the persecution the reorganization of the community began, only one prayerbook was found, in which unfortunately the first part of the Meorah for the Sabbath of Hannukah was missing. Because of this, the Jews in Worms had to content themselves with the recital of the second part of the piyyut only. From then onwards, this became a general custom, although books containing the whole text were available.
Here is the text of the original Teshuvah:
אף כי לדעתי מנהג אמירתם בקהילות ישנות באשכנז אין ראיה מכרחת שנעשה בהסכמת חכמי הקהילה או הדור כ׳ כמה מנהגים כאן מהמון עם אחר גזרות תתכ׳ו וק״ט ששלוכי השמד חזרו ונתישבו מתי מספר ונהגו לפי ידיעתם ורצונם ונקבע אח"כ למנהג בלי משים על לב
ובימי חרפי היה לי פתחון פה עם זקן אחד   בעל תורה ודיין בק״ק ווירמ״שא ועל שתמהתי מאד על מנהג זר שמתחילן מאורה לשבת חנוכה ממלכה ממושכה והוא באמצע הפיוט כ׳ התחלתו שני זיתים וכו והישיבני כי שמע מפי זקני גדולי הקהילה כי בשעת הגזירות נשרפו כל סררי תפילות ומחזורים
 וכאשר לא היה נמצא הדפוס היה מחזור א׳  וסידורים מעריבי' ויוצרות א׳ לקהל או למשפחהזמן רב אחר שעבר זעם שחזרו ונתיישבו מתי מספר אמרו מה שמצאו מפיוטים שנשאר וכאשר מצאו מאורה הנ״ל רק חציה כאור מוצל מאש אמרו רק חציה שלא לבטל המנהג לפי שעה ונקכע אח״כ למנהג קבוע
  כי הנלפע״ד כתבתי ־ נאם הטרוד יח״ב

Friday, December 14, 2012

Mountain Jews יהודי ההרים and Bircat Shehecheyanu on a New Harvest

At times, a good way to find the customs of Jews 2000 years ago is to compare it with the customs of old isolated Jewish Communities in the world. One such community if that of the Mountain Jews which have been living in their remote towns since at least the 5th century. In 1884 in St Petersburg, יוסף יהודה הלוי טשארני Yosef Yehuda Charney published his book of travels and correspondence with the Mountain Jews. The natives, describe their customs and beliefs and one such custom which I had not seen elsewhere was that of making the Blessing Shehecheyanu on the new harvest.

There seems to be no source for such a custom, other than the blessing that was made in Eretz Yisrael on the harvest while separating the Ma'asrot. Perhaps the Jews who emigrated from Eretz Yisrael towards the Caucasus kept the custom of making Shehecheyanu not realizing the reason no longer applied.
There is much discussion in the Poksim today if to make a Blessing of Shehecheyanu when tithing today. The story goes, that when the Imrei Emes visited Israel, he met with Rav Kook and mentioned that he will be making the Mitzvah of separating the Ma'asrot for the first time, if so Rav Kook said, you can make Shehecheyanu as well. After a heated debate in which the Imrei Emes siding with the opinion of those who do not make Shehecheyanu, he got up and said, if the Rabbi of Jerusalem, was Posek that you do make a Beracha, I accept his authority and did indeed make Shehecheyanu.

Another possibility might be that the blessing they made was an extension of the Shehecheyanu made on purchasing a new home, clothing etc which they extended to be any happy occasion. There seems to be a consensus though with the Poskim that on eating a new vegetable or other non-fruit that Shehecheyanu does not apply (BaCH OH 235).

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A description of the Jewish Community in Salonica, January 29, 1921

I stumbled across this great description of the now gone community of Salonica, Greece, published in the Reform Advocate, January 29, 1921. It is interesting to note that the article states that mixed marriages are unknown, though anti-semitism was non-existent. Apparently, the lack of Antisemitism in the city, didn't prevent 98% ! of the Jewish Community of Salonica from dying in the Holocaust.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

An outsider teaches me what is wrong with our society

Sometimes it takes someone from the outside to point out our problems to us. I received this email from a customer, and was left at a loss as to what to answer him.
"My children have auto immune issues so I had my DNA tested. Although I was raised as a Christian I have loved Hebrew and the"Old Testament" since my early 20s when I took a Hebrew class at college- it just came natural. I even ate virtually 100% Kosher, went to Synagogue and studied Torah on my own. My DNA came back with a stunning amount of Jewish markers-mostly Ashkenazi and eastern Europe/Western 'Russia'. However there is some Sephardic and Mizrochi. I was relating this to a Jewish friend and received a very odd comment at the Revelation of the Sephardic but especially Mizrochi. Why is this a problem? Why would someone who is observant look down on Mizrochi?"
Though much less prevalent in the diaspora than in Israel, it is odd, that just when we have our own homeland, and our enemies are less out in the open, we choose to quarrel between ourselves. May G-d protect us from ourselves.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Adas Israel, Fall River, Massachusetts, 1893-2012 an end of an era


If you Drive by today the magnificent structure of Adas Israel, you will no longer see a Magen David on the door, it is now owned by a church. A long and fascinating history has finally come to its end, the last standing Orthodox Synagogue in Southeastern Mass. has closed its doors. Founded in 1893 in the downtown area of the town, which now has a population of 90,000, this massive building was inaugurated in 1959, in the best part of town.

In the early 1900s, Fall River was a textile industry center, and the majority of the factory owners were Jews who hailed from NY. At one time there were 5 Orthodox synagogues, Kosher bakeries, groceries... anything a Jew might need. Now, the only thing trace you may find of this once vibrant community are its 2 well-maintained cemeteries.

Adas Israel was more than just a place to pray at its prime. It hosted a Hebrew School, a sisterhood, a wedding hall (The last President of the Shul, Jeffrey Weissman got married in the shul, 1963), a large children's library, 2 kosher kitchens, a Rabbis fund and most importantly hundreds of members. The younger generation mostly moved out or assimilated, leaving the average age of the Jews in town in the high 70s of their life. The synagogue has not had a local minyan for many years, even for the high holidays, when young men had to be imported to help fill the quorum.

When I arrived in the town days before the sale was finalized, I found an extremely well kept place, with a library that would not embarrass any Rabbi. The children's library was perfectly organized by sections and in good order, though no child has been in the synagogue for several decades now. Removing the books from the shelves, I felt I was taking 120 years of history with me.

When times were good in town, dissidents from Adas Israel established the American Brothers of Israel in about 1892. It eventually merged with Adas Israel again. At the beginning of the 20th century a third synagogue, Aguda B'nai Jacob, was founded. Abraham Lipshitz began ministering to these three congregations, which made up the Orthodox community, about 1910, serving them for over 30 years. In the decade 1910–20 Congregation Beth David was founded, Hebrew schools were established, and in 1924 a Conservative synagogue, Temple Beth El, was founded. Morton Goldberg served the congregation from 1925 to 1937, when Jacob Freedman replaced him as spiritual leader. Rabbi Freedman helped found the Fall River Jewish Community Council (1938), which in 1970 included about 25 societies and organizations. The other major communal institution is the Fall River United Jewish Appeal.

Jews prominent in Fall River life have included David L. Gourse, clothier and commissioner of public welfare; Albert Rubin, a state legislator for many years; H. William Radovsky, finance commissioner; and Rabbi Samuel Ruderman, long considered the spokesman for the Jewish community. David H. Radovsky and Moses Entin both played important roles in fraternal organizations and in the Zionist movement. Two nationally known businessmen and philanthropists, Jacob Ziskind and Albert A. List, were from Fall River. Another resident, Dr. Irving Fradkin, inaugurated Dollars for Scholars, an educational funding program which has been adopted by communities throughout the United States.

From their arrival in Fall River, Jews were involved in peddling and in operating small retail establishments. Many Jewish-owned businesses suffered as a result of the 1904 textile strike. Later, large furniture and retail clothing stores were established, and Jews engaged in finance and in operating textile mills. Although textile production has decreased, many Jews are involved in garment contracting; others are professionals, small retailers, and landlords.

Many thanks to the last President, Jeffrey Weissman, and the Vice President Clifford Lander for all their help in moving the library and all, we had some great times together. Thus ends another chapter in small town communities, which seem to be folding itself one synagogue at a time throughout America.

In the past few days after buying the synagogue, Word of Life Church leaders and members have erected their religious symbols, while also leaving a prominent one that says in Hebrew, “Know before whom you stand.”

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A 1943 Sermon of for Thanksgiving in middle of WWII

The Sermon below appeared in the 1943 RCA Sermon Manual. A Brilliant look of how to celebrate Thanksgiving even when the world is busy killing each other

New York, N. Y.
Once again, as the autumn winds signal the approach of another winter, Americans throughout the land are called upon to celebrate the national Thanksgiving holiday. This outstanding day is reminiscent of the many praises and thanks which the Pioneers offered to the Almighty in the early period of our national life. At this moment of world crisis and uncertainty its importance should be emphasized as a day of reflection of the sacrifices that the builders of our great Republic have made in order to create this glorious "land of the free and home of the brave." There will be many, however, who will question the wisdom of such a holiday this year. "Look at the world, they will say, and see. Nation is arrayed against nation . in mortal combat. Our brethren on the other side of the ocean are bleeding to death. Why then observe a Thanksgiving holiday this year?" In a significant statement, the Rabbis of the Talmud declare:  "It is incumbent to offer praise and thanks to the Almighty , >; for four distinct and specific reasons: for crossing the ocean in safety, for completion of a journey through the wilderness, for recovery from serious illness, and for release from servitude." ' As we reflect upon the import of this statement of the Rabbis, we find still greater difficulty in celebrating this day of gratitude now. Well may we ask: "Thanksgiving for what?" As yet, we cannot utter an knowledgement of gratefulness for the Yorde-Hayam for crossing the ocean in safety." At this very moment, thousands upon thousands of our fighting men are being called upon to undertake the most dangerous voyage of their lives-a voyage across submarine infested oceans and seas. At this very moment millions of Americans are exposing themselves to unheard of risks and hazards in order to bring about a world of equality, security and peace. No, my friends. It is still too early to offer thanks for those "who have crossed the ocean in safety." That will have to wait for the successful culmination of the present conflict.

Again we ask: "Thanksgiving for what? Shall we - express our gratitude Al holche midborios-for completing a journey through the wilderness?" Here, too, we do not have sufficient cause for joy. The world of our day and age is one vast wilderness. Nations as well as individuals are confused and are wandering aimlessly about without the spiritual waters to quench their great thirst. And so we are afflicted with the dreaded diseases of selfishness, greed and fratricide. "Every man for himself," is our watchword; "May the strongest survive," is the maxim inscribed upon our coat of arms. As long as humanity continues to journey in such a delirious manner, it will remain lost in the wilderness and would be made to suffer the pangs of hunger and thirst as well as the fierce attacks of the ferocious beasts and the venomous serpents. We have yet to witness the end of such blundering and bestiality before we shall be able to thank Gd "for completing a journey through the wilderness."

If not for these, perhaps we should be thankful - al mi shehoyo cholo v'nisrapo - for recovery from serious illness ? While it is true that the world is now slowly recovering from the dangerous Fascist and Nazi scourges which had almost destroyed all of mankind, I feel that it is still premature to celebrate a service of thanksgiving on that score. The United Nations have a long way to go before the world will recuperate from the malady which afflicts it to this day. We now come to the last of the four causes for thanksgiving as outlined in the Talmud: Chovush b'bis hoasurim v'yotzo - "for release from servitude." Man is subjugated and enslaved today in a world he was destined to rule. He has yet to avail himself of the blessing which God has bestowed upon hm at creation: "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it." a Instead, civilization has created a mighty and hideous monster which now controls -- every utterance and thought of man. While the machine has satisfied certain needs and wants of man, it has been misused by him whom he employed it as an instrument of exploitation and tyranny. Thus the machine has become a molten Moloch which has devoured a great portion of humanity. At no time has the earth been enthralled in a more bitter bondage, and at no period in its history has the human race experienced greater misery, than in the present era of the machine. As long as the world is yet to be freed from this crush burden of slavery, we cannot offer thanks "for release from servitude."

 From all that has been said heretofe, it is evident, that none of the four causes for thanksgiving is ground for genuine gratitude today. My friends, Israel has always been a peculiar people. In moments of distress he offered praises and sang Psalms unto the Lord; in his hour of strife, of torment and adversity, the Jew looked upon his sorrow as a blessing in disguise. The Talmud relates the following significant tale abut the great sage Rabbi Akiba. Driven out of his native land through violent persecution, he journeyed to a strange country, his sole possessions were a lamp for study, a rooster to announce the break of dawn, and a donkey on whrch he travelled. One night Rabbi Akiba arrived tired and hungry at a small village, and asked for a night's lodging, but no one would offer the exhausted wanderer any shelter. He was thus obliged to spend the night in a nearby forest. He sat down beneath a tree to study by the light of his lamp. A fierce storm soon extinguished his light, and not long afterwards a wolf killed his rooster and a lion devoured his donkey. In face of all these calamities, the spirit of the Rabbi remained unshaken. Streching out upon the ground to rest his weary body, he said: "Whatever the Lord doeth is for the best!" In the morning he returned to the village to see whether he could procure for himself a donkey to continue his journey. To his amazement he could not find a single soul alive in the .town. During the night a band of robbers entered the village, killed the inhabitants and plundered their homes. Rabbi Akiba then understood, that what at first had seemed to be a tragic experience was in reality his great fortune. As a token of thanksgiving, Rabbi Akiba lifted his eyes towards the heavens and offered the following words of Thanksgiving: "Great G*d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Now I understand that mortal man is shortsighted and blind. Thou alone art just and Kind and merciful. Had not the hard. hearted people driven me from the village, I, too, would have shared their fate. Had not the storm extinguished the light, it would have been seen by the robbers and they would have murdered me too. Had not the rooster and donkey been lulled, their noises might have attracted the robbers to my retreat in the forest. Praised then, be Thy name forever and ever!" '

This self-sarne spirit of hope and faith has ever been the guiding light of Israel in his darkest hour of plight and misfortune. Despite the fact that he has always had to live in an unfriendly world, he believed that suffering was in reality a blessing in disguise. It is, therefore, not unusual for the Jew to sing psalms and to offer thanks. giving even at a time when there is no apparent cause for gratitude. From his earliest history he was imbued with this remarkable attitude towards suffering. He abided by the faith of the Talmudic Sages as expounded in the follow.  "It is incumbent upon man to be thankful for misfortune, just as he expresses thanks for affluence and goodness." This sanguine expression of trust and confidence in God, the Jewish people derived from the patriarch Jacob of whom we read in the Sedrah of this week. Weary and disillusioned, tired in body and soul, Jacob treads the long road leading to his uncle Laban. With nothing save the staff in his hand, he finds himself alone in a vast and an unfriendly desert. As the bleak darkness of night sure rounds him, he gathers a few stones about his head and prepares himself for sleep. Suddenly he beholds a glorious vision of a great ladder stretching from the earth unto the heavens, and angels of God are ascending and descending it. Then a divine voice calls out to him:"behold I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goes."

 Upon awaking at dawn, Jacob understands the vision, and so he vows: "If God will be with me and will give me bread to eat and raiment to put on, this stone which I have set up -for a pillar shall be Gd's house and of all that Thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto Thee." Herein, do we find the basis of our beautiful and eternal religion. It is a faith which teaches its adherents to acknowledge thanks and to offer praises to the Lord even in moments of extreme stress and sorrow. It is a faith which remains firm and unshaken even in the black* est hour of defeat. It is because of such a Jacob Like  faith, that the Jew is blessed with a vision-with an ideal so glorious that it fills him with confidence in the future. In spite of the ominous present the Jew never gives way to despair.
The true Israelite regards his unfavorable state with optimistic courage; with undaunted spirit he declares:  "One is obliged to praise Gd, and to offer thanks unto Him even in me moments of sorrow." At this precarious moment in the history of the world let us exhibit our adherence to this unique Jewish pattern of unflinching faith as exemplified by Jacob. We, too, are endowed with a vision, an ideal which seeks ful* h e n t . It is a task whose fruition is of greatest importance in a period of world crisis. Yea, even at the instance of Israel's greatest calamity and torment, must he realize the urgent necessity of alleviating the suffering of those less fortunate than himself, of his bludgeoned and bleeding brethren dying in the lands of tyranny and **'d barbarism. At crucial moments such as these, when the future looks dark and dreary let us fortify ourselves with our glorious faith and with cheerful countenance strive to fulfill the Divine Law, which we have envisioned, and which we have taught to the entire world. Yes, my friends, we may offer hymns of gratitude and thanksgiving at the present moment, even though our hearts are heavy and our spirits are low.

 Our thanksgiving, however, is combined with a prayer. Confident in the knowledge that Truth and Justice must eventually triumph, we pray for a future that will be brightly illuminated by the gleaming rays of a new dawn. With unshakable faith in the ultimate reaction of our vision we gather into our Houses of Worship and we pray to Gd. We hope that soon we will be able to thank God Al yorde hayam, for the speedy victorious return in safety of our armed forces from their perilous journeys. We hope that soon we may praise God al holche midbarot for the speedy renunciation by all men of selfishness greed and hate. We pray that civilization may emerge safely from the present wilderness, and that we will be forever free from fear. We pray to God, that the next Thanksgiving will be one of gratitude for Mi shehoyo chole v'nintrape - that the world will be cured from the dread disease of war and that Fascism and inhumanity will be completely destroyed, so that we may soon witness the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophetic vision of eternal peace. . . And finally we look forward with confidence, for the freedom of chovush bevet ha'asurim, release of all who are held both physically and morally in servitude. We pray for the liberation of all minorities from cruel oppression and subjugation, and for the emancipation of mankind from moral, political and economic bondage. In the words and in the spirit of the Psalms we truly pray: "Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the Most High. And call upon Me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee and thou shalt glorify me:"

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Louis Brandeis & Jacob Frank, Frankists Today

Eva Frank
Jacob Frank is long dead and his followers and practices long forgotten, but is his effect still being felt?
Louis Brandeis was a descendant of one of the prominent Shabbatean/Frankist families of Prague. They did not follow Frank’s example of conversion to Islam or Catholicism, but maintained a Jewish identity, though very detached from Jewish ritual and practice. His mother Frederika Dembitz Goldmark Brandeis “disdained formal religious ceremonies and encouraged her children to value ethical teachings of religion, including Judaism, while eschewing the age-old rituals.” Brandeis grew up in the family environment, where, though born a Jew, he was not raised as a Jew. In fact, he celebrated Christmas, but not the Jewish holidays; neither did he keep the kosher laws, or the sabbath. He was very disengaged from Jewish practice.
Brandeis’s maternal uncle, Gottlieb Wehle, wrote an ethical will in which he exhorts members of his family to “respect their ancestors’ tradition of antinomian disdain for the normative Judaism of traditional rabbis.” This was perhaps a reaction to the family’s waning allegiance to the Frank sect. It was Justice Brandeis’s relatives, who revealed a copy of a portion of this will to Gershom scholem, who published it. In fact, Brandeis manifested a great interest in his mother’s background as evidenced by his insistence that she write down the history of the family, which she did. Although she never clearly expressed her Frankist background, she did allude to it. In her letters she gives some insight into why Louis Brandeis was so divorced from traditional Judaism. The environment as presented in her letters in which she detailed her family background evinces an anti-traditional atmosphere. It harkened back to a time in Prague when it was normative to be Jewish ethnically, German culturally, and Austrian politically. Yet, the Brandeis family, obviously influenced by the Frankist sect, had shunned their Jewishness and failed to expose their son Louis to anything more than the vagaries of Jewish identity.
Brandeis’s mother gave him a copy of a picture of Eva Frank (who was Jacob Frank’s daughter and his spiritual successor upon his death), which was handed down and reserved for those who were privileged descendants of Frankists. This generation of Frankists had thrown off and/or forgotten the deviant ways of the founder; previous generations had actually destroyed the written remnants of their affiliation with the sect, even going door to door to collect any memoirs or written traces of the sect, so that they could discard the embarrassing “evidence.” They continued, however, to maintain a certain elitist pride about being connected to the sect’s past. This pride was reflected in Brandeis’s mother’s letters to her son; her descriptions of the close-knit community bespeak the Frankist sect in clandestine terms. Hence, we know that Louis Brandeis knew of this “ghost in the closet,” that would not be wise to profess openly. This may have made him particularly sensitive about the importance of the right to privacy (which he defined in his co-authored Right to Privacy article as the right to an “inviolate personality”) and the right to speak one’s conscience.
Louis Brandeis took his second cousin, Alice, as his bride, a practice not uncommon for Jewish people and Frankists during this era. she too was a descendant of the circle of Crypto-Frankist Jews, and was undoubtedly aware of the secret of the family’s past.
Brandeis' Frankist roots might explain his distance from anything Jewish until relatively late in his life. Only at age 56, in the year 1912 did he become active in the Zionist arena, probably as a conscious response to the Pogroms in Eastern Europe. He was very active for the next few years only to back off in 1919 after breaking off with Chaim Weizmann.
How many other Frankists are still among us, we may never know, and how much Frank had an effect on the abandonment of Jewish Traditions by the vast majority of today's Jews will probably remain a Mystery. On the other extreme of Judaism, Prof. Immanuel Etkes of Hebrew University says, "No doubt the Vilna Gaon suspected that the Hassidim were a sect like the Frankists".
If you are in to conspiracies, there is much more. It seems there are all-conspiracy-believing anti-Semites who believe that Frankists are still around today under a different name. Here is a quote from one of their sites "The Frankists today no longer call themselves by that name. The Organization has grown into an international group labeled by outsiders as the Cult of the All-Seeing Eye". While we are at it, Barry Chamish, an Israeli author, whom some might know from his work trying to prove that Yitzchak Rabin was not killed by Yigal Amir states "The initial financiers of Labor Zionism and Theodore Herzl were barons of the Rothschild clan. Their goal was the creation of a state in the image of their Sabbatean/Frankist beliefs: that is, anti-Torah, anti-Talmudic, anti-religious and anti-Jewish". Pretty much any Jew in a power of authority in the last few hundred years has been or is accused by one nut or another of being a Frankist, who knows, perhaps in a few instances they are right.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

New York, the capital of America?


In 1935, the Responsa of Rabbi Yosef Berdugo was published in Casablanca, Morocco. In the Introduction to the book, the publisher, gives thanks to the Jews who helped finance the publishing, among them, to the Jews of the cities of America and it's capital New York...
After 10 pages of the history and genealogy of the Berdugo family, appears a full page proclamation by Moshe Pardo, testifying that he saw a handwritten manuscript filled in, generation after generation from King David to modern times son after son to the Berdugo family of today and signed by local rabbis as certification .

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Some ideas for a Wedding Invitation

Want your wedding invitation to stand out? Perhaps you can get some inspiration from this Israeli one

What prayer do you give a returning Apostate?

Here is a Reverends Handbook printed in 1929. On page 227 appears a "Mi Sheberach" a blessing made for an apostate that returns to Judaism. It is impressive to me, that the occasion was common enough to warrant inserting it into the handbook.

1923 Receipt for purchase of Jewish Books Brooklyn, NY

I found within a book I just acquired the original receipt from Beigeleisen's Bookstore, dated June 10, 1923, in Boro Park, Brooklyn, NY. The Buyer was Rabbi Eliyahu Mordechai Finkelstein, Rabbi in Boro Park at the time. The grand total for the entire purchase of 4 books was $3.25

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Customer's Dying Wish, The fate of a Modern day Marrano

Bad luck brings more bad luck. That is the way I would describe the unfortunate state of Marranos today. The Portuguese Inquisition has been disbanded in 1821, but it's effects are still being felt to this day. A few years ago I started sending books and corresponding with a Marrano living deep in the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil. The lifestory of his, is a fascinating one indeed. His family were Brazilians for close to 500 years, leaving Portugal when it was no longer safe for them to live as Jews only to have the Inquisition follow them with the Portuguese conquest of Brazil. They married within their families only and lived on the outside as Catholics but as Jews at heart. They managed to keep the spirit within them for 500 years, due in no small part to the Catholics dislike of the conversos and their not wanting to marry in to them. He had relatives who died at the stake in the New World as well.

Copper engraving entitled "Die Inquisition in Portugall", by Jean David Zunner from the work "Description de L'Univers, Contenant les Differents Systemes de Monde, Les Cartes Generales & Particulieres de la Geographie Ancienne & Moderne" by Alain Manesson Mallet, Frankfurt, 1685.

The Jewish customs that prevailed in the family, seem to be an odd mix. A Jewish burial was very important to them, he buried his father and grandfather with his own hands in the family plot to ensure this. Their way of slaughtering animals vaguely resembles the Shehita, and most importantly, even though they attended church regularly, they were taught as children to have in their heart just one God and not the trinity.
Unfortunately, he was never able to fulfill his wish and convert and get a full Jew's status. The bureaucracy that surrounds conversion today blocked off all the viable options. To be recognized as a valid conversion by Israel, a convert must live as a Jew with the local community for a year, come with references and then attend courses in Israel for another year. His family and financial obligations prevented him from the ability to do this and the nearest Jewish Communities in Brazil were not of much help.
He was called up to heaven recently and left in his will, that I, his sole connection to the established Jewish world, say Kaddish for him, may he rest in peace.
The saddest part of the story is that his son as with the bulk of his generation, with the advance of the modern world, brought a lack of interest in religion one way or another and show now interest in preserving what their ancestors gave their lives for. He sees himself as a catholic, and frankly could not understand what his father's passion was all about. Thus ends the story of the latest victim of the Portuguese Inquisition.

Friday, November 16, 2012

How much would you pay for a Semicha from the Chofetz Chaim

A customer tells me his family is in the possession of several letterheads of the Chofetz Chaim with his signatures on bottom. It seems that when the Chafetz Chaim aged, he trusted family members to put his signature only to good use and left them many signed blanks.
For the right price, you can today get yourself an authentic Semicha from the Chofetz Chaim, signed in his holy land. Interested parties can contact their local psychologist for help.


In 1870 Sefer Hamidot of Rabbi Yaakov of  Duvna, the Dubner Maggid was published with commentaries by his disciple Avraham Berush Flahm. On the last page of book, he placed an announcement, offering a reward for the return of a manuscript of the Dubner Maggid's writings that was stolen from him. He writes, "I have heard that it is now in the hands of a Maggid in the vicinity of Vilna, but I do not know his name, city or place. Therefore, I beg .... to please notify me and I'll repay the man the price he needed to pay for it..... The merit of our Rabbi should protect the man that helps me...

In a related note, in the not so distant past, even the biggest Chasidic Rebbes went to the Mikvah with the masses. The story goes, that the Bobover Rebbe in his first years in New York, used to go to the Mikvah with his Hasidim. At times, if the Gabay was not watchful enough, Hasidim would steal his undergarments, convinced that they held special powers.
Today, no respectable Rebbe can be found in a public Mikvah, rather they use private ones built for their personal use.

Friday, November 2, 2012

A rare book might float your way, keep an eye out!

Rumor has it, that a very valuable Jewish library has been swallowed whole by the Atlantic Ocean, during Sandy, in the Seagate neighborhood of Brooklyn. Chances are some of the books will come ashore somewhere on the East Coast in the next few weeks, double check your fishing nets before you find yourself flinging a Bomberg Talmud in to the sea.

Superstorm Sandy: We survived!

After much preparation for the forecasted storm, we thankfully weathered the storm well. Lots of strong winds came our way, but thankfully not too much rain. Other than lost power for a day we are more or less back to normal in our neighborhood. Not so in some neighboring communities, which might be waiting another 2 weeks to get electricity back. Our prayers are with all those that were impacted by Sandy and it's aftermath.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

My First Bomberg Talmud

I just had the honor of selling a Bomberg Talmud, Menahot, printed in Venice, 1520. Breathtakingly gorgeous!
It is amazing to me that the structure of our standard Talmud Page is all based on this edition, done by a gentile. If he would have decided to put the Alfas and Rosh on the sides of the page, chances are it would have stayed there to this day.

Monday, October 22, 2012

An Extraordinary Family Reunion!




I listed on my site this week, a postcard sent by R. Yosef David Meir of Sassov to Kansas. I get a call this morning from a woman, who tells me that the postcard was sent to her great-grandmother, Fanie Garfinkel! I have no clue how she found the item being offered for sale but was more than happy to get the postcard back to the original family, 100 years late.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

New York pay phones became tiny libraries


John Locke, a Columbia architecture grad, has set up a little conceptual experiment which he is calling the Department of Urban Betterment whose chief duty is to covert old pay phone boxes into tiny libraries.

Apparently he's set up two booths so far and had limited success.  Apparently the first booth had all its books lifted, and then the shelves stolen within a few days.  The second booth fared a bit better with pedestrians both taking and leaving books for while, but eventually it suffered the same fate as the first.  Locke plans to continue his experiments but in future booths he wants to add some simple instructions to help show pedestrians the intended use.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Celebrity Endorsement for Jewish Books

After finding out that Gwyneth Paltrow's great-great-grandfather, whose surname was "Paltrowicz," was a rabbi in Nowogród, Poland, I hasted to add it to the description of the books of his I had for sale. Sure enough, they sold within a few days
Her great-great-grandfather R. Simhah Paltrowitch was a direct descendant of R. Rabbi David ben Samuel Ha-Levi, the renowned 17th-century authority on Jewish law, served as rabbi in Buffalo, New York from l890 to 1914. His other works include Simhah Hegyon (1903), Keter Zevi (1906), and Simhah Avot (1927).

Simchat Higayon by R. Simhah Paltrowitch

There are other great celebrity endorsed books as well. Leonard Cohen's grandthfather, Rabbi Solomon Klinitsky-Klein authored several books. Rabbi Solomon Klinitsky-Klein, was known as Sar haDikdook, the prince of grammarians. He wrote a thesaurus of talmudic interpretations and a dictionary of synonyms and homonyms. He was a disciple of Yitzhak Elchanan. In fact, he closed his teacher's eyes when he died. He was the principal of a yeshiva in Kovno. He also had a very strong secular side to him. He was a confrontational teacher, especially when he got to New York. He became part of The Forward and that group of Yiddish writers.
Rabbi Solomon Klonitsky-Kline wrote a book called Otzar Taamei Hazal (New York 1939) which was a compilation of the various interpretations to biblical verses found in Talmudic literature, arranged according to the order of the Torah, with his own notes. The English title page says it "Contains all the interpretations of the Pentateuch as given in the Talmudim, Tosefta, Mechilta, Sifra, Sifre, Pesiktot, Midrash Rabba, Tanhuma and other Midrashim."

Interestingly, not only is the book dedicated to Leonard Cohen's father Nathan (and two others, one of whom is the author's son) but at the end of the introduction is a mention of Leonard himself, then just a few weeks shy of 5 years old (as well as his mother Masha, and the other members of the family):

And then you have Arlo Guthrie. Guthrie received religious training for his bar mitzvah from Rabbi Meir Kahane, who would go on to form the Jewish Defense League. "Rabbi Kahane was a really nice, patient teacher," Guthrie later recalled, "but shortly after he started giving me my lessons, he started going haywire. Maybe I was responsible."

There is more. Rena Sofer for one. Sofer is a descendant of Baal Shem Tov and of the Chasam Sofer through her father. That's some Yichus you got there, wait till the matchmakers find out about this one.

Not to mention Jackie Mason, who himself was/is an ordained Rabbi, as his three brothers, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather had been. His father Rabbi Eliyahu Mordechai Maza, authored many books as well.
Sifte Reem by Jackie Mason's Father Rabbi Eliyahu Mordechai Maza

How a Jew buys at auction

Words of wisdom from a fellow book dealer: When a gentile raises his hand at an auction, he is buying. When a Jew raises his hand at an auction, he is selling.

Promoting Judaism in the Middle East

I just received an order for 2 Encyclopedia Judaicas from a customer in Kuwait. One going there I can barely understand, but 2? Maybe they will have some study groups studying Enyclopedia Judaica there soon.

An unlikely buyer

A customer was paying for some books in the store recently when I noticed one of the books he picked out had an author with the same name as the customer. Wondering if there was a connection, the buyer tells me he is the author himself! Turns out, he really likes his book and gives them away as gifts often, but he has run out of copies. I am now on the lookout for him for more copies of the book for the author himself.

A few days later I sold the Great Jewish Enjoy-A-Trivia Book for Kids by Linda Holland Rathkopf to Linda Holland Rathkopf! I guess it's a good sign when the author runs out of copies.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Another Sefer Torah with legs

An “expensive” Sefer Torah was stolen from the Erlau Beis Medrash in Yerushalayim’s Katamon neighborhood on the night between the first and second days of Rosh Hashanah. The Sefer Torah was on the street level of the bet medrash, where a minyan was being held on yomtov for the youth, towards alleviating some of the overcrowded conditions in the main bet medrash. The gabbaim have filed a report with police and have decided to publicize the theft in the hope of alerting people should the thief try to sell it

Friday, September 14, 2012

Thief walks off with silver Judaica in Queens

People have to start to learn how to protect there synagogues. Synagogues are no longer the safe place we once thought them to be, as the rash of recent burglaries show.

Police arrested a Kew Gardens man Tuesday who allegedly stole two silver Torah crowns from Young Israel of Queens Valley in Kew Gardens Hills on Aug. 16 and other Judaica from two additional synagogues earlier this year.
Roman Iskhavov, 26, of 125th Street, was expected to be charged Wednesday with burglary, grand larceny and criminal possession of stolen property. He faces up to seven years in prison.It is alleged that Iskhakov made statements to the police admitting he took several of the items from two of the burglaries and sold them at pawn shops.
According to police, the first burglary took place on June 18 at Congregation Ahavath Sholom at 75-02 113 St. in Forest Hills, stealing Torah breast plates, a silver pointer, a wine cup and a silver-coated plate.
Then, on Aug. 14 he allegedly broke into Beth Gavriel Center for Bukharian Jews at 66-35 108 St., also in Forest Hills, and stole a silver plate, a silver pointer and a charity box containing $200.
Members of the Young Israel synagogue at 141-55 77 Ave. only realized last week that the two pieces that cover the Torah were missing. It had been believed that a volunteer had taken them home to polish prior to Rosh Hashanah, which is on Sept. 17. But Young Israel’s security cameras caught the thief entering the building and walking off with the silver.
The video shows a man wearing a black yarmulka on his head enter the building and pick up a prayer book. But he did not enter the sanctuary.
Instead, he went to the basement and took the Torah crowns while the people upstairs were participating in evening services. The crowns are worth $1,300.
The video also shows the man leaving the synagogue with the items in a plastic bag.
In February, a similar crime occurred only blocks away at Congregation Rachel Degel Israel on 68th Drive. Silver Torah items worth $15,000 were stolen. A man who lives nearby was arrested shortly afterward when police were tipped off by a pawnshop owner where the thief had tried to sell the items

Some thoughts of Hungarian Ketuvot and Gittin

I recently acquired a large collection of 19th century Hungarian Jewish Letters, Manuscripts, Ephemera etc and between them about 20 Ketuvot and a dozen or so Gittin from the mid 19th century from throughout Hungary. I tried fruitlessly to try to find a match, the marriage and divorce document of the same couple, but haven't had luck yet. I'll keep on looking though.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Protecting Your Rare Books: Maintaining the Right Environmental Conditions

                                                                                                                 By Joachim Koch
Regardless of where you live, maintaining the ideal environmental conditions in your personal library presents specific challenges. Conservation of rare books requires keeping your library at a certain temperature and humidity.
Paper products are hygroscopic, meaning that they easily absorb and release moisture. This means that your rare books respond to even the most minute variations in temperature and humidity by contracting and expanding. If temperature and humidity aren’t controlled over time, visible damage like warped covers and flaking ink can occur. The paper itself also begins to break down more rapidly.

While institutions may have the budget for expensive HVAC systems and other equipment, there are several simple, cost effective methods that you can use at home.

Keep your AC set to a consistent temperature. Fluctuations in temperature can accelerate deterioration. Consider keeping your home at a temperature where you’ll be relatively comfortable throughout the year.

During the winter, resist the urge to turn up the heat. You’ll save money on utilities and protect your rare books. Excess heat can be destructive and it can raise humidity beyond acceptable levels.

Store your books in a room without doors that open to the outside. Outside air not only contributes to temperature and humidity changes; it is also more likely to contain dirt and dust, which can damage your books.

Don’t open windows in your personal library. It may be tempting to do this if a room gets too warm in the winter, but you’ll reduce the humidity of the room—already difficult to maintain during colder months.

Remove books from direct sunlight. While short-term exposure isn’t the end of the world, long-term UV exposure will fade the dust jackets and covers of rare books and accelerate decomposition.

Place your books well away from radiators, vents, and other areas that may be subject to exceptionally high or low temperatures. You can block heat from radiators by placing an aluminum-covered wallboard in front of the radiator.

Know your materials. Parchment and vellum, for instance, require different environmental conditions. Group items that contain similar materials together and place them in locations that have conditions closest to their ideal.

Thieves sentenced for stealing 18th century Torah

from the Jerusalem Post:
J'lem court sentences 4 for stealing Jewish objects worth $1 mil. from Great Synagogue of Milano, bringing them to Israel.
The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court sentenced four people on Sunday to between nine months and four years imprisonment for stealing Jewish ritual and holy objects worth approximately $1 million from the Great Synagogue of Milan.
On February 1, the convicts stole various items from the synagogue, transported them to Paris and then brought them by plane to Israel. The stolen objects included rare crowns and ceremonial objects placed on Torah scrolls dating back to the 18th century.
Much of the hearing surrounded attempts by the mastermind of the theft, Meir Moalem, to convince the court to give him a light sentence.
Moalem and character witnesses, including his mother, described how he had had trouble supporting his family in Israel. They said that he had moved to Paris in order to try to better support the family.
Moalem said he had learned that he could buy people’s loyalty and could get people to work with him on any job, even if illegal, if he paid them enough. Moalem had paid various members of the team up to $70,000 to assist him in aspects of the theft.
Requesting a lenient punishment, he noted that he has turned over a new leaf since his arrest for this crime. He also noted that all of the items were returned to the Italian synagogue. Moalem also said he did not realize the extent of the value of the objects which he had stolen and was just trying to pay off his and his family’s debts.
The state sought a maximum punishment of five years in prison, arguing that the stolen objects had tremendous economic and historical value. According to the state, a clear message needed to be sent that such theft was even worse than run-of-the-mill crime and would carry a more severe punishment.
The prosecutors also did not believe Moalem’s story about not knowing the value of the objects, noting his intricate plans for the theft, hiring a team of assistants and the amount he paid his accomplices for their involvement.
In handing Moalem a four-year sentence, the court mostly accepted the state’s argument, finding that since Moalem found a purchaser for $285,000, he at least knew that the stolen objects were of high value.
The court also noted the significant negative impact that Moalem’s actions had on a treasured Italian Jewish community which has existed for centuries.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

"If there was an award for laziness I'd probably send somebody else to pick it up for me."

Humans are a funny breed. Every year in this season I get the same frantic phone calls: "I need a Selichot and please send it express mail, I need it yesterday!" I have had the Selichot listed all year and somehow people only recall they actually need one a day after Selichot started.
If only they planned just a bit in advance, they can save the world $15, but I guess everyone has his way of doing things.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Necessity is the mother of invention

After several unpleasant experiences, I was forced to put up this sign in the store. I truly hope that no one tests me.
אם אתה עובר על הדברה השמינית
אני אעבור על הדברה הששית

Friday, August 17, 2012

Awful timing?

When you pick up a phone to let a customer know a book he requested came in, you under your breadth always mutter a prayer, that your timing is right. Recently, I phoned a buyer to let him know a book he has been looking for, has arrived. I immediately noticed something was the matter, and turns out his mother had just died 10 minutes before. He was alone, and I was the first person he spoke to after getting the news, and we ended up chatting about such mundane things such as life, death, God, reward & punishment and the like. Perhaps something good came out of our talk, I do not know, but very much hope so. Sometimes we do more than sell a book when we make a call.
And yes, he called me back a week later and paid for the book

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

כי מלאה הארץ חמ"ס on Jewish Publishing in America

Shaul Sapir, who was editor of the Deer Amerikaner in the early 20th century, was once asked about the Jewish Publishing Situation in the United States.
He replied "כי מלאה הארץ חמ"ס "
חמס ראשי תבות חומשים מחזורים סדורים
How very true! 99% of the Hebrew books printed in America before WWI were Prayerbooks or Chumashim.

Monday, August 13, 2012

A Tattooed Kabbalist

I just picked up a collection of Kabbalistic books from an eccentric gentile. He had a variety of Hebrew tattoos on his body including אל on his neck and more but one struck me as odd enough that I had to ask. It read אבי ואמי עזבוני ויה-וה יאספני
Turns out, he was sexually abused as a child and somehow lost faith in family and all. Somehow, Kabbalah is now a big part of his life. I doubt that's what Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai had in mind, but if he can get something good out of it, I'm all for it.
He gave me a nice pshat in the Zohar; whenever the Zohar states that "They came and taught us" without specifying who, it refers to aliens coming and teaching the Tanaim Kabbalah. As they say שבעים פנים לתורה

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Beware a Valuable Judaica library has just been STOLEN

Some scumbag(s) have robbed a few days ago a very valuable library in Monsey, New York. The owner is currently sick in the hospital, the thieves took their chance, when the family of the sick man were visiting him and looted the library. If you are offered a collection of rare Kabbalistic and Hasidic books, be sure you are not buying stolen books.
It is very sad that in such a business, that of selling holy books, we need to be worried of such things. But a certain breed of people have proven time and again, that this business has it's giant share of thieves, forgers, scammers and their cronies. It appears the evil inclination does not discriminate between one business and another.

Hosting a Jewish Holocaust Denier in my store

What do you do when a well known Holocaust denier and "Scholar" visits your store? That's what I just had to deal with. Every so often, this man walks in to our store and stocks up on books on the Holocaust and "Palestine" for reference. Of Jewish birth, this fellow has managed to convince himself of all the classic antisemitic beliefs that you can think up. Naturally he believes the Israelis are causing a Holocaust in the Holy Land, and he has "proofs", though no proofs can ever seem to be good enough to convince him of the real Holocaust. And He believes Jews mix Christian blood in the Matzas, I'm not sure how he convinced himself of that one either. I also learned from him how the Israelis perpetrated 9/11 and that the war in Iraq was created by the Israelis just to knock out Saddam. And the Rothschilds financed the war to make more money. It goes on and on, it makes me sick to write this, so I'll stop for now.

Your first instinct when meeting such a man, is to let out your fist and send him for a walk. But on second thought, I realised that's all such a man needs, is another story to tell on his weekly radio show, about a Jew kicking him out of a store. So I let him be and tried to understand him, though didn't do too well with that either. It turns out that humans have this amazing ability to believe anything that want to believe if you give them some time. Recently, a book has been published "Pasque di Sangue," by Ariel Toaff has shocked Jewish communities around the world for giving credence to the age-old accusation, which is commonplace in anti-Semitic literature used to justify and promote the persecution of Jews. This Toaff is the son of Italy's Chief Rabbi. Give this info to a Antisemite like this and he has a party. This character is actually working on translating the book into English. There is no convincing that will "unconvince" someone like this.

I was greatly comforted after he taught me, that I am not part of the illuminati, as I am Sephardic, the Illuminati are only from the Ashkenazi Jews. The insanity just went on for a few hours that he spent in my store.

It was enjoyable to hear from him how great the Jews are, they are all rich, all powerful, control the entire world, win all their wars and how Iran really has no nuclear bombs. For a few minutes I felt really relieved, that there was no antisemitism, it was just a rouse by the elites and really all Christians love Jews, especially the Catholics. But then I remembered the millions of people who died for their religion and that all this is just a dream.
May God protect us from ourselves.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Apparently, Intelligence doesn't cure Antisemitism

In the summer of 1922 Lenard had written to the Nobel committee that Einstein was a “publicity-seeking Jew whose approach was alien to the true nature of German physics.”
Philipp Lenard (June 7, 1862 – May 20, 1947) was a German physicist and the winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1905 for his research on cathode rays and the discovery of many of their properties.

I long had the belief that the best revenge a Jew can have for anti-semitism is to succeed. The bigger the better. Who today heard of Lenard, and who hasn't heard of Einstein?

Collection of Hate Sermons by the Religion of Love

The National Library of Israel just obtained a rare collection of 39 Portuguese sermons from the era of the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions, Israel Hayom reported recently
Dating back to between 1618 and 1727, the collection of sermons—read by church officials prior to ritual executions of Jews—represents more than half of the 70 such texts ever printed.
During the Inquisition, the sermons were followed by elaborate ceremonies during which Jews were killed for either refusing to convert to Catholicism or still practicing their religion after converting.
“These events were a recreational Sunday activity for residents of the local towns and villages,” Dr. Aviad Stollman, Judaica collections curator at the National Library of Israel, said of the ceremonies.

It is sick to think of how low a level humanity can reach that people can be entertained by the burning of human flesh. People tend to overestimate the human mind, once exposed to a good orator, it becomes useless and swayed any direction it is led. It is interesting to note that all Auto-da-fés were carried out by the Catholic Church, perhaps they forgot a verse in the New Testament, Mathew 5:43: "You have heard that it has been said, You shall love your neighbour, and hate your enemy", or more likely, they pick and choose what to read.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

After purchasing a Bible, a buyer sends me this message

A first time buyer, after clicking buy it now on a Bible, sends me an emotionally filled message:
"Due to my wife's irresponsibility, my paypal account has bee frozen. It is going to take a few days to straighten her mess out. Believe me, I am thoroughly disgusted with her. I hope you may find the patience to wait for your payment. I pride myself in my promptness in payment, and meeting of my responsibilities. Unfortunately, this is not the only time I have been inconvenienced by my wife's neglect in proper action. If you have any questions, email me."
Sometimes men need a listening ear as well it appears.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Divre Shalom, Torah from a depressed Rabbi, Shalom Israelson

Divre Shalom was published in 1920 in St Louis. It contains Responsa, homiletics, and novellae by R. Shalom b. Asher Israelson (1861-1931). R. Israelson was born in Joniskis, Kovno Province and studied with R. Israel Salanter in Kovno. He was ordained by R. Isaac Elhanan Spektor and other rabbis. Upon his arrival in America in 1894 he served as rabbi in Milwaukee, then Toronto 1900, and finally Chicago. R. Shalom also wrote Neveh Shalom (Chicago 1900) novellae to several tractates and the Rambam.

This book is of the most absurd I have ever seen on many fronts. The author, typical of many early American Rabbis, was not appreciated by his community and Rabbi Israelson apparently took this to heart. This reflects in many points in the book of which I will note below. Often, you can get a better look at the author's personality and life from a work of his Chiddushim, than from an autobiography, and this book is a fine example. The author manages to insert his view on life on numerous subjects all in the context of a halakhic work. I will quote below some of the many points of the book that stand out in my opinion.

In the introduction (page 4), the author asks, why write a book? "We know that American Rabbis write books as a plot to raise money, going door to door selling their book, so what is so great about me writing another book? Truth is, I am not doing any great favor to the world by publishing by book, just fulfilling a natural need to express my thoughts in writing"

Israelson claims (page 5) that any Rabbi who was familiar with worldly knowledge as well as Torah, was targeted by zealots and his life was made miserable. He quotes several examples. The first is the Ramchal, whom he claims was chased down and brought down with lies by Haham Zvi and then his son, Yaakov Emden. Israelson, states how it is absurd for anyone to think, that an author of such a work as Mesilat Yesharim would be accused of any of the abominations that were fabricated against him.

The second example he brings is Jonathan Eybeschutz. He quotes an urban legend, Haham Zvi was once riding his chariot and noticed a young boy walking along. He offered him a ride, and asked for his name and where was he headed. The boy answered Yehonatan Eybeschutz, and I am going to such and such city to learn Torah. Haham Tzvi spoke to him in learning and was astonished at the great knowledge the boy revealed, and then asked him, did you hear of the Sefer Haham Tzvi that was just published and what do you think of it? The boy, not knowing that he was talking to Haham Zvi himself, said, I know if it and read it, and found nothing in it that would impress any learned man,a s all hiw words are befitting of just a young lad. The story goes on to say, that Haham Zvi held a grudge against Eybeschutz ever since and bequeathed it to his son after he died, who tormented Eybeshutz to death.
Israelson writes" It is well known, to anyone with a knowing heart, that Eybeshutz was clean of any of the accusations heaped upon him by Emden and his helpers, lies and falsifications which only existed in their imagination. This was all a scheme to get hm down, as he was also a Haham (possessor of worldly knowledge)."

The third Rabbi he brought down was the Malbim who suffered as well all his life, just for being knowledgeable in worldly matters. "In my own eyes, I saw his widow in the city of Memel, Prussia begging for food, as the Malbim left her naked and poor upon his death".

Israelson interprets the Gemara ( Bava Mezia 86) שמואל ירחינאה חכים יחקרי ורבי לא יתקרי in a novel way; since Shmuel was considered a Haham, and was an expert in worldly matters, he was Rebbe's doctor as well as an astronomer to the extent that he stated נהירין לי שבילי דשמיא כשבילי דנהרדעא " I am familiar with the paths of the skies, like the streets of Nehardea", and thus he was not able to be called a Rebbe as well. It was his superior knowledge in worldly matters, which prevented Rebbe from giving him Ordination.

Further in his introduction, Israelson brings down the בינה לעיתים who asks, how is that David Hamelech, who was known for his righteousness lets out strings of curses at his enemies through Tehillim. Yirmiya as well, even though his entire life from birth was dedicated to the Jewish people, cursed the people of Anatot his hometown with curses that cause any hearer to shudder?
The בינה לעיתים answers, that everything in life has it's limits. When it reaches a point, when a man's entire honor of trampled, such as is said about David, that even when he was leaning נגעים ואהלות his enemies would harass him with questions about Eshet Ish, at this point, a man must let it out, and curse if need be.

Israelson states, that though he is far from being on the level of Eibeshutz, Malbim or Ramchal, and certainly is not comparing himself to David and Yirmiya, but this was indeed the story of his life. The Rabbis did not get near him as he was considered open minded and of worldly knowledge. And the "Writers" kept a distance as he was after all a Rabbi....

Continuing on his rant, he writes, authors have developed a custom of writing their Yihus (lineage) in the introduction the their works and their biographies. In order not to be different than the norm, I should have written mine, as well, but my biography would need a book of it's own. Every day of my life from the day I first opened my eyes, is a long chain of different rings, each day that passed leaves me with just desolation and wonder.
ולוא אמרתי לכתוב בספר מכל אשר עברו עלי בימי חיי כי אז היה די חומר בעד חוזי חזיונות להציג על במת החזיון מחזה טראגעדית אשר אין ערוך אליה בקרב אנשים כערכי ואולי גם בקרב כל בני תמותה
"And if only I would write of what has transpired in my life, there would have been suffice material for screen writers to create a Tragedy stage play which would be incomparable to anyone else of my circumstance ​​and perhaps even among all mortals"
When I read this, I felt I had just read the most depressing string of words humanely possible.

As for his Yihus, he writes, what would a help a reader to know who my father was? All they need to know is that I am a descendent of Avraham Avinu, though I happen to be a descendant of the Baal Halevushim and the Knesset Yechezkel, though I do not know if they would associate themselves with me, therefore I will not write it.
He thus gets to mention his Yihus and write against the mentioning of Yihus all at the same time.

The reader should know, he writes (page 9) that I am without many books, and especially I am looking Aharonim, and the few times I did quote them in my book, is just what I recall from my youth. As for the publishing cost, it should be known that the price of printing has now doubled, and I have lost all my worldly processions until I am left with nothing at all...

It is the nature of authors he states (page 9), to thank the hosts of the city, who supported him financially. I though, do not have anyone to thank, as no one helped me. I do not owe any thanks to the hosts in the city at all, as I have brought bread to my table on my own with the help of God.

He goes on to beg (page 12) the reader to buy the book, so he can pay back his debts. He quotes the price as no less than $2, as the cost of printing has multiplied of late.

Thus he finishes his introduction, and all that can come to my mind after reading it is a quote from Ellen Hopkins "“So you try to think of someone else you're mad at, and the unavoidable answer pops into your little warped brain: everyone.”

Responsa 1: He is Posek that it is forbidden to make a partnership with a Jew who desecrates the Shabbat
Responsa 2: A Shohet who sends his children to public schools on Shabbat, his Shechita is Forbidden to be eaten.
in Responsa 26 he permits a man to marry a second wife without granting a divorce to the first and without a Heter Mean Rabanim, in the case of אשה מורדת a rebellious wife, which he describes as "an evil woman, in a frightening way". He states that the husband, a poor man, will find it very difficult to find 100 Rabbis to sign, without having to shell out a lot of money.
on page 118, he says that there is no חזקת כשרות for American Jews.
on page 124, Israelson states that in a Get, the city of New Orleans is written as ניו ארלינס and not as ארלינס חדשה

Following the responsa in the book, he added two essays he wrote, the first being on Women's Suffrage, a hot topic in those days. He starts off by mentioning that the customs of of many Jews of previous generations was to leave their house and go learn in a distant city and leave the wife to fend for herself. He speaks harshly against such practices, of sitting in front of a warm stove and sending your wife to do the hard labor all the while abandoning your obligation of שארה וכסותה. He contemplates the destruction of the Family in modern times and comes to the conclusion that it is was all caused by the Enlightenment, which taught new ethics in regards to the lady. They have made the lady in to a lofty creature, something that must be worshiped and revered and thus lost all the value of family life, after the ladies seeing themselves as better than thou, made life unbearable for the husband with their demands. "Woe to the man who falls in to his lot, one of these modern women, woe to this man, if he dares insult his wife's honor, for this will never be forgiven, this is what collapsed the family in our times".
He goes on to say, that if indeed a woman, would be elected senator, men would be petrified to argue with her, and as we know, a short phrase from a beautiful woman, can sway many men...
In short he concludes, the new movement of women's rights, has stolen the rights from the men....

At the end of the book, he writes a letter addressed to his book. He comforts the book for the insults he is bound to receive from the people who read it and the lack of interest from the masses.

Thus concludes the fascinating book Divre Shalom, a microcosm of what life was like for a Rabbi in America, in the early 20th Century.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

First Thoughts

It recently dawned on me; that I am almost certainly of a last generation of booksellers in the current usage of the word. This profession will certainly be looked at with fascination and curiosity in the centuries to come where books will be something people only read about, on eBooks that is. I figured a blog detailing the ridiculous absurdities that make the day of your average bookseller as well as the fun and great times that come along with it, would be of interest to someone, somewhere out there at some point in time. So here I am.