Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Rav Shimon Cohen - The bookseller in Yeshivat Etz Chaim, Jerusalem (1870s) & Maskilim whom he bred within the Yeshiva

In 1930, מגנזי ירושלים-חוברת ז was published including much interesting material regarding life in the Old Yishuv of Jerusalem. On page 35 begins an anonymous memoir of someone who was a Talmid in Yeshivat Etz Chaim in the 1860s and 1870s in the period when Rabbi Moshe Nechemia Kahanov was Rosh Yeshiva (Otzar HaRabbanim 15592). He describes a Rav in the Yeshiva named R. Shimon Cohen, a big Ba'al Ta'avah - for Sefarim. "He rarely ever learned at all, and even so he had great knowledge and was a bookseller. He knew all types of books, who authored them and what they were about, if they are available and when and how many times they were published, perhaps even more then Ben-Yaakov of Vilna. And when he found a book he did not have, he did not fight over the price and did not rest until he bought it. His books were bound beautifully, but I believe he never opened them"

He goes on to detail R. Shimon Cohen's stall in the northern wall of the Yeshiva selling all types of books, partnered by the Rosh Yeshiva's own nephew. Between the books were also books of the Haskalah, and one student bought from them מסתרי פריז of Eugène Sue and Ohr Layesharim and through them became a Maskil.

The Yeshiva students were jointly subscribers to Halevanon and HaMaggid, two Hebrew newspapers of the time, and the Rosh Yeshiva himself, Rabbi Moshe Nechemia Kahanov would read them publicly.

Every Erev Shabbat, the Rosh Yeshiva would read Shnayim Mikra with the Sefer Torah of the Yeshiva and with Mendelssohn's Beur!

Quite different times from Etz Chaim of Today where any deviation from the modern Haredi code of life can get your name plastered on every available wall in the city.

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