Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Passing of R. Tovia Preschel

The following notice was received from Prof. Shnayer Leiman:

We are all deeply saddened by the passing last week of R. Tovia Preschel (1922-2013), noted scholar and author. Raised in Vienna, he was taken in 1938 to London on one of the Kindertransports arranged by Rabbi Solomon Schoenfeld, of blessed memory. After several years of Talmudic study in London, he made his way to Eretz Yisrael, where he served as a volunteer in the IDF during Israel’s War of Independence in 1948. He ultimately settled in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he devoted a lifetime to raising a family and to Jewish teaching and scholarship. Others will surely write about his distinguished family; here, we wish to focus briefly on his scholarship.

Tovia Preschel mastered not only rabbinic literature, but the broad range of all of Jewish literature, including Jewish historical literature and Jewish belles-lettres.  He read widely and possessed a phenomenal memory. More importantly, he  shared his erudition freely with others. He will be remembered as one of the  great masters of Jewish bibliography, together with his late colleagues, such  as R. Yehudah Rubenstein, R. Yaakov Mandelbaum, and R. Chaim Liberman.   The passing of Tovia Preschel may well mark the end of a glorious era in Jewish   bibliography.

His publications, in Hebrew, Yiddish, and English ranged broadly over the  entire spectrum of Jewish scholarship. For those perhaps unfamiliar with his   publications, we list here the titles (in English translation), of a brief sampling of   his studies (selected randomly and in no particular order);

“The Custom of Reading the books of Job and Daniel in the Summer”

“The Blessing for Kiddush Ha-Shem”

“The Cities in the Diaspora Called ‘Jerusalem’ ”

“Rabbi Shalom Shakhna of Lublin”

“A Letter Mistakenly Ascribed to Ramban”

“Yehudah the Son of Ramban”

“Authors Who Sent Their Writings as Mishlo’ah Manot”

“The Title ‘Rishon Le-Tziyyon’”

“Did Hasidim Practice Censorship?”

“Jewish Custom in Rome”

“Rabbi Yisrael Salanter and the Translation of the Talmud into Hebrew”

“What has Miriam to do with Hanukkah?”

“Two Geonim and the Tune of ‘Mekhalkel Hayyim’”

“The Letters of Recommendation Written by R. Samson Raphael Hirsch”

“A Bibliography of the Writings of R. Chaim Heller”

Talmudic Teaching rules: אין עושין נפשות לצדיקים ("we build no monuments for the righteous"). In the case of Tovia Preschel, he built his own monuments: his descendants and his publications. Sadly, his hundreds of studies, scattered in many different newspapers and scholarly periodicals, have never been gathered in one volume. It would be a great contribution to klal yisrael if his studies - properly edited and indexed - were made available in book form. It would also be the ultimate tribute to his memory.

יהא זכרו ברוך

Was the Viennese Publisher, Joseph Shlesinger, the brother in law of Rabbi Shimon Sofer, author of Michtav Sofer?

In 1898, Joseph Shlesinger, the famed publisher of Vienna, bought out the rights of the Sefer Pele Yoetz, by Rabbi Eliezer Papo, from Papo's son, Yehuda Papo of Jerusalem. Following the title page is an announcement by Rabbi Yehuda Papo that the rights were sold to Shlesinger, and following that page is a letter printed, by Rabbi Shimon Sofer, banning anyone from republishing the Pele Yoetz for 5 years.

Letter of Shimon Sofer
Rabbi Shimon Sofer is introduced as "my brother in law", though I was not able to find any record of any such relation elsewhere.

Turns out though, that the ban hadn't much effect, Bet Eked Sefarim lists several editions within the 5 years after this 1898 printing.

Update: 1/24/14
a friend, who is a descendant of the Chatam Sofer has supplied me with the following information:
Reb Akiva Eiger's daughter Sorel was married in  תקס"ג to Reb Avrom Moshe Kalisher . and was niftar in תקע"ב they had two daughters. They both came along when she married the Chasam Sofer. one died r"l at a young age, the other one got married to Reb Yosef (Ginz) Schlesinger, who was a talmid of the Chasam Sofer too.

Rabbi Chaim Kramer of Centerville, Iowa: America, a land of abundance and liberty

Rabbi Chaim Kramer was Rabbi in several American Cities, including Mobile, Alabama and later in Centerville, Iowa, where he published his book on the Torah from 1936.
He dedicates the volume to his brother, Nathan Kramer of Whiteville, N. C. displaying his great appreciation for the United States.
"שהוציאני מארץ הדמים והביאני לארץ החפש"
"Who took me out of a cruel and hungry land and brought me to a land of abundance and liberty."

A Dry Goods store in Slovakia Selling Jewish Books? An interesting stamp in a book

I recently found 2 books with a stamp of a Slovakian Dry Goods Store, which reads something like this:


Was the store selling Religious Hebrew books among it's wares? Or perhaps the book was owned by the owner of the store and he used the stamp as free advertisement for his wares?

Monday, December 23, 2013

A Poem in honor of the NOAM ELIMELECH Instructed by heaven to be printed in Shefa Mitzvot 1922 by Yehuda Kraus שפע מצות : על התרי"ג מצות

In 1922 שפע מצות : על התרי"ג מצות Shefa Mitzvot, a commentary on the 613 Mitzvot was published in Bardiov, Slovakia. The author was Rabbi Yuda Kraus, who was the Rabbi in Dobra (Dobra Podłopień), which today lies in Poland. Printed in 4 parts, at the end of the 3rd is printed a curious Poem. The author writes how he was instructed in a "dream" to print this poem at the end of this book. The book is a primitive poem in honor of the Sefer Noam Elimelech. The book appears to have never been reprinted.
שירותים אלו חברתי על ספר נועם אלימלך
בר"ת נועם אלימלך
Title Page of Shefa Mitzvot

The Poem he is instructed by heaven to write

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The last conference of Moroccan Rabbis, 1948 and their legendary regulations מועצת הרבנים במארוק

A list of the attending Rabbis at the conference

In 1948, Moroccan Jewry was at a crossroad. The modernization that overtook Europe a century or two before had finally arrived in Morocco, along with the French. Many of the young were less religious and the Rabbinate was losing it's influence, especially in the cities.

The conference in 1949 addressed many of the issues of the day, and this pamphlet listing the accepted regulations, is a great indication of how the Rabbis viewed their responsibility in adapting to the times.

R. Shaul Ibn Danan headed the conference, and here is a quote from some of his opening words:

"לא עלינו האשמה כי כל דברות קדשם של רבותינו זיע"א רצוים ומקובלים עלינו.... והאשם תלוי בזמן הנכחי התחלפות התקופה וכמאמר החכם יעשה הזמן מה שלא יעשה השכל ואין ספק שגם רבותינו לו היו בעת הזאת כי גם אז יגזרו אומר להחליף דבר לגרוע ולהוסיף עפ"י הוראת הזמן והמצב"

"It is not on us the blame, as all the words of our Rabbis are welcome and accepted upon us... the blame lies in the current time, the change of the winds, as the wise man said, time will do what the intellect will not. There is no doubt, that our great Rabbis, if they were in these times, they too will decree to add or remove decrees depending on the needs of the time"

The words of Ibn Danan
Here are some examples of the decrees agreed upon in this meeting.
1. Unmarried daughters inherit with their brothers after a death of a parent
The background being, that daughters were going to the Civil Courts in such cases and getting decisions in their favors, regardless of the Halakhic decision. The Rabbis realized that once the people started getting used to visiting the civil courts, they will go there for other issues as well and the Rabbinical courts will soon be obsolete. They found it better to make a decree, that appears to be against Biblical Law, in an effort to preserve the community.

2. Children of unmarried women who were adopted by strangers can not be removed from the adoptive family until they are reimburses for their expenses.
Background: Single women were giving birth out of wedlock, giving their children over to other people's care and reappearing years later and taking back their children. As a result, people were refraining from adopting such children, for fear it is just temporary and at a loss and these children were left homeless.

3. A unanimously agreed upon edict, to refrain from giving numerous honorary titles to Rabbis. Ibn Danan bemoans the fact that the later the generation the less value is given to these titles, and the numerous titles thrown around were making any such title of little value. This agreement ends with the statement:
כל הרבנים ענו אמן ברצון נשגב והסכמה לבבית לקיום המצוה הזאת
All the Rabbis answered Amen with lofty agreement and heartfelt acceptance to act upon this great Mitzvah

The edict to to refrain from giving numerous honorary titles to Rabbis
This conference is a small indication of the great difference of approaches between North African Jewry and Eastern European's Jewry's and their reaction to the modernization of the world and the reforming movements.

As opposed to using the motto חדש אסור מן התורה the Rabbis went out of their way to bend the Torah, to a point where community will accept it willingly and have it adapt to the time, all within the frameworks of Halacha.

Promoting Hebrew as a Universal Language: Sifte Cohen printed in Djerba 1952

In 1952, Sifte Cohen שפתי כהן was printed in Djerba. It is a brief Hebrew dictionary with Judeo-Arabic translations following the Hebrew explanation of the words. The title page proudly states that this is based on
ספר המלים הנדפס מחדש בדפוס האלמנה והאחים ווילנא
The Sefer Hamilim published in Vilna by the Widom Romm and Brothers Press
Following the title page, the author describes his motivation for writing this book.

גם לקיום לאומיותינו כי אין אומה בלא לשון
To preserve our Nationalism, as there is no nation without a language

 גם בגשמי יועיל להנוסעים ממדינה למדינה למצוא מי שמכיר שפתם שאין לך מקום שלא נמצא בו מאחינו בני ישראל ובהם ימצאון הרבה מכירים בשפתינו
Also in material needs it is an aid, for those travelling from place to place to find someone who speaks their tongue. As there is no place in the world that you will not find one of our Jewish Brethren and between them many who speak our language

sample page from book
At end of book, the one doing the translating writes how he was working without the Romm Printing of the original Sefer Hamilim as he could not locate a copy. Indicating perhaps the scarcity of Vilna Printings in Tunis.
לא היה בידי רק בהגליונות הראשונים

Friday, December 13, 2013

An Nontraditional Portrait of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai & a description of Lag Baomer in Morocco in 1944

In 1944 a book was published titled תולדות רמב"ה ורשב"י a biography of Rabbi Meir Baal Hanes and Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai. Authored by Yehiel Bouskila, a Hebrew teacher in Casablanca, Morocco.
Bouskila, was a devout Jew as well as a devout Zionist, and he describes one of the purposes of his book, as being to show how even our greatest Rabbis such as Rabbi Meir Baal Hanes and Rash"bi were Zionist and had great Jewish National pride.

The author describing the Tanaim as Zionists and Nationalists
In the book, appears an amusing illustration of Rashb"i, not the one traditionally used today.

Notice how they made Rabbi Shimon hold a Zohar in his hands towards the viewer, just in case you had any doubts...

Bouskila also describes how Lag Baomer was celebrated throughout Morocco:

"מכל הערים נוסעים בהמונים למקומות שונים בשביל להשטתח שם על קברי צדיקים"
"From all the cities, people travel in numbers to various places to be able to pray at the graves of the Saints"
"האוהלים של אנשי העיר ושל אנשים אורחים הבאים מערים אחרות להעביר פה היום הגדול והקדוש הזה"
"The tents of the people of the city and of the many guests who come from other cities to spend the this holy day here"
"היו עורכים סעודות ואוכלים ושותים ושמחים וכל העיר קזאבלנקא שמחה וצהלה"
They would make great meals and eat and drink and be jolly, and the entire city of Casablanca is happy and rejoicing"

A Book written in an Egyptian Jail: Kerem Dal on the Torah by Daniel Levi

It was 1948, during Israel's Independence War, and Egypt decided to jail many of the leaders and businessman of the Jewish Community, whom they decided were spies or traitors. One of the 200 Jews imprisoned in Abu Qir, was Daniel Levi, a businessman. He used his newly acquired spare time there to write a commentary on the Torah, which was eventually published in Israel in 1959.
The author in his introduction describing his stay in Abu Qir, and how the book was formed
There is a very complimentary Haskamah in the book from Rabbi Ahron Menahem Schweke, originally of Cairo, Egypt and later Rabbi of Kiryat Yovel, Jerusalem. From his Haskamah: 
"Even though I was busy and confused, despite all this, the first night when I went in to my bed to sleep, I took your book with me to skim through, until I fall asleep. I have never been able to read in bed more than a half hour, as sleep would always overpower me and the book would fall from my hands."
"But on this night, it was ten at night when I went to sleep, and when I placed it down, I saw that the time was 1:00 am ! I have read the book for 3 hours, something which has never happened to me before"
Haskamah of Rabbi Ahron Menahem Schweke

Haskamah of Rabbi Ahron Menahem Schweke

Foreign sponsors for book publishing: one example Seder Hayom 1967 Casablanca

It is often surprising to see how funding for the publication of Hebrew books was often sought from far-away sponsors, at times without any relation to the content of the book or the author. One famous such example is the Netiv Chaim of R. Nethanel Weil, published in Livorno in 1820.

The book was funded by 4 philanthropists from Gibraltar.

Here is a later example, סדר היום Seder Hayom, a Kabbalistic Liturgical text, it was sponsored by the Sutton family of Aleppo, though it was published in Casablanca, Morocco.

A Rather Unusual book given out at a Bar Mitzvah: Mendel Beilis, the story of my life

I came across an interesting edition of Mendel Beilis' autobiography in the original Yiddish. Printed in 1993, the book was privately published in honor of the Shanovitch family's son Bar Mitzvah, a rather odd choice I thought.

There is a phone number in the book, but a call to the family didn't lead to any explanation other than that Beilis was an important man in their community, the community of Chabad.

After the title page appears a statement by the family in Yiddish: " With praise to G-d we are pleased to reprint the autobiography of Mendel Beilus. the Beilus Blood Libel trial has a special place in Jewish History for had he not emerged innocent the consequences would have been dire for Jewry...."

hat-tip: Dr S. Sprecher

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin and the Zionist flavor to Sefer Pri Levanon, sermons of Rabbi Shmuel Tzvi Weiss

In 1949 a book titled Peri Levanon, sermons of Rabbi Shmuel Tzvi Weiss was published in Jerusalem. Rabbi Weiss was a Maggid and Dayan in the vicinity of Lemberg, the book was published posthumously. 
Here is how the date of publication was described in the book:
חמשה עשר בשבט, יום פתיחת הכנסת הגדולה
שנת תהיה שנת טובה לפ"ק
ב למדינת ישראל
translated loosely as: Jerusalem, the 15th of the month of Shevat, the day of the opening of the Knesset.... second year for the state of Israel.
The introduction to the book is by Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin, and he displays quite a bit of Zionist fervor in it. You can read the entire intro. below, here are some phrases from within it: 
"ידע והרגיש כי ביתו הקבוע של אדם מישראל הוא ברמה בארץ ישראל"
"He knew and felt that the permanent home for a Jew is in Eretz Israel"

"שזכה לראות במו עיניו את הקמת מדינת ישראל העצמאית"
"He merited to see with his own eyes the establishment of the independent state of Israel"

portrait of the author

introduction of Zevin

introduction of Zevin

The Haggadah Illustrated by Hannah Getzler and the tragic end of the illustrator

In 1953, a beautiful Haggadah was published in Tel Aviv, illustrated and written by H. Getzler. Looking at the title page below, you can see that the writer and Illustrator are described as ציורים וכתב חץ גצלר, using the masculine וכתב and not וכתבה. The author and illustrator was in fact a woman, Hannah Getzler. She hid the fact that it was a woman writing, so that Haredi Jews would not refrain from purchasing the Haggadah.

Here is an article about the Haggadah, from מעריב, 30 במרץ 1953. Notice her strong emphasis on her family, children and wish for a large family.

Just 6 years later, in April 1959, her husband, Yehuda Getzler, at age 52, after getting himself into heavy debt, killed his wife, Hannah, and 3 of their four children and then committed suicide,  in one of the most horrific murder-suicides in the history of Israel. Their youngest son, Yuval, survived, after the bullet intended for him, missed it's target. Below are some photographs of the Haggadah. May the Haggadah live as her memory.

See here for the Maariv article at the time of their murder.

Business dealings between Cuba and Babylon in Amoraic Times: Masechet Kiddushin 8a

In 1899, a short-lived periodical named Kadimah, was published, only 6 issues appeared. It was edited  by Gerson Rosenzweig (1861–1914) and Nehemiah S. Leibowitz. In issue 3, page 144 in the book, appears an article by M. D. Poglin, regarding the place named קובי mentioned in the Talmud.

Here is the text of the Talmud, as it appears in Kiddushin, 8a:
Thus it happened that Mar, son of R`Ashi, bought a scarf from the mother of Rabbah of Kubi(21) worth ten for thirteen.
כי הא דמר בר רב אשי זבן סודרא מאימיה דרבה מקובי, שוי עשרה בתליסר
 In La Géographie du Talmud , by Adolf Neubauer p. 397, he writes that he is unable to identify this place.

The author of this article comes up with an unusual theory. He understands this place as being the island of Cuba, and explains that it was the custom to spend fortunes buying items from far away places as a sign of wealth.

The only other publication of M. D. Poglin I was able to locate, is a Yiddish Zionist lecture, published by  שאפער און קאהן in 1900 titled
אהיים! אהיים! : א בעלעהרענדע ציוניסטישע לעקטשור

Monday, December 2, 2013

A customer returns money found in a book purchased - original owner located !

A few days ago, a customer, Suzanne Leed of Ashdown, left a message on the store answering machine stating that she found cash in a book she purchased and would like to return it. Within a few days, an envelope with a card enclosed appeared in my mailbox, with a check made out to $400.

The book purchased was The Hasidic Community of Williamsburg, by Solomom Poll. The problem was, that there was no name written in the book and trying to figure out where I got the book from was not too easy. I have had numerous copies of the book in the last few years, and finding the rightful owner took a bit of detective work.

The fine woman, Mrs Suzanne Leed of Ashdown, Arkansas who found the money in the book, also found within the book a letter in Yiddish, a fundraising appeal, which she sent back to me as well. Below is the letter, which is a fundraising appeal by Rabbi J. Friedlander, the Liske Rav, addressed to a Howard J. Berger.

Looking back through my calendar, I found a Yehuda Berger, whose library I had purchased in August. A brief phone call clarified all the details, Howard Berger was the father of this Yehuda Berger and the money was indeed his!

Kudos to Mrs Leed for returning the money and showing us the good side of humanity, which often gets forgotten in the news of today.