Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Scandal of the exploitation of Rabbis and the strike of the editors in the creation of Otzar HaPoskim אוצר הפוסקים

Otzar HaPoskim אוצר הפוסקים is a Rabbinic Institute operating in Jerusalem since the 1940s. Ironically, the founding of the organization, a branch of התאחדות הרבנים פליטי רוסיא was intended as a way to provide an honorable living for the many immigrant Rabbis who arrived in Palestine after the Holocaust (see in length, the introduction to Otzar Haposkim Vol I). The head of the organization was Rabbi Shmuel Kipnis, and after his passing, it was headed by his son, Rabbi Mordechai Kipnis. The project received twice the prestigious Pras Harav Kook פרס הרב קוק לספרות תורנית award.

I recently stumbled across a treasure trove of documents relating to the organization from the 1970s. The documents include numerous correspondence between the actual editors working for the Otzar Haposkim and the manager, Rabbi Kipnis.

Apparent from these letters is the massive rift between the employer and the employees, with very strong worded letters sent to Rabbi Kipnis from the employees regarding their working conditions. Each letter is signed by every one of the editors. Here is a small sample of the contents of the letters, you can read some of the letters in their entirety below:

אנו מבקשים להפסיק מיד את ההשפלה המדהימה בשליחת שליחים לבדוק את נוכחותינו דבר שאין לו תקדים בשום מקום
We are requesting an immediate stop to the outstandingly degrading practice of sending messengers to check our attendance, something which has no precedence in any place

נשבית את העבודה ביום שני משעה 10-12 וניכנס לביה"כ לומר פרקי תהלים
ניאלץ לאחוז באמצעים דרסתיים ובמאבק קשה עד כדי הזמנה לדין תורה והשבתת העבודה
we will start a strike this Monday from the hours 10-12, we will enter the Bet Knesset and recite chapters of Tehillim.
We will be forced to take drastic measures and harsh tactics including bringing the matter to a Din Torah and imposing a strike

הננו מביעים את מחאתנו על הלנת שכר
We are hereby expressing our protest for withholding our wages

אנו דורשים לא להפעיל את שעון הנוכחות עבור עובדי המערכת
We demand to not impose the attendance check on the workers of the institution.

להוי ידוע שלא נסכים בשום פנים ואופן לנשל אותנו מזכיותנו
It shall be made known, that we will not allow in any way or form a removal of our rights

כל עיכוב במשכורת אפילו עיכוב חלקי יראה כהלנת שכר והרעת יחסי העבודה
Any delay in our paycheck even a partial delay will be perceived as withholding our salary and unlawful work conditions

הננו חוזרים איפוא על דרישותינו: א תשלום תוספת המשכורת. ב. תשלום משכורת החודשית בזמנו. ג. מניעת קיפוחים ושמירת זכיותינו להבא. ד. להוסיף בהוצאות אחרות כל עוד אין המוסד...
We are hereby reiterating our demands: 1. The additional payment on our paycheck. 2. Our monthly paychecks in a timely manner. 3. A halt to our loss of rights and ensuring they are preserved in the future. 4. Not to continue additional spending until our salaries have been paid..

להחזיר לנו מכשיר טלפון עצמאי שנלקח מאתנו זה כשנה ועוד שיתוקן הדבר לתת הוראה לא להפריע ולא להפסיק באמצע שיחתנו ואף לא להאזין לשיחות
We demand that our personal telephone be returned that was taken from us about a year ago, and it shall also be remedied and be instructed that we shall not be bothered in the middle of our conversations and that our phone conversations should not be listened in to.

אנו מבקשים להפסיק מיד את ההשפלה המדהימה בשליחת שליחים לבדוק את נוכחותינו דבר שאין לו תקדים בשום מקום

"הננו מביעים את מחאתנו על הלנת שכר"  

אנו דורשים לא להפעיל את שעון הנוכחות עובר עובדי המערכת

"להוי ידוע שלא נסכים בשום פנים ואופן לנשל אותנו מזכיותנו"

כל עיכוב במשכורת אפילו עיכוב חלקי יראה כהלנת שכר והרעת יחסי העבודה

"הננו חוזרים איפוא על דרישותינו: א תשלום תוספת המשכורת. ב. תשלום משכורת החודשית בזמנו. ג. מניעת קיפוחים ושמירת זכיותינו להבא. ד. להוסיף בהוצאות אחרות כל עוד אין המוסד..."

להחזיר לנו מכשיר טלפון עצמאי שנלקח מאתו זה כשנה ועוד שיתוקן הדבר לתת הוראה לא להפריע ולא להפסיק באמצע שיחתנו ואף לא להאזין לשיחות

נשבית את העבודה ביום שני משעה 10-12 וניכנס לביה"כ לומר פרקי תהלים
ניאלץ לאחוז באמצים דרסתיים ובמאבק קשה עד כדי הזמנה לדין תורה והשבב העבודה

Guest Post: Rabbi Shalom Rivkin's copy of a Talipyot Journal

By Jacob D.

Aside for the main reward of visiting a good used Jewish bookstore (finding rare books that are long out of print, or finding books that are still being sold in new bookstores but sometimes for double, or maybe even triple the price), there's another benefit which I've learned to look out for over the years. Occasionally  we come across books that have once belonged to interesting people, and sometimes aside for leaving us their name or book plate we are treated and left with their notes which they've jotted down on the margins, or inside the covers. I would like to share an example.

Not too long back JudaicaUsed acquired a large portion of a deceased rabbi's library, the library of R' Shalom Rivkin OB"M, the chief rabbi of St. Louis. (see the excellent Wikipedia page on him here ). In some of his books I came across some interesting notes he jotted down on the margins. One book was a worn out volume of the fine Jewish quarterly Talpioth (vol.6 no. 1-2 March 1953). 

From marks he made in the table of contents and throughout the book it seems that he made it his business to read almost the entire journal comprised of random essays in Jewish scholarship, ranging from philosophy and history, to Halakha, Hasidut, and Kabbalah.

Notice that he doesn't mark down the article on pg. 423, notes on the Me'iri by R' Dovber Zuckerman, soon to be his very own father in law ! The notes are on Me'iri to tractate Mikva'ot, so how many people can be expected to read notes on a medieval commentary to a complicated tractate in a journal? But no worry, when we open the pages of R' Zuckermans notes we see R' Rivkin's pencil marks testifying that he certainly didn't skip over these pages and at least read it somewhat. Here is where it begins to get interesting. I'm sure that most of the  readers are acquainted with the topic of the antiquity and authenticity  of the Zohar. There is nothing I can add to that topic. The discussion of "did the Rambam know Kabalah"  (or did Kabalah use the Rambam etc) is also pretty well known I'd assume, and to that too I have nothing to add. It is interesting though to notice the following. R' Yeruham Leiner of Radzin wrote notes on the Zohar in this journal starting on page 410. In a note on page 413 he makes a claim that a certain Zohar Hadash in Bereshit is the source for a Rambam in hilkhot De'ot.

As you can see R' Rivkin corrects R' Leiner and says that this can't be THE source to Rambam but rather just A source because Rambam never saw the Zohar. It happens again on pg. 418 towards the bottom of the page where we see R' Rivkin circles the word "hamekor" -"the source" because he believes it should instead be just "mekor"- "a source".

Other than that it seems (from his pencil markings) R' Rivkin was enjoying the rest of R' Leiner's notes. Maybe R' Rivkin should've known already that R' Leiner firmly believes Rambam (and other Rishonim) knew lots of the traditions brought in the Zohar as can be seen in his  Zohar haRakia, an addendum to the Radal's Kadmut Sefer Hazohar that he (Leiner) republished in 1951 (see R' Leiner regarding RaMbam and the Zohar here.

It seems from something else I found that later on R' Rivkin may have had his doubts . In a letter that the Lubavitcher Rebbe wrote to R' Rivkin dated 29th of Shevat 5721 (February 15th, 1961) we see the Rebbe writes to R' Rivkin

 "In regards to your correspondence on the topic of the Rambam and the wisdom of Kabbalah see Sefer haSichot summer 5700 page 41 in the footnote".

For anyone who is curious here is the Rebbe's reference

A Letter from Rabbi Yehezkel Abramsky regarding the Exemption of Yeshiva Students from Israeli Army Service

In light of all the recent news regarding Yeshiva Students in Israel and the requirement to be enrolled in a Yeshiva to receive an exemption from the Army Services, here is a letter from R Yehezkel Abramsky:

Rabbi Abramsky requests that all the Rashe Yeshivot in Israel make sure that no abuses of the system occur and to ensure that only those that are studying full time receive this exemption.

He also mentions the agreement made at the gathering of Rashe Yeshivot to shorten the Pesach break in the Yeshivot to make it start no earlier than the 4th of Nissan and end no later that the 24th of the month.

The application of Jacob Zeliviensky to serve in the Jewish Brigade Oct. 1942

Within a large batch of documents I recently acquired I came across the application of Jacob Zeliviensky, a Jew who fought in the Jewish Brigade during World War II.
It is interesting to note that he, like others who joined the Brigade, weren't youngsters looking for an adventure, he was aged 45, was married and had two children at home.

A book printed in Tunis sent as Mishloach Manot to Norman Bentwich from Gilbraltar

I recently came across an interesting inscription in a copy of Shu"t Rahamim Peshutim שו'ת רחמים פשוטים, which was published in Tunis in 1914. The author of the book, R. Raphael Hayyim Moses Benaim, was born in Tetouan, Morocco, moved with his family as an infant to Haifa and was Chief Rabbi of Gibraltar from 1881 until his death. The book was published by the author's children, David and Shalom of Gibraltar, David was the Israeli Consul in Gibraltar as w as his son, later on.
 R. Raphael Hayyim Moses Benaim

The book was inscribed by the sons of the author, and sent as Mishloach Manot to the Attorney General of Palestine, Norman Bentwich.

An encounter with a furious buyer of The Jews of Islam by Bernard Lewis

Answering phone-calls in a bookstore regularly,  teaches you to be expecting nearly anything, but nothing could prepare me enough for a phone call I received recently. A buyer from NJ purchased a copy of The Jews of Islam by Bernard Lewis and upon his receiving it gave us a call while screaming at the top of his lungs. He announced that he is horribly upset and angry at Bernard Lewis for misrepresentation and deceit and us for selling such a book as well as the world for letting such a book be sold.

Turns out that this fellow was born in to a Reform Jewish family, "discovered" Islam after trying out a sample of the worlds many religions and assumed that this book was about Jews who "discovered the truth" and converted to Islam. The lengthy publishers description we included in the description of the item he didn't care to read but he had plenty of time to tell me all about the evils of the world who are hating Islam for no reason and that Islam always loved the Jews and treated them well.

If only I can bring back the Jews of MedinaJoseph HaNagid, the Jewish vizier of Granada, Spain, any of the scores of Jews hung by Muslims in Iraq or Egypt or perhaps the victims of the massacre of the Jews of Fes and tell them how much the Muslims who killed them in the name of their prophet really loved them.

I was also told that all the words of hate in the Koran against non-Muslims were really out of context, even he didn't know the true context but promised me that there were scholars somewhere who knew.

An interesting error in a new edition of Torat Ha'olah by the Rema

In 2014 a new edition of תורת העולה by the Rema, Rabbi Moshe Isserles was published by Machon Even Yisrael. The Rema in discussing the views of several non-Jewish Philosophers, quotes אבן רשד (Averroes). The publishers somehow assumed the name אבן רשד to be an acronym for the grammarian and poet Solomon of Dubno and placed in parantheses after the word רשד, the words המדקדק שלמה דובנא. Dubno was born in 1738, centuries after the death of R. Moshe Isserles.

hat-tip: Nochum Spiegel