Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The correspondence of Ephraim Deinard with Elkan Nathan Adler

I had the good fortune to acquire recently a collection of letters sent from Ephraim Deinard to fellow bibliophile Elkan Nathan Adler. The letters contain a treasure trove of information on bookselling, collecting and life in rural America in the 1890s-early 1900s, as well as the never disappointing entertaining writing of Deinard. Deinard spares no one from his sharp critique, with attacks on the Reform Movement, American Jews, the Zionist conference, as well as other booksellers, Hasidim and nearly everyone else that Deinard encountered. Even Elkan Adler himself receives a bounty of abuse from Deinard's pen, with numerous pokes at Adler's complaining of his financial situation. Deinard often refers to Adler in these letters as my "poor, rich friend".  There are discussions as well on Karaite, Sabbateans, Samaritans, the Jews of China and other Jews he encountered during his numerous travels. The letters, written over several years, were sent from throughout the world, with some letters marked Ferrara, Constantinople, Ramleh, Kearney NJ, Mantua, Salonica, Beirut etc.

Contrary to much of his published work, the letters are very readable and written in an attractive block script, contrary to any of the other writing of Deinard which I was able to locate. From reading the letters, one suspects that Deinard didn't put much faith in the ability of Adler to comprehend his usual literary style, or be able to read his script handwriting, thus his using this script and style. The massive quantity of books discussed is also of note, Deinard speaks of shipping 50 boxes, 30 boxes etc of rare books from one port to another. It may be worth contemplating what the fate of such books would have been if they would have still been in Europe during WWII.

"Ephraim Deinard (1846–1930) was one of the greatest Hebrew "bookmen" of all time. He was a bookseller, bibliographer, publicist, polemicist, historian, memoirist, author, editor, and publisher, all rolled into one.

Deinard produced some 70 volumes whose subjects range from Jewish history and antiquities (especially of the Crimea, Russia, America, and The Holy Land), to treatises against Hasidism, Christianity, and Communism, parodies, medieval and modern Hebrew literature, Jewish religion, and especially booklore.

Deinard's antiquarian activities, which involved constant travel throughout Europe, the Orient, and America, gave him a unique acquaintance with scholars, private collectors, fellow booksellers, and libraries. He came into contact and conflict with numerous Hebrew writers and Jewish communal and political figures. His wide-ranging knowledge and experience are fully reflected in his own voluminous writings, mostly in Hebrew, produced over more than half a century. His scope of interests, the intensity of his sentiments, the acerbity of his remarks, all coupled with his bibliophily, render Deinard's works a source of contemporary Jewish historical and literary controversy, as seen in the margins of the Hebrew-reading world, before and after World War I."

"Elkan Nathan Adler (24 July 1861, St Luke's, London – 15 September 1946, London) was an English author, lawyer, historian, and collector of Jewish books and manuscripts. Adler's father was Nathan Marcus Adler, Chief Rabbi of the British Empire. He traveled extensively and built an enormous library, particularly of old Jewish documents. Adler was among the first to explore the documents stored in the Cairo Genizah, being in fact the first European to enter it. During his visits to Cairo in 1888 and 1895 Adler collected and brought over 25,000 Genizah manuscript fragments back to England."

The correspondence is shown below in their entirety, here are some selected portions:
כי לא יכלתי קרוא את שם הרחוב של הגביר העברי בשום אופן. יען כי כתב יד סופרך היא בלי ספק גלגול המלאך שכתב על קיר בלשאצר
translating as: As I could not read the name of the street address of the wealthy Jew under any circumstance, since the handwriting of your secretary, is without a doubt the reincarnation of the angel who wrote on the wall of Belshazzar.

ולא השלמתי את מסעי וביחוד לא הלכתי לכינא לחקור ולדרוש על דבר היהודים היושבים שם משנים קדמוניות ... כי עד היום עוד לא התעורר אף אחד מכל המון בית ישראל לבקש את אחיו האובדים בארץ רחוקה ההיא
translating as: I did not complete my travels, particularly, I did not travel to China to research and search for the Jews who are dwelling there from ancient times... until this day, not one of the multitudes of Jews has risen to the task of searching for his lost brothers in this faraway land.

לולא יגורתי כי תעורר לויתן על הוצאת הכסף כי אז שלחתי לך רשימה מהכ"י הנמצאים בידי אשר בלי ספק יכולת לבחור מהם הרבה אבל לדאבון לבי חסר אונים הנני. למחות דמעה מעל כל פנים ובמה אנחמך יקירי. האנחמך כי אשה יפה ובעלת אוצרות עוד תפול בגורלך? אבל גם נחמתי זאת הבל יען הספרים תועבה המה אף לחכמות נשים
translating as: Had I not feared that you would awaken a whale on the account of your spending money, I would have sent you a list of the manuscripts currently in my possession. Without a doubt you could have chosen from them many, but to my despair I am at a loss. How can I comfort you to wipe the tears from your face? Shall I comfort you that a beautiful and rich wife fall in your lot? This would be a false comfort, as books are an abomination even to intelligent women.

הראני ה. פריידוס את ספרך ע"ד הכ"י ומצאתי כי אמרת עלי כי הנני "קוריאזיטי", ועל מה יסדת את דבריך אלה? חי פרעה אנני יודע האמנם יען הנני נוסע סופר ומדפיס ספרים עתיקים. ולוא הייתי נוסע סופר ומדפיס ומאסף ספרים עתיקים אז לא הייתי קוריאזיטי? ואם תחפוץ כי אודה לך על דבריך הנני להשמיעך באיזה קוריאזיטי היה ברגע הראשון אשר פתחתי את ספרך מצאתי בו איזה שבושים...ובלי ספק ידעתי כי אין איש יודע את הקראים יותר ממני
translating as: H. Freidus showed me your book regarding manuscripts and I discovered that you referred to me as a "curiosity", on what did you base these words? I swear on the life of Pharaoh! that I do not know, is it because I am a traveler, author and printer of old books? Had I not been a traveler, printer and collection of ancient books, had I then not been a curiosity? If you wish that I agree to this matter, I will reveal to you what a curiosity I had when I first opened your book and found major errors... I know without a doubt, that no one know the Karaites better than I do..

ואמנם יש כעת קונים באמעריקא, ולא יעברו עוד שלושים שנה ואתם בני איירופא תלכו עוד לבקש ספר יקר באמעריקא. כי מי כמוני יודע כי מוכרי הספרים באיירופא שולחים את כל הספרים הטובים לארץ החדשה... יכלתי לעשות את איירופא כמצולה שאין בה דגים.. וכן הוא גם חפץ ומטרת ידידנו החכם היקר הר"מ זולצברגר. ואקוה כי לא יעברו ימים רבים ואמעריקא תצא תורה לישראל.. וגם נגע הרעפארם תהפך לבן
translating as: Indeed there are at this time buyers in America, thirty years will not pass and you Europeans will come to America to look for rare books. Who more than I knows that European booksellers send all their finer books to the new world... I can make Europe like a deep ocean with no fish...and this is indeed the ambition and goal of our dear friend and scholar, M. Sulzberger. It is my hope that not many days shall pass before Torah shall sprout forth from America to Israel... and the leprosy which is Reform Judaism shall turn white..

כאשר יביאך האלהים לנויארק בירת התבל להומבוג ושקר עולמים..משכני הוא רק מרחק רבע שעה מניוארק אבל נשמתי רחוקה ממנה מהלך ת"ק שנה. ואם תכבדני לבקר את ביתי, תמצא יהודי רוסי יושב בדד בין עם נכר בבית יחידי בכפר, והוגה באוצר ספריו כל היום וחלק הלילה. ובני ביתו עוטרים אותו והנם שבע רצון בגורלם הדל... אבל הנהו יהודי מכפות רגליו עד ממעל לחוטמו, והדבר הזה לא יתנהו להשכין רגליו בביתו
translating as: When G-d shall bring you to New York, the capital of the world of humbug and eternal deception... my dwelling is just 15 minute distance from New York but my soul is 500 year distance from it. If you would honor me with your visit to my home, you shall find here a Russian Jew, living alone between gentiles in a lone house in a village, studying with his books all day and part of the night. His family surrounds him and they are content with their meager lot... but alas, I am a Jew from the tips of my toes to above my nose, and this prevents me from resting at peace in my home...

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Yosef Ashkenazi, Gabai of the Satmar Rebbe, R. Yoel Teitelbaum and his book alterations

In 1958, Yosef Ashkenazi, the legendary assistant of the Satmar Rebbe, republished the work Shem Hagedolim Legedole Hungaria, in his printing press הוצאת ירושלים. The book "contained the history and biography of all Rabbis and authors of talmudical literature who lived and were active in Hungary of former generations and of our days accompanied by remarks under the headings of Giveas Pinhas by Rabbi P.Z. Schwartz..."

The original work was not good enough for him though and slight emendations were made, as can be seen in examples below. In the entry for R. Yoel Teitelbaum, the original entry was a rather brief note. In his own edition, Ashkenazi squeezed in some remarkable praises for the Rebbe, "ומשם לאב"ד דק"ק סאטמאר, בכל המקומות הנ"ל מרביץ תורה ומעמיד תלמידים לאלפים ת"ח וחסידים, מהם רבנים גדולים מפורסמים. רבים מסתופפים בלו לשמוע אל הרנה ואל התפלה להנות מזיו תורתו ויראתו ולקבל ברכותיו מריצים אליו שאלות מכל פינות העולם ונשמעים לדבריו". The next entry unfortunately had to be nearly eliminated to make room for this additional information. No other entry in the book received any such touching up.

In addition, at end of book, in Shem Hagedolim Hashelishi, Ashkenazi discovered that his father's name does not appear in the list of Rabbis, so it was duly inserted in a rather obviously different font  "ר שרגא פייבוש אשכנזי מעיה"ק צפת ת"ו".
Title page of Ashkenazi's Edition 

Page that mentioned R. Yoel Teitelbaum in original edition
Page that mentioned R. Yoel Teitelbaum in Ashkenazi's edition, with lengthy addition"ומשם לאב"ד דק"ק סאטמאר, בכל המקומות הנ"ל מרביץ תורה ומעמיד תלמידים לאלפים ת"ח וחסידים, מהם רבנים גדולים מפורסמים. רבים מסתופפים בלו לשמוע אל הרנה ואל התפלה להנות מזיו תורתו ויראתו ולקבל ברכותיו מריצים אליו שאלות מכל פינות העולם ונשמעים לדבריו"

Hat-tip: Menachem Silber

An infant with high expectations, an unusual gift for a Brit Milah

In a handsome 2 volume set of A Dictionary of the Talmud, the Midrash and the Targum, I found the following gift inscription. The inscription, dated Erev Yom Kippur, 1946, is signed and stamped by a Rabbi Menachem Ze'ev Friedman of Brooklyn, NY:
"הספר מלון שמושי הוא וגם חלק שני אני נותן במתנה לילד הרך הנמול אתמול  למזל טוב שמעון בן ידידי היקר והחשוב וכו' מו"ה אליעזר הכהן ז"ל גליק ובן דבורה תחי' ובטחוני חזק שיזכה ללמוד מזה הספר כי שלשה גאונים נ"י וכל העדה ברכוהו ואמרו בכונה כשם שנכנס לברית כן יכנס לתורה לחופה ולמעשים טובים ויזכו אבותיו וכל משפחתו נ"י לראות "בשמחתו מתוך נחת בברכת המוקירם מנחם זאב פריעדמאן

translating as "This book, a Practical Dictionary, along with it's second volume, I am giving as a gift to the infant that was circumcised yesterday, for good fortune, Shimon, the son of my dear and honored friend, Eliezer Hakohen ob"m Glick, and the son of Devorah, may she be blessed with life. It is my strong belief, that he will merit to learn from this book, as 3 geonim and the entire congregation blessed him, and said with great intent, that just as he entered the covenant of circumcision, so shall he merit to learn Torah, get married and do good deeds. All his ancestors and family shall see in his happiness through comfort, with the blessing of their admirer, Menachem Ze'ev Friedman

Correspondence of Prof. Joshua Bloch and the Archbishop of Canterbury

A copy of "Grammar of the dialects of vernacular Syriac : as spoken by the Eastern Syrians of Kurdistan, North-West Persia and the plain of Mosul, with notices of the vernacular of the Jews of Azerbaijan and of Zakhu near Mosul" printed in 1895 I came across, had some interesting correspondence tucked within.

The first letter, written by Prof. Joshua Bloch, Dept of Semitics at New York University and later Chief Librarian at the New York Public Library, addressed to the Archbishop of Canterbury's mission, who published the book, requests a copy of this title.

The response, sent by the Archbishop's secretary, dated 15 July, 1921, informs Bloch that all copies they had were sold out. They are not able to get additional copies, as their premises in Urmia, Persia, containing the printing press and stock room have been burnt by the Turks and Persians during the war.

An inscription from Rav Tzair ( Chaim Tchernowitz) to Rabbi Henry Pereira Mendes

I came across a copy of a book inscribed by Rav Tzair ( Chaim Tchernowitz) to Rabbi Henry Pereira Mendes. Interestingly, the inscription is in block Hebrew letters, apparently as Mendes would not have been able to read the Ashkenazi Hebrew script that Rav Tzair generally used. Mendes died shortly after this inscription aged 85.

Reading material to be found in a Jewish restaurant in Bucharest

A set of Chok Leyisrael, printed in Lemberg in 1899 which I recently acquired, had numerous stamps of
You can envision a group of saintly elderly Jews, coming in for their daily coffee at a set hour every morning, and reading along the daily portion of the Chok LeYisrael, while the youngsters in the room are sitting with their daily newspapers.

Public notice: looking for Prof. Yehudah Mirsky's copy of Eyn Ayah

A request from Prof. Mirsky: "Three years ago, I shipped a box of books from Israel to the US, which included a set of Rav Kook's Eyn Yaacov commentary, Eyn Ayah, with many notes that I'd put in it over several years of intensive study. Sadly, that box was lost. The mailing label came to the US address, with nothing more."
If anyone should ever come across his books, please be kind enough to contact Prof. Mirsky at mirsky - at - brandeis - dot - edu.