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...

click to enlarge

click to enlarge


  1. "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."
    The more things change, the more they stay the same. Has there ever been a female Jewish book collector? what is it about books that women so despise?

  2. Not shocking, book collecting can be a serious addiction, can cost lots of money, can cause clutter in the home, and worst of all oftentimes a husband will spend free time reading/collecting books instead of spending time with the family.

    To your question-
    "Has there ever been a female Jewish book collector?"
    I've noticed some woman who have a passion for bibliography, see here-


    Also Sharon Liberman Mintz of Sotheby's