Sunday, June 17, 2018

Entries from The Diary of a Jewish Bookseller and recent acquisitions, June 2018

A non-local visitor, though Jewish, appeared unfamiliar and slightly intimidated by the intensity of the Jewishness encountered in Brooklyn. Before entering the store she timidly asked if it was required of her to wear a Yarmulka before entering the store.

A 26 year old visitor from New Square, NY, visiting the store, was attempting to use our online catalog. After some guidance, he was able to master the mouse and the keyboard, this being his very first time using a computer.

An occasional customer from Dubai, requested a copy of Ehud Olmert's newly released בגוף ראשון. He stated that he needed it badly and arranged for us to express it to NY from Israel, had it picked up by a nyc taxi-cab and placed on a plane to him in the UAE, as his country does not have any post between the two countries.

A Satmar Chassid visiting the store on Yom Ha'atsmaut, had a specific request. He was in search for, and ultimately bought, pictorial books depicting Religious Israeli Soldiers.

A chance encounter of a customer from Belgium and another from Toronto visiting the shop turned in to a spontaneous reunion. They learned together in Yeshiva in Gateshead over 3 decades ago and this was the first they have seen each other since. After some catching up on life, and a few hours of browsing, the two exited the store while exchanging contact info, promising to keep in touch.

A customer buying some books on Israel, remarked to me that his Catholic side of his family is more Zionist than his Jewish side.

An unrepentant customer, requested to arrange his picking up the books late at night, after his mother was asleep and he can thus sneak it in to the house without her knowing.

For the umpteenth time, I receive a call from someone who has a "friend" in Jordan, who found the seal of King David (or some variation of this theme), and is willing to sell it to me for a bargain of only 4 million dollars.

A visual artist had a peculiar request. He needed books with blue cloth bindings on Jewish themes, which he will use to create sculptures

While conversing with a visiting avid book collector from Israel, he mentioned that he had a manuscript of unpublished responsa of a noted Syrian Rabbi. Recalling that I had another customer who was working on the same Rabbi's writing, an impromptu meeting was arranged and immediate plans were made for it's publication.

I remarked to a famed Jewish tour-guide that I had noticed a remarkable rise in libraries being offered to me, of Jews who were leaving Brooklyn for life in NJ or the Five Towns. He responded that he was indeed already envisioning himself giving tours of Boro Park and Flatbush to tourists who had vague recollections of the Jewish Life that once existed in these neighborhoods.

A female book collector ordered a fine Haggadah Facsimile before Passover, while remarking that while other women are shopping for clothing for the holiday, she was content with adding a fine volume to her collection.

In negotiating a price for a rare volume I was selling, I mentioned to a German customer that I wouldn't be happy with a price under a certain amount. He answered in bewilderment, "but I am not here to make your happy, I am here to buy books".

Some prominent recent acquisitions include the libraries of:

Yosef Goldman
A veteran Jewish/Hebrew bookseller, Yosef Goldman was born in Neipest, in 1942, where his father, Rabbi Chananya Yom Tov Lipa Goldman (1907 – 1980) was Rabbi, and where the family survived most of WWII disguised as non-Jews. In 1950, the family immigrated to the United States, his father having a synagogue in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn and where he operated a publishing house. Yosef attended Beth Medrash Elyon, in Monsey, NY. Goldman was the authoritative dealer on American Jewish Printings, and the 2 volume Hebrew Printing in America, 1735-1926, A History and Annotated Bibliography, which he co-authored and which was based on his collection is the standard reference in the field. Many prominent American Judaica collections were built through his guidance and expertise. Acquired were several thousand books from his collection, as well as his reference library, meticulously built over his decades long career.


Prof. Benny Kraut
Born in 1947 in Munich, where his parents were consigned to a displaced persons’ camp, then raised in Canada, Kraut was serving as professor of history at Queens College of the City University of New York and was also a member of the faculty of CUNY’s Graduate Center. From 1986 until 1991, he edited the book review section of this journal.  Kraut graduated summa cum laude in philosophy from Yeshiva University in 1968, then earned his M. A. in 1970 and five years later his Ph. D. from Brandeis University’s Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies. Ben Halpern supervised Kraut’s doctoral dissertation. Beginning in 1976, and for over two decades, Kraut directed Judaic Studies and taught Jewish history at the University of Cincinnati. He came to Queens College in 1998 to teach in the Department of History. At both Cincinnati and Queens, Kraut taught a prodigious variety of courses, including the history of Jewish civilization (from the Biblical through the rabbinic periods, from the middle ages down through the modern era); American Jewish history; the Book of Job and the problem of evil; the history of antisemitism and other Jewish-Christian encounters; and the history of Zionism. Both at Cincinnati and at Queens he was beloved by his students.

Rabbi Gershon (Gersion) Appel
Rabbi Appel graduated from RIETS in 1940; he was the last student to be ordained by Rabbi Dov Revel, and he wrote the eulogy for Rabbi Revel in the Yeshiva College student newspaper. He was also ordained by Rabbi Moshe Soloveichik, father of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. Rabbi Appel served as Rabbi of leading orthodox congregations in Worcester, MA, New York City, Seattle, WA, and Kew Gardens, NY. Rabbi Appel’s former academic positions included: Yeshiva University Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and Jewish Studies, Professor of Jewish Philosophy and Chairman of the Department of Philosophy at Stern College of Yeshiva University, and Adjunct Professor of Graduate Hebrew Studies at New York University.

Salo ( Shalom Moshe) Schlanger
Born in Lizhensk in 1919, was brought up in Düsseldorf, Germany, until he was expelled in 1938 with all other Polish Jews. After surviving the war in various labor camps (Plaszow, Skarzysko and others), he was liberated by the Russians on the Buchenwald death march. Settling in the Upper West Side in 1946, an electrician by trade, he spent his nights with his books, completing the daf yomi cycle 4 times and reading and building his book collection on the numerous subjects that interested him.




Trolling Hitler - A copy of The Nazi's plan-book for dealing with the Jews of United States and Canada

One of the workplace dangers of being a bookseller, is losing your sensitivity and excitement when handling rare, important and valuable books. Once in a while though, something crosses your hands that makes the world around you stand still and you can grasp in the air the historical weight of a book that finds itself in your hands.

One such book, was The 137-page report, “Statistik, Presse und Organisationen des Judentums in den Vereinigten Staaten und Kanada” (Statistics, Media, and Organizations of Jewry in the United States and Canada), compiled in 1944 by Heinz Kloss, a German linguist who specialized in minorities and visited the United States in the early 1930s. The cover, bears a diagonal warning “For Official Use Only”. On the verso is a bookplate with a stylized eagle perched on an oak branch clutching a laurel-wreathed swastika in its talons. It is framed, in bold-face type, “Ex Libris Adolf Hitler.”

The book was part of a large collection of rare Judaica owned by a recently deceased Holocaust Survivor which we acquired. The thought of a Holocaust Survivor holding Hitler's own copy of his plan for the Jews of the United States, encapsulates for me much of Jewish History, with the diminutive Jewish Nation standing and observing from a distance the ruins of the great empires of it's enemies.




The provenance for this volume is from a Judaica Auction which took place in 2011. At the time, the New York Times wrote an article on this volume, the following is from their description of this copy: The Hitler book was among the thousands taken by American G.I.’s from the Nazi leader’s alpine retreat outside Berchtesgaden in the spring of 1945. Most have ended up in attics, basements and bookshelves across America. One of the more notable examples I have seen is Hitler’s personal copy of Shakespeare’s collected works, 10 volumes bound in fine Moroccan leather with a swastika and the letters AH embossed on the spine. On occasion, these war trophies find their way onto the antiquarian book market.

The book underscores with stark statistical data how assiduous the Nazis were, even as late as 1944, in pursuing their goal of world domination as well as their designs for extending the geographic compass of the “final solution.” That such a volume found its way into Hitler’s personal library is as understandable as it is chilling.




“When a person gives they have to take,” Hitler once said. “And I take what I need from books.” Hitler was an obsessive reader from childhood, and his understanding of America was shaped in great part by his readings, in his youth, of the cowboy-and-Indian stories of the adventure novelist Karl May, and later in life of the anti-Semitic writings of Henry Ford. Hitler kept copies of Ford’s “The International Jew: The World’s Foremost Problem” on a table outside his office and included it in a list of books “every National Socialist should know.”

After reading “America in the Battle of the Continents,” a screed about Franklin D. Roosevelt’s alleged war mongering written by the Germanophilic Norwegian explorer Sven Hedin, Hitler sent the author a three-page letter thanking him for setting the record straight.

Hitler’s most valued book on America was “The Passing of the Great Race,” by a Columbia-educated eugenicist, Madison Grant, who claimed that American greatness, built on the Nordic stock of its founding fathers, was being eroded by the allegedly inferior blood of immigrant races. Hitler quoted liberally from Grant in his speeches and is said to have sent him a letter describing “The Passing of the Great Race” as “my bible.”

The Kloss report is a fitting addition to Hitler’s American reading list, but this particular book comes with a double-barbed moral hitch. What kind of price tag belongs on a book that would have, but for the defeat of the Nazis, provided a blueprint for the horrific consequences of similar data-collecting efforts across Europe? More problematic still, who would want to own such a book that was almost certainly perused and quite likely studied by Hitler during one of the ritual nocturnal reading sessions, usually with a cup of tea, in his upstairs study at the Berghof?

It would be best if the Kloss report were acquired by an individual or institution willing to donate it to a public collection, ideally, the Rare Books and Manuscripts Division at the Library of Congress. There it could join 1,200 other surviving volumes from Hitler’s private library and not only be readily accessible to scholars and historians but also occupy appropriate shelf space with an equally sinister companion book from Hitler’s private book collection, a 1925 German translation of Madison Grant’s “The Passing of the Great Race,” bearing a personal inscription to Hitler.

A document from Satmar, Romania after the Holocaust, confirming the death of Holocaust victims

I spent this morning doing an appraisal for a fine Rabbinic book collection, and between the pages of one of the volume, slipped out this one handwritten page.

Written shortly after the war, in the town of Satmar, this paper is a vivid reflection of the horrors awaiting the individuals and particularly the community leaders upon their return. Signed by 3 members of the Satmar Rabbinic Court, Rabbis Moshe Aryeh Freund, Shlomo Zalman Friedman and Yitzchak Lowe, they write how they received testimony from a Moshe Herkowitz regarding a certain Gittel Hershke. He testified, how he saw her and her 3 children sent to the left upon selection in Auschwitz, thus confirming her death and allowing her husband to remarry.



A book publisher contract between Chaim Nahman Bialik and Israel Chaim Tawiow, Moscow 1917

Aside from being a literary giant, Haim Nahman Bialik was a book publisher in Moscow and published, alongside his partner, Y. H. Ravnitzky, many popular books in his publishing house מוריה.

Below, is a contract I found, written between Bialik and Tawiow, awarding Tawiow 15% of the list price of the books he authored, that Bialik was publishing.

Shortly after, in 1921, the communist authorities closed the publishing house, and Bialik left Russia for good.


A Bentcher like no other : Ivanka Trump's Wedding to Jared Kushner

Regularly buying used Jewish books, you will inevitably end up with assorted bentchers published to commemorate Jewish weddings worldwide. One that recently came across my hands stood out though, published in honor of the wedding of Ivanka Trump to Jared Kushner, October 25, 2009.





Hat-tip: Rabbi B. Blatt

A touching letter sent by an author on his deathbed to a noted book critic

Tucked inside a copy of ניר ישראל published in 1949 and authored by a Jacob Lanski of Chicago, I found a letter, written by the author to Prof. Meyer Waxman. Written on his deathbed from a V. A. Hospital, the author writes of his fleeting moments of happiness, when he sees his thoughts via his writing being dispersed.


אסרו חג פסח תש"י
להרב פרפסר מפרסם דר מאיר וקסמן
בשכבי על ערש דוי, ואת גווי נתתי למרוטים, ורגעי פכחון מעטים וקצרים. תתגנב שמחה בלבי שזכותיו לראות את שיטתי בחכמת ישראל נדפס, ונפוץ לאט לאט.
הספר ניתן ליחידי סגולה. ואף שאדע שמתי מספר ישימו לבם לחקירתו כי הן נמסרות בקוצר יותר מדי; ובעיקר, מסקנתיו מפתיעות ומניעות את החוקר להתעניין בהם כראוי. בטוח אני שיש תקוה למגמתן, אם הספר ובקר בדור יבוא מטרתו תתמלא
דברי שכיב מרע
יעקב לנסקי
J. Lanski
Vet. Ad. Hospital B-245
Hines Ill.








The Literary Philanthropy of Sir Moses Montefiore, a letter from Kalman Schulman

Appended to a copy of Kalman Schulman's Milhamot Hayehudim, I found a handwritten letter written by the author seeking the aid of Sir Moses Montefiore in publishing his works. Though Montefiore achieved his reputation for industry, business, economic development, education and health among the Jewish community in the Levant, he was a supporter of causes throughout the Jewish world and this finely written letter is an appeal to his generosity with the modern Hebrew writers.

Kalman Schulman (1819–1899), maskil and Hebrew writer whose work was significant in the development of modern Hebrew literature. Kalman Schulman was born to a Hasidic family in Stary Bykhov, in the Mogilev district of Belorussia. He studied at the Volozhin yeshiva for about six years, subsequently learning German and developing an interest in Haskalah literature. In 1843, Schulman settled in Vilna, joining that city’s circle of maskilic authors, especially Mikhah Yosef Lebensohn (Mikhal), with whom he shared a close friendship. From 1849 to 1861, Schulman taught Hebrew at the secondary school connected to the state rabbinical seminary. Later he devoted himself entirely to literary activity, receiving encouragement and support from Saint Petersburg’s Society for the Promotion of Culture among the Jews of Russia. ( Yivo Encyclopedia)



The Other Melania and her tragic fate

While the news recently were discussing the fate of Melania Trump, I came across recently a Yiddish volume discussing the fate of an earlier, Yiddish speaking Melania. The book, published in 1907 titled מעלאניע : אדער אונטער דעם טויט'ס העררשאפט : דער טראגישער שיקזאל פון איין יונגע מוטער
Translating as "Melania, the Tragic Fate of a Young Mother"

hat-tip: David Mazower

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Entries from The Diary of a Jewish Bookseller, March 2018

There are numerous reasons people have for building rare book collections, but one I encountered recently, was totally new to me. I discovered, that a customer who was buying a number of rare books for me, was using the books as a method to hide money from his wife, whom he is now divorcing.

A newly married young man came in with request for some help. His father-in-law is coming in for a first visit to their new home, and he desperately needed to fill his bookcase with some classic sefarim. There is only one chance for first impressions and he wanted to make sure he got it right.

A young man who is a regular visitor to the store, brought along his date on his latest store visit. The relationship was getting serious, and he didn't want her to have any unpleasant surprises after he got married. They left after a few hours browsing through books, her pile of books being slightly higher than his.

A Satmar teenager visits the store and in Yinglish asks me for books on Israeli Soldiers and the history of IDF.

An older gentleman, walked in off the street, made his way all the way to the back of the store, passing aisles and aisles of books. He proceeded to ask me, "Do you sell books?", to which I responded that actually we are just preparing flammables for a bonfire.

A first time customer tells me that now, that he is "done Jewish Philosophy", if I can please help him find books on Jewish History.

Two customers, in conversation in the store, discovered they both write anonymously to the same Jewish Periodical, under various aliases. After much hesitation, and inner turmoil, they revealed to each other their pen-names. For one of them, this being the very first time he has outed himself in public. Fearful of repercussions from his insular community for his "open minded" writing, he insisted this information remain a secret, lest his family be made to suffer.

A prominent Jewish organization contacted me, looking to purchase a gift for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. We settled on 2 first editions of works of the Abarbanel. Bibi's father, Ben-Zion Netanyahu, wrote his dissertation and published a biography of the Abarbanel. I received word that the gift was a great hit with the Prime Minister.

The following pair of Rabbinic portraits came with a book collection I acquired, though I have not had success in identifying them. Any help from you readers, would be greatly appreciated.




We recently acquired several fine collections of Haggadot, we currently have over 1000 different Haggadot available.
You can view them all here
http://stores.ebay.com/Jewish-Bookshop/_i.html…
Hebrew ones can be viewed here
http://stores.ebay.com/Jewish-Bo…/Religious-Hebrew-/_i.html…
with Perushim here
http://stores.ebay.com/Jewish-Booksh…/Hebrew-books-/_i.html…
English ones here
http://stores.ebay.com/Jewis…/English-Jewish-books-/_i.html…
and antiquarian and rare Haggadot here
http://stores.ebay.com/Jewis…/Antique-Jewish-books-/_i.html…
As always, they can be purchased online or over the phone at 347-492-6508, and can be either picked up from our store or shipped.
An early Hag Sameach

Noted posek, R. Nota Greenblatt, perusing rare works on Gittin at Mizrahi Bookstore


Remember the Sabbath day זכור את יום השבת, in a modern Maskil's fashion

Jewish History is rife with mass conversions to other religions and assimilation but the phenomenon of Jews who abandon their religion but are stuck up their neck in their Jewishness is a 18th and 19th century mostly European phenomenon. One of the few survivors of this breed is Prof. David Assaf, who inscribed a copy of a work he edited to Prof. Allan Nadler, with the following opening lines:
שבת קודש.. בעיצומו של יום
Shabbat Kodesh... in the middle of the Day

He signs off
רב ומגיד שיעור בבית המדרש דת"א דמתקרי אוניברסיטאט תל אביב







a 1920s Biegeleisen Bookstore catalog of exclusively Haskalah works

I came across recently an old and rather insightful Biegeleisen book-list from the old days when the business was in Boro-Park, before their move to the Lower East Side and eventual return to Boro-Park, Brooklyn. The list of over 1000 items, containing just Hebrew works of Haskalah literature, is a fascinating look in to the tastes and wide range of interests of Jews in Boro-Park of the day, something which may come as a shock to it's current inhabitants.

Much can be seen from what Mr Biegeleisen determined to be classified as Haskalah. Some of the expected authors are there, Krochmal, Sholem Aleichem, Ephraim Deinard, Bialik, Levinson but also many authors which not be expected. Some of these include R. Abraham Isaac Kook, R. Yehuda Aryeh De Modena, and R. Haim Hirschensohn. Somehow, Joseph Klasuner's book on Jesus, titled ישו הנוצרי makes a showing more than once as well.








a Talmud Yerushalmi, inscribed to and owned by a woman

It is unusual to see Rabbinic works owned by women, even more so a complex talmudic commentary such as this work I found, inscribed to her by the author. The book was a Talmud Yerushalmi, with commentaries, tractate Shabbat, with additional commentaries by R. Meyer Abovitz, published for the first time. It was published in 1926, Vilna.
On free-end, is an inscription by the author to his relative, Ronia Brooks and her husband, inscribed and signed by the author.
the inscription reads למזכרת לשארת בשרי האשה הכבודה והחשובה מרת ראניע ברוקס תחי' ולבעלה הנכבד מאת ש"ב המחבר
בשנים עשר לחדש סיון ה' תרפ"ו

Meyer Abovitz (מאיר בן ישעיהו אבוביץ; alternate spelling Meir Abowitz; born 1876 - died 1941) was a Rabbi and Rosh Yeshiva active in Mizrachi in Eastern Europe between the Two World Wars



An unusual title for a practical guide to Amulets, titled נחש הנחשת

The ongoing debate regarding the use of amulets in Judaism, will most likely be going on eternally. One book which I recently acquired, seems to sum it all up in it's title. The book, titled נחש הנחשת, being the bronze serpent on a pole, which Moshe Rabbenu made to protect the Jews from fiery serpents which God has sent to punish them, "עֲשֵׂה לְךָ שָׂרָף וְשִׂים אֹתוֹ עַל-נֵס; וְהָיָה כָּל-הַנָּשׁוּךְ - וְרָאָה אֹתוֹ, וָחָי".

In Melachim, King Hezekiah institutes an iconoclastic reform that requires the destruction of "the brazen serpent that Moses had made; for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it; and it was called Nehushtan". The term means "a brazen thing, a mere piece of brass". M. G. Easton noted that "the lapse of nearly one thousand years had invested the 'brazen serpent' with a mysterious sanctity; and in order to deliver the people from their infatuation, and impress them with the idea of its worthlessness, Hezekiah called it, in contempt, 'Nehushtan', a brazen thing, a mere piece of brass" "וְכִתַּת נְחַשׁ הַנְּחֹשֶׁת אֲשֶׁר-עָשָׂה מֹשֶׁה, כִּי עַד-הַיָּמִים הָהֵמָּה הָיוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל מְקַטְּרִים לוֹ; וַיִּקְרָא-לוֹ נְחֻשְׁתָּן".

This book, contains a very practical guide to writing amulets, love lotions, magical remedies, and lotteries to determine the future. Following the title page, appears a stark warning from the publisher, stating that much calamity can be forthcoming from using such a book and he only published it to fulfill the wishes of the author, רבי שלום כתר. The author testifies in his introduction, that there is no need to actually use the book, just having it in your home, will bring protection and blessings to it's owner. Perhaps there can be no better title for such a book, that though well-intentioned, can result in idolatry and superstitious beliefs, far removed from Judaism.






Lottery ticket from the Jewish Community of Parur, India


Stuck in an old tome, I found a tiny window into the life of the Jews of Parur (now known as Paravur), Cochin, India.
The lithographed lottery ticket, which came at a cost of four Indian Anna (1/16th of a Rupee), was to benefit the Jewish Education Committee of Parur. The rules for the winner seem to be rather complex, and the list of prizes varied from a silk Tallit, to a pair of Tefillin, gilt-edged prayer books and a pocket watch.




Pages from the History of Artscroll Publishing, the "Artscroll suitcase"

On two recent occasions, I acquired along with libraries purchased, 2 different "Artscroll Suitcases". These suitcases were given out to former and potential mega-donors at the dinner, March 2005, which celebrated the completion of the Artscroll Babylonian Shas. The suitcase included a Commemorative Journal, the evening dinner schedule, an Artscroll Pen, Artscroll Birchon, a history of the Artscroll Talmud, along with presentation copies of the final volume of the Babylonian and the first of the Jerusalem Talmud.

In a sign of the changing times, at the most recent such Artscroll gathering of donors, each prospective donor received an iPad with access to all of Artscroll's e-books. Though the Jewish Publishing world has so far resisting much of the shift towards the electronic books, Artscroll seems to be now focusing more on these projects. It may soon be a common sight to walk in to a Bet Medrash and see 20 Ba'ale Batim learning Daf-Yomi with no books in sight.