Tuesday, January 16, 2018

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

It's been long overdue, but I finally hosted my first recognizable Neo-Nazi in the store. A tourist from Germany, the middle-aged man called to make an appointment to visit, telling me that he bumped in to Jews regularly and wanted to learn more about them. Upon entering the store, he tells me that his interest of study is on the "attempted assimilation of Germany Jewry". It soon became apparent that what attracted him most were 1930s German Antisemitica and his political ramblings confirmed his alignment with Neo-Nazi beliefs. Thankfully, he was of the pseudo-intellectual type, and of the preference, that though Jews need to be eliminated, he would leave the work for others.

A regular customer who is master linguist, with an avid interest in ancient Biblical languages, chanced upon a scholar in the store who wrote a lexicon of the Phoenician Language. It was elating to view the fanfare and excitement in which the scholar was received, with selfies taken, and autographs given. A brief conversation in Phoenician ensued, most likely the first time a proper conversation took place in this language since the fall of Sidon to Alexander the great.

Early one morning, I receive a call from 2 Jews who want to come in from Kiryat Yoel to visit the store. Upon arrival, one enters the store and the other calls me from the car with a minor request. He would love to enter the store, but his Rebbe forbids him to enter a building that has an Israeli flag, as it is comparable to idol worship. He kindly requested that I remove the flag, which has been on the store door since day one, until he leaves, to which I flatly refuse. After a half hour of contemplation in his car, a solution was discovered. His friend, who apparently was ok with entering the store, would block the door as he entered, so the flag will not be seen by him. The same maneuver was performed when he exited the store.

After an intense bout of persuading and cajoling, I was able to convince a woman who called to sell her husband's library, to wait until the Shiva is over. It appeared that the wife had finally won, by the act of outliving him, the lifelong battle she had with her husband over his overflowing library which took over ever nook and cranny of the house. She wanted them out immediately, though thankfully, I was able to push it to a time when I wouldn't have to work around those paying a shivah call. 

A customer who made no contact for many months after leaving behind a hefty balance, called to apologize. He was arrested and was in custody, and thus could not call, but once he obtained the possibility, he says I was the first phone call he made. We settled the balance, and I was given the address of the correctional facility where the future orders would go.

An actual message I received from a customer who demanded I allow him to return a score of Steinsaltz Talmuds he ordered over the last year; "I read a katava signed by Rav Shach zecher tzaddik livracha, Rav Kanievsky shlita and Rav Shteinman shlita forbidding those to read adin steinsalz works. I know Rav Shach was a tzaddik and if he hates someone it is because they oker Torah as real tzaddikim do not hate. do not speak bad about tzaddikim as if you do you will inherit gehinnom"

A seventh day adventist pastor visiting the store this week remarked, "I identify more with Maimonides, less so with the thought of R. Samson Raphael Hirsch".

Some prominent recent acquisitions include the libraries of:

Rabbi Mordecai Efron a"h, who served as Rabbi of Hillcrest Jewish Center of Queens. A long-time member of the Hillcrest community, Rabbi Efron has served as the associate rabbi of the congregation for almost a quarter of a century. Upon his graduation from Yeshivah University, Rabbi Efron continued his studies at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, where he was ordained in 1945. Not long after his graduation from the seminary, Rabbi Efron assumed the pulpit of the Sons of Jacob Congregation in Vineland, NJ, where he served for 23 years. Upon an invitation from Israel Mowshowitz, who was then the rabbi of the Hillcrest Jewish Center, Rabbi Efron joined the congregation as assistant rabbi. In the course of the 23 years he was to serve the Hillcrest Jewish Center, he has led a variety of programs that involved teaching, counseling, preaching, and ministering in all rabbinic functions for the congregation's thousands of members. Rabbi Efron's talents and contributions have also extended beyond the Hillcrest community. He has been honored by the United Jewish Appeal, State of Israel Bonds, and the B'nai B'rith Anti-Defamation League.

Rabbi Samuel H. Dresner ob"mwho had served congregations in Highland Park and Deerfield, where he was widely credited with increasing attention to Jewish traditions on the holidays of Succoth and Shavout, as well as with increasing the number of families in those communities keeping kosher homes. Rabbi Dresner headed the Beth El synagogue in Highland Park from 1969 until 1977, founding Deerfield's Moriah Congregation immediately after that. He retired in 1984 and moved to New York, where he has served as a visiting professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Rav Tzvi (Hersh) Levenberg zt”l. Rav Levenberg was a son of Rav Yehuda Heschel Levenberg, a well-known pioneer in the implanting of the European Jewish community on the shores of America. Rav Hersh’s father immigrated to the United States in the summer of 1910 and soon afterwards was appointed as chief rabbi of Jersey City, New Jersey. In 1917, he accepted a rabbinical position in New Haven, Connecticut, and was appointed as chief rabbi there in 1920. He established a yeshiva there in 1923. In 1930, after accepting a position as rov in Cleveland, Ohio, Rav Yehuda Heschel moved his yeshiva there. In his youth, Rav Hersh studied at Yeshivas Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin in Brooklyn, where he drew especially close to the rosh yeshiva, Rav Yitzchok Hutner zt”l. Rav Hersh, upon reaching the age of marriage, wedded his wife Chana, a daughter of Rav Moshe Shatzkes, the Lomza Rov. Rav Hersh, who was known as a young budding talmid chochom, became a rebbi at Yeshivas Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin in Brooklyn, where he was marbitz Torah for decades, and then taught at Yeshiva of Eastern Parkway.

Prof. Rabbi Allan Nadler, Professor of Religious Studies at Drew, former Rabbi of Congregation Shaar Hashomayim in Montreal, Quebec and author of The Faith of the Mithnagdim: Rabbinic Responses to Hasidic Rapture, as well as numerous articles and book reviews.

Rabbi Yosef Katzenstein, Rav of a kehillah in Brooklyn, NY for many decades, a talmid muvhak of Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner and author of Lema'an Achai and other sefarim.

Rabbi Joyce Newmark of Teaneck, New Jersey, a former religious leader of congregations in Leonia, New Jersey, and Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and the only Rabbi to win Jeopardy.

Rabbi Dr. David S. Halpern ob"m, Rabbi Halpern graduated from Yeshiva College in 1949, and received his rabbinic ordination from Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary of Yeshiva University in 1952. The Smicha was signed by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Rabbi Samuel Belkin, and Rabbi Moshe Shatzkes. Rabbi Halpern served as Rabbi of Flatbush Park congregation in Mill Basin, Brooklyn for many decades from 1952 and on.

Underground "illegal" Jewish Calendars from the Soviet Union

A large collection of rare books I recently acquired contained a collection of Jewish Calendars from the Soviet Union. Due to fear of government reprisals, these calendars were handwritten and copied in secret. A few of the calendars, which span several decades, are photocopies of handwritten calendars.
A vivid reminder, of the determination and efforts of some of Soviet Jewry to preserve their faith, despite the constant fear of repercussions.

A manuscript of Shadal's Work on Hebrew Grammar, Grammatica ragionata della lingua ebraica

I was lucky enough to acquire recently a beautiful manuscript, being Samuel David Luzzatto's work on Hebrew Grammar, titled Grammatica ragionata della lingua ebraica, del Professore S. D. Luzzatto.

The manuscript appears to be one used by one of his students or perhaps the copy that was used for it's publication, which appeared in the year 1853 under the title Grammatica della Lingua ebraica, by Samuel David Luzzatto. The handwriting is beautiful and very readable, and an index appears at the end as well. The text has many variations from the printed text, I hope to fine the manuscript a home where it will be analyzed and compared to the printed edition.

Many Thanks to Shimon Steinmetz. for his assistance in researching the manuscript.

Records of Israel by Grace Aguilar, London 1844 - Copy of the Minis Family of Savanna, Ga

A London printing that fell in to my hands recently, found it's way already in the year of publication to one the most prominent Jewish families in the South.

Records of Israel.
by Grace Aguilar
Publisher: London : J. Mortimer, 1844

Contains 2 signatures of prominent American Jews, of the Minis family. Signed on title by Jacob Florance Minis and on following page by his aunt Philippa Minis, dated 1844, the year of publication, who gifted him the book

The Minis family, were original settlers of Savanna, Georgia, arriving in Savanna in 1733. When fear of Florida's Spaniards drove Sephardi Jews from Georgia in 1741, only the Minis and Sheftall families, Ashkenazi in origin remained.

"One of the first families to arrive after Oglethorpe, and proudly claiming the first true-born Georgian (the first child conceived and born in Georgia), descendants of this family continue to live in Savannah as they have for 275 years. In every generation, Minis family members have made significant contributions to the economy, the defense, the government, the culture and the to the philanthropic and religious live of the community. Author, archivist and certified genealogist Kaye Kole explores the accumulated family documents of the Minis family and brings family members to life as she traces the story of the Minis family against the broader development of our city, state and nation."

For a full length book on the Minis family, see The Minis family of Georgia, 1733-1992 by Kaye Kole.

Jacob Florance Minis (1852-1936) was born on November 12, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the eldest son of Abraham and Lavinia Florance Minis. Florance, as she was known, spent much of his childhood in Savannah, Georgia. At the age of fourteen he entered Washington College (known today as Washington and Lee University). By the fall of 1870, he decided to leave college and return to Savannah, where he became a clerk (and later partner) in his father's shipping office. Florance Minis was very active in the Savannah community. He held memberships in several clubs and was the chairman and president of several organizations, including the Commercial Bank, Merchant's National Bank, Savannah Cotton Exchange, Savannah Naval Stores Association, Georgia Historical Society, Savannah Brewing Company, and others. On June 19, 1890, Minis married Louisa Porter Gilmer (1852-1921) in London, England.

A full biography of Lavinnia Florance Minis, Jacob's mother can be read here and below is a brief biography of his father, Abraham.

Abraham Minis:

Son of Isaac Minis; born at Savannah 1820; died 1889. He was physically disqualified from serving in the field at the outbreak of the Civil war. Though disapproving of secession, he, after hostilities commenced, espoused the Confederate cause, and filled a position in the commissary's office at Savannah. He also subscribed liberally to the issue of Confederate bonds.

Here is additional information from


One who knew him best wrote of him: "From his earliest years his course was
one of duty well performed. Quiet and modest, yet firm and brave, he noted well
his part as son, brother, husband, parent, neighbor and citizen. With no
ambition but to be right, his amiable qualities made him beloved and respected
by all who knew him, while all he did was based upon strictly moral and
religious principle, unswerved by fear or favor."

   All through the dark days of the yellow fever epidemic of 1876 he, with his
eldest son, Mr. J. F. Minis, remained in Savannah doing all in his power, for
those who needed assistance, in a quiet, unostentatious way of which the world
knew nothing. His nature was one of the noblest simplicity, combined with the
utmost moral strength and a deep sense of justice guided his every action.

   The affection he inspired in the humble and lowly was attested when the
longshoremen who had worked for him, as a spontaneous tribute, marched in a body
to his funeral.

   Many positions sought him. He rendered service as an alderman, acting as
mayor, during the absence of that functionary, was a director of the Southern
Bank and of the Central Railroad & Banking Company of Georgia.

   For years he devoted much of his busy life to the presidency of the Union
Society, and unbounded were his zeal and enthusiasm in behalf of this noble

   At the breaking out of the Civil war, physical disabilities rendering
military service impossible, he entered the commissary department at Savannah,
and, to help the cause, invested .a large-proportion of his means in Confederate
bonds, although he had always been apprehensive of what proved to be the result
of the desperate four years' struggle.

   On the failure of the South, he was consequently left with the most
limited resources.

   Confronted with the disheartening task of, beginning afresh his business
career, he did so with the courage displayed by the best type of the men of the
South, and the years brought their reward.

   He died in New York City, November 6th, 1889, adding another honorable record
to the family name, and was buried in Savannah.

I found it fascinating that the book reached Savanna already in the year of publication, the book being printed in London.
Much additional info can be read on Abraham Minis and other members of the family in the Jewish Encyclopedia article by Cyrus Adler, Encyclopedia Judaica and the above work by Harden.
The Abraham Minis House, built in 1860, in Savanna is currently a historical landmark.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Books with markings of the Theresienstadt, the prisoner-run Ghetto Central Library

If only books can talk! Despite handling endless books every day, I am often reminded that every book has it's own story to tell, and every copy of a book has a unique identity and history. In a fine Jewish home in Brooklyn, NY, I came across 2 volumes with a haunting past, both had markings of the Theresienstadt Central Library, or TC as it was recorded in these volumes. The first, titled Eshet Hayil, by R. Zvi Hirsch Farber, was gifted by the Author to the Rabbinical seminary in Berlin, during the year of publication of 1934. The second titled Sur Mera, by Yehuda Aryeh De Modena, was printed in Vilna in 1903. Both ended up in Theresienstadt Central Library somehow, and found their way to NY after the war. Perhaps these books helped some prisoners find comfort in the inhumane conditions they found themselves in.

The Theresienstadt Central Library was one of several libraries in the combined ghetto and camp. The Central Library had been opened on the order of the camp commandant in November 1942 and remained active until the camp was dissolved, although the bulk of library staff was deported to Auschwitz in autumn of 1944 after the library had been beautified and shown to the Red Cross. During its years in operation, the library grew from a collection of 4,000 volumes to, at the end of the war, 180,000. Books included Hebraica, Judaica, fiction and classics alongside volumes of philosophy, history, and linguistic and scientific literature. The books had been confiscated from private individuals as well as from libraries, with 75% originating in Czechoslovakia and the rest coming from the German Reich. After the war, the holdings of the library were largely transferred to the Jewish Museum in Prague and, secondarily, to the Jerusalem National Library. (from wikipedia)

Hat-tip: Dan Rabinowitz

Correspondence Between R. Zvi Hirsch Ferber & R. Hayyim Hirschensohn

In 2 volumes of R. Zvi Hirsch Ferber's (1879-1966) books, I found 2 interesting letters, written to Rabbi Hayyim Hirschensohn (1857-1935).

The letters allow us to see into what life was like for great Rabbinic Scholars whose life has taken them to be Rabbis in communities that were not where the Jewish action was centered.

Below are some entertaining quotes from the letters, with loose translations:
כל דברי ה"ג נ"י נעימים לי בספריו היקרים.. לבד באיזה מקומות שרוצה להקל - כי למי ידבר? החרדים אינם מחכים ע"ז - והחפשים לא בהסרת חומרות חפצם
All your writings in your precious books were pleasing to me.. aside from select places where you choose to be lenient... as to who is he talking? The Orthodox are not in need of leniencies, and the secular couldn't come to care for removing stringencies

כמו במקומי מפזרים כסף לדורונות בעד פרנסים מחללי כל קודש ולחוג חגים של יובל
As in my place, they throw around money to buy gifts for patrons that desecrate all that is holy and to celebrate holidays of mourning

שמחתי לראות תמונת גכתה"ר ביד השו"ב המשכיל מר א. היימאן וקראתי עליו המקרא חכמת אדם תאיר פניו
I was delighted to see a photo of you shown to me by the Learned Dr A. Hyman, and I recited upon you the verse "A person's wisdom brightens their face" (Ecclesiastes 8:1)

ספרי הנוכחי שחברתי למען הרבנים והנואמים אשר נפשם תגעל בדברים בטלים וליצנות אסורה
My present work, which I authored for the Rabbis and preachers whose soul is despised by speaking vane things and profane jesting

אשרי חלקו שזכה להשיא בניו ובנותיו ומה יעשה כמוני שלא זכה להשיא גם א' מארבעה בנותיו שהגיעו לפרקן ומתן דמים מעכב ה' ישמחנו בישועתו
Great is your portion that you merited to marry off your sons and daughters, Alas, what shall one such as I do, that did not merit to marry off even one of my 4 daughters, that have reached marriageable age, and funds are lacking, may G-d protest us through his salvation

Not all Artscroll Youth Haggadahs are created equal

Next time you find yourself seated near an Artscroll Youth Haggadah, you may want to check and see if you have the "Chassidish" version, or the "Litvish" version. Though the covers and title pages are identical, the illustrations in the book have two distinct flavors, one version depicts all the adults and children with Hasidic attire, and one version has the Haggadah participants in more "modern" clothing.

Here are photos of the Hasidic Version

And here are photos of the "Misnaged" Version

hat-tip: Nochum S.

A Sefer by the Badchan R. Yankel Miller ספר יד משה של הבדחן ינקל מיללר

Yankel Miller, has made himself a name as a Badchen, but has also authored a fine rabbinic work, titled Yad Moshe, on the teachings of the Chatam Sofer.
Despite the seriousness of the book, some humor managed to enter his introduction, as in the page below. The volume states volume two, but volume one, was and will never be published. The author states that he will explain why he published vol II first, and will thank all those that assisted him in the publication in the introduction to volume one ( which he never intended to write).

Hat-tip: Menachem Silber

So who wrote the Hanoch Albeck commentary to the Mishnah?

The Albeck Mishnah set can be found in many Jewish homes and libraries, but little is remembered of the fight as to who actually wrote the work. Chanoch Albeck, the stated author, was sued by Dr Mordechai Margalioth, professor of Talmud at Hebrew University accusing him of plagiarizing his own commentary. Below is a copy of the book, during the period where the court case was ongoing and a note to that effect:

Here is a news article stating the requirement to state the above note until the court proceedings are completed
- דבר, 01/07/1953

Here is an article from the result of the court case:
חרות, 29/12/1953

Hat-tip: Menachem Silber

a 1796 Vienna Talmud edition, owned by a woman

Many talmud volumes have passed my hands, but one I recently sold, stood out. On the free-end were handwritten several interesting inscriptions, including a lengthy one testifying that this talmud volume is owned by a certain Esther of Semnitz.
Ownership inscriptions from this period are seldom of women, and the volume being a Talmud from the seder of Kodshim, makes it a rather unusual choice for something to be studied by a woman.

Gur Aryeh Yehuda Inscribed by R. Menachem Ziemba to the Rogatchover Gaon

A copy of Gur Aryeh Yehuda, 1928 Warsaw, I sold recently, had a pleasant surprise on the free-end. The book, which was published by R. Menachem Ziemba, was inscribed on the free-end to R. Yosef Rosen, the Rogatchover Gaon.
 "אהובי גאון ישראל ותפארתו מהר"י שליט"א רוזין, יקבל מנחת הספר מבני המנוח ז"ל, ובטובו לפקוד על עושי רצונו לשלוח ספרו השמטות חלק ב' הנדמ"ח על כתובתי - מנחם זעמבא - ווארשא 4 בראקאווא 34, פולין". 

 Loosely translated as "My Dear friend, the brilliance and pride of Israel, R. Yosef Rosen shlit"a, please accept this volume written by my deceased son ob"m, and please instruct to be sent to me your book Hashmatot II that has been newly printed. Menachem Ziemba, Warsaw 4, Brakova 34, Poland."