Saturday, December 21, 2013

"This is the story of the uncovering of the hair of Jewish women..."

This is a fascinating anecdote I came across in R. Chizkiya Feivel Plaut's biography of the Chasam Sofer included in his Likutei Chever Ben Chayim (link).

The story, as told to the author by Rabbi Daniel Prosstitz (a close friend of the Chasam Sofer) takes place in 1785, when the 23 year old Moses Sofer accompanied his rebbe Rabbi Nathan Adler on his journey to Baskowitz, where he was to become rabbi. When in Vienna, they stayed in the home of a wealthy man, Reb Nathan Arnstein - who was none other than the banking giant Adam Isaac von Arnstein (1715-1785).[1] Rabbi Nathan Adler has sent young Moshe out on some errand, and when he returned, he stumbled into a room where the host's daughter-in-law was sitting, bareheaded, having her hair done in a "frisiere" - her hair was being styled. Fuming, the boy berated the hostess, "Is this how a married Jewish woman goes?" Not surprisingly, she told her husband's father that if the guests are not thrown out immediately then she was going - to Berlin, to her father's home. (Her father was Daniel Itzig (Jaffe) in Berlin, an interesting personality in his own right, how maintained a Beit Midrash in his home, which luminaries such as the Peri Megadim frequented.)

So - and one imagines this part of the story is either imagined in the retelling, on behalf of the kind man who hosted great rabbis, or was meant to soften the blow to the guests - Nathan Adam von Arnstein approached them, thanked the young man for chastising his son's wife, and asked them if they would remove themselves to another apartment of his, a better one, so that his wife would not travel on the holiday, as it was Pesach.

Concludes the teller, Rabbi Plaut, go check if Reb Nathan Arnstein has any Jewish descendants! And this is the story of the uncovering of the hair of Jewish women...

The woman? Fanny von Arnstein, whose Wikipedia page says "In 1814, Fanny von Arnstein introduced a new custom from Berlin, hitherto unknown in Vienna: the Christmas tree."

This, presumably, is what the young Chasam Sofer found, when he wound up in the wrong room:

[1] Actually, Fanny's husband was Nathan Adam von Arnstein - I assume that in the story the son and father's names were confused.

On fundraising for fake, or at least unknown, yeshivas and institutions in 1924

This fascinating article by Rabbi S. Felix Mendelsohn discusses a fundraising letter for a "Yeshivah Rabbi Akiba Eiger" of which it wasn't entirely clear if it actually existed. But even if it did, the point was that the provenance of the institution which was "unauthorized and superfluous" was simply unknown and suspect. Mendelsohn is particularly perturbed that 29 names of officers and directors are listed on the stationary, 6 being rabbis, and not one of them was known. And he also cannot forgive the name - Yeshivah, rather than Yeshivath.

From the Sentinel May 15, 1924.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The rise of Kashrut observance noted in 1935

This interesting note is from the Telling It In Gath column by Rabbi Louis I. Newman in the Sentinel, a Jewish newspaper based in Chicago (4.11.1935 issue).

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The ban on the pietistic activities of Rabbi Nosson Adler of Frankfurt

A friend wanted to see the actual writ of excommunication against Rabbi Nathan Adler of Frankfurt. Here it is.

And here's a very high res image (click for full size):

See Rachel Elior's article on R. Nosson Adler (here), which describes the circumstances and includes a transcription of the text, with notes.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Lithuania in New York - a rabbinic visit to Syracuse in 1929

Here's a notice about Rabbi Baruch Ber Leibowitz's visit to Syracuse in July 1929, with his son-in-law R. Reuven Grozovski.

Their portrait appeared in the Syracuse Herald in July 1926 as well:

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

An imaginary portrait of the Ramchal as a young man

I mocked up this whimsical portrait of Rabbi Moses Hayyim Luzzatto to hang up in your Sukkah. Sadly, no true portrait of this personality exists - I took some (some??) poetic license in imagining him. This actually is a Northern Italian youth, albeit one born 200 years before Ramhal. Something about his face made him seem appropriate, even if the clothes aren't. The other elements are... at least from the 18th century.

Gut yontif, Chag sameach!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Beards and beardlessness in Italian Jewish history, Pt. II

See Part I.*

Here's a beautiful depiction of prayer for the sick, captioned by Psalm 34:23, and one imagines, of contemporary Italian Jews. This is from Imre Lev (Asti 1852, a compendium of prayers translated into Italian by Rabbi Marco Tedeschi (1817 - 1869), future Chief Rabbi of Trieste.

Note the facial hair on many of the men, even though Italian Jews had long been known for being clean-shaven (and obviously some did grow beards). I think in the mid-19th century beards had been making a fashionable comeback, and that is the likely explanation. c.f. the facial hair on Ohev Ger Luzzatto, a young man born in 1830, as compared to his father born in 1800. Ohev Ger (below) died in 1854, around this time. 

And here is Tedeschi himself, incidentally, also a student of Shadal. By the look of the man, this is presumably in the 1860s (and see here, for another portrait of him in canonicals):

See here for an earlier post about how the German fashion of growing facial hair was perceived in England in 1848.

* Hope it holds up!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Contemporary Hasidic audodidactism

This is an incredibly interesting and poignant audio piece by Frimet Goldberger about the thirst for education among Chasidim, and how they overcame - and are still overcoming - hurdles to get it. 

Great interview material, and all I can say is that I wish I could hear the uncut interviews with each subject. It's less than 20 minutes, and really left me wanting much more. A must listen. Really.

It is an audio piece, so be sure to listen and not just read the summary.

PS I was inspired by this - this was absolutely worth coming out of hibernation for. I will be back to regular posting. Really.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A baal shem and his bochurim

I'll be back. But I'm taking a break from my break to post this incredible photo (I'd never seen it) of R. Elia Guttmacher. Terminus post quem - 1874.

This photo appears in Rev. Samuel Marcus Gollancz's Biographical Sketches and Selected Verses (London 1930).

Thursday, July 04, 2013

The synagogue on the skyline of lower Manhattan, 1770

This is a map of the houses of worship and some other principle buildings in New York. #12 is "Jew's Synagogue." It refers to Shearith Israel, then in its Mill Lane location, which it occupied from 1730 to 1834.

A Christian's concern for the bad example Christians set for the Jews, 1798

Here's an interesting letter printed in the Beauties of the Evangelical Magazine. The writer, "Erastus," says that he engaged a young Jewish woman in conversation about the Hebrew language - itself interesting - and was shocked by her "occasionally taking God's name in vain," albeit in English. This surprised him, for he knew that the Jews venerate God's name so much that they substitute another name (Adonay, Lord) even in reading their own scripture. Her reply: "The Christians do so."

Oh, this answer stung. So his letter is about how Christians should be careful not to be a poor example to the Jews, and that Christians should show the reality of their faith by obeying the 3rd Commandment!

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A rabbi, a priest and a minister walk into an audience with Napoleon...

Recently I was in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and I saw this portrait of Napoleon. Evidently, he enjoyed pageantry and symbolism.

Here is an anecdote about the time the rabbi of Dusseldorf went to pay his respects to Napoleon. As you can see, the old rabbi was supported by a Catholic priest and a Protestant minister in, what the writer suspects, was a symbolic gesture for Napoleon's benefit:

This incident occurred in 1811, and as the rabbi of Dusseldorf was, at the time, R. Judah Leib Scheur (d. 1821, age 87), then he must have been about 77 - not 100 as depicted here.

Using tefillin and a Roedelheim siddur to establish bona fides among a 'Lost Tribe' in China circa 1839. Allegedly.

Suppose you were trying to establish contact with a newly discovered colony of Jews deep in China, close to Tibet, in 1839. How would you establish a connection? By pulling out your Roedelheim siddur and putting on tefillin, obviously.

At least that's the story in what most certainly is a fake, but most interesting, letter printed in the Archives Israélites in 1868. Sent in by a man calling himself Jacob Elsaesser (of Alsace), it purports to be an account of the encounter just described. "Elsaesser" writes that in 1835 his friend Adolphe Stempfel, who had been studying to be a rabbi, fell on hard times. As a result he joined a British ship to Calcutta (in a time when many youths in similar circumstances were going to America, adds the Elsesser). During the time of the First Opium War the British discovered a community of Jews deep in China. Reports made it to Calcutta, and a wealthy Jewish merchant there sent Stempfel (you know, if he ever existed) to China to make contact with them. Elsaesser sent the Archives Israélites a letter purporting to be written by Stempfel back to his patron in Calcutta. It printed the letter in three parts. Here's an excerpt:

In the first part, he describes a river that he thought may have been the Sambation. In this, the second part:
"Barely did I hear the cracking of the bamboo floors in the morning, when I put into action my plan. I got into the corner of my room and without saying a word I put on my phylacteries and opened a Rodelheim siddur. I wished you had been here to see this: my host seemed stunned, his face in a stupor. He fixated on my phylacteries and prayer book. He obviously did not expect to find a coreligionist in the garb of a Western barbarian. I enjoyed his surprise, until finally I smiled. He touched my phylacteries and addressed me, but I couldn't understand him. So I replied to him with feeling "Yehudi." He repeated the word and happily shook his head to indicate that he understood me. Unfortunately he could not reply to even the simplest Hebrew words that I addressed him with, which the most simple Alsatian Jew would have understood."
It continues, how the Chinese Jew fetched the rabbi, they exchanged "Schalem-Alechems" and had a very nice, spirited conversation in Hebrew. According to Stempfel, the rabbi said that they are descendants of the Ten Tribes of Israel carried into captivity, and that these Chinese Jews (=Israelites) are shepherds. Stempfel expressed surprise that they are not traders, and hilarity ensues.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The press coverage of the 'first Chasidic rebbe in America,' 1893

Rabbi Eliezer Chaim Rabinowitz, (1845-1916) of Jampol, progenitor of the Skolye Hasidic dynasty, and known as the 'first Hasidic rebbe in America' visited these shores in 1890.

By 1893 he had a congregation of some kind in New York, where visitors petitioned him for prayers, advice and remedies. The New York Herald discovered this and sent a reporter (and an artist) to investigate. Not surprisingly, it portrayed him as a fraud. (Even if it is too long to capture your interest to read, scroll down to see the sketches and the facsimile of one of his handwritten remedies.)

My thanks to Azriel Graber for identifying the rebbe in this piece for me, as well as for his fascinating historical research and conversations I have had with him.

Here is the story, with a follow-up in the Herald, and reaction in the Jewish press to follow in a separate post:

Monday, June 17, 2013

A schoolmarmish interpretation of a verse about harlotry in 1650

I think this is highly amusing. 

First, the background: Plica polonica (Polish plait) was a strange hair disease that was common well into the 19th, and even the 20th century. Basically, it involved the tangling, "felting" of long, dirty hair, but it was much more than dreadlocks - the hairs themselves became engorged and filled with a kind of liquid or pus. According to medical descriptions, it emitted a foul odor. Doctors were divided as to whether it was a condition caused by poor hygiene, or something else, such as drinking foul water. As the name it was known by, "Polish plait," indicates, it was far more common in eastern Europe. Since hygiene was so poor all over Europe, that it was so common in Poland  would have seemed to indicate that there was something unique about Polish conditions - and it wasn't poor hygiene alone - that caused it. It was also observed to grow in animals in Poland, but not elsewhere.

In addition, there were superstitions attached to this condition. The people believed that a Plica was a supernatural phenomenon and the growth of one did not indicate a health problem, but on the contrary - it indicated the relief of a health problem. Growing one was lucky, it meant you had an illness but were getting better. The people who grew them did not want to cut them off, and since it was seen as having magical properties, people rubbed things into their hair - honey, dirt, etc. - to try to induce the formation of one. Although it became closely associated with Poland (and discussions of the Plica make appearances in rabbinic literature), and it could obviously be found wherever hygiene was lacking, there are apparent references to it even in Shakespeare, where it is called an elflock. In one issue of the Philosophical Transactions from 1746, there is an article about an English country woman born in 1645, and her Plica polonica, which she had grown beginning at age 14. So despite the stereotype, it could be found all over Europe. 

Thus, the background. In 1650 a clergyman named John Trapp published a commentary on the Book of Proverbs.

Commenting on the verse in chapter 7, verse 10, "And, behold, there met him a woman with the attire of a harlot, and wily of heart." Trapp gives the following comment and mini-sermon:

Trapp means to explain the Hebrew for "attire of a harlot, the "שִׁית זוֹנָה." He explains that this is a kind of tightly fitted, plaited garment. He then cites the Latin of Lavater, referring to something plaited, which he glosses are pleated garments or plaited hair. This is "the attire of a harlot." But since in Latin "plaited" is "plica," since Lavater wrote "vestitus in quo plica," this reminds Trapp of the dreadful condition Plica polonica. This has nothing at all to do with the verse. But since he is talking about the attire of a harlot, a sinful way of dressing, since the word sounds the same, he cannot resist bringing this up:

"Let such take heed to the plica polonica; that dreadful disease."

This has nothing to do with anything, but it probably could strike revulsion and fear in the heart of the reader, just as Trapp intended.

I am reminded, and friends I showed this too are reminded, of various teachers who moralized in precisely this associative way. So here is John Trapp, teaching a verse in Proverbs, 350 years ago, the way I've been assured some teachers try to spread the value of tznius in contemporary schools.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

One of those unimpressed synagogue visitors, 1721

This page is an account of one English visitor to a synagogue in 1721. As you can see, he was bewildered by  the men keeping their hats on, no kneeling, calling out to get a pinch of snuff, worshipers coming in an hour, two and more late, the disharmony between some praying, some singing [prayers], and some talking of business.

Note the expression "he [who held the Torah] sat him down on his A----se with his Hat on his Head." "A----se" is, of course, "Arse." In 1721 the word was not yet the vulgarity it is today, (hence its use in a text like this), but was already emerging as an impolite word - hence the modest use of hyphens. In the prior century, in many texts the word was used normally and not considered particularly vulgar at all. But as David Crystal writes (The Story of English in 100 Words), as polite euphemisms for buttocks increased, primarily in the 18th century, the rudeness level of this word increased.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

A group of New York Jewish merchants apply for Denizenship in 1712

This is the Application for Denizenship (I made that title up) to Queen Anne of Great Britain for Nathan Simpson and Samuel Levy, on behalf of themselves and Moses Levy, Moses Michalls [sic], Moses Hart and Mordica [sic] Nathan. The fellows were Jewish merchants in New York who "found themselves lye[ing] under many difficultys in their Trades as Merchants for want of being free Denizens," so they filed this petition.

Simson and Levy ask "that they may pertake of your Majestys Royall favour to be made Denizens of Great Britain and esteem'd as such..."

Included are several recommendations. For example, one Joseph Levy writes that they "are very well known to severall of the best Jews in London" and are "deserving of her Majestys favor."

Another is from Lord Cornbury, the Earl of Clarendon, the - I do not make this up - transvestite former governor of New York. He writes that the men "are Persons well-known to me, they are of the Jewish Nation and were (and I suppose still are) considerable traders in New York" - at the time he was governor - and they "behaved themselves as good Subjects ought to doe all which I most humbly certify."

לשנה הבאה בני חורין - A Haggadah for a Federal penitentiary

Here's some pages out of a most interesting Haggadah, or perhaps parts of a Passover program, produced for Jewish inmates at the federal prison in Fort Dix. Definitely worth a look.

I made the PDF, but the images come from here.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Ex-Kaiser Wilhelm on the Controversy Between Christianity and Judaism, 1926

Here's something interesting. An article - actually, compiled from a written correspondence - in English by the ex-Kaiser Wilhelm II. The topic: that the Jews simply won't accept the divinity of Jesus, and that is an unbridgeable gap. Note his written text (in English) on p. 5 (660), about Moses Mendelssohn.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Evidence regarding Michael Levi Rodkinson's level of English proficiency in 1901

Here is an instructive pair of letters to the American Hebrew which, I believe, give an idea about Michael Levi Rodkinson's English limitations. What had happened was a rabbi named J. Mayer Asher had lectured before a group called the Council of Jewish Women, on a topic he called The Ethics of Judaism. The lecture appears to have been a typical contrasting of Greek and Hebrew morals. Asher asserted that ethics are Greek, morals are Jewish, and the distinction is blah blah. He raised a Kantian idea regarding the relation of the moral to the physical; the inner and the outer world, i.e., nature, which is ruled by causality. A certain book had tried to understand how the fixed world outside of us can be changed to conform to moral law. But this, said Asher, was an idea that is alien to Judaism. Besides, he said, there is "no pure Hebrew word that means Nature. Nature is a purely Hellenic concept," reported the American Hebrew. The Jewish idea is that God rules the outer as well as the inner world, Nature is ruled by Him.

On this, Rodkinson pounced. Of course there is a Hebrew word for nature - teva. Now, Rodkinson probably realized that this was a medieval coinage, but he could point to its precursors, the tet-bet-ayin root, that mean "nature." The trouble is, in each instance Rodkinson explained the term "nature" in the sense of "the character of something" rather than "the collective phenomena of the physical world," which is plainly how Asher intended it. It is quite instructive to read how, in each instance, Rodkinson imaginatively explains Hebrew words derived from the root tet-bet-ayin to conform to the meaning "the character of something." For example, he explains the word matbea, coin, to have come from the meaning "the nature of this coin is, that it contains so and so many lesser coins." And so on.

It is perhaps true, of course, that the same relationship between nature in its various meanings of "the characteristic of" and its eventual secondary meaning as "the collective physical phenomena" (see here), was paralleled in Hebrew, where the root tet-bet-ayin came to produce the word for physical phenomena, his explanation of each of these terms as meaning "the characteristic of" is fanciful. And the American Hebrew responds as such, claiming that he misunderstood Asher's use of the word.

In the meantime, another rabbi responded and pointed out that there is a Hebrew word for nature - but that was hardly in dispute, as Asher was certainly aware of the medieval coinage (pun intended). However, the American Hebrew appends a note explaining that it received another letter from Rodkinson, where he denies that he misunderstood Asher. See for yourself - I think he did misunderstand Asher, and his explanation is weak, but you may disagree.

It appears to me that while his level of English - at least as of 1901 - wasn't quite as bad as people made it seem, he certainly was not fluent. What we see here, is that he did not grasp the multiple meanings of the word "nature." While he was aware that "nature" means the character of something, he mistook its meaning in article about the use of the term in the sense of the physical world.

American Hebrew May 3, 1901:

American Hebrew May 18, 1901:

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Recalling the musical 'aptitude' of British Chief Rabbi Solomon Hirschell, and his attitude toward singing Kaddish to a tune from the opera Don Juan

Something about history which fascinates me is - time. The passage of time. And for this, reminiscences are important. There are many people who can tell you things about people and events which too place 80 years ago, and certainly 50 years ago (hopefully some of them are reading!). Talk to them, ask them. And then, you should live long, tell people yourself what you heard in 30 or 60 years from now - and just like that: someone gets to hear something close to a firsthand account that is almost one and a half centuries old. It may be 2013, but there are people who can still tell you all about people they knew who were born before Lincoln was elected president. 

Related to this: to me, in some ways, the 1870s don't seem that long ago. But the 1810s? Well, that's already getting remote. So I really enjoy reading things like the following, a reminiscence of Rabbi Solomon Hirschell (d. 1842), Chief Rabbi in London, which was published in the Jewish Messenger in 1873. 

True, much of it is about how Hirschell kind of had a lousy singing voice, but the descriptions of his preparations for leading the Ne'ilah prayer, the coaching by two singers, his booming and intense Shema, are fascinating. Also the anecdotes about how he barred the use of musical notes and a tuning fork - it had to be explained to him what a tuning fork was - and how one particularly zealous worshiper (a man of note) tattled to him, to say that the Chazan has used a piece from the opera Don Juan in singing Kaddish - and the attempts to explain to Hirschell what the opera Don Juan was, and that Don Juan was not a person who did not belong in shul - all interesting. "The synagogue is not an opera house," Hirschell concluded, not really caring in the end if Don Juan was a person or an opera.

Finally, the writer of this piece makes a contribution to the "rabbis becoming doctors" trope (often attributed to Milton Himmelfard, which I blogged about here: Sadly, the first part of the quote is illegible. But here is the rest of it: 
"In those [days]... those who held rabbinical offices. This may have arisen from the circumstances that then there was but little spiritual sickness in Israel, hence they wanted no Doctors, while now sluggishness and indifference have caused so much mental disease, as to require doctoring. Hence, I suppose, it occurs that the Rabbi has been superceded by the doctor."
I'm not precisely sure when "those days" were - but one imagines it could have been the 1810s, or perhaps early 1820s.

Here's Hirschel, roughly the same age as the Chasam Sofer, younger brother of Saul Berlin, of Besamim Rosh infamy:

And the article:

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Recent Mesorah of NakhScroll Publication; a guest post by Gabriel Wasserman

Thank you, Gabriel, for a fascinating post! - S.
For several years now, I have been doing research on the phenomenon of the writing of the books of Nakh -- Nevi'im and Kethuvim -- by scribes, on kosher scrolls. This research started as a hobby, but it became clear, about two years ago, that eventually I would have enough material for a book. In a shameless bit of self-promotion, I mention here that I'm going to be speaking about the topic at the World Congress of Jewish Studies this summer, and you are all invited to attend. (The lecture will be in Hebrew; I believe that entry is free of charge.)

By way of background: Although the books of Scripture were written this way in ancient times (Qumran Scrolls, anybody?), and in Talmudic times (see Bava Bathra 13b ff.), the practice disappeared in later times, with the adoption of the codex, a form of book that is more convenient with regard to searching. (The one famous exception, of course, is the Book of Esther.) We have a fragment of a scroll of Melakhim from the 8th or 9th century, and then nothing, until Early Modern posqim start to express their anxieties about the fact that we're Doin' Things Wrong.

Finally, R. Elijah the Gaon of Vilna decided, in late 1782 or early 1783, that he was going to hire an army of scribes, to write out all of Tanakh. The festive siyyum was on 7 Adar, 1783 (the traditional yortzait of Moses), and was attended by Solomon Dubno, who wrote up a whole pamphlet, in poetry and prose, inspired by the event, where he waxes philosophical about the matter. Here is a page from Birkhath Yosef, this pamphlet:

In following years, the idea spread among various Litvaks, both in Lithuania and, later on, in Palestine. However, most of these Litvaks were interesting only in writing the 5 megilloth, for public reading in synagogue on the various holidays, and the Nevi'im, for use in public reading of the Haftaroth. Nonetheless, there were some exceedingly inspired individuals who wrote out scrolls of the not-usually-liturgical books of Nakh. This is mentioned in writings by R' Shemuel Shelomo Boyarski (link), who writes about the scrolls that he himself has written, and Akiva Yosef Schlesinger (link), who writes about the scrolls written by a certain Barukh Shelomo.

Her is the title page of Boyarski's Amudei Sheish:

Moreover, I have held in my hands a scroll of Iyyov, written in 19th-century Lithuania or (most probably) Palestine, and a scroll of Divre Ha-yamim was sold at Kedem Auction House a few years ago (link). (It was sold for only $2000. If I had known at the time, I would have bid more than that. And now it's in private hands, and I can't even see it or access it. Grrr.) Moreover, Yossi Ofer has blogged about a scroll of Mishle that was found in the National Library of Israel earlier this year (link). He writes that this scroll was probably the very one written by Boyarski, because he knows of nobody else who was writing scrolls of Kethuvim (besides megilloth) at the time -- but in fact, the phenomenon was more widespread than just Boyarski.

In fact, here's a fascinating advertisement from 1912:

Neviim, Kesuvim, Megilles, Tefillin, Mezuzes, Atzei Chayyim, Rimmonim, Plates, Torah-Pointers, Battim, Parshiyes, Tefillin-straps, Megille-containers, mezuze-boxes, parchment
New and Used
Possible to Order in Jerusalem from the Adresse (אדריסה) listed Below
"Perfect"/"Plain" lettering [=Beis Yôsef, presumably], and Vellish lettering
small and large
written by reliable, expert scribes
Neviim (and Kesuvim): "Perfect"/"Plain" lettering, and Vellish lettering, small and large, written by reliable, expert scribes, with the פתוחות וסתומות וחסר ויתר written according to the "Keter" of Ben-Asher, and other reliable sources
Megilles: Small and large, "Perfect" lettering and Vellish lettering
11, 14, 42, and line, with or without boxes
Megille boxes: Of polished or sanded olive-wood, or of silver
Tefillin: Polished (=smooth), of one piece of leather, or one piece plus the מעברתא, Dakkes and Gasses, Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam
Battim: Square, Peshutim, of One Piece of Leather, or one piece plus the מעברתא, Dakkes and Gasses
Retzues: Wide or narrow, מעובד לשמן or Al Tenai
for Dakkes and Gasses
Mezuzes: Small or large,
"Perfect" lettering or Vellish lettering, with cases or without cases
Mezuze-cases: Made of olive-wood. Closed or open, round or rectangular.
Atzei Chayyim: of plain wood, or olive wood
simple, complex, or inset
with silver, with [צרף -- some cheaper form of silver??], or with bone
Rimmônim and Plates: Of silver or English Silver
(what's "English Silver"?)
Torah-pointers: Of silver, English Silver, or olive-wood
Parchment: Of all types
Addresse: Isaac Iacob Jellin Jerusalem Palestina [in Latin characters]

Especially interesting is that you can order Nakh scrolls in Vellish, i.e. Sephardic script! (The word "vell[i]sh" is a somewhat dismissive expression to refer to Sephardim, or speakers of Romance languages in general.) What Sephardim are ordering Nakh scrolls? (Weird Jerusalem ones, presumably.) Or, alternatively, what Ashkenazim in Jerusalem are using Vellish? The current Vellish script is more-or-less identical to the old medieval Ashkenazic script, but what Ashkenazim were still writing in it in the 19th century? Bohemian ones, apparently, but were there a lot of them in Jerusalem, and would they have been interested in the nouveau Litvishe shtick of writing Nakh-scrolls? Anyway, "Vellish" script is much easier to write than current Ashkenazic script, and therefore is significantly cheaper, as anyone who has shopped around for tefillin knows. Perhaps this is why a Litvak might want to order Nakh scrolls in Vellishe script?

(And note also that R' Chayim Volozhiner owned a scroll of Shir Ha-shirim in Vellishe script. How did it come into his possession? What Sephardim were writing Shir Ha-shirim on scrolls before or during the time of the Gaon? So many unanswered questions....)

This post deals only with the material culture aspect of the scrolls of Nakh, and does not deal with the halakhic or philosophical rationales behind why someone might want to produce them. Also, it does not deal with the question of how these scrolls might have been used, in ritual or non-ritual contexts. As such, it only scratches the surface of the issue, and there remains a whole book to be written about the topic. If any readers of this post know any information about any scrolls of Kethuvim (besides the megilloth) from the 18th, 19th, or 20th centuries, information that is not covered in this post, we will be delighted to hear from you in the comments, whether here or on Facebook.


Here is the ad, as it appeared in the original publication; Moria, November 20, 1912.


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