Thursday, October 15, 2015

An Old Hebrew Custom

Here's a story from a newspaper in West Virginia* all about yarmulkes and YU. Check out those Stern girls at the bottom knitting yarmulkes for their boyfriend. 1960.

*Yes, it was syndicated.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The dinim of sabbaths at the seaside in 1889

Israel Zangwill explains the rules for Sabbath observance on vacations in 1889.

The black sheep of the Soloveitchik family does not fail to impress!

This is a story from 1868 about the time Rabbi Eliyahu Soloveitchik was arrested as part of a ruble forgery ring. Note: Although the charge makes the most interesting contention that his role in the ring was that "he could make a water-mark on the rouble-notes, and had done it many times," his lawyer, named Finlay, argued that there was no evidence that any jury could use to convict; only the word of one of the conspirators, and it seems the judge agreed, because when Finlay offered to provide character witnesses, the judge said that while he believed that Soloveitchik was part of it, no jury would convict, and he was then released without charge.

I previously posted about him here.

Here's an excerpt, which I believe should be readable, followed by the entire article, which you will probably need to open in a new window to read at full size.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Monday, July 27, 2015

A Hebrew letter from Renan

This is a Hebrew letter from Ernest Renan to Rabbi Jacob Saphir, after he gifted him with a copy of his incredible travelogue Even Sapir. This was published in Halevanon (note how proud the Levanon is by this validation):

And as indicated above, it was originally published in the Izraelita:

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

An unrecorded scathing criticism of Louis Ginzberg from 1902

Well, I think it hasn't been called attention to before.

This appeared in the American Israelite on October 16, 1902. The author is the incredibly colorful figure Adolphe Danziger, who repeatedly calls Louis Ginzberg "Dovka" - although I had not previously known of this nickname, or that, or if, he perhaps had the name Dov in addition to Levi. There can be no doubt to whom he refers. (Maybe Danziger was simply giving him a typical eastern European nickname as a sort of slur designed to cut a Doktor down to size; maybe, but doubtfully, he means "דוקא"; so if anyone can clarify the name issue, please do so.) 

As you can see, in addition to the proverbial ham sandwich, he practically accuses Ginzberg of having converted to Christianity in the way he references what I assume must be the topic of his doctoral dissertation (Die Haggadah bei den Kirchenvätern). He does allow, however, that Ginzberg knows more than Schechter and all the professors at the JTS put together!

Here is the rest of the text, referring to material printed in the Jewish Exponent attacking Ginzberg (click to enlarge):

Monday, May 04, 2015

A pair of Hebrew Revolutionary War prayers for three different Georges

1. Here we've got a prayer composed for New York Governor George Clinton and אדוננו General דשארדש וואשנגטן in 1784. 

It mentions God's 13 attributes of mercy, the 13 principles of faith, and the 13 colonies of America. And as you can see, it links the freedom of the 13 colonies with the freedom that will come from the redemption of the Messiah.

This prayer was already translated in 1920, here, so click the link if you'd like to see the translation. Just to point out something interesting, notice that the name Samson (two lines above GEORGE WASHINGTON) is vocalized in Hebrew as "Shamshon," perhaps reflecting the 

On the back of this document, written in a very old hand, is named the composer of the prayer, the mysterious "Rabbi Hendla-Ieochanan Van Oettingen," and Jacob Cohen, who was acting chazan at Shearith Israel in New York, and presumably chanted it.

(Source: Jacques Judah Lyons papers; P-15; 1; 64; American Jewish Historical Society, New York, NY, and Boston, MA.)

2. This one is perhaps even more interesting. Then, as now, war was looked upon by many as a great evil, especially between brothers, and many American Colonists only wanted the oppressive measures of King George III to be lifted, bloodshed ended, and peace restored. The nascent American Congress called for a day of "Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer" along these lines for May 17, 1776. It was for this occasion that this prayer was recited in Congregation Shearith Israel in New York. 

As you can see, a complete service was arranged for this occasion, meant to invoke the solemnity and seriousness of the occasion; after morning prayer, Tachnun was to be sung to the tune of a Yom Kippur pizmon; a dozen Psalms recited, and then the Hazan would recite this prayer written for the occasion, and of course all were to be fasting. The prayer hopes for a change of heart for King George III and his advisors, that they would rescind their wrath and harsh decrees against "North America," that the bloodshed should end, and peace and reconciliation should obtain between the Americans and Great Britain once more, in fulfillment of the Messianic verse that Nation shall not lift up sword against nation.

Of course this was not meant to be, and six weeks later the American Congress declared independence from Great Britain, and there was no walking back from the hostilities which had already occurred.

(Source: Jacques Judah Lyons papers; P-15; 1; 4; 234; American Jewish Historical Society, New York, NY, and Boston, MA.)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

An American Midwestern response to the Dreyfus Affair

This is sweet. In 1899 Wichita, Kansas very nearly elected Miss Sadie Joseph queen of the Flower Parade at the Fall Carnival, because they really didn't like the verdict against Capt. Alfred Dreyfus in France.
Some of the history books say she *was* elected, but I checked, and she just could not beat Miss Mayme Mahaney. However, many hearts were in the right place in this corner of The Music Man-era America.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Book Announcement: Gabriel Wasserman's Haggadah

Book Announcement:
הגדה של פסח "אשירה ואשננה בחשיקות"
מאת גבריאל וסרמן

I heartily endorse this. Gabriel is a fine scholar and his Haggadah is very interesting, it is unique and worth owning. Purchase a copy here:
-- S. 
Every year, many haggadot are published, with various features, but almost all of them have the nearly identical Hebrew text. Yes, Ashkenazic haggadot have a few songs at the end that are not in most Sephardic haggadot, and some Sephardic haggadot may have a few kabbalistic passages that are not in Ashkenazic haggadot, but by and large the texts are well-nigh identical.

In the past, various communities had unique passages that they would include at various points in the seder, but hardly any books today include these passages.

Enter Haggada shel Pesaḥ “Ashira Va’ashannena Baḥashiqot”. The author of this haggada, Gabriel Wasserman, has been working on this book for years, assembling texts from various periods and places; first for use at his own seders, and then, due to popular request, also for sale. The haggada includes the text of the haggada as is customary today, but also three types of supplementary additions, at various points in the text: (a) Passages that were once common in the seder rituals of certain communities, and may still be recited in some communities today; (b) passages from rabbinic or piyyuṭic literature, which were never part of the haggada, but are appropriate for innclusion, in the spirit that “all that expand the story are praiseworthy”; and (c) passages that the author has composed himself, mostly piyyuṭim.

But this is not all. The author has included a commentary on the haggada, focusing mostly on the history of the halakhot and rituals of the seder, and on some literary issues of the texts. More detailed discussions are left for essays in back of the volume. Everything – the standard haggada text, the supplemental passages, the commentary, and the essays – is presented in two facing columns, in Hebrew and English; all translations are by the author.

A sample of the English translation is given here, from the Nishmat prayer:

The soul of every living thing renders blessing unto Thee, O Lord our God, and the spirit of all flesh praises and glorifies the mention of Thee, O our King, forever. For all eternity Thou art God, and besides Thee we have no king, redeemer or rescuer, ransomer or releaser, who sustains and has compassion in every time of distress and trouble – we have no king but Thee!

Besides the essays in the back of the volume, there are also sections including recipes (in facing Hebrew and English), and musical notation of some tunes, with discussions of the history of these tunes (again, in Hebrew and English).

One unusual feature of this haggada is that it includes not only texts for seder night, but also for lunchtime on the first two days of Pesaḥ, havdala, and, for the first time, for the night of the seventh and last nights of the holiday, called Yom Vayyosha‘ after the opening word in Exodus 14:30. (The Yom Vayyosha‘ texts, unfortunately, are not translated, but hopefully will be in a future edition.)

You can view some sample pages here.

Available for purchase here.

Monday, February 23, 2015


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