Tuesday, July 18, 2017


Rabbi Mark Glickman delights once again with his latest book STOLEN WORDS. This book recounts the saga of an overlooked group of survivors. The Jewish people are known as "People of the Book". For millennia we have cherished the written word. Before the era of printing, scrolls were painstakingly compiled. Much love and care was put into the composition of documents. The generous contents of the Cairo Genizah indicate that Medieval Mediterranean Jews were often loathe to part with writings, even with those of a mundane nature.
Rabbi Glickman leads the reader into the saga of Jewish books that survived the savage Nazi onslaught by recounting his acquisition of a rare copy of the Laws of Rabbi Isaac Alfasi. Inside he discovered a strange marking which puzzled him. The stamp bore the legend "Jewish Cultural Reconstruction". Some more digging opened up an entire portal into a story not often told, of post-war reconstruction and rehabilitation of the Jewish people.
The Nazis, unlike their medieval Jew-hating predecessors, were determined to get their hands on all the literary treasures of the Jewish nation. If their Jew-hating forbears were in the habit of looting and burning the precious holy books of the Jews, the Nazis had other plans. In Glickman's words "Nazi Germany worked hard NOT to destroy Jewish books but to save them"...They weren't interested in editing or censoring..they wanted to study the volumes in their original form...they weren't scared of Jewish books; they were fascinated by them...their efforts to preserve Jewish literature would have been utterly baffling to European leaders of the past..
The question, of course is, why? Why were the Nazis determined to preserve the Jewish literary riches?
Since the days of Luther, Goethe and Kant, the Germans were a bookish and book-loving people. For instance the Frankfurt Book Fair which began in the Middle Ages still continues going strong today.
By sequestering the Jewish books, the Nazis would not only accomplish the complete destruction of the flesh and blood Jew, but would also be in full control of everything that shaped his identity. In fact Glickman writes that the Nazis were even interested in the Yiddish language; a linguist named Franz Beranzek argued that Germans should "reclaim" the study of Yiddish, claiming that it was actually a dialect of German and it could reveal "the racial and unique cultural foundation of Jewry".

A grandiose scheme was hatched whereas several different Nazi agencies under the directorships of Alfred Rosenberg and Heinrich Himmler were to to collect all these items and eventually sort them and exhibit them in what was to become the Museum of the Extinct Jewish Nation.

Tons of books and precious ritual items were looted from both Municipal as well as private-owned libraries (such as the famed Vilna Strashun Library), from the centers of Ashkenazi Jewry to Salonika, Greece, known as "Jerusalem of the Balkans", precious and priceless items such as incunabula and documents from the Cairo Genizah (pages from the ancient thought to be lost hebrew Book of ben Sira) that once belonged to the private library of Edmund Rothschild were shipped to various depots in Germany (Especially to the town of Offenbach) and Nazi-occupied eastern Europe.
The Nazis selected Jewish scholars to sort and organize what amounted to the detritus of a millennium of physical Jewish history of European Jewry. These Jews, scholars and librarians in their "former life, often risked their lives to hide and smuggle out their wares. A courageous Muslim curator at the Bosnian National Museum spirited the famed magnificent Sarajevo Haggada to safety.
The devastation of war resulted in the permanent disappearance of many of these items but there were tons of them still left once the smoke cleared.
Various organizations sent scholars to asses the items that were sitting in warehouses now under American military administration. Great Jewish historians and scholars like Salo Baron, Gershom Scholem, and Lucy Dawidowicz spent hours poring over books and manuscripts and sometimes resorted to subterfuge in order to spirit the documents out of the lands that have become so drenched with Jewish blood.
The book abounds with interesting facts and anecdotes. For instance:
In 1559, partly to quell the rise of Protestant sedition, Pope Paul IV issued something called Index Librorum Prohibitorum (Index of Prohibited Books). It included the Talmud as well as other Jewish books. Later Popes issued revised lists but as late as 1948 Pope Piux XII issued a final version which included large sections of the Talmud, and the writings of Maimonides. It was only in 1965 that Pope Paul VI abolished the list altogether.
In Medieval times destruction of what was deemed objectionable Jewish material was also accomplished via less radical means than burning. In the late 13th century, King James I of Aragon introduced the Jewish book censor,history's first official censor of Jewish books-Glickman informs us- was a Dominican priest by the name of Ramon Marti or Raymond Martini. Many documents that have come down from that period show instances where texts that were find offensive by the church were simply blacked out with ink or cut out.
It is worth noting a great irony of history here. By engaging in intense study of Jewish texts (in order to refute them but also often attempting to demonstrate the truth of the Christian faith from within them), the Dominican did the Jewish people and the world of scholarship a great favor by inadvertently leaving us a wealth of ancient Jewish material that was otherwise lost of censored into oblivion. According to Alexander Fidora in his THE LATIN TALMUD AND ITS INFLUENCE ON JEWISH-CHRISTIAN POLEMIC, "Martini completed (in ca. 1280) his magisterial Pugio fidei (‘Dagger of Faith’) containing
innumerable citations from the Talmud and further rabbinical writings proving
that the Messiah had already come. Unlike his earlier work, the Capistrum Iudaeorum (‘Muzzle of the Jews’),where he also included Latin quotations from
the Talmud, here he first cites the texts in their original language and then provides Latin translations, which in their entirety constitute a considerable corpus
that is also deserving of our close attention".
The last page of STOLEN WORDS features a photo which provides the story with a fitting bookend. It shows Rabbi Glickman with his edition of Alfasi-the one that propelled him on this journey- surrounded by curious Jewish youngsters. Words can never truly be stolen.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

My Review of Kosher USA by Roger Horowitz. Please Share and Comment.

Kosher USA by Roger Horowitz is an engaging and often fascinating read about the development of the Kosher food industry in the United States and indeed how Kosher became a staple of Americana.
Did you know that in circa 1920, about 25% percent of steers that were slaughtered in the United States were done so in a Kosher manner? Did you further know that Jews, in the US at that time, constituted the largest consumer of beef per capita (Horowitz: “In 1909 a national study showed that Jews, regardless of income, ate close to one hundred pounds of beef and veal annually”) ? Did you know that currently the biggest consumers of Kosher food in the US happen to be gentiles. In fact according to Horowitz, by the late 1980s “there were at least three non-Jewish kosher food consumers for every observant Jew”. These consumers range from those who apparently feel that kosher equals healthier and more sanitary; to Muslims who want to be assured that they are not imbibing any products containing pork; others are lactose-intolerant who rely on a given product’s certification that it contains only non-dairy ingredients; still others are vegetarians who rely on the ‘parve’ label to insure that no animal products are included.

Additionally there is a large market for Kosher sweet wine in the African-American community. In fact by 1950, 80 (!) percent of the consumers of Manischewitz Concord Wine were gentiles, the vast majority of them African Americans!

These and other factoids (elaborated upon generously by Horowitz) provide a fascinating read for scholar and laymen alike.

The author describes in in interesting detail the trajectory of the Kosher meat industry in America from its heyday in the early decades of the 20th century, to its slump in the last decades of that century, only to be resurrected in the 21st century.

The higher standards of Kosher that became mandatory-and the resultant spike in price, did indeed cause many Jews who kept kosher, but were otherwise non-observant, to quit buying Kosher meat. I found it interesting that the consternation over kosher meat prices was already a concern in Jewish America of 1902. This blurb from the JTA demonstrates quite clearly that the last thing you want to do is mess with a Jewish housewife’s briket:

“1902: Jewish housewives on the Lower East Side poured into the streets, breaking windows and throwing meat. The women were protesting a jump in the price of kosher meat from 12 to 18 cents a pound.” see here https://jwa.org/thisw…/…/15/1902/kosher-beef-boycott-of-1902

The author is obviously quite familiar with halakhic (Jewish Religious Law) methodology and cites formulations thereof liberally throughout the book. As a former Rabbinic student, this is of course not a problem for me, but for the average reader this may pose a bit of a challenge. (considering that gentiles make up the largest consumers of kosher products, this is something to keep in mind).

In a future edition, I hope the author would also consider writing more in detail about the “kosher meat wars” that took place in the first several decades of the last century. While only briefly mentioning involvement of organized crime in the booming kosher meat industry, it but scratched the surface of a good if often uncomfortable story.

Equally discomfiting are the instances of fraud wherein cheaper non-Kosher meat was packaged and sold as Kosher. The author cites cases from the 20 and 30s. There were even raids on such illicit operations that I couldn’t help but find tragicomical; in one instance, a team composed of Rabbis, Board of Health Inspectors as well as Dept. of Agriculture operatives stake out an establishment, lie in wait and eventually swoop down to catch the culprits red-handed.

One does not have to look that far back to find instances such as these. As recently as 2006, the New York Times described “Shevach Meats” a large distributor of Kosher meat for the Ultra-Orthodox communities of Rockland County, NY as “passing off [non-Kosher] chicken as kosher”
See here: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/07/nyregion/07chicken.html

Other light-hearted moments are had when reading how a Rabbi in California was awakened by State Troopers in the wee hours of the morning, and then rushed at breakneck speed amid flashing lights and sirens in order to “begiss” (a kosher process that is aptly described in the book) a truck of kosher meat that got stuck in a snow storm en route to east coast.

A sub industry of Kosher that was only briefly touched upon is the involvement of the most conservative (lower case c) elements of Orthodoxy in Kashrut. I am referring specifically to the explosion of the Hasidic populations primarily in the NY Metro areas and the food industries that they have fashioned to suit their most stringent kashrut requirements. Halav Yisrael for instance (literally “Israelite Milk”) is not mentioned. Halav Yisrael requires that a reliable Jew be present during the extraction of the milk and that unsupervised milk may not be used. Primarily Hasidic Jews are very stringent in this requirement (the exact background behind this “requirement” and the vehement disagreement it engendered from Ultra-Orthodox non-Hasidic Rabbis is beyond the scope of this review) and will not consume any dairy products that are not marked with the Halav Yisrael tag. Dairy companies like Golden Flow Dairy for instance were founded by-and are under the proprietorship- of Hasidic owners and their products are to be found in most Haredi areas of Metro NY.

While most contemporary Hasidic Jews take these product for granted, they were almost non-existent in pre-WWII America (except for apparently one small farm see here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chalav_Yisrael#cite_note-3). It can be traced to the emigration to the United States of a large group of religiously pious Rabbis (mostly Hasidic and Hungarian Ultra-Orthodox) and their followers from Eastern Europe. While the author does discuss the phenomenon of “glatt” meat (whose origins are the same), it does not devote any space to its dairy counterpart.

One thing I found odd was the passage describing Horowitz’s meeting with the head of the Orthodox Union. I suspect there must have been some kind of misunderstanding as the passage “he radiated disapproval for my evidently non-Orthodox mode of dress and behavior” seems so incongruent with a man who is often described as “Bill Clinton’s Rabbi”. Furthermore, Horowitz informs us in his epilogue that he made sure to show the utmost respect to his interlocutors and interviewees. For instance, in his epilogue he writes “I wore a kippa when entering an Orthodox Person’s home out of respect for their beliefs”.

Milk Store, Toronto, 1903. Image via Wikimedia Commons.
Probably NOT Halav Yisrael...

Monday, June 05, 2017

Please Read and Comment on My New Post at the JHI Blog


Friday, May 05, 2017

Trivia. Guess who.


Location: Vilna

Period: Circa 1930

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The strange and (ultimately) tragic case of a Rabbanite-Karaite couple in Holocaust-era Latvia.

In December of 1930, Samuel Abramovich Maikapar-the scion of a prominent Crimean Karaite family of tobacco merchants (see here) residing in Riga, submitted a request to the Chief Karaite Hakham, Seraya Shapshal, to allow his daughter Inna to marry her Rabbanite fiancee, the attorney Horacio Bernhardt (his real surname, however, seems to have been "Blumenthal").

While in general very much opposed to such marriages, Shapshal initially relented but asked that the Maikapars officially adopt their prospective son-in-law and thereby give the couple and their offspring their Karaite surname.

When some Karaites from Trakai received word of this, they created such a clamor that Shapshal was forced to pull back and retract his blessing for the union.

The wedding went ahead anyway on the 28th of December, 1930, after which Horacio took on the double surname of Bernhardt-Maikapar, while Inna also took on her husband's surname, Blumenthal.

They were were both murdered when their hiding place was betrayed by locals who coveted their fortune. Horacio and Inna were shot along with their children, Sergey and Juris, by the Nazis in 1941, see their entry at Yad Vashem


1. Horacio obviously did not care about getting Rabbanite approval (which would have been impossible as Ashkenazic Rabbis had prohibited intermarriage with Crimean and Eastern European Karaites for hundreds of years).

The exact circumstances of Blumenthal's romance with the Karaite maiden, Inna Maikapar seems unclear (it should be pointed out that another Karaite-owned Tobacco company Szyszman and Duruncza-this one in Vilna was the only Karaite company that hired Rabanite assistants, additionally they were the only Karaites who greeted Theodore Herzl on occasion of his visit to the city), but be it as it may, they were determined to get married and she (unlike him) wanted her father's blessing.

The patriarch Maikapar did what any good Eastern European Karaite would do, seek the blessing of the Chief Karaite Hakham of that time.

Now the Karaite hakhamim of Crimea and Eastern Europe had long opposed intermarriage with Rabbanites (for the same reason that the Rabbanites opposed unions with them, namely "hashash mamzerut", literally suspected faulty lineage, as Rabanite and Karaite laws of incest differ. This is expressed succinctly in Mordecai ben Nisan's apologetic work Levush Malkhut or Royal Attire-now available in a new elegant edition, with an English translation at The Karaite Press)

 It would seem that Shapshal, who was usually very much opposed to such unions, made an exception in this case (perhaps Maikapar's prominent standing played a role). However as we can see, other Karaites haven gotten wind of this rare dispensation, did not like it one bit and he was forced to retract.

The marriage went ahead anyway. Whether the ceremony was conducted by a renegade Karaite hakham or by a city clerk is not clear, however the fact that all of them perished makes me suspect that they were not officially on the Karaite community rolls, since members of the community were not targeted by the Nazis.

2. another branch of the Maikapar family achieved fame in the field of music see here

*Much of this information was culled from
Mikhail Kizilov's breathtaking work Sons of Scipture, p. 202

Saturday, February 11, 2017

I've forgotten how Gd awful Blogger is. I will copy and paste most of my posts to my Wordpress blog from now on

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Rabbi Refael Nathan Nata Rabinowitz's Encounter with the Karaites as Reflected from His Letters

at my other blog 

Where is Tarshish and Why Did Jonah the Prophet Try to Escape to There?

מסורת יהודי ג'רבה היא שהיהודים הנמצאים באי – שאינם כהנים – מוצאם משבט זבולון. הדעה הרווחת היא כי שבט זה השתלט בראשית התנחלותו על כל ארץ הצידונים (ראה בברכת יעקב: "זבולון לחוף ימים ישכון והוא לחוף אוניות וירכתו על צידון", בראשית מט י"ג), והגיע אל צפון אפריקה עם ההתפשטות הפיניקית. אלה, כידוע, הקימו עוד במאה התשיעית לפנה"ס את העיר קרתגו, ליד תוניס של היום. בתלמוד ישנו אזכור של רב אבא קרתיגניא, שהיה אמורא בדור השלישי או הרביעי וככל הנראה היה בן המקום. ר' אברהם אבן עזרא כותב בפירושו על ספר יונה: "יונה בן אמיתי מזבולון היה, וכשרצה לברוח יצא לתרשיש. ומדוע דווקא לשם? כי תרשיש היא עיר תונייס (טוניס) באפריקי".

Interesting perspective from Ibn Ezra!
see more

This doesn't seem to be accurate though
Tartessus תרשיש
  is the ancient term for the region we call (Southern) Spain or al-Andalus 
 Sefarad is Sardis in Lydia in Asia Minor
There are other opinions of course:

השם תרשיש נשתמר בעיר תרסוס, בירת קיליקיה שבדרום אסיה הקטנה, 128 ק"מ מצפון מערב לאלכסנדרתה שבחבל התורכי וכ-420 ק"מ מצפון מערב לצור. וכן קבע גם פלביוס:
"ומבני יון בן יפת... (שבבראשית י, ב-ד) תרשיש קרא (לאנשיו) תרשישיים, כי כך נקראה קיליקיה בימים הקדמונים, והראיה: החשובה שבעריהם, והיא מטרופולין, קרויה תרסוס, אלא ששינו את הט' שבשם לת' " (קדמוניות היהודים א, ו, א). 
על הזיהוי תרשיש – תרסוס חוזר פלביוס גם בספורו על בריחת יונה הנביא: "וכשמצא ספינה (ביפו) ירד בה להפליג אל תרסוס של קיליקיה" (שם ט, י, ב).  בעקבות פלביוס יצא גם אבסביוס (אונומס', 511)

Also from above article this strange passage!
באגרת המיוחסת לרמב"ם נאמר שיהודי ג'רבה נוהגים בכמה דיני ישראל כקראים, ומנהגים אלו נשארו בידם עד עצם היום הזה גם לאחר שרבנים גזרו איסורים כנגדם.

I wonder what specific custom(s) he was referring to.

Monday, February 06, 2017

The Sephardic Seneor/Coronel/Coren Family and the Ashkenazic Zaks/Sachs Family, a Journey Across Iberia and Eastern Europe

Now here's an idea for a family DNA project.
There seems to be a connection between the Sephardic "Seneor" and "Coronel/Coren" families on the one hand and the Ashkenazic "Sachs/Zaks" family on the other.

The Seneor family were from the upper class of Castillian society at the time of the expulsion. For instance see about Abraham Seneor here

Abraham's brother (or nephew) was the equally interesting Shlomo Seneor. For more on him see here 

Now apparently, while Abraham Seneor formally converted to the Catholic faith and changed his name to Coronel, a grandson fled to Amsterdam and reverted back to Judaism. Eventually some members of this family made their way to Israel where they still reside. The man who founded the branch in Israel appears to have been the Rabbi and scholar, Nahman Nathan Coronel. One of his descendants was the Jerusalem-born Member of Knesset David Coren  (the name had obviously been shortened at some point).

As late as 2007, an article in Haaretz Newspaper about a gathering of Ladino speakers contained this intriguing passage:

There was a descendant of Abraham Senior, who as everyone familiar with the expulsion of the Jews from Spain knows was the rabbi who gave in to pressure from King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella and converted to Christianity. Senior's Jerusalem progeny is, of course, a completely observant Jew, bubbling with good cheer, who called out Ladino proverbs from his seat in the front row.

Perhaps this unnamed descendant is in fact the aforementioned former member of Knesset who died several years later in 2011 (?).
read the article here

Abraham's brother (or nephew), Shlomo Seneor went through an interesting journey himself as described in my blog post above.

Eventually, his numerous descendants (all of whom remained Jewish), had changed their name to Zaks or Sachs (which is supposed to be an abbreviation of 'zera kodesh seneor' (literally, "holy seed of seneor) although the origin of this surname seems unclear, see for instance here:

"The name Zaks or Saks may or may not be a Hebrew acronym for zera k’doshim sh’mo (“his name descends from martyrs”); I’ve heard a similar story about its derivation from zikhron k’doshey shtendal (“memorial of the martyrs of Stendal”), referring to a medieval massacre in that German city. But the Hebrew doesn’t quite fit; in both cases, the final consonant would have to be a “sh,” and I’ve never met a Zaksh. It would make much more sense if the name were simply a reference to Saxony." See here

Perhaps there are several different families with this same,or similar, surname. Hopefully a DNA study can shed further light.

This particular branch of the family eventually relocated from Hungary and settled in Vilna as well as Prague among other places.

There's certainly a lot to research here.
See also this family tree of sorts:

Some Sources on Amity and Enmity Between Sephardim and Ashkenazim

H.J. Zimmels Sephardim and Ashkenazim still remains one of the best resources for the study of the interrelation between the two communities.

Here are some disparate sources that I've come across that are not mentioned in Zimmels:
I came across a parable by the famed Dubno Maggid that I wasn't aware of before.

What possessed a popular Lithuanian itinerant preacher to relate almost nonchalantly that Jews from Spain cannot stand the Jews from Germany? Perhaps this is a reference to Western Sephardim as Jews from Spain is a clear anachronism. 

 It seems mildy scandalous but it is par for the course during that period of time when the two communities were quite estranged from each other.

The proto-Zionist Rabbi Judah Alkalai looks forward to the day when the Jewish nation is reconstituted in its own land with no distinction between Sephardim and Ashkenazim:

 והסירותי את שמות הבעלים מפיה ולא יזכרו עוד בשמם, ספרדים אשכנזים כי אם בשם ישראל יכונו ישראלים. ולא יהיו עוד בארצנו הק' עדר עדר לבדו[6], וכל כולל בפני עצמו, עד מתי יהיה זה לנו למוקש[7], צדיקים או חסידים או פרושים וכד' כולם לדעת אחד נתכוונו לעשות רצונו ית'. אבל לא לתת ריוח בין הדבקים בה' ולהפרד איש מעל אחיו.[8] אמרו לצדיקים כי טוב[9] אם ישימו מעינם לחבר את האהל להיות אחד[10], ונאספו שמה כל העדרים וגללו את האבן הגדולה מעל פי הבאר והשקו את הצאן[11] קדשים מים חיים חסד ורחמים.

see here 

Sefer Haberit was authored by Rabbi Pinchas Eliyahu Horowitz of Vilna (1797), a disciple of the Vilna Gaon, The book was meant to be a commentary to Rabbi Hayyim Vital's Shaarei Kedusha but Horowitz attempts to wade into the world of science, including as it seems, jewish sociology. In a perhaps surprisingly ecumenical and humanistic passage, dealing with the Cherubim, Horowitz writes:

מהות אהבת רעים הוא שיהיה האדם אוהב כל המי האנושי, יהיה מאיזה עם שיהיה ויהיה מאיזה לשון שיהיה בעבור שהוא אדם ...בדמותו ובצלמו כמוהו ועוסק ביישובו של עולם
 ...הדיון במעשה הכרובים בא לצאת נגד שנאת איש ממדינה אחרת 
הספרדיים ישנאו בני ארץ אשכנז ופולין שנאה גמורה, אף כי ישבו בעיר אחד עם האשכנזים...ובהפך יאמרו אנשי אשכנז ופולין עליהם

כמו הכרובים אף שהיו מרוחקים בתכלית כרוב אחד מקצה מזה וכרוב אחד מקצה מזה בכל זאת פניהם איש אל אחיו באהבה רבה 
פרק כט~

  Aso see this facsimile from the addenda and corrections section of the Sefer

See also this http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007%2F978-1-4020-6202-5_17
For more on Rabbi Horowitz's writings see here 

See also Marc Shapiro's post on the Seforim Blog here http://seforim.blogspot.com/2015/11/assorted-comments-on-r-jacob-emden_2.html

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