Friday, March 31, 2006

We got Canada!

The content here is not itself so interesting. What is interesting is what it is.

It is the text of the prayer composed by D.R. Joseph Yesurun Pinto (acting) rabbi of Jews Synagogue in New York City on October 23, 1760 on the occasion of the day being "appointed by proclamation for a general thanksgiving to Almighty God, for the reducing of Canada to His Majesty's dominions."

This is only two of seven pages. It's mostly tehillim and some of it is two tefillos he composed himself, one said by shacharit and one by mincha (or maariv?).

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Shabbetai Sevi--getting a little more contemporary

Here is an account of the Shabbetai Sevi event published in 1669, only three years after the climactic conversion of Sevi to Islam. The work is called The history of the three late, famous impostors, viz. Padre Ottomano, Mahomed Bei and Sabatai Sevi, by John Evelyn (1620-1706). This piece is from the third section, called "THE HISTORY OF SABATAI SEVI, The Pretended Messiah of the Iewes*, In the Year of our Lord, 1666. The Third Impostor."

and a few more pages:

1, 2, 3, and4.

If you want to read the entire thing, you can. But only in text. Here it is: sabb.txt

*Iewes--that's us.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Smoking wacky tobaccy: Abram ben Saddi, brother of Nathan the Jew

Get a load of this:

and the remaining four pages in this pamphlet:

pg. 4

pg. 5

pg. 6

pg. 7

As you can see, this strange document is called The chronicle of the Queen of Hungary, with the mighty acts of George King of England, at the battle of Dettengen; and King George’s psalm of thanksgiving for the victory of his and her enemies written in the manner of the ancient Jewish historians and it purports to be written by "Abram Ben Saddi, brother to Nathan the Jew." It was published in London in 1743, and it mimics the style of the chronicles in the Hebrew Bible.

Abram ben Saddi is a pseudonym for, it is believed, this guy, or perhaps this one.

The long (S) and short of it

Not every reader of this blog already knows the history of typography, so I thought it might be worthwhile to discuss a curious fact that many readers must have noticed about printing in the 18th century.

Basically, what is the deal with the fs (effs) in place of s?

The short answer is that it isn't an f at all, but a "long s." Happily, there is a good discussion of the issue on Wikipedia. Short answer:
The long, medial or descending f (s) is a form of the minuscule letter s that was formerly used when the s occurred within or at the beginning of the word, for example finfulnefs ("sinfulness"). The modern letterform was called the terminal or short s.
Incidentally, the long s was never identical with an f in any of the fonts in use. It is just that in modern fonts the long s doesn't exist, so here I am using an f to represent it.

How was it used? The short answer is: never at the end of the words, always in the middle and sometimes at the beginning. Thus, you will find examples like this: sufpicious and fufcipious but never fufpiciouf.

A question that might immediately spring to mind is, isn't that stupid? I mean, the letter form looks so much like an f! The answer is basically, yes, it was a little silly and potentially confusin--and eventually the practice was stopped. But the truth is that many letters resemble one another. Take u and v or h and n or q and g (well, in some fonts anyway!) or o and 0 or some forms of i and l and on it goes. Truth is, these are all easily confused (or confufed) with one another. Or take Hebrew, which is also full of letters that resemble each other. Examples: ר/ ד, ב/כ, ו/ז, ע/צ ,ג/נ are all confusing for someone just learning Hebrew, no different than ح/خ are when learning Arabic.

So f/f is just another quirky example, long since corrected. In fact, one of the interesting things I think will be apparent in this blog is that one can see the evolution of the long s from the beginning to the end of the 18th century. Pay attention to the dates of the examples I post and this will be apparent.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Israel Abraham George Gordon

Before ....................................After

One of the most well known political figures in late 18th century England was a political radical (and radical Protestant) called Lord George Gordon, 1751-1793 (according to Wikipedia, his father was named Cosmo George Gordon. No, you can't make this stuff up!). In July of 1780 he led a crowd of 50,000 people in a protest march to the House of Commons and a riot broke out for five days, for which he was held responsible by the law. He eventually served five years in prison, but not before converting to Judaism, which is a whole 'nuther story.

There is a popular book for children about him:

He appeared in court on January 28, 1793. Here is the Times' account of it the next day. It is well worth reading (just click the images to make them bigger if need be):

In prison caricature, from David B. Ruderman's 'Jewish Enlightenment in an English Key'):

And another one, from 1780:


How to read Hebrew without points (nekudot)

One of the most hotly contested issues in Hebrew studies in the 18th centuries was what the authority of the nekudot were in reading Hebrew (specifically in reading the Bible, but also more generally in understanding Hebrew). Theology never strayed too far from the debate, even if it also touched on scientific matters. In short, those who wished to have maximal freedom in interpreting the text denigrated the nekudot, while those who wished to place maximal trust on the textus receptus idea, the Masoretic Text, lauded them. The debate touched on many other points (no pun intended!) relating to the authority of tradition and human interpretation of the Bible (seen as favorable to the Roman Catholic Church) or whether to rely on sola scriptura (a popular Protestant position). In addition, a whole crew of idiosyncratic Bible interpreters accepted only the consonants of the Hebrew Bible, and thus, of Hebrew, in order to create towers of implausible Hebrew philology some of which are truly amazing (and wrong).

In the 18th century many Hebrew grammars were published. All of them bore titles like "Hebrew Grammar...with points" or "....without points" and even some "with and without points." It was practically a genre.

One such grammar was published by an anti-pointist Anglican clergyman named Anselm Bayly (1718-1794) (here is music book he wrote for sale with some info about him). It was called A plain and complete grammar of the Hebrew language, with and without points, published in London in 1773.

In the preface Bayly writes that "the hebrew hath never been totally dead; it is alive to this day in the mouths and understanding of the wise and learned Jews who all over the world can converse with each other, and write in biblical ad well as in the rabbinical hebrew. This is a fact*

the asterisk leads to the following footnote:

Bayly continues making his case for the Jews knowing their Hebrew: "It is certain, that the hebrew was pronounced, and its grammar understood by the Doctors at Tiberius in the third and fourth century, otherwise they could not have taught it to Origen and Jerom..."

What is he getting at? That Hebrew is a living language and those who know it can read it quite easily...without nekudot. Therefore they are unecessary.

Of course he has to explain how to read Hebrew then. He does so as follows:


What sort of responses this kind of thing evoke? Here is one in a book called Jonah, a faithful translation from the original: with philological and explanatory notes by George Benjoin (the only info I have so far found about him is that he taught at Jesus College and in 1794 an Act of Parliament naturalized him as a British citizen. The book itself is worth a future post, as it is filled with gems. Here is what he has to say on the matter:


Thursday, March 23, 2006

On Shabbetai Sevi--a near contemporary account

Here is an interesting account of Shabbetai Sevi by a French traveler named Jean Dumont, baron de Carlscroon (1667-1727). The letter was written from Izmir/ Smyrna in 1692 when he was traveling through the Middle East (the Levant). It was published in French and then in English translation in London in 1705 under the title A new voyage to the Levant: containing an account of the most remarkable curiosities ... with historical observations ... By the Sieur du Mont. Done into English ; and adorn'd with figures.. (Incidentally, on the very next page there is a nice bit of antisemitic stereotyping.


Tuesday, March 21, 2006

They don't make letters-to-the-editor like that anymore

From The Times of London Saturday, Jan 28, 1865; pg. 7; Issue 25094; col G:

Strictly speaking this is seventy years out of date for this blog, but I couldn't resist posting it, or shall I say, couldn't refift pofting it.

edit: Here is A Begginer of Hebrew's letter:


Wednesday, March 15, 2006

What is English Hebraica about?

Here is an excerpt from the introduction to Jewish Englightenment in an English Key by David B. Ruderman. It is wordy, but I could not put it better if I tried. Well, actually, I probably can put it in fewer words, only not better.

It captures perfectly the spirit of the time, the 18th century, and the place that English-speaking Jews were in. This is the true backdrop for this blog. I was planning a post along these lines, but lo and behold I discoverd Ruderman's excellent book. In his intro he basically said that this entire topic is virtually unknown and virtually unexplored, which is why he wrote his book. I noticed that myself, which is why I began this blog! But it turned out that I was beat to the punch. Ruderman's book was published in 2000, while I only recently discovered this wealthy topic.

Anyway, I truly cannot expect readers to read such lengthy excerpts (if I am to judge by my own blog-browsing habits). Given that, I will post a shorter, chewed up version of this post at a later date. It will explain the zeitgeist behind this blog. Hopefully readers will at least read the text I bolded.
What uniquely marks the intellectual life of Anglo-Jewry in the modern era is the process of translation into the English language....English Jews living in the eighteenth century, increasingly native-born, felt the acute need of approaching the literary sources of their culture in the only language they eventually could understand, in English. With the relative decline of Hebrew, Spanish, Portuguese, and even Yiddish as Jewish spoken and written languages, Anglo-Jews, to a degree unprecedented in the rest of Europe, became monolingual....

....In a society that allowed its Jewish minority a relatively higher degree of social integration than anywhere else in Europe, where many professional, educational, and social barriers had practically disappeared by the end of the eighteenth century, despite the failure of the Jew Bill of 1753 and despite a residue of public hostility to both the Jewish upper and lower classes, linguistic assimilation into the English language proceeded rapidly, in the course of one or two generations, across all classes of English Jewish society. The handful of Jewish educators attempting to offer their constituencies an essential textual knowledge of Judaism eventually succumbed for the most part to the weight of this pervasive diminution of Hebraic literacy. Their only recourse was to undertake a massive project of translating the primary sources of their tradition into the language Anglo-Jews could comprehend. Young Jewish students educated in the home, in the synagogue, and in Jewish schools were soon mastering their prayers, their Bible stories, their normative rules of Jewish conduct, and their smattering of rabbinic wisdom through English translations. By the end of the eighteenth century, most English Jews thought about their identity almost exclusively in non-Hebraic, English terms....

As Anglo-Jews sought to define their religious and cultural identity within a linguistic frame of reference, a kind of English playing field, so to speak, common to both Christians and Jews, the ultimate issues that concerned them, the way they reflected on themselves in relation to the other, and their social and religious aspirations were all thoroughly affected. In a society where the English Bible was central in defining the character of the nation as a whole, English Jews became indistinguishable from their Christian counterparts in learning to appreciate sacred scriptures through the agency of the official King James Version. But some soon discovered that the English Bible was not necessarily an authoritatively Jewish one, and that translation could often distort the original meaning of a text, blurring the traditional boundaries that had separated Jewish from Christian readers and believers. If the translation was inferior or theologically spurious, how could a Jew who knew better sit silently by without objecting to the obvious violation of the text and its originally assigned meaning? At the very least, the official English translation had previously been dependent on a traditionally Jewish Hebrew version, the Masoretic text. In an age where Christian clerics were mastering the Hebrew language in an effort to translate anew the original in order to bring it closer to its "authentic" Christian understanding, and when they even questioned the reliability of the Masoretic version, the matter became more complicated for Jewish rabbis and educators alike. Did Christians actually have the audacity to claim that they could understand the Hebrew text better than Jews, the original guardians of the text? If the Hebrew Bible could be made accessible to Jews and Christians alike in English translation, which translation was to be used? And who had the ultimate authority to determine the true meaning of the text in translation, to interpret the authentic words of God?

In the new intellectual world of Christian scholars and clerics armed not only with Hebraic knowledge but also with a new array of paleographical and linguistic methods of reading the text, it became increasingly difficult for the Jews of England, at least their most highly educated, to claim a commanding position as the proper transmitters and interpreters of the Holy Bible. In a Jewish community that had virtually translated itself into an English religious and cultural entity, the challenge of a new Christian ascendancy of master translators of the biblical text, along with their new prerogatives claiming exclusive Christian ownership of the text, was felt acutely and painfully by Jewish leaders and educators. German Jews were to experience a similar encounter with the new Christian biblical scholarship and its alarming claims to undermine the traditional Jewish hegemony over the Hebrew text. But English Jews encountered this threat more directly and more profoundly than others given their already considerable stake in reading and studying the Bible in English translation.


Thursday, March 09, 2006

Concerning Jesibot and the Ghemara

This is from the seven-volume "The ceremonies and religious customs of the various nations of the known world: together with historical annotations, and several curious discourses equally instructive and entertaining" (its nice to have that kind of confidence about one's own work, isn't it?). Originally in French, and featuring plates by Bernard Picart this comes from the translation published by William Jackson in London, between 1733 and 1739. The translation was made by "a Gentleman, some Time since of St. John's College in OXFORD."

The first volume deals with Jews and Judaism and is a treasure trove of interesting material. This excerpt is particularly interesting, not only because it discussed yeshivot ("Jesivod"), but also because it alludes to a historical tragedy: because of campaigns against the Talmud it was possible to speak of "those places where it is permitted to have [the Talmud]," for "where they have it not, they endeavour to make themselves Masters of the Writings of their wise Men, their Paraphrases, or the Abridgement of the Talmud," (Ein Yaakov?).

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

1798 Encylopedia on Masorah

Our Sages say אין אדם לומד אלא ממקום שלבו חפץ (Avoda Zara 19a). Well, one of the fields of learning that my heart desires is that related to the Masorah (מסורת). With this spirit, here is the entry for MASORA in the first American edition of the 18 volume "Encyclopaedia; or, A dictionary of arts, sciences, and miscellaneous literature...," published by T. Dobson in Philadelphia in 1798. The encyclopedia was based on the third edition of the Brittanica, issued between 1790 and 1797.

So far I can't figure out who wrote this particular entry, but I when know I'll update accordingly.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Odds and ends about the Rambam

Here are a couple of early mentions of the Rambam.

The first is from an English translation of an encyclopedia called "Le grand Dictionaire historique, ou le mélange curieux de l'histoire sacrée et profane" by Louis Moréri, published in 1688 under the title "The great historical, geographical, genealogical and poetical dictionary; being a curious miscellany of sacred and prophane history. "

Another view of the Rambam is from Urbain Chevreau's "The history of the world, ecclesiastical and civil: from the creation to this present time. With chronological remarks," (originally Histoire du monde published in London in 1703.

The second page refers to Rashi as "Jarki," Hebraist-speak for Rashi. In this case an explanation is offered that Rashi was so-called because he lived in Lunel. Lunel = moon = month = yarkha = "Jarki."

Stay tuned for posts about the Rambam's views, as seen in early English publishing.

English Hebraica beginsica

I'm still not sure what to call this blog. 'English Hebraica' might not sound exactly right. Anglica Hebraica? Anglica Judaica? Judaica Hebraica?

In any event, I am launching this blog because of these posts at On the Main Line:


I have long been fascinated by the phenomenon of Christian Hebraism. Why? Basically because Hebraism is a sort of mirror which reflected Judaism and can show how Judaism was perceived in various times and places, misperceptions and errors often, but right on target often as well. There are some surprises in these works and some things reassuringly familiar. It's interesting to trace the awareness of Judaism throughout the centuries. The trajectory tends to be from religiously motivated contempt for Judaism (antisemitism) to interest and even admiration for Judaism (philo-semitism), with varying degrees of normal curious interest in "the other" mixed in. There are historical and theological reasons for these movements, which I hope to post about.

Also illuminating in many of these works are diagrams contained within pertaining to all sorts of matters Jewish. In addition, the transliterations and definitions of Hebrew terms reveal a lot about the perceptions of Jews and Judaism.

In addition to Christian Hebraism, I've also been fascinated by Jewish works in non-Jewish vernaculars. English being my native tongue, this blog will be dedicated to some of them. Until recently I only had scant awareness of how old such works were. I hope to introduce not just myself, but interested readers to some of these things.

Good luck to me!

Monday, March 06, 2006

English Hebraica
Hebraica Anglica

or something.

Coming soon.

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