Tuesday, June 23, 2009

First Rabbi in New World

Question: Who was the first person to serve as a rabbi in the Western Hemisphere?

Answer: Rabbi Isaac Aboab da Fonseco of Amsterdam. He became rabbi of the Jewish community in the city of Recife in what was then Dutch Brazil in 1642. During that decade the Jewish population in the area equaled approximately one thousand people. It would take more than another century for North American Jewry to grow to that size. See: Haven and Home : A History of the Jews in America by Abraham J. Karp, p.5 [New York : Schocken Books, 1985].

Monday, June 22, 2009

Hebrew Song Index

Some months ago we received a phone call from a nostalgic gentleman trying to find the musical score of a Hebrew lullaby he remembered from his childhood -- in Egypt during the 1930's.

On another occasion, a scholar of modern Hebrew literature was determining the precise meaning of a literary passage which included a casual reference to a song popular in Palestine 90 years ago. He needed the words to all the stanzas and hoped to find the score as well.

Fortunately, due to the efforts of the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem, there is a magnificent tool available which is able to satisfy both of these requests: the Hebrew Songs Index.

Originally available only on-site in Jerusalem, this database (along with its sister database, the Yiddish Songs Index) was digitized a few years ago and added to the marvelous array of options available when searching the National Library’s online catalog: http://aleph500.huji.ac.il/F/?func=file&file_name=find-b&local_base=nnlall&con_lng=eng

  • To search this catalog use the BASIC search mode.
  • Choose MUSIC: HEBREW SONGS INDEX from the drop-down list labeled SELECT LIBRARY.
  • Individual songs are retrieved when searching for the title, incipit, refrain, composer, lyricist, keywords, subject, and genres.
  • Be sure to search using the Hebrew alphabet on your keyboard (or a Hebrew virtual keyboard).
  • To find title, incipit and refrain, specify TITLE.
  • To find composer and lyricist, specify AUTHOR.

    The retrieved entry will usually provide the bibliographic information for the printed song collection/anthology which contains this song, with an indication of whether this host-item includes the score or just the words.

    This robust database includes over 13,000 entries. It is particularly rich in Israeli music (both pre-state and post-1948 songs). It also provides very specific geographic indexing, sometimes indicating the song’s town of origin — try typing מסורת into the SEARCH FOR text-box, when you specify SUBJECTS: MUSIC R R in the SELECT SEARCH OPTION field. Music of the various Hasidic sects is also indexed by sect: specify מסורת חסידים as a subject search, for this option.

    There are not many indexes to Hebrew and Yiddish songs in printed collections, so we treasure the few such tools that we have. And indeed the Hebrew University's Hebrew and Yiddish song indexes are veritable treasures.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

How did European Jewish emigrants get to their port of embarkation?

Question: What route would Jews emigrating from Europe to America in the early 1900s have taken in order to arrive at their ports of embarkation?

Answer: According to Lloyd P. Gartner in his article “Jewish Migrants en Route from Europe to North America: Traditions and Realities” (Jewish History [Haifa University Press], vol.1 no.2 – Fall 1986, p.52):

The emigration routes before 1914 took the emigrant to a junction on the railroad network, such as Kiev, Warsaw, or Brody. From there he travelled to a depot city in mid-continent, usually Vienna, Berlin or Breslau, and thence to a port city. The main ports of embarkation for emigration from Eastern Europe were Hamburg and Bremen. Of special importance was the emigrant traffic through England which usually brought migrants from Hamburg across the North Sea to Grimsby, Harwich, or London. They then crossed to Liverpool for the voyage to America. The journey from a Continental port to America via England cost less than did the direct route for those emigrants who circumvented the high, fixed prices of the North Atlantic Shipping Ring by purchasing trans-Atlantic tickets in England under an assumed name.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

What information is there on the Prayer for Israeli Soldiers?

The prayer for the Israeli soldiers, which we say each shabbat at the end of the Torah reading was written by the Rav Ha Rashi of Zahal, Rabbi Shlomo Goren. There is no date attributed to this prayer but it is referred to in 1959 in an article on “New Israeli Prayers" by Pinhas Peli in Mahanayim, the journal of Zahal. Peli describes 12 new prayers which were writen and encorporated into the liturgy since the establishment of the state of Israel. Most of these prayers are related to the Zionist experience and to Zahal, the IDF. They include the prayer for the state; the prayer for the soldiers; prayers for going to war, for paratroopers, for going in a submarine, for the fighter pilot; memorial prayers for Israeli soldiers and for victims of the Holocaust, for world peace, for raising the flag on Yom Haatzmaut and a prayer for children.

This prayer, according to the Zahal rabbanut is to be said each Shabbat. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, former Chief Sefardi rabbi and spiritual leader of Shas, according to an article in the Jerusalem Post (August 2006) called for the prayer for the well-being of IDF soldiers to be said not only on Shabbat, but also on Mondays and Thursdays, days during which the Torah is read during the morning service.

"Our soldiers, the Israel Defense Forces, contribute themselves selflessly, enter the lion's den... how they need to be blessed. Had it not been for them, would we have time to study the Torah? To turn to the books?"

However, is not without controversy within the Ultra-Orthodox community. Shmuel Poppenheim, editor of the weekly Ha'edah, the mouthpiece of the Edah haredit, a virulently anti-Zionist group of haredim, called for that mass prayer vigils reciting Psalms for “peace and protection of all Jews everywhere” to support the war in Lebanon during August 2006. – He was sure to say that “we do not pray for the IDF, Zionist soldiers” because it causes a blurring of vision as if we were advocating a body that is not based on Torah ideals. People might get the wrong impression. "But we do pray for the safety of every Jew including a Jewish soldier."

The structure of the prayer is as follows:

Traditional Mishaberach opening. He Who blessed our forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob-- may He bless the fighters of the Israel Defense Forces

Prayer for the soldiers – with geographic boundaries, who stand guard over our land and the cities of our God, from the border of the Lebanon to the desert of Egypt, and from the Great Sea unto the approach of the Aravah, on the land, in the air, and on the sea.

A traditional prayer – that God should protect them, etc. May the Almighty cause the enemies who rise up against us to be struck down before them. May the Holy One, Blessed is He, preserve and rescue our fighters from every trouble and distress and from every plague and illness, and may He send blessing and success in their every endeavor.

Then a special section for Zahal – about the enemies. May He lead our enemies under our soldiers' sway and may He grant them salvation and crown them with victory

and finally brings the quote from Deuteronomy. And may there be fulfilled for them the verse: For it is the Lord your God, Who goes with you to battle your enemies for you to save you. Now let us respond: Amen.

As a final note, in 2004 the Chief Rabbinate of Israel updated the prayer to include “kokhot bitakon” in the first sentence and added that they should be protected “be kol makom shehem.”

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Finding a book in Israel

Question: A user based in Israel writes: how do I find the following book in Israel - Sefer Ḥidushe Yaavets al masekhet Shabat by Yaakov ben Tsevi Hirsh Tiraspolski?
Answer: The quickest method is to search the catalog of the Jewish National University Library (JNUL) in Jerusalem (web-address: http://aleph500.huji.ac.il/F/?func=find-b-0&local_base=nnlall&con_lng=eng ) for Tirasposlki as an author (in Hebrew characters). You will find two records for this work. You can also search the Israel Union List catalog which is a database of libraries throughout Israel. Their web-address is: http://aleph3.libnet.ac.il/F/ARAY9E4XHB7IXFVXG837NP8B1UQ95F7ACAHGPI7JE3IR56RFM5-47419?func=find-b-0 .

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Judaism By The Numbers

QUESTION POSED AT THE JTS LIBRARY REFERENCE DESK: I am looking for statistics on the various branches (sects) of Judaism. For example what percentage of Jews are Sephardic.

ANSWER: There are city-by-city (USA) statistics of the various Jewish denominations in the 2007 American Jewish Yearbook (p. 201)

I would also suggest you look at the Populations Studies section of the North American Jewish Databank website: http://www.jewishdatabank.org/national.asp. In the 2000/01 Population Study, see the report on American Jewish Religious Denominations:
http://www.jewishdatabank.org/Archive/NJPS2000_American_Jewish_Religious_Denominations.pdf, especially Table 1 (denominations – weighted populations estimates) and Table 2 (denominations – percentages) will give you USA data.

In the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey (NJPS) please check Study Highlights Part 2, http://www.jewishdatabank.org/Archive/NJPS1990-Study_Highlights_Part_2.pdf
Part 3 (Jewish Identity), especially Tables 22 (current denominational preferences) and 29 (synagogue affiliation) will give you information on the denominations in the USA.

The Encyclopedia Judaica’s (2nd ed., 2007) article on "Demography", in the section entitled "Origin Groups", provides some statistics about Sephardim in 1930 and 2000 and what parts of the world they are living in today.

The Jewish Encyclopedia’s (1906) article on “Statistics” provides data about Sephardim, country by country, on page 533. http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/ .

The Sephardim.com genealogical website http://www.sephardim.com/html/lore.html , provides some historical statistics about Sephardim (from RUFINA-RUFINA@NETACTIVE.CO.ZA )

Finally, there is a detailed presentation of Hasidic population statistics in the US in Joshua Comenetz’s article “Census-Based Estimation of the Hasidic Jewish Population” in Contemporary Jewry volume 26 (2006) p. 35-47.