Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Library Open House

The Library hosted an open house on December 14, featuring many treasures of The Library including historic kettubot, Biblical and religious prints by the artist Bernard Picart, the digitized diaries of Mordecai Kaplan, and much more.

A wonderful write up can be found by one of the attendees on her blog, Healing and Hope 2011.

Enjoy a photo slideshow of the event below:

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Confusing Rabbinic Citation

Question: I am confused about references to Kelim and Baba Metzia, and I can't find the text in either tractate. The citation I have is: Kelim Baba Metzia Chapter 4 Halacha 3.

Answer: This is a citation to the Baba Metzia "section" of tractate Kelim of Tosefta. Perhaps you are not finding the citation because you tried looking in the Mishna (Tractate Kelim in Seder Tohorot, or Tractate Baba Metzia in Seder Nezikin), or in the Talmud...

Because of its large size, Tosefta Kelim is divided into three sections: Kelim Baba Kama, Kelim Baba Metzia and Kelim Baba Batra (first gate, middle gate and final gate). Each of these sections is divided into perakim (chapters), which in turn are divided into halachot (laws).

These three sections of tractate Kelim in Seder Tohorot should not be confused with the three tractates in Seder Nezikin, also called Baba Kama, Baba Metzia and Baba Batra. Scholars theorize that there had originally been a tractate Nezikin in Seder Nezikin, which had been divided into these three sections, but the overarching title had become eclipsed with time, and the sections became tractates in their own right.

Kelim is the only tractate of the Tosefta with this type of tripartate "gate" arrangement. This arrangement has not survived into the Mishna, which divides tractate Kelim directly into chapters and mishnayot like all the other tractates of the Mishna. There is no Gemera for Kelim.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Ramat Yishai

Would you tell me where to look to obtain information about the early history of a town in Israel known as Ramat Yishai?

With gratitude to Dr. Avraham Holtz for locating these sources:
- Erets-Yisrael Entsiklopedyah (spine title: Entsiklopedyah Erets-Yisrael) [Yerushalayim : Reuven Mas, 1955], v.4, p.875: entry on Ramat Yishai gives a short history of the yishuv (settelment).
- Ariel : Entsiklopedyah le-Yediat Erets Yisrael [Tel Aviv : Am Oved, 1982], Supplementary Volume 1, p. 560: picture of Ramat Yishai’s local council’s seal, containing a drawing of the first building built there.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Jewish Journalism

Question: Can you recommend resources on Jewish journalism, especially on how Jewish journalism has impacted the Jewish community. I need both primary resources and secondary resources (including back issues of Jewish periodicals, especially the New York Jewish Week).

Answer: The JTS Library holds back issues of many Jewish newspapers from the US and other countries; to get an idea of the breadth of our collection search our catalog using ADVANCED SEARCH. Type newspaper? in the text box. In the LIMIT SEARCH TO section, for FORMAT choose SERIALS. The question mark after the word newspaper is not an accident; it is a "wild card" designation meant to include additional letters at the end of the word--thereby retrieving listings for both newspaper and newspapers.

The JTS Library holds selected issues of the New York Jewish week from 1993-2001. The New York Public Library Jewish Division has prepared an index to the Jewish Week for 1993-2001.

However, the quickest way to access full-text articles from Jewish newspapers published in the last 20 years is to use the Ethnic NewsWatch database, available at the New York Public Library's research sites, many of the branch libraries, and at many universities.

Regarding the secondary literature, I suggest you use the RAMBI index. Use BASIC SEARCH - KEYWORDS IN SUBJECT and type periodicals in the text box. To focus on one country, for example the United States, specify SUBJECT STARTING WITH and type USA: periodicals.

The Berman Jewish Policy Archive, at NYU, provides full-text articles on journalsim and the Jews. A typical article available is Barbara Kirschenblatt-Gimblett's "Participatory Journalism" published in Jewish Family and Life (June 2005).

The ProQuest Dissertatons and Theses database (available on the JTS campus, and remotely for JTS faculty/students) includes full-text documents on your topic; do a BASIC search on these terms: journalism AND judaic studies

Two other indexes to check are: Index to Jewish Periodicals, and Jewish Studies Source (a very new full-text database).

Here are a selection of books and theses in the JTS Library about Jewish journalism:

The Religious Press in America by Martin E. Marty [and others] (1963)
PN4888 R4 R4

A People In Print: Jewish Journalism In America (1987)
PN5650 P46 1987

Forward: The Jewish Daily Forward (Forverts) Newspaper: Immigrants, Socialism and Jewish Politics in New York, 1890-1927 by Ehud Manor (2009) PN 4885 Y54 F6713 2009

The Creation of a Jewish Cartoon Space in the New York and Warsaw Yiddish Press by Edward A. Portnoy (2008) NC1420 P67 2009

Grandma Never Lived in America: The New Journalism of Abraham Cahan compiled by Roses Rischen (1985) F128.9 J5 C35 1985

Making Jews Modern: The Yiddish and Ladino Press in the Russian and Ottoman Empires by Sara Abrevaya Stein (2004) PN5274 S786 2004

The Rise and Decline of the Yiddish-American Press by Sidney J. Weissberger (1982) PN4885 Y5 W4

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

European Dissertations

Question: I would like to access dissertations submitted to European universities, in particular K. Wolff's 2009 dissertation submitted to Leiden University entitled "Bal Tashchit: The Jewish Prohibition Against Needless Destruction"

Answer: Although a great many dissertations are available via JTS's subscription to ProQuest Dissertations, this one is not included. However, the DART-Europe E-theses Portal provides additional access to European dissertations, some of them available in full text, at no charge.

As of November 2010 Woff has made available the beginning, the conclusions, and a summary (all in English) of his Bal Tashchit dissertation; in June 2011 the full text will be available.

Monday, November 22, 2010


Question: What is the source for the custom of "badeken" - the hatan (groom) covers the face of the kalah (bride) with a veil, prior to the marriage ceremony?

Answer: Various reasons and sources are given for this custom. the most fundamental may be that which is indicated in Tosafot (Tractate Yoma 13b s.v. le-hada amar lah) and cited in Shulhan Arukh by ReMA (Even ha-Ezer, chpt. 55, paragraph 1). There are two stages to Jewish marriage: arusin and nisuin. Arusin is, nowadays, usually accomplished by the hatan giving the kalah a ring. There are various opinions regarding how nisuin is accomplished. The custom is therefore to do as many potential acts of nisuin as possible. According to Tosafot, the covering of the kalah with the hinuma (veil) is an act of nisuin. This may be the source for the custom of badeken. To learn more about this custom and Jewish marriage see the following:

Monday, November 15, 2010

Project Ben Yehuda

Question: I would like to research the development of the modern Hebrew language, as seen through translations of world literature into Hebrew. Unfortunately I am not located near a research library with Hebrew books. Can you help me access these texts.

Answer: You could start your research with the Translations section of Project Ben Yehuda. This website is a collection of early modern Hebrew writings, including fiction, essays, poetry, drama and translations.

It includes Hebrew translations of worldwide authors such as Homer, Schiller, Heine, Byron, Rudyard Kipling, Pushkin, Baudelaire, Oscar Wilde, and others.

Most of the texts on Project Ben Yehuda are no longer under copyright; those still under copyright have been made available with permission from the copyright holder. In Israel copyright extends 70 years after the death of the author.

A serious study on the translation of world literature into Hebrew would require that you consult Jewish Translation History: A Bibliography of Bibliographies and Studies, by Robert Singerman (2002) REF Z 6514 J48 J49 2002. This comprehensive work will refer you to both lists of translations, and to studies about translation. Chapter 5 "Translations into Hebrew, 1850-2000" will be particularly relevant. This books is available in over 150 libraries throughout the world; you can identify the closest location by using worldcat.org.

Monday, November 8, 2010

"Rabbi, Teacher and Preacher"

A question was received at the JTS Library's Reference Desk:

The Jewish Theological Seminary's certificate of rabbinical ordination proclaims the recepient as worthy of being a "rabbi, teacher and preacher". What is the history of this phrase and why was it chosen?

So far our inquiries have not turned up any relevant information on this matter. If anyone has information on this topic, we are interested in hearing from you in the "Comments" section. Thank you.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Dire Medical Diagnosis--Should We Tell the Patient?

Where can I find a summary of Jewish law on the the issue of whether or not to tell a seriously ill patient the truth, or the entire truth, regarding his medical condition?

Answer: The Encyclopedia of Jewish Medical Ethics, compiled and written by Avraham Steinberg and translated by Fred Rosner (Feldheim, 2003) includes a section entitled "Disclosure of Illness to the Patient" in vol. 1, p. 317-328. Steinberg covers multiple aspects of this issue by tracing relevant Jewish sources from the Tanakh, Talmud, codes, commentaries and Responsa (both early and current opinion). He also provides medical, scientific, and secular ethical background.

This monumental 3-volume encyclopedia is an excellent resource for all aspects of Jewish biomedical ethics; Steinberg earned the 1999 Israel Prize for producing this work.

The Encyclopedia of Jewish Medical Ethics is available in the Encyclopedia Room of the JTS Library at R 135.5 S6713 2003.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Question: I saw a reference to Ms. 16 at the Breslau Seminary in a Jewish Quarterly Review article published in 1891 (I. Abrahams "Jewish Ethical Wills" JQR vol. 3 no. 3, p. 483). Which seminary is this, and where can I find that manuscript today?

Answer: The seminary was the Juedisch-Theologosches Seminar in Breslau, the "first modern rabbinical seminary in Central Europe" according to the Jewish Virtual Library.

The Breslau ms 16 is currently at the Jewish National and University Library is Jerusalem, and is now known as JNUL ms 28° 2264.

The history of the Breslau Hebrew manuscript collection is in Benjamin Richler's invaluable Guide to Hebrew Manuscript Collections (Jerusalem, 1994), p 24. The core of the Breslau collection was formed by the gift of 69 manuscripts from Leon Saraval; other donations were from Bernhard Beer and Raphael Kirchheim. By World War II the collection held 405 Hebrew manuscripts. During the war the manuscripts were confiscated by the Nazis, and dispersed to multiple locales including a Gestapo cellar. Various research institutions now hold many of the manuscripts, and Richler has conveniently listed the current locations of approximately one half of the collection in Appendix V, p. 213.

Richler's Guide describes the histories, catalogs, and outstanding holdings of hundreds of collections, allowing researchers to trace the wanderings of the manuscripts and to match up older manuscript references with later catalogs, numbering systems and locations. Updates and corrections are available from the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts.

Richler's Guide is available at the Jewish Theological Seminary Library Reference Desk.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Number of Words and Letters in Torah, Neviim, and Ketuvim

As a follow up to my blog post of Monday, October 11, 2010: "Number of Verses in Neviim and Ketuvim", I was informed by JTS professor Dr. David Marcus, that the following article has tables showing word and letter counts for the books of the TaNaKh (Hebrew Bible): “What Did the Scribes Count?” by Francis I. Andersen and A. Dean Forbes. This article is found as Appendix A (p.297-318) in the work Studies in Hebrew and Aramaic Orthography [Winona Lake, Indiana : Eisenbrauns, 1992].

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Question: The prayer for rain is recited annually during the Musaf Amidah (Ashkenazi rite) on Shemini Atzeret. Has there been any recent academic research on this prayer?

Answer: The prayer for rain is treated briefly in the "Af Beri" article in The Encyclopedia of Jewish Prayer by Macy Nulman (1993), and in the 1993 translation (Jewish Liturgy: A Comprehensive History) of Ismar Elbogen's earlier work.

Brigitte Kern-Ulmer discusses rain as theological redemption and regeneration, as understood in early rabbinic texts: "Consistency and Change in Rabbinic Literature as Reflected in the Terms Rain and Dew" in Journal for the Study of Judaism in the Persian, Hellenistic and Roman Period v 26, no 1 (April 1995), p. 55-75. The article focuses on the general prayer for rain, not specifically the Shemini Atzeret prayer.

Micahel Rand looks at the Shemini Atzeret prayer from a completely different point of view. He analyses paytan Eliezer Kallir's attempt to provide a rational meteorological explanation for the production of rain, based on Kallir's understanding of earlier rabbinic midrashim. The article is "Clouds, Rain and the Upper Waters: From Bereshit Rabbah to the Piyyutim of Eleazar be-Rabbi Qullir" in Aleph v 9, no. 1 (2009) p. 13-39.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Number of Verses in Neviim and Ketuvim

I am interested in knowing how many verses are in each of the books that comprise the Neviim (Prophets) and the Ketuvim (Writings) in the TaNaKh (Bible). The editions that I consulted do not give me that data. Would you recommend an edition that will give me that information?

In those editions of the TaNaKH that contain masoretic notes (see here for information on the Masoretes and their notes: http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=246&letter=M&search=masorah), the verse-counts for each of the books that comprise the Neviim and Ketuvim can be found at the end of each book. A popular edition of the TaNaKH that records masoretic notes is: Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia [Stuttgart : Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1997].

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Sifra, Sifre, and Sifrei

Question: What is the difference bewteen Sifra, Sifre, and Sifrei?

Answer: Sifra ספרא is an halakhic midrash on Leviticus, and is also known as Torah Kohanim or Sifra de-Vei Rav.

Passages from Sifra are usually cited from I. H. Weiss's edition (Vienna, 1862, reprinted in New York, 1947) Reference Oversize BM517.S63 W42 1862a. A partial critical edition was edited by Finkelstein: Sifra on Leviticus, According to Vatican Manuscript Assemani 66 with Variants...Reference to Parallel Passages and Commentaries (New York, 1983-1991) Reference BM517 .S6 1983. Neusner has translated the text into English in Sifra: An Analytical Translation (Atlanta, 1998) Reference BM517.S6 E5 1988

Sifrei and Sifre are alternate transliterations of the Hebrew term ספרי

Sifre Bamidbar and Sifre Devarim are halakhic midrashim on Numbers and Deuteronomy, respectively. Sifre is also known as Sifrei de-Vei Rav. Sifre Zutta is an halakhic midrash on Bamidbar which exists only in fragmentary form.

A critical edition of Sifrei Numbers was edited by H. S. Horovitz: Siphre d'be Rab (Leipzig, 1917; 2nd ed. Jerusalem, 1966). BM517 .S74 1917. English translations are: Midrash Sifre on Numbers...by Levertoff (London, 1926) BM 517 S74 A3 1926 and Sifre to Numbers: An American Translation and Explanation by Jacob Neusner (Atlanta, 1986) BM 517 S74 A3 1986.

The critical edition of Sifre Devarim is: Sifre on Deuteronomy, by Finkelstein (NY, 1969) BM517 .S75 1940a. English translations are: Sifre: A Tannaitic Commentary on the Book of Deuteronomy...translated by Reuven Hammer (New Haven, 1986) BM517 S75 A3 1986 and Sifre to Deuteronomy: An Analytical Translation by Jacob Neusner (Atlanta, 1987) BM517 S75 A3 1987.

A good introduction to these and other midrashim is found in H. L. Strack's Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash, located in the JTS Library at Reference BM 503.5 S7 .

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

List of Haftarot According to Various Minhagim

I am looking for a volume that lists ALL or nearly all the different traditional lists of weekly/holiday haftarot -- not just Ashkenaz and Sefardic, which everyone lists, but such lesser known minhagim as Italian and Yemenite and others.

In the Entsiklopedyah Talmudit [Yerushala[y]im : Hotsaʾat Entsiḳlopedyah Talmudit be-siyuʻa Mosad ha-Rav Ḳuḳ, 707- (1947- )] volume that has the entry “haftarah” (v.10) there is a very extensive list of the various minhagim for which haftarah to read on which occasion. Not only are minhagim listed for Ashkenazim, Sefardim, Temanim, Italkim, and Romanians – the customs of various cities and the customs found in Rishonim, piyutim, mahzorim, and other works are listed (some of these customs were found in unpublished manuscripts). In the edition of this volume that I consulted (published in 722 [1961]) this list can be found in an Appendix on on p.[701]-728.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Surname: Mitkokher

My surname is "Mitkokher". From my experience this is not a very common Jewish surname. I do know that my fanily came from somewhere in the Russian Empire. Would you be able to tell me what my surname means?

According to Alexander Beider in his work A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Russian Empire [Teaneck, NJ : Avotaynu, 1993 - p.408, column 2] the surname "Mitkokher" is derived from an occupation. The name is from the Yiddish "mit kukher" and means "with cook" i.e. cook assistant. Beider also indicates that he found evidence for this surname being used in the Novograd district (part of the Volhynia guberniya in what is today the Ukraine) during the early 20th century.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Josephus and Josippon and More Mixups

We've received queries involving mixups between the following pairs of names, and we'd like to clarify their meanings:

Josephus vs Yosippon

Yosippon [or Josippon] is an anonymous Hebrew book describing Jewish history during the Second Temple period. Written in 10th century southern Italy, it treats the history of ancient Italy and other European nations, but focuses on the Jewish-Roman wars. The author based his work on earlier books (Josephus's works, a Latin translation of the Apocrypha, medieval chronicles, and the Talmud ) intending to compile a summary for the benefit of his readers. Sefer Yosippon was mistakenly attributed to Flavius Josephus and to Joseph ben Gorion, and became well-known, respected, and frequently quoted by medieval gentile writers. Manuscript and early printed editions were significantly changed from the original Sefer Yosippon; it has been translated into Arabic, Ethiopic, Russian, Polish, Czech, Latin, French, Judeo-German and English. Dr. David Flusser has edited a critical edition ספר יוסיפון :... סדור ומוגה על-פי כתבי-יד בלוויית מבוא, ביאורים וחילופי גרסאות (vol. 1 1978, vol. 2 1980) DS122 Y574 1978b in JTS Library.

Josephus [also known as Josephus Flavius]

Josephus was a Hellenistic Jewish historian of the first century CE. He was born into an aristocratic family of priests in Jerusalem, and he became a military leader against the Romans in the Jewish-Roman wars. Later, through shrewd political moves, he became a favorite of the Roman leaders and moved to Rome. He wrote The Jewish War, Jewish Antiquities (historical), The Life (autobiographical), and Against Apion (a defense of Judaism). Although his works are hardly unbiased, they remain eye-witness accounts of first century Judaism in its political mileiu. The standard English translation of his works was published as part of the Loeb Classical Library, located at PA3612 .J6 1926 in the JTS Library.

Two of the many in-depth encyclopedia articles on Joesphus are in the Encyclopedia Judaica (by Abraham Schalit), and The Encyclopedia of Judaism: "Josephus and Judaism" by Steve Mason, and "Josephus, Biblical Figures in" by Louis H. Feldman.


Kairouan vs Cairo

Cairo, of course, is the capital of Egypt. The Cairo Jewish community was first established appproximately 640 CE, when the old city of Fostat was founded. Fostat is also the site of the Synagogue of Elijah the Prophet which held the famous Cairo Genizah manuscripts. Through the generations, Cairo has been the home of outstanding Jewish scholars, including Maimonides.

Kairouan is a town in Tunisia which was a prominent economic, cultural and halakhic Jewish center during the Middle Ages (8th-11th centuries). We have extensive documentary evidence of the community and its activities from letters found in the Cairo Genizah.


Philadelphia [ancient city] vs Philadelphia Route

The Philadelphia Route is the buffer area along the Egypt-Gaza Strip border; arms have been smuggled from Egypt into Gaza via tunnels beneath this area.

There were a number of ancient cities called Philadelphia, in Egypt, Turkey, and Jordan. The Jordanian Philadelphia was originally Rabbath-Ammon, capital of the Ammonite kingdom in Biblical times; in the Hellenistic period it was called Philadelphia; today it is Amman, the capital of Jordan.

Monday, August 23, 2010


Someone told me that there is a custom not to refer to the wife of a rabbi as a "rebbetsen" unless that rabbi is functioning as a the rabbi of a synagogue or as the head of a yeshiva. Is that correct? What is the source of this custom?

I have never heard of such a custom. Nor have the colleagues that I have consulted. I have been unable to locate mention of such a custom in the literature that I have consulted. If any readers of this blog have anything to contribute on this matter, it would be appreciated.

Monday, August 16, 2010

King David and Mikhal daughter of King Shaul

I have a couple of questions regarding Mikhal the daughter of Shaul and her relationship with David.
1) In I Samuel 25:44 we find Mikhal being given as a wife to Palti son of Layish. Did this marriage take place before or after she became David's wife?
2) In II Samuel 6:23, after Mikhal rebukes David upon his dancing before the Ark, the verse states that Mikhal had no children. However, in II Samuel 21:8 we find that Mikhal had five children.

1) The commentaries understand that Mikhal was already David’s wife when she was given to Palti. This follows both the straightforward meaning of the verse “And Shaul gave Mikhal, his daughter, the wife of David, to Palti ben Layish who was from Galim” and the order of the events as recorded in the Book of Samuel – the verse stating she was given to Palti is I Samuel 25:44, while the verse stating that she was given to David as a wife is earlier - I Samuel 18:27. The Babylonian Talmud, tractate Sanhedrin, fol. 19b has a discussion of David’s relationship with Mikhal and Merav - two of Shaul’s daughters . As we see in I Samuel 17:25 it was at least claimed that whoever killed Galyat would be given the king’s (i.e. Shaul’s) daughter in marriage. After David slew Galyat, Shaul did offer Merav, his oldest daughter to David as a wife if David would continue to fight the “battles of God” - as we find in I Samuel 18:17. In I Samuel 18:19 we find the enigmatic verse “And it was at the time of Merav, the daughter of Shaul, being given to David – and she was given to Adriel the Meholat as a wife”. The Rabbis in Sanhedrin argue about whether David considered that he was also married to Merav, or only to Mikhal. Both agree, however, that he considered a marriage to have taken place between himself and Mikhal. Shaul did not consider what had occurred to be deemed a marriage in either the case of Merav or of Mikhal, hence he felt entitled to give both of them in marriage to someone other than David. In II Samuel 3:14-16 we find Mikhal being returned to David. According to the Rabbis in Sanhedrin (ibid.) in all the years Mikhal had been with Palt, Palti (who was very righteous) had not attempted to be intimate with her.

2) Various opinions are expressed. One opinion found in the Babylonian Talmud, tractate Sanhedrin, fol. 21a is that she had children before the incident in II Samuel 6:20-23 where she rebuked David. Another opinion focuses on the words in the verse “had no children until the day of her death” and states that she did have a child on the day of her death, i.e. she died in childbirth. Rabenu Yeshaya ben Mali of Trani (b. ca. 1200) in his commentary on this verse seems to take the straightforward approach that she never had children. An opinion is expressed in the Babylonian Talmud, tractate Sanhedrin, fol. 19b that the children mentioned in II Samuel 21:8 were actually Merav’s children – this would explain why the father is Adriel of Meholat who we know from I Samuel 18:19 to be Merav’s husband. Mikhal had raised Merav’s children and thereby merited that the verse treated them as if they were hers. According to the Talmud (ibid.), this teaches that whoever raises an orphan in their house is considered by the Torah as if they had given birth to that orphan.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Modern Lamedvovniks

Question: Please refer me to modern literary works based on the Jewish folktale of the 36 lamedvovniks.

Answer: According to the lamedvovnik folktale, in each generation there are 36 humble and righteous people, whose goodness is so profound, that the entire world is sustained for the sake of their merit. The identity of these 36 is unknown, and thus they are considered hidden saints.

Two of the sources of this folktale are from the Talmud: Sanhedrin 97B and Sukkah 45B. The tale developed more fully from the 16th – 18th centuries in kabbalistic and chassidic communities.

Andre Schwartz-Bart’s The Last of the Just (1959) is probably the most famous modern work based on this theme. However he twisted the concept and added the idea of martyrdom.

Other works based on the lamedvovniks are:

The "Legend of the Three Nephites" in the Book of Mormon.
Nelly Sach's play "Eli: A Mystery Play of the Sufferings of Israel," included in the O the Chimneys (1967).
Hans Jose Rehfisch’s play Nickel und die 36 Gerechten (1925).
Marilyn Satlof argues that Saul Bellow has modified the traditional lamedvovnik into a character who saves the world through his intellect rather than through his mitzvot, in Him With His Foot in His Mouth And Other Stories (1984)
Screenwriter Henryk Bojm’s Lamedvovnik, a 1925 film
Aleksandr Sollzhenitsyn’s Matryona’s Home (1959)
Ben-Zion Weinman’s The 36 Unknown: Thirty-Six Etchings (1975) (poetry and art)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Targum Onkelos in Hebrew

Question: Is there a modern Hebrew translation of Targum Onkelos (Aramaic translation of the Torah)?

Answer: אלתר טובי' וין Alter Toviyah Vain has translated Targum Onkelos in the first 2 volumes of his 6-volume set:
ספר יין הטוב על התרגומים: מתורגמים ומבוארים ללשון הקדש
(Mekhon Yerushalayim, 1976 - )
Location in JTS Library: BS 1224 A78 1976b

Monday, August 2, 2010

Receiving Permission to Copy Manuscripts from Microfilm

I am interested in making copies of manuscripts from microfilm reels that the JTS library owns. The original manuscripts that I am interested in are owned by libraries other than the JTS library. I understand that I will need to show written permission from the libraries that own the original manuscripts in order for the JTS library to allow me to make the copies. How do I get in contact with these other libraries?

The IMHM - Institute for Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts in Jerusalem (http://jnul.huji.ac.il/imhm/) has contact information for all the libraries from whom they have microfilms of manuscripts. You can see the contact information at the following webaddress: http://jnul.huji.ac.il/imhm/#reproduction . Incidentally, with written permission, you can order copies directly from the IMHM (a lot of these microfilms have already been digitized), here is their catalog of MSS on microfilm: http://aleph518.huji.ac.il/F/Y7PP3R76L217RS81C7C5UL794C8BNRD8PYYFD7PTFR56UJU7VR-24858?func=find-b-0&local_base=nnlmss. If you do come to the JTS library to make copies, it is recommended that you bring a USB "Flash" drive to save the copies to.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Death of the RAMBAM's brother

Question: What was the year of the death of David ben Maimon, the younger brother of the RAMBAM. He was on a business voyage when his ship sank.

Answer: Various biographies mention different dates for this incident, which was pivotal in the life of the RAMBAM. The Encyclopedia Judaica, 2nd ed (2007) states it ocurred in 1169. Joel Kraemer, in Maimonides: The Life and World of One of Civilizations' Greatest Minds, (2008) has provided two different calculations of the year.

One possibility is 1177: In a letter dated 1185 that Maimonides had written to a friend, Japheth ben Elijah, in Acre, he describes the terrible disaster of losing his brother 8 years before. (p. 255 and p. 545 note 46).

Another possibility is sometime just after 1169-1171, the probable time period that David wrote to the RAMBAM describing his upcoming voyage. (p. 252). However, Kraemer points out that perhaps this letter is describing a voyage prior to the ill-fated final voyage (p. 252).

David's trading business had supported the extended family. When David died, not only did the RAMBAM fall into a depression, but he also needed to find a new means of support (p. 257). He did not believe it was proper to earn a livelihood through his rabbinical duties. He instead devoted more time to his medical practice and became a renowned physician. At the same time he continued his illustrious scholarly career as a philosopher, jurist and community leader.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Mezuzot in Places of Business?

Does one install mezuzot on the doorways of one's business?

We do not answer questions of practical halakhah. I suggest that you consult with a halakhic authority.
For your own theoretical knowledge, I can tell you it seems that while the question appears to be dependent on an argument mentioned in the Babylonian Talmud (Yoma 11a), the present day consensus seems to be that mezuzot should be put up in places of business – though, possibly without the recital of the usual blessing. This is based on the opinion found in Yoma (ibid.) and subsequently codified in the Shulhan Arukh (Yoreh Deah, chpt. 286, paragraph 1) that warehouses (such as) for wine or oil are obligated in mezuzah. I saw this ruling expressed in the work Pithe Mezuzot by Yisakhar Hazan [(Betar Ilit : Yisakhar Hazan), 5766] both in his commentary on the Shulhan Arukh’s laws of mezuzah entitled Pithe Mezuzot (see chpt. 286, notes 9-11) and in his summary of the laws of mezuzah entitled Bet Mezuzah (see chpt. 8, p.205-208). The same opinion is also expressed in the work Shaare Mezuzah by Shemuel Yosef Shtitsburg [(Bet Shemesh : Shemuel Yosef Shtitsburg, 2008)] – see chpt.6 paragraph 1 and see note 1 (ibid.) where he references the Arukh ha-Shulhan (chpt. 286, paragraph 28 – see also Arukh ha-Shulhan, ibid. paragraph 4).

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia

Question: Please explain to me how to use the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, the critical edition of the Biblical text based on the Leningrad Codex.

Answer: I suggest you consult the following brief summary by Dr. Marc Brettler (Professor of Biblical Studies at Brandeis University) of how to use Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS). This 2-page guide is found on the Scholarly Bible Editions section of his home page. Limitations of Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia are summarized in Dr. William H. C. Propp’s Guide to Biblical Research, revised and updated by Dr. Jeffrey H. Tigay.

Some of the more complete guides to BHS mentioned by Brettler, Propp and Tigay are:

Scott, William R. A Simplified Guide to BHS: Critical Apparatus, Masora, Accents, Unusual Letters & Other Markings, 2nd ed. (1990) BS715 1977c

Wonneberger, Reinhard. Understanding BHS: A Manual For The Users of Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (1984). REF BS178 W582 1984

A more recent guide is: Kelley, P. et al. The Masorah of Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia: Introduction and Annotated Glossary (1998) BS718 K38 1998.

For broader reference: the JTS Library’s Research Guide to Jewish Studies: Bible identifies key texts, editions, commentaries, translations and reference books in the field of Biblical Studies.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

19th Century Rabbis

Question: Can you please recommend a resource that can quickly help me identify some of the rabbis in the towns of 19th century Europe. I would also like some biographical information about them.

Answer: I suggest you use זכרון לאחרונים Latter Day Leaders, Sages and Scholars Born Between Late 18th and Early 20th Century, compiled by Emanuel Rosenstein and Neil Rosenstein (1983). This "computerized bibliographic index, alphabetized by first name, surname and town" will list the rabbi's names, birth dates and death dates, and point you to biographical information in 10 different biographical dictionaries. Most of these biographical works were published in the late 18-hundreds and early 19-hundreds, providing contemporary information. Latter Day Leaders also includes rabbis active in the Western Hemisphere, Israel, Australia, and sections of Africa. It is available at the Reference Desk of the JTS Library; the biographical dictionaries are also available in the JTS Library.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Year of Sir Moses Montefiore's marriage

In what year did Sir Moses Montefiore marry his wife Judith?

According to the work Moses Montefiore : Jewish Liberator ; Imperial Hero by Abigail Green [Cambridge, MA : Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2010 - p.28], Moses Montefiore married Judith Barent-Cohen in 1812. Judith was an Ashkenazi whose father was a succesful merchant (ibid.). Both Moses and Judith were in their late twenties at the time of the marriage.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Number Of Women Ordained at JTS

We are often asked how many women have been ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary, or what percentage of the rabbinic graduates are women. The Rabbinical Assembly has provided the following statistics:

Please note that these totals reflect only JTS graduates, not rabbis ordained at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic studies (Los Angeles ), Schechter Rabbinical Seminary (in Jerusalem), or the Seminario Rabbinico Latinoamericano (in Buenos Aires).

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Jewish Communal Service Webliography

The Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary has added an annotated webliography on Jewish Communal Service and Jewish Public Administration to its Online Resources webpage. The webliography emphasizes sites with full-text articles and reports, authoritative statistics, comprehensive directories, traditional Jewish texts, and extensive bibliographies.

We invite our readers to submit suggestions for additions -- please submit them as comments to this blog entry.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Encyclopedia of Jewish Prayer

Question: I am researching various tefillot, and I need background information on each prayer, especially the relevant laws and traditions guiding the recitation of the prayers, and the differences between the Ashkenazi and Sefardi customs. The Encyclopedia Judaica and Jewish Encyclopedia do not have the details I need. What resource do you suggest?

Answer: The comprehensive Encyclopedia of Jewish Prayer (1993) by Macy Nulman provides this information for over 1300 individual Hebrew prayers. Nulman explains when and how the prayer is recited, specifies variations in the text, identifies the author (or attributed author), and provides a partial translation or information about the prayer's contents and meaning. Differences between various Ashkenaic and various Sephardic tradtions are also noted.

Although the entries are listed alphabetically according to their transliterated spellings, a Hebrew-language index of "first lines" is provided. A bibliography of additional resources for each prayer is also provided.

The Encyclopedia of Jewish Prayer is located in the Reserve section of The JTS Library at BM 660 N85 1993.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Online Audio Lectures on Judaism

Would you suggest some websites that contain online audio of lectures related to Judaism?

Here are some sites with online audio of lectures on Judaism. Most of these sites contain many free lectures.


I am sure that there are many other good sites out there. The readers of this blog are encouraged to "join the conversation" by listing other sites that they enjoy using.

You might also want to check out the "Audio Roundup" series on http://hirhurim.blogspot.com/. New online lectures are listed, linked to, and summarized. For an example, see here: http://hirhurim.blogspot.com/2010/06/audio-roundup-xcvii.html.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Mikraot Gedolot HaKeter on CD-ROM

Bar Ilan University has produced a CD-ROM version of Mikraot Gedolot HaKeter, based on the Aleppo Codex (the most accurate surviving text of the Tanakh) and early medieval manuscripts. Edited by Menachem Cohen, it provides much of the same content as his printed critical edition, which began publication in 1992 [located at Reference Oversize BS715 1992 in the JTS Library]. It includes the Tanakh, the Mikraot Gedolot commentaries, the mesorah, the vocalization and the cantillation.

The outstanding feature of the CD-ROM version is its searching capabilities. The Biblical text, the commentaries and the mesorah are all fully searchable--not only by Hebrew words, but also by vowels and ta'amim. This allows the researcher to retrieve all words with a particular pattern of vowel combinations, or all words with a particular pattern of trope notation.

The CD-ROM also provides additional functionalities, such as the Hebrew shoresh search option, a Keri/Ketiv list, and statistics of the numbers of verses, words and letters in the manuscript as a whole, and in its parts.

Ya'akov Aronson has written a detailed article outlining the contents of the printed and CD-ROM editions of Mikraot Gedolot HaKeter. Three instruction documents for the CD-ROM edition are available at the JTS Library's Reference Desk.

Quality images of the Aleppo Codex manuscript itself, along with background information, have been made available via the Ben Zvi Institute.

To access this unique CD-ROM resource, which is available on-site at the JTS Library, please contact the Reference staff at library@jtsa.edu or 212-678-8081

Monday, June 7, 2010

Hebrew Text of Prayer that References Pomegranates

I am looking for the Hebrew text of a certain prayer. It has something to do with asking God to grant us the opportunity to do as many mistvot (good deeds) as there are seeds in a pomegranate. Can you tell me the exact wording?

I believe you are referring to the prayer that is said while eating a pomegranate on the night of Rosh ha-Shanah: "May it be Your Will, Hashem, our God, and the God of our forefathers, that our merits increase as [the seeds of] a pomegranate". Here is the prayer in Hebrew, with nikud (vowel points), based on the text found in The Complete Artscroll Machzor : Rosh Hashanah [Brooklyn, NY : Mesorah, 1985 - p.98]:
יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְפָנֶיךָ ,ה' אֶלֹהֵינוּ וֵאלֹהֵי אַבוֹתֵינוּ ,שֶנִרְבֶּה ְזכֻיוֹת כְּרִמוֹן

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Articles in Festschriften or Jubilee Volumes

Question: I am trying to identify an article about dreams, and how they have inspired medieval Hebrew writers. A colleague believes it was published in the early part of the 20th century, in an "honorary volume", but he does not remember the author or any other information. How can I find it?

Answer: Most likely your colleague, using the term "honorary volume," is referring to a festschrift, a book of scholarly articles published in honor or in memory of a professor, a scholar, or an academic institution. A festschrift is sometimes called a "jubilee volume" or "sefer yovel".

Festschriften in Jewish studies published since approximately 1960 are systematically indexed in the web-based RAMBI Index of Articles on Jewish Studies. Access is by subject, author, and keywords from the article title.

Earlier Jewish studies festschriften have been indexed in two printed volumes: Charles Berlin's Index to Festschriften in Jewish Studies (1971) covering 243 publications from approximately 1936-1970, and Jacob R. Marcus' and Albert Bilgray's An Index to Jewish Festscriften (1937) covering 53 festschriften from the mid-1800's until 1936. Access to individual articles, in both volumes, is by author and subject.

Marcus and Bilgray also provide access by article title, and this leads us to what is probably the article you seek: "Dreams as a Cause of Literary Compositions", by Henry Malter, published in Studies in Jewish Literature Issued in Honor of Professor Kaufmann Kohler on the Occasion of His Seventieth Birthday (Berlin, 1913), p. 199-203.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Sheelot u-Teshuvot Besamim Rosh

On March 10, 2008 I posted, on the shortlived JTS library blog Mekorot, what was intended to be the first in a series of posts on the topic of "Rabbinic Forgeries". The Mekorot blog was later discontinued and the series was never completed. The new JTS library blog, The Takeaway, has a different format and I do not intend to continue the series. I do want to present a link to the original Mekorot blog post in case any one is interested in seeing it. Here it is: http://jtslibrary.wordpress.com/2008/03/10/rabbinic-forgeries-part-1/.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Cemetery Plots, Synagogues, Landsmanschaft Societies and NY State Law

Does JTS have information in the synagogue archives that will help me sell the unused cemetery plots that my grandparents purchased in 1937 through a synagogue which is no longer in existence (the Brooklyn Jewish Center). The cemetery is in Queens, I live in Georgia, and I am the only living descendent of my grandparents. The cemetery says that I do not have the right to sell the plots; only the (defunct) synagogue has that right.

Answer: JTS's Ratner Center Archives indeed holds archives of the Brooklyn Jewish Center and the archives other Conservative synagogues and their rabbis. This archive includes cemetery files, and partial records of deeds and plots.

However, there is a missing link: who can act on behalf of the defunct synagogue? Or does the law require the cemetery to purchase the plots directly from the grandson?

In this case, the New York State Department of State, Division of Cemeteries can handle the situation. According to their Cemetery Bulletin, the lot owner must offer to sell the lot back to the cemetery at the original purchase price plus 4 percent simple interest per annum.

We'd like to thank the Community Association for At-Risk Jewish Cemeteries (CAJAC) for assisting with this query.

For families needing to handle other cemetery plot issues, including arranging permission for a burial in cases where the plots were purchased early in the 20th century through a no-longer-extant landsmanschaft group, we suggest you contact the Office of Miscellaneous Estates, in the Liquidation Bureau of the New York State Insurance Department 212-341-6400.

As this New York Times article explains, the Office of Miscellaneous Estates quickly untangles the legalities and acts as a surrogate for the now-defunct landsmaschaft societies to settle issues regarding burials and cemetery plots--permitting a timely burial.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Document of Conversion to Judaism

Question: I would like to know what a teudat giyur (a document issued by a rabbinic court testifying to someone's conversion to Judaism) looks like. Can you recommend a book that would contain an example of such a document?

Answer: An example of a teudat giyur is found in the work Gerut ke-hilkhatah by Shemuel Eliezer Shtern on p.86-87 [Bene Beraḳ : Mekhon Mayim ḥayim, 1998 - BM729.P7 S8 1998]. Various conversion related teudot are also found in vol.2, p.J-39 – J-70 of the Conservative movement’s Moreh Derekh [New York : The Rabbinical Assembly, 758, 1998 - BM676 .M66 1998].

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Israel Najara's Piyut Yaarat Dvash יערת דבש

Question: "Youtube has a rousing and exquisite version" of the piyyut Yaarat Dvash יערת דבש with Moshe Haboucha singing and playing the oud. This piyyut is so compelling, I would like to find more information about it, and its author Israel Najara.

Detailed information about this piyyut is available in Hebrew on the outstanding "Invitation to Piyut" website. It provides the piyut text, photos of the text from a manuscript and early printings, word-by-word commentary on the text, short essays on its meaning and poetic art, and a biography of Najara. Click the MELODIES and MORE RENDITIONS buttons to hear 10 different recordings of this piyyut in the Algerian, Babylonian [Iraqi] and Moroccan traditions. Click on NOTES to retrieve the score of the melody in the Babylonian tradition. A background article on the poetry and piyutim of the Babylonian Jewish community is also available.

The Thesaurus of Jewish Music, from the Hebrew University, provides links to a series of biographical articles about Najara in English, and web-based recordings of other Najara piyyutim .

Many Hebrew articles about Najara and his writings are listed in RAMBI, by searching for נגארה as the subject.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Scholarly/Critical Edition of RaMBaM's Mishneh Torah

Question: Can you suggest a scholarly/critical edition of RaMBaM's Mishneh Torah?

Answer: The Shabse Frenkel edition of the Mishneh Torah [Nyu Yorḳ : Ḳehilat Bene Yosef, 1975-], is complete and has extensive textual variants listed on the side of the page and, especially, in the back of the volume. The RaMBaM Meduyak [Maʻaleh Adumim : Hotsaʾa Shilat, 2004 -], edited by Yitshak Shilat, is devoted to producing a critical “meduyak” edition of the Mishneh Torah. I do not believe it has been completed yet. However, a good number of volumes have been done already and it may be completed soon.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Torah Scroll Preservation

Question: I am putting together a storage cabinet in which our small congregation will store its Torah between services, since we do not have a permanent shul. Can you tell me what optimal storage conditions for parchment are.
Answer: The most important considerations for storing a Torah scroll, as far as preservation is concerned, are constant temperature and constant humidity. Changes in temperature and humidity will cause the parchment and ink to contract and expand, and the parchment will contract/expand at a different rate from that of the ink--resulting in the ink separating from the parchment.
The optimal temperature is 70 degrees F; optimal humidity is 55%.
Also, the scroll should not be exposed to light, as light would cause the ink to fade.

Monday, April 26, 2010

What are the "fifty levels of defilement"?

Question: I have heard that there is a Jewish concept known as the "fifty levels of defilement". Would you recommend a source that would name and explain these "levels of defilement"?

Answer: The tumah (ritual impurity or defilement) caused by a corpse and other impurities is divided in halakhah (Jewish law) into only six levels. My colleague, Ina Rubin Cohen, suggested that you are referring to the "fiftieth gate of tumah" that the Jews would have descended to had they remained in Egypt a moment longer then they had (see, for example, the Bible commentary Or ha-Hayim, by Rabbi Hayim ibn Atar, on Exodus 3:7 s.v. va-yomer Hashem ra’oh raiti). This concept of tumah is not a halakhic one related to ritual impurity, but rather a kabbalistic one that uses the term "tumah" to indicate sin and estrangement from God. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sefirot#Latent_interinclusion_of_the_Sephirot, where it discusses the concept of 49 gates of holiness that correspond with the counting of the Omer. The holiday of Shavuot represents the fiftieth gate of holiness that encompasses the other 49. In kabbalistic thought what exists on the side of holiness is mirrored on the side of impurity. Hence, the Jews had descended to the 49th gate of impurity in Egypt. Had they remained any longer they would have fallen to the fiftieth and been lost. Through the redemption from Egypt and improving themselves during the 49 days between leaving Egypt and receiving the Torah on Mt. Sinai they merited to leave the 49 gates of impurity and ascend through the 49 gates of holiness. On the fiftieth day they received the Torah. During the counting of the Omer we reenact this process every year. A good book for introducing kabbalistic concepts is Innerspace by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan [Jerusalem : Moznaim, 1990].

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Midrash Yelamdeinu

Question: Where can I find the Hebrew text of
מדרש ילמדנו (מאן) ילקוט תלמוד תורה - פרשת בהעלתך
Midrash Yelamdeinu, Yalkut Talmud Torah, Parshat Beha'alotecha
The citation I have states that it was published as the "Mann edtition", in Cincinnati, 1940. No other details are provided.

Answer: This midrash was published in volume 2 of The Bible As Read and Preached in the Old Synagogue, by Jacob Mann. Although this book appears to be in English, both volumes include extensive Hebrew sections with the texts of midrashim. Volume 1 was published in 1940; Volume 2, published in 1966, includes this midrash on Bamidbar, Parshat Beha'alotecha. This chapter is entitled:
ילקוט תלמוד תורה לבמדבר ודברים
At JTS, this book is in the Reference and Main collections at BM 660 M3.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Books Containing Photographs of Torah Scripts

Question: Would you suggest some works that contain photo-reproductions of scripts used in Torah scrolls? I am trying to learn about the various scribal styles used in Torah scrolls throughout the world and in various time periods.

Answer: Dr. Jay Rovner, the library's Manuscript Bibliographer, made the following suggestions:

- Muʻalem, Shelomoh. Sefer Yeriʻot Shelomoh : kolel pisḳe dinim be-hilkhot Sefer Torah, tefilin u-mezuzah : ʻim beʾur Śefat ha-yeriʻah : tsiyunim u-meḳorot u-maśa u-matan be-divre ha-posḳim, rishonim ṿe-aḥaronim ʻad aḥarone zemanenu ʻal ha-halakhot sheba-sefer [Bene Beraḳ : Sh. Muʻalem, 755 (1995)]. BM659.S3 M83 1995

- Perets, Mikhaʾel ben Yosef. Masoret tsurat ha-otiyot : kollel tsurat ha-otiyot, gedrehen ve-hilkhotahen, pesakim ha-keshurim le-otiyot ha-shonot, halakhot kalaliyot ha-kedoshim le-S.T.M. [Yerushalayim : Hotsaat "ha-Mekhon le-heker ha-halakhah veha-musar : Yerid ha-Sefarim, 755 (1994 ot 1995)]. BM659.S3 P47 1995

- Kohen, Aharon. Masoret ha-otiyot : Sefer Mishmeret ha-emet. [Yerushalayim : n.p., 761 (2000 or 2001)]. BM659.S3 K8 2001

- O svitku = Form of the scroll : [katalog k výstavě konané v Galerii Roberta Guttmanna Židovského muzea v Praze od 22. června do 26. července 2006]. [V Praze : Židovské muzeum, 2006]. OVERSIZE BM657.T6 O22 2006

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Lower East Side Synagogues

Question: We are attempting to locate a source identifying synagogues and temples no longer functioning or destroyed, in the lower east side of New York City.

Answer: Joyce Mendelsohn's guidebook, The Lower East Side Remembered and Revisited: History and Guide to a Legendary New York Neighborhood (2001) identifies some of the synagogues which are no longer functioning. Oscar Israelowitz's Guide to the Lower East Side mentions both former and "current" (in 1991) synagogues in walking-tour format.

You could compare these brief lists with the extensive lists of synagogues in the American Jewish Yearbooks of 1899/1900 and 1907/1908 [see the "Directory of Local Organizations" section]. The Yearbook volumes list synagogues (and their addresses, rabbis, and officers, activities) in existence at the time of publication. Another extensive list of synagogues, dating from 1917/18, is in the Jewish Communal Register of New York City (1919).
In addition, you may be interested in David Kaufman's "Constructions of Memory: the Synagogues of the Lower East Side" in Remembering the Lower East Side: American Jewish Reflections, edited by Hasia Diner et. al. (2000), p. 113-136.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Seder Kiddush Score

Where can I find the score (notated music) of the seder kiddush?

The score of the seder kiddush is available in The Songs of the Haggadah, compiled and edited by Cantor Binyamin Glickman (Tara Publications, 1977) p. 2. [Oversize MB 695 P3 S545 1977 in the JTS Music Library]

It is also in Seder Melodies (a booklet accompanying Celebrate With Song: Holiday Melodies, Music of Israel), compiled and edited by Velvel Pasternak and Richard Neumann (Board of Jewish Education of Greater New York and Tara Publications, 1977) p. 4 [KIT 19, and M2079.5 .S52 1982 in the JTS Music Library].

Monday, March 22, 2010

Lomdut, Pilpul, and the Brisker Method of Talmud Study

Question: Would you suggest some resources in English that would provide an introduction to the Talmudic study methodologies that are referred to as "lomdut", "pilpul", and (especially) the "Brisker derekh (method)"?

Answer: Here are some resources that might be of assistance:
- The Analytic Movement : Hayyim Soloveitchik and his circle / by Norman Solomon [Atlanta, Ga. : Scholars Press, c1993].
- Contemporary Halakhic Problems / by J. David Bleich [New York : Ktav, 1977- ]. In volume 5, Rabbi Bleich (p.xi-xxxvi) provides a lengthy introduction regarding the role “lomdut” plays in the halakhah.
- Iyun be-Lomdut / by Yitzchak Adler [New York : Y. Adler (182-11 Henley Rd., Jamaica Estates 11432), 1989]. This book is mostly in Hebrew but it has an English section that illustrates some of the methodology.
- Wikipedia article on the Brisker method: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brisker_method (there are links at the end of the article to articles on this topic found on other websites).
- Important article on the Brisker method: http://www.yutorah.org/_shiurim/%2FTU9_Lichtenstein.pdf.
- Discussion of the study methodology used in Yeshivat Telz and a comparison with other methodologies: http://www.aishdas.org/rygb/telshe.htm and http://www.aishdas.org/rygb/derachim.htm.
- Article from the Jewish Encyclopedia on “pilpul”: http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=318&letter=P&search=memorizing.
- Article from Wikipedia on "pilpul": http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pilpul.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Online Hebrew Manuscripts and Rare Books

QUESTION: Can I see images of JTS Hebrew manuscripts and rare books via the Internet?


1. The Library's Events, Exhibitions and Programs webpage provides access to both Current Exhibitions and Past Exhibitions (still available via the Internet). Click on the exhibition title highlighted in red to view each exhibition. This will provide you with images of the manuscripts along with explanations of their significance. Be sure to see the remarkable exhibit JTS Library Treasures ~~ An online visit to The Library's Rare Book Room featuring the Maimonides fragments, the Prato Haggadah, Cairo Genizah fragments and more!

2. Additional digitized materials are available via Search the Digital Collections on The Library's webpage. In addition to selected manuscripts, rare books, Ketubot and wedding poems, these collections also include rare music scores, audio files, portraits, bookplates, early American Jewish pamphlets, 19th century newspaper articles about Jews in the US, and more.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Constantine P. Cavafy's poetry in Hebrew Translation

Question: I am interested in obtaining the poetry of Constantine P. Cavafy (also known as Konstantinos Petrou Kavafis) in Hebrew translation. I am especially interested in his poems "Ithaca" and "Of the Jews". Has his work been translated into Hebrew?

Answer: Constantine P. Cavafy (April 29, 1863 – April 29, 1933) was a poet of Greek origin who lived in Alexandria, Egypt. For more information on him, see here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constantine_Cavafy. A translation of Cafavy's poems into Hebrew was done by Yoram Bronowski and published under the title Kol ha-Shirim : 1891-1933 by Carmel Publishing House in 1993 (ISBN: 9654070502). The book can be purchased here: http://www.magnespress.co.il/website_en/index.asp?id=2772#aaa. Cafavy's’ poem “Ithaca” is available online in Hebrew translation here: http://www.raz-ram.org/poetry-ithaca1.htm.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Castelferrus: Holocaust Documentation in JTS's French Archives

Question: A lawyer requested World War II documentation of Jewish residents in Castelferrus, a remote village of Vichy France, in connection with a reparations application.

Answer: The French Jewish Community Records, one of the archival collections held in the JTS Library, includes census records, by department and town, from Vichy France in 1941. The documents state that 25 Jewish families were in Castelferrus on May 27, 1941; an earlier census does not list any Jewish families at this location.

Request: If any readers of this blog can provide additional information about Jews in Castelferrus during World War II, we would appreciate it if you would post it as a comment.

Strategy: We have not found mention of any Jewish population in the remote and sparsely populated town of Castelferrus in published books or articles. However, this location is listed in Zosa Szajkowski's Analytical Franco Jewish Gazetteer, 1935-1945 . The index entry for Castelferrus in the Gazetteer notes that this location is "(cs,r)" p. 301, which means it is a site where a census of Jews was taken, and a site where relief was distributed. The Castelferrus entry refers to archives at JTS and Yad Vashem for census data, without any other specifics.

An Inventory to the French Jewish Communities Record Group 1648-1946 [at the Jewish Theological Seminary], by Roger S. Kohn (1991) has been helpful in locating the census documentation. Although the Inventory does not list Castelferrus in its index, its date index refers to a few sets of documents from a May 27 1941 census of Jews, and from an earlier census.

All the items listed in the Inventory are readily available on microfilm at the JTS Library. Most of the census documents are handwritten; a few are typed. Each page lists villages by department, although not all French departments are included. Three different pages exist for the Tarn-et-Garonne department; two of these pages list Castelferrus.

For each village listed, the number of Jews (or number of Jewish families) is stated. The names of the local rabbi, mohel, shochet, or other official (such as a notary or Jewish scouts contact), some with an address, are also listed for many of the villages.

The census later facilitated the arrest and deportation of the Jews.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Where is the Jewish Music?

Question: When I visited the JTS Library I noticed the vinyl records on display, but I didn't see any CDs or cassette tapes. How can I find those recordings?

Answer: The JTS Library houses over 1000 CDs of Jewish music, as well as many hundreds of audio cassette tapes, vinyl records and other recordings. Most of the these recordings must be identified via the ALEPH catalog, since they are not stored in a public area.

At the BASIC SEARCH page type the keywords: sound, CD (or cassette) and any other desired specifications: composer, performer, title of album, type of music (e.g. children's, passover, synagogue, sephardic, dance, or tenor) -- other possibilities are available here .

The results list will provide you with the CD number for each recording; please ask Library staff to retrieve that recording for you. CDs can be borrowed by those readers with book-borrowing priviledges; all Library users can listen to the recordings in the Library's AV room.

For additional details on how to find audio recordings in the ALEPH catalog, including seaching for Hebrew song-titles, see our Research Guides to Jewish Studies: Jewish Music .

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


What is the origin of the term "Haredim?" From where did it originate, and when did it start being used in the way in which it currently is used? Also, is there a formal distinction between the term "Haredi" and the designation "ultra-Orthodox?"

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Request for Information about the "Synagogue Rescue Project"

The following question was received at the JTS library:

I would like to find more information on the Synagogue Rescue Project. An organization that existed in the 1970s which gathered Judaica objects (including Torah scrolls) from abandoned and deserted synagogues in and around NY. I would like to know who founded this organization and how long it existed.

We invite any readers of the blog who have information on this organization to "join the conversation" by posting the information in our "comments" section. Thank you.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Isaac Davidson Hebrew School

Question: I would like information about one of Baltimore's early Hebrew schools - the Isaac Davidson Hebrew School. When did it open and who was it named for?

Answer: According to the work Jewish Baltimore : A Family Album by Gilbert Sandler [Baltimore : The Johns Hopkins University Press in association with the Jewish Museum of Maryland, 2000], the Isaac Davidson Hebrew School opened on October 4, 1925 (Sandler, p.134). The school was located on Shirley Avenue between Park Heights Avenue and Reisterstown Road (ibid., p.130). The Isaac Davidson Hebrew School was named for a German-born businessman who was interested in assisting Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. Davidson immigrated to the United States in 1869 and started a furniture business in Baltimore in 1884. Mr. Davidson died the same year that the Hebrew school opened but there are no records that state why his name was chosen for the school (ibid., p.135-136). There is much more information relating to the Isaac Davidson Hebrew School and the history of the Jews in Baltimore in Sandler's book.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Question: My elderly neighbor tells me his grandfather was an actor in the Yiddish theatre around the turn of the previous century. He'd like to find out if anything was written about his grandfather's career.

Answer: We suggest he check the Leksikon Fun Yidishn Teater [Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre], compiled and edited by Zalmen Zylbercwaig (1931-1969). It's 6 volumes attempt to provide biographical entries on actors, singers, writers and all those involved in the Yiddish theatre, in all geographic areas. The entries range from one paragraph to many pages in length. Many entries include a bibliography listing newspaper and magazine articles. The Lexikon is in Yiddish.

The New York Public Library has compiled a Cumulative Index of names [in Yiddish] to all the Lexikon's volumes. Here is a more complete description of this reference work.

Jewishgen.org has compiled two name indexes, transliterated into the Roman alphabet, of Zylbercwaig's works: this is a name index to vol. 5 of his Leksikon, and this is a name index to his Album of the Yiddish Theatre (1937)

There is no comprehensive Yiddish theater biographical dictionary written in English. However, English readers interested in the Yiddish theater may enjoy the following resources:

Vagabond Stars: A World History of Yiddish Theater by Nahma Sandrow (1977)
Yiddish Theatre: New Approaches edited by Joel Berkowitz (2003)
Jewish Theatre: A Global View edited by Edna Nahshon (2009)

An article about the Yiddish theater from the Encyclopedia Judaica is available via jewishvirtuallibrary.org

All About Jewish Theatre provides research materials, as well as current news in the world of Jewish performing arts.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Political and Social Action in the Conservative Movement

Question: Multiple researchers recently requested documentation of the Conservative movement’s political and social action on national and international public issues from the 1930’s to the 1960’s. Their interest concerned not only rabbinic action, but also activities of the lay leadership.

Answer: Most well-known is Dr. Abraham Heschel’s public support of the civil rights movement demonstrated by his marching arm-in-arm with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma Alabama in 1965. In March 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered an address at the Rabbinical Assembly convention, which is transcribed along with the associated discussion in the 1968 Proceedings of the Rabbincal Assembly. Heschel eulogized King at his funeral in April 1968, and then Coretta Scott King delivered an address at a memorial service for Heschel in 1972. More information about Heschel's and King's relationship is available at: A Journey Among Leaders.

A wealth of information has been published in the "Resolutions" and "Committee Reports" sections of the Proceedings of: the Rabbinical Assembly, the United Synagogue and the Women’s League of Conservative Judaism.


In the Proceedings of the Rabbinical Assembly, published annually almost each year since 1927, a sampling of the public affairs issues included are: civil rights, nuclear proliferation, conscientious objectors, unions and labor issues. An index to 1927-2000 Proceedings provides limited access to public affairs issues. For example, the following list of entries concerns civil rights; but please note that there is relevant content in the Proceedings that this Index will not retrieve--for example, the Resolutions entries for the earlier volumes do not specify the political issues covered.

King, Coretta Scott. “Black-Jewish Relations,” 49 (1987): 57–60.
King, Jr., Martin Luther. “Address and Discussion,” delivered at the 1968 convention. Also published in Conservative
, Vol. 22, 3, Spring 1968.
Ofseyer, Jordan S. “In Memory of Martin Luther King, Jr.,” 49 (1987): 61–65.
Shapiro, Alexander M. “The Future of Black-Jewish Relations,” 47 (1985): 15–20.
Young, Andrew. “The Future of Black-Jewish Relations,” 47 (1985): 3–11.
“Discussion: The Future of Black-Jewish Relations,” Andrew Young, 47 (1985): 11–14.

Conservative Judaisim (the journal published by the Rabbinical Assembly from 1945 to the present) includes a number of relevant articles; for example:
"The Rabbi's Involvement in Social Issues" by Rabbi Sidney Shanken (Spring/Summer 1963) p. 49
"To Birmingham and Back" by Rabbi Andre Ungar (Fall 1963) p. 1
"The Jew and the Negro: The Jew of the South in the Conflict on Segregation" by W. S. Malev (Fall 1958), p. 35; letters and replies were published in this issue and subsequent issues.

An index to articles in Conservative Judaism, 1945-2000 is available via The Internet.

Recent political and social activity by the Rabbinical Assembly is documented at their website


The following publications about and by the Women's League include much material about the League's social action activities:

Women's League Outlook (a magazine) was published 1930-1970. For example, the December 1951 issue has a full page detailing activities of the Social Action committee, including a message sent to Truman and top congressional leaders about civil rights, civil liberties and the United Nations. In addition, this issue includes highlights from the national Women's League Social Action Conference held in 1951.

Proceedings of the Biennial Convention (of the Women's League) includes a great detail of social action content, including speeches, committee reports and resolutions. For example, the 1950-52 resolutions concern civil liberties, immigration, federal aid to education, religion in the public schools, the Senate Cloture Rule, Point IV Program (foreign policy), the United Nations, genocide, disarmament, Israel and Germany. The JTS Library has volumes from 1950- 1977.

Our library holds three histories of the Women's League: They Dared To Dream (1967), The Sixth Decade (1978), and 75 Years of Vision and Voluntarism (1992). All of them include social action content.

Current social and political activity of the Women's League is documented on their website


United Synagogue has its own social action group, and also a Joint Comission on Social Action with the Rabbinical Assembly. Some social action content is in A History of the United Synagogue of America 1913-1963 by Abraham Karp (1964)

The Proceedings of the Biennial Conventions of United Synagogue of America (volumes from 1950-1977) include reports of the social action committes, and social action resolutions. Some of the topics covered are: personal freedom and the McCarren Act, world peace, civil liberties and civil rights, immigration, integration in the schools, nuclear testing, the genocide convention, the war against poverty, and Vietnam.

United Synagogue Review, a magazine published by United Synagogue aimed at all synagogue members, included articles on the following topics in the 1950's-1960's: civil disobedience, prejudice, Vietnam, civil rights, and the American tax system.

Recent political and social activity by the United Synagogue is documented at their website.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Hebrew rhyming dictionaries?

Question: I am searching for a Hebrew language rhyming dictionary. Can you be of assistance?

Answer: You might try ha-Milon ha-Shalem la-Haruze Lashon by Aryeh Uri'el (Giv'atayim : Oranit, 1997) or Haruzim le-khol et : ha-milon ha-Ivri la-harizah (note the word “et” in the title is spelled “ayin tet” as opposed to “ayin tav”)by Etan Avne'on (Israel : Etav, 2001). If you search for a word in the Rav Milim online dictionary of the Hebrew language, there is a tab entitled “harizah” that allows you to see all the words that rhyme with your chosen word. The Rav Milim dictionary is available as a subscription online resource through the library’s website.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Question: My grandmother used to tell me about female vocalists who performed synagogue music on the stage in the decades of yesteryear, in the earlier half of the 20th century. Who were these women and what phenomenon was my grandmother reminiscing about?

Answer: Your grandmother was probably referring to the Khazntes, observant women who became popular performers of Jewish liturgical music. They attracted large audiences on the secular and Jewish stage: resorts, Yiddish musicals, night-club cabarets, formal concert halls, radio broadcasts and even the Ed Sullivan Show. They were most active during the "Golden Age" of the cantorate, especially from the 1930's and even up until the 1960's. Many of these women were from families of the great cantors; other were from families involved in the Yiddish theatre.

Two excellent articles on the Khazntes were published in the Fall 2007 issue of the Journal of Synagogue Music (vol. 32):

The Khazntes — The Life Stories of Sophie Kurtzer, Bas Sheva, Sheindele the Khaznte, Perele Feig, Goldie Malavsky andFraydele Oysher" by Arianne Brown (p. 51-79)

"Kol Ishah--An Analysis of the 'Khazntes' Phenomenon" by Hayley Kobilinsky Poserow (p. 80 - 99).

Both articles are available via the Internet on the Cantors Assembly website , where volumes 1-34 (1967-2009) of the Journal of Synagogue Music are freely available to the public.

The Cantors Assembly has also digitized the Proceedings of their annual conventions (most years from 1947 to 2008), and Words About Music , newsletter articles by Hazzan Samuel Rosenbaum. The full text of all of these resources are searchable via the PDF search engine.

These excellent resources include articles about hazzanut, Jewish music and liturgy, in addition to notated music. The Journal of Synagogue Music and the Proceedings of the Cantors Assembly are also available in printed format in the Music Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Monday, January 25, 2010

You do recognize this story!

On 12/30/2009 a query was posted on this blog requesting help in locating a certain short story dealing with boys playing draydel on Hanukah (see: http://jtslibrarytakeaway.blogspot.com/2009/12/do-you-recognize-this-story.html). The patron who had sent the query was trying to locate the story but could only remember parts of the story's plot, not the story's title and author. As the librarians here were unable to be of assistance, I posted the query on this blog and on the listserv of the Association of Jewish Libraries in the hopes of receiving the needed information.

I was contacted separately by a Ms. Faith Jones and a Ms. Rose Myers who both knew the story we were looking for - "Dos dreydl" by Sholom Aleichem (1859-1916). Ms. Jones also provided the following link to an index of Sholom Aleichem's stories: http://yiddish.haifa.ac.il/SholAley/indices.pdf. The index lists where the stories were published and includes a listing of English translations of the stories. According to the index, "Dos Dreydl" was published in English translation on three occasions. The titles of the books that contain the translation are as follows:

- Jewish Children [New York : Knopf, 1920,1922,1926; Bloch, 1937] under the title “The Spinning Top”
- Some Laughter, Some Tears [New York, Putnam, 1968] under the title “The Dreydl”
- Holiday Tales of Sholem Aleichem [New York, Scribner’s, 1979] under the title “Benny’s Luck”

I passed the information on to the patron and he was very pleased.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Palestine Post As A Mandate-Era Primary Resource

I need primary source material for a paper I am writing on social conditions in Palestine during the British Mandate. Can you recommend any resources that are in English?

I suggest you use the Palestine Post, the daily newspaper published in Jerusalem from 1932 to1950. (In 1950 the newspaper's name changed to the Jerusalem Post, and it is still being published today).

Sample headlines of Mandate era articles on your topic are:

School for Backward Children; Petah Tikva Sets An Example (Thursday March 8, 1945, p. 4)

Palestine's Most Recent Import: Agricultural Clubs (Friday March 30, 1945, p. 8)

Daily Milk Ration For Children (Sunday, November 28, 1948, p. 1)

Food Sense For Mothers (Tuesday July 13, 1948, p. 4)

Education Bill Rouses Stormy Knesset Debate (Wed. Sept 7, 1949, p. 1)

The Kibbutz Struggles To Preserve Unity (Monday October 31, 1949 p. 2)

The JTS Library has 1948-1950 issues available on microfilm.
The New York Public Library Jewish Division has 1932-1950 issues available on microfilm.

The issues from 1932-1950 are available on the Internet, at no charge, from the Historical Jewish Press section of the Hebrew University Library's website. The articles in these issues are searchable by keyword and browsable by date.

Kitsur SMaK? - No! Kitsur SMaG!

Last week a question was posted on this blog requesting information regarding an abridgement of the SMaK done by a Christian Hebraist (see post entitled: Kitsur SMaK? - Monday, January 4, 2010). A reader known as “Manuscriptboy” posted a helpful response. He wrote: “See Avraham Yosef Havatselet's article, 'Kitzur ha-Semag le-mi?', Moriah 16, 5-6 (1988), pp. 34-40.” I consulted Manuscriptboy’s citation and learnt that a translation of an abridgement of Moses ben Jacob of Coucy's (13th cent.) Sefer Mitsvot Gadol (also known by the abbreviation: SMaG) was done by a Christian Hebraist. I contacted the patron who had made the original request for information. I wrote as follows:

I looked in the referenced article and saw that the Kitsur SMaG was first published in Basel in 293 (1533). This 1533 edition was published by a Christian by the name of Sebastian Minster [sic] who also translated the work into Latin and added an introduction. Havatselet does not believe that Minster [sic] actually wrote the original. He feels that Minster [sic] translated an MS that may have been written by a Jew. Notwithstanding the assertion made in your original email not to confuse the Kitsur SMaK with the Kitsur SMaG, is it possible that the introduction you are looking for is in reality that which Minster [sic] published with the Kitsur SMaG?

The patron wrote back that this translation of an abridgement of the SMaG may indeed be what he is looking for and he will attempt to examine it. Later, a reader named Yakov Shafranovich posted the following response on the blog:

You might be referring to: "Mitsvot haTorah - Catalogus omnium praeceptorum legis Mosaicae quae ab Hebraeis" It was translated into Latin and published by Sebastian Munster in 1533 in Basel. However, that is a translation of the Smag, not the Smak.

Shafranovich has, helpfully, supplied us with the proper spelling of Munster’s name and the title of the work he published. I would like to thank Manuscriptboy and Yakov Shafranovich for their assistance.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Kitsur SMaK?

The following question was received at the library’s reference email:

The Kitzur Sma"k (which I'm sure you won't confuse with the Kitzur Sma"g) was compiled by a Christian Hebraist, and for that reason is of no interest to Jews and is not found in any university library that I have been able to find in Israel, nor in yours, Oxford's, Harvard's, nor in the Bibliothèque nationale de France -- at least as far as I can tell by internet. I once saw its Latin introduction, in which the author requests (unlike every other author I have ever seen) that if the reader finds anything objectionable, he should blame not the author, but his (Jewish) source. I would like to quote this, but cannot find the book anywhere. Do you know where it is? Can you at least tell me the name of its author?

The reference appears to be to a book that summarizes Isaac ben Joseph of Corbeil’s 13th century work on the commandments. Isaac ben Joseph’s original work is entitled Amude Golah or Sefer Mitsvot Katan (and is often referred to by the latter title’s acronym: SMaK). The librarians here have, so far, been unable to identify a work that attempts to summarize the SMaK. We would like to put this question to all the readers of this blog in the hope that someone may have the needed information. Is there anyone out there who can identify the author and exact title of the referenced work? Does anyone know of a library that owns this item?