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: 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: 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?