Friday, December 23, 2011

Orphange Sermons: Christian Missionaries are Like Nimrod, Haman and Philip II

When I started at Ohio State a few years ago, for my first quarter, instead of teaching, I was assigned to do research for one of the professors for a book on the Ohio Soldiers and Sailors Orphanage in Xenia, OH. This orphanage, which operated until 1997, was originally founded to service the children of Civil War veterans. Most of the boys and girls who passed through were not actually orphans, but adolescents and teenagers from troubled homes, whose parents were not able to take care of them. This project led to many afternoons and evenings looking through back issues of the Xenia Gazette from the 1880s. It is amazing the sort of things you learn from such a paper such as the health benefits of blood thinner, why it would not be appropriate for the widow of a deceased senator to take her husband's seat and that poverty and crime would disappear if only the consumption of alcohol were made illegal. In terms of civil rights, I would summarize the newspaper's attitude as follows: the negro is naturally deceitful, lazy and prone to crime and we would never actually want him in our schools and neighborhoods. But because he is such lowly pathetic creature it is incumbent upon Christian society to aid him and it is absolutely detestable what those treasonous southerners are doing to him. Think of this as Victorian liberal paternalistic racism.

There was also quite a bit about the orphanage. For example the paper printed the departing sermon given by the orphanage head, who apparently lost his job to a political appointee. The next head did not last long as it was discovered that he was carrying on an "inappropriate" relationship with one of the girls. There are reports of children running away; this is blamed on the children reading too many adventure novels. (Amazing how children managed to get themselves into trouble without the aid of television.) One kid, whose father was on death row, ran off to Columbus and somehow managed to make friends with the governor, who commuted the father's sentence. The father killed someone in a drunken brawl thus the moral lesson to be learned from the story is that alcohol can send you to the gallows, but a robust liberal reform of the penal system and having a child who is friends with the governor may just save your life.   

More recently in my work here at Kline's I came across a two volume collection of sermons by Hermann Baar, the superintendent of the Hebrew Orphan Asylum in New York from this same period. As you can see, a major part of Victorian era theory of moral reform was that children needed a good sermon to teach them useful values so that they could get out of poverty. To be fair to Baar he makes a point that "it is natural for children to become impatient when listening to elaborate and extended sermons."

One of Baar's major concerns, working with impoverished immigrant children, was that they would become targets for missionaries and devoted a sermon to the topic:

My children, no nation in the world had to encounter so many Nimrods as ours. From Haman, the Amalekite, to Philip II of Spain, our people were hunted down, on account of their creed, by fire, sword, and social degradation, and if you ask history, it will inform you that the instigators of such wicked crimes usually try to cloak and to palliate their malicious acts by the sophisticated argument that it was done for the honor of God.

There is, however, another class of "hunters before the Lord," who, I am sorry to say, with bad taste and shameless audacity make it their profession, either by bribery or by the promise of lucrative positions, to allure persons from the inherited faith of their fathers. These men, known under the name of "conversionists," apply all their zeal and energy in behalf of their object of drawing over unprincipled and weak-minded individuals to another creed. I warn you against such Nimrods, my children, whose aim it is to make converts in honor of God. Should they in the future venture to approach you, remember that your religion, which has stood the test of centuries and past ages, and for which your fathers lived, died, and sacrificed everything they possessed, is the highest revelation of God's truth on earth. (Addresses on Homely and Religious Subjects: Delivered Before the Children of the Hebrew Orphan Asylum Vol. I pg. 2-3.)

Baar was not completely hostile to Christians. In another sermon, he praised Christianity for having made contributions to civilization alongside Judaism.

Mankind is indebted to the Jewish nation for many blessings that have civilized the human race. The Jews have at first fostered and cultivated the the religious thought; they have ever led an active and laborious life; they have been at all times at the head of our financial and mercantile enterprises, and have shown in all ages an inborn taste for music and its refining and ennobling charms. The Christian world has equally contributed much for the improvement and advancement of society at large. It has been the custodian of the most precious manuscripts; it has invented printing, and thus raised the intellectuality of man's mind; it has made science applicable to practical life; it has opened to us fresh sources of pleasure and delight in the realms of poetry and fiction, and has laid down new modes and methods of teaching for our educational aims and ends. (Vol. I pg. 223-24.) 

On this topic of dealing with children from troubled backgrounds, I do find it interesting to note the shift in the societal response and that it goes against the generally perceived view of how social thought has evolved over the past century. In the nineteenth century, the general view was to place such children in workhouses and orphanages like the Soldiers and Sailors Orphanage and the Hebrew Orphan Asylum. To be fair to both of these institutions, they were most certainly better run and more humane than the Charles Dickens caricature. Despite their paternalism, Victorian era social reformers do not get enough credit for creating a system that was successful at allowing people to work their way out of poverty. The modern attitude to such children is to place them in foster homes where they can receive something resembling normal family life. In the case of the Ohio Soldiers and Sailors Orphanage, the institution was closed based on the conscious decision by the State to support the foster home system instead. I am inclined to think that this is progress. If the philosophy of our era is, as conservatives like to complain, to breakdown the family and replace it with big government then is why is there no movement to "standardize" childcare and put children into group homes instead of the reverse trend we see.       

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Reform Rabbi Defends the Sabbath

Rabbi Isaac Schwab (1840-1907) was a student of Rabbi Abraham Samuel Benjamin Sofer (Ktav Sofer) at the Yeshiva of Pressburg in Hungry before getting a doctoral degree in Germany and becoming a Reform rabbi in the United States. He served in Portland OR, Evansville IN and Williamsburg NY (long before it was a hotbed for Satmar) before becoming rabbi in St. Joseph MO. His introduction to The Sabbath in History testifies to the lack of Sabbath observance among nineteenth century American Jews, something that Schwab laments.   

The Sabbat, most sacred as it is in its significance, and as yet theoretically planted hard and fast in the consciousness of the generality of Israel as the "perpetual sign between them and God," has yet practically lost in modern days much of its pristine awfulness, and even of the fervid reverence paid to it in ages not so long gone by. Notwithstanding that it is yet generally exalted as a prominently distinctive mark of Judaism, and valued as one of the few remaining bonds of Israel's union, it is alas! too often made to yield to the so-called pressure of modern business relations, and thus compromised as to its sanctity and validity; or it is paltered with and bartered away on various grounds of expediency. On these painful issues of modern Judaism we cannot here dwell. It lies moreover beyond the purpose of these prefatory lines to find fault and point out the different manifest decrease of true attachment for the Sabbath in our day.

The writer is, on the whole, aiming at and inspired by the hope of quickening again, by the light of historical data witnessing to an incomparable self-devotion and loyalty of Israel in the past to the royal bride Sabbath, that sense of superior estimation of this sacred day, which should be the pride and glory of our people at the present, no less than it was in previous times. He aims to rekindle, by the various illustrations put forth in his work, a zealous concern for the Sabbath of the Decalogue in the minds of those, with whom it has slacked through an undue addiction to worldly things and business advantages, and to possibly arrest the Neshamah yetherah "additional soul," formerly sorrowful flight from those too deeply immersed in their temproal pursuits and the material strifes of our racing age, or those too flightily temporizing in their attitude towards the "sign" that is to be "perpetual," and on the perpetuity of which our forefathers, as well of the middle ages as of antiquity (Jewish new-Christians of Spain, who would continue to observe the Sabbath secretly despite the baptism forced on them, were by the inquisitors singled out by the ovservation, from elevated places, that no smoke came out of their houses on the Sabbath, even in rigorous winter; see 'Shebhet Jehudah,' pg. 96) staked their lives from their spontaneous piety and faithfulness to the Law. (Pg. 5-6.)

What I find interesting about this defense of Sabbath observance is that in the end he does not condemn those masses of American Jews no longer keeping the Sabbath even by Reform standards. Instead he turns to history as if to say "The Sabbath has served as a cornerstone of the Jewish people throughout its history. It is not being kept today, which is pity, but far be it from me as to actually talk about it or God forbid make anyone feel guilty."

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Where is the Golem Buried?

Rabbi Judah Loew, the Mahral, was one of the leading thinkers of the early modern period. His integration of Kabbalah with the medieval philosophical tradition was critical for the triumph Kabbalah, largely a product of Sephardi culture, within Ashkenazic Judaism. Any attempt to tell the story of how it could come to pass that a rabbi could insist to me that not only is Kabbalah a part of the Jewish tradition, but is "the Jewish tradition" needs to include Loew. (See "A German Hebrew Alphabet Book Based around the Zohar.") Unfortunately discussions of Loew tends to get bogged down in the legend of the Golem, an artificial man of clay, who according to modern incarnations of the tale was created to defend the Jewish community against blood libel accusations. Part of the appeal of the legend is that it is grounded in history. It has the well known historical  figure of Loew as its protagonist, the city of Prague for the setting. The Golem even is buried in a major tourist location, the attack of the Altneu Synagogue under a pile of discarded religious writings. According to run popular story, during the German occupation, some Nazi went up to the attic, stuck his bayonet in the pile and died on the spot

The funny thing about the story of the Golem's burial is that it was refuted a century ago. The journalist Egon Erwin Kisch (the Kisch family is actually quite interesting and we are in middle of a project involving them) actually went up to the attic and found nothing. As Hans Ludwig Held notes:

For centuries the legend that the Golem was still kept in the loft of the Old-New Synagogue had been current and many delightful tales, some of them humourous ones, are connected with it. This enticed a well-known writer, Egon Erwin Kisch, a son of Prague, to the bold, I might also say hazardous undertaking of ascending into the loft of the Synagogue, in order to look for the "corpse" of the Golem. In a fine piece of word-painting, "On the track of the Golem" he gives us the description of his quest. His trouble was in vain! He did not find the Golem. Then he pursued another clue, supplied by a further legend which he heard of during the war, to the effect that the servant of the exalted Rabbi Loew had carried off the Golem secretly from the loft of the Synagogue and had buried him on the Galgenberg, outside the town.  (Chayim Bloch, The Golem: Legends of the Ghetto of Prague pg. 10)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Mickey the Israeli Children's Picture Book Magician (Not to be Confused with Mickey Mouse)

I finally got around to seeing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II, having missed it in theaters when it was out this past summer. (One would think that being in a dating relationship would be an excuse to see more movies.) Impressive film on almost all counts. I do have two criticisms to make.

The majority of the film covers the final battle at Hogwarts as the school fends of an army led by Lord Voldemort with Harry's friends giving their lives to buy time for Harry to solve the mystery of the final Horcruxes, the pieces of Voldemort's soul. (Good thing there have been no body counts for every hour I fail to finish my dissertation.) For all the intensity of the moment the filmmakers fail to understand chaos and panic. We are fed numerous scenes with Harry, Ron and Hermione running through corridors; nothing wrong with playing out dialogue with characters moving between scenes of action. In the background, though, we are constantly seeing students running back and forth. The normal human reaction to danger is to duck and cover unless that danger is coming from a vary specific and identifiable direction, in which case people will run in the opposite direction. The Muppets react to danger by running back and forth across the screen. That is a different movie that came out this past week. (Perhaps I will convince my wife to take me to see that.)   

The climax of the story is when Harry learns that part of Voldemort's soul lies in him. Harry therefore allows Voldemort to kill him in order to bring Voldemort one step closer to destruction. Harry does not quite die; Voldemort only destroys that part of his soul that resided in Harry. In the book, Voldemort's final downfall follows in fairly quick succession. The movie decides to add a pair of extended fight sequences that switch back and forth between Harry and Voldemort and Ron, Hermione and Neville and Voldemort's pet snake Nagini, who serves as Voldemort's final Horcrux. This sort of thinking while understandable in terms of Hollywood's action oriented sensibilities demonstrates a failure to understand the book. Harry's victory over Voldemort is his self sacrifice. Once that happens Voldemort already is finished even if he thinks he has won for a few moments longer. What happens next is almost incidental, an opportunity for the bumbling Neville to be a hero and for Mrs. Weasley to deliver the best timed use of a curse word in all fiction. (For more on the novel see my "A Final Goodbye to Harry Potter.")

On the topic of Harry Potter, I thought it would be worthwhile to take a look at an attempt by an Israeli children's book author to craft a story about a little boy and his wand. Meet Miki Ha-Kosem, Mickey the Magician.

This is a hand made illustrated picture book by Israeli artist Miriam Bartov, written in the early 1980s. It tells of a little boy named Mickey who discovers a wand and proceeds to abuse it with expected and comic results. Mickey starts off by making various things bigger and giving himself wings. His attempt at flight does not work out so well and he falls onto one of his recently created giant flowers.

Before much longer he is on the run from one of his giant frogs. 

With the book we have a letter in German from Bartov to a Mr. Bergmann of the Bundesverlag in Mainz, pitching the book to the publishing company.

Apparently Mickey the Magician was never published. One suspects that it might have something to do with it being too similar to another Mickey the Magician.  


As far as we can tell, there are two copies of this book in existence, our copy and one in the Staatsbibliothek in Berlin. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Exodus from Egypt and Modern Revolutions

Judah David Eisenstein was an unheralded pioneer in the field of American Judaica publishing. Working in the early twentieth century, he edited and published numerous collections of Hebrew source material such as Midrash and Jewish polemics anti-Christian polemics. His work remains useful if you can get your hands on it. Here is a piece from the introduction to his Haggadah. Eisenstein follows a common Jewish apologetic troupe troupe from the period, Judaism and democracy. The idea being that Judaism is not only compatible with American style democracy, but was the source for it. In the service of this cause, Eisenstein is even willing to put in a good word about the Puritans. The Haggadah first came out in 1920 so the Russian Revolution also is mentioned.     

The exodus of Israel from Egypt is the greatest event in history of Israel and also in the history of the entire world. The children of Abraham Isaac and Jacob were the first to teach the dwellers of the world that it was possible for men enslaved under harsh masters to throw off from them their yoke and leave for freedom. And from them others learned to do likewise. The story of the exodus from Egypt was studied by the enlightened pure people living in America (Puritans) and it came into their hands to rebel against the rule of England in the year 1776 and proclaim freedom to all those living in the United States. And this thought inspired the French in their rebellion against their harsh rulers in the year 1789. And from them evolved the rebellion in Russia against the oppressive Czar and his regime that had already decayed in the year 1917. Just that the idea of freedom and the spirit of freedom never came to the rebels in a straight path rather in a crooked manner. But there is no doubt that the first source to rebel flowed from the Israelites leaving Egypt. (Ozar Perushim we-Ziyurim el Hagada Shel Pesah pg. iv.)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

An Original Handwritten Letter from Victor Hugo

Every once in awhile one comes across a truly unexpected treasure. At Kline Books we recently came into possession of the complete works of Victor Hugo (1802-85)  in English printed in the nineteenth century. One of the volumes contained a letter from none other than the author himself, written in 1864 to an American named Charles Havens Hunts. At this point in Hugo's life he had been in exile from France since 1851 when Napoleon III declared himself emperor. Hugo lived on the island of Guernsey in the English Channel where he took up residence in the Hauteville House. Hunts had recently written a biography of Senator Edward Livingston (1764-1836), an American political reformer and advocate of prison reform. Victor Hugo wrote to Livingston as a young man in 1834, when the latter was serving as the United States minister to France, praising him for his humanitarian efforts. Hunts included this letter in his book and sent Hugo a copy. Hugo is writing back to express his thanks and his admiration for both Livingston and Hunts.    

Hauteville House - 15 Mars 1864. Monsieur, precisely 30 years ago, in March 1834, I sent the letter you have mentioned in your remarkable book to Senator Livingston. Today, I stand closer to him and you. It is called "Law of Progress." The honest and sincere men that walked before them, often coming from opposing factions, always end up united. You too, are sending me an excellent book. This is the work of a noble and serious mind. I wish you all my best for the appeasement and enlargement of your illustrious republic. It will triumph for liberty. Acknowledge the expression of my sincere cordiality.

Victor Hugo 

Monsieur Ch. Havens Hunts, author of the Life of Edward Livingston

Letters like the ones written to Livingston and Hunts should give one pause from thinking of Hugo simply as a French writer. Much of Hugo's work, including Les Miserables (1862) was written in exile in English territory. Furthermore Hugo's interest in humanitarian causes led him to take an interest in the United States and form friendships with Americans.   

Yiddish Edition of Charles Darwin's Descent of Man

We have here a Yiddish translation, done by Y. A. Merison, of Charles Darwin's 1871 follow up to Origin of Species, The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex. It was published in 1921 in New York by Max N. Maisel (1872-1959), who ran a publishing company, The Grand Street Press of Literature and Knowledge, devoted to printing and disseminating scientific literature in Yiddish. Organizations like Maisel's are a side of Yiddish culture that is very easy to overlook today when Yiddish is almost the sole dominion of the Ultra-Orthodox. There was a time when Yiddish was a powerful secularizing force.

Merison also wrote a childcare guide titled Muter un kind (1912) What does Darwin have to do with parenting? Well the Grand Street Press also distributed birth control literature by Margaret Sanger and Ben Zion Liber so clearly there was a connection in Maisel's mind. Now it makes sense to me to, if you are a good Darwinist, hand out birth control literature to immigrants to keep their population in check. But why would you then turn around and let them in on the plan?

To the best of my knowledge, Darwin did not get the company into trouble but the birth control literature did run afoul the obscenity laws in force at the time. I guess the tactic of saying things in Yiddish as a way of dodging gentile censors, so beloved by later generations of Jewish comedians, did not cover contraceptives.

Presumably our secularizing immigrant Jew would also desire to learn English and would soon be able to read Darwin in the original. Thus one assumes this is for people fresh off the boat. Why would someone think that new immigrants, with all of their concerns in adapting to a new country, first and foremost of them being to learn English, needed to make their way through Darwin. I could understand translating Israel Zangwill's play The Melting Pot or Uncle Tom's Cabin (this book actually helped by great-grandfather learn English as an immigrant) to teach people about American culture, but a scientific treatise that few English speakers ever read?

One can only imagine:

Dear Ma,

I have successfully reached the United States and am adapting very well to my new environment. Not to worry, I am using protection. I have my copy of Darwin's Descent of Man. Yes it is in the Mama-lashon. And I have some Margaret Singer (Sanger, Singer what's the difference) as well. So not to worry about grandchildren; I have that all under control.

Your beloved yingilah,

Chaim Dovid  Horowtiz (soon to be Harvey Drew Howard)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Moses Mendelssohn and the Rabbi David Frankel Sermon

In regards to my previous post on Rabbi David Frankel's sermon of thanksgiving after the Prussian victory at Leuthen, S. kindly pointed out that the sermon was likely the product of Frankel's famous student Moses Mendelssohn.

I managed to track this to Alexander Altmann's biography of Mendelssohn. Here is the relevant passages:

No account of Mendelssohn's exercises in ars poetica would be complete without some mention of his synagogal hymns and sermons. The young bel esprit was by no means averse to putting his talents at the service of the Berlin community. The chance to do so was provided by the Seven Years' War. When Austria and Saxony opened hostilities against Prussia toward the end of 1756, the Jews of Berlin added to their daily prayers the recital of certain appropriate psalms and a special prayer composed in Hebrew by Hartog Leo and translated into German by Mendelssohn. Frederick II's surprising victory at Rossbach caused great jubilation and was celebrated by a thanksgiving service in the synagogue on November 12, 1757. Mendelssohn, again, translated a Hebrew text, a hymn written by Hartog Leo, into German. It was published by the community, and it seems that it has also been planned to publish Mendelssohn's German version of a sermon preached by Chief Rabbi Frankel. Another great victory, at Leuthen, was duly celebrated on December 10. 1757. The same pattern was repeated, but this time both the hymn and the sermon were published in German. According to the title page, the sermon had been "delivered" by Frankel and then "translated into German" (omitting Mendelssohn's name). In fact, however, Mendelssohn had written the sermon, as he remarked in a letter to Lessing that, on internal evidence, can be dated about December 15, 1757: "I shall no longer swear to anything in the world after it has come to pass that I write a sermon and praise a king. I also translated some Hebrew thanksgiving hymns into German, and these are printed." This sermon, which is the one praised in Lessing's letter of December, 1757, is the earliest known specimen of modern Jewish preaching in the German tongue. It has a slightly philosophical flavor and reflects the spirit of the Enlightenment. (Moses Mendelssohn: A Biographical Study pg. 67-68.)

So Mendelssohn authored the sermon and translated it into German. This still leaves the question of who translated the sermon into English and how did it come to be published in London and in New York?

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Thanking God for Prussian Victories

To continue our earlier topic of Jews taking a positive attitude towards German rulers, here is the title page for an address of Thanksgiving for a Prussian victory in the Third Silesian War (1756-63).

(See A. S. W. Rosenbach, An American Jewish Bibliography pg. 49.)

The Third Silesian War was part of the Seven Years War, known to American audiences as the French and Indian War. The Seven Years War was essentially a struggle between England and France for control over the North American continent and other colonial possessions around the world. This war is important for American history as it brought the area of Pittsburgh under British control (I went to a middle school in Pittsburgh so the teacher made a big deal about this in American history), gave George Washington his military experience and Britain's later attempt to pay for this war by taxing the colonies eventually helped bring about the American Revolution. Non-Quebecian Canadians can be grateful for this war as it stopped all of you from having to speak French.  

While England and France were fighting overseas, over on the European continent Austria attempted to take back the region of Silesia in what is today the western part of Poland from Prussia. (It gives you a sense how badly off Poland was at this point as it essentially played no major role in this regional struggle largely over its territory.) To do this Austria switched its alliance from England to the Hapsburg's traditional opponent, Bourbon France. (This alliance would have long term consequences in the bringing Marie Antoinette to France.)  Russian and Sweden also joined in against Prussia. Despite being heavily outnumbered Prussia, led by Frederick the Great, managed to fight off the combined forces of Austria, France, Russia and Sweden to a standstill, earning Frederick the Great the reputation as being one of the greatest military commanders in history.

The battle referred to here is the Battle of Leuthen where Frederick the Great annihilated a much larger Austrian force. Naturally the Jewish community in Berlin took a positive view of this victory. What is interesting is that the sermon preached by Rabbi David Herschel Franckel was translated and printed in London and then in New York. England was allied with Prussia against France. It is good to remember that there was a time in American history when it was good and patriotic to say "God Bless the King of England and the King of Prussia."          

Monday, August 29, 2011

Laurence Oliphant on the Baha'i

One of the interesting features of the modern day State of Israel that usually gets overlooked, with all the talk about Jews versus Arabs and the land being holy to three religions, is that Israel is sacred for a fourth religion, the Baha'i, who have their headquarters in the Northern city of Haifa.

Baha'i is an offshoot of Shiite Islam, though unlike modern day Shiism, Baha'i is non violent and preaches tolerance for other religions. How the Baha'i, who mostly live in India, came to be involved with Israel is an interesting story. Essentially after the founder of the religion,  Siyyid `Alí Muḥammad Shírází , the Bab, was executed by the Persian government in 1850, (this seems to be a pattern in the founders of majors religions) his successor, Ṣubḥ-i-Azal, was exiled to Palestine from where he served the nascent Baha'i movement.  

Laurence Oliphant, the nineteenth century Christian Zionist met Azal's son and talks about the Baha'i in his travelogue book, Haifa or Life in Modern Palestine.

It is now forty-eight years since a young man of three-and-twenty appeared at the shrine of Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet, who made a martyr at Kerbela. He was said to have been born at Shiraz, the son of a merchant there, and his name was Ali Mohammed. It is supposed that he derived his religious opinions from a certain Indian Mussulman, called Achsai, who instituted a system of reform, and made many disciples. Whether this is sor or not, the young Persian soon acquired a pre-eminent reputation for sanctity, and the boldness and enthusiasm of his preaching and the revolutionary sentiments he uttered attracted many to his teaching. So far as I have been able to judge, he preached a pure morality of the loftiest character, denouncing the abuses of existing Islam as Christ did the Judaism of his day, and fearlessly incurring the hostility of Persian Phariseeism. A member himself of the Shiite sect of Moslems, he sought to reform it, as beign the state religion of Perisa, and finally sent so far as to proclaim himself at Kufa the bab, or door, through which alone man could approach God. At the same time he announced that he was the Mahdi, or last Imaum, who was descended from Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet, and whom the Shiites believe to have been an incarnation of the Deity. Mahdi is supposed by all Persian Moslems not to have died, but to be awaiting in concealment the coming of the last day. 

As may be imagined, the sudden appearance after so many centuries of a reformer who claimed to be none other than the long-expected divine manifestation, created no little consternation throughout Persia, more especially as, according to tradition, the time had arrived when such a manifestation was to be looked for, and men's minds were prepared for the event. The Persian enthusiast, as soon as his preaching became popular and his pretensions vast, roused the most violent hostility, and he was executed at Tabriz in 1849, after a brief career of fourteen years, at the early age of thirty-seven. The tragic circumstances attending his death enhanced his glory, for he was repeatedly offered his life if he would consent to abate his claims, or even leave the country. He preferred, however, a martyr's crown, and was executed in the presence of a vast multitude, leaving behind him a numerous and fanatic sect, who have since then been known as the Babs, and whose belief in the founder subsequent persecutions on the part of the government have only served to confirm.
The Bab before his execution gave it to be understood that though be was apparently about to die, he, or rather the divine incarnation of which he was the subject, would shortly reappear in the person of his successor, whom, I believe he named secretly. I do not exactly know when the present claimant first made known his pretensions to be that successor, but, at all events, he was universally acknowledged by the Bab sect, now numbering some hundreds of thousands, and became so formidable a personage, being a man of high lineage — indeed, it is whispered that he is a relative of the Shah himself that he was made prisoner by the government and sent into exile. The Sultan of Turkey kindly undertook to provide for his incarceration, and for some years he was a state prisoner at Adrianople. Finally he was transported from that place to Acre, on giving his parole to remain quietly there and not return to Persia, and here he has been living ever since, an object of adoration to his countrymen, who flock hither to visit him, who load him with gifts, and over two hundred of whom remain here as a sort of permanent body-guard.
He is visible only to women or men of the poorest class, and obstinately refuses to let his face be seen by any man above the rank of a fellah or peasant. Indeed, his own disciples who visit him are only allowed a glimpse of his august back, and in retiring from that they have to back out with their faces towards it. I have seen a lady who has been honoured with an interview, during which he said nothing beyond giving her his blessing, and after about three minutes motioned to her to retire. She describes him as a man of probably about seventy years of age, but much younger- looking, as he dyes both his hair and his beard black, but of a very mild and benevolent cast of countenance. He lives at a villa in the plain, about two miles beyond Acre, which he has rented from a Syrian gentleman of my acquaintance, who tells me that he always turns away so that his face shall not be seen. Indeed, the most profound secrecy is maintained in regard to him and the religious tenets of his sect. 

Not long ago, however public curiosity was gratified, for one of his Persian followers stabbed another for having been unworthy of some religious trust, and the great man himself was summoned as a witness.
"Will you tell the court who and what you are?" was the first question put. "I will begin," he replied, "by telling you who I am not. I am not a camel driver" this was an allusion to the Prophet Mohammed "nor am I the son of a carpenter" this in allusion to Christ. "This is as much as I can tell you to-day. If you will now let me retire, I will you tomorrow who I am."
Upon this promise he was let go; but the morrow never came. With an enormous bribe he had in the interval purchased an exemption from all further attendance at court.
That his wealth is fabulous may be gathered from the fact that not long since a Persian emir or prince, possessing large estates, came and offered them all, if in return he would only allow him to fill his water-jars. The offer was considered worthy of acceptance, and the emir is at this moment a gardener in the grounds which I saw over the wall of my friend's villa. This is only once instance of the devotion with which he is regarded, and of the honours which are paid to him: indeed, when we remember that he is believed to possess the attributes of Deity, this is not to be wondered a. Meantime his disciples are patiently waiting for his turn to come, which will be on the last day, when his divine character will be recognized by unbelievers. (Pg. 105-07)

An English Rabbi's Eulogy for Kaiser Frederick III

In German history Kaiser Frederick III is often seen as the failed last great hope for German liberalism. He supported the liberalization of Parliament along the lines of the English Parliament, was an Anglophile and was married to the eldest daughter of Queen Victoria. Unfortunately he died of throat cancer after being on the throne for just three months, handing Germany over to his son Kaiser Wilhelm II. Wilhelm II's expansionist policies and utter disregard for international treaties mark him, more than anyone, as responsible for the European arm's race of the early twentieth century, spiraling toward World War I. So Frederick III certainly stands as a historical question mark of what might have been, a liberal Germany with close ties to England with the possibility of World War I never happening and even of there being no Nazi Germany.

Considering this, it is interesting to note that we have a eulogy for Frederick III by Rabbi Hermann Gollancz of Bayswater Synagogue in London, which comes across, from our position of hindsight, as remarkably prescient even if the evidence Gollancz brings for Frederick III's philo-Semitism seems a little weak.

"What will the morrow bring, peace or war?" This question has a double bearing, as far as we are concerned. In the first place it asks: Will the peace of the wider world of Europe, which the remarkable individuality of "Frederick the Good" helped to secure, continue in the future, and for how long?

In the second place, this question has a deep significance for us as Jews. It must be apparent to every one of us that a great wave of intolerance, directed against our people, has been passing over the face of several countries during past years, and of these Germany has been one. 


Can we help calling to mind at the present moment how, as Crown Prince of Germany, he took every occasion to utter an emphatic protest against the attempts of anti-Semites? Do not the words still ring in our ears which his illustrious consort [Princess Victoria] but recently expressed in his name when visiting the flooded portions of Germany? "This anti-Semitic agitation is distasteful to my feelings to those of my husband." It is at the loss of a potentate so thoroughly imbued with the spirit of toleration and religious equality, that the nation of Israel has cause to lament and to inquire, "What will the morrow bring?" (Hermann Gollancz, Sermons and Addresses pg. 271-72.)


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Rabbi Isaac M. Wise on Moses, Judaism and Democracy

At Kline books we have a large inventory of nineteenth century American Reform Jewish apologetics. (See "From the Hirschian Community in Frankfurt a. M. to American Reform.) What I find interesting about these, having grown up with Orthodox apologetics from Artscroll, is a vision of self-assured Reform movement that stood for something and was willing to go on the offensive with those beliefs, confident that the future of Judaism lay with them. This is not a Reform movement trapped by doubts over intermarriage and assimilation, a sitting target for Orthodox polemics. Of course like the present day Orthodox apologetics of Artscroll, nineteenth century Reform apologetics were perfectly capable of going overboard into farce.

I hope to present more examples in the future, but for starters here is Rabbi Isaac M. Wise's preface to his History of the Israelitish Nation (1854) where he beats the drum of the compatibility of Judaism and American Democracy with perhaps a little too much enthusiasm:

Traversing the pathless desert, Moses, the grandest character of antiquity, not only taught the purest doctrines of religion and morals in the midst of an age of idolatry, superstition, and general corruption of morals; but he also promulgated the unsophisticated principles of democratic liberty and of stern justice in an age of general despotism and arbitrary rule; thus becoming the progenitor of entirely new theories which revolutionized the ancient world, and lay at the foundation of modern civilization. Moses formed one pole and the American revolution the other, of an axis around which revolved the political history of thirty-three centuries. Trained in these principles, the Israelites took possession of their land, where they were obliged to contend with as many enemies as there nations around them. Still, after four centuries, we see them triumph over all their enemies, and David and Solomon the lords of the land from the Euphrates to the Red Sea and to the Mediterranean. Industry, commerce, art and science, flourish, and the nation was opulent, enlightened and free. (pg. iv-v.)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Medieval Jewish Art (Looks a Lot Like Christian Art)

As has often been noted, medieval Christian art had a tendency to draw biblical figures in contemporary dress. Underlying this perspective was a view of history that did not distinguish between past and present. To the medieval mind there was no real difference between King David and the king of France nor, for that matter, were the apostles really different from priests. If Peter was the first pope then it made perfect sense to paint him as one. One of the important revolutions within the Renaissance in the fifteenth century was precisely the gaining of such a historical perspective. It began in linguistics, when Italian humanists came to the realization that medieval church Latin, let alone Tuscan, was truly different from, and from their perspective inferior to, the Latin of Cicero. The practical implications of this new historical perspective began to be seen in biblical studies with Erasmus' attack on the Vulgate text. Underlying this was a realization that the Bible of the medieval Church was not the Bible of the early Church and not just in terms of Latin and Greek. This proved foundational to the Protestant Reformation; underlying Luther's attack on the Catholic Church was the argument that the Church itself was not the same Church as the one created by the apostles and held out to his followers the possibility of recreating that apostolic Church. For all the focus on the revolution of Renaissance art with its discovery of perspective, in terms of history the arts were behind the curve, continuing to draw biblical figures in contemporary dress for centuries.   

What is interesting is that Jewish art from this period shows the exact same tendencies. This should not be so surprising as medieval Jews, by and large, possessed similar values as their Christian neighbors. Furthermore the artists themselves were not necessarily Jewish. One could work on an illuminated Bible one day and a Hebrew prayer book the next.

Here are some examples from the fourteenth century I found from the introductory volume to The Bird's Head Haggada of the Bezalel National Art Museum of Jerusalem

The giving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai from the Tripartite Mahzor. The Israelites look like medieval Jews with the traditional pointed Jewish hats. (No medieval Ashkenazi Jews did not wear shtreimels or black fedoras. Try your luck with the Sefardim.) Why the women look like demons is a mystery to me. But notice Moses dressed like a king and Aaron, the high priest, looking like, of all things, a bishop. This is particularly ironic as medieval Christians tended to draw positive biblical characters like Abel in Christian clothing while making villains like Cain look like Jews.

Here the Leipzig Mahzor gives us Pharaoh's army as a band of armored knights. One wonders about the crescent banner; are the Egyptians supposed to be Muslims?

The Duke of Sussex Pentateuch shows the four sides of the Israelite camp. What should the armies of Israel be dressed in to prepare to invade the Land of Canaan, but crusader armor. (See Jews and Art: Secret Transcripts.) 


The Yeshiva University Student Strike of 1906

When I was in my first year at Yeshiva University, the workers went on strike demanding higher wages. There were lots of chants for YU to "practice what it preached." As a school that preached to its students about the need to not just sit and study, but set a good moral example in the world, allowing things to degenerate to a point that the mostly black and Hispanic workers felt the need to go on strike was not exactingly helpful. Now it should be noted that YU has a history of strikes. In fact one can say that it was born through one. Alexander M. Dushkin in his 1918 book Jewish Education in New York offers a brief history of the beginning of YU: 

In 1897 "arose" the Yeshibath Yitzchak Elchanan, the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. The term "arose" is used advisedly because this school was not "organized" until much later (1908). The manner in which the school originated is very significant of the social psychology of the immigrant orthodox Jew from Eastern Europe. "Some pious Jews found out that there were a few young men who would like to devote their entire time to sit and study (the Talmud) if someone would provide them with food. These Jews, therefore, (themselves by no means opulent)" collected among themselves $5.00 every week and gave two of these young men $2.50 per week each, if they would sit and study. Gradually the number of young men increased, and a school "arose." Apart from the "good deed" of encouraging young men "to study the Torah for its own sake," it was also hoped that the students would prepare themselves to act as rabbis. Practically no teachers were required, since these young men had previous Talmudical training. No school house was needed, a room for this purpose being set aside in the building of the Yeshibath Etz Chayim. No supervision was necessary, except that of the lay Mashgiach (overseer), who made sure that the young men earned their "two and a half per week," by constant application.

But as the students became more Americanized, they realized that Talmudical study alone was not sufficient preparation for even the most orthodox rabbi in the country. They began to demand that secular studies also be provided for them. Another cause for dissatisfaction arose from the fact that the directors opened several classes for younger boys. There was misunderstanding in this institution also, as to whether its aim should be to prepare well-versed immigrant young men for the American rabbinate, or give Talmudic training to younger children. The dissatisfaction expressed itself again and again, and culminated in a "strike" of the students in 1906. An appeal was sent by them to the Jews of New York, demanding "(1) that they learn systematically the right thing at the right time; (2) that they be given permission to learn the Hebrew language, Jewish culture, (i. e. not only Talmud) and Jewish history; (3) that the program of studies include the English language, history, and the general sciences; (4) that they be taught oratory and public speaking; and (5) that their material support be so arranged as not to make it necessary for them to make special request for very little thing needed." This quaint appeal was signed by "all the pupils of the Yeshibah." The students threatened to leave the institution in a body, and actually carried out the threat. They removed for a short time to a little "Klaus" (private synagogue of a "chevra' or society). But an agreement was finally reached. The Yeshibath Yitzchak Elchanan was limited to higher Talmudical studies, and the Yeshibath Etz Chayim was to be only an elementary Yeshibah. The other demands of the pupils were also met. Upon the new basis the Yeshibah was "organized" in 1908. At this time it was housed at 156 Henry Street. Recently, in 1915, it combined with the Yeshibath Etz Chayim, as the Rabbinical College of America. (Alexander M. Dushkin, Jewish Education in New York pg. 76-78.)

So perhaps when the workers asked YU to "practice what it preached," they really should have been calling the students to come out and strike in honor of their 1906 forbearers.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Converso Conquistador

While I have been a history buff since at least the second grade, throughout elementary school I went through a number of phases during which I obsessed about different subjects such as the American Civil War, World War II and the Russian Revolution. (It is always good to show diversity in one's interests.) The first of these phases was the Spanish Conquistadors, largely helped along by Ronald Syme'' mini-biographies. I did not find out until college that he was one of the leading classical historians of the twentieth century.

Admittedly this must seem an odd choice. Firstly, these Conquistadors did cause the deaths of millions of natives through the various illnesses they brought over with them to the New World and promptly massacred and enslaved everyone who was left. I must admit that it took me awhile to pick up on that fact as Syme was remarkably good at tip toeing around that topic. Not wanting to trouble the minds of young history buffs or their parents I guess. Then again, considering my command and conquer, take over the world sense of humor, perhaps that was the point. Secondly, this was the same Spanish government that expelled its Jews in 1492. Killing Native American minor side point; how do you go about cheering for Jew haters?

So it was to my great comfort to learn about Hernando Alonso, a converso Conquistador, who fought with Hernando Cortes in Mexico. Alonso was burned at the stake in 1528; something to do with getting caught twice baptizing a child. (G. R. G. Conway, "Hernando Alonso, A Jewish Conquistador with Cortes in Mexico." The Jewish Experience in Latin America pg. 178-200.) So there we go. I get my own personal killing, raping, pillaging Jewish Conquistador. (Do these things come in action figures?)      

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Books for Jews in Displaced Persons Camps

There is a story told about the Klausenberger Rebbe when he was in the DP camps after the Holocaust. He saw a little girl walking around without socks. He began to berate this girl for her lack of proper attire. She responded: rabbi how can I worry about socks when I do not have food to eat. In the end he gave the girl his socks. He, the rabbi, agreed to do without and give up on his honor for the sake of a little girl he had never met.

I was reminded of this story after looking at a pamphlet published by the World Jewish Congress in May 1945. This is in the days after the defeat of Nazi Germany as camp survivors were being placed in DP camps and news of the Holocaust was reaching the world at large. In the back is an ad for aid for Jewish refugees, though it is not for food and medicine.

Books for liberated Jews in Europe in Yiddish and Hebrew and books of Jewish interest in any other language are urgently wanted - Please help in sending all the books you can and we will transmit them to the Jewish libraries on the continent and to the assembly camps - Joint Book Supply Committee under the auspices of the World Jewish Congress (British Section) 55 New Cavendish Street London W1.

One can be shocked at the naivete of the bureaucrats at the British Section of the World Jewish Congress to set up a committee simply to make sure that Jewish refugees in DP camps had books to read. One assumes that most of the people in these camps had other things on their minds besides for reading. Then again what better way for the people of the book to pick up from the greatest disaster in their history then grab a good book in Yiddish, Hebrew or any other language.   

The Nazi Threat to World Peace May, 1933

At Kline Books we have a large collection of World War II and Nazi paraphernalia, not all of which we publicly advertise (and the enlightened one will understand and keep silent).

An example of this is a supplementary bulletin published by the Joint Foreign Committee of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Anglo-Jewish Association in May of 1933, months following the Nazi takeover of Germany. It offers a snapshot of the opening stages of Holocaust with quotations from newspapers from Germany and England and statements from British and German leaders. Such texts are particularly interesting as no one at this point knew how this was all going to play out with a second world war and a Holocaust.

Here is a statement by one member of the British Parliament.  

Nevertheless, one of the things which we were told after the Great War would be a security for us was Parliamentary institutions in Germany; that she would be a democracy with Parliamentary institutions. All that has been swept away. You have dictatorship - most grim dictatorship. You have militarism and appeals to every form of fighting spirit, from the introduction of duelling in the colleges to the Minister of Education advising the plentiful use of the cane in the elementary schools. You have these martial or pugnacious manifestations, and also the persecution of the Jews, of which so many hon[or]. (Pg. 30-31.)

In case you have not yet guessed it. The person who said this was Sir Winston Churchill.

Notice the educational policies he points to. Many conservative Republicans today bemoan the banning corporal punishment in schools. One wonders what they would make of their idol Winston Churchill placing government support of corporal punishment in schools as a first sign of Nazi militarism?

From the Hirschian Community in Frankfurt a. M. to American Reform

R. Samson Raphael Hirsch led what was probably the most successful Orthodox Jewish community during the nineteenth century in Frankfurt am Main. In a sense Hirsch's decision to lead a breakaway community in Frankfurt, rejecting the Reform establishment, has come to be the definition of Orthodox Judaism. (From an academic perspective, there was no such thing as "Orthodoxy" before the nineteenth century; you had traditional rabbinic Jews and those who were not. Orthodox Judaism like Reform and Conservative Judaism is a specific reaction to and therefore a product of the Enlightenment, emancipation and the subsequent breakdown of traditional Jewish life without the protection of the traditional kehillah structure.) This is not to say that everyone who came out of this Hirschian community (or Hirsch's own family for that matter) remained Orthodox. I recently came across two leading figures of late nineteenth and early twentieth century American Reform Judaism, Prof. Kaufmann Kohler and Jacob H. Schiff, with connections to Hirsch. The funny thing about both of them is that they both saw the Hirschian Orthodoxy of their youth in very positive terms. 

Dr. Kaufmann Kohler (1843-1926) studied not just with Hirsch, but also R. Simon Bamberger, Dr. Marcus Lehmann, R. Jacob Ettlinger before coming under the influence of R. Abraham Geiger as a university student. He came to the United States in 1869 where he assumed an active leadership in the Reform movement, playing a major role in the Pittsburgh platform of 1885 and helping to found the Central Conference of American Rabbis. He succeeded R. Dr. Isaac M. Wise as President of Hebrew Union College in 1903.   

Speaking about R. Samson Raphael Hirsch before the Central Conference of American Rabbis in 1908 in honor of the hundredth anniversary of Hirsch's birth, Kohler stated:

It may sound paradoxical, and yet it is true, that without knowing it, Samson Raphael Hirsch liberated me from the thraldom of blind authority worship and led me imperceptibly away from the old mode of thinking, or rather of not thinking, into the realms of free reason and research. His method of harmonizing modern culture, with ancient thought, however fanciful, fascinated me. His lofty idealism impressed me. He made me the Yeshibah Bachur from Mayence and Altona, a modern man. The spirit of his teachings electrified me and became a life long influence to me. Samson Raphael Hirsch was imbued with the spirit of cultured humanity. In all his sermons and writings he deplored the narrowness of the Ghetto view, which estranged Jews from the world in which and for which they should live and work. His teachings were a bold attempt at a revival of Orthodoxy. He tried to galvanize its dry bones by the power of his fertile, resourceful and vigorous mind. (Studies in Jewish Literature Issued in Honor of Professor Kaufmann Kohler, PH.D. on the Occasion of His Seventieth Birthday pg. 3)

Jacob H. Schiff (1847-1920) also emigrated from Germany to the United States and became a leading  financier and philanthropist. Schiff's work ranged from arranging a major loan to the Japanese government during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 to being a major supporter of the funding of Jewish education in the United States, donating money to Hebrew Union College, the Jewish Theological Seminary and Yeshiva University. Cyrus Adler, in his biography of Schiff, notes:

[Schiff] had been reared in the rigid school of Frankfort Orthodoxy, of which Sampson Raphael Hirsch was the leader. Upon his arrival in America, he became a member of the Reform Synagogue, and so remained during all his life. ... There were, however, curious lapses in Mr. Schiff's adherence to the Reform Synaogue, and he frequently said that no Jew could be a good Reform Jew unless he had once been an Orthodox Jew. ... He strictly abstained from all secular occupation on the Sabbaths and festivals, and always visited the synagogue on Saturday mornings. On Friday evening, before dinner, he read the services to his family, and that evening was his family evening. The Seder services at passover were always a great occasion, never to be forgotten no matter what the circumstances. (Cyrus Adler, Jacob H. Schiff pg. 26-27.)

Apparently Schiff even held a Seder while he was in Japan with matzah brought over from San Francisco.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A German Hebrew Alphabet Book Based around the Zohar

I am most certainly not a supporter of the recent pop Kabbalah movement. First, it degrades an important part of Jewish tradition. Second, as a Maimonidean Jew, Kabbalah is an element of the Jewish tradition that I take as suspect of being idolatrous and as likely to blame for Sabbatai Sevi. My only hope is that this popular interest in Kabbalah will lead to more academic chairs for the study of Kabbalah. To paraphrase the late Rabbi Saul Lieberman: Kabbalah may be nonsense, but the study of Kabbalah is scholarship. Anything that gets me a job is certainly scholarly.

That being said I present to you a piece of popular Kabbalah. German artist Josua Reichert does a lot of work with alphabets. For example he produced an alphabet book that is the smallest in the world. What I have here is his Otiot book on the Hebrew alphabet.


Reichert offers a truly eye-opening way of visualizing Hebrew letters.

In my father's dream synagogue, the one he builds with his Reform rabbi friend when they both get tossed out of their respective movements, there are going to be a pair of floor to ceiling length lava lamps. I figure Reichert's letters might work well in this setting.

In addition to the letters, Reichert matches his prints with quotations from the Zohar on the meaning of these letters.

I have to hand it to Reichert; unlike most people trying to make use of Kabbalah, Reichert actually seems to understand what he is working with. In attempting to create kabbalistic art, he chose the medium of letters as opposed to visual images. This brilliantly captures one of the central dilemmas of kabbalistic thought; how does one visualize God, who is, by definition, beyond all images? (See Elliot R. Wolfson, Through a Speculum that Shines.) One of Kabbalah's solutions has been to focus on the Bible itself and particular the Hebrew letters within it as manifestations of the divine.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Palestinian Art Nouveau Song of Songs

One of the duties of a historian to society is to point out to people that much of what they take for granted as "traditional values" is in fact about nearly as modern as the modern values being denounced. (I am sure that on some other planet or in some alternative universe historians are appreciated and lauded by society as guardians of good sense and judgment. If someone knows the way to such a world please tell me and I will gladly move.) An example of this is the social taboo against nudity as sexual enticement. This has far more to do with nineteenth century Victorian concerns over the disintegration of social mores in the face of Enlightenment skepticism and later biblical criticism and Darwinian evolution than the Middle Ages let alone biblical society. The very nature of pre-modern societies, the close proximity in which people lived without formal bathrooms, made nudity a fact of life.         

Perhaps in the future I will bring some practical examples from medieval art, but for now I will stick to Song of Songs from the Bible. Read this book and give all the pious speeches you want how this book is an allegory for the relationship between God and man or the Nation of Israel. But then ask yourself how it could be that western society up until modern times was that comfortable with "pious" eroticism that such a book could have been canonized. How is it that today a Haredi publishing company like Artscroll would feel the need to give an "allegorical" translation? (If anyone could speak about how Song of Songs has feared with modern day Evangelical Christians, I would love to find out more about that.)  

In this spirit I would like to present Zeev Raban's illustrated Song of Solomon, printed in 1930 Palestine. (It is possible that the plates were actually done in Germany as Palestine lacked the facilities for such a task.)

This work is an example of the Israeli art nouveau Bezalel school of art. This style of art has an affinity to nineteenth century Pre-Raphaelite work and much of the early twentieth century Christian biblical art that is still found in Bibles and children's books today.

The difference here being that Raban proved perfectly comfortable in translating the spirit of the author to visual form, mixing the spiritual with the erotic.    

Monday, August 8, 2011

A Hebrew Bible in the Shadow of Nazi Germany

One of the hardships of being a Jewish medieval scholar is that it seems that the Christians get to produce all the cool art and illustrated bibles. So I hope to show some examples from our collection here of Jewish art. Admittedly much of this art is modern. As with the case of the writing of Jewish History, (See Yosef Yerushalmi's Zakhor) one suspects that one of the ironic results of the breakdown of traditional Jewish life in the nineteenth century, was a turn to Jewish art. Jews needed to prove to their gentile neighbors that they also possessed a culture, with a history and works of art, equal to theirs. So who is to say assimilating Jews cannot make positive contributions to Jewish culture.   

To start things off, here is the Berlin Soncino Bible from 1931.  

It is one of 850 copies printed. Does not actually have pictures, but has some really interesting typeface by artist Marcus Michael Douglas Behmer (1879-1958), who designed a completely new font for this project. 

For those interested in the history of Hebrew printing, the typeface used here would later influence the Koren Bible. 

As with just about anything involving Jews and 1930s Germany, the Berlin Bible's story does not have a happy ending. It was published by the Society of Jewish Bibliophiles, the Soncino Gesellschaft, in 1931. This was supposed to be the first complete limited "bibliophilic" edition of the Hebrew Scriptures. With the Nazi takeover of Germany in 1933, this did not happen. The Soncino Gesellschaft was closed down in 1937. In the end the Berlin Bible takes its place in history as the last Hebrew Bible printed in Germany prior to the war. Supposedly the interspersed use of red type was meant as a prayer for a salvation that did not come.  (See Abraham Karp's From the Ends of the Earth: Judaic Treasures in the Library of Congress.)  

Now it would be really neat if this Bible came in its original binding. Unfortunately what we have is only a post-war cloth rebinding. Still it is one of the standouts of our collection here.