Tuesday, October 15, 2013

R. Nahman of Bratslav and Aggressive Polish Nationalism

We have a copy of Jonah Spiwak's Yiddish play about R. Nahman of Bratslav. Published in 1932, this work predates Arthur Green's better known Tormented Master. According to the copyright page, this book was printed in Poland in the city of Vilna (Wilno). This struck me as odd as, despite the ever changing nature of Eastern European political, I have always associated Vilna with Lithuania. (How can have Litvaks without Vilna and how can you be a Litvak and not be in Lithuania?) It turns out that Vilna's status in the inter-war years was quite complicated with both Poland and Lithuania, both newly independent of Russia, laying claim to the city. Of course once World War II broke out, Vilna quickly came under Soviet control before falling to the Nazis. Alternatively, one can see this book as evidence of aggressive Polish nationalism. World War II was started by Poland which refused to give Danzig to Germany, Vilna to either Lithuania or the Soviet Union along with the rest of the country.   

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Government Shutdown Comes to Kline Books

At Kline Books we just made a major sale of $25,000 to the Library of Congress for the 58 volume court transcript of the trial of Marinus van der Lubbe in 1933. Lubbe was a Dutch Communist accused by the Nazis of setting the Reichstag on fire. Coming in the wake of Hitler's election to chancellor, the Reichstag fire was used by the Nazis as a pretext to eliminate the Communist Party along with German Weimar democracy. It is commonly believed that the Nazis themselves were behind the fire. If Lubbe was involved he likely was duped into participating and did not act alone.

While celebrating our good misfortune (the sale and not the Reichstag fire), we were dismayed to realize that, because of the government shutdown that started today, the Library of Congress is not going to be able to pay us. To those who thought this shutdown was about Obamacare, I must inform you that in truth the debate over health care has been nothing more than cover for a vast government conspiracy to prevent the presentation of the truth behind the Reichstag fire to the American people (in an exercise of criss-cross plotting George W. Bush went back in time to set the fire in exchange for the Nazis coming forward to carry out 9/11) and to avoid paying us. The evidence for this is clear. Can it be a coincidence that a non-payment for a collection of documents so closely associated with conspiracy could be anything but a conspiracy? This is a highly ecumenical conspiracy theory. You are free to assume that either Obama or the Republicans are behind this delay of payment. (If you order up the special edition of conspiracy thinking we will allow you to believe that both sides are in it together.)

In this time of national crisis, it behooves Republicans and Democrats to come together to solve our most urgent problems. Is it too much to ask that, in middle of all these efforts to make sure that people in the military are still paid, the government could agree to write us a check and accidentally add a few zeros? The American people are sick of time-traveling Nazis using either the Republicans or the Democrats to manipulate them into believing that they need to go into debt the giant corporations as part of their patriotic duty. I urge all true Americans therefore to send Washington a message by supporting a small antique bookstore in the northern part of the greater Los Angeles area that does not use times of distress as cover for crass demands for money. What can be more patriotic than supporting a small business and the Library Congress, an institution founded with the active support of Thomas Jefferson one of our founding fathers?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Patriotic Christian Artscroll on Steroids

The Jewish publishing company Artscroll has become infamous in certain circles for its creative adaptation of Song of Songs that avoids the problem of the books fairly explicit sexual material by not translating the work at all. Instead it simply gives a pious gloss that turns the entire book into a dialogue between the nation of Israel and God. This comical attempt to avoid an uncomfortable issue has become a symbol of the wider intellectual dishonesty that permeates Artscroll as it cuts and pasts the entire Jewish tradition to manufacture one suitable to its Haredi audience.

Long before Artscroll, Jews have been complaining about the license taken by Christians in their adaptive translations of the Bible, turning "young woman" into "virgin" and "like a lion" into "pierced." Here at Kline's we have a Christian hymnbook from 1811 that takes Psalms and gives them an explicit Christian twist. This leads to things like Psalms 2 saying: "Why did the Jews proclaim their rage? The Romans, why their swords employ? Against the Lord their powers engage, His dear Anointed to destroy?" when the text is supposed to be about the gentile nations plotting. For Psalms 22 we have:

The Jews beheld him thus forlorn, and shook their heads and laugh'd in scorn;
"He rescued others from the grave,
Now let him try himself to save."
Barbarous people! cruel priests!
How they stood round, like savage beasts,
Like lions gaping to devour, 
When God had left him in their power.
They wound his head, his hands, his feet,
Till streams of blood each other meet;
By lot his garments they divide,
And mock the pangs, in which he died.

This hymnal also brings the spirit of the American Revolution into Psalms. For Psalms 75 we learn:

No vain pretence to royal birth
Shall fix a tyrant on the throne;
God, the great sovereign of the earth, 
Will make the rights of Man be known,

This line of thinking was quite typical of early American culture. It thought of itself as the new nation of Israel in the new promised land. The American Revolution was not simply a secular event leading to the establishment of the separation of Church and State, but a profoundly religious event of biblical proportions. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Jacob R. Marcus' Orchot Tzaddikim

Jacob R. Marcus was a leading twentieth century Jewish historian best known for his source book Jew in the Medieval World. He was also one of the leaders of American Reform Judaism. So it came as a bit of a surprise to come across a copy of Feldheim's Torah Classics Library bilingual edition of Orchot Tzaddikim inscribed by the translator to him. One would not normally expect Feldheim books to end up in the libraries of Reform rabbis. It gets better. The translator, Seymour J. Cohen was a Conservative rabbi. So what was Feldheim doing printing works by conservative rabbis? That is practically like relying on them for kosher supervision. Oh wait, up until quite recently it was perfectly acceptable to rely on the supervision of conservative rabbis. It is amazing how Orthodox Jewish publishing has changed. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A Gentile Physician Defends Metzizah B'Peh in 1900

Peter Charles Remondino (1846-1926) was an Italian-American physician, who served on the San Diego Board of Health. Despite not being Jewish, he wrote a remarkably positive book on circumcision, which he supported on medical grounds, titled a History of Circumcision from the Earliest Times to the Present. Among the topics he covers is that of Metzizah B'Peh, the oral suction of the circumcision wound, which has, in recent years been the topic of some controversy. According to Remondino:

Intelligent rabbis, devoted to their religion, are necessarily prone to defend any of the details in its ceremonials that age and practice have sanctioned, and even some of the later writings of Israelism seem to make the mezizah, or suction, a necessary and ceremonial detail. In the "Guimara," composed in the fifth century, Rabbi Rav Popé uses these words: "All operators who fail to use suction, and thereby cause the infant to fun any risk, should be destituted of the right to perform the ceremony." In the "Mishna" it says, "It is permitted on the Sabbath to do all that is necessary to perform circumcision, excision, denudation, and suction." The "Mishna" was composed during the second century. The celebrated Maimonides lent it his sanction, as in his work on circumcision he advises suction, to avoid any subsequent danger. Our modern Israelites are supposed, as a rule, to have taken their authority, aside from previous usage and custom, from the "Beth Yosef," which was written by Joseph Karo, and subsequently annotated by the Rabbi Israel Isserth. In all of these sanctions, however, there is no reason expressed why it should be performed. Maimonides undoubtedly looked upon this act as having a decided tendency or action in depleting the immediate vessels in the vicinity of the cut surface, and that the consequent constriction in their calibre would prevent any future haemorrhage. That this is the natural result of suction is a fact readily understood by any modern physician. The depletion of the vessel for some distance in its length, with the contraction in the coast that follows, is certainly a better preventive to consequent haemorrhage than the simple application of any styptic preparation that can only be placed at the mouth of the vessel, but which leaves its calibre intact. Hot water, or an extreme degree of cold, will answer to produce this contraction and depletion, but there is here a local physical reaction that is more liable to occur than when the contraction has taken place naturally, as when induced by depletion, instead of by the stimulus of either heat or cold. So that if, in the light of modern civilization and changed conditions of mankind, and the existence of diseases which formerly did not exist, we are now convinced that suction is dangerous, we should not judge the ancients too hastily or rashly for having adopted the custom, as it is certainly not without some scientific merit; although, authorities are not wanting who hold that suction or depletion increases the danger of haemorrhage. (Remondino, History of Circumcision, 153-54.)