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.)