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Prominent 19th Century Rabbi’s Correspondence Digitized by Yeshiva University Archives

October 28th, 2013 by Libraryblog

MoraisDocumentation of Jewish religious, communal and intellectual life in the late 19th- early 20th centuries has become more accessible as a result of the digitization of the Henry S. Morais Papers, now available online through Yeshiva University Archives’ Finding Aids database.

Henry Morais (1860-1935), son of the illustrious Jewish leader Sabato Morais, was a rabbi as well as a journalist.  He succeeded his father as minister of Philadelphia’s prominent Congregation Mikve Israel, and also held pulpit positions in New York City, where he settled later in his life.

Morias’ Papers primarily contain his incoming correspondence, which consists of over 2000 items from a broad range of individual and organizational correspondents.  It is one of the Archives’ few collections acquired with the involvement of Yeshiva’s first president, Bernard Revel; in fact the Archives’ Revel Papers contain correspondence between Morais and Revel regarding Morais’ contribution of books and manuscripts to YU’s nascent research library.

The finding aid, or descriptive guide, to the Henry Morais Papers includes a complete name index to the more than 600 correspondents, enhancing access to the materials.  Digital versions of each folder’s contents can be viewed by selecting the link for each folder in the Detailed Description of the Collection section of the finding aid.  Click here to view the finding aid.

The Archives’ Finding Aids database contains over 300 guides to YU’s rich and diverse trove of organizational records and personal papers relating to modern Jewish history and culture in the United States and abroad.  The Morais Papers are the first of future collections to be fully digitized by the Archives.  Materials not digitized may be viewed by appointment with the Archives at archives@yu.edu or (212) 960-5451.

Posted by Deena Schwimmer

The Intellectual History and Rabbinic Culture of Medieval Ashkenaz

October 22nd, 2013 by Libraryblog

IHRCMAThe Intellectual History and Rabbinic Culture of Medieval Ashkenaz, By Ephraim Kanarfogel, Wayne State University Press, 2013 was awarded the Goldstein-Goren prize for Best Book in Jewish Thought, by the International Center for Jewish Thought at Ben-Gurion University.

For years the assumption of many scholars of Medieval Jewish history was that the Ashkenazic rabbis of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries were almost exclusively focused on Talmud and Halacha in contradistinction to their counterparts in Sephardic lands.  This led scholars “to ignore or downplay” the extra-talmudic disciplines within the Medieval Ashkenazic world. Prof.  Ephraim Kanarfogel’s book demonstrates that there were actually wide-ranging and multifaceted intellectual developments within Ashkenaz during this period.  In his analysis of the French and German Tosafists, Kanarfogel highlights the disciplines of biblical exegesis, philosophy, mysticism and poetry.

Rabbi Dr. Kanarfogel is the founding and current director of the Rebecca Ivry Department of Jewish Studies at Stern College for Women and the E. Billi Ivry University Professor of Jewish History, Literature and Law.

Posted by Hallie L Cantor

Solomon Schechter: A postcard from Cairo

September 30th, 2013 by Libraryblog

Over a century ago, news of the discovery of the Cairo Genizah in Egypt rocked the world of Jewish Studies.  Scholars made pilgrimages to Cairo to study and gather the fragile fragments. Today students of the Genizah are able to sit comfortably at computers and virtually weave together document scraps from repositories all over the world.

Rabbi Solomon Schechter, then a lecturer in Talmud and Rabbinics at Cambridge University, traveled to Cairo in December 1896 to explore the Genizah.  A postcard he penned during his visit to his friend and colleague, Dr. [Marcus] Brann, in Breslau, provides a glimpse of the experience.

The postcard will be on display at Yeshiva University Museum’s exhibit: Threshold to the Sacred: The Ark Door of Cairo’s Ben Ezra Synagogue, from October 28, 2013 to February 23, 2014.

Here is the Hebrew postcard, held by Yeshiva University Archives, with translation and transcription.



Cairo c/o Cooks Agency
1.4.96 (possibly Jan. 4, 1897)
Bezh  [בעזה]

My dear good, honored, friend,

GREETINGS to you and to your dear wife and family,
All is well with me here in the Land of Egypt.  For our many sins [bav"h – בעו"ה] there is no kosher hotel here and I am sick of the local food.
I am busy with mitzvot (good deeds) almost all day, and please God, I will be successful.
Please tell me, my friend, what is the cost of a Vilna Shas [Talmud] on excellent paper, can you purchase it for me, and what is the cost of sending it to Egypt?
Please God, I will be here all month.  Please write to me at the address above.
How is our friend Rabbi [Jacob?] Guttmann?  Please ask him if he received a packet of manuscripts and notes [fragments?].  I’ll write to him in a few days.
Among the Jews here I found some venerable people and also a few Bene Torah [religious people?], according to the ancient custom. Last Sabbath I went to see the Rambam Synagogue, and in contrast, the synagogue of the Karaites.
I have some more matters to tell you but I’m lazy, for our many sins [bav"h – בעו"ה]].  From here I will go with the help of God to the Land of Israel., etc.

Your dear friend,

Z. Schechter



Cairo c/o Cooks Agency  בעזה

                                                                                                                                                                        1.4.96 (possibly Jan. 4, 1897)

ידידי הטוב והנכבד שלום

לך ולאשתך היקרה

ולכל ב”ב. גם לי שלום פה בארץ מצרים. בעו”ה אין כאן האטעל

.כשר ומאכלי התושבים תקוץ נפשי בהם

הנני עוסק במצות

 כמעט כל היום ואקוה כי חפץ ה’ יצלח בידי. הגד נא לי ידידי

מה הוא המחיר של ש”ס ווילנא על נייר רעגאל ואם תוכל לקנותו

בעבורי וגם  מה יהיה כסף המשלוח למצרים. אי”ה אשאר פה כל

ירח זה וכתוב נא לי על האדרעסע הרשומה למעלה. מה הוא

שלום ידידינו הרב גוטמאנן. שאל נא אותו אם קבל צרור כת’י

.ופתקאות. אכתוב לו בעוד איזה ימים

בין היהודים פה

 מצאתי כמה אנשים נכבדים וג”כ בני תורה מעט לפי

המנהג הקדום. ביום שבת העבר הלכתי לראות את

הבהכ”נס של הרמבם . וזה לעומת זה ג”כ בהכ”נס

של הקראים. יש לי להגיד לך כמה ענינים אבל עצל  הנני

.בעו”ה… מפה אלך בעזה לארץ ישראל וכו

ידידך אוהבך,  ז. שעכטער

Posted by Shulamith Z. Berger


August 25th, 2013 by Libraryblog

HHSP-2Cantor Leib Lange, known as the “Muscover” hazan, officiated at High Holiday services at Yeshiva in 1945.  Cantor Lange, a native of the Ukraine, studied at the Odessa Conservatory, and moved from Moscow to the United States in 1933. The patriotic red, white, and blue color scheme of the publicity poster may have been influenced by the imminent end of World War II.

Cantor Lange’s leadership of the prayer services must have been compelling, since he was invited back in 1949, when his contract specified that “the services to be rendered by the Cantor… are to be performed in an artistic manner and to the best of the ability of the Cantor. The Cantor hereby guarantees that the said services will be as inspiring and impressive as is humanly possible.”

The poster and contract are in the Yeshiva University Archives.

Posted by Shulamith Z. Berger

The Challenge of Received Tradition

August 16th, 2013 by Libraryblog

CORTNaomi Grunhaus, Professor of Judaic Studies at Stern College for Women, presents new insight into the commentary of R. David Kimhi (acronym Radak). The Challenge of Received Tradition (Oxford University Press) is the first since Frank Talmage’s seminal 1975 work to delve exclusively into Radak’s exegesis. Integrating midrash and rabbinic teachings, Prof. Grunhaus examines Radak’s interpretative strategy, which emphasizes grammar and syntax to extract straightforward meaning from biblical text, peshat, while revering the earlier, classic interpreters who extracted rabbinic rulings and moral messages, derash.  By balancing the two seemingly contradictory methods, and exploring Radak’s thought and choice of words, she aims to help the student or scholar read his commentary with greater critical and analytical understanding.

Posted by Hallie L Cantor

Miriam Meiri

August 8th, 2013 by Libraryblog

MM1The library staff at Yeshiva University mourns the loss of our dear colleague and friend, Miriam Meiri, ז”ל , who passed away last week.

In his eulogy for his mother, Miriam’s son Ya’akov described her devotion to the Library where she spent over thirty years.  Her work in the Library and its milieu of professors and students helped satisfy her intellectual curiosity and gave her emotional satisfaction as well.  When the financial crisis of the 1970’s forced the university to let Miriam go, she was heartbroken.  She longed to return and was extremely happy when she was re-hired.

Miriam was full of vigor and vitality and her work ethic never waned, even at the very end.  She was diligently cataloging a book at her desk in the Gottesman Library the afternoon before her scheduled surgery.

תהי נשמתה צרורה בצרור החיים

Shi’ure Yesamah Av

July 26th, 2013 by Libraryblog

ShiureYesamahAvShi’ure Yesamah Av, by Eli Baruch Shulman. Michael Scharf Publication Trust of the Yeshiva University Press, 2013.

Shi’ure Yesamah Av on the Talmudic chapters Keitsad Mevarkhin, Kol Sha’ah and Arvei Pesahim is a collection of insights and essays by Yeshiva University’s Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Eliahu Baruch Shulman. These chapters, which are part of tractates Berakhot and Pesahim, comprise the laws of blessings and topics relevant to the observance of Passover. The book, which reflects Rabbi Shulman’s penetrating and rigorous analytical style, is based on shiurim that he delivered in the Yeshiva and in the Young Israel of Midwood where he serves as rabbi.

Posted by Moshe Schapiro.

Polish Chief Rabbi Threatens to Resign Over Shehitah Ban in Poland – 1936 or 2013?

July 18th, 2013 by Libraryblog

The Polish parliament recently re-affirmed a bill banning kosher slaughter (shehitah).  The Chief Rabbi of Poland, Michael Schudrich, has said he will resign if shehitah is not legalized in Poland.  This is not the only time ritual slaughter has been under attack in Poland.

In February 1936, a bill designed to end shehitah in Poland was introduced in the Polish Sejm (lower house of the senate).  It was modeled on a Nazi sponsored anti-shehitah law passed in Bavaria in 1930, which required animals to be stunned before slaughter. Rabbi Isaac Rubinstein, a rabbi in Vilna and member of the Polish Sejm, immediately cabled the Central Relief Committee (CRC) for statistical information on shehitah in the United States, data he thought could strengthen the case to defend ritual slaughter in Poland.  The CRC, the Orthodox arm of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, was well-known to rabbis in Eastern Europe for the aid it provided to yeshivot.  Rabbis Israel Rosenberg and Abraham Horowitz of the CRC wired telegrams to rabbis in sixteen communities across the United States for the relevant figures. One of the telegrams was addressed to Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik of Roxbury, MA, though the telegram in response records Rabbi H. Soloveitchik.
RabbiRubinsteintelegramCRC216-7 CRCshehitahtelegram216-7 RavSoloveitchiktelegramCRC216-7

Despite these efforts, the Polish law entitled “the Law Concerning the Slaughtering of Domestic Animals in Slaughterhouses” was adopted on April 17, 1936. Animals were to be stunned, with the exception of a provision for shehitah, in proportion to the population which required it.  In areas which were less than 3% Jewish, shehitah was illegal.  A blanket law prohibiting shehitah in Poland was passed on March 22, 1939, in the Sejm, but was still pending in the upper Senate when World War II broke out. Poland was invaded by the Nazis who unilaterally prohibited shehitah.

Rabbi Isaac Rubinstein left Poland in 1941 for the United States. He was awarded an honorary doctorate by Yeshiva College in 1944, at Dr. Samuel Belkin’s inauguration as President of Yeshiva College.

The correspondence of the CRC is housed in 299 boxes in the Yeshiva University Archives.

For more information on the history of shehitah legislation, see:  Religious Freedom: the right to practice Shehitah (Kosher Slaughtering) / by Isaac Lewin, Michael L. Munk, Jeremiah J. Berman. New York: Research Institute for Post-War Problems of Religious Jewry, 1946.
Posted by Shulamith Z. Berger

Index of References Dealing with Talmudic Literature

July 11th, 2013 by Libraryblog

LiebermanIndex of References Dealing with Talmudic Literature, colloquially known as The Lieberman CD, is now available via the Internet. The Index, developed by the Saul Lieberman Institute of Talmudic Research at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, includes the Mishna, Tosefta, Jerusalem Talmud and the Babylonian Talmud. A search for a specific page within the Babylonian Talmud, for example, will yield a list of references to other works in which the Talmudic text is discussed. The Index refers to more than 1000 books from the Geonic period to modern times, covering both modern critical scholarship and traditional works.

A new, exciting feature made possible in the Internet version of the database is direct linking to the text of some of the indexed books, which are available online at Hebrewbooks.org. The Index has always been an ongoing, growing project and now through the Internet it will continue to branch out and expand in multiple new ways.

Posted by Moshe Schapiro.

Nathan Birnbaum and Jewish Modernity.

June 25th, 2013 by libraryblog

NathanBirnbaumNathan Birnbaum and Jewish Modernity : Architect of Zionism, Yiddishism, and Orthodoxy, by Jess Olson. Stanford University Press, 2013.

In this volume, Dr. Jess Olson, Associate Professor of Jewish history at Yeshiva University, presents us with a study of Dr. Nathan Birnbaum’s involvement in various and disparate elements of the modern Jewish experience.  Olson analyzes Birnbaum’s impact on the Zionist movement (Birnbaum coined the word “Zionist”); he describes Birnbaum’s  role in the Jewish cultural autonomy movement which resulted in the First International Yiddish Language Conference;  and he provides us with an exhaustive portrayal of Birnbaum the Baal Teshuva, the orthodox Jew and leader in the Agudath Israel movement.

Olson succeeds in shedding much new light on the final chapter in Birnbaum’s life, a period of particular interest to the YU reader.  Using the Birnbaum family archives in Toronto, a unique archive that chronicles the complete career of this important personality, Olson uncovered correspondence between Birnbaum and orthodox leaders and activists, including Rabbi Tuvia Horowitz of Sanok, Poland, and Mr. Jacob Rosenheim, leader of the World Agudath Israel.
Olson also helps us to understand Birnbaum the spiritual master who tried to create a unique Jewish spiritual grouping called Oylim, a fellowship devoted to spiritual growth and Jewish renewal within an orthodox framework.

In addition to a well-documented study of Birnbaum the Zionist, the linguist, the political leader who was a candidate for the Austrian parliament, the Baal Teshuva, the leader of the Agudath Israel, Olson offers us a window into the inner life of a spiritual seeker, an organic figure who is striving for meaning as a Jew in modern times.

Posted by Zalman Alpert.