Sunday, March 18, 2018

Entries from The Diary of a Jewish Bookseller, March 2018

There are numerous reasons people have for building rare book collections, but one I encountered recently, was totally new to me. I discovered, that a customer who was buying a number of rare books for me, was using the books as a method to hide money from his wife, whom he is now divorcing.

A newly married young man came in with request for some help. His father-in-law is coming in for a first visit to their new home, and he desperately needed to fill his bookcase with some classic sefarim. There is only one chance for first impressions and he wanted to make sure he got it right.

A young man who is a regular visitor to the store, brought along his date on his latest store visit. The relationship was getting serious, and he didn't want her to have any unpleasant surprises after he got married. They left after a few hours browsing through books, her pile of books being slightly higher than his.

A Satmar teenager visits the store and in Yinglish asks me for books on Israeli Soldiers and the history of IDF.

An older gentleman, walked in off the street, made his way all the way to the back of the store, passing aisles and aisles of books. He proceeded to ask me, "Do you sell books?", to which I responded that actually we are just preparing flammables for a bonfire.

A first time customer tells me that now, that he is "done Jewish Philosophy", if I can please help him find books on Jewish History.

Two customers, in conversation in the store, discovered they both write anonymously to the same Jewish Periodical, under various aliases. After much hesitation, and inner turmoil, they revealed to each other their pen-names. For one of them, this being the very first time he has outed himself in public. Fearful of repercussions from his insular community for his "open minded" writing, he insisted this information remain a secret, lest his family be made to suffer.

A prominent Jewish organization contacted me, looking to purchase a gift for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. We settled on 2 first editions of works of the Abarbanel. Bibi's father, Ben-Zion Netanyahu, wrote his dissertation and published a biography of the Abarbanel. I received word that the gift was a great hit with the Prime Minister.

The following pair of Rabbinic portraits came with a book collection I acquired, though I have not had success in identifying them. Any help from you readers, would be greatly appreciated.

We recently acquired several fine collections of Haggadot, we currently have over 1000 different Haggadot available.
You can view them all here…
Hebrew ones can be viewed here…/Religious-Hebrew-/_i.html…
with Perushim here…/Hebrew-books-/_i.html…
English ones here…/English-Jewish-books-/_i.html…
and antiquarian and rare Haggadot here…/Antique-Jewish-books-/_i.html…
As always, they can be purchased online or over the phone at 347-492-6508, and can be either picked up from our store or shipped.
An early Hag Sameach

Noted posek, R. Nota Greenblatt, perusing rare works on Gittin at Mizrahi Bookstore

Remember the Sabbath day זכור את יום השבת, in a modern Maskil's fashion

Jewish History is rife with mass conversions to other religions and assimilation but the phenomenon of Jews who abandon their religion but are stuck up their neck in their Jewishness is a 18th and 19th century mostly European phenomenon. One of the few survivors of this breed is Prof. David Assaf, who inscribed a copy of a work he edited to Prof. Allan Nadler, with the following opening lines:
שבת קודש.. בעיצומו של יום
Shabbat Kodesh... in the middle of the Day

He signs off
רב ומגיד שיעור בבית המדרש דת"א דמתקרי אוניברסיטאט תל אביב

a 1920s Biegeleisen Bookstore catalog of exclusively Haskalah works

I came across recently an old and rather insightful Biegeleisen book-list from the old days when the business was in Boro-Park, before their move to the Lower East Side and eventual return to Boro-Park, Brooklyn. The list of over 1000 items, containing just Hebrew works of Haskalah literature, is a fascinating look in to the tastes and wide range of interests of Jews in Boro-Park of the day, something which may come as a shock to it's current inhabitants.

Much can be seen from what Mr Biegeleisen determined to be classified as Haskalah. Some of the expected authors are there, Krochmal, Sholem Aleichem, Ephraim Deinard, Bialik, Levinson but also many authors which not be expected. Some of these include R. Abraham Isaac Kook, R. Yehuda Aryeh De Modena, and R. Haim Hirschensohn. Somehow, Joseph Klasuner's book on Jesus, titled ישו הנוצרי makes a showing more than once as well.

a Talmud Yerushalmi, inscribed to and owned by a woman

It is unusual to see Rabbinic works owned by women, even more so a complex talmudic commentary such as this work I found, inscribed to her by the author. The book was a Talmud Yerushalmi, with commentaries, tractate Shabbat, with additional commentaries by R. Meyer Abovitz, published for the first time. It was published in 1926, Vilna.
On free-end, is an inscription by the author to his relative, Ronia Brooks and her husband, inscribed and signed by the author.
the inscription reads למזכרת לשארת בשרי האשה הכבודה והחשובה מרת ראניע ברוקס תחי' ולבעלה הנכבד מאת ש"ב המחבר
בשנים עשר לחדש סיון ה' תרפ"ו

Meyer Abovitz (מאיר בן ישעיהו אבוביץ; alternate spelling Meir Abowitz; born 1876 - died 1941) was a Rabbi and Rosh Yeshiva active in Mizrachi in Eastern Europe between the Two World Wars

An unusual title for a practical guide to Amulets, titled נחש הנחשת

The ongoing debate regarding the use of amulets in Judaism, will most likely be going on eternally. One book which I recently acquired, seems to sum it all up in it's title. The book, titled נחש הנחשת, being the bronze serpent on a pole, which Moshe Rabbenu made to protect the Jews from fiery serpents which God has sent to punish them, "עֲשֵׂה לְךָ שָׂרָף וְשִׂים אֹתוֹ עַל-נֵס; וְהָיָה כָּל-הַנָּשׁוּךְ - וְרָאָה אֹתוֹ, וָחָי".

In Melachim, King Hezekiah institutes an iconoclastic reform that requires the destruction of "the brazen serpent that Moses had made; for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it; and it was called Nehushtan". The term means "a brazen thing, a mere piece of brass". M. G. Easton noted that "the lapse of nearly one thousand years had invested the 'brazen serpent' with a mysterious sanctity; and in order to deliver the people from their infatuation, and impress them with the idea of its worthlessness, Hezekiah called it, in contempt, 'Nehushtan', a brazen thing, a mere piece of brass" "וְכִתַּת נְחַשׁ הַנְּחֹשֶׁת אֲשֶׁר-עָשָׂה מֹשֶׁה, כִּי עַד-הַיָּמִים הָהֵמָּה הָיוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל מְקַטְּרִים לוֹ; וַיִּקְרָא-לוֹ נְחֻשְׁתָּן".

This book, contains a very practical guide to writing amulets, love lotions, magical remedies, and lotteries to determine the future. Following the title page, appears a stark warning from the publisher, stating that much calamity can be forthcoming from using such a book and he only published it to fulfill the wishes of the author, רבי שלום כתר. The author testifies in his introduction, that there is no need to actually use the book, just having it in your home, will bring protection and blessings to it's owner. Perhaps there can be no better title for such a book, that though well-intentioned, can result in idolatry and superstitious beliefs, far removed from Judaism.

Lottery ticket from the Jewish Community of Parur, India

Stuck in an old tome, I found a tiny window into the life of the Jews of Parur (now known as Paravur), Cochin, India.
The lithographed lottery ticket, which came at a cost of four Indian Anna (1/16th of a Rupee), was to benefit the Jewish Education Committee of Parur. The rules for the winner seem to be rather complex, and the list of prizes varied from a silk Tallit, to a pair of Tefillin, gilt-edged prayer books and a pocket watch.

Pages from the History of Artscroll Publishing, the "Artscroll suitcase"

On two recent occasions, I acquired along with libraries purchased, 2 different "Artscroll Suitcases". These suitcases were given out to former and potential mega-donors at the dinner, March 2005, which celebrated the completion of the Artscroll Babylonian Shas. The suitcase included a Commemorative Journal, the evening dinner schedule, an Artscroll Pen, Artscroll Birchon, a history of the Artscroll Talmud, along with presentation copies of the final volume of the Babylonian and the first of the Jerusalem Talmud.

In a sign of the changing times, at the most recent such Artscroll gathering of donors, each prospective donor received an iPad with access to all of Artscroll's e-books. Though the Jewish Publishing world has so far resisting much of the shift towards the electronic books, Artscroll seems to be now focusing more on these projects. It may soon be a common sight to walk in to a Bet Medrash and see 20 Ba'ale Batim learning Daf-Yomi with no books in sight.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Entries from The Diary of a Jewish Bookseller and recent acquisitions, Jan 2018

It's been long overdue, but I finally hosted my first recognizable Neo-Nazi in the store. A tourist from Germany, the middle-aged man called to make an appointment to visit, telling me that he bumped in to Jews regularly and wanted to learn more about them. Upon entering the store, he tells me that his interest of study is on the "attempted assimilation of Germany Jewry". It soon became apparent that what attracted him most were 1930s German Antisemitica and his political ramblings confirmed his alignment with Neo-Nazi beliefs. Thankfully, he was of the pseudo-intellectual type, and of the preference, that though Jews need to be eliminated, he would leave the work for others.

A regular customer who is master linguist, with an avid interest in ancient Biblical languages, chanced upon a scholar in the store who wrote a lexicon of the Phoenician Language. It was elating to view the fanfare and excitement in which the scholar was received, with selfies taken, and autographs given. A brief conversation in Phoenician ensued, most likely the first time a proper conversation took place in this language since the fall of Sidon to Alexander the great.

Early one morning, I receive a call from 2 Jews who want to come in from Kiryat Yoel to visit the store. Upon arrival, one enters the store and the other calls me from the car with a minor request. He would love to enter the store, but his Rebbe forbids him to enter a building that has an Israeli flag, as it is comparable to idol worship. He kindly requested that I remove the flag, which has been on the store door since day one, until he leaves, to which I flatly refuse. After a half hour of contemplation in his car, a solution was discovered. His friend, who apparently was ok with entering the store, would block the door as he entered, so the flag will not be seen by him. The same maneuver was performed when he exited the store.

After an intense bout of persuading and cajoling, I was able to convince a woman who called to sell her husband's library, to wait until the Shiva is over. It appeared that the wife had finally won, by the act of outliving him, the lifelong battle she had with her husband over his overflowing library which took over ever nook and cranny of the house. She wanted them out immediately, though thankfully, I was able to push it to a time when I wouldn't have to work around those paying a shivah call. 

A customer who made no contact for many months after leaving behind a hefty balance, called to apologize. He was arrested and was in custody, and thus could not call, but once he obtained the possibility, he says I was the first phone call he made. We settled the balance, and I was given the address of the correctional facility where the future orders would go.

An actual message I received from a customer who demanded I allow him to return a score of Steinsaltz Talmuds he ordered over the last year; "I read a katava signed by Rav Shach zecher tzaddik livracha, Rav Kanievsky shlita and Rav Shteinman shlita forbidding those to read adin steinsalz works. I know Rav Shach was a tzaddik and if he hates someone it is because they oker Torah as real tzaddikim do not hate. do not speak bad about tzaddikim as if you do you will inherit gehinnom"

A seventh day adventist pastor visiting the store this week remarked, "I identify more with Maimonides, less so with the thought of R. Samson Raphael Hirsch".

Some prominent recent acquisitions include the libraries of:

Rabbi Mordecai Efron a"h, who served as Rabbi of Hillcrest Jewish Center of Queens. A long-time member of the Hillcrest community, Rabbi Efron has served as the associate rabbi of the congregation for almost a quarter of a century. Upon his graduation from Yeshivah University, Rabbi Efron continued his studies at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, where he was ordained in 1945. Not long after his graduation from the seminary, Rabbi Efron assumed the pulpit of the Sons of Jacob Congregation in Vineland, NJ, where he served for 23 years. Upon an invitation from Israel Mowshowitz, who was then the rabbi of the Hillcrest Jewish Center, Rabbi Efron joined the congregation as assistant rabbi. In the course of the 23 years he was to serve the Hillcrest Jewish Center, he has led a variety of programs that involved teaching, counseling, preaching, and ministering in all rabbinic functions for the congregation's thousands of members. Rabbi Efron's talents and contributions have also extended beyond the Hillcrest community. He has been honored by the United Jewish Appeal, State of Israel Bonds, and the B'nai B'rith Anti-Defamation League.

Rabbi Samuel H. Dresner ob"mwho had served congregations in Highland Park and Deerfield, where he was widely credited with increasing attention to Jewish traditions on the holidays of Succoth and Shavout, as well as with increasing the number of families in those communities keeping kosher homes. Rabbi Dresner headed the Beth El synagogue in Highland Park from 1969 until 1977, founding Deerfield's Moriah Congregation immediately after that. He retired in 1984 and moved to New York, where he has served as a visiting professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Rav Tzvi (Hersh) Levenberg zt”l. Rav Levenberg was a son of Rav Yehuda Heschel Levenberg, a well-known pioneer in the implanting of the European Jewish community on the shores of America. Rav Hersh’s father immigrated to the United States in the summer of 1910 and soon afterwards was appointed as chief rabbi of Jersey City, New Jersey. In 1917, he accepted a rabbinical position in New Haven, Connecticut, and was appointed as chief rabbi there in 1920. He established a yeshiva there in 1923. In 1930, after accepting a position as rov in Cleveland, Ohio, Rav Yehuda Heschel moved his yeshiva there. In his youth, Rav Hersh studied at Yeshivas Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin in Brooklyn, where he drew especially close to the rosh yeshiva, Rav Yitzchok Hutner zt”l. Rav Hersh, upon reaching the age of marriage, wedded his wife Chana, a daughter of Rav Moshe Shatzkes, the Lomza Rov. Rav Hersh, who was known as a young budding talmid chochom, became a rebbi at Yeshivas Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin in Brooklyn, where he was marbitz Torah for decades, and then taught at Yeshiva of Eastern Parkway.

Prof. Rabbi Allan Nadler, Professor of Religious Studies at Drew, former Rabbi of Congregation Shaar Hashomayim in Montreal, Quebec and author of The Faith of the Mithnagdim: Rabbinic Responses to Hasidic Rapture, as well as numerous articles and book reviews.

Rabbi Yosef Katzenstein, Rav of a kehillah in Brooklyn, NY for many decades, a talmid muvhak of Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner and author of Lema'an Achai and other sefarim.

Rabbi Joyce Newmark of Teaneck, New Jersey, a former religious leader of congregations in Leonia, New Jersey, and Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and the only Rabbi to win Jeopardy.

Rabbi Dr. David S. Halpern ob"m, Rabbi Halpern graduated from Yeshiva College in 1949, and received his rabbinic ordination from Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary of Yeshiva University in 1952. The Smicha was signed by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Rabbi Samuel Belkin, and Rabbi Moshe Shatzkes. Rabbi Halpern served as Rabbi of Flatbush Park congregation in Mill Basin, Brooklyn for many decades from 1952 and on.

Underground "illegal" Jewish Calendars from the Soviet Union

A large collection of rare books I recently acquired contained a collection of Jewish Calendars from the Soviet Union. Due to fear of government reprisals, these calendars were handwritten and copied in secret. A few of the calendars, which span several decades, are photocopies of handwritten calendars.
A vivid reminder, of the determination and efforts of some of Soviet Jewry to preserve their faith, despite the constant fear of repercussions.

A manuscript of Shadal's Work on Hebrew Grammar, Grammatica ragionata della lingua ebraica

I was lucky enough to acquire recently a beautiful manuscript, being Samuel David Luzzatto's work on Hebrew Grammar, titled Grammatica ragionata della lingua ebraica, del Professore S. D. Luzzatto.

The manuscript appears to be one used by one of his students or perhaps the copy that was used for it's publication, which appeared in the year 1853 under the title Grammatica della Lingua ebraica, by Samuel David Luzzatto. The handwriting is beautiful and very readable, and an index appears at the end as well. The text has many variations from the printed text, I hope to fine the manuscript a home where it will be analyzed and compared to the printed edition.

Many Thanks to Shimon Steinmetz. for his assistance in researching the manuscript.