Thursday, July 17, 2014

Converting between Hebrew and Gregorian Years

How does one calculate the Gregorian year from the Hebrew year (and the reverse)?

To calculate the Gregorian year from the Hebrew year, convert the Hebrew letters to numerals and add the number 1240 to that result. For the reverse, subtract the number 1240 from the Gregorian year and then convert the numerals to Hebrew letters. For a chart to convert the Hebrew alphabet to numbers, see here. If you are given the Hebrew year in numerals (e.g. 5774), exclude 5,000 in your calculation (see below) and add 1240 to the remaining numerals (e.g. 774). 

Some examples:

1. Hebrew year: תרכד
In numerals: 
    ת is 400
    ר is 200
    כ is 20
     ד is 4
Sum of numerals: 400 + 200 + 20 + 4 =624 (The year תרכד actually is the year 5624, but the 5,000 is left off for the purposes of the calculation and is assumed). 
Add 624 to 1240: 624 + 1240 = 1864

2. English year: 2011
Subtract 1240: 2011 - 1240 = 771 (The year actually is 5771, but the 5,000 is assumed). 
Convert to Hebrew letters: There is no Hebrew letter with the numerical equivalent as high as 700, but 700 is 400 + 300, ת and ש.
70 = ע
1 = א
Result: תשעא

From the time between the Hebrew New Year in the Fall to the Gregorian New Year in the Winter, the year is off by one, so this device is not always exact unless you know the month. This device generally though often proves helpful to librarians, who typically need to calculate the particular year in which a book was printed. 

The JTS Library has many books on the topic of the Jewish calendar. For example, Judaism, Mathematics, and the Hebrew Calendar, by Hyman Gabai, presents a comprehensive, in depth analysis of the Hebrew calendar. The Jewish Calendar, by Rabbi David Feinstein, also offers a good overview of the calendar and Jewish holidays, as well as a section titled "Basic rules of calendar-based liturgies." Hebrew and Solar Calendar Every Day for 200 Years, by Victor E. Levy, and The Comprehensive Hebrew Calendar, by Arthur Spier, offer conversion charts and introductory explanations of the calendar system. Calendrical Calculations, by Edward M. Reingold, provides a mathematical explanation of the Julian, Gregorian, Jewish, and Muslim calendars. For a historical perspective, consult the book Palaces of Time: Jewish Calendar and Culture in Early Modern Europe, by Elisheva Carlebach.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Witnesses in Jewish Law

Where is there a source in Jewish Law that states that someone who eats a meal in the marketplace becomes disqualified from serving as a witness?

The Mishnah and Babylonian Talmud in Tractate Kiddushin page 40b discuss this topic. The text from the Soncino translation (Epstein, Rabbi Dr. I. The Babylonian Talmud. London: Soncino Press, 1935-1948) reads as follows:

“MISHNAH. HE WHO IS VERSED IN BIBLE, MISHNAH, AND SECULAR PURSUITS10 WILL NOT EASILY11 SIN, FOR IT IS SAID, AND A THREEFOLD CORD IS NOT QUICKLY BROKEN.12 BUT HE WHO LACKS BIBLE, MISHNAH AND SECULAR PURSUITS DOES NOT BELONG TO CIVILISATION.BUT HE WHO LACKS BIBLE, MISHNAH [etc.]. R. Johanan said: And he is unfit to testify.”

Talmud: “Our Rabbis taught: He who eats in the market-place is like a dog; and some say that he is unfit to testify. R. Idi b. Abin said: The halachah agrees with the latter.”

Rashi on this topic offers a reason for this law, namely that such a person acts in an undignified manner and as such lacks self-respect. Someone who lacks self-respect will not feel embarrassed about testifying falsely. The Tosafist commentators question Rashi’s reason based on other sources that imply that it is undignified only for a Torah scholar to eat in the marketplace, but for others not, and offer three other possible reasons. The first reason explains that the person snatches/steals food and eats. The second reason explains that the person goes around from vendor to vendor, tasting a little bit of each food, as though he were to purchase it but then doesn't. The third reason quotes the Tosafist commentator Rabbeinu Tam as saying that the concept refers to someone who eats a complete meal of bread (seudah) while in the market, which is considered more disgraceful. Both Rashi's and the Tosafists' explanations offer reasons that eating in the marketplace might have negative connotations for serving as a witness. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Jacob H. Schiff and The Jewish Theological Seminary

Which resources does The Library have in its collection for someone researching the connection between Jacob Schiff and The Jewish Theological Seminary?

The Library has a number of books about Jacob Schiff that include information about his connection to The Jewish Theological Seminary. These books include: Jacob H. Schiff: His Life and Letters, by Cyrus Adler (call number CT275 S3442 A2 1929), Jacob Henry Schiff: A Biographical Sketch, also by Cyrus Adler (call number CT275 S3442 A3), and Jacob H. Schiff: A Study in American Jewish Leadership (call number E184.37 S37 C64 1999). In addition, the book Tradition Renewed, a two volume history of the Seminary, contains information about Jacob Schiff (call number BM90 J56 T83 1997).

Jacbob H. Schiff: His Life and Letters contains information about Schiff's donations to the Seminary, his involvement in the construction of its building, his connection to Solomon Schechter and Kohut, his involvement in the purchase of the Steinschneider collection for the library, and his attendance of a number of commencement ceremonies and student dinners (pages 54-58).

Jacob Henry Schiff: A Biographical Sketch discusses Schiff's attendance of meetings of the Board of Directors as well as his role as a donor and his connection to Schechter. It also again mentions his attendance of commencement ceremonies and student dinners (22-26).

Jacob H. Schiff: A Study in American Jewish Leadership provides information about Schiff's role in fund-raising for the Seminary, and addresses possible reasons as to why he might have taken such a strong interest in the Seminary. In addition, this book mentions that his involvement included serving as a judge for student debates (96-106).

The index to Tradition Renewed contains thirty-two entries under the listing "Schiff, Jacob." Topics include Cyrus Adler, Board of Directors, The Library, Mordechai Kaplan, and The Teacher's Institute.

The archives of The Jewish Theological Seminary contains correspondence between Jacob Schiff and other figures, including seminary leaders. Archival material relating to Schiff includes general correspondence spanning 1901-1917, including a letter to Sulzberger. In terms of other specific individuals, the collection includes a 1911 correspondence with Alexander Marx, correspondence with Adolphus Solomon, and correspondence with Schechter (spanning 1902-1910). 

Monday, March 31, 2014

Who wrote the work Maaseh Tuviah, what type of work is it, and where was it printed?

The physician Tobias/Tuviah Cohn (Tobias the son of Moses Cohn), who lived from 1652 to 1729, wrote the book Maaseh Tuviah. He grew up in the town of Metz in a Rabbinic family, lived in Poland, and studied medicine in Frankfurt on Oder and at Padua in Italy (Margalith, 2007). As court physician in Turkey, he served five sultans (Muntner, 2007).
Maaseh Tuviah contains five sections. Sections one through four (Book One) include: The Upper World- philosophy, The Middle World- Astronomy, The Small World- “things under the moon,” and Foundations of the World- “the four foundational elements.” Section five (Book Two), titled The New World, deals with medicine. Maaseh Tuviah serves as Cohn’s intellectual magnum opus, in that it contains the extent of all of his scientific knowledge on medicine, astronomy, botany, zoology, and philosophy.
The Bragadini family, a family of Venetian publishers, published Maaseh Tuviah in 1708. Hebrew books printed in Venice in the eighteenth century bore the symbol “Nella Stamperia Bragadina” (stamp of Bragadini) because Hebrew books in Venice were required to be published only under the nobleman Bragadini, with payment (Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906). The term “Stamperia Bragadina” appears on publications to indicate that the Christian printers who printed the Hebrew books worked for the Bragadini family (Ibid.). The Bragadini family had a long history of publishing Hebrew books. After the printer Bomberg, who had printed the first Talmud, became less prominent, a competition emerged for the printing of Hebrew books, and the Bragadini family emerged at the forefront, such that in the mid-1500s in Venice, the Bragadini family had jurisdiction over the printing of Hebrew books (Ibid.). It seems that jurisdiction continued through the mid-1700s.
The Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America owns a first edition of Maaseh Tuviah, with the call number of RB 144:4. The book was published in Hebrew and consists of one volume containing multiple works, for a total of 321 pages. Many later printings of the book occurred: Venice- 1715, 1728, 1769, and 1850, Jessnitz-1721, Lemberg- 1867, 1875, Cracow- 1908, Jerusalem- 1967, 1978, and Brooklyn- 1974 (Ruderman, 1995, p. 229).  The library’s copy has Quarto binding (collation formula: [6] [158]ff ([6]ff, 1-39^4, 40^2)), its outer binding consists of contemporary sprinkled calf, and it measures 22.5 by 17 centimeters. The book includes one end page at each end, Hebrew and Arabic pagination, with four pages per number (e.g. 13: 1-4), a catchword at bottom of the page, appendices (in the form of a summary of contents of each section before each section), and errata (in the form of a table of errors in back of the book). The book includes neither footnotes, end notes, nor glosses. The print features monochrome ink, and the book includes many scientific illustrations.

Jewish Encyclopedia. (1906). Bragadini. Retrieved from http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/3615-bragadini

Margalith, David. (2007). "Cohn, Tobias ben Moses." Encyclopaedia Judaica. Ed. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik. 2nd ed. (Vol. 5, pp. 44-45). Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA. Retrieved from http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?
id=GALE%7CCX2587504503&v=2.1&u=nysl_me_jethsoa&it=r&p=GVRL&sw=w

Muntner, Suesmann et al. (2007). “Medicine.”  Encyclopaedia Judaica. Ed. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik .  2nd ed.  (Vol. 13).  Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA.

Ruderman, David B. (1995). Jewish Thought and Scientific Discovery in Early Modern Europe. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.




Thursday, May 30, 2013

Question: In Jewish writings, is there anywhere written the idea of the human body being compared to a house?

Answer: In 1708, Tobias Cohn, an eighteenth-century Jewish physician, published a scientific and philosophical work titled "מעשה טוביה." In this work, he presents an analogy comparing the human body to a house, and includes an anatomical diagram drawn adjacent to a house. מעשה טוביה in fact provides an interesting glimpse into the unique life of Tobias Cohn in general. The introduction to the work, due to its biographical nature, provides fascinating information about the life of a Jewish physician during the eighteenth century. Moreover, the body of the work itself provides a wealth of scientific knowledge and therefore serves as an interesting text within the history of science, particularly within the historical development of medicine. In the introduction to the work, Cohn explains that this work will serve as his legacy, since his two children have passed away and he does not know if he will have any more children. As such, the work imparts the corpus of his scientific knowledge, which serves of much interest historically. 

Tobias Cohn (Tobias the son of Moses Cohn) lived from 1652 to 1729. Originally from the town of Metz in Northern France, Cohn grew up in a Rabbinic family and, at the age of nine, upon the death of his father, Cohn began living with relatives in Cracow, Poland, where he studied traditional Jewish subjects (Margalith, 2007). Cohn then began studying medicine at Frankfurt on Oder, then continued his medical studies in the Italian university at Padua, and then served as the court physician in Turkey (Margalith, 2007), where he served five sultans (Muntner, 2007). By way of retirement from practicing medicine, Cohn relocated to Jerusalem, Israel, where he again studied traditional Jewish texts (Margalith, 2007). 

In the introduction to מעשה טוביה  Cohn provides a biographical sketch of his life as a medical student and as a physician. He describes studying medicine at Padua, and also studying medicine with a friend at the university at Frankfurt on Oder. Regarding the latter, he mentions that typically Jews were not allowed to study there, which provides an interesting example of the unique nature of his course of study. Also, by way of background information, he briefly describes his family history, which gives the work general historical value as well. Cohn discusses how his family has a legend of descending from the Biblical figure Ezra, and how his family ended up in Metz as a result of fleeing the persecutions in Poland in 1648. Some of his family then returned to Poland. This information that Cohn provides in the bibliography provides historical context for the rest of the work, which focuses on various scientific disciplines. 

The main content of מעשה טוביה serves as Cohn’s intellectual magnum opus, in that it contains his scientific knowledge on medicine, astronomy, botany, zoology, and philosophy. As mentioned, Cohn wishes to impart this knowledge as his legacy. Given the vast expanse of the content of the work, מעשה טוביה serves as a strong testament to the author’s scope and depth of knowledge of the various sciences and of philosophy.

The מעשה טוביה is divided into five sections, four of which comprise Book One and one of which comprises Book Two. Sections one through four include: The Upper World, which addresses philosophy, The Middle World, which addresses Astronomy, The Small World, which addresses “things under the moon,” and Foundations of the World, which addresses “the four foundational elements.” Section five, titled The New World, deals with medicine.

The publisher's imprint indicates Nella Stamperia Bragadina, Venice, 1708. With respect to frequency of print, many later printings of the book occurred: Venice- 1715, 1728, 1769, and 1850, Jessnitz-1721, Lemberg- 1867, 1875, Cracow- 1908, Jerusalem- 1967, 1978, and Brooklyn- 1974 (Ruderman, 1995, p. 229). The Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America owns a first edition of the work, with the call number of RB 144:4. The book was published in Hebrew, and consists of one volume containing multiple works, for a total of 321 pages. The book has quarto binding and its collation formula is as follows: [6] [158]ff ([6]ff, 1-39^4, 40^2). The outer binding consists of contemporary sprinkled calf, and the book measures 22.5 by 17 centimeters. In terms of endpages, there are one at each end. Pagination includes both Hebrew and Arabic numerals, with four pages per number (e.g. 13: 1-4). Each page features a catchword at bottom of the page. The work includes a summary of contents of each section before each section. Moreover, the work includes errata, in the form of a table of errors in back of book. The book includes neither footnotes, end notes, nor glosses. The print features monochrome ink, and the book includes many illustrations (discussed below). 

A significant number of approbations precede the text. These include a poem by Solomon Konean/Conegliano (a teacher of the author), an approbation by the Chief Rabbi of Prague, an approbation by the Rabbis of Venice, an approbation by a contemporary of the author, a lengthy approbation by another contemporary, and three poems by the author’s contemporaries. It remains possible, though speculative, that the high number of approbations by famous figures intends to forestall the novelty of a scientific work written in Hebrew for a lay audience. 

The extensive number of illustrations in מעשה טוביה stands out in that the book in its time emerged as “the only Hebrew work on medicine which was profusely illustrated” (Margalith, 2007). The diagrams actually serve as a fascinating glimpse into eighteenth century science. Illustrations include celestial diagrams, anatomical drawing, including the analogy of the body to a house, and drawings of other phenomena in nature, such as thunder and plants. Perhaps most well-known is the full page illustration analogizing the anatomy of the human body to the structure of a house. Furthermore, the verso of the main title page features an illustration of the author by Antonio Luciani; however, information is not available on that illustrator’s history. In addition, the title page contains illustrations, and various decorative illustrations appear at the end of chapters. In terms of the type of material used, the illustrations consist of copper and woodcut engravings, with woodcut and decorative and typographical head- and tailpieces. 

References:

Margalith, David. (2007). "Cohn, Tobias ben Moses." Encyclopaedia Judaica. Ed. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik. 2nd ed. (Vol. 5, pp. 44-45). Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA. Retrieved from http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.doid=GALE%7CCX2587504503&v=2.1&u=nysl_me_jethsoa&it=r&p=GVRL&sw=w 

Muntner, Suesmann, Samuel Vaisrub, Michael A. Denman, Yaakov Naparstek, and Dan Gilon. (2007). "Medicine." Encyclopaedia Judaica. Ed. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik. 2nd ed.(Vol. 13, p720-738). Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA. Retrieved from http://go.galegroup.com/ps/retrieve.do?sgHitCountType=None&sort=RELEVANCE&inPS=true&prodId=GVRL&userGroupName=nysl_me_jethsoa&tabID=T003&searchId=R1&resultListType=RESULT_LIST&contentSegment=&searchType=AdvancedSearchForm&currentPosition=6&contentSet=GALE%7CCX2587513493&&docId=GALE|CX2587513493&docType=GALE 


Ruderman, David B. (1995). Jewish Thought and Scientific Discovery in Early Modern Europe. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. 


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Who wrote the play: "Brandeis"?

Question:
Who wrote the play: "Brandeis", in The Eternal Light [New York : Crown, 1947], edited by Morton Wishengrad (1913-1963)?  Was it Wishengrad? 

Answer:

I consulted The Eternal Light. It does not state explicitly who wrote each play. However, in Louis Finkelstein’s “Foreword”, he uses wording that strongly suggests that Wishengrad authored all the scripts in the volume. Finkelstein refers to Wishengrad (on p.viii) as “the author of this volume”. In Wishengrad’s essay at the beginning of the volume, he also seems to indicate that he wrote all the scripts. (He does say (on p.xxxv) that Finkelstein and Moshe Davis contributed to the creation of the scripts and that “[t]here are texts in these scripts that originate with Dr. Davis. They were shamelessly appropriated and no acknowledgement given until this moment”.) The title page states: “The Eternal Light by Morton Wishengrad”. According to the verso of the title page, the copyright’s for the scripts are held variously by JTS, NBC, or Wishengrad. Both the JTS Library catalog and the WorldCat database, list Wishengrad as the sole author of the plays. Finally, The Eternal Light : An Unauthorized Guide, by Eli Segal [Newtown, CT : Yesteryear Press, 2005], lists Wishengrad as the author of "Brandeis" on p.38, and again on p.48. In summary, I believe one can state that Wishengrad is the author of "Brandeis".

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Conservative Judaism: A Reader's Guide

The Berman Jewish Policy Archive of New York University's Wagner School of Public Service has just compiled a Reader's Guide on Conservative Judaism, including the full-text of over 80 articles and reports published recently and in the last 30 years. Topics include ideology, observance, institutions, demographics, the rabbinate, and denominational relations. Here is a summary of the guide, with highlights.

The Berman Jewish Policy Archive is a particularly useful resource for Jewish educators, and professionals involved in Jewish communal service and public policy. Although it is called an "archive" and does contain materials from previous decades, it is an excellent source for materials on current Jewish community issues: as of April 10 2012 it already provides readers with 22 documents from April 2012 and 108 documents from this year.

As stated on its website, the Berman Jewish Policy Archive also "serves as a catalyst for new research, new analysis, and new policy discussions through live events such as conferences, roundtables, lectures, publication launches and salons."

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Jews and Science

Recently I was interested in researching the history of Jews in science. In the library’s collection I discovered a number of interesting books on the topic. In addition to finding books on the history of Jews in science in general that cover different time periods, I located a biography section that contains works on specific Jewish scientists, including a section about Einstein. Subject headings in the library’s catalog include Judaism and science, Judaism and science-Congresses, Judaism and science- History, Judaism and science- History of doctrines, and Judaism and science- periodicals. Since this is such a vast and broad topic, I decided to focus on several books that would both give a general overview of Jewish involvement in the sciences over different time periods as well as provide information about key Jewish figures who contributed to science.


Some of the books that I looked at:



  • In 1934, Louis Gershenfeld published a book titled The Jew in Science, which traces Jewish involvement in the sciences all the way from the Dark Ages until modern times. Time periods covered include the Dark Ages, the time of Maimonides, the Renaissance, the Nineteenth Century, and American history. To provide context, Gershenfeld devotes a chapter to the history of science and a chapter to the history of the Jews. These chapters provide a brief overview of their topics. In addition to discussing more well-known figures such as Maimonides, the book discusses many more obscure Jewish scientists as well.


  • To focus more on a specific time period, and one during which Jewish scientists were highly prolific, one can consult Tzvi Langermann’s book titled The Jews and the Sciences in the Middle Ages. Primarily the chapters each deal with one figure: Sa’adya, Ibn Ezra, Maimonides, Nahmanides, Gersonides, Rav Moshe Isserless, and Mordechai Fizzi. However, rather than just providing a biography, the chapters focus on a scientific topic with respect to the particular figure, such as astrology, astronomy, or physics.


  • Ruderman’s Jewish Thought and Scientific Discovery in Early Modern Europe provides a comprehensive analysis of Jewish interaction with the sciences during the emerging Enlightenment and age of science. One particularly interesting chapter focuses on Jewish attendance of the medical school at Padua. “In the beginning of the seventeenth century, a constant trickle of Jews were among the hundreds of students who graduated each year from Padua’s medical school.” Some of the chapters focus on specific figures, some well-known and some less well-known, but these chapters serve as a platform for a more thematic analysis as well, such as “Science and Skepticism.” Different geographical areas are covered, such as in the chapter “A Jewish Thinker in Newtonian England,” about David Nieto, a Rabbi in London who also held a medical degree from Padua.


  • An interesting book by Tina Levitan, titled The Laureates, provides short biographies of Jewish Nobel prize winners up until 1960, when the book was written. In the preface, the author explains that she has set out “to describe in nontechnical language the work for which it was given.” Levitan’s introduction provides an interesting history of the Nobel Prize in general and discusses the role of Jews in scientific discovery in particular.


  • In the biography section, I found one that was of particular interest, that of Lise Meitner, a German-Jewish physicist who was a friend of Einstein’s. One of the great scientists of her time, Meitner escaped Nazi Germany, and was a physicist involved in discovering nuclear fission. Because the author is herself a scientist, the book explains the scientific details of Meitner’s research, and does so in a clear fashion.


  • I also found a book titled Jews and Sciences in German Contexts: Case Studies from the 19th and 20th Centuries, edited by Ulrich Chapra and Ute Deichman, which analyzes Jewish involvement in the sciences in Germany during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including a chapter about Einstein. The book is arranged thematically instead of chronologically, and sections include “Research Practices, Achievements, Contexts,” “The Impact of Religious and Ideological Attitudes,” “Anti-Semitism in Academia,” and “Prosopographical Data.” The book deals with a wide range of topics. For example, the second section contains a chapter by Yael Hashiloni-Dolev that compares “German and Israeli Attitudes towards Reproductive Genetics and the Effects of Religion,” and the third section contains a chapter by Aaron Lowenstein that analyzes anti-Semitism in the journal Nature in 1938 as well as a chapter by Ruth Lewin Sime that discusses German Jewish scientists after World War II. Interestingly, Lowenstein’s article contains a reprint of the 1938 article published in Nature.


  • For an example of a more modern history of Jews and science, the Vertical Files contain a booklet titled “Profile of the Wiezman Institute of Science,” printed in 1967.


From these works it becomes evident that it is possible to examine the topic of Jews and science through a number of different lenses- historical, geographical, intellectual, and biographical. Due to the vastness of the topic, there are many more books that could be looked at. Given the significant role that Jewish scientists have played in the scientific community over time, this has proven to be a very interesting topic to study.