Thursday, August 27, 2009


I need primary sources to document American Jewish public opinion in the 1890’s. How can I identify which Jewish magazines and newspapers were published in the US during that decade?

Answer 1:
The American Jewish Yearbook includes a “List of Jewish Periodicals published in the United States” in each volume. The 1899/1900 Yearbook (vol. 1) lists magazines and newspapers published earlier in the 1800’s as well as [then] current publications. English, German, Hebrew and Yiddish weeklies, monthlies and dailies are listed.

Answer 2: The Dorot Jewish Division of the New York Public Library has compiled a list of “Periodicals Published During the Decade of 1890-1899” in their microfilm collection (see page 4)

Many of the periodicals themselves have been microfilmed by the American Jewish Periodical Center in Cincinnatti as well as the New York Public Library. Use worldcat to identify libraries holding the periodicals.

Periodical holdings of The Jewish Theological Seminary Library are listed in our ALEPH catalog.
To search for periodicals, use ADVANCED SEARCH.
Specify TITLE in the FIELD TO SEARCH option.
Type the name of the periodical in the TYPE WORD OR PHRASE text box.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Batyah or Bityah

The name Batyah is a common Hebrew female given name. The source of the name is the daughter of Pharaoh who drew Mosheh from the water when he was an infant and raised him like a son. The midrash in Vayikra Rabah (chpt.1 , paragraph 3, s.v. ve-eleh bene Bityah) homiletically interprets her name as being composed of two words: “bat” and “Yah” meaning “daughter of God”. God says to Batyah that just as Mosheh was not her actual son but she called him son (and took care of him as one), so too, even though Batyah is not God’s daughter (i.e. she was not born a Jew), He refers to her as His daughter. Rabbi Betsalel Majersdorf, Technical Services Librarian at Jewish Theological Seminary, pointed me to the work Arukh ha-Shulhan by Rabbi Yehiel Mikhel Epstein. Rabbi Epstein opines (Arukh ha-Shulhan, Even ha-Ezer, chpt.129, “shemot nashim”, s.v. [b] Basha) that notwithstanding the common practice (and the homiletic teaching of the midrash) the proper pronunciation of this name is Bityah (with a hirik under the letter bet) and not Batyah (with a patah under the letter bet). He reasons that the only time this name is mentioned in the Bible is in Divre ha-Yamim I 4:18 where it is given as Bityah bat Par’oh. An edition of the Bible based on authoritative Masoretic sources (especially the Aleppo Codex) was printed by Mosad ha-Rav Kuk in 1977 under the editorship of Mordechai Breuer. I examined this edition and found that the reading was, indeed, Bityah.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Jewish Emigration from Europe to South Africa

In the period of large Jewish emigration from Europe, from the late 1800s until Word War II, how many of Europe’s Jews chose to emigrate to the continent of Africa?

According to The Penguin Atlas of Diasporas [New York : Viking ; Penguin Group, 1995 – p.60] 23,00 Jews emigrated from Europe to Africa (specifically South Africa) between 1881 and 1900. Between 1901 and 1914 an additional 20,00 emigrated. From 1915 to 1930 the amount dropped to 15,00 and between 1931 and 1939 the amount fell even further, to 10,00. Altogether this adds up to 68,000 Jews emigrating from Europe to Africa between 1881 and 1939. By way of contrast, in that same time period 2,575,000 Jews emigrated from Europe to the United States of America [ibid.].

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Early Hebrew and Ladino Drama

Question: Do you know of a resource, a catalogue or list of
Hebrew, Spanish or Ladino drama from the 15th to the
18th century? I am looking specifically for evidence of scripts of purim plays and songs.

Answer: I would suggest you check the following resources:

Author: New York Public Library.
Title: List of dramas in the New York Public Library Relating to the Jews : and of Dramas in Hebrew, Judeo-Spanish, and Judeo-German; together with essays on the Jewish stage / prepared by A.S. Freidus.
Imprint: New York : New York Public Library, 1907.
Published In: Bulletin of the New York Public Library. v. 9, no. 1 (January, 1907).

Call number at New York Public Library: *PAQ (New York Public Library (1895-), Reference Department. List of dramas)

Besso, Henry V. Dramatic literature of the Sephardic Jews of Amsterdam in the XVIIth and XVIIIth centuries. New York : Hispanic Institute in the U.S., Secciãaon de Estudios Sefardãaies, 1947.117 p.
"Reprinted from the Bulletin Hispanique, vol. XXXIX-XLI [1937-1939]" Bibliography: p. [86]-111.

Sephardic Studies: A Research Bibliography, Incorporating Judezmo Language, Literature and Folkore and Historical Background by David M. Bunis (New York: Garland, 1981) is also an excellent resource for you. Four of its sections list bibliographies which may include music/purim plays in Hebrew or Ladino or Spanish: Literary Genres -Drama (p 91), Folksong, Folk Poetry and Folk Music (p. 105), Folk Drama (p. 146), and The Calendric Cycle…Purim (p. 160).

For additional information the following resources discuss early purim music and plays:

Dr. Edwin Serousi’s background notes to the CD:

The Sword of the Dove: Purim Songs in the Sephardi Tradition

Philip Goodman’s The Purim Anthology (Philadelphia, Jewish Publication Society, 1960) refers to quite a number of songs and dramas in chapter XI [Purim in Music], Chapter XVI [The History of Purim Parody in Jewish Literature] and chapter XVII [The History of Purim Plays]. Be sure to check the notes and bibliographies for each chapter.

Abraham Z. Idelsohn’s Jewish Music: Its Historical Development (New York: Schocken Books, 1967), gives a brief overview of early Purim theatre and song in Chapter XX: Badchonim (Merry-Makers) and Klezmorim (Music-Makers). He refers to the drama entitled Esther by Solomon Usque and Lazaro Gratiano (1567).

The following entry from the JTS Library catalog describes a Purim song from an 18th century Italian broadside:

Special Call no.: B (NS)PP21
Author: De la Bele Romanel, Avraham.
Title: ‫Pizmon le-Simḥat Purim. פזמון לשמחת פורים ... ‬
Imprint: [Italy : s.n., 17--?].

Descr.: 1 broadside : ill. (border design] ; 33 x 22 cm.
Gen. note ‫ סוג הגליון: שיר לפורים. ‬
‫ אנשים: המן, אסתר. ‬
‫ תחילת השיר: שמעו אלי כל העדה. ‬
Type of broadside: Festival poems and prayers and related items.
Abstract Italian hymn for Purim.

thetakeaway@jtslibrary: What is a "genizah"?

thetakeaway@jtslibrary: What is a "genizah"?

What is a "genizah"?

In an anonymous comment to a previous blog post (Wednesday, July 8, 2009 – “Photograph of Elkan Nathan Adler”) the question was raised: “What is “genizah”?”

The Encyclopedia Judaica defines ‘genizah” as follows:

"[A] place for storing books or ritual objects which have become unusable. The genizah was usually a room attached to the synagogue where books and ritual objects containing the name of God – which cannot be destroyed according to Jewish law – were buried when they wore out and could no longer be used in the normal ritual. As a result ancient synagogues can preserve books or sections thereof of great antiquity." [Encyclopedia Judaica, 2007 ed., v.7, p.460]

The particular genizah referred to in the blog post about Elkan Nathan Adler was the “Cairo Genizah”. The website of the Friedberg Genizah Project (, an organization that was started to facilitate research into the Cairo Genizah, explains the history and significance of this genizah thusly:

"The Cairo Genizah, mostly discovered late in the nineteenth century but still resurfacing in our own day, is a collection of over 200,000 fragmentary Jewish texts (which may well equal three times that number of folios). Many of these were stored in the loft of the ancient Ben Ezra Synagogue in Fustat medieval Cairo [to the south-west of the modern city] between the 11th and 19th centuries ... The dark, sealed, room in the arid Egyptian climate contributed to the preservation of the documents, the earliest of which may go back to the eighth and ninth centuries … These manuscripts outline a 1,000-year continuum of Middle-Eastern history and comprise the largest and most diverse collection of medieval manuscripts in the world. The Genizah can be described as one of the greatest Jewish treasures ever found." [Friedberg Genizah Project -]

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Shortcut to Compositions in Gershon Ephros' Cantorial Anthology

Question: Does Gershon Ephros’ Cantorial Anthology include any works by Joseph Achron? How can I check this quickly without looking through every page of this 6-volume work?

Answer: Thirteen works composed or arranged by Achron are included in Ephros’ Anthology, located in volumes 2, 3, 4 and 6. To quickly find this type of information, use “An Index to Gershon Ephros’ Cantorial Anthology” prepared by Marsha Bryan Edelman in Musica Judaica (vol. II, no. 2 1978-79). The “Index of Composers, Arrangers, Collectors and Sources” will lead you directly to the volume and page of the compositions. There is also an “Index of Titles,” quickly leading you to the volume and page containing a particular prayer. For example, 6 settings of Alenu (by Cohon & Idelsohn, Ephros, Lewandowsky, Stark, and “traditional”) are listed as being in the volumes for Rosh Hashonoh, Shabbat, and Y’mot Hachol.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Translation of Arba'ah Turim

Question: Where can I find a translation of the Arba’ah Turim (also known as the Tur) of Rabenu Yaakov ben Asher (1270?–1340), a seminal work in the codification of halakhah (Jewish law)?

Answer: At present, a systematic translation seems to exist only for one small part of the Tur – the sub-section titled “Hilkhot Tsedakah” (laws of charity) found within the “Yoreh De’ah” (chpt.247-259) section of the Tur. The translation is part of a Hebrew Union College thesis from 1974. It is was written by Aharon Rozenberg and is titled: A translation of the laws of tzedakah in the Arba-ah turim by Jacob ben Asher and a comparison between the treatment of the laws of tzedakah in the Mishneh torah, the Arba-ah turim, and the Shulchan aruch.