Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Directions to Digital Dissertations

Question: Do you have a copy of Victoria Khiterer’s 2008 thesis from Brandeis University entitled “The Social and Economic History of Jews in Kiev before Febrary 1917”

Answer: We have access to a digital copy of all 453 pages of this dissertation through our subscription database ProQuest Dissertations and Theses.

This database includes over 1 million dissertations in the humanities and social sciences. Dissertations dated from the late 1990’s to the present are generally available full-text. Most earlier dissertations are included only as abstracts or citations.

Jewish studies dissertations are well-represented in this database: a search for the keyword “Talmud” retrieves 190 dissertations; a search for keyword “Jewish education” retrieves 224 dissertations; a search for keyword “Judaism” retrieves over 1500 dissertations.

Most of the dissertations are from United States and Canadian universities. Selected dissertations are from Israeli universities; the dissertation text itself is often in Hebrew, although the titles are listed in English.

More than 200 Jewish Theological Seminary dissertations are included, of which about half are available full-text. (Additional JTS dissertations are available in printed format in the JTS Library).

To access ProQuest Dissertations from a JTS campus computer, use the link on The Library’s “Available Online” page. It is in the “E-Books” section.
To access ProQuestion Dissertations from your personal computer, JTS students and faculty should use the “Remote Access” link which is listed on The Library’s web page under “Library Quick Links.”

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

RaMBaN's commentary on the Pentateuch - a comparison of two English translations

Question: I am interested in studying RaMBaN's (Nahmanides') commentary to the Pentateuch. I have been told that two English translations of this commentary have been published - one by Rabbi Charles B. Chavel [New York: Shilo Pub. House, 1971-1976] and one by Artscroll [Brooklyn, N.Y. : Mesorah, 2004-]. Would you assist me in evaluating which is the right translation for me?

Answer: The Artscroll version is much more extensive and user friendly. It uses Chavel’s writings as one of its sources. It contains the text of the Pentateuch in Hebrew and English; the text of RaSHI in Hebrew; the text of Targum Onkeles in Aramaic; and the text of RaMBaN's commentary in Hebrew and English. RaMBAN’s commentary is presented in Hebrew with nekudot - both as one running text and in an elucidated form in which a few words of RaMBAN’s Hebrew are quoted followed by their translation and elucidation. Chavel’s work only contains the translation of RaMBaN's commentary (and Chavel’s notes) - not the original Hebrew or any of the other texts that Artscroll includes. Chavel did publish RaMBaN’s original Hebrew text together with Chavel’s notes in a separate edition [Yerushalayim : Mosad ha-Rav Kuk, 1959]. Artscroll’s translation also seems to have more extensive notes than Chavel provides in his English translation (the notes in Chavel’s Hebrew edition seem to be more extensive than in his English edition).
On the other hand, Chavel has an index, Artscroll does not have one in the volumes I saw. The Chavel edition is already complete in 5 volumes. The Artscroll edition is due for completion (in 7 volumes) in March 2010 with the publication of the volume for Va-yikra. Chavel seems to translate the RaMBaN’s commentary in its entirety. Artscroll’s translation skips some sections that are kabbalistic (they do print the entire Hebrew original and they do tell you what they are skipping).

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Jewish Bookplates

In answer to an inquiry about Jewish Bookplates by a student of Information Science at Bar Ilan University, Sharon Lieberman Mintz, Curator of Jewish Art at JTS Library writes:

The bookplate collection of The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary was already underway in the early twentieth century. A Library list from 1940 indicates that we possessed 47 bookplates at that time. The collection grew gradually over the years but was significantly enhanced in the last decade of the twentieth century with the purchase of a collection of 410 bookplates from Sotheby’s in June 1996 and the extraordinary acquisition in March 1997 of 2100 bookplates from the private collection of Leah Mishkin. Today, the Library’s holdings consist of over 2600 bookplates. The Library’s collection of bookplates features the bookplates of individual and institutional Jewish book collectors from around the world. It is particularly strong in bookplates with Judaic imagery. The Library possess many rare examples, including the bookplate created for Isaac Mendes by the artist Benjamin Levi in 1746, one of the first known ex libris created for a Jewish patron and designed by a Jewish artist. In addition, numerous famous artists are represented, including bookplates by Hermann Struck and Ephraim Moses Lilien. Known as the "father of Jewish bookplates," Lilien was one of the first illustrators to create ex libris with distinctive Jewish motifs.

Today, the the majority of Library’s holdings are cataloged in our on-line Aleph system. They are also digitized and available on-line at the following site:

Note that when it lists 10 bookplates it actually means 10 Albums of bookplates. The volumes are divided between private individuals and public institutions and within that division are listed alphabetically. You are welcome to page through each album . The cataloging for each bookplate is reached through the metadata button above the images

Monday, September 21, 2009

Hasidism and Mitnagdim

This past summer, I had the opportunity to learn about Hasidsim and Mitnagdim. We started out by discussing the role of the Ba'al Shem Tov (Besht) in the founding of Hasidsim. Scholars debate the nature of the role that he played in founding this movement. One opinion maintains that the Besht began teaching to a small group of followers, the "inner circle," and that then it was those of this inner circle who went out and spread the teachings of the Besht to the larger population. This serves as a contrast to the idea that the Besht went out and preached to the masses. (For more information about the Shivchei ha-Besht, a primary source concerning the Besht, see this previous post).

We then went on to discuss the founding of the Lubavitch movement, by its founder R' Shneur Zalman of Liadi. To get an example of the teachings of Habad, we looked at a small section of the Tanya, technically titled Likutei Amurim, but termed the Tanya because of the first word with which it starts. Today, the Tanya gets widely studied by Habad Hasidim.

We then moved on to study the Mitnagdim, those who for various reasons opposed the emergence of the Hasidic movement. One accusation: the Hasidim allegedly performed a type of handstand before praying! Other concerns raised included the de-emphasis on scholarly learning in favor of worship of G-d. Associated with the opposition stood the Vilna Gaon. Again, here arises the question as to the nature of his involvement in the dispute, but sources indicate that he played a role. His student, R' Hayyim of Volozhin, also disagreed with the Hasidic movement, but did so less strongly.

Prior to this, I hadn't known much about the history of the emergence of Hasidism, so I found it fascinating to learn about this part of our history, which is part of our collective heritage.

Some of the readings for the course included:
Rosman, Moshe. Founder of Hasidism: A Quest for the Historical Ba'al Shem Tov. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.
Hundert, Gershon David. Essential Papers on Hasidism. New York: New York University Press, 1991.
Scholem, Gershon. The Messianic idea in Judaism and other essays on Jewish spirituality. New York: Schocken Books, 1995.
Etkes, Immanuel. The Besht: Magician, Mystic, and Leader. Hanover: University Press of New England, 2005.
Etkes, Immanuel. The Gaon of Vilna: The Man and His Image. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.
Rapoport-Albert, Ada. Hasidism Reappraised. London: Vallentine Mitchell, 1996.

Help with researching Jewish genealogy

Question: Are there any companies or individuals that one can hire to assist in researching a Jewish family's genealogy?

Answer: I would recommend checking the website: The website contains many helpful links and databases that can assist in tracing ancestry and roots. There are also discussion groups that you can join. The people who belong to the discussion groups will probably be able to assist you in choosing a company or individual who will be able to assist you with this research. is another website that might be of assistance in these matters. At the following website I found a list of people and companies that specialize in researching Jewish genealogy:

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Question: I am looking for information (written and visual) for a short presentation on Sukkot around the world. My audience is a small group of Seniors at a local JCC.

Answer: The classic resource is Philip Goodman’s The Sukkot and Simhat Torah Anthology (Phila, JPS, 1973). The book includes a little bit of everything, and is most likely available in your local public or synagogue library.

I also suggest The Jewish Catalog by Richard Siegel (Phila., JPS, 1973). Check the sections on The Four Species (p. 73) and Sukkot (p. 126).

Written resources on the Internet:

Jewish Heritage Online Magazine’s Tishrei entry provides short explanations of the holiday’s laws and customs, stories with relevant themes, and some visuals.

My Jewish Learning provides basic information about Sukkot.

Sukkot Humor

Visual resources on the Internet:

JTS’s Holiday Image Databank:
The vibrant images at this site include an 18th century German sukkah decoration, a 19th century Italkan sukkah decoration, and a gentleman holding a lulav and esrog from a 1709 Corfu mahzor.

Photos of unusual sukkot: click here and here.

Photos of a wide variety of sukkot, including one for american soldiers in Iraq, and one based on a Navajo shade structure in a Utah desert.

Photos demonstrating how to shake the lulav and esrog:

Audio resources on the Internet:

From the Israeli National Sound Archives, Sukkot music from Jewish communities in India, Afganistan, and the Hasidim; Samaritan Torah reading on for Sukkot

From the Judaica Sound Archives at Florida Atlantic University:

This is a recording of folk songs, and Hasidic and Yemenite music for Sukkot. This recording includes a Sholom Aleichem story about Sukkot, in Yiddish.

Video Resources on the Internet:

A variety of Sukkot videos, some serious, some light.

The Hebrew term for a car engine's exhaust manifold

Question: If I am having a problem with the exhaust manifold on my car's engine with what Hebrew term would I refer to it in order to direct an Israeli auto mechanic to take a look at it?

Answer: According to the Hebrew-English visual dictionary entitled: Milon Hazuti : Ivri-Angli [Yerushalayim : Karta, 1992 - p.404] the Hebrew term for a car engine's exhaust manifold is סַעֶפֶת-פְּלִיטָה (sa'efet-pelitah).

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Videos of the Shekhitah procedure

Shekhitah – the slaughter of animals done according to halakhah (Jewish law) is an integral part of kashrut (dietary halakhah). Shekhitah is a complicated procedure that requires extensive hands-on training in order to master. The website, which contains lectures and articles by Yeshiva University rabbis and professors, provides a glimpse into the world of shekhitah in the following videos:

In these videos, the shekhitah procedure for birds is shown, along with parts of the melikhah (salting to remove blood) procedure. Aspects of bird anatomy used in the identification of kosher bird species are commented on. “Meat eggs” (eggs that are found in a chicken’s body after it has been slaughtered) are shown and the halakhic implications of these eggs are discussed.

Note: the videos may not start automatically, you may need to click the download button in order to see them.
Note: the videos contain graphic images that may not be suitable for all viewers.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Fasting for Atonement

A patron requested citations to sources in Rabbinic literature that discuss the practice of fasting in order to gain atonement for sins. Here are some sources that I found. Please, feel free to “join the conversation” by adding additional sources in the “Comments” section.
- Yerushalmi, Betsah 2:8, s.v. a[mar] R[abi] Hananyah paam ahat yatset.
- Bavli, Hagigah 22b, s.v. amru kol yamav husharu shinav mipne taaniyotav.
- Ibid., Moed Katan 25a, s.v. de-yoma had ithafikha.
- Ibid., Bava Metsia 33a, s.v. yativ Rav Hisda arbain taanita
- Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayim, chpt.334, paragraph 26, s.v. Hagah… ve-im avar ve-hilel tsarikh le-hitanot.
- Shulhan Arukh, Yoreh De’ah, chpt.185, paragraph 4, s.v. Hagagh…ve-im pirash mimenah.
- Shulhan Arukh, Orakh Hayim, chpt.568, paragraph 4.
- Shneur Zalman, of Lyady, 1745-1813. Likute AmarimTanya, Igeret ha-Teshuvah, chpt.1-3.
- Vidas, Elijah ben Moses de, 16th cent. Reshit Hokhmah, shaar ha-Teshuvah.
- Ricchi, Raphael Immanuel ben Abraham Hai, 1688-1743. Mishnat Hasidim, masekhet Teshuvah.