Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Surname: Mitkokher

My surname is "Mitkokher". From my experience this is not a very common Jewish surname. I do know that my fanily came from somewhere in the Russian Empire. Would you be able to tell me what my surname means?

According to Alexander Beider in his work A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Russian Empire [Teaneck, NJ : Avotaynu, 1993 - p.408, column 2] the surname "Mitkokher" is derived from an occupation. The name is from the Yiddish "mit kukher" and means "with cook" i.e. cook assistant. Beider also indicates that he found evidence for this surname being used in the Novograd district (part of the Volhynia guberniya in what is today the Ukraine) during the early 20th century.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Josephus and Josippon and More Mixups

We've received queries involving mixups between the following pairs of names, and we'd like to clarify their meanings:

Josephus vs Yosippon

Yosippon [or Josippon] is an anonymous Hebrew book describing Jewish history during the Second Temple period. Written in 10th century southern Italy, it treats the history of ancient Italy and other European nations, but focuses on the Jewish-Roman wars. The author based his work on earlier books (Josephus's works, a Latin translation of the Apocrypha, medieval chronicles, and the Talmud ) intending to compile a summary for the benefit of his readers. Sefer Yosippon was mistakenly attributed to Flavius Josephus and to Joseph ben Gorion, and became well-known, respected, and frequently quoted by medieval gentile writers. Manuscript and early printed editions were significantly changed from the original Sefer Yosippon; it has been translated into Arabic, Ethiopic, Russian, Polish, Czech, Latin, French, Judeo-German and English. Dr. David Flusser has edited a critical edition ספר יוסיפון :... סדור ומוגה על-פי כתבי-יד בלוויית מבוא, ביאורים וחילופי גרסאות (vol. 1 1978, vol. 2 1980) DS122 Y574 1978b in JTS Library.

Josephus [also known as Josephus Flavius]

Josephus was a Hellenistic Jewish historian of the first century CE. He was born into an aristocratic family of priests in Jerusalem, and he became a military leader against the Romans in the Jewish-Roman wars. Later, through shrewd political moves, he became a favorite of the Roman leaders and moved to Rome. He wrote The Jewish War, Jewish Antiquities (historical), The Life (autobiographical), and Against Apion (a defense of Judaism). Although his works are hardly unbiased, they remain eye-witness accounts of first century Judaism in its political mileiu. The standard English translation of his works was published as part of the Loeb Classical Library, located at PA3612 .J6 1926 in the JTS Library.

Two of the many in-depth encyclopedia articles on Joesphus are in the Encyclopedia Judaica (by Abraham Schalit), and The Encyclopedia of Judaism: "Josephus and Judaism" by Steve Mason, and "Josephus, Biblical Figures in" by Louis H. Feldman.


Kairouan vs Cairo

Cairo, of course, is the capital of Egypt. The Cairo Jewish community was first established appproximately 640 CE, when the old city of Fostat was founded. Fostat is also the site of the Synagogue of Elijah the Prophet which held the famous Cairo Genizah manuscripts. Through the generations, Cairo has been the home of outstanding Jewish scholars, including Maimonides.

Kairouan is a town in Tunisia which was a prominent economic, cultural and halakhic Jewish center during the Middle Ages (8th-11th centuries). We have extensive documentary evidence of the community and its activities from letters found in the Cairo Genizah.


Philadelphia [ancient city] vs Philadelphia Route

The Philadelphia Route is the buffer area along the Egypt-Gaza Strip border; arms have been smuggled from Egypt into Gaza via tunnels beneath this area.

There were a number of ancient cities called Philadelphia, in Egypt, Turkey, and Jordan. The Jordanian Philadelphia was originally Rabbath-Ammon, capital of the Ammonite kingdom in Biblical times; in the Hellenistic period it was called Philadelphia; today it is Amman, the capital of Jordan.

Monday, August 23, 2010


Someone told me that there is a custom not to refer to the wife of a rabbi as a "rebbetsen" unless that rabbi is functioning as a the rabbi of a synagogue or as the head of a yeshiva. Is that correct? What is the source of this custom?

I have never heard of such a custom. Nor have the colleagues that I have consulted. I have been unable to locate mention of such a custom in the literature that I have consulted. If any readers of this blog have anything to contribute on this matter, it would be appreciated.

Monday, August 16, 2010

King David and Mikhal daughter of King Shaul

I have a couple of questions regarding Mikhal the daughter of Shaul and her relationship with David.
1) In I Samuel 25:44 we find Mikhal being given as a wife to Palti son of Layish. Did this marriage take place before or after she became David's wife?
2) In II Samuel 6:23, after Mikhal rebukes David upon his dancing before the Ark, the verse states that Mikhal had no children. However, in II Samuel 21:8 we find that Mikhal had five children.

1) The commentaries understand that Mikhal was already David’s wife when she was given to Palti. This follows both the straightforward meaning of the verse “And Shaul gave Mikhal, his daughter, the wife of David, to Palti ben Layish who was from Galim” and the order of the events as recorded in the Book of Samuel – the verse stating she was given to Palti is I Samuel 25:44, while the verse stating that she was given to David as a wife is earlier - I Samuel 18:27. The Babylonian Talmud, tractate Sanhedrin, fol. 19b has a discussion of David’s relationship with Mikhal and Merav - two of Shaul’s daughters . As we see in I Samuel 17:25 it was at least claimed that whoever killed Galyat would be given the king’s (i.e. Shaul’s) daughter in marriage. After David slew Galyat, Shaul did offer Merav, his oldest daughter to David as a wife if David would continue to fight the “battles of God” - as we find in I Samuel 18:17. In I Samuel 18:19 we find the enigmatic verse “And it was at the time of Merav, the daughter of Shaul, being given to David – and she was given to Adriel the Meholat as a wife”. The Rabbis in Sanhedrin argue about whether David considered that he was also married to Merav, or only to Mikhal. Both agree, however, that he considered a marriage to have taken place between himself and Mikhal. Shaul did not consider what had occurred to be deemed a marriage in either the case of Merav or of Mikhal, hence he felt entitled to give both of them in marriage to someone other than David. In II Samuel 3:14-16 we find Mikhal being returned to David. According to the Rabbis in Sanhedrin (ibid.) in all the years Mikhal had been with Palt, Palti (who was very righteous) had not attempted to be intimate with her.

2) Various opinions are expressed. One opinion found in the Babylonian Talmud, tractate Sanhedrin, fol. 21a is that she had children before the incident in II Samuel 6:20-23 where she rebuked David. Another opinion focuses on the words in the verse “had no children until the day of her death” and states that she did have a child on the day of her death, i.e. she died in childbirth. Rabenu Yeshaya ben Mali of Trani (b. ca. 1200) in his commentary on this verse seems to take the straightforward approach that she never had children. An opinion is expressed in the Babylonian Talmud, tractate Sanhedrin, fol. 19b that the children mentioned in II Samuel 21:8 were actually Merav’s children – this would explain why the father is Adriel of Meholat who we know from I Samuel 18:19 to be Merav’s husband. Mikhal had raised Merav’s children and thereby merited that the verse treated them as if they were hers. According to the Talmud (ibid.), this teaches that whoever raises an orphan in their house is considered by the Torah as if they had given birth to that orphan.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Modern Lamedvovniks

Question: Please refer me to modern literary works based on the Jewish folktale of the 36 lamedvovniks.

Answer: According to the lamedvovnik folktale, in each generation there are 36 humble and righteous people, whose goodness is so profound, that the entire world is sustained for the sake of their merit. The identity of these 36 is unknown, and thus they are considered hidden saints.

Two of the sources of this folktale are from the Talmud: Sanhedrin 97B and Sukkah 45B. The tale developed more fully from the 16th – 18th centuries in kabbalistic and chassidic communities.

Andre Schwartz-Bart’s The Last of the Just (1959) is probably the most famous modern work based on this theme. However he twisted the concept and added the idea of martyrdom.

Other works based on the lamedvovniks are:

The "Legend of the Three Nephites" in the Book of Mormon.
Nelly Sach's play "Eli: A Mystery Play of the Sufferings of Israel," included in the O the Chimneys (1967).
Hans Jose Rehfisch’s play Nickel und die 36 Gerechten (1925).
Marilyn Satlof argues that Saul Bellow has modified the traditional lamedvovnik into a character who saves the world through his intellect rather than through his mitzvot, in Him With His Foot in His Mouth And Other Stories (1984)
Screenwriter Henryk Bojm’s Lamedvovnik, a 1925 film
Aleksandr Sollzhenitsyn’s Matryona’s Home (1959)
Ben-Zion Weinman’s The 36 Unknown: Thirty-Six Etchings (1975) (poetry and art)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Targum Onkelos in Hebrew

Question: Is there a modern Hebrew translation of Targum Onkelos (Aramaic translation of the Torah)?

Answer: אלתר טובי' וין Alter Toviyah Vain has translated Targum Onkelos in the first 2 volumes of his 6-volume set:
ספר יין הטוב על התרגומים: מתורגמים ומבוארים ללשון הקדש
(Mekhon Yerushalayim, 1976 - )
Location in JTS Library: BS 1224 A78 1976b

Monday, August 2, 2010

Receiving Permission to Copy Manuscripts from Microfilm

I am interested in making copies of manuscripts from microfilm reels that the JTS library owns. The original manuscripts that I am interested in are owned by libraries other than the JTS library. I understand that I will need to show written permission from the libraries that own the original manuscripts in order for the JTS library to allow me to make the copies. How do I get in contact with these other libraries?

The IMHM - Institute for Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts in Jerusalem (http://jnul.huji.ac.il/imhm/) has contact information for all the libraries from whom they have microfilms of manuscripts. You can see the contact information at the following webaddress: http://jnul.huji.ac.il/imhm/#reproduction . Incidentally, with written permission, you can order copies directly from the IMHM (a lot of these microfilms have already been digitized), here is their catalog of MSS on microfilm: http://aleph518.huji.ac.il/F/Y7PP3R76L217RS81C7C5UL794C8BNRD8PYYFD7PTFR56UJU7VR-24858?func=find-b-0&local_base=nnlmss. If you do come to the JTS library to make copies, it is recommended that you bring a USB "Flash" drive to save the copies to.